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Showing posts from March, 2021

Fluency development in language learning

This post is a summary of a chapter in the Loewen and Sato book The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017). The chapter was written by Tracey M. Derwing from the University of Alberta. I've previously dipped into this book for summaries of research about vocabulary and grammar. The topic of fluency is of interest to me at the moment as Gianfranco and I are doing our research before publishing a book next year (provisional title Acquiring Second Language Skills: From Comprehension to Fluency ). I'll add my own glosses to this summary as I go along (in italics). Derwing begins her chapter with a quotation about fluency from Charles Fillmore, who described one of four types of fluency as the "ability to talk at length with few pauses" (Fillmore, 2000, p.51).  (This is what many of us think when we describe what it means to be a fluent, although we may also just mean "proficient" in the language. We have an idea that someone can spe

Why is it important to understand Transfer-Appropriate Processing?

How come a class can sing the alphabet, yet not be able to spell words easily? Why is it that a class did well in an exercise, but when you tested them using a different type of question they struggled? Transfer-Appropriate Processing is one of those potentially off-putting jargon terms from cognitive psychology. It describes something actually very significant from a language teacher's point of view. Knowing about it helps answer questions such as these: How can I best design tests to help students succeed? How can I match my lessons to the assessment regime? How can I help students remember what I taught them? Below is what we wrote about it in our recently published book about memory. When you teach a class of beginners to recite the alphabet to a tune, they are likely to remember it successfully. If you then ask them to recite the alphabet without the same tune, they will find it harder. What does this tell us?  Edward Thorndike’s Theory of Identical Elements (Thorndike, 1914)

What about the defined vocabulary lists for the new GCSE?

This will be the last of my posts commenting on the proposals for the new GCSE, currently going through a 10 week consultation period. Once again, my aim is to reflect personally and hopefully help you with your own thinking. The document is here. It’s only 29 pages long, with a large part (curiously, but signficantly) devoted to grammar lists. The proposal is that Foundation Tier a list of 1200 words will be produced (1700 at Higher Tier). These lists will be based primarily (90%) on what are called frequency corpora - databases of language as it is used. The use of corpora is interesting. To start with, what appears in a corpus depends on where the language is drawn from. Spoken language? Written language? ‘Standard’ forms? Do they include commonly used swear words? Do they include, for example, South American Spanish o

What about culture in the new MFL GCSE?

                                                                                                                      The tour St Jacques in Paris (Wikimedia Commons) This is my fourth post referencing the consultation document for the subject content of a new GCSE for first examination in 2025. Firstly, a reminder of where to find the key document: Another new element of the proposed syllabus is the specific requirement below: It is important that students should be taught the language in the context of the countries and communities where the language is spoken. As they learn the language, students should become familiar with aspects of the contexts of the countries and communities in which the language is spoken. This is because an appreciation of the culture, history, geography and working environments of these

What about dictation in the new GCSE exam?

Image: This is my third post about aspects of the proposed GCSE subject content for MFL. I enjoy being able to reflect on these matters and hope my ramblings might stimulate your thinking too. Last time I wrote about one eyebrow-raising aspect of the proposals, the inclusion of a reading aloud test. Today I thought I would reflect on another surprising inclusion: dictation . Why is it there? Is it a valid and reliable means of assessment? Does it have any task "authenticity"? What could be its backwash effect on classroom teaching? A little context first. From around the late 1970s, with the communicative language teaching movement beginning to have an influence on MFL teaching in England, dictation fell out of fashion. Why? Well, to start with, dictation fell into the category of those tasks which are not 'communicative', i.e. don't involve the face-to-face communication of meaning through task discussion, information gaps, question and answer, etc. Dict

What about reading aloud in the new GCSE exam?

One of the more eyebrow-raising proposals for the new GCSE for first teaching in 2023, first exams 2025 (current Y7) is the inclusion of a reading aloud test as part of the speaking assessment. When I mentioned this to my wife last night (she has a background in English Language Teaching) her reaction was one of surprise. She expressed it rather more strongly. It's certainly a bold move. What are we to make of it? Firstly, it's pretty clear why it's there. The new GCSE is heavily influenced by the findings of the TSC Review (2016) and the recommendations of, with its emphasis on the the three pillars of vocabulary, grammar and phonics. The committee which has developed these proposals shares members with the TSC Review group and they have decided that if the new exam is to influence and reflect so-called good practice, then reading aloud needs to be assessed in order to show that phonics skill is adequate.  Can pupils decode written language and speak it accuratel

New MFL GCSE consultation

Updated on 7th April, with a few modifications to the original post written about a month earlier. ........................................................................... The DfE in England has recently published information about the proposed new GCSE exams, first teaching September 2023, first exams June 2025. There are two consultations going on, one regarding the subject content, and the other (much shorter) with respect to the assessment arrangements such as tiering.  The context is important here. DfE are worried about uptake in GCSE MFL, especially with their EBacc target of 90% uptake in mind. (This is highly unlikely to be achieved.) Therefore they would like an exam which makes the subject more attractive, both in terms of interesting content and accessibility (how easy it is thought to be). They are aware also of criticisms levelled at current papers that the exam is elitist, featuring too much subject matter which appeals to middle class students. Recall that MFL has be

One chunk at a time

Image: There was a game I used to play with classes once they had got to the stage of being able to string sentences together to some degree. This was usually from about Y9, but some could do so earlier. The game will be familiar to you perhaps. It involves making up a story one word at a time. In one version, you work around the class, one student at a time, each student adding a word to a sentence so that it gradually forms a narrative. If the sentence has come to a natural end, a student can say "full stop". With younger classes the vocab and grammar range is limited, of course, but the game still works as students are forced to retrieve from memory, under time pressure words which make semantic and syntactic sense. It's a great game, by the way, for getting students to notice when the grammar has gone wrong. Of course, since the students are making up the story themselves, the narrative can take amusing twists and turns, becoming absurd - which always