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Department for Education Small-Scale MFL Project Summaries

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by Dodros, Aug 18, 2017.

  1. Dodros

    Dodros Senior commenter

    One of the messages on SENCO Forum this morning drew attention to a DfE publication posted at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploa...te_Pool_-_summary_of_projects_August_2017.pdf, dated August 2017 and documenting the findings of two small-scale MFL projects. I've reproduced below the two project summaries from the PDF file. Any comments? Revelatory or restating the obvious?

    Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy: Literature review

    Associate:
    John Hamer, AlphaPlus Consultancy Ltd

    Key findings


    The report presents the findings from a rapid literature review of UK and international research evidence on teaching and learning of MFL, with a focus on effective pedagogies. The aim of the literature review was to develop the evidence base on what makes good MFL teaching by providing a summary of the existing research. The primary focus of the work was on secondary schools but pedagogy more generally was also considered.

    The literature search utilised an extensive combination of ‘secondary education’keywords with ‘language teaching’ keywords and ‘pedagogy’ related keywords to search a range of bibliographic databases and language journals. Article abstracts were then coded for relevance against a number of research questions to agree a final list of the most relevant articles for inclusion in the review; it is not intended to be comprehensive. The selected articles were summarised and the findings synthesised by a range of topics.

    First and foremost, it should be noted that the review was limited by the scarcity of robust academic evidence. To be able to say conclusively that certain pedagogical approaches are more effective than others, requires research evidence produced by robust trials in schools with detail about specific approaches and how they should be adopted in the classroom. Evidence to meet these standards was not found. From the literature reviewed, findings were grouped in to the following key themes;

    • Vocabulary Development and Usage: No evidence was found about specific pedagogies that are used for vocabulary development and have a clear, positive impact on outcomes, or of the relative strengths of different approaches. However clear arguments were present in the literature about the importance of vocabulary levels in the acquisition of language skills and that vocabulary should be explicitly taught.
    • Grammar Usage and Development: the evidence about grammar teaching is that it should be taught explicitly and that a range of approaches should be used depending on the grammar being introduced and the skills being developed.
    • Use of target language: a range of different approaches were advocated ranging from immersion in the target language to restricting first language use to simple classroom instructions or for clarifications and to support awareness of target language. No clear consensus could be drawn from the evidence.
    • Impact of technology: evidence was mixed with different reviews drawing different conclusions as to the impact of technology. Evidence was found to support technology use in specific areas, such as: vocabulary acquisition, extended writing and communication.
    • Other evidence: literature that does not fit easily within the previous categories summarises a range of evidence on factors affecting language learning, and finds strong evidence to support; intentionally and explicitly orienting students’ attention to features of the target language, practice and automatisation of explicit knowledge, the impact of working memory on explicit language learning and varying difficultly in learning different features of language.
    The findings from the literature review were used to inform an independent review of modern foreign languages pedagogy in secondary schools conducted by the Teaching Schools Council.


    Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy: Teacher Interviews


    Associate:
    Sarah Gibson, Cooper Gibson Research

    Key findings

    The report presents the findings from a series of qualitative interviews conducted with MFL (Modern Foreign Language) teachers. The research explored the attitudes and behaviours of effective MFL teachers and schools with the aim of identifying practices and tools that could be adopted more broadly.

    Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted across 33 schools – 16 identified as more effective in language performance and 17 identified as less effective to allow comparison of pedagogic approaches and practices across both types. In total, 33 MFL Departmental Leaders and 58 MFL teachers participated. Due to the qualitative nature of this research and the small sample size, caution is advised in extrapolating the findings.

    First and foremost, it should be noted that the review was limited by the scarcity of robust academic evidence. To be able to say conclusively that certain pedagogical approaches are more effective than others, requires research evidence produced by robust trials in schools with detail about specific approaches and how they should be adopted in the classroom. Evidence to meet these standards was not found. From the literature reviewed, findings were grouped in to the following key themes;

    • Vocabulary Development and Usage: No evidence was found about specific pedagogies that are used for vocabulary development and have a clear, positive impact on outcomes, or of the relative strengths of different approaches. However clear arguments were present in the literature about the importance of vocabulary levels in the acquisition of language skills and that vocabulary should be explicitly taught.
    • Grammar Usage and Development: the evidence about grammar teaching is that it should be taught explicitly and that a range of approaches should be used depending on the grammar being introduced and the skills being developed.
    • Use of target language: a range of different approaches were advocated ranging from immersion in the target language to restricting first language use to simple classroom instructions or for clarifications and to support awareness of target language. No clear consensus could be drawn from the evidence.
    • Impact of technology: evidence was mixed with different reviews drawing different conclusions as to the impact of technology. Evidence was found to support technology use in specific areas, such as: vocabulary acquisition, extended writing and communication.
    Overall, the outcomes of this research have identified few differences between the views and practices of participants across schools that are more or less effective at delivering MFL provision. Rather, provision was often determined by student needs, ability levels and key stage, resources and time available, learning objectives/focus (including working to the new GCSE specification) and the teaching style/preferences of individual teachers. General findings and notable (although small) differences are detailed below.

