The future starts here

9th May 2003 at 01:00
ASPECTS OF TEACHING SECONDARY MODERN FOREIGN LANGUAGES: Perspectives on Practice Edited by Ann Swarbrick. Routledge FalmerOpen University. pound;18.99

MODERN LANGUAGES ACROSS THE CURRICULUM. Edited by Michael Grenfell. Routledge Falmer pound;17.99

Nigel Norman reviews two timely pedagogies as language teaching enters a new age

What does a teacher need to know to understand how a modern languages classroom works, and what will that classroom look like as the century progresses? These questions underpin these two edited collections. Both books move thinking forward, providing fertile reference points for initiatives heralded in the National Languages Strategy, such as widening participation, early language learning and increasing use of information and communication technology.

Aspects of Teaching Secondary Modern Foreign Languages is avowedly practical and demonstrates both the complexity and the common-sense nature of most effective teaching. In recounting an inspirational lesson by a Spanish teacher, Ann Swarbrick establishes the rationale for the how and why of teaching and learning.

The book is divided into sections: the first considers teaching and learning strategies and effective classroom management; the second planning, evaluating and assessing, and the third looks beyond the classroom. The scope of the chapters is extensive. Section one includes information on learning strategy instruction, languages for all, engaging pupils in learning through paired and group work and resources, listening, reading and speaking skills and vocabulary, video and the use of television.

An avoidance of prescriptive orthodoxy and a concern for the individual learner lies behind all the contributions. Teaching ideas are detailed, systematic and stimulating, and pedagogical advice is firmly pragmatic and grounded in practice. A highly structured sequence of differentiated lessons is outlined in a valuable chapter on teaching key stage 4 classes, while "Planning your use of ICT" will provide a much needed fillip in this crucial area. Section three considers issues such as broadening the content of lessons, cross-curricularity, development education, drama in post-16 teaching, links abroad, and evidencing new ways of thinking about language teaching.

This last lies at the very heart of Modern Languages Across the Curriculum, which aims to look beyond the dominant methods to a new approach, emphasising the integration of language learning within the wider curriculum. Through research and case studies from across Europe, the book demonstrates how policy-makers and teachers are gradually moving towards a system where languages are taught through other subjects. It provides an impressively researched critique of current versions of communicative language teaching and a fascinating snapshot of developments in "content and language integrated learning"(CLIL) from six European countries.

Michael Grenfell says the rationale for integration is predicated on the perceived need to realign structure and content - the two elements of language learning that are split apart by current interpretations of communicative language teaching. We should not only be developing social and interpersonal skills, but thinking skills, and learning how to learn (also see Harris in Aspects).

If the content of language lessons is cognitively more demanding, interest and motivation increase. Multilingualism, immersion and primary school language learning are indicators of wider pedagogic, cultural and social purposes. Chapters on practical materials, teacher education and initial and in-service training demonstrate the widespread commitment to this welcome venture.

These two volumes represent state-of-the-art thinking.

Nigel Norman is lecturer in education at the University of Wales, Swansea

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