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Showing posts from September, 2017

AIM revisited - corrections and clarifications

In my new book Becoming and Outstanding Languages Teacher, one of my themes was the idea that there is no need to be too dogmatic about language teaching methodology and that different approaches (within a principled framework) can lead to success for learners. So much depends on generic teacher qualities and the quality with which any approach is delivered. With that in mind, the final chapter featured descriptions of three quite contrasting approaches: AIM (Accelerated Integrated Methodology), TPRS and the bilingual approach developed by Barry Smith and used at Michaela Community School.

For the input for the section of text about AIM I asked Pauline Galea, a well-known advocate for the approach in Canada, if she would write a "case study" for me, which she kindly did and which I included, with some editing, in the final text. I also added my own evaluation from my reading (although, as it happens, there is scant research evidence specifically in support of AIM).

Pauline h…

Knowledge Organisers

Knowledge organisers are a bit of a thing at the moment and their emergence has paralleled the growing influence of the "knowledge based curriculum" favoured particularly in some academies and free schools in England. Here is not the place to go into E.D. Hirsch Jr, cultural literacy and the skills versus knowledge debate, but just to mention first what form knowledge organisers can take.

Teacher Heather Fearn who works with the Inspiration Trust academy chain has summed up the uses of a knowledge organiser as follows:

1.  Curriculum mapping: for the TEACHER Identifying powerful knowledge, planning to build schemas, identifying transferable knowledge and mapping progression in knowledge.

2. For reference: for the PUPIL:  in place of a textbook or a form of summary notes for pupils to reference.

3. A list of revision items: for the PUPIL (and possibly the parents): what the teacher has decided ALL pupils need to know as a minimum at the end of the topic.

(Source here. )

I first…

Review - Addressing Special Educational Needs and Disability in the Curriculum: MFL

It may not be the snappiest title for a handbook, but John Connor's book, in its second edition, is a very useful read for teachers interested in how to work with SEND students. Whatever the type of school you work in you are certain to encounter students with all sorts of special needs including hearing loss, dyslexia, dyspraxia, visual impairment, ADHD and physical disability. Until recently, if I had wanted to find out about SEND I would have consulted David Wilson's work at or Hilary McColl's at at, but I can also thoroughly recommend John Connor's all-in-one reference book.

If you don't know John, as well as being a die-hard Everton football club supporter, he has been a Head of Faculty, a local authority adviser, senior examiner, an AST assessor and Ofsted inspector for MFL and SEN(D). The first edition of the book was part of a series "Meeting SEN in the Curriculum, which won a BERA (British Educ…

15 types of writing task

When most people think of language proficiency they think of speaking and listening - engaging in conversations. In my view, of the four skills writing is the least useful and although social media has created plenty of "real life" opportunities for writing chunks, sentences and short paragraphs, assessment regimes still value writing too highly. At GCSE in England and Wales it is worth 25% of all the marks available. Is this justifiable and does it risk skewing too much what teachers do in lessons? This bias is no doubt partly to do with tradition and the hold which universities still exert on language teaching syllabuses.

To my mind, the main value of incorporating writing in  lessons is to use it to support the development of proficiency in general: doing writing tasks helps build vocabulary knowledge, oral fluency and accuracy and, I daresay, reading and listening skill. Every writing tasks you do helps build those memory links which can lead to the procedural knowledge …

Empathy: one key to successful teaching

When I reflect on what I have seen and experienced as a language teacher over the years, one of the characteristics of the successful teacher, it seems to me, is the capacity to show empathy. Whatever their personality or chosen methodology, some teachers have a very keen sense of where to pitch the lesson, how to sense the mood of the class, when to divert from the original lesson plan, how to sense when boredom could be setting in - in general, how to relate to the class. I would go as far as to say that this ability trumps (within limits) the methodology employed in the lesson. I would pick out two types of empathy referred to by psychologists and educationalists:

Cognitive empathy 

This is the capacity to understand another's perspective or mental state. In teaching we can say that it refers to the teacher’s ability to marry every level of their teaching (e.g. planning lessons, classroom delivery, feedback provision, target-setting, homework) to their students’ thinking process…

Alice Ayel: French the natural way

Teacher Alice Ayel has a YouTube channel which you may find useful. In each video Alice talks through, at slow speed, a simple 5-6 minute account ("story") illustrated with line drawings and words she creates on a mini-whiteboard. It's like a teacher working with a full size whiteboard from the front of the class or pre-prepared PowerPoint images and words.

The stories are in themselves not terribly interesting, but do offer clear examples of meaningful French, with in-built repetition, suitable for post-beginner students.

How could you use these?

Well, I could see a case for occasional classroom use to support your current topic. You might play the clip on full once, then replay the clip on short sections, asking your own questions along the way. You could employ your full repertoire of question types - true/false, yes/no, either/or, open ended etc. You could then ask the same questions and get pupils to write down single word or full sentence answers. The aim would be…

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…