This presentation came about as a result of pondering on the age-old cry of many pupils: "I'm no good at (insert language of choice)." It's difficult to persuade pupils otherwise, when they perceive that being "good at" languages is the result of innate talent or ability. If I haven't got it, then I can't do anything about it. My intelligence is fixed at birth, so I've just got to live with it.
Then I came across the work of Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. Her "Mindset Theory" provides much food for thought. She differentiates between "fixed" mindset (intelligence fixed at birth, effort is a waste of time, avoid challenge, ignore criticism, threatened by the success of others) and "growth" mindset (intelligence can be developed, effort as pathway to mastery, inspired by success of others, embrace challenge, keep going when "stuck", learn from criticism). Unsurprisingly, students who develop a "growth" mindset tend to perform better than those with a "fixed" mindset.
So, how to translate this theory into an MFL context. First, I believe, is the concept of challenge, and by challenge I mean cognitive, conceptual challenge, not just linguistic (we have the subjunctive - what more do we need?). Think Vygotsky and the Zone of Proximal Development - life begins where your comfort zone ends. It's a question of pitching the work into an area where students can achieve, but only after a struggle and with support. As Vince Lombardi, the American football coach once famously said, "The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary."
We have to become "Not yet" teachers:
Student: "I don't understand the passé composé" Teacher: "Not yet, but let's break it down into its different parts..."
Student: "Miss, what's a tense? I don't get it." Teacher: "Not yet, but let's see if we can find out what it is exactly that you don't understand."
We have to communicate the power of failure: First Attempt In Learning. We welcome mistakes; we make it safe for students to take risks; we acknowledge the "learning pit" and "stuckness" as valuable (see Andy Griffith and Mark Burn - Osiris Outstanding Teaching Intervention) and provide students with strategies to extricate themselves from the pit; we link challenge to students' own experiences - how did they learn to swim/ride a bike/play an instrument/juggle/do magic tricks/get into the 1st team? What changed as a result of dogged and determined practice?
We also have to communicate the link between effort and success, by implementing meaningful effort grades linked to clear criteria. How much store do we put by checking and proof reading to avoid error? How well are students trained to peer-assess?
We should also beware the dangers of praise - labelling students as "bright" can lead to complacency and lack of effort. So, should G&T now stand for Grit and Tenacity rather than Gifted and Talented? Such labelling can also engender resentment in other students.
Can we take a leaf out of the book of Dave Brailsford, the coach of Team GB Cycling in the 2012 London Olympics? Their success was unprecedented, and was attributed to the hard work of the cyclists, high quality podium coaching and minute attention to detail, what Brailsford referred to as "marginal gains". In other words, not massive improvement in one or two areas, but incremental improvements across a range of performance aspects which lead to a true "gestalt", where the whole equals more than the sum of the parts.
Our feedback to students can be critical in this respect.We should by now be familiar enough with the work of John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam to recognise the importance of high quality formative feedback which concentrates on information about the task, learning behaviours and future performance, rather than judgemental feedback, which focuses on a judgement on the task which gives no information about its completion,past performance and refers to students' ability.
Metacognition is also crucial to the process. Making students aware of the learning process through "split screen" objectives, which focus both on the desired outcomes for the lesson/sequence and the skills necessary to achieve them. Let's talk about learning, let's talk about thinking as well as the objectives for today's lesson.
In summary, we need to acknowledge, and in doing so encourage our students to recognise, the dangers of easy success, the rewards of failure and the power of metacognition. As John Hattie once said: