Getting ready for the new GCSE: the sequel

“There is an immutable conflict at work in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”  Phil Knight

I’m not actually sure who Phil Knight is, but I like the quote and it has relevance to this situation with the new GCSE.  We will not master the new system in its first few years but we can influence the outcome by preparing our students well.  The last post on this topic looked primarily at preparing pupils for the new speaking tasks and a previous one examined the return of the roleplay.  This one will focus on the writing element of the new GCSE.  I have previously blogged before on writing but this is specifically aiming at the new GCSE.  Whilst I aim to be unbiased, three exam boards are submitting 3rd and 4th drafts. This post therefore will be written with the AQA specs in mind.  Today’s post is an amalgamation of my own thoughts and ALL South West’s conference in Bristol yesterday.

Here is a summary of what candidates have to do based on the AQA spec.

Foundation Writing Marks Available Higher Writing Marks Available
4 Sentences in TL based on picture 8 90 word task in TL
Instructions in TL
16
40 word paragraph in TL.
Instructions in TL
16 150 word task based on 2 bullet points
Instructions and bullet points in TL
32
Translation of sentences into TL 10 Translation of paragraph into TL 12
90 word task in TL
Instructions in TL
16

The question inevitably is: how do we prepare our pupils for this?  A quick look at the mark scheme provides us with two themes to be aware of:

Foundation students will need to focus on content and quality of language. 

Higher students will need to focus on content and range of language.  

From what I can see, it appears the higher students will need to do more, with more.  We are looking at breadth and depth, which is great. Teachers of foundation students might this allows more time for reinforcement and repetition of material, once you have worked out how to teach all the topics in 2 years but that is another blog post.  Given that we now have 6-7 lessons per CA back then we have to maximise the time on language learning.

Whatever you choose to do the focus will be on preparing students to use the language in a situation where they have no help other than some TL prompts, a picture and what they remember.  Some of the ideas below were gleaned from yesterday’s conference and credit has been given below where appropriate.

Folded tests (thanks to Greg Horton)

Greg suggested this idea yesterday.  I might have modified it as I couldn’t remember it all. Students have an A4 sheet of absolutely key phrases that they should know (creo que, es, son, pensaba que, pienso que, voy a, espero, me gustaría etc).  English is down one side and Spanish down the other.  You hold the sheet portrait and fold it in half.  The students then test each other:  Sherice says the English and Chardonnay aims to recall the Spanish working down the list.  They then swap but Chardonnay starts at the bottom of the list and works up.  They then check their scores and see who wins.  The test reinforces and tests spontaneous production of key phrases.  Greg then suggested a penalty shootout between the two highest scorers at the front of the class.  This would ensure that the students know quality language and it places value on knowing these phrases.  You could also develop the range and breadth of language with higher sets by changing the test papers after a term.  A homework task could be to make sentences involving the words.

TL Instructions for all written work

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Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

The new exam is going to be largely in TL.  Some exam boards may supply “probable rubrics” but why not start now?  The more students are used to it; the less scary the exam will be. As MFL teachers we are used to acting and a lot of gesture and mime can probably help to ingrain the key phrases in the minds of our learners.  Failing that then you can teach it to them or have your most frequent utterances displayed on walls or learning mats.

Learning walls

Displays of posters might need to become a thing of the past (perhaps save them for the corridors).  What can students learn from your wall?  At the moment, I will be honest, they cannot learn enough from my walls.   A fantastic idea I saw at Bradley Stoke Community School was a teacher who had pouches on the walls of short summaries of how to do each tense or how to form negatives in French.  What do your walls contain that improve written work?  Foundation students will need this kind of support. Otherwise they will become too dependent on dictionaries they are no longer allowed to use  If I had my way the walls in my room would act like the ones in Minority Report, but we’re not there, yet!

