Developing Target Language Teaching II

There are many superb teachers of languages out there and if you are teaching your lessons perfectly in the target language then this post really is not for you. I wrote about this first in Developing Target Language Teaching however it has been an ongoing journey of improvement since.  In 10 years, I’ve had to teach 3 different languages and am at varying levels with each.  In a previous school, this meant all three in the same day on most days and hourly switching. If you are less confident with a language then this post is for you. If you are following NCELP schemes of work or similar then this is for you. If your department is more EPI influenced then a substantial amount of your target language input is probably coming from the LAM (listening as modelling) activities in the modelling, awareness-raising and receptive practice phases, however there may be something for you to take from it.

Routines

In my previous post, I wrote about how scripting was helpful. Lockdowns really helped with this. I began each lesson with the exact same language and it has stuck since. In my department, we moved from using command forms to “we’re going to”. This was partly due to the higher surrender value of “we’re going to” and it has worked a treat as students know a higher proportion of infinitives and are familiar with read/write/translate/speak etc. It also saves working out command forms in a variety of languages where they don’t come as naturally.

How do you start/finish a lesson?

It is well worth considering what are the first and last things that your classes hear from you? Is it target language? Is it comprehensible target language? Do you vary what you say depending on the level of the group?

Working it out Step by Step. This is how I set up a …

If you are teaching a language in which you are not particularly strong then it is a worthwhile use of a PPA to sit down and script out how you would set up a speaking / listening / reading / writing / translation task in that language and then check it by a more confident colleague. For example, let’s take a listening task. I’ll put the script in English below with “stage directions” in brackets.

  • We are going to listen (check understanding of listen, use gestures)
  • In your books, the information that you write is numbers / letters / positive / negative (check understanding, use gestures)
  • We are going to listen two times (gesture, make sure fingers correct way round, check understanding)
  • If it is dificult, possibly third time (gesture, check understanding).
  • Number 1 (let it play as per recording)
  • We are going to check
  • Number 1 = A
  • Who has number 1 correct? Hand up (gestures).
  • We are going to continue with 2,3,4,5 etc.
  • Afterwards we are going to correct it.

Get pupils to translate as you go.

My one caveat with setting up activities is that certain things are best done in English. I would argue these are (but not limited to):

  • Some games with high value (no snakes no ladders) are sometimes best explained in English the first time as ultimately the game is forcing the students to produce the language and you might arive at that quicker.
  • Grammar explanations.  I find these are best done in English however practice activities after can normally be explained in TL.
  • Negative discipline with consequences.  Best done in English so complete clarity exists.

Icons

Doug Lemov’s Teach like a Champion refers to “Means of Participation.”  Essentially, Lemov’s premise is that students should know exactly how to join in with each phase of a lesson.  Ben Newmark (whose blogs are well worth a read) writes: “Clarity and predictability around Means of Participation results in better lessons; better behaviour, clearer teaching and children who learn more. It results in pupils who accept the rules around lesson contributions as non-personal organisational routines that create a fair and purposeful environment.“  There are two ways to ensure that the means of participation in our lessons are clear.  Firstly, we can frontload instructions as we mentioned above (in bold).  Secondly, we can add simple icons to our PowerPoints.  It could be argued that this is taking away the need to listen. On the contrary, I’ve found the icons tend to help weaker learners and the stronger ones will focus on my instructions anyway. I would also add that the icon is often accompanied by the infinitive underneath.

Praise Praise Praise

As language teachers we’re pretty good at praise. We know every word for good, amazing, brilliant, fantastic, splendid and we encourage the students to use them in their writing. I have friends who still know tres bien from their French lessons back in the late 90s but I’m not sure the feedback was that helpful. I’ve tried altering some of the praise I give to pupils in the target language. This was partly with an aim to making it more specific (yet still comprehensible) and also helping them to hear a greater diet of words. In bold below are some phrases I will often use in target language.

Your pronunciation was perfect (this one really builds confidence “I said it right”)

98% correct. One small problem. (highlight problem) Can you repeat? (pupil repeats) Perfect

Incredible. Applause for … Very long, lots of details (with actions and occasional writing of cognates on board, detalles = details).

Great answer, one more time, more confidence please.

I don’t agree (pause) but your Spanish was perfect (often used when student has expressed a view that I disagree with such as mushrooms are tasty, Manchester United aren’t as good as …)

“Again, more passion” or “Again, stronger” Our school is currently using SHAPE to help pupils formulate better responses. This relates to the P for projection.

Displays

I have been through many displays in my time but my target language phrases one is probably the most used in class. I cannot remember where I got the phrases from but having them at the front of the room is quite useful for pointing. The blog link above will give you a flavour of the ones on the wall.

Coaching & hits/misses

It takes time in a language you are less familiar with to develop target language teaching. I suggest you have a friendly colleague who can pop in as a coach. They can praise you when you are getting it right and persevering, which helps to reinforce the routines. They can also log your hits/misses. Were there moments when you used English but simple French/German/Spanish was possible? There is not always time to reflect in a school day and this can be really helpful as long as the process is developmental and not judgmental.

What to do when it slips

Let’s be honest, it slips when we’re tired, stressed, sleep-deprived, not had tea/coffee or when we’re lacking confidence because it’s language number 3 and not your best one or you’re battling teaching 8×6 on a friday period 5. At this point, it is simply a case of get back on track as soon as you can. Don’t beat yourself up. Things that I have done in the past are:

  1. Stick TL phrases in weakest language to my desk.
  2. Stick TL phrases inside front cover of planner.
  3. Write a TL phrase at the top of my planner everyday for a week and try to get it into any lesson.
  4. Leave your door open and use TL whenever someone walks past.
  5. Tell yourself that someone is listening next door to see how much you’re using. Or actually have someone next door.
  6. Spanish minute. No-one is allowed to talk unless what they are saying is in Spanish (including the teacher), set a student to monitor it.
  7. Sometimes you just need to hit reset with a class. “I know we haven’t used as much … as I would like lately. I’ve done that too. We’re going to step it up a bit from Monday, be ready. I will be listening to hear you using …, there will be rewards if I hear lots of it from you. Likewise if you hear me using a bit too much English then you have to call me out on it.” This works better with more co-operative classes. The phrasing will need changing with less co-operative classes.

Language teaching can be exhausting. I have taught 5 new subjects to fill timetable gaps and languages seems to demand more energy than many of the others. It can be easy to slip into english, hopefully this post will help you Deutsch zu erhalten, maintenir votre français or mantener su espanol.

Evolution of Starters

Over the time I have taught, the role and types of starter activity have varied massively. When I first started teaching, a starter was a quick activity to get the lesson off to a speedy start, ensure that every pupil was “doing something” and allow the teacher to deal with any admin (forgotten books, registers etc). The best starters were differentiated or had challenge tasks (with added chillis. If you don’t know what I mean by chillis, you’re probably better for it). This post is charting the journey of where I started to where I am now. As I researched for this post, I stumbled across MFLClassroomMagic who has a list of principles we should consider when planning starter tasks. I wish I had this list in the early days.

The Early Years

Match ups, gap fills, anagrams, spot the errors and two way translations were the name of the game in these days.

The Pros:

  • Quick to produce.
  • Environmentally friendly (no paper needed).
  • Accessible for most learners.
  • Easy to differentiate

The Cons

  • Were these cognitively demanding enough.
  • Would these have been better after introduction of vocabulary.
  • Students had to recall single words not chunks.

The Paper Based Ones

I went through a phase of paper based starters. I got to a point where I was quite quick at condensing them on to a page of 4 to a page (without needing a class set of magnifying glasses. These involved simple puzzles, gap fills or occasional Tarsia puzzles. For those unfamiliar with Tarsia, a tarsia puzzle is a shape divided into smaller shapes with clues along the inside lines that match. If you match them perfectly, you will create the shape.

Example from Mrbartonmaths.com. Whilst not language-specific, you will see the principle.

The Pros:

  • Quick to produce is using websites such as Discovery Education Puzzlemaker
  • Every student has something in front of them with little excuse for not doing it.
  • Students do enjoy puzzles or working things out.
  • Fallen phrase, double puzzles and letter tiles were my go-to puzzles.  Never wordsearches.

The Cons

  • Were these cognitively demanding enough?
  • Have enough glue-sticks to glue in the tarsia puzzles. Avoid tarsia puzzles during pollen season.
  • Sometimes took too long for some students and you would find them completing it in the lesson when they were meant to be on other things.
  • Again single words more likely so lost opportunity for longer chunks of transferable language.

The Vocabulary Test

I went through a phase in one school of vocabulary test starters based on learning homeworks. All students had vocabulary booklets and were allocated a section each week. 5 were Tl to English and 5 were English to TL.

The Pros:

  • Students had the resources, they just had to learn the phrases.
  • Rewards the diligent.
  • Workload light in terms of administering the test.  Tests could be marked by partner.
  • Easy to differentiate to ability groups

The Cons

  • Working out what to do with those who don’t revise or process things slowly.
  • Regular repeated failure for students can be quite demoralising.
  • Harder to make work in mixed groups. 
  • Some kids with dyslexic tendencies admitted they did not enjoy this part of the lesson.

I moved schools in 2018 and learning resources cannot be shared outside of the Trust so examples of the following cannot be given, even on request, sorry. As the Steve Smith style starters and “return of the vocabulary test” are no longer departmental or trust current practice (at least as starters, some of the activities may inevitably feature at other points in a lesson), then I will share them. The final one titled “The Hybrid” (sounds like a sci-fi film) is still in development and refinement. It may make an appearance on this blog one day.

The Steve Smith Style starters

I would characterise the next phase of my evolution as the “Steve Smith style starter.” This is not because they are solely Steve Smith creations (although they may indeed be) but mainly because they (and variations thereof) all appear in this nifty list on his website! One starter task that I cannot locate the author of (wondered if it might have been Kayleigh Merrick via Twitter. If you are reading this and it is you, and you’re not Kayleigh, then please let me know and I will happily link to your blog/Twitter feed), was “Find 4”. This could have been 4 ways to start a sentence, 4 items of vocabulary on a particular theme, 4 connecting words. One would assume that with such an activity marks would be awarded for creativity and originality.

The Pros:

  • Start/End the sentences.  I always referred to it as “starts and ends.”  Students enjoyed the freedom with this activity to finish the sentence.  Your most creative students will enjoy finishing some of these, particularly anything that involves their classmates.  Sentences such as “at the weekend … is going to” or this weekend (insert past tense activity here) said The Prime Minister (or any celeb, other teacher etc)
  • Activities like “change one thing” work really well.  You can also colour some words so that half of the room change one thing and half of the room change another thing. 
  • Convert the sentence from present to future was always challenging but I found worked better if an infinitive was given in brackets 

The Cons

  • Keeping the creativity going with these is ever so slightly trickier.
  • Odd one out was a good activity and students would enjoy it but it helps to have some phrases so students can explain their decision in TL otherwise you risk going into English for too long.  Phrases such as the ones below, allow for a bit more TL use.
    • I think the odd one out is … because of the spelling / length /meaning / type of word
    • I’ll be honest, it was a guess

Return of the Vocabulary Test

Our school moved to silent starts of lessons for the first 10minutes for all subjects and all lessons. This meant we had to be creative in what we did with our first 10mins that did not involve talking. In that time, students would have 10 phrases to change from English to TL. They were tested on the same phrases for 3-4 lessons in a row so that they got better at them.

The Pros:

  • Allowed testing of chunks and single words chosen by the teacher.
  • A positive marking scheme of “2 points for perfect 1 for close” rewarded effort.
  • Questions could get progressively tougher.
  • Students repeatedly tested on the same chunks.
  • Worked well in remote learning.

The Cons

  • Bit repetitive.
  • Hard to stop students checking previous page in book for answers.
  • Always had to go through answers, some students would copy down during this and maybe not think enough during the test.

The Hybrid

Where we are now, is a place I’m quite happy about. It takes some of the better elements of all the above. It ticks most of the boxes on MFL Classroom Magic’s list. It is not perfect (few things in education are perfect) but the direction of travel seems right There are two tasks to complete in our first ten minutes, with the suggestion they apportion their time appropriately. Elaborating on this will have to wait for another day.

Final Words

Hopefully this post stirs you to thought. Maybe that thought is “I’m really glad my school does … and not what I have just read.” Sometimes it’s quite nice to be reminded we are doing the right thing. Maybe that thought is “I can’t believe Everydaymfl is not doing this awesome thing which we do, he absolutely should know about this awesome thing!” If that is your thought then please drop it straight in the comments.

However, that thought might be “I should really look at our department starters ahead of the new term.” If the ideas above have not hit the spot then I would whole-heartedly recommend this list from MFLClassroom Magic for 25+ more ideas (with added templates). If you’re stuck after that then ask your team, they might just have a brilliant idea.

5 tech things to try tomorrow

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Ok… we have Ipads. Every student at a school run by the Trust receives an Ipad on joining in Year 7. This arose out of the pandemic and students from disadvantaged backgrounds not having devices on which to learn. I have a love/hate relationship with Ipads. Sometimes I love them and sometimes I do not. Here are the things I do love.

If you do not have Ipads then all of the following work on a set of laptops or equally in an IT room.

Socrative

This is a great little app for making quizzes to check concepts have been acquired and retained. It offers 3 types of question: True/False, Short answer, multiple choice and they are really quick to make. You have a room number and students sign into the room. You set a quiz to go live and they answer. It gives you real-time data on questions they found difficult so allows you to quickly reteach or revisit things. If everybody is getting a particular question wrong then either it’s an issue with the question you wrote, or it’s something you need to revisit. It is great for dealing with misconceptions very quickly.

