Thinking for young linguists

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Thinking Through Modern Foreign Languages By Mei Lin and Cheryl Mackay Chris Kington Publishing, pound;35 www.chriskingtonpublishing.co.uk

The latest in the thinking skills series edited by David Leat, Thinking Through Modern Foreign Languages promises to bring fun, motivation and intellectual challenge to the MFL classroom.

Written by Mei Lin and Cheryl Mackay, it combines a lucid explanation of the pedagogical theory underpinning thinking skills with nine fully developed strategies, which have been trialled by practising teachers with pupils of different ages and abilities.

Like its predecessors in the series, the book focuses on the learning process rather than learning outcomes. The ultimate aim is to equip students with the tools they need to become effective, autonomous learners.

Activities are tackled collaboratively by small groups and range from the familiar, such as "Odd One Out", to the more unusual. One of these is "Fortune Lines", where students sift information and plot it on a graph.

Another activity is "The Mystery", a problem-solving exercise which requires them to interpret disparate pieces of information, make links, hypothesise and justify their conclusions.

Each strategy starts with a presentation of rationale and procedures followed by one or more exemplars.

These are step-by-step reports of actual lessons, from objectives and preparation to the all-important debriefing plenary, when learners reflect on their different approaches to the task and how effective these were.

Links with key stage 3 framework objectives and with the national curriculum are made explicit and an overview table provides this information at a glance.

According to the authors, the exemplars "are honest accounts of classroom experience, warts and all". That is the book's great strength, for inevitably things don't always go according to plan.

How much or how little do you intervene when students are in difficulty? What do you do if they are still locked in debate when the time comes to debrief? How teachers resolve these issues and their reflections on what they might have done differently are illuminating.

Equally interesting are the authors' and teachers' observations on pupils'

comments, which not only reveal gaps in their learning that will inform future lesson plans, but they also offer an insight into the very workings of their minds.

This is a fascinating book, firmly rooted in reality and full of practical suggestions and tips. Thinking Through Modern Foreign Languages provides plenty of food for thought - not only for the students but teachers too, who are invited to relinquish their traditional role as purveyors of knowledge and focus instead on the quality of learning taking place.

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