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Equipment checks

One of the curses of controlled assessments is that students memorise entire paragraphs about their work experience but cannot form sentences in a foreign language or hold a basic conversation.  Eva Lamb spoke yesterday about engineering situations such as an equipment check and repeating TL that can be used in other situations:

Photo Credit: Nene La Beet via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nene La Beet via Compfight cc

Eva:Hast du ein Heft?

Boris: Ja ich habe ein Heft?

Eva: Hast du dein Heft?

Vladmir: Ich habe kein Heft

Eva: Hast du dein Heft verloren

Vladmir: Ja Ich habe mein Heft verloren

Eva: detention!

Ok…so she didn’t say the last line…but it is a very simple way to recycle language and one I am itching to try.  She suggested doing it with year 7 from the very first lesson.  It forces every student to speak and the haben verb paradigm is instantly being absorbed.  From then, change it to homework, who won the Manchester United Arsenal match (sorry Arsenal fans) etc.  It is also not much of a stretch from knowing “ich habe, some personal pronouns and some past participles to being able to use them in written work.

More Grammar practice; less nouns.

Students can find the nouns for homework on Wordreference.  Textbooks are massively guilty of presenting nouns, nouns and more nouns.  Students need verbs.  Every sentence on this blog contains a verb, some might even have more than one.  Verbs are going to be key.  Foundation students will need a stock of them that they can deploy at any point. Higher students will likely need a greater range of them but know what they can do with them.  For example: knowing that adding é ía to a Spanish infinitive will change the meaning and equally removing the last two letters and replacing with o or é will also change the meaning.  Irregular verbs will likely need to be learnt.  This could be done for homework.

Core language

Two of my colleagues from English recently tried testing their bottom set 3 times on the same vocabulary.  They took in the marks from the third time.  They also made the students then write some sentences using the vocabulary.  Unsurprisingly the scores increased each time, even for the weakest.

MFL departments need to nail down a core of language that students should know at the end of years 7,8 and 9.  If you work with primary schools then you can do even more of this.  Every student should be able to produce certain structures.  Why is it that last year’s year 11 bottom set could also remember juego al fútbol (pronounced “joo way go al fut-ball”)?  Yet a simple pienso que, debería, tengo que or other verbs was beyond them.  They need a core and they need testing on it regularly to give it value.  They also need testing on their ability to apply it.

Some phrases need to be procedural in the same way that students are taught a procedure to approaching a simultaneous equation, expanding brackets or a quadratic formula.  We do this with ,weil clauses but do we do it with other structures?

Transferable structure plenaries

Most of our lessons contain some nouns but it is the grammatical structure that is important.  Take for example the Expo 1 lesson on “dans ma ville”.  The structure that the book is teaching is a very simple “il y a” and “il n’y a pas de”.  Quite often students will remember this in the context of “dans ma ville il y a” but the question is can they apply the il y a elsewhere?

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Photo Credit: eldeeem via Compfight cc

This photo could be shown at the end of the lesson.  Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans le photo?  Suddenly the students have to apply their knowledge of the structure along with the previous topic of house and home.  Get them to produce the sentences on mini-whiteboards. This way you can measure their spontaneous production of the TL (thus managing the first task of the foundation paper) and also check their understanding of the structure.  Then try it with another photo (maybe the one below).  Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans le photo?

Say more

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Photo Credit: zenobia_joy via Compfight cc

Greg Horton had a slide which simply had question words on it.  One of his class would sit at the front and be given a simple sentence to read or you could give them a picture.  The students ask questions to elicit more detail from the person sat at the front. Continuing on from the previous idea, the starting sentence could be: “Hay un perro”  Pupil could then ask:

¿Cuántos? ¿Dónde? ¿De qué color es?

More advanced students could ask:

¿Por qué?  ¿Qué hace?  ¿qué opinas tú de los perros?

Again it is about spontaneous production.  Students could note down the answers on whiteboards to test their listening.  They could change the verb forms to practice grammar.  They could even do a tabloid version on mini-whiteboards where they exaggerate every claim that is made or completely misrepresent what the student says:

Student: en la foto hay un perrito tierno.

