Reflections on school issues and teaching Modern Foreign Languages.
1) What makes this school distinctive?
It is a comprehensive school and thus every pupil is welcome. Pupils come from very different and even opposite social backgrounds, they have different ethnic origins and there are a lot of non-English native speakers.
On the one hand, the cultural richness of the school is a strength because pupils have to deal with different ways of seeing life and different cultures but, on the other hand, it is also a weakness since it is difficult to cope with it as it creates very different levels within classes – pupils who are non-English native speakers have more difficulties in English and in other subjects, but this is not the case in MFL lessons as they already have two languages to describe the world.
The school is divided into Colleges and Departments and it is situated in two buildings. Having two buildings is an advantage regarding the matter of overcrowding – each building has fewer students and teachers and thus the atmosphere is more intimate, amiable and warm, but it is also a weakness regarding the matter of convenience – during the same day teachers might have lessons in the two buildings and they have to ‘run’ between them in order to be on time for their lessons. They might miss their break going from one building to the other and this can be a cause of stress.
2) What is the unique contribution of MFL to the school curriculum?
MFL allows the pupils to think, see and ‘say’ the world differently. It widens the pupils’ universe. It is a concrete example of the peculiarity of a culture, a country, in this world of globalization where everything tends to become unified, uniform. The pupils learn another language and it is not something which is explained or told, they experience it, they can use it freely and it opens the doors of a ‘new’ world, a French-speaking one (if they learn French) where they can get information, original information.
According to Beate Poole (2002, p. 204), in learning a foreign language, pupils “ inevitably move from what has so far been a largely unconscious approach in the acquisition of their first language, to a largely conscious approach in the learning of another”. Indeed, it enables pupils to think about the structure of the language, and the structure of their mother tongue when compared with that of the foreign language.
3) What is the relationship of MFL to other subjects?
As I pointed out before, MFL learning is linked to the mother tongue, indeed, when the pupils reflect on the foreign language, they reflect at the same time on their first language (or the language they mostly use) since they implicitly or explicitly compare the two.
In MFL lessons, there can be geography, history, mathematics, ICT, food, science, any subject! Everything can be tackled as long as it is in French.
4) What is the relationship between effective lesson planning and teaching and good behaviour?
When a lesson is well planned, that is to say, when the teacher has foreseen everything s/he has to prepare for a lesson, the teaching resulting from it is good in most cases, if not in every case. Why? Because according to Chris Kyriacou (1998, p. 19), planning “f irst and foremost (…) enables you to think clearly and specifically about the type of learning you wish to occur in a particular lesson and to relate the educational objectives to what you know about the pupils and the place of the lesson in the general programme of study. Second, it enables you to think about the structure and content of the lesson (…) how long to devote to each activity. Third, planning quite considerably reduces how much thinking you will have to do during the lesson. Once the lesson is in progress, there will be much to think about in order to maintain its effectiveness. The fact that the lesson as a whole has been well planned means that you can normally focus your attention on the fine-tuning of the lesson, rather tha n trying to make decisions on the hop. Fourth, planning leads on to the preparation of all materials and resources in general that will be needed. A fifth important purpose of planning is that keeping your notes will provide a useful record for your future planning.”
In my opinion, C. Kyriacou has said everything about how to create effective lesson planning and why it is important. By now, I can say that, indeed, if a teacher spends less time thinking about the content of his/her lesson (during the lesson), s/he should be able to cope more easily with behaviour problems or any other unexpected events which are not linked to the lesson but to the classroom management. That is why good behaviour depends on effective lesson planning and teaching.
5) My reflections on the importance of catering for different learning styles
While doing the lesson plan, we have to think about the different types of learning we are going to use in order to satisfy the pupils’ favourite learning style. Are there visual, auditory, kinaesthetic pupils in the class? If a pupil is kinaesthetic, s/he prefers to move, feel things, for example, s/he would prefer the use of mimes to remember something rather than the use of pictures (good support for pupils whose learning style preference is visual) or the simple sound of the words repeated again and again (good for pupils whose learning style preference is auditory). It is good to evaluate, and observe in our own lessons, the pupils’ learning style preference so that the lesson might fit the pupils as properly as possible. If I know that in a class there are kinaesthetic and visual pupils, I will plan activities which are physical (mimes, pupils have to get up…) and have a lot of visual supports such as OHTs and posters, or I will have the pupils write in their book – for some pupils it might be the best way for them to learn: write and read. Even though I think that every pupil’s preferred learning style should be taken into account, in order to get them into learning, I will vary the activities as it is good to have different styles in the same lesson. Pupils should experience different learning styles to enable them to learn more easily from various types of activities.
