Tempus fugit – Four strategies to maximise MFL curriculum time

Making the most of contact time – combining implicit and explicit approaches. Another thought provoking post by Dr Conti.

The Language Gym


In view of the small amount of curriculum time allocated to MFL teaching in many secondary schools, finding ways to maximise teaching and learning time is crucial in order to ensure retention is long-lasting and horizontal progression (the accurate routinization of the target items) happens.

In this article, I set out to discuss a set of strategies I have been using over the years to address the constraints posed on learning by the very limited contact time I have with my classes (1 hour 50 minutes a week). In my daily fight against time, I have had to make every single minute count. This has entailed:

(1)    effective classroom and learning management, so as to keep students focused and ensure transition from one activity to the next is seamless;

(2)    ensuring long-term retention through impactful teaching strategies;

(3)    smart curriculum design which allows for effective recycling and horizontal progression whilst maximizing…

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Wales: Britain’s Hidden Corner of Bilingualism


The Memrise Blog

Tucked away in the corner of the UK, one of the world’s most monolingual countries, you’ll find a beacon of bilingualism for the rest of the world: Wales. Out of the four home nations that make up the United Kingdom, Wales has led the way in its efforts to revive and promote the Welsh language, and has set a precedent for other countries all over the world. What makes this more impressive, is that it has managed to do so while living side-by-side with global giant English.

But only fifty years ago, it looked like the Welsh language was dying out. It was only spoken in remote, rural regions by mainly older speakers. But since 1999, when learning Welsh was made compulsory in schools up to the age of 16, things have started to change.

“I can’t go five meters out my door without knowing that Welsh is around…

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Why you should change your approach to Grammar Instruction

Comprehensive analysis of approaches to grammar instruction. More superb insights from Gianfrancoconti.

The Language Gym


In most MFL and ELT classrooms grammar is usually taught deductively following a PPP (presentation, practice, production) model. A typical PPP sequence unfolds as follows:  (1) the target grammar rule is explained through a few examples (Presentation); then, (2) the structure is practised in a controlled manner, e.g. through gap fill exercises, substitution drills, sentence transformations, reordering sentences, or matching a picture to a sentence (Practice); finally, (3) students engage in controlled activities such as, surveys, interviews and other information gap activities which will elicit the application of the target structure in real time. During this process, the instructor provides the learner with one or more grammar rules, occasionally supplemented with a heuristic (a rule of thumb), which will guide them in the application of the related structure in tasks that require increasingly higher level of processing.

In this post, I will argue that such model should be abandoned…

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Is it really a low stakes quiz?

Low-stakes quizzes and getting the right balance for their effective use. Diolch yn fawr. Great insight and thought provoking.

Class Teaching

Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by English teacher, Tod Brennan and focussed on the concept of low stakes quizzes. There were two aspects of Tod’s presentation; the value of low stakes quizzes for memory recall but also the importance of managing the stress levels of our students.

Picture1.pngMemory can be defined as ‘learning that has persisted over time – information that has been stored and can be recalled’. In order to remember a fact, our brains have to process information or encode it from the point at which that information was learnt, into our short-term (working) memories and then into our long-term memories. In order, to reuse that information (or memory) we have to retrieve the information. It is at this retrieval point, where low stakes quizzes can play an effective role. Low stakes quizzes can be used as a quick and effective activity at the beginning of lessons…

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They can’t learn what they don’t notice – on the role of salience in language learning

Cynllunio, ail-gylchu a phatrymau targed.

The Language Gym

The extent to which a target language structure is salient (i.e. is noticeable, stands out) is likely to affect its chances to be acquired by a learner. This is consonant with Schmidt’s (1990) Noticing hypothesis (concisely discussed here) which states that noticing a given grammar structure is the starting point for its acquisition.

A number of factors concur to making certain items more salient than others; some refer to frequency and regularity of use, some to their semantic importance, some to how easy it is to hear or perceive them, some to the challenges that the items themselves or the linguistic context in which we process them pose to our working memory.

