#rEDRugby – My takeaways from the MFL strand

More than anything else, my main takeaway from ResearchEd Rugby was that those of us speaking on the MFL strand (from the sessions that I attended at least) agreed on more than we differed. Whilst one of the reasons these events are so great is that they challenge your thinking, it’s also really positive that the teachers attending these sessions will have had a clear picture of our current thinking. We didn’t discuss this beforehand, we didn’t agree to sing from the same hymn sheet. But there we were, 5 teachers from different schools with different backgrounds and experiences, saying broadly similar things. Of course, as with anything, there are certainly other ways. I’ll explain over the course of this post where I think our common elements were and why.

Firstly, to clarify who I am referring to:

Disclaimer: The following concepts/techniques etc are not to be used in place of good second langauge pedagogy. They are simply ideas to help to give structure, to aid long term memory and to help students feel confident. Discussion of these techniques recognises that for MFL teachers in England we work in a system where our aim is to support our students through a GCSE. At times this may be at odds with what we believe is good language learning and these issues have to be balanced in order to reach the desired outcomes.

Production vs Regognition

One issue that many of us touched upon is the contrast between how we teach language that we want our students to eventually be able to produce again themselves, as opposed to language we just need students to recognise. We all know that there will be words in reading and listening exams that we wouldn’t expect our students to choose to use in their writing and speaking, but that they need to be able to understand.

In my session I discussed how we should consider our use of tech tools in the classroom and use each for the right purpose. I have blogged about this in the past too.

Becky also mentioned this distinction, suggesting that language that we expect students to be able to produce at GCSE should be introduced from year seven to give plenty of time for repetition, which will be discussed below.

Dan showed a suggested unit structure which had high expectations in terms of content from day one, for much the same reasons as mentioned above.

Repetition and spacing

Repetition is one area where our feelings are clear. It is 100% necessary and it needs to happen all the time. We approached our discussion of this in slightly different ways, but as far as I can see we were all aiming at the same sort of thing. Whether its repetition over the course of a lesson, term, year or entire course we agree that repetition is key. In order for students to commit knowledge to their long term memory they need to be exposed to it and expected to work with it multiple times.

We also discussed the importance of spreading this repetition over time. I emphasised the reason for this, giving students a chance to forget their learning and then strengthen their learning when they try to retrieve that learning later.


Practice was the main idea behind Adam’s session and he emphasised the importance of practice as opposed to hurtling through the textbook to ‘cover the content’. He spoke about ideas from Making Every Lesson Count and gave some pointers as to how we could be supporting our students to practice more. Moving from the stage where students are dependent upon us, to where they can autonomously demonstrate the skill or grammar concept that was being taught. Adam made good references to how we use textbooks and how we could be doing this better, especially when it comes to exam skills…

Exam Skills

… which aren’t practiced that well by textbooks. Adam showed us the difference between the tasks in the text book and the tasks from the exam, demonstrating that if we rely on the textbook we aren’t preparing our students for what they will be expected to do.


The biggest advocates of chunking were Becky and Katie, showing us how successful students can feel when they are learning in chunks. Katie talked us through her use of parallel texts and focused on her use of these with KS3. She showed us how she thinks it has impacted upon the amount of students opting for languages at GCSE. She noted that at GCSE level they unpack the grammar a little more but that at KS3 it was all about chunking. What I found most interesting about what she said was that she doesn’t find students reproducing her model texts word for word in assessments, they know to pick out the good language and adapt it for themselves. Becky also mentioned that she is considering unpacking the grammar a little more at KS4 than she has in the past in order to give the highest ability students the chance to be more creative with langauge than the chunking approach is allowing them to be now.


Another area that we all agreed upon. I gave a number of retrieval activities that could easily be integrated into lessons and talked about the importance of real thinking and some struggle in order for students to retain their knowledge in the long term. Becky told us about the quizzing her students do for homework and how they are later tested in class. Katie also talked about retrieval and made a distinction between the words quiz, test and assessment/exam. An important consideration if we are to make quizzes part of the accepted culture of our classrooms.

Cognitive load

Whilst none of us explicitly discussed this at length, cognitive load underpinned much of what we all said. The structure of Dan’s curriculum design, the chunking and quizzing used by Becky and Katie, the practice and training advocated by Adam and finally my suggestions for using visualisers as well as spacing, interleaving and retrieval.

Rosenshine’s Principles

Whilst Adam and myself were the only ones to say the name Rosenshine, it was clear that his principles were to be found in every session. I’ll leave them here for you to see for yourselves:

From https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/HOW2_Poster_Principles_of_Instruction.pdf

High expectations, ambition and demanding work

This final section was more inspired by the brilliant @MaryMyatt in the last session of the day. Her request for ‘demanding work, please’ really resonated with me as I start to look at our key stage three curriculum and what we could be doing with it to support our students to achieve more and feel more confident and successful. Her points tied in really nicely with some of the MFL discussion about what we are expecting our students to think about and if they’re having to think hard enough to really support their long term learning.

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