I agree with C. Kyriacou (1998, p. 41), who says that: “ Learning styles include the type of strategies for learning they [the pupils] prefer to adopt when given a choice, and the physical and social characteristics of their preferred learning situation. For example, some pupils prefer to read (rather than listen), work alone (rather than in group), find things out for themselves (rather than be given a digest by a teacher. The point is sometimes made that if pupils are taught more often in their preferred learning style, more learning will take place. Consequently, teachers should try to match learning activities to pupils’ preferences.”
6) My reflections on the importance of making oneself comprehensible
This question is linked to the previous one. It is important to have different strategies to make oneself comprehensible considering that pupils have different learning styles.
7) My reflections on the connection between the above and pupil behaviour
If I use only one type of learning style for all my activities, the pupils whose learning style is not the same will get bored and thus, they will misbehave or chat with one another, thus disturbing the progression of the lesson. I need to use different learning styles so that every pupil will participate at one point or another, if not always. The need for diversified activities is important so that they will always seem to be new ones even if it is the same vocabulary that is repeated. The pupils are like a frog in an aquarium surrounded by dead flies: if there is no movement, no change, no novelty, the pupils will not notice what we want to teach them (like the frog won’t notice the dead flies since they are not moving) and they will get bored, misbehave, chat and won’t take an active part in the lesson.
8) What are the diverse skills and attributes required to make a good teacher?
Referring to my experience and to what I have heard or read, a good teacher needs to plan, prepare his/her lesson in advance so that s/he less stressed (for example, forgetting a resource or anything else is a source of stress). Additionally, if the lesson plan is good, the teacher will focus more on the pupils than on the content of the lesson. Having planned diverse activities, s/he can easily change the activity and adapt the lesson to the class. Furthermore, I think that it is a good thing for a teacher to use her/his intuition to feel, see, if the pupils are focused or not on the lesson, and if not, why and what to do to regain their attention . If it is a problem of communication, a problem of comprehension, here again the teacher has to use different strategies to deal with this.
It seems to be quite a complex thing to be a good teacher but, as time goes by, we can get into the habit of having diversified activities, of knowing what to do and in which particular context. We learn from our mistakes.
9) The role and the importance of self-evaluation in my development as a teacher and questions raised
Self-evaluation is very important for teachers because we need to know why something went wrong in order not to make the same mistake again. If there is no- one to observe us we need to distance ourselves and see what was good and what was not. We learn from our mistakes and that is why we have to notice them. In addition, we have to notice what was good, what worked well, so that we can use it again later. We need to evaluate ourselves because it is the only way that we can improve and become better and better at being a teacher.
10) What are the factors affecting pupil behaviour and how does my role as a class teacher influence this?
Pupils’ behaviour is affected by unexpected changes. If I introduce and set routines that are used in every lesson, the pupils will get used to them and I will have less problems dealing with classroom management because the lesson will be structured around the routines.
I need to be consistent and persistent in setting clear boundaries and rules so that the pupils will already know what they are expected to do and what they are expected not to do.
11) How do clearly established classroom routines contribute to creating a learning-centred environment?
If I have clearly established routines, I just need to add the activities I want to do around the routines which will be the spine of the lesson. The lesson will be built around the routines and thus the pupils will know what to do, when and how. The routines can be linked to anything, pupils chatting (5-4-3-2-1-silence!), giving an opinion, a judgement (A mon avis c’était super/fantastique..!), or asking for permission to speak in English or anything else that can help me in classroom management.
12) The routines that I intend to establish with my classes.
a) Why I consider each of these to be particularly important.
The greeting routine (saying hello to individuals with eye contact and a smile) is important because it is a positive action and it is the first contact we have with the pupils so we can see how they feel on that particular day and maybe how to cope with their mood and the class in general. It is an important time because we can adapt to the pupils, for example, if they are all tired because they had physical education, a brain-gym activity (where they will need to move a lot) might not be a good idea to start the lesson with.
