Progress in MFL

Preparing students the smart way.

When I was an NQT I remember getting into a flap about having to cover the course. I must make sure that I have got through the textbook! I must make sure that I have covered all of the languages on the scheme of work (which was the textbook), including that language on transport!

What happens if ‘gare routière’ comes up on the reading paper? I must teach them this content. It was a familiar pathway; make sure I cover the curriculum. At that time I wasn’t aware of the difference between learning and performance (there’s an excellent David Didau @LearningSpy blog on this, with reference to Soderstrom and Bjork) at uked15jul19; just because students showed me at the end of the lesson that they could recall vocabulary knowledge or apply knowledge of a grammatical rule I had imparted during the lesson didn’t necessarily mean that I had done my job.

‘Great performance in today’s lesson guys!’ I used to shout as the students were leaving, not really understanding the true meaning of performance and just applying my own brand of teacher cum pseudo football manager encouragement-speak by using this language. In other words, just because the students could recall and apply the language I had taught in that lesson there and then didn’t necessarily mean that they would be able to retain this knowledge and then apply it later on in the course. I was as far away from Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve and the fluency illusion as referred to by Carey (82:2014 – How We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where and Why it Happens) as those students who had been taught ‘gare routière’ in Year 10 and were expected to recall the meaning of it in their Year 11 GCSE reading paper.

Nowadays, though, we talk about spaced practice, testing students’ retrieval as a means of learning, nothing having been learned if there has been no change in long-term memory, interleaving different topics and vocabulary instead of teaching using massed or blocked practice strategies.

All of these strategies involve practice and testing so that students can retain language in their long-term memories and apply it. It is how we get the students to practise and how we test the students so that they can do this over the longer term that is key. Hattie refers to being ‘motivated by knowledge gaps, but put off by knowledge chasms’.

With low A level and GCSE take-up in mind, the MFL Twitterati are after you!

The wonderful MFL Twitterati, being the army of like-minded practitioners that they are, have shared some excellent apps about how to get students to both practise and test their retrieval of the language. Apps like Memrise,,, etc. work well as a means of testing the students with the view to making longer-lasting and more durable learning. I am enjoying incorporating these more and more into my own practice. I’ve also been using VFLAs; Vocab Fun Learning Activities which involve immersing students in as much vocabulary and short phrases as possible, practising all the language in ways that engage the students before then covering up their meanings and testing students’ recall. VFLAs like Penalty Shoot-Out, Verbal-Volley and Bob-Up are designed to get students to practise in a competitive environment before testing students’ retrieval all with the aim of moving the focus away from students’ performance to their learning over time.

Spaced practice and spaced retrieval of key long-term memory essential language will give students the confidence to avoid a case of the ‘gare routières’ which befell and befuddled me in my NQT year. Have a look at the new draft GCSE specifications, which language do we want students to recall with automaticity by the time they sit the exams in the summer? Interleave the practice and testing of this language no matter what the topic is.

This article first appeared in the July 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazineFreely read online by Clicking Here

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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