I was asked by Links into Languages to present at Bishop of Hereford's Bluecoat School on the theme of generating spontaneity in MFL. Over the last few years I've been very fortunate to work at times alongside two amazing practitioners in particular in this field who get me thinking every time I hear their ideas- Greg Horton of Wildern School, Southampton and Rachel Hawkes, of Comberton Village College, Cambridgeshire. Greg's multi-award winning "Group Talk" project is rightfully lauded for its innovative approach to getting pupils speaking, based around using prompts and argumentative language that pupils WANT to use. After all, even around school the most animated we ever see our pupils is when they have the opportunity to disagree with each other. However, I couldn't possibly do justice to the concept, www.teachers.tv explains it far more eloquently in their video focusing on "Group Talk".
For me, spontaneity in many classrooms (including my own at times, most definitely!) is hindered by all sorts of factors, both environmental and in the kind of tasks we set our pupils.
1) The learning space- a recent trip up north to see Chris Harte at Cramlington Learning Village really opened my eyes to how the space of the classroom can be maximised to permit movement, fluidity and performing space. Groups are sat around the edge of classrooms with a central performing area. When I first saw the set-up my initial reaction was predictable, thinking about that dreaded control again. But in a way the point is often to hand control away from the teacher and to facilitate expression, not stifle it. Also, how much debate can just 2 pupils have?
2) The kind of language we provide our pupils- how many of our pupils, even when abroad with the rest of their families who speak no foreign languages at all, would be expected to actually go up to the counter to buy food or tickets? Do they WANT to know the kind of language we're currently thrusting on them? The freedom of the (relatively) new KS3 curriculum means that we no longer have to jump through all of those hoops that the dictated content used to require, instead we are able to actually tailor our content to our goals- where do we want our pupils to be by the end of year 9, what do we want them to be able to do and how can we motivate them to get there? They want to be able to argue, they need to be able to pause and to hesitate because too often in education we confuse hesitation with not knowing. If I don't know an answer abroad I'll use plenty of "pues, a ver" etc and give myself a few seconds thinking time. That's not a luxury we often give our pupils, choosing instead to really put them on the spot. Surprise surprise they don't often feel relaxed enough to blurt out whatever ideas they might have.
3) The type of task- similarly to point 2) our tasks often don't allow our pupils to think creatively. How lateral thinking and how many different poitns of view and answers can you have if there's a specific end point, a "correct" answer. Tasks such as Group Talk, mysteries (Neil Jones puts together some great ones at www.mfljones.wordpress.co.uk), odd one out and reading images DO NOT HAVE A CORRECT ANSWER. They are not transactional but allow for interpretation. If our pupils fear giving a wrong answer this is their driving force, and often the force that prevents them from opening up. But if the task can have any answer, ever answer is valuable. Right now I have in my head a year 8 boy who always had an opinion, always wanted to argue why he was right but was never able to in the vast majority of language lessons because we were asking him to go from a to b rather than from a to whichever letter he believed was most appropriate. Mmm.
4) ICT- yes, some people will argue that the use of technology doesn't encourage spontaneity but instead tightly planned work. But what tools do our pupils instictively use to communicate with each other beyond our walls? Exciting tools such as Voicethread again provide the opportunity to give creative answers and, crucially, can operate beyond our normal lesson time as well.
Anyway, I found it fascintating being able to reflect on the theme when putting together the following presentation, bringing together some of my own ideas and those from inspirational figures I've been able to work with over the last few years and who I'ev tried to reference in the presentation slides. But I really think I've only scratched the surface- I'd love to hear your opinions.