Sophie Fernandes, head of department at Yavneh College (London) on her journey into EPI, one year on…

Sophie Fernandes is one of those brave and innovative Modern Languages Heads of Department who have had the courage, after many years of teaching, of embracing E.P.I.. Last year, she totally changed the way her and her department at Yavneh College teach. What is really interesting is that the school has successfully applied the methodology to the teaching of Hebrew, a scripted language. Here are her reflections on her journey into EPI and how it has played out in her school. Please note that the article has not been edited in any way.

My journey into EPI, one year on… by Sophie Fernandes

As the summer unfolds, I take time to reflect on the curriculum and improve my resources. After seventeen years of teaching, learning about Extensive Processing Instruction and putting it into practice, has been a fascinating journey….

Despite having taught for so many years, something always puzzled me: how can you teach fluency in a language in three hours a fortnight? In other words, what would a baby learn in terms of language, if the baby would spend three hours a fortnight with its mother? We all know that the baby would not become fluent in its mother tongue, so how are we expected to do it in the classroom?

When I first heard of the EPI methodology and started reading Breaking the Sound Barrier, I particularly liked the research based approach and the sequence of lessons and activities, which stems from it. The focus on the listening skill, often the forgotten skill, made complete sense. Research about minimum comprehensible input, cognitive load, working memory gave answers to what works/does not work in the language classroom and why so many pupils can easily loose interest if the listening process, which mirrors the one we use when we learn a language in real life, is not followed.

We have been using the EPI methodology since September 2021. For the past year we developed our resources throughout the year for our KS3 classes in French, Ivrit. and Spanish.

The EPI methodology provides a structure to planning a sequence of lessons in a way that made real sense (as it mirrors how we learn languages naturally according to the latest research) and provides a method, which helps pupils recall the new language and make the language stick by constantly interleaving the language previously learnt, so that nothing was left on the shelf and forgotten.

In the planning, we started by deciding which language to use, thinking of our non negotiables for each year as well as how to avoid cognitive overload and ensuring we chose language, which was going to leave pupils feeling like they were progressing. 

Each lesson fits in within a sequence of lessons, prior knowledge is interleaved and learning cumulative so that no prior knowledge is left on the shelf.  The structure provided by the methodology, made curriculum and lesson planning quite a serene experience.  There no longer was the fright of the blank Powerpoint, it all made sense.

This planning was then applied to the lessons. Pupils’ level of engagement in the classroom and the fact that everyone can have a go at the activities, was really rewarding.

This was because the curriculum was structured in a way that made it accessible to all pupils, certainly more than with traditional language teaching.

Pupils’ KS3 end of year results have been very good indeed with such a huge percentage obtaining Mastery. Many pupils unpromptedly left the test saying “It was easy Miss”. The options intake also went up by more than 50%.

Pupils become familiar with the sequence of activities,, which are varied enough but not excessively so; hence, the routine is reassuring to them, removing therefore any language anxiety students might have. To SLT or in the context of a Deep Dive, the EPI methodology provides answers, which makes sense to your interviewer, even when he/she is not a specialist of your subject. This is invaluable too.

Having a curriculum that works, seeing pupils’ enjoyment and progress have been an empowering experience. The EPI methodology, being a skill-based approach, provides tools that can make any teacher become a real professional.

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Thank you @gianfrancocont9 for such an incredibly useful and thorough training today! The EPI cycle has transformed our curriculum. For our pupils, great engagement levels and fantastic results mirrored the success of this approach! There is no going back!

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