Students: en la foto hay un perro agresivo y violente.

Everyday Homework

Leading headteacher Tom Sherington writes on his blog “great teachers set great homework”.  In fact, he dedicates an entire blogpost to it.  I thought I would do the same but with an MFL slant.  I’m sure I have set some good homeworks and some bad ones in my time.  Below is a buffet of homeworks.  It will allow you to add to your plate the ideas you like, whilst avoiding those that you don’t.

One of the best bits of the blog mentioned above is this:

“The research by Hattie et al shows that homes make more difference to learning than schools. So, take away homework and what do we have? Essentially, homes with the greatest cultural capital, typically more affluent and middle class, will just fill the gap with their own family-education as they always have. They’ll be fine. Meanwhile, children from families where home-learning is scarce or simply doesn’t happen are left without structure or resources to fall back on. The same inequalities that give children such different learning orientations from pre-school persist. I’d argue that homework for all is a basic element of an educational entitlement; it is a leveller – provided that schools offer support for ‘homework’ to be done anytime, any place.” – Tom Sherrington September 2nd 2012

So, how can Everyday MFL teachers such as you and I make sure that learning continues outside the classroom?  Just as feedback and marking should drive learning forward; homework should do the same!

Vocabulary learning

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Well that was obvious wasn’t it!  As MFL teachers, we know the value of vocabulary learning but how can you ensure that they have actually learnt it.  One method I have used in the past particularly with lower ability learners or year 7s is the look, cover, write, check sheet.  You can find an example on the TES here.  There is also one that I would recommend with your weakest students at this link.

Sites such as Languages Online, The Language Gym, Linguascope, Memrise, Duolingo, Pons Vocabulary Trainer all have their place and role to play.  The Language Gym focuses quite heavily on conjugation.  This excellent with the advent of the new GCSE and the greater focus on being able to manipulate language.  Memrise I  like as it forces the students to type the vocabulary and produce it, rather than simply reading.  I’m a big fan of the phrase “reading is not revision” so this site is right up my street!  Languagesonline is also excellent.  The only issue I have with these sites is you cannot see which students have done the work!  I believe Vocabulary Express does allow such things but have yet to try it.

Rachel Hawkes suggests that students should achieve a certain amount of points from a selection of activities to prove they have done their homework, using a variety of different techniques.  Too many students will simply stare at the words and assume that some osmosis will occur unless they are given specific tasks to do.

I tend to teach the students as much as possible about how to learn vocabulary early on.  Look, cover, say, write, check can be very effective.  Flashcards and mindmaps equally so.  By testing it, you will give it value.  By sanctioning unacceptable performance, you will find students are more likely to do it.  I’m not going to give a minimum acceptable level as sometimes that can vary depending on the student.

A couple of colleagues in another department have recently experimented setting the same vocabulary for 2-3 weeks with lower ability classes.  They have tested them each week but only taken in the marks on the third time.  Looking at the books, they have found that the students improved and their confidence was boosted by this process.  I would argue the amount of reinforcement also helped.  You could do this with some high-frequency language for your weaker groups.  It is an experiment I would certainly like to repeat.

The multi-skill homework.

Currently my favourite!  Why set homeworks that test only one skill??!  This epiphany came to me at some point in the middle of a lesson!  It has only taken 5 years to have it.

Slow German, Audio Lingua, Conjuguemos and the websites previously mentioned might allow you to set a variety of different tasks.  My current year 10 were set the following last week:

  1. Listen to this podcast on audio-lingua
  2. Complete following exercises on languagesonline and samlearning
  3. Produce dialogue for … situation

I’m allowed to set up to 50 minutes worth of work so I might as well go for it!  I was not exactly popular when I did this.  Once the rationale was explained, most students went for it.