Picture from Socrative.com

We have used it for gap fills, grammar tests, vocabulary and self-assessment/reflection on progress. Setting up a “short answer” quiz with no questions also allows you to use them like mini-whiteboards (useful when you are awaiting a delivery of pens). You just tell the pupils what sentence you want from them and they submit it. There is a more advanced website called Go Formative, which has greater functionality including the ability to turn worksheets into self-marking sheets. It’s not the same company but I haven’t mastered it yet. When I do, a blog will likely follow. In the meantime, Socrative is a great way of checking for understanding.

For Socrative, you need an account, your pupils do not. They just need the room number. You are given a number of free quizzes (I think somewhere in the region of 40). You can subscribe and have unlimited ones. My main pieces of advice would be firstly to name your quizzes really effectively so you can find them easily the following year. Secondly, insist on real names. Thirdly, have something ready for those who finish quickly.

Blooket

Picture from the Blooket website

Called “Booklet” by a number of students, this app is great. Free to sign up. You load a quiz and then give students the link. They play, you watch the chaos commence.

The website has quizzes loaded in and quite often you can find something that matches your scheme of work. Alternatively, you can upload your own. We have done this with importing vocabulary from knowledge organisers.

Here are my favourite Blooket activities. There are others and I’m still trying them out.

Gold Rush – Students answer a question after which they can pick from three treasure chests. These chests may increase or decrease their score. They may let them swap points or steal points from others. It’s a great leveller because even the kid who finds languages difficult can still do well with a few correct answers. The students enjoy the constant changing nature of it and it has captivated every class I have used it with.

Battle Royale – This pairs random students against each other poses a question and rewards whoever gets it right and gets it right first. All students start with 5 lives so no-one is out until they have lost 5 lives. Gradually you are reduced to the final two. Students seem to really enjoy this and it also rewards those who really know the material. So often the winner is your quietest student (post on introverts and MFL currently in production).

Racing – I’m almost certain that the person who developed this game was a fan of Mario Kart. Students answer questions and move forward/backward depending on whether their answer is correct and occasionally may get to have some effect on their peers. Everyone plays and can see themselves moving on the screen.

Picture from language gym website

Language Gym

Who hasn’t heard of Language Gym by now? Whilst not an app, it’s an extremely good website from EPI gurus Gianfranco Conti and Dylan Viñales. Your school will need a subscription but log-ins are really easy to set up and we have really enjoyed using it this year. Here are some of my favourite things to do with it….

Verb Trainer – This is ideal once you have introduced a concept such as the present tense. Students type their answers and it goes green/red if it is right or wrong. The cheat sheet is useful so students can refresh their memory. Every now and again, a verb you want to practise is not in the list but that’s a minor issue and I assume it is being updated all the time. You can practice regular verbs, irregular verbs, different tenses, different persons.

Boxing Game – A great little game where pupils pick from 4 options based on 4 punchbags (hence boxing). There is also a listening version where they have to hear the phrase and punch it.

Rock-climbing – My first advice is you are using computers or Ipads with working audio is turn the volume down. Seriously, make sure they all do. You’ll thank me for this piece of advice.

Live Games – On language gym you can set an assignment (best option for homework) or a live game (best option in class). The live game option allows students to compete against each other. 7y1 get very competitive when one of these is going. My only slight criticism of this activity is that some pupils are able to access the activity slightly ahead of others, whereas with Blooket they all start at the same time.

Workouts – These are some of the most in-depth activities I have seen on a language learning website. They get progressively more demanding, revisit content really well and also are fun to complete. Less able learners will complete these quite happily and there is sufficient support and challenge. For example, the matching activity gets easier the more the students do as the correct answers disappear.

Languages Online

I mentioned this in a blog back in 2015 about what to do in the computer room. I’ve always liked this website. Whilst not “new” or particularly advanced compared with Language Gym, Blooket or Socrative, it is quite simple to use and to differentiate. Often I will set two sets of activities. One for students who are finding the content difficult and another set for those who feel they need some challenge. You can find content that links to most schemes of work in the “Caminos” and “Grammar sections” although some of the sections are a little outdated. It is Ipad friendly. I would also add that it has A-level material.

Lyrics Training

Lyrics Training is a great site and great fun. Lyrics are removed from songs and students have to put them back in acquiring points for working out the missing words. They can re-listen to the lyrics as many times as needed. That being said, for us in schools, it comes with a couple of warnings.

  1. If pupils are using the site independently, make sure pupils use only the songs you want them to use.
  2. If using a song with a whole class, Make sure you have watched the video and it is age appropriate.
  3. Pick really clear songs. Alvaro Soler, Keven y Karla and Marc Anthony are all good with Key Stage 3 classes

If your school filters Youtube then there is only one way to use this site. Project the song on to the board and give every student a mini-whiteboard. They write the missing words and show it on a board.

First MFL lesson of the year

Updated from original in 2014.  This is a summary of things that I have tried and their various strengths.  For any ECT/NQTs looking for a more detailed walkthrough, I would recommend Silvia Bastow’s website, particularly this

The one thing my PGCE never prepared me for was what to do in the first lesson of the year.  I’ve now had 8-9 attempts.  As a result of different heads of department, changing schools a few years ago and different policies, I have tried many different ways of doing the first lesson of the year.  I’ll come to these later.

The biggest help you can give yourself is a strong start.  As readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of football and a particular club which might explain the lack of Liverpool/Man City in the following examples.  A strong start normally makes for a good season:

  • 1960 Tottenham – won first 11 games, won the league.
  • 1993 Man Utd – won 13 out of 15 opening games, won the league.  This made EverydayMFL very happy.
  • 2003 Arsenal – won 10 out of 13 opening games, won the league.

I would argue the same applies in teaching, however if you don’t manage a strong start with a class, then let me assure you that it can improve over time.  If you find after a few weeks that you are struggling then I would suggest:

  1. Talking to someone in your school.
  2. Observing others with similar classes and seeing how they manage them.
  3. Any material by Tom Bennett, Tom Sherrington and Shaun Allison Their writings were invaluable in my early career.
  4. This shameless self-promotion blog.
  5. And this blog from the same shameless self-promoting author.
  6. Bill Rogers “Cracking the hard class” is also worth a read.

How do you give yourself a strong start?

Have a Seating Plan.  Students enter the room and I tell them where I want them to sit.  Seating plans are an invaluable tool in pre-empting behaviour, learning names and establishing that it is your space they are entering.  Students with various needs will have arrangements made for their seating.  This can be done entirely in the TL (again setting standards high).  Students line up outside the room and are greeted before being asked in TL to sit in a particular seat.  As for where to sit students, I generally go with boy/girl pairings never in alphabetical order.  Some with particularly tricky behaviour records will be strategically placed, according to any intel that we have on them.  SEN/PP are also carefully considered.  Knowing who your SEN/PP students are is important.  I had one colleague who had texts of 2 tables put together, students would essentially be sat in a square and they would put them on the top right and top lefts (as they looked at it from the front).  That way they always knew.  If students disagree with the seating then I will offer them the opportunity to discuss it at the end.  If they refuse to take that opportunity then follow your school’s policy regarding defiance.     

Have every resource ready and accessible.  Slick and professional is a good way to start.  If your school has a number of sheets to glue in then make sure you have the sheets.  Make sure you know where you can get more from mid-lesson if needed (a friendly colleague or a central supply).  Make sure your PowerPoints, mini-whiteboards and whatever you intend to use are ready.  This highlights that you are in control, you are organised, you pay attention to detail and you want to maximise the time they have in the classroom.  Transitions are smooth and disruption free.  

Be prepared, start to embed routines and look calm.  Most groups will likely be quite compliant in this lesson.   It is a honeymoon period.  Do not be fooled, many students will push your boundaries over the next few weeks.  This could be through disruption, defiance or non-completion of homework.  Be ready to use the systems and don’t be afraid to do so.  Don’t be afraid to call home positively or negative in the first few weeks.  Don’t be afraid to keep a student back for a few seconds at the end for a quiet word (if time allows).  Routines are key.  If you are using a 5,4,3,2,1 silence/silencio/Ruhe system then make sure it is clear and there are consequences for anyone who falls foul of it.  It will pay off in the long run.  

Consider the student.  Some students will already have written your subject off.  Consider painting the big picture briefly at some point.  How is this subject useful?  Draw on experiences you or others have had.  I could line up 20 teachers in my school who openly have expressed regret at not learning a language.  How can you convince them that learning languages is: fun, relevant and useful?  Consider how you can create a feeling of “can do” and success in the early weeks.  Rosenshine suggests that students need a success rate of 80%.  How are 8×6 and 9y5 going to have a success rate of 80% in those early weeks?

Smile while being firm and fair.  I remember being given the “don’t smile until Christmas advice” on my PGCE.  No!  You can smile as long as you are doing your best to be firm, fair and consistent.  It’s ok to get things wrong occasionally, we are human beings and it does happen.  The key thing is how you learn from it and what you do next.  

Do not lower your standards at all.  High expectations are crucial.  It may sound harsh but will pay dividends long term.  I learnt this the hard way in my first few years.  Behaviour matters, effort matters, trying matters and homework matters.  Reward the good stuff and make sure there are consequences for the negative stuff.  Stick to the school systems as pupils will realise that you are not to be trifled with.  Occasionally, you may need to adapt your approach depending on how the class have come in.  For example, if there was a fight at lunchtime, everyone was soaked by a sudden shower or students have just come from an extremely boisterous lesson elsewhere.  This does not mean lowering your standards, expecting less work or being soft.  It is simply adapting to the evolving situation in front of you.  

If that is how we are to be in our first lessons, then we can now consider: what we do, and more importantly, what the students do.  The first decade of my teaching career involved a variety of approaches.  Here are a few “first lessons” that I have tried.  

Admin first approach

The pros of this approach is that everyone starts from the same point and all the necessary stuff is done.  Rules can be established and students are very compliant in this lesson, often regardless of ability.  In the past, this has included gluing in various sheets, going through and copying out some classroom expectations.  My rules generally were phrased positively.  Sometimes I asked students to sign underneath if they understood.  This meant I could hold them to it later if they were not playing ball.  I cannot remember my exact rules but I imagine they would have been something along the lines of…

In this class:

  • We try our best every lesson, every week.
  • We use Spanish wherever possible.
  • We are kind and we respect others.
  • We present work neatly.
  • We start tasks immediately.

My main issue with this is that sometimes there is not enough time for a language based activity or fun.  This means that students are left waiting until the next lesson for the real learning to start.  A lot of subjects also take this approach and it can get a bit monotonous if students have done it 5 times before they reach your lesson.

Lesson learnt: if showing the kids what to put on the front of their book never write an example name like “Lionel Messi” as some Year 10s don’t know who he is…as a result I taught Lionel Messi for a year, and she did alright in Spanish.

Information Gleaning Approach

Often following shortly on the heels of the “admin first” approach, the teacher may set the students a series of sentences to complete in the back of their books.

My three “go to” sentences were these:

  • I enjoy Spanish lessons particularly when …
  • Aspects of language learning I find difficult are …
  • If my last Spanish/French/German teacher were here they would say…

The latter generally is answered quite honestly.  They also give you an idea about which activities the class enjoys least (often listening, remembering lots of vocab, speaking in front of others or writing long paragraphs).  This then informs your planning for the first few weeks as you can build up to these and scaffold accordingly.  It is also quite helpful with some pupils to follow up on it later in the term.  “You said you found writing long paragraphs hard last year, has it got any easier?”

Sometimes I phrased them as questions:

  • What aspects of language learning have you been good at/struggled with in the past?
  • Which skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing) do you feel you are good at, and why?
  • If your previous teacher were here, what would they say about your performance in their lessons?

This can often be quite useful as long as students are silent when doing it.  The information needs to come from them unaffected by their peers.  If you refer to the information gleaned in subsequent lessons then this shows the students you value them.

Lesson learnt: really effective if kids are silent but also if they are lazy or unmotivated then they will probably not finish this.  That in itself is information enough.  The question is then what are you going to do about it?  

Engage then admin.

In my second year of teaching, I tried this approach of having a normal lesson first with a number of good fun activities to start the year.  It really worked with a couple of year 7 groups and year 8 groups as it allowed them to have a sense of achievement and the emphasis was on learning rather than admin.   We then completed the admin in the second lesson.  A short summary of rules were given and I made sure students kept to them.  There was a focus on speaking and listening as students had no paper to write down anything.

Lesson learnt: Short summary of rules is crucial and mini-whiteboards need to be available.  Routines around the use of mini-whiteboards need to be established quickly.

The Quiz

I tried this once and I know a great many colleagues who do this.   I even saw it on a Sixth Form Induction day lesson.  A short quiz about Spain in the first lesson is one way to fill the remaining time after admin and expectations.  I can understand the pros.  It neatly introduces the subject.  It teaches the students some cultural knowledge.  It allows you to show what you are passionate about: Spain/France/Germany/Italy.  However, I have a few reservations.  Firstly, students with low cultural capital are instantly disadvantaged.  These are also the students less likely to value MFL for the reasons in the quote below:    

“The reasons commonly put forward for the low levels of student interest are usually that English adolescents (a) do not see the relevance of foreign language learning to their future careers ; (b) since most people around the world speak English, they do not feel the urgency to learn it; (c) see foreign languages as some kind of hobby, that you do in your free time or before a trip to get by in the country you are travelling to; (d) do not feel culturally close to the target language civilizations.”  Gianfranco Conti 2015

Secondly, Gianfranco Conti highlights the importance of self-efficacy as a factor in motivation.  Why start the year with a quiz that most students will fail on a subject to which they are not “culturally close”? Conti describes self-efficacy using Bandura’s definition: “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments.”  Why would we not take the first few lessons to really build confidence?  Surely it is more important that students leave our early lessons with the motivation and the belief: “I can do this.” 

