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Progress report on the MFL handbook

So far we have about 20 draft chapters completed, most of which need some more work.

Chapter titles include teaching listening, teaching reading, teaching writing, classroom oral techniques, teaching spontaneous speaking, teaching advanced level students, differentiation, target language teaching, games, behaviour management, technology, subject knowledge and assessment.

We are trying to produce something very practical for modern language teachers around the world. This poses one or two challenges in terms of the language used and how the debates are framed in various English-speaking countries. You need to know to tell your mark schemes from your rubrics!

We are anxious not to be too prescriptive or too wedded to one particular approach, but I can reveal that we are leaning towards a pragmatic approach based on elements of skill-building (explanation with practice, rather like the traditional presentation-practice-production model so many teachers favour) along with an acknowledgment that target language input is crucial. We will be favouring explanation, practice, interaction, anything which gives students a chance of retaining vocabulary and improving their skill with grammar. We shall, predictably, argue against explicit instruction for its own sake.

We shall bandy around terms like synthetic, analytic, implicit, explicit, input, output, interfaces, listenership and even 'writership' (one of Gianfranco's terms).

Most chapters will include reference to the prevailing views from academic research together with abundant practical ideas for the classroom. It has to be said that most evidence from research is still provisional, but there is enough on which to base some sensible principles. We shall not shy away, either, from offering some of our best homespun wisdom to young language teachers starting out.

Our aim all along has been to share what we know about research and what we have learned from our own experience over many years. We are avoiding making the book too academic in tone, despite the fact that we both enjoy reading about second language acquisition research. There will be some references and ideas for reading for those teachers who find themselves wanting to explore the field further.

It is also important to us that inexperienced teachers have enough pedagogical and theoretical knowledge to be able to separate out the effective from the merely fashionable or gimmicky. We hope to get that across clearly in the book without, we hope, being patronising in content or tone.

At the moment we are considering publishing the book ourselves, perhaps using the Amazon publishing platform called CreateSpace, unless, I suppose, some publisher came along and twisted our arms once the text is complete. Does it work like that?

On a personal note I have enjoyed getting back into reading the kind of literature about language learning which I enjoyed reading for my MA about Stephen Krashen and the "input hypothesis" many years ago. The more I read, however, the less convinced I become about any one panacea approach to language teaching. Research in this field is so hard to do given the multiple variables involved. Brain research is also in its infancy and offers us little so far. It's interesting how relevant common sense still is.

Hopefully we shall have this project done early-ish in the new year. In the meantime keep looking at Gianfranco's blog where he likes to put to the sword practices he finds less than effective. He is much harsher than me.

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What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

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When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

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You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…