London Language Show presentation now online

I recently presented at the London Language Show on behalf of Routes into Languages with Irena Holdsworth from Routes South West and Sarah Schechter from Routes East. Our presentation: What Routes into Languages can do for you and your school focused on exciting projects that help to take languages out of the classroom and is now online.


Reflections on Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning

This last week I spent two days at the Higher Education Academy’s Arts & Humanities Conference, Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning in a rather damp and murky Brighton.


I was presenting a paper with my colleague, Kate Borthwick on a research study that we carried out recently which looked at language teacher professional development. Below are a few highlights of sessions I attended:

1              The tall tales we tell about teaching (Vicky Gunn, University of Glasgow)

Vicky used her background as a medievalist to examine how collective memories about teaching and learning are made. For me, most interesting was how Vicky encouraged us to think about how we bring our memories to our teaching. She also talked about some recent research with humanities academics who have reported themselves to be very suspicious of the HE buzzword concepts of entrepreneurialism, work-related learning and global citizenship.

2              Write here Write now (Jac Cattaneo, Northbrook College and University of Chichester)

This workshop introduced a project which set out to encourage Art, Design and Media Studies students to engage with academic writing through the use of creative writing practices. After the preliminaries, Jac got us all writing using a series of visual prompts – in one example we drew a map to represent a childhood place of personal significance and another one of a place in the here and now. We were then asked to do a piece of free writing and to link the two maps. This was a really enjoyable and thought-provoking session. I could imagine using some of the ideas here in professional development workshops for teachers.

3              Narratives of the future self: a narrative method for researching language learners’ self-concepts (Angela Goddard & Alistair Henry, West University, Sweden)

Angela and Alistair reported on a language learning motivation study in Sweden. This was of particular interest to me as motivation is my main research area. They used a narrative approach to investigate students’ L2 identities at key transition points in an English-mediated university programme (using the concepts of possible and future selves). This is a longitudinal study so they will have more to report as it develops.

4              The OpenLIVES OER oral history experience: rebalancing methodologies, values and identities in Arts & Humanities in HE (Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, University of Leeds)

The OpenLIVES Project collected the oral histories of people who left Spain during the Civil War. Antonio described how the materials gathered during OpenLIVES were developed into a student module at the University of Leeds and how the skills developed by the students during the module form part of an ‘empowerability’ rather than ‘employability’ agenda. All the OpenLIVES materials are openly available in the Humbox

5              Student-led peer mentoring (Gabriele Neher, University of Nottingham)

Gabriele described an initiative at Nottingham where students are invited to apply (through a formal application process) to become mentors to new students. It’s an opt-in scheme for mentees and project activities involve extensive use of social media. The scheme has helped to bridge the transition gap for incoming students.

Other useful presentations included Students as partners: sharing stories (Jenny Lewin, University of Worcester), Academic staff perceptions of I.T. in the Humanities (Pritpal Sembi, University of Wolverhampton) and Pioneers on the frontiers of learning? A narrative inquiry approach to new pedagogical practices using technology in Arts and Humanities learning and teaching (Rosemary Stott, Ravensbourne, Sarah Cousins, University of Bedfordshire & Dounia Bissar, University of Essex)

Overall, an enjoyable couple of days although I would have liked to have seen a greater languages presence on the conference programme.


Multilingual Britain Report

This short report from the British Academy provides an overview of multilingualism in British society and education and is a fascinating read.

The report notes the scarcity of data on multilingualism outside the school population. There is available census data from the 2011 England and Wales census which shows that 8% of the population reported having a ‘main’ language other than English, with Welsh and Polish occurring more frequently than anything else. Surveys of school children have, unsurprisingly, indicated that London schools are the most linguistically diverse.

The report makes the case for multilingualism, citing benefits for health, communication, business, academia and public services. It also challenges a perceived hierarchy of bilingualism in which higher status is attached to languages which are formally learned as opposed to languages which are acquired in the home.

The educational context in England, Scotland and Wales is briefly outlined; language learning and teaching are discussed and the lack of a language education strategy in England is highlighted. Rather depressingly for those of us who research language learning motivation, the report states that:

‘there is little research into the attitudes of UK language learners’ (p. 5).

This is an interesting summary document – definitely worth a read

Language World 2013

I’ll be at Language World 2013 at Nottingham Trent University on Friday 22 March and will be staffing the Routes into Languages exhibition stand with my LLAS colleague, Erika Corradini and the Routes East Midlands team. We’re looking forward to letting delegates know about the work of Routes and we’ll also be giving away lots of free resources.

I’ll also be hoping to pop in to a few of the sessions. Ross Cooper’s presentation on improving memory and Matt Davis’ on language learning and the brain both sound particularly fascinating. I’ll be looking for a few tips that I can use in my own language learning as I’m doing evening classes in Spanish. Other talks of interest are Drama, differentiation and meaning (Liz Black) and Making the most of Skype – bringing the world into your classroom (Bertram Richter and Inmaculada Morris). Both of these look to be about helping to create a motivational purpose for speaking, which is a research interest of mine. David Crystal is bound to be good too. Overall, it looks like a great programme and should be a really enjoyable event.

