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Jake Hunton

Jake Hunton is Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Heart of England School in Solihull and believes in combining passionate, engaging and fast-paced MFL teaching with a focus on the highest of achievement for all students.

Click here to read Jake’s insights on teaching approaches, research and challenging misconceptions in education in his interview with The Learning Scientists.

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Publications by Jake Hunton

Fun Learning Activities for Modern Foreign Languages

Students learning modern foreign languages often comment that it is…

Author Blog

August 27 2016

Interleaving, Distributed Practice & The New Spec Writing Paper

‘Interleaving refers to the practice of spending some time learning one thing and then pausing to concentrate on learning a second thing before having quite mastered that first thing, and then returning to the first thing, and then moving onto a third thing, and then returning to the second thing, and so forth.’ 1

When I was an NQT and RQT I used to adopt the blocked practice schedule of teaching French with my Year 11s and leaving time from about March before the exams to revise with the class. So, the schedule used to be a simplified version of something like this,  

Obviously the issue that the students’ learning was supposed to fit into nice, chunky modules while all along assuming that allof the students would understand allof the grammar and retain all of the language before taking an end of module test which tested only that topic’s content before moving on to the next blocked topic was almost like a macrocosm of the 20 minute window of progress in lessons and progress fitting in nice one hour lesson chunks where students have the sense of a warm, fuzzy cognitive ease and an engendered fluency illusion. It didn’t allow anything to be really embedded of course and certainly not to beat The Forgetting Curve.2 What the students could retrieve in lessons being a poor indicator for what they could achieve in the final exam.  

The issues with this as a learning schedule for the students are obvious and nothing new in Edublogosphere I would imagine. The reason why I’m mentioning it here now is just to show that the impact it had on my revision with the students was disastrous and how it is informing what I am doing this year in terms of preparation for the Year 10s who will be faced with potentially troublesome linear exams.

This quote from a very interesting blog from Dawn Cox sums up the issues as to not building in forgetting time well in my view,

‘…we need to forget following the text book from the beginning to the end, and start planning for learning, not for teacher comfort or convenience.’ 3

Dawn Cox on the same blog refers to an innovative way of incorporating planning a curriculum around deliberate recall.  

Thanks to this innovative approach I have used this to replicate how I am going to apply what I believe will be a very difficult skill for the students to master when they come to do their final exams in languages; the one-off writing exams. The plan is to do the following with the Year 10 students and use the mocks at the end of Year 10 to review,

The idea is that when the first topic of Me, my family and friends has been covered I will be introducing low stakes, free recall tests on practising writing on this topic alongside free recall tests on the topic of Home, town, neighbourhood and region as we progress through this next topic.

As the My Studies topic goes on I will test retrieval through getting the students to complete low-stakes, free recall writing tasks on the My Studies topic alongside free recall writing tasks on the previous two topics and the same with the Free-time activities topic. Then to allow for more effortful retrieval through inducing some forgetting by leaving the first two topics when into ‘Spring a’ but continuing with the tests on the My Studies and Free-time activities while introducing more low-stakes’ tests as part of practising on the Social issues (Healthy/Unhealthy Living) and Life at school/college topics.

By ‘Spring b’ the idea would be that as the Travel and tourism topic starts up, in the normal, humdrum of class teaching (and as part of homework) there would be low stakes’ free recall tests on; Me, my family and friends, Home town, neighbourhood and region, Social issues (Healthy/Unhealthy Living), Life at School, Customs and festivals in Spanish-speaking countries/communities.        

All of the tests will come from the practice pack (please let me know if you would like these) which the students will have access to.
For instance one of the sample assessment material AQA questions for the writing paper is:

Tu amigo español te ha preguntado sobre tu tiempo libre.
Escríbele sobre tus intereses y actividades.
•  música
•  deporte
•  cine
•  restaurantes.
Escribe aproximadamente 40 palabras en español.’
So, one of the practice writing tasks to be used alongside this task when in the topic of Free Time will be:

‘Tu amigo español te ha preguntado sobre tu escuela.
Escríbele sobre tu escuela y tus asignaturas.
•  asignaturas
•  uniforme
•  profesores
•  planes para el futuro
Escribe aproximadamente 40 palabras en español.’

