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Every now and again I post an article or two on all sorts of Modern Foreign Languages teaching which I’m enthusiastic about. Please feel free to leave a comment – this is intended as a place where the practical side of teaching a foreign language can be discussed – and if you find something useful or you think someone else might, please do share it using the buttons at the foot of each post.
I am Head of Modern Languages in a small 11-16 mixed comprehensive in East Anglia. I’ve been teaching French & Spanish now for 20 years and over this time I have worked in 5 comprehensive schools, from very large to quite small, and I have been Head of Department in 3 of them. For 3 years I ran a language school I had set up in Madrid. For the whole of this time, my focus has always been very much set on the how? and the why? of our teaching. I trained at St. Martin’s College, Lancaster, (now the University of Cumbria) under James Burch, Anna Bartrum and Jenifer Alison, who have been the most enormous support and inspiration all the way through from PGCE days to now, and after working with Wendy Bromidge (now Mrs Ward!) for 7 hugely inspirational years, I still want to be like her when I grow up.
In Madrid I taught at my language school, Hello James!, and ran courses in aspects of communicative methodology for MFL teachers in the UK and in Spain. I’m particularly interested in teaching through the medium of the target language and incorporating visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles in everything that goes on in the classroom. I regularly nipped over to the UK to run INSET courses for teachers of MFL and to speak at conferences and schools by invitation. Some of these courses were filmed and released in DVD format and supplied to teachers and schools all over the UK. Currently, they are unavailable… but watch this space!
And so, to teaching…
In my view, for the practical to be genuinely practical in terms of moving students on in their learning, what we do has to be born out of a thought-out rationale. Otherwise we can spend a looooong time trying different things out on our classes which might work, might not, with little more to give us any prior clue than our instinct!
There are many ways to skin a cat, and also to teach languages. We all have to make our own choice about how we’re going to go about it and this blog looks at how the choices I’ve made work out in practice. It’s not intended to suggest that this is the only way! Nevertheless, my choices have been made on the basis of certain values which I’ve always held dear in terms of teaching, and my decision as to which direction I want to go in in any particular course/term/lesson is made in terms of them. These are some of the questions I ask of an idea:
- Is it communicative? Is language used for real purposes? Or are pupils using language just for the sake of it?
- How will I run the activity in the target language? And what will the implications be on how I structure the lesson/previous lessons in order to enable me to run the activity, and pupils to engage in it, without resorting to their native language at any time?
- What is coming out of the average mouth? In terms of quantity – how much opportunity does every pupil have to speak – and quality – is the level and complexity of their language appropriate to their stage of learning, or has it barely moved on since a year ago, a term ago, a month ago?
- How does it move pupils on? Why is it worth doing this activity? Is it just fun to do, or does it help, genuinely help, pupils to fulfil the learning objectives I have for them? How?
- How does it fit into my grammatical agenda? If I know the grammatical destination I’m trying to get pupils to, how does this help me to get them there, or how can I tweak it so that it does?
- Is it multi-sensory? If my class is made up of a group of students whose preferred learning style is visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, (or a mix of at least two of those), does my activity/idea include everyone, or are the kinaesthetic learners, for example, left out? How can I adapt it so that everyone is able to access and retain what I’m trying to teach them?
- How are pupils involved? Do I need to bring any extra techniques to bear on this activity so that pupils are genuinely engaged? How can I avoid anyone from becoming a spectator?
- What changes do I need to make in order to make this suitable in a mixed-ability class? I don’t want to pitch the language so high that those who struggle most get left behind. Nor do I want to leave it weakly in the middle so that those who can cope with a much higher level still feel unchallenged and the weakest still can’t access the lesson. So how do I need to structure the activity, in how it’s run or set up, so that everyone can learn and make progress. After all, my objective is not that they can “do” the activity, but that they learn more!
These are just some of the questions I want to consider on this blog. Some of the examples I give come from teaching English as a foreign language, and others from teaching French or Spanish. Regardless of the language of the examples, the principles and the rationale can be applied to a wide range of languages. I love teaching, and I really enjoy learning from other teachers, too. Please remember that none of the articles I post on here are intended to convey the idea that I think I’ve got it all cracked now, and I can pontificate via cyberspace on what we should all be doing! In fact, it’s not having it all sorted that keeps me interested and keeps me searching. So join in the discussion, and please – teach me a thing or two! If you want to get in touch, please use the contact form below – your email address and message will reach me but they will not show as public on the blog.