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Showing posts from August, 2021

Back to school

Image: pixabay You may be about to start a new academic year of teaching. Maybe you've started already. When I was teaching, by the end of the summer holiday I was ready to get back into the classroom and excited about the prospect. As a Head of Department, I had digested and analysed the GCSE and A-level exam results, and was raring to meet new classes and meet up again with classes I already knew.  On social media, new teachers sometimes ask how to start the new year. Should you spend time going though classroom expectations? Should you do ice-breaking activities? Should you just get on and teach?  I preferred to do the latter, both when I was starting out and as an 'old hand'. Why? Well, partly I was always impatient to get on with work and felt that my classes wanted to as well. With the newly arrived Y7 classes, a bit of training was needed - how to line up, enter in an orderly way, get materials out and do start-of-lesson greetings. These things need practice so they

Learning from the unexpected

 This is a short extract from our book Memory: What Every Language Teacher Should Know (Smith and Conti, 2021). The chapter this is from was initially inspired by some reading I had done from a book by French cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene. One of his main ‘pillars of learning’ is the power of the unexpected to trigger new learning. When we encounter something we don’t anticipate our mind is alerted and prompted to pay extra attention. With that extra attention comes learning. Here is the extract. Are you the type of language teacher who believes students need to be accurate from the start or that it’s fine to make mistakes and that, indeed, we learn and remember more by doing so? Do you like to correct students’ speech and writing? Do you think it’s useful to show examples of faulty language in the name of building memory? To what extent can producing and being exposed to errors increase memory? This is the subject of this chapter. In general terms, psychologists believe t

Expanding spacing?

You are no doubt familiar with the idea of spaced retrieval practice. In case you aren’t, it’s the concept from cognitive psychology that if you space out learning and revision episodes over time,  rather than cramming lots of learning and repetition into a single bout of “massed practice” then long-term retention will benefit. The evidence base for this is huge and its effectiveness should chime with your own experience. That’s not to say massed practice is always a bad approach. Like me, you must have seen the benefits of major, night-before cramming before an exam. In language learning, although there is research evidence which does lend support to cramming input and interaction into a longer episode (you might call this an ‘immersion effect’), the predominant view is that spacing out exposure to input and practice is highly beneficial. Text book writers are not unaware of this, but in the books I have used they tend to do spacing in a crude manner, notably, leaving long gaps of tim