The brain-gym is meaningful, even though when it is introduced to pupils they are not very enthusiastic about it, little by little, they get used to it and it becomes a game and a moment of ‘relaxation’. In a stress-free environment they enjoy music and have fun. Moreover, the French words in the song will become more and more familiar to the pupils and implicitly, they will get used to the French sounds and pronunciation.
The evaluation routine is essential because it enables pupils to have an idea of how to evaluate, indeed, pupils get used to evaluating one another, or one team evaluates the other one, and when the pupils need to self-evaluate it is easier for them. This routine can fit any person: I, you, he, she, and we (C’était comment….? C’était nul/super/comme-ci comme ça…). With this routine we can change the structure little by little so that they might be able to say I was good/bad or s/he was good/fantastic…
The lesson objectives are a very good routine to practis e and set up the structure of a sentence or the structure of a small text to tell a story or something else. It is good for writing skills, because pupils can see the spelling of the vocabulary (with the slow-reveal and the hangman).
The pair/ group work routines are great because the pupils learn how to work together, in groups or in pairs, and these are non-linguistic objectives. Furthermore, the exchange is at the pupils’ level, it is a pupil to pupil exchange since the teacher does not (normally) intervene. For some pupils, as they are dealing with other pupils, it is easier for them to express themselves without being scared of the teacher’s judgement; they might feel more comfortable because they do not have to speak in front of the whole class. These routines create a safe and stress-free environment.
The plenary is an important routine because I can see and check what the pupils have learned or not, what worked well or did not. It is crucial when I self-evaluate myself.
Formative or summative assessments are very important too, to see the pupils’ levels and what to do in order to have a lesson which will adapt to the pupils’ knowledge. It is necessary to have assessments because when you assess, the pupils assess themselves too. We can see whether the problem came from the lesson or if it was the pupils who did not listen, who weren’t focused. For example, if the majority of the pupils are unable to answer when the teacher asks a question, it means that – whether the majority of the pupils were not focused on the lesson – the teacher has to question her/his lesson. O r it means that at some point something went wrong and the pupils did not understand, so here again the teacher has to question her/himself, her/his lesson and self-evaluate.
The routines are fundamental since they help to create and maintain a positive learning environment, they structure both the lesson and the class (displays on the wall…). Routines not only give a sense of continuity and a sense of security, but also give target language.
b) Exactly what I will do and expect pupils to do
The routines are always in the target language (French).
The greeting routine:
I say hello to each pupil while I look at them and smile (outside or inside the classroom) and I ask them how they are.
The pupils answer if they are fine or not and might ask me how I am.
The brain-gym routine:
I tell the pupils what we are going to do and I put the music on, then I do some motions and the pupils have to do the same. We sing and/ or dance.
The e valuation routine: (more or less a transition routine)
I ask the pupils how the activity was and I give them the choice between multiple answers. The pupils give their evaluation.
The lesson objectives routine:
I do a ‘slow-reveal’ or a ‘hangman’ in order to present the progression of the lesson, and the pupils have to struggle to arrive at meaning. I introduce new vocabulary or I revise vocabulary.
The pair/group work routine:
I use the same vocabulary to present the activity and then I have pupils repeat new vocabulary or revise vocabulary.
The plenary routine: (transition)
I ask pupils questions about everything we have seen to check if they have learned something and what they have learned or not.
The routine to leave the class (dismissal)/ sit down or speak English (…):
The pupils ask for the permission to leave the classroom, to sit down or to speak English. I ask them why and they give me reasons.
The routine to distribute/collect the books/exercise books:
I ask the pupils if I can have a volunteer to distribute or collect the books/ exercise books/sheets. The pupils ask if they can be volunteers and I thank them.
The routine to do the points:
I ask for a volunteer to do the points and choose a pupil because s/he has never done it or has not done it for a long time or because we did ‘Amstramgram’ and s/he won. Then the pupil has to ask to mark the points.
Kyriacou, C. (1997) Effective Teaching in Schools. 2nd edn. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes.
Kyriacou, C. (1998) Essential Teaching Skills. 2nd edn. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes.
Poole, B. (2002) ‘The potential impact of the National Literacy Strategy on MFL learning’, in A. Swarbrick (ed.) Teaching modern foreign languages in secondary schools, London: the Open University flexible PGCE.
Rogers, B. (1994) The Language of Discipline. 2nd edn. Plymouth: Northcote House publishers.