Exam boards also have past papers on their websites, that would easily allow multiple skills.  Again the specimen papers for the new GCSE could be used in this way.  Admittedly speaking would be out of the question but listening, reading and writing would all be possible.

The worksheet

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There are some brilliant worksheets out there on websites such as TES and the excellent Frenchteacher.  Having said that, you might have a low photocopying budget so I would encourage you to create your own or borrow bits from other people and condense it on to a single page.  The big question with the sheet is: does it make the students work hard?  Does it take them from a level where they might follow a model to get the answer to being able to apply the grammar rule?  With the appearance of translation in the new GCSE, this could be a place to include it?

 

 

The paragraph

Produce a paragraph on … Produce two paragraphs on …  These can often be effective as it gives the student time to work on something using what they have learnt.  However, beware the evils of googletranslate.  This website, long the bane of the Everydaymfl teacher, is getting.  Students shouldn’t need to recourse to it if they have been taught how to use wordreference.com correctly, or if they have sufficient resources on your VLE, in their book or on paper.

Have you considered a point scoring paragraph?  Higher point scores generally indicate better work…

5 10 20 25
Simple connecting words More complex connecting words More complex structures
um…zu
ohne..zu
ausser…zu
ni…ni
bien que…
The amazing mindblowing structures
to really impress examinersKonjunktiv II
Konjunktiv I
Si hubiera pensado…
French subjunctive
Simple time phrases More complex opinion phrases More of the above More of the above
Simple adverbs Less common adverbs Less common adverbs More of the above

Another idea would be to ask students for an ASL calcuation.  Average Sentence Length.  They need to divide the amount of words by the amount of sentences.  Scores of 7+ indicate they are probably using opinions.  Scores of 12+ indicate they are justifying those opinions.  Scores of anything higher and they might need to consider the occasional full stop!

Have you considered banning certain words from their paragraphs?  Some of the below would be top of my list!

French German Spanish
ennuyeux langweilig aburrido
interessant interesant interesante
amusant lustig divertido

The example sentences

Regularly I will set my learners a task to produce some examples using a grammar point we have worked on.  This is mainly because I want to see if they can do it outside the classroom without me and also to reinforce the material at a later date.  The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve suggests they will have lost some of it after the lesson so this is my attempt to fight the curve!  Perhaps suggest a theme for their example sentences:

Future tense: “what Homer Simpson will do at the weekend”

Past Tense: what”insert celebrity” did last week

 

The Culture Homework

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Photo Credit: Arttesano via Compfight cc

I tend to set one of these once a half-term (homework is weekly).  Students are naturally curious and like to learn about the country.  I remember, when I was in school years ago, a couple of homeworks from my language teacher: “find out what you can about who won the election in Germany?”  Gerhard Schröder was the answer, which seems like a long time ago now, probably because it was!  Students  like to know about the place, not just the language.  However, we are language teachers and so the homework should be proportional to what we do.  I would also counsel that you tell them to avoid the blindingly obvious and go for a more horrible histories style in their research.  “Madrid is a city in Spain” is the kind of thing you can open yourself up for if not careful!

I have highlighted my favourite one in orange.  Google it, you will see why it is such a cool festival!

French German Spanish
What is “la marseillaise” actually about? What is Karnival? What happens at “la tomatina”?
Find out 10 facts about the French Revolution Find 10 facts about the fall of the Berlin wall Produce a poster showing what happens at “las fallas”
What is Bastille day? Who is Angela Merkel? What is Yipao and why is it celebrated in Colombia?
What is Mardi Gras? Produce a timeline of major events in
German history starting from 1800
What is día de los muertos all about?
How do the French celebrate Christmas? 10 Facts about any German city Produce a short biography of Franco or another famous  figure from Spanish history
Who was Marie Curie? Who was Hans Riegel from Bonn? Who is the current King of Spain?
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not Paris. Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Berlin or Munich
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Madrid or Barcelona