Lastly, there is an opportunity being missed to embed routines around target language, speaking activities and having fun using the language.

That’s a lengthy answer to “Why don’t I do quizzes in the first lesson?”  Feel free to disagree in the comments below.

The Hybrid

In my current school, we seem to manage a hybrid of both “admin first” and “straight in”.  Books and sheets are swiftly given out.  Rules and expectations are outlined.  We then get straight into learning or revising content from a previous year.  If it is Y7 then we will start on meeting and greeting.  If it is Y8,9,10,11 then we will get started on the topic for the term.  Personally, I have never been a fan of quizzes about the country in the first lesson.  I prefer that they leave my room feeling that they can do something in the TL, or have learnt something. That doesn’t mean that the cultural stuff is not important but when it comes to culture, I prefer teaching them the various cultural aspects as they arise, or linking them to a topic.  I have yet to write a post on teaching culture so maybe that will come at some point.

Lessons learnt: So far this hybrid model seems to be may preferred method.  It makes expectations and rules clear but then gets on with the first priority: learning.

Dear Santa. For my PGCE in MFL, I would like…

Time for a reflective post.  After seeing some trainees move on to a new school, I got thinking about what I have learnt since my PGCE and things I wished I had learnt when I trained back in 2011-2012. 

When I trained, there was a time of flux in teaching.  We had just embarked upon the era of controlled assessment, the Department for Education was headed up by Gove and OFSTED were very keen on progress in lessons, in books and engagement.  We were taught about the importance of literacy and numeracy, teaching that suited student’s learning styles and differentiation.  We covered behaviour and voice management twice over that year.  We learnt about what Ofsted wanted in terms of engagement.  All students had to be “engaged”, teacher talk had to be minimal, mini-plenaries were regular and objectives had to be clearly stated and revisited to demonstrate that all learners had made progress in that 50 minute lesson.  Most CPD was either going on a course, watching another teacher, or being watched yourself, which carried with it the aforementioned expectations.  Webinars, podcasts and even blogs were in their infancy.  At the time I remember my main sources of internet based CPD being Frenchteacher.net, Classteaching and Tom Sherrington’s blog.  All of these were and are quality blogs and have clearly stood the test of time.  If you are starting out in your career, I would recommend the teachers guide you can find on Frenchteacher (although for an expanded version you can buy Steve’s books on Amazon) and Tom’s Pedagogy Postcards.

In MFL specifically, we were taught activities for lessons.  We were taught to progress towards production. We were taught how to conduct a textbook listening (play once with no questions, play once with questions, play again with questions and breaks then go through answers), how to help students prepare for their controlled assessments and learn chunks of text. However, I don’t recall my course mentioning Macaro, Field, Krashen, Van Patten and it sadly pre-dated the advent of Rachel Hawkes‘s website and Gianfranco Conti’s writings.  I discovered Steve Smith‘s blog reasonably earlier on and found it invaluable.  Schools that were using technology tended to use the triumvirate of Linguascope, languagesonline (to be fair I am still using this), or Atantot.  

Over time, I have had to unlearn a lot of what I learnt on my PGCE.  Learning Styles were dispatched by Daniel T Willingham (whose book “Why don’t students like school?” received the everydaymfl treatment here).  Mini-plenaries started to fade out of the MFL vocabulary.  Yellow backgrounds, blue writing and comic sans (shudder) were highlighted as the dyslexia friendly PowerPoint combination at the time, whereas the British Dyslex!a Association now have some great recommendations.  Teaching has changed a lot.  In some ways for the better and in other ways less so.  Reflecting that at a subject level, MFL has changed a lot.  

If I was designing a PGCE for MFL now, I would hope that it answers the questions below over the year.  If it doesn’t then, I am aware that there are a number of excellent books by Steve smith and Gianfranco Conti that will help in doing so. I would hope that your PGCE also teaches you what we might call the generic elements of teaching that apply across all subjects.  By generic elements I’m referring to the kind of thing you might find in Rosenshine’s Principles or Lemov’s Teach like a Champion.  

Anyway, from the MFL side of things.  Here goes…

Dear Santa.

For my PGCE in MFL, I would like…

Simple Letter to Santa | Free SVG

 

Speaking

  • How do we teach pronunciation?
  • How do we teach phonics?
  • How do we help reluctant speakers to speak more?
  • How do we develop the memory of short reusable chunks of language?
  • What speaking activities are developing learner’s memory and ability to deploy phrases?
  • How do we make the TL the regular language of classroom interaction?
  • How do we develop a culture of “everyone talks”?

Listening

  • How do we develop listening skills?
  • What different ways are there to conduct a textbook listening?
  • How do we make listening feel less like a test?
  • How do we use transcripts effectively without giving students all the answers?
  • What is comprehensible input?

Reading

  • How do you use a reading text progressively so that activities become more challenging?
  • How do we teach readers how to read and avoid guesswork?
  • How does reading help acquisition of language?
  • How do you get the balance between a text that is 98% comprehensible and not making it too easy?
  • How do we support students with a primary school level reading age in reading a foreign language?
  • How do we integrate authentic texts, literary texts and short stories in such a way that they can be challenging but accessible?

Writing

  • How do we help students to structure writing?
  • How do we help students to use the language that they know better?
  • How do we help lower ability students to write 90 words?
  • How do we help students of high ability to write in a way that prefers them for A-level?
  • What should a student be able to write in Y7, Y8, Y9, Y10, Y11?
  • How do we help students in  contexts where they may never have been on holiday to answer the question “¿Adónde fuiste de vacaciones?”

Grammar

  • What grammar should be taught at what stage?
  • How do you stop students saying things like “me gusta juego” and “me hago” etc? (asking for a friend…)
  • How do we teach some of the areas of grammar that do not have simple English equivalents such as the partitive article in French, subjunctive in Spanish and cases in German?

Vocabulary

  • How do we ensure learners get a good balance of nouns, adjectives and verbs when textbooks seem to be very noun heavy?
  • How can we make use of web-based applications to help reinforce and extend vocabulary?  

Target Language

  • How do we use target language in lessons so that it is comprehensible? 
  • How do you maintain target language throughout a lesson in a language you are less confident with?
  • How do you adapt your target language to the ability of the group in front of you?
  • How do you encourage learners to use more the target language in lessons?
  • What do you do when learners start to use *&£$%^ words they have looked up in a lesson?

Second language acquisition theories & concepts

  • What theories have dominated the field of second language acquisition?
  • What can we take from each and use in practice? 
  • What are the current theories?  What are their benefits?  How can we use this to enhance teaching?

Memory

  • What is retrieval practice and how does it apply to MFL?
  • How can we use homework to effectively combat Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve?
  • Rather than simply telling students to “learn vocab”, how can we do it in ways that ensure longer term retention and more thorough processing?
  • How does the brain store and retrieve language?  
  • How do you revisit content so that students “know and remember more” without it being too repetitive that they switch off and lose interest?

Lesson Planning

  • What are good starter tasks for MFL lessons?
  • How do you phrase a good lesson objective for an MFL lesson?
  • How do you sequence activities to reach that objective?
  • Is it appropriate to have production every lesson?
  • How do you plan a sequence of lessons over time so that content is revised effectively?
  • How do you adapt lessons for SEND learners?  
  • What are the common barriers dyslexic students face in MFL and what are the most effective ways to overcome them?
  • How do you check for understanding quickly and effectively?

Transitions

  • What are the common barriers that learners face moving into secondary school from primary?
  • How do we overcome these barriers?
  • How can we develop closer links with primary schools when time, resources and funding are limited?
  • How can we ensure learners are ready for A-level so that the jump is not too big?
  • How can we develop closer links with sixth forms to increase progression?
  • How do you drive up options numbers in a school where languages are not prioritised highly? 
  • In a Welsh context where many students have to study Welsh, how do you drive up options numbers as any foreign language is additional and cuts down on the amount of option choices a student has?

Status:

  • How do you raise the profile of MFL?
  • What profile raising projects are most effective?
  • How do you raise the profile of MFL in a school with low budgets?
  • How do you combat the “I did GCSE FRench and I can’t remember any of it” line on parents evening?
  • How do you combat the “I’m never going to need … anyway” line from students?

On changing schools

A few years ago, I moved schools and forgot to post this.  Maybe you have moved school and this one could be useful to you.

I learnt a lot from MFL teachers and colleagues in other departments my first school.  I developed a lot as a teacher and a person.  I worked with some amazing teachers and fantastic students.  However, the time had definitely arrived where a change was needed.

Maybe you’re thinking the same?  You could be contemplating the next rung up the ladder, a change of scenery, a change of department or a change of key stage.  In this post, I’ll look at things that remain the same, things that change and things that help to hit the ground running.  Perhaps the biggest thing I noticed in moving is that everything is the same and yet simultaneously everything is different.  Hopefully the rest of the blog unpicks that paradoxical statement.

SAME

Kids are still kids.  It might be the most obvious thing to say but even if you are moving to a more challenging school then it is worth bearing in mind: they are still children.  Some will try to push boundaries, unsettle the new person and test you.  Others will get on board immediately and give you no problems at all.  The adoption bell curve model from the business world suggests that when selling change or a vision to a group you will have the following clusters of people.  From my limited experience so far, I have found this model remarkably applicable to classrooms.  The following was paraphrased from Forbes

  • Innovators (2.5% of population).  These guys will get on board with anything new.
  • Early Adopters (13.5% of population).  People who drive change in an organisation, quite often leaders.
  • Early majority (34%).  People who join once they see the benefits of the change.
  • Late majority (34%).  Skeptics.  People who join after the early majority.  Often will need some convincing or coaxing.
  • Laggards (16%).  People who are stuck in their ways.  These are tricky to convince.

If you get the first 3 groups then you are at 50%.  The subsequent 34% will likely start to tip the balance in your classes.  Of that 34% there will be some quite late adopters who don’t fall into the “laggards” category.  If even half of those get on board then you are at 67%.  

It is worth adding at this point that while kids are still kids, you will see variations depending on the schools you move between.  You may move from a moderately challenging catchment to a less challenging one, or from the frying pan into the fire.  Parents may have different expectations, which then influences in-classroom behaviour.  Don’t be afraid to approach your DSL and pastoral team to get a better idea of the challenges and overall character of the catchment.

You are good at your subject and teaching it.  You have qualifications including GCSEs, A-levels, a degree and a PGCE.  You may even have more letters after your name.  You may be a native speaker of a language or at near-native level in many languages.  You are the one that has trained to teach this subject.  You know a variety of methods, strategies, stories and ways to make the subject come to life and engage learners.  Your enthusiasm and love for your subject will carry people with you.  You know all the advice you have been given over time.  In a new setting, you have a great opportunity to further improve but also develop new habits.  Your new department may also have certain initiatives that may develop your teaching and alter your lessons in a way you had not expected.  You will have different people observing you and giving you feedback, which hopefully makes you even better at your job.

DIFFERENT 

Starting points vary wildly.  This was probably the one that took me by surprise most.  Going from a comprehensive school with a number of feeder primaries to another comprehensive school with a number of feeder primaries, I made the assumption that the year 7s would be similar.  I was wrong.  Get to know your catchment and their starting points.  In addition, in languages, we have the added complexity of the patchwork nature of primary school MFL.  There are primary schools out there doing sterling work, however the experience of languages held by your students can vary wildly.  This may have an impact upon your Year 7.    

New/Old is not always better.  It is really easy to make comparisons between your previous and current departments.  We make sense of things often by comparing to expectation or experience.  In changing schools you could go from the frying pan into the fire, or from the fire into the frying pan, or just from one kitchen worktop to another (if that’s not stretching the metaphor too far).  The key is accepting that it is different and not necessarily better or worse.  Learning when to play the “in my old department” card is key.  Don’t do it too often, but if it is a strong strategy that makes a tangible difference to pupils learning then there is no reason not to suggest it.

Context is crucial.  One of your first jobs in starting at the new school is to gain an understanding of the context you are in.

  • What is the area/estate like?
  • What challenges do the kids face outside of school?
  • How involved are parents?
  • How many go on to further study?

Subject status in your school may be different

Maybe you have moved from a school where everybody does languages to one where it is optional.  Maybe languages are highly valued by SLT; maybe they are not.  These are aspects of life in your new school that you may need to navigate.  Remember: you were picked at interview because of what you offered.  What can you offer your school to raise the profile of MFL?  How can you help to improve uptake or outcomes?

HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING

Know the key people.  Having a HoD, HoY or SLT member to call on in difficult situations does help.  Obviously try to deal with it yourself first but if you need to refer up the food chain then do it.  Don’t be afraid to call a parent positively or negatively.

Know your students.  Seating plans are invaluable. Learn their names as quickly as possible.  Be interested in what they tell you even if you don’t understand TikTok.  Praise effort.  Don’t overlook the quiet kids. Jamie Thom writes “If the adjective “quiet” is used, it is often pejorative: “Daniel is a lovely student, but he is very quiet. He really needs to speak up more.”  How are you going to ensure the quiet kids in your class are able and confident in a subject which requires a lot of talk.

Know the systems.  Behaviour policies and practices are crucial in making a smooth start.  One colleague advised me to be “firm, fair and consistent”.  That sounds manageable but is not always easy to pull off.  Stick to the behaviour policy and when the inevitable “but in Mr Mainwaring’s class…”* is voiced then the answer is “maybe…but I’m asking you to…”

*as with most names on this website Mr Mainwaring is taken from television

Invest in relationships.  Put time into getting to know the kids you are teaching.  Get involved in something outside your subject.  Get to know your tutor group.  Be human.  Acknowledge mistakes if and when you make them.  Remember you are allowed to smile before Christmas but definitely maintain your high expectations throughout the year.

