An eternal challenge with language learning is bridging the gap between students’ own interests and their beginner language level. This is particularly obvious in a world where information is literally available at their fingertips. Pupils are pretty sophisticated and able to deal with increasingly complex ideas. Therefore, the limitations of the language they know can be demotivating. So what can we do to ensure they stay motivated? Author of Vif, our new KS3 French course, Anneli McLachlan, shares some ideas
Provide the building blocks for what really interests students
Giving students ‘something to say’ that piques their interest and curiosity can be hard. One way you can help them is by choosing new topics and contexts, or finding fresh angles for tried and tested topics. For example, there are students in Vif 1 talking about art and fabrics, and music and festivals. In Vif 2 we look at street art and influencers along with tackling some big questions about the planet. We provide the building blocks of language so that students are able, and motivated, to form their own opinions. High frequency language has also been modelled so that language can be recycled and revisited in different contexts. This shows students how French can fit together in a meaningful and rewarding manner.
Focus on learning how to learn
As they grow as learners, students also become increasingly aware of their own learning and the importance of learning how to learn. Neuroscience tells us that metacognition is key to making meaningful progress. By using metacognitive skills regularly, students can become better learners, both of languages and subjects beyond MFL. Vif encourages students to reflect on their learning through a metacognitive focus at the end of each unit of the Student Books. There are also metacognitive worksheets on Kerboodle and reflective strategy boxes in the Workbooks. You can find out more about developing students’ metacognitive skills in the Developing Metacognition in MFL guide.
Create a sense of belonging
Representation and a sense of belonging is important for us all. Everyone should feel seen, heard and valued. The diversification of media and the resources that young people consume and have access to is vital to meeting this need. Creating an inclusive environment in the MFL classroom can help students feel safe and better able to learn. You can find ideas for creating an inclusive MFL classroom here. Representation has been a guiding principle for Vif. We have sought to create a sensitive, inclusive course that allows students to see themselves represented and to feel that sense of belonging.
Amplify new narratives
Of equal importance to representation is the acknowledgement of past history. The decolonisation of curricula to amplify new narratives and perspectives is important for all educators today. When talking about French, it’s important to talk to students about how French came to be spoken in parts of the world other than France. We must lean into these conversations about colonisation, and at the same time, we need to bear in mind that issues discussed may be triggering for some. The Vif author team has worked closely with a leading member of the Association for Language Learning (ALL) Special Interest Group to go some way to achieving an anti-racist, de-colonising approach to unit content. Vif encourages language learners to be intellectually curious and to question a Eurocentric approach, applying a critical lens to colonialism in former French and Belgian colonies. We have also been mindful of the importance of avoiding stereotypes and tokenism, and of the need to examine implicit bias.
Provide a solid grammar foundation
Providing a solid grammar foundation is paramount to helping learners move on to the next stage of language learning. It’s also helpful to show how these grammatical foundations can be applied in different contexts to give students the skills to successfully manipulate and transfer language. Vif breaks away from phrasal learning to empower students to learn actively. Grammatical exercises are designed to move from passive reception of grammatical points to active use. Scaffolded practice for students helps them to become more and more familiar with the grammatical structures they need to use to put language together. Simply put, Vif adds to a student’s ‘grammar toolbox’ to help them become a lifelong language learner.
Think about transition to GCSE now
Curriculum change is on the horizon and students need to be prepared now for the skills they will face in the new GCSE specification. Learning skills that provide a solid basis for a transition to GCSE are carefully planned into the progression of Vif. This includes exploration of the sound spelling relationship in French, reading aloud, dictation, translation into and out of French, and tips on challenging areas in listening, reading, speaking and writing.
Above all, we want Vif to be ‘vif’, to be fun and quirky and to awaken curiosity in our language learners. If you’re interested in finding out more, visit our website to download a free digital preview, and to sign up for free early access to Vif Kerboodle Online Learning.
Anneli McLachlan has over 30 years of experience in language teaching. She is one of the authors of Vif, the new Key Stage 3 French course from Oxford.