I’m quite proud of the fact that I’m now entering my third decade of language teaching. There’s something quite edifying to say that I’ve been in the profession for over 20 years. I thought that it was only ever ‘other people’ who had long teaching careers, but now my growing realisation is that I am one of ‘them’.
So, as we welcome another set of student teachers into our midst at school for their next term of teaching ‘practice’, it made me reflect a little on what changes I have seen in my own teaching over the last 20 years (and perhaps what I’d wished I’d known back in September 1992 as I took those fledgling steps towards the chalk face)
1) Smile, laugh and (yes folks) enjoy!
I was very much brought up in the ‘don’t smile before Christmas’ era. I’ve come to discover that you get the most out of kids when they realise that you enjoy being with them. It puts them at their ease and they are much more likely to respond positively to what you present to them if there is a smile adorning your face rather than a scowl.
Whatever your routines are, develop them and then stick to them. They will see you through the difficult classes, because even they will realise what you expect them to do at certain times. Lesson start: Boys / girls line up separately outside. One line comes in, then the other. Individual greeting for each student / checking uniform. Stand behind chairs in silence. Greet each other in target language. Sit down / register / lesson objectives written into books/ starter. Train them, train them well.
3) Expect the best
Always assume that the students will be able to complete the tasks you have prepared for them. Praise often, encourage when failure arrives and then always give a second redeeming chance.
4) Fun and games
I never did games at the outset. I was far more interested in ‘running a tight ship’. However, I’ve learnt that (correctly used) games can trick students into learning without realising it. Pass the Pigs is the perennial favourite (http://www.censusonline.net/games/pigs/passthepigs.html) and used in practically every class – students demand it. Played boys vs girls, we keep score for the entire academic year.
The sky really is the limit. With languages, there are no boundaries. Give students the language manipulation skills and let them do the rest. Again, I used to strait-jacket them into using set phrases with little freedom. Now the challenge for them is to give me a sentence / sketch that ‘makes me smile / laugh etc.
6) Pace / Preparation
Non-MFL teachers who happen upon my lessons are often left wondering how we can keep up the pace for a full day of teaching. It’s what we do though. I feel that no activity should last more than 10 minutes and with quick speaking exercises / listening / sentence creation / pair work / group work / presentations / role plays / sketches / miming / actions etc, there are often more than 15 activities in any given lesson. It all sits on my desktop, prepared and ready to go ….
…which leads me on to the last one. ActivInspire software for Promethean is my main tool. All the links and resources sit within these flipcharts and the next activity is only a click away. I would be all at sea without my IWB. A long way from the roll-round blackboard and chalk of my probationary year …
There you go then. None of this is rocket science, but then again, one thing you can say for MFL teaching is that it really is a case of the simple things being the most effective.