Flipped Learning

I’m a bit of a skeptic at the moment when it comes to this.  John Hattie claims that along with effective feedback; clarity of explanation is crucial in our teaching.  Most youtube videos teach a grammar rule and then explain EVERY exception known to man.  If you are not confused by the end then it is because you got up to make a cuppa 2-3minutes in.  I think there is a place for it, but video selection needs to be carefully done.  Then the students need to do something with the knowledge to reinforce it, otherwise it is just another video.  The questions the teacher needs to ask are as follows:

  • Is this better than explaining the concept in class with worked examples?
  • Is the person on the video easy to listen to?
  • What will I do about students who do not watch the video?
  • Should I use the video to introduce or consolidate?
  • Is the video clear, too fast, too slow?

 

If you have read this far then well done but don’t forget it’s half-term.  Enjoy yourself, rest, have some fun, have some more fun and be ready to go again on Monday.

 

 

Getting ready for the new GCSE

It’s almost here.  Regardless of the fact that 3 out of 4 exam boards are yet to have their specifications approved by OFQUAL, we have to begin teaching towards it in September. I’ve been thinking about how to prepare my year 9 learners for what is coming, in terms of topics and skills.  Here are some things I have tried out:

Modalverben – regular drilling.

German teachers will be familiar with modal verbs.  They are 6 most common verbs and are combined with an infinitive  The same can be done in Spanish but there will just be more of them and they take different forms.  I want my students to be completely proficient with these most common verbs so that they can use them spontaneously with infinitives.  If you had 10 minutes to prepare for an exam, having a mental arsenal that contains

I have to / I like / I should / I want to / I can etc along with some infinitives, should be useful to them.  We have been having regular sentence making drills on mini-whiteboards.  Over time I have added in some opinion and reason phrases.  If you are in doubt about whether drilling is effective then the video below is

Roleplays

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I found the old roleplay cards and we will be using them in the coming weeks.  If you don’t have them then there are some specimen papers on the exam-board websites. Those can be used and adapted.  Rather than writing a section, I will refer you to a previous blog.  A recent post on Frenchteacher also is worth a read.  Do your students know enough multi-purpose transactional vocabulary?

Spontaneous Speech

Students are going to have to be a lot better at generating language spontaneously.  Yes they can be drilled in rubric, roleplays and discussion but there is a greater emphasis on producing the language unaided.  With TL rubrics in the speaking elements, this could be even harder.  Rachel Hawkes has some worthwhile suggestions here.  She also has a Phd so I will leave it in her capable hands.

Speaking from pictures.

Rachel Hawkes illustrated this brilliantly on a recent course I went on.  It is about encouraging learners to use what they have learnt.  It does not matter if they cannot say what they want to say.  The question is what can they say?

What might a year 7/8/9 be able to do with the following picture?

  • Es una fiesta.   Hay un elefante.  Me gustan las fiestas.
  • Creo que es una celebración porque hay mucha gente.
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Equally with this you can get the students to predict the questions that might be asked.

New Topics

I’m borrowing from AQA here.

  • Marriage/partnerships
  • Social media
  • Mobile technology
  • Customs and festivals in TL speaking countries
  • Charity/voluntary work
  • Poverty/homelessness

This looks more interesting than “self, family and friends”.  The hard bit is working out how these might be examined.  How can we teach them and make them accessible? See the table below:

