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Showing posts from June, 2022

Retrieval grids

 You've probably come across grids with words and phrases in like the one below. I was thinking about the concept of "do-nows", those starter activities used by many teachers for when students enter the room, perhaps in dribs and drabs, and who benefit from a task to settle into straight away. Doug Lemov has championed these as one means to limit the waste of time in lessons. They also, clearly, serve to bring back in material covered in previous lessons, so serve the purpose of a retrieval practice starter. I must say firstly that I have reservations about them. This is mainly because I prefer the idea of all students entering together and the lesson beginning with a snappy, often teacher-led activity. I feel that this sets the tone and can give that famous "flying start" to a lesson. But teachers have told me they work well. I guess it depends on the nature of the task, its quality, including level of challenge. Now, the type of grid you can see above can be

On interference, fossilisation and learning from the unexpected

When I was 12 years-old, my French teacher explained to us the difference between the meanings and spellings of three words: le cours (lesson), la cour (courtyard, playground, court of justice) and le court (court - for tennis or royalty). French speakers will know that these three words are pronounced identically in most circumstances.  Now, I think that the teacher's explanation helped me remember to this day the different meanings of the words. But the explanation may just as well have left me confused in the long run because of what cognitive psychologists call interference . In other words, if we learn more than one item at the same time, and those items are very similar in sound, interference between the items will make it harder to recall them correctly. Indeed, some psychologists such as Robert Bjork claim that when we forget things in long-term memory, it is not so much due to decay or fading, but rather interference between competing information. Similarly, some resear

What about explicit versus implicit grammar teaching?

This post is a summary of a chapter by Miroslaw Pawlak in the book Debates in Second Language Education (Macaro and Woore, 2021). I'll summarise the main points of the chapter, adding my own comments in italics . This post will be a bit longer than usual, so bear with me! (I added minor edits in October 2023.) The title of the chapter is: Implicit versus explicit grammar learning and teaching Pawlak begins the chapter with the claim that there is a broad consensus that "grammar instruction might be necessary or at least facilitative in some contexts", even if controversies exist about how grammar teaching should be carried out. (It is not exactly a ringing endorsement of grammar teaching, but most language teachers reading this will find the claim that teaching grammar helps to be be pretty uncontroversial! You'll see that Pawlak ends up being very supportive of explicit grammar teaching. ) He then says that he will provide theoretical support for both the implicit an

Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher 2nd edition

I'm happy let you know that the second edition of my book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher  was published on August 2nd, in time for teacher trainees who begin courses this year. Let me give you some background and tell you what's the same and what's different about the second edition. In 2017 Routledge asked me to write a book in their series Becoming an Outstanding.... Teacher , edited by Jayne Bartlett. There was already a maths edition in the series, and others have been published since. The use of the word 'outstanding' in the title has to do with the fact that in England schools are judged by the inspection body Ofsted according to various categories, with 'outstanding' being the best. So 'outstanding' became a buzz word in English schools. For a while, bizarrely, even individual lessons could be graded 'outstanding', though this is now rare, as I understand it. So you can see the editors were using the word outstanding to sell

Things to know about phonological memory

This is an adapted extract from our book  Memory: What Every Language Teacher Should Know  (2021). It's about the the concept of phonological memory. In the multi-store model of working memory shown above, based on the Alan Baddeley model, (figure from Smith and Conti, 2021), the phonological loop is the most important part as far as language learning is concerned. How does  it work?  Think for a moment about how you hold a word or phrase in your head as you make sense of it, or prepare to say it; or how you say words in your head as you read from a book; or how you try to make sense of some spoken language. These processes are carried out by the phonological loop, what psychologists sometimes call verbal or phonological working memory . The phonological loop has been described as the mind’s ear , processing and storing sounds. You could think of it as our language learning device, activated in a particular part of the brain (the temporal lobe of the left hemisphere - above and

A 'daily routine' lesson plan

Image: Pixabay Teachers often wonder whether teaching 'daily routine' is worthwhile. It's feels like a tired topic and one that's hard to make interesting or fun. On the other hand, the vocab and verbs relating to it are very useful and fashionably 'high frequency' for the most part. Teachers can be creative in trying to make the topic more amenable to students, for example by doing 'A day in the life of (insert celebrity name)' and on my Y9 and Y10-11 pages I've included video listening tasks based on the 'Portrait d'un enfant' series from Arte. These show children in developing countries (mainly) talking about their typical days (or, usually better because they are clearer, have a voice-off commentary of the child's day). Needless to say, those videos have a superb extra cultural dimension in raising students' awareness of lives beyond their own experience. However... on balance, I think there is still a place for appealing to s