Book Review: Teaching and Researching Motivation

(Z. Dörnyei and E. Ushioda – 2nd Edition, Pearson, 2011)

This is the second edition of an essential resource for anyone interested in researching motivation in language learning. It is particularly helpful for people who want to get started with research in this area or for those who just want to find out more. I used the first edition (Dörnyei, 2001) exhaustively when I was working on my PhD (which explored motivational perspectives on speaking the foreign language in class in Key Stage 3).

The book is divided into four parts. In the first, Dörnyei and Ushioda provide a solid overview of key motivation theories from the field of psychology, which will serve as a good introduction to language teachers and researchers who are new to the field. These include:

  • Expectancy value frameworks (concerned with a learner’s expectancy of success in a particular activity) – e.g. achievement motivation, self-efficacy theory, attribution theory, self-worth theory
  • Goal theories – e.g. goal-setting theory, goal-orientation theory etc.
  • Self-determination theory – many teachers will already be familiar with this and its distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Components of different theories are described in an accessible way and the authors take great care to take account of motivational contexts, especially in school settings.

The authors then review the history of language learning motivation research, describing the dominant approaches at different times.

In Part 2, they go onto examine what research tells us about motivating language learners in the classroom and about creating and sustaining motivational conditions. Classroom relationships and group dynamics are covered. So this is all highly relevant for language teachers. The concept of demotivation is also explored from a research perspective alongside the effects of Global English – in particular the wider sociocultural context of language learning in the UK is discussed.

Part 3 is concerned with practicalities of researching motivation – how to go about it, possible problems that may arise etc. The authors examine a wide range of research methods – the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative approaches are covered. Particularly helpful are the numerous examples of motivation research using different research tools.

The final part of the book includes lots of sample questionnaires which researchers and teachers can utilise and adapt for their own research.

This book is very useful for getting started in the language learning motivation research field. For researchers who want to delve into individual theories in more detail, then this book on its own is not enough. For example, when doing my own research using self-efficacy theory and attribution theory, I found it very necessary to explore the writings of the key theorists in this area (e.g. Bandura and Weiner). Reading this book gave me a flavour of different theories though.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone interested in language learning motivation research.

Thanks to John Canning for his helpful resource on doing book reviews in the Humbox.

My favourite Open Educational Resources

1              Enhancing modern language teaching: student participation and motivation – Antonio Martinez-Arboleda

This resource provides advice on motivating language learners (both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are covered) in the higher education classroom as well as tips on managing language anxiety and increasing student involvement in lessons.

2              OERs from OpenLives: Learning insights from the voices of Spanish émigrés – Irina Nelson

The Open Lives project publishes oral testimonies from Spanish émigrés who left Spain during the Civil War and is a great example of how OERs can help to give a voice to people’s experiences.

3              Transition Materials: Moving from A-level to degree level – Kat Stevenson

These resources are designed to help language students make the transition from school/college to university and include coverage of dictionary skills, research skills, reading strategies, academic writing, taking notes and referencing. The materials are available in French, German and Spanish.

4              Language Café Handbook – Alison Dickens

This handbook provides everything you need for setting up a language café or a similar informal language learning group in a library, bookshop, café etc. It includes ideas for getting a group started and also for generating publicity.

5              Short stories for children – Billy Brick

This collection of materials helps undergraduate students plan and create stories for children. Materials cover themes such as plot, character, planning etc.


Researching university outreach with schools in modern and community languages – 10 useful sources

Languages outreach activities usually have two main aims: to motivate young people to continue with their language learning and to broaden the social profile of language students. The following is a selection of reports, conference papers and research publications, which cover UK-based languages outreach involving universities and schools in modern and community languages (it’s not an exhaustive list). This is a small but growing field, which is largely practical rather than theoretical.

Numbers 1-8 are openly accessible online.

1     Outreach in Modern Languages: A Dfes funded report mapping cross-sector collaboration  – Davis (2006)

Davis surveyed the field of cross-sector collaboration between universities and schools on behalf of the then Department for Children, Schools and Families, following the recommendations of the Footitt Report (2005) on the National Languages Strategy in Higher Education. Davis’ findings are based on the results of a questionnaire study of schools and universities, case study interviews and web-based research. She found evidence of considerable cross-sector collaboration, much of which was aimed at promoting languages. Initial teacher training was reported to be the most frequent reason for collaborating. However, Davis concluded that outreach activities were ‘ad hoc, uncoordinated and dependent upon enthusiastic staff and students’ (p. 4).

2       Cross-sector collaborative activities to promote modern languages in Scotland – Doughty (2008)

The Davis report was replicated in Scotland on behalf of the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. Doughty (2008) set out to identify good practice in cross-sector activities in Scottish schools, universities and FE colleges. Information was collected from questionnaire surveys, interviews and web-based research. As in England, promoting languages was found to be the most common aim of outreach activities. Presentations to school students were the most frequent example of universities working with schools. Doughty also reported that outreach was dependent on the good will of individuals and that lack of time acted as a significant barrier.

