French has always been popular with students at my school, but we continue to seek innovative ways to increase take-up and raise standards. So when we had the chance to teach French in the gym with Technogym's "active learning" gym equipment, it was too good to turn down.
Here's how it works at my school. About 100 students in each year group choose a GCSE language, such as French, German or Spanish. (And they all have the opportunity to go to the gym as part of their unit of work on health in Years 8 and 10.)
The touchscreen on the equipment is set up in the target language and the students can access presentations and internet sites while they exercise. As they train, all their instructions come through the equipment in their target language, so it's practical. And they find it fun.
We have already seen a rise in enthusiasm from students for the sometimes more routine aspects of language study. And the project helps students who are more passionate about sport than languages to feel comfortable, while boosting their self-esteem and performance in the language.
Teaching MFL in the gym may seem unusual but our students are used to working in a variety of sporting contexts to boost learning. All our departments conduct regular reviews, and feedback from the languages department is that the scheme enhances enthusiasm and improves outcomes.
As well as promoting physical benefits, the scheme has had a radical impact on results. Our Year 10 class that trialled the project benefited from an 85 per cent improvement in their writing grades. It has also helped to reinforce the language they have learned, which they can put into practice.
Despite a national drop in the number of students studying MFL since the last government ended compulsory language study after the age of 14, languages are still popular with our students. We believe that our approach to MFL has kept students motivated and helped them to recognise the value of language learning. With the government's decision to make learning a foreign language compulsory again, we feel we have a head start. And the experiment with the multi-gym has been part of that.
It is not only in MFL that we can stimulate learning through sport: maths, science and technology also get a boost from lessons in the gym.
Derek Peaple is head of Park House School and Sports College in West Berkshire. Details at www.technogym.comgb
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