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My new book is published today

My second book since I retired from teaching in 2012 is out today. It's called Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher. I didn't choose the title myself, since it is one of a series of books from Routledge all each beginning with the words "Becoming an Outstanding". I'm actually not keen on the Ofsted word "outstanding" when it's applied to teaching, but I understand why the publisher uses it, as I imagine you do too.

After writing The Language Teacher Toolkit handbook with Gianfranco Conti in 2015, Routledge approached me to write something for their growing series. When I saw the maths book in the cycle I realised they were looking for something relatively informal and classroom-based, lightly research and highly practical. I was happy to put something together, partly based on previous writings, which I believe new and experienced teachers will find of significant practical use. Sometimes books which claim to be practical guides end up not bei…
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What works? DfE small scale project summaries

I am grateful to David Wilson, SEND consultant, for bringing my attention via the MFL Resources Yahoo group to a document just published (August 2017) on the DfE site.

The original DfE source is here:

The DfE carries out research projects using "project associates" (statisticians, economists and researchers) which aim to help develop the DfE's vision for education and inform the practice of teachers. If you scroll down the page linked above you'll find two reports and their key findings. Both reports were used to inform the useful Teaching Schools Council on MFL pedagogy published, with no great fanfare, earlier this year. (As an aside I am curious about the link between the DfE's reports and the TSC - I thought the latter was independent.)

I am simply going to copy, without commentary, the key findings from the two proje…

Are the new A-level exams harder?

On the day when A-level results come out for 2017 we hear commentators talk of new harder A-levels. Michael Gove, we hear, wanted A-levels to be a match for other qualifications around the world, do away with the constant testing of modules and make the exams a better preparation for university by letting universities have a stronger say in the content of the specifications.

Are the new exams actually harder?

Firstly we need to distinguish between two types of difficulty. On the one hand we have the actual content of the syllabus and exams, on the other we have the issue of grading. You can have hard questions, but with a lenient mark scheme. You can also create a more demanding exam, yet maintain the same range of grades. This is what the Ofqual policy of "comparable outcomes" is meant to achieve year on year, including this year when some exams are new. In 2017 the proportion of A* and A grades rose slightly because of the way Ofqual allocate grades (partly through the ques…

Focus on meaning or focus on form?

In one view of second language learning it is claimed that we acquire by simply understanding messages. Just as a child picks up their first language by listening to and interacting with caregivers and other children, so a second language learner picks up language sub-consciously by interacting with the teacher and peers. In both cases the learner acquires the language by focusing on no more than meanings. Only in rare cases is any attention drawn to the form of the language, e.g. grammar, patterns, spelling. This type of learning has been characterised in a number of ways over the years, for example as informal, implicit or natural learning.

This view of second language acquisition has some appeal because adult learners still have that apparently innate and unique capacity which humans possess: the ability to acquire language. (Though some scholars challenge this assumption.) Why not assume that by creating similar conditions to first language acquisition we can foster effective secon…

Practising school subject vocab

Let's suppose you've taught the L2 words for school subjects (maths, English, history etc). Perhaps you used PowerPoint slides, held up flashcards, gave a simple bilingual list, used a simple Quizlet list, showed a simplified school timetable etc. Let's then suppose you personalised the topic by combining them with "I like" and "I don't like" or other variations. What next?

A common activity which you may not have come across is to carry out a class survey. This is simple example of task-based language teaching where having a specific purpose adds motivation for the exercise. First, teach the question "What subjects do you like?" Make sure it is well established with choral repetition and some whole class QA. Then tell students they will carry out a popularity survey. They must stand up, walk about the class, and in 10 minutes ask as many friends as possible what their THREE favourite subjects are. As the students are walking round and conv…

Principles for resource writing

Like many of you no doubt, I have been writing resources for language teachers (French) for many years. Although I have always used my instincts about what is useful I've never established a set of explicit principles on which to base my resources. In fact, these principles have existed implicitly in my head but I've never written them down.

Anyway, having just read a blog on the MaWSIG (IATEFL) site here by freelance ELT author Katherine Bilsborough, I've been prompted to give this some thought. In her blog post she discusses materials writing principles and refers to a number of ELT writers who have worked on this, such as Rod Ellis (second language acquisition research guru) Paul Nation (vocabulary research guru) and Brian Tomlinson (all round guru).

Of the various principles outlined for resource writing I liked these by Brian Tomlinson. See what you think:
Provide a rich, meaningful and recycled exposure to the target language in use.Stimulate affective engagement.Stim…

Why not become a GILT-er?

GILT stands for Global Innovative Language Teachers and is a Facebook closed group set up by Gianfranco Conti. If you use Facebook, just search for it. Unlike the other very good UK Facebook groups for modern language teachers, such as Secondary MFL Matters and MFL Teachers' Lounge, this one aims to bring together teachers of all languages, including EFL teachers, from around the world.

Within a few days the groups has seen well over 1000 teachers sign up from places including the UK, Australia, Canada, the USA, France and Malaysia. Early threads have been very busy with teachers from various backgrounds and diverse methodologies sharing ideas and asking questions. Gianfranco and others have opened up some some good topics such as: what are the qualities of a good Head of Department? What was your best ever lesson? How full should a scheme of work be? How does TPRS work? What is AIM all about? What was the funniest thing a student ever said or wrote?

The guidelines of the group in…