Five Tips to Make the Most of Language Teaching Networks – Part 2

It’s with an element of retrospective frustration that I regard my early years of teaching.  Keen to learn the trade and to teach as well as possible, I kept my head down, taught 5-6 lessons a day, planned and marked almost exclusively alone and all within the same four walls.  I often passed up opportunities to investigate or participate in online and face-to-face MFL teaching communities and attend events with the excuse that I didn’t have the time.  Little did I know, had I become, even just tentatively, involved I could have saved myself incalculable amounts of time in the long run.  Many ideas I’ve since taken from networks have become staples of my own planning, teaching and marking practice and have definitely saved me countless hours over the years.  I’m yet to meet any teacher who has time to waste.

In my last post I discussed networking and the current MFL context.  Following on from this, below are my top five ways to make the most of language networks and help us collectively push together in the same direction to revive our cherished subject.  I’m certain along the way you’ll continually enhance your own practice, as well as that of others, and ultimately give your students a better language learning experience.

  1. Use the network on your doorstep.
    Although teaching is social in nature, it is a heavily regimented and compartmentalised job. Teachers in the same department are often teaching the same thing at the same time separated by a single wall and have limited scope for interaction and sharing.  Open your classroom doors! Visit your colleagues regularly and above all, use MFL department meetings for sharing best practice and discussing teaching and not for moaning about naughty students and going through admin agendas that can be completed in advance by email.  Be sure to give every member of the department a chance to share, irrespective of their level of experience.  Indeed, often the new and less experienced teachers are a welcome source of different ideas, strategies and perspectives.
  2. Join the Association for Language Learning
    The Association for Language Learning (ALL or “A-Double-L”) is the UK’s major subject association for those involved in teaching foreign languages at all levels. I really wish I’d been more active in ALL sooner.  The benefits, opportunities and publications (e.g. Languages Today, The Language Learning Journal, The Head of Languages Handbook) that are available with membership are manifold and the events such as Language World 2017 are my MFL CPD highlights of the year.  If the modest cost of membership is prohibitive, you can always claim it back from HMRC as membership of a professional body.
  3. Join the #MFLTwitterati
    The benefits of having a direct line to some 5000+ engaged MFL practitioners from around the world and their ideas are self-evident. One of the best things about the #MFLTwitterati virtual community is that many of its members subsequently meet face-to-face, often at ALL events. @JoeDale has created an excellent guide on how to get started and best use the Twitter list and hashtag.  I (@HFLanguages) look forward to hearing from you online!
  4. Sign up to attend or present at a local MFL TeachMeet
    TeachMeets are fantastic short, sharp doses of CPD in the style of unconferences and are run by teachers for teachers. Presenters talk for usually 3-5 minutes on an idea or topic of their choice and I’ve never left a meet without a new idea or having my thinking challenged. Check the current listings for one near you here and on Eventbrite TeachMeets.  Have a peek at this Storify of the most recent MFL Teachmeet I attended to get a flavour.  Once you’ve attended, take the plunge and share yourself – it’s only for a few minutes.  Then, once you’ve presented, why not set one up yourself?  A venue and a free Eventbrite account are pretty much all you need.  Let me know where and when – I and the #MFLTwitterati would love to attend.
  5. Engage with research and debate
    Find the next ResearchEd event near you and peruse The Learning Scientists and The Deans for Impact For a good synthesis of language teaching research and a wealth of practical classroom strategies, I can’t think of a better place to start than Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti’s 2016 book The Language Teacher Toolkit and their respective blogs and Share your readings and findings at your next department meeting and open up a discussion.

Please do add your own suggestions to the list in the comments below.

David works as a consultant and lead practitioner developing the MFL provision across the Harris Federation group of primary and secondary schools in London. He holds a PGCE in French from the Institute of Education and taught English in France and Maths/IT in Norway before teaching French in London. He has delivered PGCE, TeachFirst and School Direct MFL training and leads the Harris ITT MFL Programme. He is a member of ALL, National Association of Language Advisers, All Party Parliamentary Group for MFL, the Teaching Schools Council Language Pedagogy Review roundtable, the TeachFirst Expert Mentor Group and Kings College London’s MA in Education & Professional studies cohort. His main interests lie in technology, assessment and research-informed MFL practice.