September 2016 heralded the start of teaching the new
old GCSE in MFL. It was quite a bit to prepare for and necessitated two blog posts: this one and another one. Having taught a mixed ability Spanish group this year, it seemed like a good time to look at what has worked, and what I would like to do next.
Key Language Sheets
Students have these in the back cover of their exercise books. They have proven to be invaluable tools and they do use them. The sheets need some tweaking as my section of fancy language was titled “frases para conseguir 1 o 2”, having completely confused the top and bottom grade boundaries! These have been regularly used in class and at home. There is a box at the bottom with key conjugated/modal verbs and infinitives allowing students to take one, follow it with the other and then add an opinion. I feel a section is required on justifying opinions so a few tweaks to the sheet will be my homework at some point.
100 Most Common Words
Setting these as a vocabulary learning homework was…illuminating. Even after 3 years of Spanish some of the students did not know the 100 most common words in Spanish. The list on Vistawide is pretty good albeit not authoritative. I set 25 per week to get through them rather quickly. I told the group it was their new 5-a-day and still left weekends free. The reaction was muted to say the least! They were then tested on 20. I tried to vary the methods of testing to see if they had really learned them. It did work and the students did find it helpful.
1-5 Gap fill/anagrams
6-15 English –> Spanish
16-20 Spanish –> English
Roleplays & Photocards
Students are seeing at least one roleplay and photocard task with each topic that we cover. My way of managing to get them into class was to model how the task should be approached, give students some preparation time and then they complete the roleplay or photocard with two different people, with the unpredictable question being varied each time. They then calculate an average of their scores, thereby reducing any impact by over-generous or overly harsh markers. A full explanation of how I do this can be found on this post here.
Reinforcing the need for effective vocabulary learning
In the book “Why don’t students like school?” Daniel Willingham makes a number of points that have influenced my approach to students learning vocabulary:
- “Memory is the residue of thought”
- “Proficiency requires Practice”
P210 Why don’t students like school? – Daniel Willingham
Our homework is set online so attached with the list of words is a document detailing effective learning techniques, mostly sourced from the above book, personal experiences and The Language Gym website
Students need to understand that learning and memorising does not occur through merely reading or some imagined osmosis process. The more I can get them actively practising the vocabulary; the better it will be for them long-term.
Regular Revision lessons
Every month I plan to do a revision lesson of one of the topics covered in year 10. If I have planned it right then I can do topics 1-7 at least once by February. This lesson will likely place a strong focus on the listening, reading and translation side of the exam. It will allow a refreshing of vocabulary and also emphasise the need to retain everything as they could be tested on anything. Previous exams have had questions on guide dogs for the blind, phoneboxes in Spain and nordic walking. The greater the emphasis on retaining vocabulary from previous topics; the better-prepared they will be for these weird and wonderful question topics.
Schemes of work can be relatively linear, however that does not mean that vocabulary and grammar from before cannot be revisited. Some advice from Gianfranco Conti’s website was particularly useful:
Problem: “in typical secondary school MFL curriculum design as evidenced by the schemes of work – and the textbooks these are often based on – which in my view seriously undermine the effectiveness of foreign language instruction in many British secondary schools.”
“Solution: include in the schemes of work a section in each unit headed ‘recycling opportunities’ and include activities aiming at consolidating old material.”
To help combat this the revision lesson should help, but I have also added a section on my scheme of work to take the opportunity to revisit certain grammatical elements that are pivotal for students. Research by Graham Nutall (The Hidden Lives of Learners) suggests that students often need at least 3 exposures to new concepts to start to internalise them properly.
I will also be setting vocabulary learning on units not directly related to what the students are studying.
Vocabulary Championship and/or Ipsative Vocabulary Tests
To add an element of competition and purpose to vocabulary learning, I am considering a championship whereby their scores are noted down. Some form of reward will be given for the student who attains a high score each week but also the students who maintain an average of 75% or more per half-term. That figure was just plucked from the air so may change.
Ipsative assessment was a new word learnt from one of our SLT. It refers to the idea of comparing oneself to previous results. Athletics taps into this all the time as runners try to equal their personal best. I have experimented with this in a lower ability year 8 group. Their aim with each vocabulary test is to equal or better their score. Students have so far responded really well to this idea but we are only 3 tests in. It will get tougher later as they will need to maintain higher scores. I could picture this working well with lower ability GCSE groups as they would have a chance to succeed regularly.
Decipher the Question starters
The reading and writing papers feature target language questions. Similarly parts of the speaking exam prompts are in the target language. A starter activity might be to translate the question and some bullet points. The students may not actually complete the question but it gives them the feeling or working out an exam question in a short space of time.
Strengths / Weaknesses Audit via GoogleForm.
Prior to Christmas, I intend to send out a google-form requiring students to submit their responses to a number of statements eg:
I can understand questions in the target language 1 2 3 4 5
I can translate single sentences into English 1 2 3 4 5
I can use the preterite eg: fui, hice, tuve etc
This should give me an idea of their areas of strength and weakness and allow me to target my teaching better, and plan twilight sessions tailored to the individual student. It will also show me if my teaching has not sufficiently covered any of the challenges presented by the new GCSEs. The Google-form method allows me to conduct a quick analysis of their areas of strength and weakness as it automatically can produce graphs etc. If I am feeling really brave, I might add a box for their own comments.