Invest in routines.  How do you start the lesson?  In my current school, all lessons start with a silent starter task.  It’s helpful in terms of setting the tone and expectation.  Use the first five lessons with each class to teach your routines (and more if necessary).  How do you expect students to start?  How do you expect them to participate?  How do you use mini-whiteboards?  How do you finish lessons?

Stick at it.  The first year in a new school can be tough.  In many ways, the second year is easier.  Students know you.  In my experience, students will often check their new timetable by their peers or their siblings.  “I’ve got Mr Wilson and Mr Jones this year, what are they like?”  Quite often, I have found students decide quite quickly that you are “ok” based on their sibling’s or friend’s opinion.  Or sometimes they decide the contrary and need winning round!  I was told shortly before the end of term by a Y10 student I taught in Y8 “we all really loved that lesson at the start of the week.”  It was a great class and I genuinely looked forward to Monday P1 that year.  I will guarantee now that not every class says that about me!!  However, these guys carry that impression of lessons 2 years later and will pass it on to their siblings and their peers.  Returning to our Forbes model, it does help increase your early adopters and early majority in the subsequent years.  

Lean on support when necessary

Sometimes you will need to lean on the experience of others.  In the early days at a new school, there will be things you don’t know or didn’t absorb in the INSET day.  Sometimes this support will come from teachers and other times from students “Sir, have you taken the register yet?”  Don’t be afraid to ask the “how” questions of your pastoral team, heads of year, heads of department, SEND team or tutors.  How do I get the best out of Charles Godfrey?  How does Joe Walker do in your lessons?  Jack Jones seems to struggle with …, what works with him?

If you are changing schools this September, then I offer you my very best wishes.  I hope you have a great start, you meet some great classes and just happen to have a free lesson P5 on a Friday.

Everyday Displays

Over the past 9-10 years, I have had a number of classroom displays. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not very artistic. I look at some of the displays I see on Twitter and think “that looks incredible”, shortly followed by “I could never do that.” If you search MFL displays on Twitter you will soon see what I mean, along with a wonderfully deadpan nativity one! Here is what I can do with my limited artistic abilities and have done. Hopefuly ahead of the new term, it inspires some ideas.

When it comes to displays, I think there two types of display:

  1. Learning
  2. Inspiring

The kind of questions we need to be asking are:

  1. How does this display help my students learning, or help me while teaching?
  2. Is this display doing the thinking for them or making them do some thinking?
  3. Is this helping to inspire a love of languages, an understanding of their value or an appreciation of culture?

I have 4 display boards in my classroom.

Display Board 1 (front) – TL phrases I want students to use in lessons

Display Board 2 (side) – Phonics board – this is an experiment from September

Display Board 3 (back) – Why study langauges

Display Board 4 back) – Map of Spain

My Current Displays

I’m aware that some people out there argue in favour of a “less is more” approach from a perspective of aiming to reduce visual stimulus in a classroom. I can completely see their point of view and definitely lean more towards this now than I did when I first started teaching.

Display Board 1: TL Phrases

File:WA 80 cm archery target.svg - Wikimedia Commons

I cannot find the original online so it is entirely possible my Head of Department made this. The phrases on this board are largely similar to this one on TES: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/spanish-classroom-language-mat-12359711 The overriding aim in any display like this is that it has to be stuff that students are actually going to use. We have quite a strict equipment policy in our school so any “I have forgotten a pen/book” phrase is out. The rationale for having this at the front of the room is that I can just tap the board if a pupil asks me something in English that could easily be done in Spanish. Phrases it includes are:

“te toca a ti” (your turn) “espera un momento” (wait a second) “lo he dicho bien?” (did I say it right?)

he puesto (I’ve put…) “creo que es” (i think it’s…) “no es justo” (it’s not fair)

Display Board 2: Phonics

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffdjevdet/20611280311
Owner requests  speedpropertybuyers.co.uk/ be credited

This is an experiment for this year. I wanted pupils to be a bit more conscious of how words are formed in Spanish and essentially take a bit more responsibility in working out how they are said. That way if someone says “I don’t know how to say it”, they can break the word down and reconstruct it. This uses some enlarged slides from Rachel Hawkes’ phonics powerpoints here.

Display Board 3: Why study languages

Question Mark Response - Free image on Pixabay

This one is at the back of the room so chances are students are only going to see it when they are a) walking in and b) turning around to look at the clock (how dare they!). It could be more prominently placed if my classroom allowed for it but the material on there is large enough to read even with a cursory glance. Again, I am not the most artistic of people so my first trip was to Instant Displays for some lettering and then to use these resources from NST.

Display Board 4: Map of Spain

File:CCAA of Spain (Blank map).PNG - Wikimedia Commons

If I’m honest this is the one I am most proud of. It took a while to make so here is how:

You will need:

  • yellow and blue display paper
  • A marker pen
  • a projector that projects on to a whiteboard

Here is how to do it:

  1. Find this map of Spain.
  2. Fix yellow display paper to your whiteboard.
  3. Project map on to the yellow paper.
  4. Draw around the outline map adding dots for places.
  5. Remove yellow paper from whiteboard.
  6. Cut it out.
  7. Cover display board in blue paper (sea).
  8. Fix your map of Spain in the middle.
  9. Write on the places.
  10. Don’t forget the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

This tends to be used quite regularly in lessons particularly when a place is mentioned in a text. It can be quite helpful to say: “This place is here. If you have been to … then you were not very far way from it.”

One year we also put some stars on places where students and staff in the school had been to Spain and where.

With apologies to Portugal.

Other things on the walls

The Weather: Students in our lessons write the date, learning aim (post on learning aims and objectives in the works) and weather.

Numbers 1-20: This is quite useful for lower ability classes when getting feedback on tasks. “How many people scored …?” Or for randomly selecting the next person. “Charlie, pick a number between 1-20.” you count along the rows for the next person. This is of course when you are not using Wheel of Names.

Both of these can be found at Instant Displays.

Spanish Speaking countries: This is quite a nice poster set by Twinkl. You can check it out here.

My Past Displays

The Sentence Builder

In the past I have turned a display into a giant sentence builder. The sentence builder was modelled on one in this video from Vincent Everett (the sentence builder appears at the 3min 20), which uses modal verbs and infinitives. It was extremely helpful to students, however I quickly learnt I needed to cover it up during tests!!! He also has an excellent blog, which you should check out. His Toblerone idea will be making it into a lesson in September.

Origami Houses

You can find out how to make these here

I set up a display board as above and then populated it with the origami houses that the students had made. I asked a few students to print off some useful vocabulary that could float in clouds in the sky, which they duly did….only with a few additions such as the house from Up! and the Death Star from Star Wars.

The Three Tenses Board

This was quite a simple idea from my previous Head of Department but effective. It contained 30 phrases all students had to know. His original looked something like the table below. I will let you decide what verbs should make it into the 30.

PastPresentFuture
J’ai mangéJe mangeJe vais manger
J’ai buJe boisJe vais boire

Teaching Spanish at the time I simply adapted the phrases. Again, this was a “cover up during assessments” board.

Hopefully, this has inspired you with a few ideas. I have probably done others that I cannot remember but these are the ones that I feel answered the three questions best.

You want us to write how much?!

This Blogpost was inspired by a Twitter conversation I have seen over the past week or so and posted a whole year later.  Sorry it took so long! 

The 150 Word Question appears on the higher GCSE paper.  It is the showcase question.  This is where 5 years of hard work in Spanish needs to appear on the page.

Irrespective of whether you follow a 2 year or 3 year Key Stage 3, I tend to introduce this in Year 10.  Below I will explain how I did it.  The suggestions are similar to some suggestions by two teachers on Twitter.  I will say now that the similarity is entirely coincidental and it was quite reassuring to read their tweets, as I means I might just be doing the right thing!

Here is how I went about getting my class ready for 150 Word Questions:

  1. Show class a question.  Explain to them that this is the showcase question.  It has to show them at their best and what we have spent 4-5 years teaching them.
  2. Translate question in pairs, then share answers.
  3. See if class can divide the two bullet points into three, four or five sections.
  4. Divide 150 by number of sections to give approximate and more manageable word counts  (3 x 50 word sections sounds more achievable)
  5. Go through how it is marked, including how many opinions, justifications etc are needed.  Unpacking phrases such as “narrate events” is also worth a few minutes of your time.
  6. Divide class into groups of 3-4.  They write the best section they possibly can on mini-whiteboards or on paper with alternating lines (any means that allows editing).  This means tenses, opinions, reasons, conjunctions, adverbs.  Remind students that if they have speaking prep that matches the bullet point then they use it.
  7. Remind students of their core language sheets and encourage use of them when writing.
  8. Remind students of their Top 10 Complex Language sheets and encourage use of at least 2-3 phrases from it.
  9. Students compose sections, If they finish then they can try another section.
  10. Hand in mini-whiteboards.
  11. Teacher types up student contributions into a 150 word answer.  Mark it and annotates it with why it scores high marks.  If you have a visualiser, you could do this live.
  12. Students then attempt a similar question in subsequent lesson.  They are allowed their example one, along with core language and complex language sheets.  They cannot copy but can adapt it.  They do this on their own.  You could then mark it or take in a few and give generic feedback.  Students do appreciate knowing how they scored on a first attempt.

Explaining a couple of terms above:

  • Core Language Sheets – idea from Rachel Hawkes.
  • Complex Language Sheets – basically A* language from use back in the day (wow I sound old) of controlled assessments.  Mix of simple memorable subjunctive, past tense, future tense phrases “cuando sea mayor”, “si tuviera la oportunidad, iría a…” etc or “bien que ce soit”

What happens next?

Probably, I will get back to teaching the course, as later in the year they will likely have a mock exam or an assessment point so they can do one without support then.  They also have two good versions to revise from!  Combining the graduated approach above, along with regular practice of 90 word questions should help in preparing for that.  

Other thoughts

  • Encourage students to avoid duplication of vocabulary.  Ban the boring adjectives!  “boring”, “nice”, “interesting” and “fun”.  Instead things can be pleasant, enjoyable and exciting.  
  • Remind them that the poor examiner has to read loads of these and they are all 150 words long!  Encourage them to make it different to the average student.  Tell them they play piano in their room rather than football at the park.  They do not “go to the park with my friends”.  They “go to the cinema with my little brother who is <insert adjective here>”.  Again an opportunity for a more interesting adjective here (but not too interesting)
  • Remember that avoid does not mean you can’t use them when your mind goes blank.
  • Cutting the question into manageable chunks is always helpful.  Can one bullet point be divided into two?  To some of our students 40+40+75 does not sound as bad as 75+75.   
  • Lastly: make a plan.  What language am I going to use?  How can I show off?

 

 

5 Things to try tomorrow

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My new years resolution of at least one post a month has not been kept.  Sorry if you stopped by in April looking for some MFL inspiration.  However,  here are 5 activities you can try with your classes tomorrow…or after the weekend!

4 in a row translation practice

pexels-photo-2249531.jpeg

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

This was inspired by a game on my old Nokia (the only one they made that didn’t have Snake on it).  Pupils draw a 5×5 grid on miniwhiteboards.  You project a 5×5 table of phrases they must translate.  The winner is the first to score 4 in a row.  It’s like connect 4 but you can start anywhere.  The translations could be into English, or into the target language.  My preference is for the latter.  This works well when when you want to do some structured production before moving on to something more creative afterwards.  The example below shows a close battle between two students.

table game

Considerably richer than you…

money pink coins pig

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

This was inspired by a Harry Enfield sketch in which a character often pointed out to others that he was considerably richer than them.  Having recently taught house and home this works rather well.  Jed makes a basic statement such as “in my house I have …”.  His partner Leo then has to better the statement in some way.  This could be as simple as turning it plural or extending it.

Jed: “In my house I have a garage.”

Leo: “In my house I have 2 garages with a ferrari.”

 Jed: “In my house I have a bathroom.”

Leo: “In my house I have 4 bathrooms and a swimming pool..”

Scattergories

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This is a good revision activity if you need a quick activity for year 11.  10 categories on a slide and then give them a letter to begin with.  Pupils have 1 minute come up with ideas.  If someone else in the class has the word then they get no points.  If no-one has it then they get a point.  This can be done in teams or alone.  An example list is below.

  1. animals you wouldn’t have as pets
  2. School subjects
  3. Colours
  4. Weather
  5. Hobbies
  6. Festivals
  7. Adjectives
  8. House
  9. Holiday
  10. Food

Slowing listening on Windows Media Player or VLC

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Students often find listening texts tough.  Some of the textbooks I have used over the past few years are exposing Year 7 to near-native speaker speeds and then give them a tricky activity to do!  A decent textbook that we often use had a good listening activity for practising directions but with a low ability year 8 group.  Groups like these often see listening as a test.  I slowed the track down to 0.7-0.8 of the speed.  It seemed to work, they found it slightly easier to pick out the language they were hearing and complete the activity.

In Windows Media Player, open any track. At the top there is are: file | view | play |   Under “view” you should see “enhancements” and then “play speed settings”.

If using VLC, then it is even easier.  Under playback look for “speed” and it has “slow” and “slower” options.

You will need to use your judgement for when this is appropriate.

