Pupils must learn discipline and organisation to succeed

16th March 2012 at 00:00

"French without Tears", "German Made Easy", "Spanish in a Week". These titles all smack of snake oil to me. I have the same reaction when anyone suggests that we abandon homework, additional exercises or vocabulary memorisation - or that we should try teaching language under hypnosis.

I confess to ploughing on miserably and inviting pupils to record in their planners another dreaded learning homework. For the main ingredients of success appear to me to be self-organisation and mental application.

I have been through all of the phases, of course: presentation of new material, oral repetition, games to measure comprehension. But I make my pupils do writing drills to be sure the language has been assimilated and fully retained.

Some years back, depressed by a cluster of wretched scores, I invited the headteacher into my lesson to give a pep talk. He asked one pupil who had scored disappointingly, "How long did you spend on this task?" "About 30 minutes," the boy replied. The head then turned to a fine scholar who had achieved full marks: "And you? How long did you spend?" "I didn't do it, Sir," he responded, "I had already learnt them in class."

There were lessons here for me. I was not stretching an able individual and was being unreasonably demanding of another. It was time to be practical. After a conversation with pupils, I produced a faculty ideas list. Here is the pick of it.

1. Discuss a memorisation technique with a group in class and then, under time pressure, get them to apply it before testing.

2. Set a few key phrases or sentences to learn rather than lists of vocabulary.

3. When learning individual terms, exclude cognates and break the material up into small chunks by category.

4. Encourage pupils to break learning time up into several short slots, focusing on about seven items each time.

5. Suggest to pupils that they explore different learning methods to find one that suits them best.

6. Remind them to self-test on paper and repeat.

7. Make pupils chart their scores on a bar graph in the back of their exercise books so they can see their progress.

None of the above is novel. But learning to organise time, and accept the rewards of mental application, should never go out of fashion. Pupils respect you for leading them firmly to the water.

David Clark has taught French, German and Latin for over three decades and is a former head of languages. He now teaches part-time in Derbyshire

What else?

Help pupils to assess their own work with Geekie's marking display cards. Alternatively, try runaway's extensive personal learning plan, which allows pupils to see their progress clearly.

For all links and resources visit www.tes.co.ukresources026

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