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What is cognitive load theory?

There is a lot of discussion in the educational world at the moment about cognition and in particular Cognitive Load Theory, so I thought I would look at this model and relate it to second language learning. Remember that I come at this as a teacher, not an academic scholar!

How information is processed

Cognitive Load Theory builds upon a widely accepted model of human information processing published by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin in 1968. It describes the process as having three main parts: sensory memory,
working memory and long-term memory (Figure 1).

Figure 1



Researchers have added to understanding of this concept over the years, but the basic model remains the same.  Figure 1 shows how processing works. You receive huge amounts of sensory information all the time you are awake. Sensory memory filters out most of this information, but keeps hold of the most important items long enough for them to pass into working memory.  For example, in a crowded room you can hear all s…
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Tips for target language teaching

Here is a list of tips for using the target language (L2) we included in The Language Teacher Toolkit. Our popular 360 page handbook which includes model lesson plans for French, German and Spanish is available here. We would even dare to suggest that every languages department would benefit from having a copy. One school in England, Oundle School, bought a copy for each of their teachers. How nice of them!

The book is liberally sprinkled with practical tips like those below, along with references to research, advice on pedagogy and discussion of issues in language teaching.

vHave some sort of sign or signal indicating when only L2 is allowed, e.g. a flag. vApologise to the class for using L1 to set the right tone and show you are one of them. vGive rewards to students who never use L1. vMake maximum use of gesture, realia and pictures. vSet challenges, e.g. "I am going to talk to you for 3 minutes about my weekend in (L2). Write down notes in L1 and I'll see how much you picked u…

Daniel Willingham's five step approach to self-improvement

For teachers in England and Wales, as you drive on to GCSEs and AS-levels, and exam leave and gained time beckon, it will soon be time to come up with performance management targets (slight groan?). I used to manage this in my department and, of course, had to come up with my own for my line manager. Teachers outside the UK might be able to make use of the ideas below.

I recently read psychologist Daniel Willingham's best-selling book Why Don't Students Like School? which I recommend. In Chapter 9 he lays out a five step approach for getting and giving feedback which I thought could be used or adapted as a genuinely useful (as opposed to tick-box) performance management (PM) target. I know this because I saw colleagues adopt similar, if less structured, approaches to self-improvement. See what you think. I'll summarise Willingham's steps and suggest briefly how they might be adapted for MFL teachers.

Step 1

Identify another teacher you would like to work with. (This cou…

Tell stories

Introduction

How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

Easy video listening for Y8-10

This is a sample resource from frenchteacher.net based on a video clip from the Frello site I recently reviewed. Help yourself. You could use this with a good Y8 class or possibly Y9-10, depending on the class.

Qu’aimes-tu et que n’aimes-tu pas ?
Video source:     http://frello.fr/watch/beginner/beg20.php
A.  Ecoutez Théo et remplissez les blancs en choisissant les mots dans la case
lire         beaucoup          verres       méchants         aimes        préfère         manquent        bière        inutiles      viens       espèrent        balader        viens           raffole           pense
Bonjour à tous, comment ça va, aujourd’hui? Je m’appelle Théo, je _______ de Lyon, en France. La question du jour est : qu’est-ce que tu _______ et qu’est-ce que tu n’aimes pas? Ce que j’aime tout d’abord. J’adore le sport, _______. J’aime aussi _______, aller au cinéma, au théâtre, me _______ dans de jolis endroits et boire des _______ avec des amis. Je _______ que c’est boire des verres avec mes am…

What if we have our whole approach to MFL teaching wrong?

Whenever I write about language teaching I try to maintain a pragmatic, open-minded view about methodology. This isn't always easy when you've been taught and trained in a certain way (for me the oral-situational approach based on a grammatical syllabus) and worked within an English system where the high stakes GCSE and A-level exams dominate the scene and, to an extent, dictate teaching approaches. Nevertheless I endeavour to present a range of methods as having value as long as they respect some basic principles to do with input and practice. I do this because I find it interesting and hope other teachers do too.

I quite recently wrote two blogs about the Teaching Schools Council report on MFL pedagogy. They are here and here.To remind you, that report came out strongly in favour of a skill-acquisition approach to classroom language teaching. The emphasis should be on explicit, structured teaching of grammar and phonics, along with high frequency vocabulary possibly at the e…

Frello

Frello ("French Listening Lessons Online") was started up in July 2016 by two young fellows from Normandy who are making a business out of online conversation lessons. The useful part for French teachers and their pupils is the videos section of the site which hosts two sets of videos, at beginner and intermediate level. The short to-camera, very home-made video clips are hosted on Vimeo and come with transcripts and short interactive quizzes. The quality of the sound is adequate and the speakers slow down their language to a suitable level.

The topics covered so far at beginner level include: likes and dislikes, food, countries, family, house, daily routine and clothes. At intermediate level (Foundation/Higher GCSE) topics include: who do you admire, breakfast, pastimes, childhood dreams, school and "Have you ever had your heart broken?" (!). More videos are being added all the time.

The interactive quizzes aren't thorough enough for classroom use, but could b…