The Straitjacket of “Good Practice” UPDATE

Right, time for another rant into the ether! Well, not really a rant, more a few observations on what works and doesn’t.

You know why my ranting isn’t as ranty as it once was? I’m just not so angry anymore. And I used to be. I used to make my living from doing inset and I met so many frustrated teachers, teachers given ticklists towards excellence, minute by minute diktats on what it is to be ‘outstanding’. Lots of those teachers were really desperate to please observers. I say ‘observers’ because the fear I encountered was often created by the leadership in schools. Some teachers I met were told to do crazy things in the pursuit of SLT approval. So, yeah. I used to be angry.

Now? I’m actually pretty chilled. I teach in a lovely school. I teach lovely kids. I am free to teach the language I love in the most effective manner I know. But ‘I’m alright Jack!’ isn’t really good enough so I thought I’d share some mfl strategies that work incredibly well yet they fly in the face of everything you’ve been told is ‘good practice’.

Show the written word always! Just do it! Don’t show pictures. Ever!

I know, MFL heresy. But that orthodoxy has been around for long enough for us to know that the laborious, slow, one picture at a time process of kids and teacher barking at an image simply doesn’t work.

I’ve been in so many language lessons where teachers follow the mfl protocol of pretty pictures, choral repetition, the kind of powerpoints TES resources are full of. God it’s slow and the pronunciation is just horrible guesswork.

So instead just show the written word so kids can immediately see the link between words, so kids learn that there really is no such thing as a new word. Bassin, chagrin, dessin, jardin, malin, lapin, intéressant, intelligent, informatique. They’re all linked. These words are easy to say…if you use the written word from the outset.

No you don’t need the picture. Just give simple to produce and easy to follow numbered lists, English on the left, French on the right. No confusion. I’ve: j’ai, a sister: une soeur, and: et, a brother: un frère.

Underline or bold the high frequency vowels: ai, au, eu, ou, ui – teach these and every word is easy! I’m teaching kids to read, I’m not barking at a PowerPoint. Kids love this, they feel clever, they throw themselves into the language, they no longer wildly guess at pronunciation or spelling. They learn like linguists. I teach like a linguist.

The written word is a fantastic tool to ensure beautiful mfl pronunciation. All the silent letters? Put a dotted line under the silent letters. Pronunciation confidence explodes! It’s phenomenal!

Do pictures if you like. But honestly ask yourself, why? Because there are visual learners? For the dyslexics? For the EAL kids? If a kid can’t read, showing him pictures won’t help. It’s madness!

Show lots of words, break them down, build them up, look at the common letter patterns, make links with English, make lots of links with other French words – they don’t have to fit into the topic you’re covering – teach the kids to analyse.

All of this works incredibly well. Kids feel very, very accomplished instantly. Resources are super fast to create, are easy to recycle again and again and it’s so much more challenging for kids.

Would you you dare to do this in an observed lesson, even if you were 100% convinced that this were the best possible methodolgy on the planet by a million miles?

Sadly, very few would. When observed, too many just desperately strive to deliver what they hope the observer will like. And so the straitjacket of ‘good practice’ is tightened by a few more notches. Maybe I was right to be angry after all.


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