Why should this be of interest to language teachers? The answer refers to a point that I reiterate to death in my posts: effective teaching is not just about classroom delivery, but also about the way…

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EAS MFL Conference 2017



Today I was very fortunate to be able to attend the EAS MFL Conference held at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni. I was able to attend only because I am currently working with the Spanish and English department at my school on a Triple Literacy Project and we were invited to share our progress with the conference. This was the first EAS Modern Foreign Languages conference and it was an absolute pleasure as a Welsh Second Language teacher to be a part of the amazing sharing of good practice with fellow linguists and stakeholders. Thank you for the opportunity.

Following the introductory presentations from EAS and head teachers of Cwm Rhymni and Blackwood, lead schools in developing this collaborative approach to address MFL within the consortium, we were given a superb keynote speech from the Chair of the MFL Steering group. The main thrust of his address was that languages open doors and opportunities and that we as language teachers can change lives. I found myself nodding and laughing along with the anecdotes from the classroom and the wonderful journey of the presenter. I was already completely enthused and excited even before the workshops begun.

There were 6 workshops during the day in 3 sessions and some additional talks from ESTYN and Welsh Government and opportunities to network with stakeholders. The following workshops were available.

  1. Language Futures and Literature
  2. Spontaneous Speaking and Primary Transition
  3. Growth Mindset in MFL and MFL cross-curricular projects

I was only able to attend 2 workshop as I was co-presenting in workshop 3.  It was an absolute privilege to attend the Language Futures and Spontaneous Speaking and I found both sessions very informative with a range of ideas I could implement tomorrow.  During the 3rd workshop, I was also able to listen to how other schools were approaching the cross-curricular projects and the level of creativity and innovation was outstanding.

Below are my highlights and takeaways from the event:

There are innovative and engaging ideas for addressing learning such as Project Based Learning approaches like Language Features which can foster aspiration in language learning.

Language learning/acquisition should focus on high frequency words and phrases used in real life.

Developing the learning skills needed for language learning – learning to learn – so skills can be transferred across languages and learning is important to developing well rounded students.

Adaptations to how projects could be run could serve to generate interest and aspiration for languages for different groups or needs such as MAT students or Language Clubs. Developing independant learning opportunities is important to fostering interest in language and learning.

Technological opportunities should be grasped and exploited to increase contact time with the target language and there are now many possibilities using Google Classroom and various apps. Collaboration between students and teachers outside of lessons can be achieved.

Projects can increase the opportunities for networking, collaboration, sharing and developing understanding of grammatical links between languages and foster literacy at a deeper level.

Using Immersion Charts can bring language into real life situations and increase confidence and contact time in an engaging way.

Projects can also unlock very important cultural opportunities and learning by tolerance and understanding – changing mindsets.

There are a number of very creative ways in which we can address literacy in both L1 and L2 through frequent exposure in low stakes activities – similar to pop up grammar in CI approach.

Spontaneous talk can be supported in a variety of ways including developing questions and high frequency sentence patterns in the first instance and then scaffolding activities by modelling the possibilities – similar to Movie Talk and Picture Talk from CI approach.

Using models to ensure responding to a range of aspects from a stimulus such as using the fingers to represent things like physical, location, action, mood and weather for instance. Lots of scope for creative models to support thinking and responding.

3rd person forms are vital when dealing with discussions based on stimuli such as pictures or media as students will need to talk about others more frequently.

High frequency verbs and prepositions are also very important to develop detailed responses.

Developing a Multilingual Mindset in our classes, departments and schools is key to progress and addressing negativity. Celebrating differences and embracing a global outlook. Multilingualism is the norm in this context.

The importance of effectiveness at all levels in teaching and learning and currently there is a need to reflect on whether we address progression and challenge in our lessons, where progress is the ability to mix prior learning with new learning effectively and challenge is open ended tasks which allow students to apply their learning in new contexts.

We need to see the big picture and the importance of languages in a global context such as medicine and STEM. 

The event has given me lots of food for thought and I am looking forward to developing upon the outcomes with colleagues in the near future.

Diolch yn fawr EAS ac athrawon ITM … dych chi’n rocïo!