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The Rosenshine principles applied to MFL

Image from Tom Sherrington's blog

If you haven't heard of Barak Rosenshine and his Principles of Instruction you can find your introduction here. Rosenshine was a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois, where his research focused on learning instruction, teacher performance, and student achievement. When you see his principles, you may think they seem obvious, and it's worth noting that they may not be a perfect fit with how languages are acquired in general. But they do fit quite neatly within the PPP paradigm (Presentation - Practice - Production) which is often criticised in the scholarly literature, so if you are comfortable with this way of working the principles will make added sense.

  1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
  2. Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step.
  3. Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students.
  4. Provide models.
  5. Guide student practice.
  6. Check for student understanding.
  7. Obtain a high success rate.
  8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
  9. Require and monitor independent practice.
  10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review.

So I thought I would apply these principles to MFL with a practical example. We're going to consider a lesson about using weather expressions with use of the near future tense in French (je vais aller). This might typically be suitable in a Y8 or Y9 class.

1.  Short review

Review use of weather expressions in the present tense using quick translation both ways, "guess the flashcard" or a map of France showing weather symbols for choral repetition and quick QA.

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  Introduce and practise new material, etc

The new material in question is the word si + the near future tense (in the first person only). We're introducing je vais aller, je vais jouer, je vais rester. So by the end of the lesson we want pupils to recognise and use S'il fait beau, je vais jouer au tennis avec mes amis (etc). Here are two different approaches:

Method 1 - sentence builder

Display a classic sentence builder frame with two columns. Column 1 has S'il fait beau, s'il pleut. s'il fait mauvais, etc. Column 2 shows examples of the near future, e.g. je vais rester + la maison, je vais jouer au tennis avec mes amis, je vais aller en ville avec mes parents. Little or no new vocabulary is introduced to keep the focus on the verb forms and limit cognitive load.
Run a routine of translations both ways, choral reading aloud, guessing what the teacher is thinking etc.

Method 2 - pairs of pictures on PowerPoint.

On the left there is a weather symbol, on the right an image representing an activity, e.g. tennis, shopping, working in a bedroom. About 8 pairs of pictures in total, no more. Teacher reads aloud as pupils listen. Second run through, choral repetition. Display all pairs together on one slide for more review, repetition, guessing games and pair practice.

Both the above approaches generate lots of input and repetition of the target phrases and verb patterns. Checking for understanding can occur with cold calling questioning (no hands-up) or with mini-whiteboards. You can also monitor any pair work and the general quality of repetition. At no time up to now has there been any analysis or explanation of the new verb pattern. If the sentence builder contains English translations meaning is always transparent. If you go down the PowerPoint slides route, then meaning will need clarifying, probably with occasional translation into English.
You have guaranteed a high success rate, had all pupils involved, while respecting the principles of comprehensible input, repetition and building phonological memory through output practice. Words have not been used in isolation, but in high-frequency reusable chunks.

At an appropriate point you can explain what is going on with the new verbs and how the near future is formed. With some classes you can quickly show other persons of the verbs. But the emphasis has been on usage, not explanation.

8.  Scaffolding for more difficult tasks

This may be for a following lesson, but at this point you can further embed the new language patterns by using a set of short written or spoken sentences, or a short written or spoken paragraph modelling the same patterns, but with some additional variations (two or three new verbs and new activities, e.g. Je vais faire mes devoirs, je vais sortir avec mes copains, je vais me baigner à la piscine.

If working with an aural or written text you can do a range of scaffolded tasks, e.g. gapped transcription, reordering, comprehension tasks such as true/false, ticking correct sentences or QA. You can use the aural gap-fill technique at some point, e.g. hiding the written text and asking students to complete sentences orally. You can use "disappearing text" on the board, gradually removing words and chunks, with students having to recall the missing language.

Students can compose their own written examples with the aid of some modelling by you on the board. They can write or record their examples or play a guessing game with a partner. Higher attaining classes can prepare a short written composition Le weekend prochain in which they embed examples of the patterns they have practised, perhaps including negatives.

9.  requiring and monitoring independent practice

This can take the form of listening in to pair work practice or checking/marking the quality of written output.

10.  Weekly or monthly review

You'll make sure that pupils have the chance to hear, read and use the target patterns repeatedly in the future. The Scheme of Work/Learning will build in such opportunities to reuse the new language, interleaved with other work.

I've kept this brief to offer a concise and clear overview of what the Rosenshine principles might mean for an MFL teacher in practice. What I have outlined probably accords closely with the type of thing you do already. You might even see this has common-sense practice, but I think the principles are a useful reminder and broad template for how to design effective lessons. The examples I gave above are a few of many others you could have chosen.

To conclude here is a visual representation of the 10 principles. the image used above is from Tom Sherrington's blog. Tom has recently published a very popular book on Rosenshine's principles.


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