Vocabulary Championship

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With exams approaching, I gave my foundation year 11 group a series of vocabulary tests consisting of common words from the exam board’s minimum vocabulary list.  We mark them, write in any that they didn’t know, glue them in books for revision later and then I collect in the scores.  There are prizes awarded as follows:

  • Top score in a single lesson
  • Top 3 at the end of the week
  • Top 3 scores of fortnight (this may not be the same three as end of first week)

The scores then reset from zero for the following week.  Each lesson, I would hint at the themes/topics for the next test.  Some students really will surprise you with their efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing Target Language Teaching

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Every now and again on Facebook groups such as Global Innovative Language Teachers, Secondary MFL Matters and Secondary MFL in Wales, a discussion will arise surrounding the use of target language.  Almost all responses advocate regular use of the target language.  My first Head of Department would emphasise how target language use needed to be “judicious”.  By that he meant appropriate to the group and well-thought out by the teacher.  A brief search of the aforementioned Facebook groups suggests anything in the region of 70-80% of teacher talk should be in the target language.  Some teachers also make the point that any target language in class needs to be comprehensible to the majority of students.  This is illustrated most clearly by a story Rachel Hawkes tells of how a student developed the misconception that everything had to be done in ten days.  The teacher in her story was checking her class had understood tasks by using the Spanish phrase: “entendéis.”

 Almost every MFL blog out there has a post on target language so here is a small selection for your perusal.

Frenchteacher.net

Musicuentos

Gianfranco Conti

Ideal Teacher

Rachel Hawkes

You may well ask why I’m writing a post on target language use if it has been done already.  I wondered that for a while too!  This post is very much about developing teacher target language use.  This post is primarily for three types of people.

  1. PGCE trainees and NQTs getting to grips with using the TL in the classroom.
  2. Experienced teachers teaching another language, with which they are less familiar.
  3. Teachers who wish to increase their TL use.

This post draws on some experiences that I have had over the years.  I was once a PGCE trainee and an NQT.  I have had to teach a third language.  There have also been times where the amount of target language has dropped with a particular group and I have needed to raise it.  Here are some ways to get started:

Script the lesson

On my PGCE, I remember filling out 2-3 page lesson plans detailing all the things I was going to do.  Thankfully, my plans are shorter now.

Scripting interactions that I intend to have with a class can bring about some real improvements in TL use.  For a while I had to teach my weakest language (French).  To ensure that the students were getting a decent diet of TL, some scripting was necessary. By scripting the various aspects of the lesson: welcoming, admin (books out etc), instructions for activities, vocabulary to use during activities and finishing the lesson, I was able to give them that.

This approach does mean more work and is not always practical to do every lesson.  However, I think it pays off.  Over time the students grow accustomed to it and it becomes habitual for you.  It can have a beneficial effect in your strongest language too.  You may find that you can condense instructions, deliver more comprehensible input and also better integrate the language that students have learnt recently into your teaching.

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Yellow box

I was told by my previous Head of Department that a teacher he worked with had a yellow box painted on the floor of their classroom.  When in the yellow box, she would only speak TL .  Students realised that they needed to listen carefully when the teacher was in that position in the room as that is where instructions came from.  My former Head of Department said that teacher was one of the best at using the TL in a classroom that he had ever seen.  Your site team, SLT, caretaker or cleaner may have issues with this approach, masking tape may suffice!

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Count the instances.

This is exactly what it says.  Count the instances where you use target language and when you use English. If the emerging picture is more favourable towards target language then great, aim to build on it!  If not, then there is work to do!  If you are a PGCE trainee or NQT, a mentor could do this for you.  They could also look at the times English was used and suggest some changes to make.

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Photo by Mat Brown on Pexels.com

Ask for help.

When teaching French, I was fortunate to have two very supportive colleagues who would occasionally help me out with pronunciation, words I was unfamiliar with or aspects of French culture.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help, after all it means the students benefit!  Another way to develop is a non-judgemental peer-observation  Could an experienced colleague watch part of your lesson and offer some feedback on  your pronunciation or TL phrases you could use?

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Have a list

For a while I had a list of TL phrases in my weakest language stuck by my desk.  The textbook also had a great list in the back of the book!  Pick a new phrase or two you would like to use.  Try and get it into every lesson over a two or three week period.  You could put them at the top of a planner page for a week or so and try to use them.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Listening activities

Listening activities traditionally come from textbooks but there is nothing to stop you devising your own.  It increases the amount of TL the pupils hear from you.  It is great pronunciation practice if you’re teaching a language you are less familiar with.  You can then pitch the listening at an appropriate pace.  You are free to remove the asinine additions where the people on the recording share a normally unfunny joke and your class are wondering: “what just happened?!”

Conclusion

Like any aspect of teaching, target language use can be improved.  Forming habits is tough (as anyone who has started using a gym will know).  It takes time.  Jason Selk from Forbes makes the point that Serena Williams did not stop practising her serve after 21 days, assuming she had it cracked.  She kept going and still does.  It is the same with us.  Teaching is a craft and to be a master of that craft takes time and deliberate practice.  Hopefully the ideas above play a small part in helping you develop, refine and improve your teaching.

GCSE: Marriage/Partnership/Relationships

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Photo Credit: The Quiet One Harumi Flickr via Compfight cc

I doubt the above picture will ever be the subject of a “qué hay en la foto?”, however it’s copyright free so feel free to use it in your lessons!

It is definitely time for another post on GCSE topics, which is another way of saying it’s half-term and I have some time to write.  Having covered GCSE topics such as school, the environment, technology, customs and festivals and social issues charity and volunteering, it was time to look at the marriage and relationships topic.

AQA calls it marriage/partnership.  Edexcel calls it “relationships”, as does Eduqas.  This topic is one that I believe requires a degree of sensitivity when teaching.  I have always found it useful to pre-warn students when there are upcoming lessons on this topic.  For some, family relationships, divorce and arguments are the last thing they want to talk about because they are living through it.  The last thing you want is to dredge up unpleasant memories or experiences.

I’ve tried a variety of activities to make this topic more enjoyable for students and will share a few below.  Before starting this topic, it is really worth considering what you want your students to be able to say at the end and how it might be assessed.  You might think “well I do that all the time”.  However, are we thinking in terms of grammar, chunks of language or set phrases?  From a brief look at AQA’s speaking sample assessment materials.  Students should be able to…

  • give their opinion on marriage and appropriate age to marry
  • to explain a cause of divorce
  • talk about their ideal partner
  • state whether you believe marriage is important

You could also imagine how the topic is likely to appear in writing, listening and reading.

Here are some activities I have tried with groups on this topic.

Word Family Matchups.

Give students a list of nouns, verbs and adjectives.  They should all have very similar meanings eg: “love”, “to love”, “loved”  or  “girlfriend/boyfriend”, “to go out with”, “dating”.  Students have to match all three.  I found this was a good start to the topic as most students started picking up the spelling and meaning links between the phrases and gave them a good base of vocabulary for future lessons.

Synonyms match up around the room.

Give students a list of words.  Around the room you will have synonyms with a TL definition.  Students have to work out which synonyms go together.  This is best done with higher level groups after pre-teaching some basic vocabulary around the topic.

Ideal partner modal verbs

This topic is ideal for revising modal verbs (most common verbs).  If you are a fan of Sentence Builders à la Conti, there is plenty of potential here.  I’ve put two examples below.  Feel free to adapt them to French/German/Spanish/Italian etc.

I want                              to meet          a man              who         is                     adjective

I would like                                            a woman                         can be           adjective

I hope

Or

My ideal partner          should be                    adjectives

would be                     more adjectives

would have                 nouns

You can then do various games and mini-whiteboard activities based on these.

Consequences ideal partner.

I have used the above phrases in a consequences style activity.  Give out A4 paper, one between two.  Fold in half lengthways and chop.  Students put their name at the bottom of the paper.  Give them a sentence to create.  They write it at the top, fold towards themselves and pass it on.  Give them another sentence.  Repeat until most of the paper has been used and then return to original owner.  The original owner now has two jobs.  Job 1: translate what has been produced.  Job 2: write out a version correcting  anything they deem not to suit them.  For example, if their piece of paper says “my ideal partner would have brown hair” and they would prefer otherwise then they need to change it.

This vocabulary would also lend itself to a trapdoor activity!

Starts and Ends

I have always found this a good pre-writing activity to see how much students can produce independently.  Give them the start of a sentence that they must finish or the end of a sentence that they need to start.  It goes some way to mitigating the tension that arises when a student is asked to produce 40-90 words on this topic.

Mi novio ideal ______________________________

_____________________________________________ me hace reír

Semi-authentic Texts

I have a love/hate relationship with authentic texts.  With some topics I love them (food, restaurants etc) and find them helpful.  With some topics I cannot seem to find any that would better what is in the textbook.  This is where you can create your own (highly patterned and flooded with language you want them to learn, naturally).  I recently had some success with Fake Whatsapp.  Rather than an authentic text where you cannot select the language, here you can, in a way that looks authentic.  Add in some French textspeak, German textpspeak, or Spanish textspeak if you dare.

How can you turn this into something about relationships?  Let’s return to our earlier bullet points:

  • Your opinion on marriage: Produce a short conversation between two people discussing it.
  • What is the right age for marriage?  Produce a conversation between two people about a friend getting married.

Do every roleplay and photocard on this topic you can find

My experience of the new GCSE so far shows me that when students are confronted with a roleplay or photo card on school, free time, holidays or healthy living then they are largely fine.  When confronted with one on marriage or family relationships.  They panic.  In class I would make sure we have a go at these topics and trust them to be ok with holidays and school.  As there is only one of you and potentially 20-34 students in your room.  I have found some success using the following process for doing roleplays and photocards in class.  I have copied it verbatim from another blogpost on marking here.

  • Teacher shows students mark scheme and script for roleplay.
  • One student is selected to conduct the roleplay.  Teacher plays role of student
  • Roleplay is then performed by teacher and student (in reversed roles).
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that can be described as a omnishambles full of mistakes, hesitation, use of English, use of Spanglish, use of French, adding O to any English word to make it sound Spanish.
    • Teacher (as student) produces a half-decent roleplay that ticks some boxes but not all.
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that would knock the socks off the most examiners.
  • After each the students are asked to give numerical scores.  The AQA mark-scheme is extremely helpful in this as for each element of the roleplay there is a score of 0, 1 or 2.  Their language says “message conveyed without ambiguity” or “message partially conveyed or conveyed with some ambiguity”.  In short:  2 = job done   1 = partly done  0 = was it done?   Students are then asked to give a score out of 5 for quality of language.  The teacher can guide them towards this one a bit more.
  • Students then have silent prep time for a roleplay on the same theme but with different bullet points.  10-12mins.
  • Students conduct the roleplay in pairs with script on projector screen.  After which, they assess their partner’s performance.  When they switch over, you need to switch the unpredictable question to something else!  Or generate a new task for the other.
  • They need to repeat this so that they have two sets of scores.  They can then calculate an average.  By doing so, hopefully any overly generous or overly harsh marking is minimised.

Example:

Joe gives Martina   2+2+1+1+1   /10   +3   /5     = 10/15

Kelsey gives Martina 1+2+1+2+2  / 10      4/5     =12/15

Average = 11/15

5 Things to try tomorrow 2019 Edition!

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A very Happy belated New Year to you.  If you’re reading for the first time then you are very welcome!  Over 10,000 busy teachers visited last year from countries all over the world.  Hopefully, you found something useful.  Anyway, to kick off this year, here are 5 things you can try tomorrow.

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Photo Credit: Ekspresevim Flickr via Compfight cc

Vocab Sheet/Knowledge Organiser Dice Quiz

Some schools have vocabulary sheets, some have knowledge organisers.  Get some 12 sided dice and set 12 chunks/items for students to test each other.  They need to produce the Spanish for this activity to be most effective.  Students test each other on 5 things.  My year 8s are working through a foods topic so the phrases they were testing each other on primarily concerned restaurants.

  • 3pts – perfect recall without help.
  • 2pts – needed sheet to prompt
  • 1pts – needed sheet but not correct
  • 0pts – silent response

Quick run-through:

Harvey rolls dice, rolling a 9.  He looks at the screen.  His partner  Lewis has to do  task 9.  Lewis reads task 9.  “Order a dessert”.  Lewis consults his vocabulary sheet and says “quiero un helado de chocolate”.  Lewis has achieved 2 points.  He then rolls the dice for Harvey.

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Double chance to win bingo

Students divide a mini-whiteboard into 6.  They put three adjectives and three nouns into the spaces.  This worked best with school subjects and opinions.  Bingo was one of the go-to games for my German teacher in year 7.  I find doing it this way forces learners to listen to more of what you say.  I guess you could do it with 9 squares and alter the verb too.  The Year 7s loved it this week.

me gusta la geografia porque es útil

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Bomb Defusal

Using a writing frame, put a sentence from it on a mini-whiteboard.  Learners have 10 opportunities to defuse the bomb or a set time limit using this website.  Very simple guessing game but actually allows you to check their pronunciation of the target structures.  Make it more interesting by having the first person pick the next person, who picks the next person.  Or use a random name generator.

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Live Marking

This was sold to me a year or so ago as a way to “dramatically reduce your marking load”.  This idea from a history teacher was that you went around the class adding comments to kids work such as “how could you develop this point further?”.  The kid then had to respond instantly.  In humanities subjects I can see it being effective.  I came up with a variation recently designed to help a class that are not particularly confident speakers..  Here’s how it works:

  • Find a text in TL (textbooks are great for this).
  • Work student by student having them read out the text – no prior preparation.
  • With each student write a quick note in their book on their speaking.  Here are a few examples:
    • 15/1  Speaking: “superb today – no issues.”
    • 15/1  Speaking: “check words with LL otherwise fine.”
    • 15/1  Speaking: “check words with “CE.”
    • 15/1  Speaking: “pronunciation fine, now try to sound more confident.”
  • If you feel that they need to respond in some way, write out a series of words containing the target sound and work through them with the student.  Or get them to redo the line.

