Time for a reflective post. After seeing some trainees move on to a new school, I got thinking about what I have learnt since my PGCE and things I wished I had learnt when I trained back in 2011-2012.
When I trained, there was a time of flux in teaching. We had just embarked upon the era of controlled assessment, the Department for Education was headed up by Gove and OFSTED were very keen on progress in lessons, in books and engagement. We were taught about the importance of literacy and numeracy, teaching that suited student’s learning styles and differentiation. We covered behaviour and voice management twice over that year. We learnt about what Ofsted wanted in terms of engagement. All students had to be “engaged”, teacher talk had to be minimal, mini-plenaries were regular and objectives had to be clearly stated and revisited to demonstrate that all learners had made progress in that 50 minute lesson. Most CPD was either going on a course, watching another teacher, or being watched yourself, which carried with it the aforementioned expectations. Webinars, podcasts and even blogs were in their infancy. At the time I remember my main sources of internet based CPD being Frenchteacher.net, Classteaching and Tom Sherrington’s blog. All of these were and are quality blogs and have clearly stood the test of time. If you are starting out in your career, I would recommend the teachers guide you can find on Frenchteacher (although for an expanded version you can buy Steve’s books on Amazon) and Tom’s Pedagogy Postcards.
In MFL specifically, we were taught activities for lessons. We were taught to progress towards production. We were taught how to conduct a textbook listening (play once with no questions, play once with questions, play again with questions and breaks then go through answers), how to help students prepare for their controlled assessments and learn chunks of text. However, I don’t recall my course mentioning Macaro, Field, Krashen, Van Patten and it sadly pre-dated the advent of Rachel Hawkes‘s website and Gianfranco Conti’s writings. I discovered Steve Smith‘s blog reasonably earlier on and found it invaluable. Schools that were using technology tended to use the triumvirate of Linguascope, languagesonline (to be fair I am still using this), or Atantot.
Over time, I have had to unlearn a lot of what I learnt on my PGCE. Learning Styles were dispatched by Daniel T Willingham (whose book “Why don’t students like school?” received the everydaymfl treatment here). Mini-plenaries started to fade out of the MFL vocabulary. Yellow backgrounds, blue writing and comic sans (shudder) were highlighted as the dyslexia friendly PowerPoint combination at the time, whereas the British Dyslex!a Association now have some great recommendations. Teaching has changed a lot. In some ways for the better and in other ways less so. Reflecting that at a subject level, MFL has changed a lot.
If I was designing a PGCE for MFL now, I would hope that it answers the questions below over the year. If it doesn’t then, I am aware that there are a number of excellent books by Steve smith and Gianfranco Conti that will help in doing so. I would hope that your PGCE also teaches you what we might call the generic elements of teaching that apply across all subjects. By generic elements I’m referring to the kind of thing you might find in Rosenshine’s Principles or Lemov’s Teach like a Champion.
Anyway, from the MFL side of things. Here goes…
For my PGCE in MFL, I would like…
- How do we teach pronunciation?
- How do we teach phonics?
- How do we help reluctant speakers to speak more?
- How do we develop the memory of short reusable chunks of language?
- What speaking activities are developing learner’s memory and ability to deploy phrases?
- How do we make the TL the regular language of classroom interaction?
- How do we develop a culture of “everyone talks”?
- How do we develop listening skills?
- What different ways are there to conduct a textbook listening?
- How do we make listening feel less like a test?
- How do we use transcripts effectively without giving students all the answers?
- What is comprehensible input?
- How do you use a reading text progressively so that activities become more challenging?
- How do we teach readers how to read and avoid guesswork?
- How does reading help acquisition of language?
- How do you get the balance between a text that is 98% comprehensible and not making it too easy?
- How do we support students with a primary school level reading age in reading a foreign language?
- How do we integrate authentic texts, literary texts and short stories in such a way that they can be challenging but accessible?
- How do we help students to structure writing?
- How do we help students to use the language that they know better?
- How do we help lower ability students to write 90 words?
- How do we help students of high ability to write in a way that prefers them for A-level?
- What should a student be able to write in Y7, Y8, Y9, Y10, Y11?
- How do we help students in contexts where they may never have been on holiday to answer the question “¿Adónde fuiste de vacaciones?”
- What grammar should be taught at what stage?
- How do you stop students saying things like “me gusta juego” and “me hago” etc? (asking for a friend…)
- How do we teach some of the areas of grammar that do not have simple English equivalents such as the partitive article in French, subjunctive in Spanish and cases in German?
- How do we ensure learners get a good balance of nouns, adjectives and verbs when textbooks seem to be very noun heavy?
- How can we make use of web-based applications to help reinforce and extend vocabulary?
- How do we use target language in lessons so that it is comprehensible?
- How do you maintain target language throughout a lesson in a language you are less confident with?
- How do you adapt your target language to the ability of the group in front of you?
- How do you encourage learners to use more the target language in lessons?
- What do you do when learners start to use *&£$%^ words they have looked up in a lesson?
Second language acquisition theories & concepts
- What theories have dominated the field of second language acquisition?
- What can we take from each and use in practice?
- What are the current theories? What are their benefits? How can we use this to enhance teaching?
- What is retrieval practice and how does it apply to MFL?
- How can we use homework to effectively combat Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve?
- Rather than simply telling students to “learn vocab”, how can we do it in ways that ensure longer term retention and more thorough processing?
- How does the brain store and retrieve language?
- How do you revisit content so that students “know and remember more” without it being too repetitive that they switch off and lose interest?
- What are good starter tasks for MFL lessons?
- How do you phrase a good lesson objective for an MFL lesson?
- How do you sequence activities to reach that objective?
- Is it appropriate to have production every lesson?
- How do you plan a sequence of lessons over time so that content is revised effectively?
- How do you adapt lessons for SEND learners?
- What are the common barriers dyslexic students face in MFL and what are the most effective ways to overcome them?
- How do you check for understanding quickly and effectively?
- What are the common barriers that learners face moving into secondary school from primary?
- How do we overcome these barriers?
- How can we develop closer links with primary schools when time, resources and funding are limited?
- How can we ensure learners are ready for A-level so that the jump is not too big?
- How can we develop closer links with sixth forms to increase progression?
- How do you drive up options numbers in a school where languages are not prioritised highly?
- In a Welsh context where many students have to study Welsh, how do you drive up options numbers as any foreign language is additional and cuts down on the amount of option choices a student has?
- How do you raise the profile of MFL?
- What profile raising projects are most effective?
- How do you raise the profile of MFL in a school with low budgets?
- How do you combat the “I did GCSE FRench and I can’t remember any of it” line on parents evening?
- How do you combat the “I’m never going to need … anyway” line from students?