Making it stick!

Possibly the biggest lament of language teachers in my department and across the country is this: why do my students insist on writing “me prefiero”, “me gusta juego” and “mi gusta”?!  Is my teaching really that ineffective?  Are my students so inattentive?  What on earth is going on?!!!

Photo Credit: rnav18 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rnav18 via Compfight cc

Making it Stick – 5 ideas for increasing the right kind of retention

Palabras importantes

At the end of the unit I talk my students through the key vocabulary that they need to take into the next one.  I go through on the board what the most important phrases are and put them into groups.  For year 7 Spanish it might look as follows:

Verb phrases Little words Question words Others
(no) Hay el/la/los/las Como y
(no) Tengo un/una/unos/unas Que también
es de Por que
necesito en Cuando

They are then set homework to learn these phrases and tested on them in the subsequent lesson.  I find it gives them value and increases the likelihood of remembering the key vocabulary rather then being able to say “lápiz” and “monedero” but not being able to do anything with them!

Palabras importantes part 2

2-3 weeks later I test them again on the same words.  It adds value and reinforces their importance.

Flowcharts and process

Students are used to these in other subjects.  They use them in technology, science, maths and even history when composing essays.  I have been teaching my year 9s the future tense and the conditional.  They have a sheet in their books that has the endings and the persons along with a table of irregulars.  Breaking it into steps is working even for the weakest ones.  Chris Fuller made a pertinent point in a webinar: the past and present take away from infinitives; whereas futures and conditionals add to them.  Most of them in a middle set can now take the majority of Spanish verbs and turn them into a “will” or a “would”.  On the whiteboard, I put a flowchart which simply says 1) “what is the English action?” 2) “what is the verb in Spansh?” 3) “go to table in book” 4) “who is doing it?” 5) “add that ending”.  The issue now is sorting out the past and present tenses!!

Photo Credit: <a href="">orangejack</a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Photo Credit: orangejack via Compfight cc  Scarily I can see my students working their way through this process in their minds!

Practice, practice, practice.

I have increased the amount of grammatical practice in my lessons this year and it is gradually working.  There has been a lot of animosity in schools towards textbooks, however they often have some very good exercises and I have seen multiple powerpoints on the TES resources ,which replicate the book word for word.  Even Elodie, Patricia and Gert are still in the exercise on the PowerPoint!  So why not just give the kids the book?!  Again, with my year 9s, I have increased the practice they do using a combination of books, Languagesonline and the Language Gym websites.  It is taking effect with the dedicated ones.  The question is now what to do about the less-dedicated ones but that is another blog post!

Clarity of Explanation

In a survey of teaching by John Hattie, the following things were found to be most effective:

Daniel Willingham writes in his book “Why don’t students like school” (i’ve blogged on this book before) that “deep knowledge must be our goal”.  This is borne out by the effect sizes above of instructional quality and quantity.   Willingham explains the following two principles:

  1. We understand new things in the context of things we already know.
  2. We therefore need to ask “what do students already know that will be a toehold in understanding this new material?”

I teach German and one thing I have been trying to do is to link new learning to old learning at every opportunity.  For example, we tackled weil with a nice animated powerpoint showing the verbs moving to the end of the clause.  We then considered “wenn” and “obwohl” before tackling “ich denke, dass”.  Before I introduced ,weil we looked at what they knew of clauses in English and introduced the idea of a main clause and a sub clause.  This might sound very basic and something that you do all the time but I find that quite often textbook schemes of work do not have this link from one element to the next.  For example: Mira 2 introduces tener que, poder, querer and “le gusta” in the space of two pages.  The next chapter does not reinforce them at all.  Neither do the three after that!


One thought on “Making it stick!

  1. Pingback: 5 things to try this week | Everyday MFL

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