Students seemed motivated by it and seem more confident as a result.  As a teacher, it is quick simple feedback and if a response is needed then you can do one very quickly!  It takes very little time to do a whole class.

Sense/Nonsense Listening

This is a really simple warm-up activity prior to a recorded listening on a similar topic.  Recently year 8 working through the food topic and have arrived at restaurant situations.   This one was a bit of a “off the cuff” thing.  Read out a sentence.  Students have to listen carefully and decide if it is “sense” or “nonsense” based on vocabulary they have covered recently.

  1. De primer plato quiero una tortilla española con helado de chocolate.
  2. De segundo plato quiero una sopa de manzana.
  3. De segundo plato quiero un filete con patatas fritas.
  4. Por la mañana juego al fútbol con mis amigos
  5. A las dos de la noche juego al baloncesto
  6. me gusta el inglés porque es interesante
  7. No me gusta el teatro porque es divertido

The possibilities are endless.

 

 

 

 

GCSE: Current and future study

After a far longer break than planned, EverydayMFL is back.  Prior to this hiatus, I had worked my way through a number of the less desirable GCSE topics to teach.  After going through  global issues, customs and festivals and charity and volunteering.  I decided school and study should be next.  Kids have mixed feelings about the topic.  Teachers might also have mixed feelings.  It comes with some nice easy grammar in Year 7 but then it is less fun to talk about in Year 11.

Here are a few ways to make the school topic fun.

Who’s the greatest?

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Photo Credit: jtfmulder Flickr via Compfight cc

Flowcharts are used heavily in other subjects but rarely in languages.  I’ve often used one set out as follows to allow students to give their opinions on the best teacher.  It is also great CPD as you can find out the one they genuinely believe to be the best and then learn from them.  Quite often the one described as a “legend” is different from the one they feel they learn best from.

                                             Opinion phrase

Teacher

is the most …

because (positive reasons)                 because (negative reasons)

although he/she can be

positive adjectives                                 negative adjectives

You could achieve a similar effect with a writing frame but I think the flowchart gives a slightly different feeling of progression.

At the end you could get them to apply it to a different topic.  Whilst the phrasing is slightly artificial, it should show the students that the same structure can be applied across topics.

I think that <insert sport here> is the most … because … although it can be …

Hogwarts Conditional

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The majority of students still appreciate the Harry Potter books.  This allows you to teach conditional clauses: “if I went to Hogwarts, I would study …”  “If I were at Hogwarts, my favourite teacher would be…”

List of subjects here if you need them.

Alternatively …

If I were the boss

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Again teaching conditional clauses, you would be surprised how many students want to talk when they are given a writing frame on school improvement.

“If I were the head, I would…”

“If I had the choice, I would…”

“If I could, I would…”

Clause structures & Descriptions

Early in year 7 students are likely to have learnt how to describe people. It is often worth revisiting in year 10-11 but I have tried to do it with more advanced clause structures:

  • Not only…but also
  • Both … and …
  • Neither … nor
  • Regardless of whether … is …, I think that …
  • He/she can be … but can also be …
  • In spite of being … , he/she is also …

Germanists can have a field day here with “weder…noch…”, “egal, ob…”,  “zwar…aber…” and “sowohl…als auch”.  I’m sure French and Spanish teachers can come up with a few.

Describing your school

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This has got to be one of the most tedious bits to teach.  I cannot imagine many students enjoy relating the facts that their school has classrooms, modern science labs and a small playground.  Here is an activity to make it ever so slightly more interesting:

Teacher gives half of the class mini-whiteboards.  The other half are given cards containing a description of a school (parallel text in both languages).  Starting in the top corner students draw in the rooms as they are told where they are.  The whiteboard is then passed to the other person to check.  They then rub out any wrong rooms and read those parts again.

You will need two sets of descriptions so that both people can have a go.

This could also be done as a whole class listening task.  You could even do the school you are in and get students to spot the mistakes you make.

After School Clubs

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Again, another topic to enthuse…

Essentially from this you want students to come away with a structure such as: “después del instituto”, “después de haber terminado mis clases”, “après avoir fini mes cours”, “am Ende des Tages” combined with the preterite/passé composé or perfekt tense

Have students look up some slightly more interesting activities in advance of this lesson.  Fencing, bungee jumping, quidditch, gaming.  They can then practice the structure you want them to learn.  I can imagine some quite creative efforts once you add in TMP (Germanists only).

Future plans Cluedo

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ah…the good old days

I was introduced to “who killed Santa” cluedo in my NQT year by two super language teachers I worked with.  The structure can largely be applied to anything.  Another popular language teaching website calls it mind-reading.

Give students the following table on a slide.

They pick three phrases and write them on a mini-whiteboard or in books.  The student guessing needs to read out the verbs at the top and the infinitives.  The person with the three answers can only tell them how many they are getting right.

I want to… I’m going to… I would like to
infinitive chunk
infinitive chunk
infinitive chunk
infinitive chunk
infinitive chunk
infinitive chunk
infinitive chunk
infinitive chunk
infi YOU nitive
infi GET nitive
infi THE nitive
infi IDEA nitive

This is great as you can recycle quite a lot of language and also three ways of talking about the future at once.

 

 

 

European Day of Languages

It is that time of year again and it always comes around really fast.  European Day of Languages.  If your school does not take part then this is your opportunity.  It is great free publicity for your subject!  Not to place ideas in any of your heads but you could even call it “Languages Week”…

There are many ideas out there, resources on TES and even on the EDL website itself.  Here are a few I have seen work over the years…

Update: ALL have also produced some ideas here.

School site quiz quest.

This one requires some prior preparation, you will require: a quiz on paper, answers on paper, blue tac, sweets.  Give students a set of quiz questions with answers around the school in creative places. Put the answers up a few days before announcing to generate interest.  Any students who complete the quiz in their breaks and lunches get some kind of reward.  It is very likely you will have a fair number of keen year 7s for this.  Students collect the quiz sheets from you and hand in to an agreed location.

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Tutor time quizzes/videos.

Some schools do not have a tutor time programme so create one for the week.  Your other staff will often get on board if they are invited to take part.  If they are forced then they may resent it.  My experience was that 2/3 of staff would willingly go along with it.

We did the following:

  1. Quiz on a different European country each day.
  2. Video on a different European city each day.
  3. The register in a different language each day (modelled and practised in staff briefing of course).
  4. Staff used Digital Dialects to teach themselves and the kids a new language
  5. Some members of staff taught languages they knew such as Gaelic, Spanish Welsh and Hebrew.
  6. Some members of staff from other countries insisted on registers being done in the language in their classes!
  7. Some members of staff kept the language from registration going all day.

Who speaks what? Display board

Do you have pupils and staff from other countries?  Prepare a display with a photo and a short bio as to what languages they speak, how they learnt and how much they can still do.

Who speaks what? Video interviews

Get around your multilingual staff and interview them about their experiences of language learning.  How easy/difficult did they find it?  What are the benefits and advantages of speaking a language? You could show the videos in an assembly or tutor time.

Displays

Various famous people have learnt languages.  If you want a list then here are a few…  It didn’t take long to create a nice PowerPoint background, add a picture from the internet and a text box with the languages they have learnt.  These then went along the corridor.

  • Bradley Cooper – French.
  • Carlo Ancelotti – English, French, Spanish.
  • Mark Zuckerberg – Mandarin.
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic – English, Spanish, Italian.
  • Tom Hiddeston – Spanish, French, Greek.
  • Tom Daley – Spanish.
  • José Mourinho – English, Spanish, Italian, French.
  • Natalie Portman – German, Spanish, Japanese.
  • Colin Firth – Italian.
  • Viggo Mortenson – Spanish, French, Norwegian, Italian.
  • Dory – Whale.*
  • Christoph Waltz – French, English, Italian.

*may not be a recognised language

Assemblies

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I appreciate that some readers may have visibly tensed up at this suggestion.  It is a great bit of free advertising for your subject!  Two years ago, I did an assembly titled “I never planned to teach languages”.  It went down really well.  We began with a quiz of film quotes translated into other languages (we used google, more on the evils of google here).  They got sweets for guessing  the film and the quote. Languages such as Portuguese, Dutch and Romanian are great for this.  Then I started telling a little bit of my story about how I got into MFL teaching and where it has taken me.  If you’re interested in that story, or in need of a good night’s sleep then you can read a bit here.

Dress up

One of my former colleagues is a little too keen on this idea… I’ll let your imagination take care of this one.

Foreign Food Stall/Tasting – courtesy of a great colleague from previous school.

Bring in plenty of foreign foods for kids to try at a breaktime.  Staff and students could contribute to this.  This could be run much like a cake sale with profits going to a language related charity or a charity run in a European country.  Efforts we had one year included Schwarzwaldkirschetorte, Tortilla Española, Tarte au Citron Apfelstrudel and Croissants.  You could even insist on orders being given in the foreign language.

Get the canteen involved.

If your canteen is up for it, then take over the menu for a week.  I’ve given each day a theme as they will know what is practical.  As nice as it may be to have a Croquembouche, it might be a little too much to ask!

  • Monday – French.
  • Tuesday – Spanish.
  • Wednesday – Welsh (that’s for Secondary MFL matters in Wales – you guys are great).
  • Thursday – German.
  • Friday – Portuguese.

Your canteen staff will probably welcome the opportunity to vary the menu a bit, just give them plenty of warning.

Language Learning Videos

Here are a set of videos with a pro-language learning theme.

 

Funny Foreign Language Videos

Who doesn’t love a funny or odd Youtube video at some point? Here are a few favourites from the past few years:

This one had the kids saying “poom” for a few days.

PE Department will approve of this one!

One semester clearly hasn’t convinced her…

 

What do you do?  Share your ideas on Twitter

5 Things to try tomorrow

These may already form part of your everyday teaching repertoire but here are five activities to try tomorrow.  Each has a differentiation and challenge added.

Quiz Quiz Trade

Everyone I know seems to understand this one differently.  I have seen it used in MFL and English in different ways.  It can probably be applied to other subjects too.  Here’s how I make it work in my classroom.

  1. Get the mini-whiteboards ready
  2. Project on screen 3 questions students have been learning.
  3. Students pick one of the questions and write it on their board.
  4. Students go around the room.  They must ask a question, answer a question and then swap whiteboards.
  5. They must perform 5,6,7,8 swaps before heading back to their seat.

Differentiation: You can differentiate this by getting students to write the start of an answer on the other side of the whiteboard.

Front of whiteboard:   ¿Qué llevas normalmente?

Back of whiteboard:    Llevo…

Challenge: You could have students put a word on the back of the whiteboard that has to be incorporated into the answer.   You could increase the variety of questions used or vary tenses used by questions.

Rewards: whilst the students are doing this, go around, listen and note down the ones who are going for it.  Reward them at some point in a manner of your choosing.

MM Paired Speaking

MM are the initials of the excellent teacher who showed me this.  It is an information gap activity but I like it as it practises speaking, listening, reading and writing.

  1. Students divide page into 3 columns
  2. Column 1 – write days of week in TL leaving 2-3 lines in between each
  3. Column 2 – pupils draw picture that represents vocab they have been learning such as places in town.
  4. Column 3 – leave blank.
  5. Project on board a question such as ¿Adónde vas el lunes? (where do you go on Monday?).  You could also project a model answer “el lunes voy al cine” (Mondays I go to the cinema).
  6. Model the activity with a keen student.  This stage is crucial for the activity to work well.
  7. Fiona asks Shrek where he goes on each day of the week.  When Shrek answers, Fiona uses her final column to write down exactly what he says.
  8. Shrek and Fiona swap roles.

Differentiation: Weaker students might need this printing out on paper.

Challenge:  You could increase the complexity of the sentence demanded by insisting pupils add an opinion.  This could be done by adding a column in between 2 and 3.

Car Race Quiz

I resurrected this little gem this week.  I cannot find the original car race powerpoint but you will find similar powerpoints here by the same author.  Car race, horse race or (at Christmas) race to Bethlehem should work.  For those of you big on knowledge organisers, this could be a different way to test them.

  1. Have a list of questions ready to test everything in a unit from key vocabulary to how to form various tenses or structures covered.
  2. Divide class into teams
  3. Teams take it in turns to answer.
  4. If they are right then click the car/horse/wise man (whichever you choose to download) and they will gradually move towards the finish line.  If a team is unable to answer, pass it to another team.
  5. Winners are first to the finish line.

Differentiation:  This can come through the questions you ask and how you tailor the activity to the students in front of you.

Challenge: you could turn this activity into a translation challenge.  First group to produce correct translation of a particular phrase gets to move their car forward.

Song gap fills

I don’t do these too often but a colleague of mine did one with a class recently.  Find a song and take out a variety of vocabulary.  You could look for words with a particular phoneme that you want students to practice or remove some verbs you have learnt recently. They listen twice or three times trying to put in the missing words and then you show them the lyric video for them to check their answers.

It is best done last lesson of the day or you will be hearing it all day.  Whilst my colleague suggested Kevin y Karla (check their Youtube channel out),  This one was a hit with my year 9s:

Differentiation: depends on the quantity words you take out.

Challenge: have two versions with words removed.  Remove significantly more from one version, or equally put the wrong words in and students correct them.

12 sided dice topic revision

If you have a set of these then great.  If not then tell students to roll a six sided die twice and add the numbers.

