Last Friday I was privileged to work with MFL teachers from across Plymouth on a subject that is very close to my heart. Those of you who have ever had the misfortune of chatting to me or attending any of my sessions will know that I think that we generally undersell ourselves in the MFL community.
How engaged would you be in discussing something which you already know about? My most pertinent anecdote deals with my first week of university (after another birthday this week that feels like a long, long time ago!). In my first small group Spanish session we were asked to introduce ourselves to the person sat next to us. We duly chatted and discovered that my new friend Nats and I came from only a few miles down the road from each other- in fact, our shared attitude to life has now lead us to still be good friends many years later. But when we walked down the corridor to our first small group French class we naturally sat next to each other. When we were told to introduce ourselves to each other again we pretty much sat in silence. Not because of any linguistic issues but simply because it felt like now we had nothing to talk about- any words we uttered felt pointless. I fear that's often the case in many MFL classrooms. So much of our teaching time is spent focusing on words and constructions to describe subjects that our students already know about- the "old school" subjects like house and home, healthy living, local area. Subjects that get dealt with at KS2 in many cases, then again at KS3 and are finally flogged to death at KS3. I know that I've always struggled to vary the content and approaches hugely between the revisitings when I've been expected to deal with them in their traditional forms. If we are to encourage engagement we need, need, need to engage our students with the content that we are dealing with- demonstrating the intercultural elements that undoubtedly grabbed all of us language teachers when we were first learning the language. When we've done that we need to actually give them the tools to get their hands dirty with the content. Language of discussion, of debate, of disagreement, of approval.
The session also looks at a few ways to build the profile of MFL departments, following 2 strands. The first is my old drum of providing audience through blogs, podcasts, Twitter feeds and even guerrilla QR codes around the school / community. The second is something that in my current freelance role is occupying far more of my time, and which I'm incredibly passionate about- developing projects to motivate students and demonstrate how language really can be used creatively for a real world purpose. If any of the bullet points make sense and you'd like to know any more then please, please get in touch. Equally, if you've got your own ideas washing around in there, I'd love to hear them and see if we can make them become reality!