    Use of target language: Departmental Leaders and teachers in more effective schools were more likely to use or require the use of the target language in the classroom nearly all the time (those in less effective schools more commonly used it selectively).

    Vocabulary and grammar:
    a pedagogical approach set by Departmental Leaders that requires equal focus on both accuracy in vocabulary and grammar and authentic exposure to the target language, was slightly more common in the more effective schools. In less effective schools, this approach was more readily encouraged among teachers, but not necessarily required).

    Practicalities: Teachers in more effective schools highlighted issues of balancing administrative/workload issues with having enough class time to effectively cover the curriculum. However, it was predominantly teachers from less effective schools who tended to report that teaching time for languages had been reduced.

    Use of resources: Leaders in more effective schools were more likely to suggest that there was some guidance to use textbooks as a core resource – in less effective schools, textbooks were regarded more commonly as a resource to ‘dip into’.

    Homework: Homework tended to be used either to reinforce and extend learning undertaken during class time, or as a way of learning vocabulary lists (with tests then carried out in class). Teachers in more effective schools were more likely to set a piece of writing as homework.

    Effective teaching: The common factors for effective teachers reported across all school types were enthusiasm, passion, subject knowledge and the ability to build good relationships with students. Supportive departments were also important in motivating teachers, although teachers in less effective schools also highlighted the importance of student behaviour and class management.

    Support and guidance: Interviewees in more effective schools reported having more external training opportunities available (such as local network membership, teaching Leadership courses and the commissioning of external consultants).

    The findings from this research were used to inform an independent review of modern foreign languages pedagogy in secondary schools conducted by the Teaching Schools Council.
     
  2. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    What this report says to me is you have to dig deep to get any info on teaching of mfl in schools. Even in in this report you would find only 2-3 pages. Doesn't look as if they spent much time on languages. A quick keyword search on the Internet and then a few interviews with teachers. The fact that they repeated one statement -
    "Firstand foremost, it should be noted that the review was limited by the scarcity of robust academic evidence. To be able to say conclusively that certain pedagogical approaches are more effective than others, requires research evidence produced by robust trials in schools with detail about specific approaches and how they should be adopted in the classroom. Evidence to meet these standards was not found. From the literature reviewed, findings were grouped in to the following key themes;"
    - for both sections suggests a copy and paste approach.
     
  3. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    What do you think of the paper Dodos?
     
  4. Dodros

    Dodros Senior commenter

    Yes, it's easy for a reviewer of the literature to come to the conclusion that research into MFL classroom practice isn't robust enough. I also find it odd to conclude that the most effective schools are those that follow the textbook most closely. As a teacher of French and German to learners with special educational needs, I found textbooks worse than useless and wrote my own courses, which were very effective. It's possible to conduct experimental and control group comparisons in the world of medicine where life and death decision-making is involved because there is a recognition that there will be a future benefit. Educational research is harder to implement because we only really get one chance of an education and messing with that one chance to help somebody else with a pet idea to earn a PhD isn't morally acceptable in my eyes, however "robust" that idea may be. I also wonder how far the literature reviewers and teacher interviewers went to come to their conclusions. In the world of MFL, you would think that the researchers would trawl more widely than say Chemistry teaching methodologists and examine what is happening MFL-wise in France and Germany if the researchers know those languages. The "continentals" are supposed to be better than we Brits when it comes to learning other languages, so why is nobody looking at what they are doing? I also find it very inward looking that we explore MFL methodology in a totally MFL-specific way, focusing just on vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation etc, instead of exploring ways of teaching another language to different types of learner, particularly those with additional needs. I'd also like to see more inter-subject comparisons, so that we can discover how, say, a bright History student performs when (s)he enters the French, German or Spanish classroom. In other words, are there inter-subject transferable skills that we could make more of? At secondary level, after all, the student doesn't spend the whole day doing MFL lessons and the fact that they did science or PE the lesson before may have an impact, positive or negative, on how things go in the MFL lesson. Who's investigating that?
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2017
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.

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