Set 12 tasks on the screen that link to the topic you have been studying. Give each task a points score according to complexity.

1 Simple vocabulary recall task

2 Explain grammar structure

3 Translate something

4 Make a sentence including …

etc

Differentiation: you could pair up students who are at a similar level.  You could turn it into a rally-coach task (the more advanced student does their own task but coaches a weaker individual to help them achieve).

Challenge: depends on the complexity of tasks set

GCSE: Customs & Festivals

800px-Santiago_Sacatepequez_Kite_Festival

Picture of Santiago Sacatepequez by gringologue [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Spanish speaking world is full of a variety of festivals.  From the perilous San Fermín to the picturesque Fiesta de los Patios en Córdoba or contemplative Semana Santa.  If you look further afield you will find El Día de Los Muertos/El Día de La Muerte,  and El Yipao in Colombia.

AQA refers to this topic as “customs and festivals in Spanish speaking countries/communities”.

Pearson/Edexcel refer to it as “celebrations and festivals”.

WJEC refer to it as: “festivals and celebrations”.

The ideas discussed in this blog and inevitably the language used will unavoidably favour the exam board I’m currently preparing my students for.  Nevertheless the ideas themselves should be applicable to any exam board and adaptable to languages other than Spanish.

It is worth considering how a module like this one might be examined.  It could be tested by all four skills

  • Speaking: any of the three elements could include something related to this topic.  Your sample assessment materials should give you an idea.
  • Writing: write about a festival/celebration you went to or would like to go to
  • Listening: listen to an account of Carnival and answer questions (AQA SAMS)
  • Reading: same as above but text on page

Here are some activities I have tried over the course of teaching this module.

The VLOG

This was an idea from a colleague of mine and one of the best MFL teachers I know.  The ultimate aim is that students produce a VLOG (video-blog) in which they describe a Spanish festival.  A growing number of the students I teach want to be “Youtubers” so they welcomed this idea.  Students were told they can appear in the VLOG if they choose or they could do something similar to Tio Spanish.  The main rule was that it was them doing the talking.  The structures I wanted the students to be using included the following:

it celebrates, it takes place in, it is, there is/are, you can see, you can, it starts, it finishes, it lasts, it is one of the most … , it has, it involves, it includes, I would like to go, because it looks, i would recommend it because it is.

Part 1: 2-3 lessons of controlled listening, reading, speaking and writing practice ensued trying to recycle these structures as much as possible.  I had been reading quite a bit over half-term and wanted to try out some new ideas.  One source of ideas was The Language Teacher ToolkitThe Language Teacher Toolkit.  Another was the Language Gym Blog.   A number of these formed part of the lesson and I wrote a number of texts that recycled the target structures above.

Part 2: I took the students to the ICT room.  They researched key details about a festival from a selection I had produced.  No-one did La Tomatina because that was on the scheme of work for subsequent weeks.  After that students produced a script using as many of the target structures as possible.

Part 3: They handed in their scripts, which I marked.  They then corrected and improved it based on feedback they were given so that their VLOG recording is grammatically sound.  As part of this, they also had to underline any words that they felt were tricky to pronounce.   Those that finished this redrafting process worked with me on how to pronounce the words.  Others were directed to Voki.  Whilst not perfect, it will do the job.

Part 4: Students are currently recording their vlogs.

 

Festivals that match interests.

Sometimes it is worth investigating a little more to find out some more festivals out there.  UK textbooks tend to emphasise la tomatina or navidad.  I think the former because it captures the imagination and the later because students can relate to it.  One student was quite motivated by the fería de caballos in Jerez.  Another really enjoyed looking into la mistura peruana (Peru’s food festival).  Día de amistad (South America) was perceived to be a great idea by another student and they wondered why we don’t have it here.

PaseoPrincipal-FeriaJerez-MIN-DSC04582

Android Game

This was a way of practising the key vocabulary around festivals.  Here’s how it works:  Frodo draws 9 dots on a whiteboard in a 3×3 pattern.  Frodo then joins up 4-5 of the dots consecutively like an Android phone password.

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On the screen have 9 squares with phrases in.  These correspond to the 9 dots.

Sam’s job is to crack Frodo’s password.  Sam says the phrases on the screen trying to guess where Frodo’s password starts.  Frodo can only respond “si” when Sam has guessed the first one.  Even if he has said other parts of the pattern up to this point, he must get the first one.

The main aim here is repetition of vocabulary and familiarisation with the target structures.  You should advise students beforehand not to use their actual phone password.  You would think it might not need saying, but it does.

Trapdoor with lives

Trapdoor seems to be a staple of MFL teacher PowerPoints on TES.

trapdoor

Danielle was kind enough to let me use this example of trapdoor. You should visit her site: Morganmfl

The prevailing methodology seems to be that students restart when they get it wrong and go back to the beginning.  A slight twist I have tried recently is giving students a number of lives.  They then have to reach the end alive.  This means that they have a greater chance to use all of the vocabulary on the activity.  I tend to base the number of lives on 1-2 guesses per section.

For festivals I used the idea of a past tense account of the festival including the following vocabulary:

I went to, we went to, my friends and I went to, we participated in, we threw, a lot of, we ate, we drank, it was, we are going to go again, because it is, we are never going to go again,

Mastermind with lives

Image result for mastermind board gameAgain using the same principal as the trapdoor activity above.  Students have to guess what their partner is thinking.  They can only tell their partner how many they get right.  Place a table on the board with 3-4 columns.  The original game to the left uses four.  Personally, I prefer three for MFL lessons.  One student writes the target phrases in their book.  The other tries to guess the phrases that they have written.  This can be made quicker by giving students a number of lives.  It also means both students are likely to get a go.  Students seem to enjoy this one.

TL Questions and TL answers

La_Tomatina_2014

By Carlesboveserral [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

This module has been great for training students to respond to target language questions with target language answers.  Using the AQA book, we covered la tomatina.  I wrote text about la tomatina from the point of view of “Marcos” who attended la tomatina.  There were then 8 TL questions with relatively simple answers in the text.  Part of the activity was to train pupils to look for language that is similar to the verbs in the question.

If this is the answer, what is the question

In the subsequent lesson, I jumbled up the TL questions and TL answers and asked students to match them.  The answers were on the left of the slide and questions on the right.  To increase the level of challenge in this activity, you could have students create the questions themselves.

Four Phrases One festival

Have four boxes of text on the screen.  Three of the boxes all partly describe a festival.  The final box should have some details that do not correlate with the others.  Students need to work out the festival as well as which box does not help them.  The idea behind this was to give them practice of filtering out the distractors when looking at higher level reading texts.  Depending on the level of your class you can make this as subtle as you feel is right.

Dice

I’m not quite sure where I would be without a set of 6 sided and 12 sided dice in lessons.  Aside from the rather popular “one pen one die” activity, you can do a variety of things.

Improvisation – students make a sentence based on prompt.  You could add a minimum word count to stretch them.

  1. Where was the festival?
  2. What was it about?
  3. What did you see?
  4. How was it?
  5. Who did you go with?
  6. What did you like most?

Roll, say, translate – Hugh rolls the dice and says the sentence.  Zac translates into English.

  1. se celebra en abril
  2. tiene lugar en Sevilla
  3. hay muchas casetas
  4. empieza dos semanas después de la Semana Santa
  5. la gente baila sevillanas, bebe manzanilla y come tapas
  6. Quiero visitarla porque parece bonita

etc

Extreme Snakes and Ladders

File:Snakes and ladders1.JPG

By Druyts.t [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

I’ll be honest with you; it is not extreme but the name seems to have an effect on classes.  Find a snakes and ladders board.  Set sentence-making challenges for anyone who lands on a number ending in 1,3,5,7,9.  You could also add a snake stopper and ladder allower.  These should be tricky tasks.

1  Where was the festival?

3  What was it about?

5  What did you see?

7  How was it?

9  Who did you go with?

Snake Stopper: make three sentences about a festival that includes the words … , … and …

Ladder Allower: Describe a festival you wouldn’t go to and why

If you have managed to read this far then well done!  Feel free to tweet any ideas to @everydaymfl or leave a comment below.

 

 

 

MFL & Parents Evening

Perhaps this rings true for some of you.  I’m not sure how you see parents evening or how they work in your school but I’ll do my best to make sure that there is something for everyone.

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I firmly believe that strong relationships facilitate greater progress in the classroom.  Parents evening offers a unique opportunity to build two relationships.  Empathy and enthusiasm are crucial in those few hours.

1) Student – Teacher.  Parents evening is one of the few times you will get where you can talk to the child about their progress without their peers being around but with a level of accountability, as their parents heard it.

2) Teacher – Parent.  Parents might have heard from their offspring that you are a fire-breathing ogre with a volcanic temperament, liable to go off at the slightest infraction.  Conversely, they may have heard that you are a “legend”.  Either way, it is an opportunity for the parent to put a face to a name and to have a dialogue about their child’s progress.

Making the most of parents evening:

Preparation

In my current school students seek you out for appointments and you are encouraged to seek appointments with them.  They bring you a flurry of pieces of paper (these diminish as they progress through the years) and you try and pack them all into 3 hours.  Other schools do their appointments online and I’ve seen that be quite effective.

Once my appointments are written in then I do three things:

  1. Locate data and assessment results for classes being taught
  2. Look at the list of names and note the first few things that come to mind for each student.
    1. Penny – presentation, homework variable, good effort in class.
    2. Leonard – speaking good, needs to increase detail and variety in written work.
    3. Howard – off-task, focus, incident thurs.
    4. Raj – equipment, off-task, consider seating move?
  3. Make sure that I have a mug of tea ready.

Approach

I have seen a variety of approaches at parents evening.  Some teachers ask the student questions “how do you feel you are progressing?”  “How do you think Spanish is going this year?”  My feedback from students is that they do not enjoy this moment of being put on the spot and are not always certain about what to say.  Most students will likely opt for a conservative response irrespective of how they are progressing, as it will minimise fallout if they feel they are not doing so well.

Personally, I prefer the following:

Positive Appointment

  1. Know your student.  A couple of words about the student shows that you definitely know them.  “This is the second year I’ve taught Anakin”.  “Teaching Luke in year 7 and now in year 9, it’s great to see how far he has come”.  “What has pleased me most about Rey this year is how she has…”
  2. Data and progress.  Talk about how they have performed in assessments or data-drops.  Are they where you expect them to be?  If not, why not?  Was it the assessment or the revision?  How can they get there?  How can home be involved in helping them?
  3. What’s next?  Explain that there are a couple of things they could do “to really help themselves move forward”.  Keep it short, simple and to the most important stuff.  If a parent is writing notes then feel free to say more.  Consider that if there is a conversation at home afterwards then what do you want them to remember?   There may be more, but that parent might have had 7 appointments already.
  4. Any questions?  Leave a minute or two for the parents to ask any questions that they have.

With year 10s and 11s I have taken sheets of useful revision websites for parents to take away.  The students may have already been given this sheet but an extra copy at home never hurt!

Less positive appointment:

  • Know your student.  A couple of words about the student that shows you definitely know them and have caught them being good.  Even the very worst students I have taught have not been 100% bad for 100% of every lesson.  Key point to consider here: how can you build that relationship?  How can you involve home in bringing about a turnaround in fortunes for that student?
  • Data and progress.  Talk about how they have performed in class.  Are they where you expect them to be?  If not, why not?  How can they get there?  How can home be involved in helping them?  At this point, the student or parent may suggest something that would help.  Make a note of it and then deliver on it.  This could be a seating plan change, a resource, a need for greater help, checking understanding prior to starting a task.  This shows your intentions to secure the best outcomes for their child.  Actions speak loudly.
  • Issues.  If the issue is behaviour or homework then talk about where things need to improve.  Most parents appreciate honesty.  If the parent appears supportive then tell them you will give them a ring, or an email, in 2-3 weeks to review how things are going.  As you do this, write it in your planner and then do it.  Sometimes parents will engage positively with you at this point.  Others may choose not to.
  • Finish well.  Find a way to finish the appointment on a positive note.  No kid should feel like they are a lost cause.
  • Any questions?  The parent may well wish to question you further.  Do not be afraid to involve your Head of Department if you need to.  Perhaps warn them prior to the appointment if you know of a particular tricky parent.  If the parent is taking up undue time then politely suggest that you continue the discussion at a later date, possibly with your Head of Department present.

Take a sheet

In previous years I have brought copies of the following to parents evening:

  • Sheet titled “how to help my son/daughter succeed at languages”.
  • Sheet titled “effective revision techniques for MFL”.
  • Sheet with QR codes for revision websites.

Each one has gone down well with parents.  It takes a bit of prep time but you can reuse them most years.

Parents that care will likely read the sheet.  Those that do not care will not but I have seen them appear in Spanish books, or have heard that it was stuck to the fridge or useful later down the line.

What do you do when they say….?

  • “Why does he/she need languages?”
  • “He/she is never going to go to France/Germany/Spain”
  • “I was never any good at languages”
  • “Why does he/she have to do a language?”
  • “Everyone speaks English”
  • “You can give it up in year 9 anyway”

If you read my previous blogpost Blogging for Languages without nodding off, then you will have an idea of my answers to these questions.  Firstly, I started Spanish at university at the age of 18.  Secondly, I never planned to teach languages.  Lastly, I never thought I would ever end up in South America.  However, all of these things happened.  I find this normally works as quite a disarming start to a number of the above statements.  After this, I can then talk about the importance of languages, the doors they opens and the benefits for their child.  You will need to come up with your answers to these questions and similar ones.  If you want some statistics to back up your answers then have a look at the Year 9 Options post  or some things I picked up at the ISMLA conference.  The main thing is delivering them with empathy and enthusiasm.

