Supporting students' learning in ML (8 June 06)

Date: 8 June, 2006
Location: University of Westminster
Event type: Workshop

student in class

Past event summary

This workshop was an opportunity to explore practical examples of how language teachers can support student's learning inside and outside the classroom. The main objective was to integrate the current ideas of the discipline, 'student' learning research' and the concepts of active learning, reflective teaching and formative feedback, into our language teaching methodology.

This event was organised under the Subject Centre's Workshops to go scheme.

Programme for 8 June 2006
Time Session
10.30 - 11.00 Registration and coffee
11.00 - 11.15 Introduction to workshop
11.15 - 12.00 Presentation: learning skills, learning objectives, effective feedback for homework and assessments
12.00 - 12.45 Group work and discussion
12.45 - 13.30 Lunch
Participants can purchase their lunch from the University cafe and canteen
13.30 - 14.15 Presentation: encouraging student's in-put and making learning part of student's life
14.15 - 15.00 Group work and discussion

Workshop presentation and handout

by Pilar Teràn, University of Brighton

The workshop presentation and handout is available.
Download: presentation (Powerpoint, 351Kb) | handout (pdf, 983Kb)

Event report: Supporting students' learning in Modern Languages

by Isabelle Baron, Language Centre, Bristol University

Pilar Teràn, Brighton University, facilitated the workshop. She started with an overview of students' learning as a growing field of studies. Three main areas in the field of students' learning can be integrated into the teaching of languages:

  • Active learning
  • Formative assessment
  • Feedback and reflective practice

Students' interaction is intrinsic to the teaching of languages; by its very nature learning languages is active learning. However, it is paramount to good teaching practice that language students be aware of all aspects and use them effectively. The ideas that underline these aspects of students learning can be integrated into a language classroom practice to enhance the learning process and allow the students to assume a proactive and central role in this process. Feedback is essential in supporting students' learning. Through revisiting and analysing retrospectively an active learning experience, both students and teachers can reflect on what did or did not work and acquire a consensual understanding of how to improve classroom practices.

Supporting students' learning in modern languages involves four main areas, which Pilar identified as:

  • Learning skills
  • Taking responsibility for the learning process
  • Making the student do more
  • Taking the target language out of the classroom and integrating it to the students' daily life

Learning skills

Learning style questionnaires facilitate discussion about the way students approach learning, help them define their work and their aims. They promote a critical but positive reflection on individual learning style whilst identifying the various individuals who constitute the group helps building a sense of group learning identity and fosters confidence. Activities such as poster displays and individual diaries bring up important issues pertaining to group dynamics in a learning environment. The use of calendars in the target language helps the students with time management. Getting acquainted with the textbook as a tool allows for planning, facilitates the work and relieve some of the stress caused by unfamiliar material.

Taking responsibility for the learning process

Students should become familiar with the terminology of the classroom and concepts such as learning aims, course and lesson content, methodology, marking criteria and standards of assessment (with examples of performance). The students can give each other feedback on marked work and suggest action points, thus practising peer and self-assessment skills. They can assume different roles, advise and reflect on the pros and cons of specific practices etc... They are encouraged to monitor their own progress as well as that of others, to consider if learning aims have been reached and develop critical thinking regarding performance.

Making the student do more

Pilar stressed the importance of giving the students a sense of belonging and identity by involving them in the routine of the classroom. Assisting, setting up equipment, helping with handouts, classroom layout, in-out folders are routine activities through which the students also acquire vocabulary and linguistic competences in their target language. Students can create activities, games, write a class journal and share the material created. Creating material encourages a deeper level of learning and reflection and proves extremely motivating. Group projects and the sharing of knowledge through student (s)-student (s) dialogue as well as students-teacher dialogue enlarge perspectives and promote involvement in learning. Such activities can take place outside the classroom with the use of appropriate feedback and e-mail.

Taking the target language out of the classroom and integrating to the students' daily life

Students must be encouraged to practice their target language outside the classroom and make it part of their daily lives. Shopping lists, engagement calendars in the target language, stickers in the house or the office, conversations and contacts with international students, diaries, using Internet resources, listening to the radio, reading the press in the target language are all extra-curriculum activities that assist the learning process.

Pilar detailed each skill separately, demonstrating how students can be encouraged to solve difficulties encountered in their learning process, from creating a conducive working space to devising action points to beat stress. Greater students' involvement, she argued, promotes the acquisition of linguistic skills. Pilar allowed time for group discussion and invited us to rethink our own experience as teachers of modern languages as well as reflect on a piece of work assessed by a different teacher. We examined samples of activities in the target language (poster displays, learner's diary lists of aims and strategies etc...), which can all be used to support students learning at various stages.

We ended the workshop by each making a note of a specific action point that we would like to implement in order to be more competent in supporting students' learning with a view to reflecting on these action points at a later date.