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Showing posts from 2023

Most popular posts 2023: NCLE, EPI, GCSE, grammar and a nifty starter.

Most years I do a round-up of the blogs I have written over the year. It’s a chance for me to look at the stats and to see what most interests readers. Although I post less furiously than I used to (blogs are less in vogue just now, it seems), I still write about four a month on average. It used to be around 10. Personally, I find blogs more digestible than podcasts, since I like to read at speed and can assess what I think of a post pretty quickly. The only podcast I occasionally listen to is Liam Printer's engaging The Motivated Classroom . as I write this, he has done 112 episides - quite a commitment! So here are the FIVE most viewed posts this year, starting with the most viewed at number one. 1.    From NCELP to NCLE After NCELP's contract to improve GCSE take-up and language teaching pedagogy came to its end, the DfE put out a tender for a new more generously funded initiative. This is the  National Consortium for Languages Education  (NCLE), now in operation. They say o

No best method, but…

You often read in the literature about second language learning there is no best method. It came up again in Elspeth Broady’s opening chapter of the recently published Practical Guide to Teaching Foreign Languages in the Secondary School (Pachler and Redondo, 2023). I reviewed that book here . The general claim is surely true. Indeed, you might think if there were a best method, we would have discovered it by now. Despite centuries of reflection and over half a century of modern research, we still rehearse the age-old debates around the relative merits of natural approaches and those based on building automatised skill through explanation and practice. Yet, while no best method has been established, many teachers are quite passionate and even tribal in their defence of the method or approach they use. They may have some good reasons for this. More of that below.  I think it’s quite legitimate to justify and defend one’s favoured pedagogy. There are some widely accepted general principl

Teaching A-Level MFL (4) - Preparing for assessment

The pressure on students and teachers to get the best grade is high. Teachers have a duty to prepare students as thoroughly as possible, just as students need to their utmost to succeed. Most students do. In this fourth and final post on teaching A-Level MFL we shall look at steps we can take to ensure best performance on the day. I’ll take each paper in turn. Paper 1 Listening, reading and writing Analyse past papers so you and the students are familiar with question types. Share with students remarks made by examiners in their reports. These are available on the exam board websites in a secure area which you should have access to via your exams officer. If you have taught in a principled way during the course, and students have worked hard, good performance will follow. Apart from ensuring students have done a mock and several past papers (some in timed conditions), there are certain elements that require specific preparation and practice.  The main one is the summary tasks. For adv

Sounds fun

This is a fun little 5-minute activity based on the game Soundiculous which I’ve played with family and friends. The aim is some simple vocab retrieval in a relaxed and enjoyable format. Students work in pairs, with each student having their own list of around 5-10 target language words. Taking turns, students have to make a noise which represents the vocab item. They cannot use any words or gestures. The partner guesses the word from the noise. They make multiple guesses. Here are some easy ones: cat, dog, sheep, cow, snake, duck, chicken, frog, mouse, horse, kangaroo, car, train, motor bike, police, aeroplane, helicopter, guitar, flute, trumpet, drums, clock, mobile phone, food, drink, sleep, laugh, cry, coigh, sneeze, etc Depending on the class’s prior knowledge, you could display a bilingual list from students would choose their answer. To add a little challenge, you could insist that students make up a sentence using the word, e.g. ‘dog’ could  lead to ‘I like dogs’ or ‘My dog is

Teaching A-level MFL (3) - working with film and literature

This is the third post in the Teaching A-Level MFL series of four. This time we are talking about the teaching of film and literature. Since working through a film and a book occupies at least a third of a department's time during parts of the course, it's worthwhile looking at this carefully. I'm going to divide this post into two parts: film, then literature. Some of the same principles will apply to both. In terms of assessment, which we shall come to in the final blog, A-Level teachers must teach either a book and a film, or two books. (This reveals a certain bias, by the way, suggesting that the DfE value literature more highky than film.) Although practice varies from school to school, departments usually teach a film first, then a book. They often tackle the film in Y12 and the book in Y13, the perception being that the book will be more linguistically challenging. Film Which film? Exam boards choose films based on previous teachers and student feedback, so they can

Book review: A Practical Guide to Teaching Foreign Languages in the Secondary School (Pachler and Redondo, 2023)