Blogging for Languages

The following is the transcript of a talk I gave at the ISMLA Conference Feb 2018.  The talk was titled “Blogging for Languages”.  It is a long read.

Blogging for Languages

I was invited by John Wilson of the ISMLA to talk this morning about “Blogging for Languages”.  My plan is to go through 5 things.  Firstly, who am I.  Why blog?  What have I gained?  Can you do it?  What’s next?

Question 1: Who are you?

My name is Dave.  I teach MFL in a secondary school in Devon.  I have taught German, Spanish and a little bit of French since starting in late 2011.  In that time I have served as Second in Department and also in a pastoral role.  I didn’t ever plan to be a language teacher.  I went to university to study English and German.  My first English lecture convinced me that I needed to be doing something else.  A number of friends I had made in my halls were studying Spanish ab initio, so I joined them and it carried on.  This led to a year abroad spent in a mixture of München, Bolivia and Marburg.  I completed my PGCE with South West Teacher Training, and got a job teaching languages.  I’m now just an everyday MFL teacher.

Question 2: Why blog?

I came across the idea of blogging sometime into my third or fourth year of teaching.  I had started looking at a couple of websites called Classteaching, a blog by a teacher called Chris Hildrew (who is now a Headteacher and occasionally blogs) and Frenchteacher.net.  They were all great for ideas and I wondered if I could do the same, so I did.  Everydaymfl started life as North DevonMFL.  It was a place to store activities and teaching ideas. It attracted a few visitors each week.  I was quite proud of my 20 or so readers.  Aside from a blog called Dom’s MFL blog and the aforementioned Frenchteacher.net there was not much giving practical ideas for teaching topics, grammar and ideas to use inside the classroom.  I wanted somewhere to store ideas that was not going to get lost, disappear and was easily accessible.

After the first few months, I changed the name to reflect the nature of the blog and also because I had started looking around for jobs elsewhere.  If I were no longer in North Devon, I didn’t think I could really retain the name.  Over time the blog has grown from 1000 views in 2015 to 10,000 unique visitors in 2017.  The United Kingdom leads the way with an overwhelming majority of views.  The top ten does include the USA, Ireland, UAE, Spain, Austrailia, France, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia and Italy.  I’m still awaiting visitors from Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Iran and Cuba.

The vision behind the blog was practical ideas that teachers can use every day.  On Everdaymfl you can find ideas for teaching a variety of topics, how to help pupil-premium students, feedback and marking, questioning and some thoughts regarding approaching a visit from “they-who-shall-not-be named”.

Question 3: What have you gained?

I have gained a lot from doing this.  Composing a blogpost makes me reflect on what works, allows me to imagine ideal situations and helps with retaining ideas I may have had and filtering out the ideas that didn’t work.  I have also found it hugely helpful in working out what I believe about language teaching.

Regarding what works, there are plenty of posts on ideas that I have tried in lessons.  I have written a series of posts titled “5 things to try tomorrow”.  If you really want clicks on a website then it needs that kind of title!  I have refrained from the clickbait titles you see on some websites such as: “I did this activity with my students and you wouldn’t believe what happened next” or “the reaction from students to this lesson broke the internet”.  If we’re honest, what happened next was probably SLT on a learning walk, or that the bell went!

In terms of ideal situations, I have written about options, Parents Evening (is currently in the works) and keeping year 9 going after options .  Some of the ideas in the blog are things that I would like to do but thought of weeks after a meeting where a decision was taken; others are things that we have done in the past that still have merit but perhaps we no longer do.  Sometimes the ideas might not work in our context, or might be rejected in favour of something else.  That does not mean that it will not work for someone else.

When it comes to retaining ideas, I now have a post on charity and volunteering to help me remember how to teach it the next time around, along with social media and the internet.  The most recent one was a post on the environment.  It is a tough enough topic to make engaging anyway but hopefully will spark my thoughts and imagination in future years.  Posts can jog my memory and makes me remember the activities, along with the lesson, which can often provoke further memories.

From reading other peoples’ blogs I have gained a huge amount in terms of knowledge about second language acquisition and schools of thought regarding it.  It has helped me to develop my ideas and principles about language teaching.  At some point I will put these to paper but have not got around to that one.  It has encouraged me to reflect on what I was taught and how MFL teaching was modelled in my PGCE.  This has then led to me ditching certain types of activity because they don’t promote learning enough or don’t encourage students to use the language enough.  It has led to me trying out new activities on a weekly basis and even in the past few days such as the Card Stealing activity seen on the Global Innovative Language Teachers Facebook Group.

Publicising the blog on Twitter and various Facebook groups have put me in contact with other professionals.  They also have helped to massively bump up the visitor numbers.  The Global Innovative Language Teachers Facebook group caused a massive spike in views when one of my posts was shared there by someone else.  The post concerned marking and feedback.  Forty something comments afterwards; it had proved slightly divisive but provoked a debate.  The blog has also put me in contact with some extremely helpful people such as Laura Simons who runs the Secondary MFL in Wales Facebook group, and also Steve Smith (author of Frenchteacher.net) who kindly reviewed the blog.  I felt some trepidation when I discovered the next post on Frenchteacher was a review of my site!  He was very complimentary so I will return the favour by suggesting you have a look at his books on Amazon.

Question 4: Can I do it?

The answer is simply yes.  If you are happy using a computer, can search for images and are willing to read a little bit about hyperlinks and sign up to Twitter then you can.   There are a variety of sites out there that will help you compose a website and get it up and running.  The main ones seem to be WordPress, Blogger and Wix.  I went with WordPress having seen other people use them.

The next question you need to ask is do you have the time?  I have managed less blogs this year than previous years due to a variety of new demands on my time.  If you have time then you need to consider subject matter.  What are you going to focus on?  Taking the blogs out there you have Jess Lund’s blog which elaborates on what happens at Michaela School.  Gianfranco Conti writes a lot about research on second language learning and how it impacts upon his classroom practice, which is well worth a read.  Steve Smith writes about issues facing language teachers and shares lots of good ideas for lessons.  Helen Myers has a blog with useful information concerning Ofqual, the new GCSEs, the Association for Language Learning and various other bodies.  John Bald mixes language and literacy in his blog.  Chris Fuller used to write about some crazy ideas and different ways of teaching the same old topics.

If you have a subject then you need to consider frequency.  At the moment I am averaging one post a month and would like to do more.  Having said that, one of the great things about a WordPress blog is that you can set the blog to upload at any time of your choosing.  This means you could write a few and then let them upload at different points in the month.  It will then share it across your social media platforms if you let it.

As for how to get started, Teacher Toolkit is a great place to go if starting to write a blog.  It used to be a member of SLT in a UK school writing about his practice.  It has since grown quite considerably, but somewhere in there the original posts about having a blog should be available.  My main gains from Teacher-Toolkit were to have a Twitter handle and use it for publicising and use of the website compfight.com to provide copyright free photos.  If you do not own the rights to the photo then you shouldn’t be using it.  You also need to make sure the photo is properly accredited.  It has been very useful, although google have now also introduced this as a search feature.  I have also had to be very careful about where the ideas come from.  Most of the time they are easy to attribute: “this came from …’s website” or my PGCE mentor was a big fan of this activity.  Credit is sometimes very hard to give as with social media things can move very fast.  One person shares an activity on a Facebook group and then suddenly every teacher is doing it.  I’m still completely unaware as to who developed the idea of Spanish revision balloon towers or the more recent “one pen one dice” activity.  It is then hard to give credit to the people who deserve it.

Lastly I feel I should mention a little bit on safeguarding.  Initially, I chose to leave my name off Everydaymfl, as I didn’t want my students finding me.  Whilst some of my writing may come from experiences involving students you will find no names on my site.  What you will find are replacement names borrowed from TV series and films.  Joey and Chandler, Sheldon and Penny etc.

Question 5: What next?

The first aim is to blog more in 2018 than 2017.  I have no idea yet what the topics will be but have a few in the pipeline including one on parents’ evenings that needs finishing along with another “5 things to try tomorrow”.

The second is to possibly offer one or two guest posts to maintain the momentum from this year.  It also might allow someone to share their take on something or ideas they have had.  If you are keen then please drop me an email via the “about” page  I currently do not teach A-level and there is definitely a space there for sharing effective practice and favourite activities, particularly as there have been changes to A-level and I’m sure teachers out there would appreciate some practical ideas.

The final aim is to keep writing, keep reading, keep learning, keep reflecting and developing as a teacher.  Ultimately we all want to be at our best in the classroom, achieve the best results for our students and give them a really good experience of languages and hopefully I have helped the MFL community in doing that.

The second “what’s next?” is for you the reader.  What kind of blog could you create?  It could be personal, departmental, whole school, or even for your students?  I am aware that St Bernadettes’ School in Bristol posts their CPD on their blog.  I have heard of teachers start a blog listing resources for students (this may be more appropriate at A-level).  You could create an online portfolio of excellent work.  With schools using Google then you could create a google-site.  This would be accessible only by those who have the link.  The aim could be personal, educational or professional or a mixture of the three.  What really counts is what we do inside the classroom, trying to be the best and deliver the best for our students every day.  I know blogging has helped me improve my practice.  If Everydaymfl has helped colleagues around the country in delivering the best for their students then I would say that’s a very pleasing outcome.

 

Some gems from ISMLA

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I was recently invited to lead a seminar titled “Blogging for Languages” at the ISMLA conference in Cambridge.  I had a great time, met some great professionals and learnt a lot over the course of the day.  The following are some gems that I picked up from Jocelyn Wyburd, Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Jess Lund from the Michaela School

Jocelyn Wyburd (@jwyburd) 

Jocelyn was the first speaker at the conference.  She is the Director of Languages Centre at the University of Cambridge.  She spoke about how the landscape in the United Kingdom currently looks for languages and language learning.  There are some points from her talk that are particularly relevant and encouraging for us as MFL teachers.

Jocelyn mentioned referred to an article in the Washington Post, shared on the Transparent Language Blog that stated most important qualities required to work at Google were being a “good coach, listening, empathy, problem solver, communicating well, insights into others and critical thinker.”  STEM came last on this list.  Jocelyn’s view was that a language develops all of those qualities that Google look for.

The British Academy wrote in 2017 that half of global leaders have a arts/hums/social science degree, along with 58% of FTSE 100 CEOs and 62% of UK election candidates.  This goes against what might be expected given the current push for STEM subjects.  Jocelyn then referred to research into languages that the UK needs post-Brexit.  A summary of that research can be found here courtesy of the British Council.   There is also a report on Languages for the Future which was cited in Jocelyn’s talk.

Jocelyn’s spoke strongly about how the UK needs more MFL to remain globally competitive, how the CBI (confederation of British industry sees languages as a “valuable asset to businesses” and how the Financial Times when reviewing the book Languages after Brexit spoke of a need for greater “cultural agility”.  Again this cultural agility is something MFL teachers are developing in our lessons, departments, displays and trips.

Lastly, she mentioned 300 different languages are spoken in London.  I would imagine this situation is slightly reduced but similar in other large cities.  The MET benefit greatly from police officers with language skills.  She also highlighted the MOD, GCHQ and armed forces as recruiters who see the value of languages.

I have always been of the view that languages are important and develop a variety of skills.  Jocelyn’s talk has reminded me of how much unseen development occurs in our students, the value of languages to employers and given me some really up-to-date stats, facts and information to share with my year 9s.

Wendy  Ayres-Bennett – Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies

Wendy spoke about the MEITs programme (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies).  Here are some nuggets of information taken from her seminar:

1 in 5 UK school children have a language other than English as their home language.

90% of UK primaries do French but transition is variable and often poor in state sector.

Cognitive Benefits of learning a language were demonstrated in a study in Canada.  The study involved 230 dementia patients.  50% were bilingual.  The bilinguals developed dementia 4 years later.  This study was then replicated in India in 2016.  Another study showed that bilinguals recovered twice as well from strokes.  Greater detail can be found in Wendy’s blog here.

Jess Lund – The Michaela Way

The Michaela School has divided opinion.  The Guardian called it Britain’s Strictest School”, Tom Bennett writes “I left, as I have before, impressed. The kids are happy, and totally loyal to the school. Parents for the most part love it.”  From what I have seen, they have a strong belief in their approach and a desire for their students to be the very best they can be.

Jess’ presentation was delivered at the kind of pace that makes speed cameras flash.  It was informative, humourous and engaging.  What came across was her love of language teaching, her passion for her pupils and her belief in the Michaela Way.

The biggest take-away for me personally was the acronym: “PROFS” (past, reasons, opinions, future, subjunctive).  How had I not come across this before?!  I introduced my year 9s to it on the Monday after the conference and they are getting the idea that PROFS = better work and higher marks.

Other ideas I took were:

  • Dotting silent letters in French to improve security with pronunciation.  Unfortunately, my French class did tests in the lesson before half-term so I have not had an opportunity to try it out!
  • Constant phonics and over-pronunciation.  I do fairly regular lessons on phonics but perhaps something more systematic and targeted would help my students even more.
  • Teaching high frequency structures earlier on.  This is something I had been trying with my year 8s but not in quite the same way.  Jess’ sets of “awesome top 10s” definitely go further than I have.  They are something I am starting to look at.

Jess’ presentation made me question a few things about language teaching:

  • Should we be teaching high frequency structures in year 7 as student enthusiasm is higher?  Also teaching the language that makes the biggest impact earlier could lead to greater long-term retention.
  • They attempt to have “no wasted time” in their lessons.  This got me thinking, out of the 50 minutes I teach, how many might have been lost?