3        Routes into Languages: Report on Teacher and Pupil Attitude Surveys  Canning, Gallagher-Brett, Tartarini & McGuinness (2010)

This report presents findings from a questionnaire survey with teachers and two pupil questionnaires in 54 schools in England, which have participated in Routes into Languages activities. Routes is a national outreach programme in England and Wales which aims to increase participation in language learning through collaboration between universities and schools. The questionnaires sought to find out about pupils’ attitudes to language learning; teachers’ perceptions of their pupils’ attitudes and their views on the impact of Routes into Languages. Teachers were overwhelmingly positive about the impact of Routes. In particular, they stressed that it had increased pupil motivation and uptake of languages, improved teaching and learning in specific areas and raised the profile of languages in their schools. Pupils were found to have largely favourable attitudes to languages and there were indications of positive attitudinal change between the first and second questionnaires (following engagement with Routes into Languages activities).

4       Promoting the study of languages in the South East through school and university partnerships: the Aim Higher Kent and Medway Languages Project – Gallardo (2008)

This paper describes a project, which brought together two universities, eleven schools and an FE college, local authorities, children’s services and Aim Higher (sadly no longer with us) in the Medway area of Kent.

The project set out to promote language learning and intercultural awareness and to raise aspirations of progression into higher education among students aged 14-19 in schools in an area of socio-economic deprivation. A wide range of project activities were designed, including workshops delivered by undergraduate student language ambassadors and sixth form mentors. Evaluation of the project showed a positive impact on students’ attitudes as well as favourable feedback from teachers.

5    University of Southampton’s Score in French Project: Football-related materials and pupil motivation    – McCall (2009)

Score in French is a Routes into Languages South outreach project, which aims to motivate year 8 students through the use of football resources and an inter-school tournament. Participating teachers were provided with a resource pack, including activities designed to increase integrative motivation. Local French players from Southampton Football Club also got involved. Post-project questionnaires revealed that Score in French was enjoyed by both boys and girls and teachers perceived that it had helped improve pupil motivation.

There is a more detailed write-up of the project in the Language Learning Journal, 39 (1), 5-18, which discusses project outcomes in the light of language learning motivation research.

6     Promoting less-widely-taught languages: The outreach experience of the Foreign Languages Awareness Group for Schools   – Polisca (2007)

Polisca describes a project at the University of Manchester, which aimed to promote languages of the wider world and to enhance links between the university and schools and colleges in the locality. The idea was for student ambassadors to go into schools and deliver taster sessions in Italian, Portuguese and Russian and a careers presentation to sixth formers. Ambassadors then continued to mentor the sixth formers by means of WebCT. Feedback from the project was encouraging and there were indications that it had the potential to increase uptake. Polisca discusses a range of problems that arose and also highlights the transferability of the project to other contexts.

7       Widening Participation: A case studyWatts (2006)

Watts reports on a small case study involving language studies students from the University of Brighton and pupils from a South London secondary school. The university students hosted two exploratory visits for the school pupils, all of whom had English as an Additional Language and refugee status. The visits were aimed at making the school pupils more familiar with the university environment and at providing the undergraduates with experience of working with EAL learners.

The project was considered to be successful for all parties. The school students enjoyed visiting the university facilities and commented on the usefulness of the information they received. This then led to the establishment of a series of widening participation projects across the University.

8     Keep Talking  – Wyburd & Chadha (2006)

Keep Talking was a University of Manchester outreach project, which was aimed at motivating learners in KS3. It started out as a collaboration between the University and those local schools, which were finding it difficult to persuade their students to take languages at GCSE.

The project had three strands and involved sending student language ambassadors into schools, providing workshops for KS3 learners and organising mini-conferences for teachers. Outcomes of the project were found to be encouraging for both learners and teachers. In particular, participants reported having a more positive view of the University.

9       Promoting community language learning in the UK – Handley (2011) Language Learning Journal, 39 (2), 149-162

This article reports on the work of the COLT Project (Routes into Languages North West), which provides outreach activities for schools, which specifically aim to promote community language learning. The project team has organised Language Enrichment Events for school pupils in Arabic, Chinese, Italian and Urdu at the five partner universities in North-West England. They also developed a teacher education module for teachers alongside. Pupils were surveyed by questionnaire before and after events and then they also subsequently completed a longer-term tracking questionnaire. Findings showed an improvement in attitudes towards these languages, which was sustained over the longer term.

10     My UniSpace: applying e-mentoring to language learning – McCall (2011) Language Learning Journal 39 (3), 313-328

This article describes a project in which a group of university language students provided online mentoring to school students in years 10 – 13 (aged between 14 and 18 years). The aims of the project were to help young learners (the mentees) develop their language learning skills and to boost the employability of the university mentors.

Most mentors and mentees were found to benefit from the programme although this was not universally the case as a few of them did not work well together, especially if the school student was in year 10. However, overall findings were encouraging.