This is the third edition of a handbook written mainly for trainee and recently qualifiedd modern language teachers. Edited by Norbert Pachlere and Ana Redondo, it is A4 in size and runs to 204 pages. The fourteen chapters are divided into three broad sections: (1) overarching considerations (2) develeoping pedagogical skills, knowledge and understanding an (3) exploring broader prespectives. My own contributuion to this book was Chapter 4: Research-based practice: Findings from cognitive science and second language acquisition research. This review will be a reasonably detailed look at each of the chapters. At the end, I'll review to what extent the book is useful for its target readership. Each chapter clearly sets out its purpose and within the text there are tasks which invite discussion or personal reflection. You can imagine these being used ona PGCE course, for example. Every chapter has its own bibliography, usually not too long. Chapter 1 by Elspeth Broady starts with the

Teaching A-level MFL (2) - Working with texts

This is the second post in a series of four about teaching A-level MFL. The first post considered some general principles to bear in mind. This second post gets into the nitty-gritty of pedagogy by considering how we can exploit written and aaural texts. Exploiting texts is such a fundamental skill in language teaching and this is no less the case at A-Level. I'm going to split this into two parts, the first looking at written texts, the second aural (listening) texts. In general terms, however, all texts are a fabulous source of input, both linguistic and cultural, which can be exploited in multiple ways. For both written and aural texts, a first point to make is that the texts should not be too long. If a text is very long, so much time is needed deciphering the language, that there is not enough time for interacting with the text. The risk is that you end up analysing language at the expense of communicating with it.  Secondly, when a text becomes too long, it is likely to conta

Teaching A-level MFL

This is the first of first of four posts on the subject of teaching A-Level languages. Because the focus is the A-Level syllabus in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the posts are aimed primarily at teachers in those countries or working in international schools. A good deal will be relevenat to teachers working with other syllabuses, notably IB. The posts are also mainly for teachers who are new or inexperienced with teaching A-level, although more experienced teachers may find useful reflections or new ideas to enhance practice. In writing these posts, I am drawing on over 30 years of experience teaching French A-level in three different schools. My students achieved highly and enjoyed their lessons very much (on the whole!). My experience is also founded on having done work with the AQA exam board, both writing and presenting on A-level for them, as well as the skill I have acquired through writing hundreds of resources, both during my classroom career and for

Comparing new GCSE thematic content

This post is about the topics (thematic content) proposed by the three awarding bodies in England - AQA, Pearson-Edexcel and Eduqas. These topics cover all the languages taught - French, German and Spanish. For a detailed analysis of all aspects the three GCSE specifications I suggest you have a look at Helen Myers' meticulous analysis. Her analysis is here .  Here 'at a glance' document is here . Helen has done a great job pulling this material together. Keepin mind that, as i write, the Eduqas specification is in draft form. A little background first. Because Ofqual/DfE wanted the focus of the specifications to be on phonics, vocabulary and grammar (the so-called three pillars of languaage learning), there was doubt about whether thematic content would be included at all in exam board specifications. The government-associated bodies were concerned that a thematic (topic-based) approach to syllabus design might compromise methodology, the claim being that a focus on topics

Pyramid memory speed test

You've probably heard of the retrieval practice effect (aka the testing effect ). It's all the rage in England and for pretty good reasons. Good teachers have always assumed it strengthens students' memories to test them on material they have previously learned and may forget. Multiple studies have confirmed the power of the retrieval practice effect. In a nutshell, the idea is that we test to learn, not just to test. Gianfranco and I wrote about it in our book M emory: What Every Language Teacher Should Know (2021). Over a year or more I have been designing low-prep starters for and today I added another retrieval practice starter on basic vocabulary. This one, 'Pyramid memory speed test' also encourages students to recall quickly, fostering what researchers such as Paul Nation and Norman Segalowitz might call cognitive fuency . Cognitive fluency, the ability to quickly retrieve language from memory, is vital for communication of course, so anythi

Creating stimulating content

A criticism sometimes levelled at language lessons in secondary classrooms is that the non-linguistic content of lessons is not very stimulating. Very often, the context of the language may be related to the students' lives and/or the exam syllabus (think of daily routines, likes and dislikes, hobbies, food and drink, school), but the material lacks challenging, interesting content. Textbooks do attempt to overcome this to an extent, by providing traditional cultural content and increasingly diverse and inclusive content. But the syllabus still places a large emphasis on everday material. By contrast,  in history, English or science lessons there is conceptual content which gets students thinking in a different way. It is inherently more interesting to most students than the content of MFL/WL lessons. An obvious reason for the use of mundane content is the students' lack of language development. It's hard to take on more interesting material when you have little language to