The key stage 3 national strategy now strengthens its emphasis on effective lesson design, with a focus on expanding teachers' repertoire of strategies. A well-structured lesson considers factors such as audience, objectives and environment. Teachers use these to focus on the best pedagogic approach for the intended learning. Three approaches are summarised below (see table). In MFL we traditionally favour the direct approach, yet to support effective lesson design MFL teachers can benefit from all three styles.
Often we face the task of developing pupils' understanding of a concept, two classic examples being tenses and gender. Would the inductive approach make the difference?
For example, give students of German several familiar sentences containing prepositions with the dative and similar ones with the accusative, to see if they can deduce the reason for this change. As they suggest reasons, they can request translations from you of further English sentences to test their theory. A next step would be for them to translate into German sentences you supply, with you merely saying if they are correct or not. In this way pupils move from lower to higher-order skills such as analysis and synthesis. This activity is adaptable to many MFL contexts - what is important is the thinking pupils are encouraged to do, and the refinement of their own understanding via such activities.
A variation on the preposition task is for you to tell them they are going to learn how to say "my" in the foreign language. Ask them to use what they already know about the language to predict how "my" might operate. They tend to predict that there will be more than one word, that it is linked to gender and so on. Pupils can then ask you for sentences in the language to test and modify their hypotheses. To add more structure for inductive tasks project a transparency (or use the whiteboard) listing 20 English sentences, any of which you will translate on request. This activity has learners discussing all kinds of other linguistic matters as a fringe benefit.
When you teach the passe compose, the present tense often loses its identity. We can help pupils to develop a sense of tense by offering different sentences with the verb omitted, so that they have to use contextual clues such as time adverbs and prediction. An equally useful task is to practise translating various English verb forms into French, which eventually drives home the fact that verb translation is not literal but temporal. The aim is to encourage pupils to process the patterns of verb construction. Pupils are used to exploring reasons why and investigating possibilities in most other subjects and MFL can capitalise on this. Enter here the exploratory approach.
A good exploratory activity to start off with is trialling different ways to learn vocabulary. Alternatively, a class might look at a verb like pouvoir and explore the many linguistic functions it fulfils (for example, ask permission, suggest a solution, invite someone, ask a favour and so on). Once trained, pupils can go on to explore the best way to include a "si" clause in extended writing, or how best to attack lengthy reading texts. Why not go exploring with your classes tomorrow? You may be pleasantly surprised at what you discover together.
Andrea Osborne is a KS3 foundation subjects consultant with Essex County Council and a languages teacher.
Tel: 020 8506 2089