While wary of my cognitive bias I think that preparing the students through adopting some of these Desirable Difficulties by varying the conditions of practice particularly in preparation ahead of a one-off writing exam should help towards promoting students’ self-efficacy (see the epic Gianfranco Conti blog4 on that).  

1 James M. Lang, (2016) Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, loc 1246.
3 Dawn Cox, (2016) ‘Deliberate recall – don’t just leave it to chance’, missdcoxblog (blog) See https://missdcoxblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/deliberate-recall-dont-just-leave-it-to-chance/
Dr Gianfranco Conti, (2015) ‘Self-efficacy – the most neglected motivational factor in foreign language instruction’, The Language Gym (blog) See https://gianfrancoconti.wordpress.com/2015/05/30/self-efficacy-the-most-neglected-motivational-factor-in-the-foreign-language-classroom/

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Retrieval Practice, Generative Learning & The New Spec Writing Paper

April 05 2016

In Learning as a Generative Activity: Eight Learning Strategies That Promote Understanding,the authors, Logan Fiorella and Richard E. Mayer, define generative learning as,

‘…helping learners to actively make sense of material so they can build meaningful learning outcomes that allow them to transfer what they have learned to solving new problems.’1

One of the strategies described to foster this benefit of generative learning is self-testing. Testing as a means to learning is quite à la mode in the edublogosphere now, referred to also as retrieval practice. Retrieval Practice has its own website (http://www.retrievalpractice.org/) courtesy of @poojaagarwal and even a great guide to read over.

As regards to boundary conditions for self-testing, Fiorella and Mayer say,

‘In general, free-recall, cued-recall, or otherwise open-response practice tests appear to be more effective than practice recognition tests, such as a multiple-choice test.’2

According to the authors the reason for this could be because of a generation effect that occurs when a learner is forced to generate an answer being more powerful than the effect generated by the learner having to only recognise the correct answer from a choice.

I’ve started trialling setting output tasks where, after handing the books back, I give the students 10-15 minutes to do a free-recall test on the formation of a tense, for example, without looking back at any notes or text books.

Allowing for time for students to write all that they can about the present tense, for instance, and then taking the books in later to identify common misconceptions and to see how each student has interpreted the tense (I sometimes provide prompts like its formation, irregulars and meaning in English) has allowed me not only to use testing as a way of hopefully making the retrieval of everything to do with the tense more accessible in future but also to focus on seeing how well the students have made sense of the tense and developed a meaning of it in their own words.

It’s been a subtle shift from the traditional Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time which focuses on students correcting and redrafting work solely without much of a reference to using this time to promote generative learning outcomes through practice testing of concepts which were covered in previous lessons. The students have responded fantastically well to this and we have also adopted these free-recall tests as extension tasks in class; students going to a blank page and writing all that they can about a tense covered last week, term or year.

This is something that in terms of preparing students for the one-off writing exam I am considering using with more frequency next year. Not only these free-recall types of testing to do with previously taught grammar concepts but interleaving topics with free-recall tasks which focus on students writing under real-operating conditions-see Gianfranco Conti’s blog on 16 tips for effective grammar teaching in the foreign language classroom.3

The writing exam is the area that I have been looking at recently. The following below are a set of writing tasks which mirror the types set by AQA. I will write about some simple ways that I will be using these to promote retrieval practice and support the students ahead of this one-off exam in a future post. If anyone would like me to email them these practice tasks please let me know.


1Logan Fiorella and Richard E. Mayer, (2015) Learning as a Generative Activity Eight Learning Strategies That Promote Understanding, New York, Cambridge University Press. p. vii.

2Logan Fiorella and Richard E. Mayer, (2015), p. 119.

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