The following article is written by foreign language teacher Mercedes Roberts, who shares the important lessons she’s learned so far during remote learning, including how to promote an authentic learning experience.

As a head of department in a secondary school, but most importantly, a languages teacher, this difficult time has led me to consider an array of questions.

What is the best way to support distance learning? How can I ensure all of our students are equally supported without putting huge amounts of pressure on my team? How can we use this time to plan for the future? How will things be different when we return to school? How do we achieve the right balance between looking after ourselves, working and planning ahead?

By no means do I have all of the answers to these questions. However, in this post I will share my thoughts on distant learning as well as our approach.

Reinforcement Work

For the first few weeks we set reinforcement work. Our online learning platform does not allow us to teach live lessons. I personally would prefer not to introduce new concepts, as gauging misconceptions and scaffolding can be difficult without face-to-face interaction.

Furthermore, some of our students do not have unlimited ICT access and therefore I want all students to be on a level playing field on return. I have seen some excellent use of online tools for teaching, but this is not the approach for us. The issue with reinforcement work is that it can become repetitive and de-motivating over time.

Using Authentic Materials

I believe that this is an opportunity to grow students’ love of learning by using authentic materials. We do not expect students to stick to a rigid timetable or complete a set amount of work each week. Instead, we are setting them a weekly task that is achievable yet culturally related.

This could be watching a YouTube video of a series aimed at language learners and learning ten new words or phrases from it, writing a diary in the foreign language, learning the lyrics to the chorus of a Spanish song, watching a foreign film, completing a fact-file about a Spanish speaking country or spending some time on a language learning site like Quizlet or Duolinguo.

Make Use of your Network

There are so many high quality educational resources to choose from, it can be overwhelming. It is important to mention that similarly to the solidarity shown by communities, I have been amazed (but not surprised) by the generosity of educators: from free online CPD, learning platforms, resources and support in general.

Most of my ideas and resources come from the network of educators around me. Our weekly activities consist of a cultural task (mostly with choice), links to a brief but specific consolidation task on websites such as BBC Bitesize, clear instructions and an extension task such as a link to a relevant Vlogger with some questions.

Don’t Mind the Gap

As educators, I feel that we put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves to use this time to be productive. We cannot expect our students to return to school without any gaps in their learning and having remembered all of the previously taught content, therefore we need to apply the same expectations to ourselves.

Our priority at this time is to support our students’ wellbeing and education. We can also work towards making high-quality resources for future use. Amending schemes of work to close gaps can be done at a later time.

Mercedes Headshot


Mercedes Roberts

Mercedes is Head of MFL at a large comprehensive school in the West Midlands, with an MA in Teaching Studies and BA in Hispanic Studies. She is passionate about teaching and learning as well as curriculum.

Follow Mercedes on Twitter @mflRoberts and on LinkedIn.