Developing Target Language Teaching

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Every now and again on Facebook groups such as Global Innovative Language Teachers, Secondary MFL Matters and Secondary MFL in Wales, a discussion will arise surrounding the use of target language.  Almost all responses advocate regular use of the target language.  My first Head of Department would emphasise how target language use needed to be “judicious”.  By that he meant appropriate to the group and well-thought out by the teacher.  A brief search of the aforementioned Facebook groups suggests anything in the region of 70-80% of teacher talk should be in the target language.  Some teachers also make the point that any target language in class needs to be comprehensible to the majority of students.  This is illustrated most clearly by a story Rachel Hawkes tells of how a student developed the misconception that everything had to be done in ten days.  The teacher in her story was checking her class had understood tasks by using the Spanish phrase: “entendéis.”

 Almost every MFL blog out there has a post on target language so here is a small selection for your perusal.

Frenchteacher.net

Musicuentos

Gianfranco Conti

Ideal Teacher

Rachel Hawkes

You may well ask why I’m writing a post on target language use if it has been done already.  I wondered that for a while too!  This post is very much about developing teacher target language use.  This post is primarily for three types of people.

  1. PGCE trainees and NQTs getting to grips with using the TL in the classroom.
  2. Experienced teachers teaching another language, with which they are less familiar.
  3. Teachers who wish to increase their TL use.

This post draws on some experiences that I have had over the years.  I was once a PGCE trainee and an NQT.  I have had to teach a third language.  There have also been times where the amount of target language has dropped with a particular group and I have needed to raise it.  Here are some ways to get started:

Script the lesson

On my PGCE, I remember filling out 2-3 page lesson plans detailing all the things I was going to do.  Thankfully, my plans are shorter now.

Scripting interactions that I intend to have with a class can bring about some real improvements in TL use.  For a while I had to teach my weakest language (French).  To ensure that the students were getting a decent diet of TL, some scripting was necessary. By scripting the various aspects of the lesson: welcoming, admin (books out etc), instructions for activities, vocabulary to use during activities and finishing the lesson, I was able to give them that.

This approach does mean more work and is not always practical to do every lesson.  However, I think it pays off.  Over time the students grow accustomed to it and it becomes habitual for you.  It can have a beneficial effect in your strongest language too.  You may find that you can condense instructions, deliver more comprehensible input and also better integrate the language that students have learnt recently into your teaching.

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Yellow box

I was told by my previous Head of Department that a teacher he worked with had a yellow box painted on the floor of their classroom.  When in the yellow box, she would only speak TL .  Students realised that they needed to listen carefully when the teacher was in that position in the room as that is where instructions came from.  My former Head of Department said that teacher was one of the best at using the TL in a classroom that he had ever seen.  Your site team, SLT, caretaker or cleaner may have issues with this approach, masking tape may suffice!

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Count the instances.

This is exactly what it says.  Count the instances where you use target language and when you use English. If the emerging picture is more favourable towards target language then great, aim to build on it!  If not, then there is work to do!  If you are a PGCE trainee or NQT, a mentor could do this for you.  They could also look at the times English was used and suggest some changes to make.

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Ask for help.

When teaching French, I was fortunate to have two very supportive colleagues who would occasionally help me out with pronunciation, words I was unfamiliar with or aspects of French culture.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help, after all it means the students benefit!  Another way to develop is a non-judgemental peer-observation  Could an experienced colleague watch part of your lesson and offer some feedback on  your pronunciation or TL phrases you could use?

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Have a list

For a while I had a list of TL phrases in my weakest language stuck by my desk.  The textbook also had a great list in the back of the book!  Pick a new phrase or two you would like to use.  Try and get it into every lesson over a two or three week period.  You could put them at the top of a planner page for a week or so and try to use them.

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Listening activities

Listening activities traditionally come from textbooks but there is nothing to stop you devising your own.  It increases the amount of TL the pupils hear from you.  It is great pronunciation practice if you’re teaching a language you are less familiar with.  You can then pitch the listening at an appropriate pace.  You are free to remove the asinine additions where the people on the recording share a normally unfunny joke and your class are wondering: “what just happened?!”

Conclusion

Like any aspect of teaching, target language use can be improved.  Forming habits is tough (as anyone who has started using a gym will know).  It takes time.  Jason Selk from Forbes makes the point that Serena Williams did not stop practising her serve after 21 days, assuming she had it cracked.  She kept going and still does.  It is the same with us.  Teaching is a craft and to be a master of that craft takes time and deliberate practice.  Hopefully the ideas above play a small part in helping you develop, refine and improve your teaching.

New term – a great time to raise your game.

Happy New Year to you all.  I hope you had an excellent Christmas and a promising start to the new year.

I’ve decided this should be a simple post about things I will try this term, starting next week.  There are numerous aspects of teaching that I want to improve and various ideas that I want to try.  All of it is aimed at trying to make my lessons the very best they can be.  While inevitably some lessons will go better than others, I want the return in terms of learning to be high every lesson.

Here are 4 ideas I want to try in January:

1) Experiments with excellence

I’ve been reading a little about Ron Berger and his “ethic of excellence” and his insistence on feedback and how it can drive improvement. Whilst Berger teaches in a relatively unique setting I wonder if his ideas can be applied in an MFL classroom.  My year 8 Spanish class will produce a postcard from a holiday but rather than it being a week long homework at the end of the topic, we will draft it over 2 weeks before they do a final version at the end of the topic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqh1MRWZjms

2) Speaking/Translation tandem

Inspired by a Bristol colleague.  Students have phrases on a sheet of A4 with alternating Spanish/English.  They have to say what they think is the phrase and their partner can nudge them towards a correct version.  It should have the effect of reinforcing grammar structures, raising translation as an activity (with the new GCSE in mind) and could work quite well.  Probably will try it with year 7s or year 10s.

3) Insistence on TL

All students have phrases in their books they can use but I’m really going to push it this term.  I want to see if we can get lessons where there is an 80/20% ratio of Spanish – English.  To this end I plan to have 3 things in place:

i) A TL monitor – a student I trust who can monitor my TL usage and that of the class.  They will have a traffic light card to indicate this.  In lower years this will probably be referred to as the Spanish Sy

ii) TL phrases on wall – students need to use these in responding after a listening exercises or wherever possible.

iii) Rewards for students who use most TL, this will be monitored by my TL monitor.

4) Live marking

That is “live” in the sense of “in the moment” not live as in “live, breathe, eat, sleep marking.”  I saw this suggested on another post.  A teacher picks 8 students and aims to mark their books whilst the students are on a task of some description.  The marking then finishes with a question relating to what he/she has seen and demands a response.  Our students have to respond to our marking, this might be a way of encouraging it.  They are more likely to respond if I am stood next to them marking their neighbours book.  It might also be a way to reduce the marking load.  We will see.