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If learners are to engage with and share responsibility for learning, they need to understand their part in the learning process. This implies the need for a dialogue between teachers and learners about what will be learned, and what learners need to do in order to reach that goal. This is true of learners of all abilities.

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Developing inclusive practice: Introduction

Meeting learners' needs

Managing learning in mixed ability classes

Using the target language

Active and multisensory approaches

Workshop 12 Stucturing learning - auditing current practice


It helps if teacher and learners have a shared vision of the process that can be referred to as they progress though a unit of work, can help to structure an on-going dialogue, and can serve as a guide to progress. Without that vision, lessons can appear to learners as if they have no purpose other than to 'turn to page 6' and do a series of exercises that also appear to have no purpose other than that they should be completed.

The cycle below provides one possible framework for structuring such a dialogue. It can also help with lesson planning, and a provides a means of auditing current practice (see Workshop 12).

The cycle proposed here is based on a sequence of 5 stages into which teaching and learning activities might be divided. It shows what teacher and learners will do at each stage of the process. Although each stage is important, not all the stages will take up the same amount of time, and each stage may contain number of internal 'loops' as different aspects of the current theme are tackled.




Understanding is not the same as remembering. In order to remember what has been taught today, the learner must engage with it in some way, in order for the new material to be transferred from working memory (like RAM in computing) to 'storage' memory (ROM) where it can be held until needed.

Remembering is not the same as recalling (as many senior citizens will agee!) The understanding and knowlege will be there, in storage, but some learners have difficulty in retrieving the information from memory where it is stored. Allowing 'thinking time' will help, as will providing visual or kinesthetic 'prompts' that have been put in place during Stage 2.

Some learners have smaller working memories than others. This means that they can retain less information in a single operation than the teacher may expect. However, this does not mean that they can't learn, just that they need to be presented with new material in smaller chunks. For example: if 15 words of new vocabulary need to be learned in order to cope with a certain task, some will be unable to learn 15 new words all at once. But they may be able to learn 5, then another 5, then 5 more.

Assessment (is) for Learning
Note that the 5 stages listed here correspond with strategies used in the Assessment (is) for Learning programme:
1. Sharing learning goals
2. Effective questioning to ensure accuracy of learning
3. Individual and groupwork; use of self and peer assessment
4. Group work; peer support and assessment; tutor feedback; marking strategies
5. Reflecting on learning


Clarify expectations

- unit plan
- lesson plan
- expected outcomes: what you will be able to do

Recall prior learning

-what do you know already that we can use again now?


- what sort of things will we need to learn in order to achieve the outcomes?


Presentation of new material

- small chunks (vocabulary)
- larger chunks (sentence patterns)


- guided practice in using new and recycled material
- provide conceptual and multisensory 'prompts' to improve retention and to aid recall at later stages
- establish access to reference material (notes/posters, etc.


Language practice

- learners manipulate vocabulary and structures under controlled conditions in order to internalise them (e.g. games and software)
- opportunities for clarification and revision
- combining new material with existing language store
- building familiarity and confidence


Experiencing real language

- listening, reading, viewing, visiting
- opportunites for extending and personalising own language store

Using language for real

- speaking, writing
- opportunities for creative use of language and producing a decent end product, performace or event
- where possible, establishing international communication for real purposes
- target language used for classroom interactions



- what have we learned?
- what can we do now that we couldn't do before?
- in what other context could we use what we have learned?


-what did we do well?
- what could we have done better?


- what would help us to remember what we have learned?


Of the 5 stages listed here, Stages 2 and 4 usually receive the most attention. The Assessment (is) for Learning programme helps teachers to develop Stages 1 and 5. The stage most often ignored or passed over is Stage 3, yet this is arguably the most important. This is the point at which learners need to become familiar with the new knowledge recently encountered, to experiment with the new structures, to see how these combine with previously learned material, and to transfer all of that from working memory to long term storage.

If Stage 3 is omitted, or given scant attention, and if learners are moved on to Stage 4 without having 'processed' the new information, they will find the work more difficult than it need be, they will find the work difficult, or perhaps impossible. Result: lack of confidence, expectation of failure, demotivation, reluctance to engage, and - in some cases - activation of avoidance strategies.

If Stage 4 is well managed, with plenty of opportunities for games and game-like activities that allow learners to manipulate the new language for them selves in non-threatening pair and group situations, and which allow for randomised repetition (less boring than 'repeat-after-me...), then they will be ready to move on confidently to the textural activities, with much increased chance of success and consequent motivation.

The reason most often given for underplaying Stage 3 is that there isn't time. But schools that have taken the time to develop stage 3 have found that improved confidence and motivation at Stage 4 have actually sa ved time and led to more satisfying achievement.


Teachers who have made use of this structure with their classes have found it useful to explain the distinction between language for practice and language for real purposes and to make explicit the transition from Stage 3 (where it is legitimate to use English to make things clear) to Stage 4 where using the target anguage for real classroom interactions is part of the rationale.

Working towards a situation in which learners can confidently use the target language for classtroom interactions is no different from other topic work. The words and phrases need to undertake the the desired task need to be presented, modelled and practised in just the same way, before they can confidently and consistently be used for real.

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An example of structuring a unit of work in this way


[Links last checked on 13.6.11 unless otherwise indicated]

Many struggling pupils suffer from poor memory - report
An article from the Guardian newspaper. Children who under-achieve at school may just have a poor working memory rather than low intelligence, according to researchers who have produced the world's first tool to assess memory capacity in the classroom. The researchers from Durham University surveyed more than 3,000 primary school children of all ages and found that 10% of them suffer from poor working memory, which seriously impedes their learning.

For more on this subject see the Teaching Expertise website

Improving the quality of language learning in schools: Approaches to teaching and learning



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