Specialists need to support their non-specialist colleagues

13th January 2012 at 00:00

"Well, you know, I was never any good at French at school. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't my strongest subject."

Ask most teachers to cover for their MFL colleagues and they become anxious, apologetic or even defensive. Let's face it, being able to speak a foreign language can make you feel like the smartest person in the world. Unfortunately, it can also make you feel like a second-class citizen if your learning experience was not a successful one - even if you are a teacher.

Despite promoting student-centred approaches, many teachers still find it hard not to be the font of all knowledge in the classroom. Being only a few steps ahead of students makes them feel less than competent, and when a language specialist comes along the temptation to let them take over is often too strong to resist. So language specialists need to find ways to support non-specialist colleagues that will not undermine their confidence.

The more empowered non-specialists are, the more effective the teaching will be. When the non-specialist is a primary colleague, with a secondary teacher coming in to support, defining individual roles is key. It is also crucial to establish a respectful relationship where both parties aim to learn from and complement each other's practice.

The specialist should model a range of generic teaching strategies, such as the use of games, songs and videos, which can then be adapted by the non-specialist to introduce new content. Key areas such as pronunciation, spelling and grammar are often the most daunting for the non-specialist. A bank of home-made and commercially produced resources will therefore be useful to develop their confidence.

Sharing good practice on using resources such as foreign language assistants, Comenius assistants and others is important. Providing support for a Comenius school project or an educational visit is another good way to encourage involvement and enrichment of the curriculum for all pupils.

But what do you do if the non-specialist gets it wrong? Well, we all make mistakes, so offer to proofread displays and in-house materials instead of just pointing out "typos".

Primary teachers have a wealth of experience in teaching literacy and secondary teachers can build on their many strategies when teaching a foreign language.

Isabelle Jones is head of languages at the Radclyffe School in Oldham and teaches French and Spanish. She speaks at language events and blogs at http:isabellejones.blogspot.com

WHAT ELSE?

Isabelle Jones offers more suggestions for ICT-based language-learning strategies in her blog.

For an interactive whole-class German activity, try gavinhillage's penalty shoot-out game template.

cariad2 has suggested a number of games, songs and online books for active primary language learning.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources017.

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