Back to the classroom – Anneli Mclachlan

The Covid-19 crisis has thrown up some very real obstacles for many students in terms of access to the curriculum. While some fortunate students may have been working fairly constantly online, others may have had patchy internet access, no personal device and the odd pdf here or there.

The crisis has catapulted access and equity to the top of the agenda in all subject areas. On returning to the classroom, nowhere will this issue be more keenly felt than in Modern Foreign Languages. All MFL teachers are familiar with the notion of ‘loss of learning’ over the summer holidays. Covid-19 has presented us with this age old challenge, multiplied it by 27 and applied to this number the power of 5!

In addition, the students who return, socially distanced, to our classrooms will not be the same students who left us. Whether they have weathered the crisis pretty well or suffered real adversity, coping with sibling care, cramped living quarters and patchy or no internet, as teachers, we will need to be mindful of their wellbeing and our priority must be to rebuild learner confidence from day one. Henceforth, the architecture of the language classroom is going to be important to get right, in order to move our learners forward.

Scaffolding will be key

Scaffolding will be a key term for the post-Covid MFL landscape. A return to language learning offers an opportunity for rebuilding, rebooting and setting up for success. The departure point has to be working from what students know (and may have forgotten). Oral skills could usefully be to the fore. Realistically, how many students will have been communicating in the foreign language on a regular basis in a meaningful manner? Carefully scaffolding meaningful interactions can improve language competence, confidence and communication at the same time. Marrying content and communication deftly will help us bridge the social and emotional needs our students may bring to our classroom.

This can start on a fairly small scale at any level. The tried and tested brainstorm can shape our classroom practice. Timed brainstorming on verbs, topic areas and adjectives can help us navigate from word level to sentence level and beyond, starting small, sharing and personalising material. Concrete topics are the order of the day. The fabric of school could be a starting point. Constructing language together:

  • 5 people I am happy to see – give a reason.
  • 5 objects in the classroom I didn’t miss.
  • 5 things I am happy to be doing now – give a reason.

The concrete will bring comfort and success.

Utopia, the ideal, could be used at many levels. Who would live in this ideal place? What would people be like? What would you find there? What jobs would the people would do? What would houses be like? For example, Echt 2 (publishing in Spring 2021) covers what a scientist’s day on Mars might be like.

Integration of content and learning

A more content and language integrated learning approach might bring projects like planting seeds into the language classroom, again, a tried and tested making of a paper fortune teller or chatterbox. Simple ideas, concrete themes with language scaffolded on paper! Brainstorming activities reactivate target language, allow students to use what they know and, if ably facilitated, will start the path to rebuilding confidence. Learning mats, sentence builders, information gap activities with questions forms and answer starters given, will provide support.

Our challenge will be to make things novel without making them overwhelming. In the post-Covid MFL classroom, we need a positive, ‘less is more’ mindset more than ever before.

Anneli McLachlan is Campus Director at the International School of Los Angeles and an author on Echt, our brand new German series for KS3 students.