Modern Languages Networking and Workshop Event for MFL Teachers

In 12 June 2015, the Department of Modern Languages hosted a networking and workshop event for teachers of Modern Foreign Languages from schools and colleges in the West Midlands sponsored by Routes into Languages.

Following a very successful first workshop in June 2014, this year’s meeting saw twenty teachers of Modern Foreign Languages from schools around the West Midlands presenting aspects of their teaching practice alongside university staff from language departments.

After a welcome by Clodagh Brook, Head of Modern Languages at the University of Birmingham, and by the event organisers, Elystan Griffiths and Mónica Jato, the day began with a keynote talk by Carmen Herrero of Manchester Metropolitan University about the use of film in language teaching. Carmen began by setting out some of the most common reasons why teachers might want to use film in language teaching as well as some of the established benefits of doing so. She outlined the possibilities for using film as a means of raising student awareness of the different modes of communication and generating meaning across cultures - the visual, auditory, spatial and gestural. Carmen illustrated these ideas using short clips from films, and introduced the possibilities for collaboration through the FILTA and FLAME networks.  

In the first session, Laura Beddow from Queensbridge School talked about the use of the Enterprise Curriculum in Year 7, where students are introduced to several languages through a series of structured activities. She explained that these were based on the ‘mantle of the expert’ approach and involve a fictitious scenario whereby the students investigate a missing persons case on the streets of Paris. Laura outlined how the aim of the approach is to build students’ confidence, to help them acquire decoding skills and to strengthen their learning relationships. Sania Reddig from Redborne Upper School then outlined how she has used poetry in the KS3 classroom, specifically a number of examples of concrete poetry in German, which formed the prelude to students writing their own shape poems in class, allowing students to use the target language creatively and expressively. Sania then outlined some of the challenges involved in ‘selling’ poetry to pupils, as well as the pedagogical challenges involved in using poetry in MFL teaching on a sustainable basis.

There then followed a session presenting concrete opportunities for schools and universities to work together. Sophie Gavrois (University of Birmingham) and Jenny Price (Aston University/Routes into Languages) presented the activities of Routes into Languages in the West Midlands and the Midlands German Network. Ruth Whittle then outlined the University of Birmingham’s Foreign Language Assistants module, which allows visiting exchange students at the University to undertake a certain amount of training before they are placed in partner schools in the region.

In the first afternoon session, Elystan Griffiths (University of Birmingham) spoke about how his students use wikis in his final-year course of German cinema as a means of summarising discussion and practising film writing. He outlined the benefits of this approach for staff and students as well as the opportunities for extending the approach in future years. Hayley Bourne (Our Lady and St. Chad Catholic Academy) summarised some of the ideas she gleaned from training sessions with Karine Harrington on Demands of the New MFL Curriculum and with Martine Pillette on Grammar for Communication. Joanne Leggett  from Lordswood Boys' School then spoke about some of the ways in which her school had encouraged their pupils to study languages by creating promotional posters (accessible online here) and about how they have tried to raise pupils’ awareness of their target grades.

In the last session of the day, Holly Pike (University of Birmingham) spoke about the University’s Academic Writing Service, and then outlined how she had tried to improve her own students’ academic writing by introducing a formative critical review of secondary literature as part of her second- and final-year courses. Hannah Valenzuela (Heartlands Academy) outlined the possibilities for building transferable skills into MFL teaching through a whole range of activities, from pupils contributing to the MFL blog to improve their ICT skills and knowledge of online interactions, to activities to improve numeracy with MFL dice, to creative activities such as drama, cooking and even making multilingual bunting. Paul Morgan from Solihull School spoke about the strategies he has developed – inspired by Martine Pillette – to help students extend their linguistic range and to integrate grammar into their speaking while improving fluency and speed of response.

In the closing discussion, participants agreed that the day had been productive. There was a desire to develop links between schools and the University’s Academic Writing Service and to investigate the possibilities for screening films at the MAC. It was agreed that another workshop would take place around the same time of year in 2016. A number of teachers volunteered to join a steering committee to help shape the 2016 event. If you would like to join the steering committee, please contact Mónica Jato (m.jato@bham.ac.uk).