Saturday, 14 January 2012

Understanding Languages-Why Teachers Need to Listen and Learn


In this week's MFL colum in the Times Educational Supplement, I tackle the perception of languages by non-specialist colleagues and what can be done to demystify our job.
Some subjects are scarier than others to non-specialist teachers. Languages are definitely in the scary category for many teachers, but a lot will depend on personal experiences, often dating back to their own school days.
Isn't it funny how most adults-whether they are teachers or not- and teenagers lose all common sense when they are presented with something they know is "foreign"? Anybody above the age of 9 will become more and more hindered as they grow up by the assumption that they WIL NOT understand.

They will forget they have a language of their own with which they can establish comparisons and make inferences from. They will ignore the visual clues, the cognates, the sound-alikes because let's face it, it is foreign and they cannot possibly understand this. That is why I believe before we even attempt to teach a foreign language, we must make students realise that it is not a threat to their identity.

Many adults behave in such manner and would rather deliberately mispronounce words rather than be seen to try to emulate the sounds produced by a native speaker. Speaking a foreign language then becomes a bit like karaoke singing: a high-risk business with strong potential for the participant to end up looking ridiculous.

It is therefore hardly surprising that some of my primary or secondary colleagues feel uncomfortable having to teach or supervise the learning of languages, particularly if their own experience was less than successful at school. So let's demystify!

Being supportive and non-judgmental is a good start but pointing at useful techniques and resources is key. This should be an exchange as both participants have as much to learn as each other. 

All teachers have a reasonable repertoire of cross-curricular learning and teaching strategies so no need to re-invent the wheel. After all,  languages are a medium, they can be learnt through any content...   

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Guest Blog Post: Essential Memorisation Techniques for GCSE


Most of us learn successfully through a mixture of seeing, hearing and doing. When it comes to succeeding in GCSEs, we also need a mixture of techniques to help us. Here are some top tips on essential techniques for GCSE success:

Tips on effective note-taking
Students need to be able to take effective notes so they can re-read and reflect on the essentials of a lesson. This enables them to deepen their learning and fill in any blanks with further study. Some well-organised notes are also essential for effective Stage 2 preparation in MFL GCSEs.

However, students often find note-taking a challenge, so here are some suggestions:
*Ensure your lessons are structured in a way that is conducive to effective note-taking;
*Encourage students to use a mix of old-fashioned pen and paper, ICT, post-it notes, highlighters in class as well the recording facilities on their phones at home;
*Emphasise that it is not necessary to write down every word-only what they have trouble remembering from English into the Target Language; 
*Encourage them to use plenty of space and write down main headings and subheadings as they go along so they can fill in the details later or try to remember them
*Some students might prefer more visual note-taking techniques such as mind-mapping or diagrams, which show how each idea link into another.

Tips on memorising
Memorising through endless repetition or singing can work with auditory students. Saying the text to be memorised to a tune or a rhythm can also help.

Visual memorisation aids are also useful and can include:
*Silly stories or unusual pictures, as a prompt to remember ideas;
*Study posters, perhaps incorporating a mind map, as a way to memorise the structure of the questions to be memorised; 
*Study cards, to help memorise individual facts like key vocabulary and structures. 

Tips on exam recall
We can help our students with simple techniques to help steady the nerves and aid recall during exams. This includes the opportunity to practise basic exam techniques such as:

Reading the questions
*Sticking to the question and answering each part in full;
*Drawing students' attention on common mistakes;
*Weighting and allocating appropriate time to each question.

Practising with past exam papers is certainly not cheating (but do check your exam board’s policy on reproducing and distributing old papers) and will help students to understand the level of detail required in the exam as well as to familiarise themselves with its format.

For the exam itself, you may like to suggest that students take a few deep breaths to settle their nerves before turning over the exam paper. Students may also find it helpful to boost their confidence by noting down familiar mnemonics, key words and structures before starting the Listening and Reading papers.

Like other recall techniques, mnemonics can be applied across subjects. They are as useful to GCSE students as to executives on English corporate courses in London, so it is well worth teaching your students how to use them.

Go over these essential tips for GCSE success with your students before the exam-when students starts getting nervous, it is always useful to go back to basics to settle them.

Sustainable Promotion for Foreign Languages

thank you note for every languageI was delighted to share today in the Times Educational Supplement's MFL column some of the best strategies our language faculty has used over the years to promote languages with our students.
Instead of just looking at presenting a very wide range of strategies, I wanted to reflect on how effective different strategies had been in encouraging taking a foreign language as an option at GCSE.

Some activities are really enjoyable but not necessarily have an impact on the uptake and despite using exit questionnaires and questionning students, the key reasons that make a student take the leap and opt are still a bit of mystery.

Some of the best strategies included:
*Involving students in the organisation of trips,
*Trips to local restaurants or tapas bar to facilitate discussions about how speaking another language can help in other careers like catering,
*Inviting speakers to show how languages are used in the world of work,
getting involved in cross-curricular project,
*Linking with schools abroad for students to get the personnal satisfaction of communication for a  real purpose,
*Regularly celebrating student achievement to make students realise that fluency is not the ultimate aim at KS3 or 4 for that matter...  

In our on-going promotion campaign, languages teachers would be well-advised to warn students against the following reasons to opt:

I like the teacher
Lovely but very dangerous-everybody will have warned the students about it, but it still happens although it can also be more maturely expressed as "I know I will do better with this teacher as I get on with them". Still, a long term aim and career plan might be safer to secure student's commitment over the two years leading to a GCSE exam...

My friends are doing it
Not a great idea but it is a fact that a lot of students seem to opt in frienship groups. Some realise early it was a mistake but unfortunately some take longer and then feel trapped on a course they are no longer interested in. Opting in friendship groups can mean good group dynamics in class but it can also create a classroom climate that constantly needs steering away from the socialising mode..

My parents want me to do it
It is always a great asset to have strong parental support but it is sometimes a real problem if the choice to opt was not made by the students themselves. We all know that the correlation between student commitment and good results is very strong and students who are involved directly in the decision-making tend to be a lot more committed.

To avoid these 3 main pitfalls and really get students to carefully consider their options, it is also essential to have an honest on-going conversation with students about their aspirations, interests and achievements. Securing a choice for the right reasons is certainly the step in the right direction towards commitment and success.