ResearchED Language – conference report

There are a lot of teacher-research events happening this week, and we’ll be writing every day to share the findings and resources with you. First is Kamil Trzebiatowski, reporting from this weekend’s ResearchED Language conference in Oxford.

Watch this space – for the next few days we’ll be reporting conferences and events around the country.

ResearchED events stand out because they actually bring together classroom teachers, school professionals and academics (including NALDIC’s very own Victoria Murphy) discussing, debating and sharing research and classroom practice. These events treat teachers as professionals, who bring their own learning into their classrooms; it’s a chance for research to inform practice.

ResearchED logo

These events are not EAL events; they are aimed at all teachers, although this this weekend’s event targeted English and MFL teachers. NALDIC has long argued that collaboration between EAL specialists and subject teachers is essential if we want to encourage all teachers to embed EAL pedagogy in their teaching and if grammar and vocabulary are to be taught explicitly.

If my experience of yesterday’s conference in the beautiful surroundings of the University of Oxford is anything to go by, mainstream teachers are interested. My own session, The linguistic needs of EAL and English native speaking learners: what language should we actually teach in secondary English, was attended by well over 60 English and MFL teachers. A full room of mainstream teachers, on Saturday, often funding their own travel and tickets themselves.

I’ll let this one sink in.

I reported on the Action Research I had conducted at my school: a linguistic analysis of 40 samples of independent writing by EAL and non-EAL learners in KS3 and KS4. I was looking for common language points to teach and areas of difficulty that were specific to either the EAL cohort or the ‘native’ English speaking cohort. I found very little evidence the pupils using comparative and superlative adjectives, passive voice, more advanced punctuation (e.g. ; or -), idioms or nominalisation. I finished by suggesting strategies for how to address these issues.

Victoria Murphy (@vmurphyox) talked about a study she had conducted which examined the interaction between Modern Foreign Language (MFL) learning and developing English literacy skills. In her study, native-speaking English children were randomly assigned into one of three groups: L2 Italian (who were taught Italian for 15 weeks); L2 French (who were taught French for 15 weeks) and a control group who did not receive any L2 instruction [NB: the data for this study were collected just before MFL was reintroduced into the primary curriculum]. Her results showed that children in the L2 groups (Italian and French) had improved English (L1) reading and phonological processing skills relative to the control group. Also, on some of her measures, the L2 Italian group made more progress than the L2 French group – a finding which she interpreted as being due to the transparent mapping of phonemes to graphemes in Italian relative to French (and English). Her conclusions were that there are wider-reaching (positive) consequences to learning MFL in primary school, notably that learning foreign languages can have a positive impact on developing English literacy skills. Gillian Campbell-Thow (@SenoraCT) delivered a powerful presentation on 1+2 Languages: Joining the dots and weaving some multilingual magic, describing how the Glasgow City Council has emphasised the inclusion of other languages in schools across the city. ‘Being surrounded by many languages should be normal,’ Gillian said, and I couldn’t agree more. She spoke of how Glasgow organises the language of the month across its schools for children, publicly valuing their multilingualism and mainstreaming L2 and L3. In an echo of Victoria Murphy’s talk, she suggested that learning an MFL levels the playing field for EAL and English-L1 children. Equally importantly, she says that there is no GIRFEC (Getting It Right for Every Child) without GIRFET (Getting It Right for Every Teacher). This is why Glasgow is investing in training teachers by placing them on proper MFL courses, equipping them to teach languages such as Gaelic, Arabic, Urdu or French.

Another highlight of the day was Joe Dale’s (@joedale) session on The purposeful use of technology in language learning TPACK, SAMR, 21st Century Skills, BYOD and PLNs. Joe started by saying that the use of technology should:

  • be driven by learning and teaching goals,
  • improve actual learning, and
  • support pupils to work harder, for longer or more efficiently.

He added that teachers need to be supported in the purposeful use of technology. He described the ‘TPACK’ framework as a way of thinking about the kinds of knowledge teachers need: Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge. Another approach is to look at classroom tasks. Joe broke them down using the acronym ‘SAMR’: Substitution (no functional change), Augmentation (functional improvement), Modification (significant task redesign) and Redefinition (previously inconceivable task). The bit that really grabbed my attention in Joe’s session was when he showed us three diagrams, designed by Tobias Rodemerk, full of different types of apps and online tools, suggesting which apps of the thousands out there could be used for what type of activity / language classroom elements (under three broad categories of Diagnosis, Personalised Learning and Classroom Management). Choosing an app for your classroom purpose might be difficult, but this makes it much more efficient.

Finally, Gianfranco Conti (@gianfrancocont9), who writes the Language Gym blog on language teaching, gave a talk on Breaking the Sound Barrier. It was rooted in his and Steve Smith’s research on teaching listening in language classrooms. Citing Weir et al.’s (2011) finding that listening is the skill MFL teachers understand the least and teach least well, he provided a range of strategies to address this issue. His ideas are clearly transferrable to EAL teaching contexts: these activities included students spotting the silent letter in teacher’s talk, listening to words that a teacher adds into his or her speech, and using printed sentences and sentence builders (looking suspiciously like substitution tables) to aid semantic processing through memorisation of language patterns. It was very powerful – I can take this directly back to my classroom.

It was an energising, revitalising conference. I learned an enormous amount of things and challenged my own perceptions. This is what, to me, being a teacher means: learning, putting it into practice and learning some more.



The EAL Journal is published termly by NALDIC, the subject association for EAL. Visit to become a member.