NEW GCSE
Topic from AQA How it could be examined Implications for teaching practice
Marriage/partnerships Speaking – discussion or picture
Listening
Reading
Writing – essay or translation question
Students need to be able to give
their opinions on this topic.
Discuss with RE department to 
ascertain prior knowledge, stumbling blocks and
stereotypes.
Social Media Speaking – do you think it is a good thing?
Listening – text about someone who uses
Reading – text about social media
Writing – essay or translation question
Need to teach a variety of multipurpose
vocabulary as the range is so wide.  Students
need to be able to give opinions on it, use
frequency adverbs and explain why it is a good
or bad thing.
Customs and Festivals Speaking – is celebrating things important?
Listening – report about an event
Reading – text about an event
Writing – less likely, possible translation
Teach major festivals at various points of the year.
Day of the dead, san fermin, la tomatina, las fallas.
Students will need a cursory knowledge of the well-
-known festivals
Charity/volunteer work Speaking – should young people do it?
Listening – account of someone’s job
Reading – account of someone’s job, charity
website?
Writing – should young people do it?
Teach students phrases to structure arguments and
create extended responses.
Poverty/homelessness Listening
Reading – text on developing world
Echo 3 and Mira 3 do a bit of this.  Discuss with
geography, is there a case-study or unit of work that
you can link this too.

 

 

 

 

Teaching around the town

Coming up soon in Expo 1 and a bit later in Mira 1 is that topic of what there is in your town.  Here’s some ideas to make a slightly drab topic slightly more exciting.

Videos

In my town video   This is a great little video for year 7s.  I tend to give them a list of places and they check off the ones they find.  Equally you could give them a variety of spellings and they could select the correct one.  You could then ask pupils to prepare their own version if you have access to smartphones and the like.

Colombia video   Complete with traditional South American music and there is a degree of cultural knowledge to be gleaned.  Perhaps give the pupils a script to gap fill or some questions to answer.

Visit … Advert

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Pupils could make a radio advert using spreaker or audacity.  This is best done at the end of the topic.

Google street-view directions.

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I have tried this recently and to an extent it worked.  I made my own using the city of Madrid and getting students to follow the directions I gave them.  I allowed the weaker ones to use LINGRO to turn my exercise sheet into a clickable dictionary.  It can work really well as long as your students have some staying power.  If you’re unsure as to how to put one together then a highly rated example can be found here.

Talk and draw.

Great for practising prepositions, listening and speaking.  Student 1 has a mini-whiteboard and a working pen.  Student 2 has a brain and vocal chords.  Student 2 puts a building in the centre such as a football stadium.  They then begin to describe their town “a la derecha del estadio hay un parque” and the other student starts to draw a plan.

Past and present

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Antes había… ahora hay…

Antes era … ahora es …

This is a great way to introduce students to some basic past tense phrases and also go a little cross curricular with a historical picture of their town.

SIM City

SIM City was a simulator game where players had to build a city.  Students could do the same.  They would produce a town map, a description of each building or area of town.  I’m sure some could do it via audio or visual means if you choose to let them have that freedom.

 

 

 

5 Things to try tomorrow

Happy New Year to you all.  With the term imminent I thought I would offer the following 5 things to try tomorrow.

Shake up the seating

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College classroom — Image by © H. Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS

Most teachers change the seating plan when the class is not working how they would like.  It happens when they realise that little Brendan and little Alex are a positively toxic combination, or when you realise that little Chardonnay has fallen out with little Sinead.  However, maybe there is a sound pedagogical reason for changing the seating.  This post by David Didau has really caused me to think and I might well experiment with my classes.  I have 8 tables of 4.  What if I rotate them half-termly?  It means the pairings stay the same but the location changes.

Didau writes…

“A few years ago I became aware of a very strange and as far as I know, unresearched phenomena. If I taught a lesson where students knew something in that chair, they would not necessarily know it in this chair. Simply asking students to move seats in the middle of a lesson was enough to disrupt their ability to recall and transfer.”

So give it a go.  Didau himself goes on to say:

“So I started experimenting with moving students about and giving them a greater variety of sight lines and thus a greater and more unstable range of visual cues….And guess what? Their ability to transfer what they’d learned within the classroom improved. Now, I would, of course, hesitate to make a mountain out of this molehill, but it does seem worthy of further investigation.”

As they say on BBC News, more on that story later…

Tarsia

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This is one of my favourite plenary activities.  It works particularly well if you are the kind of person who has objectives in the “know”, “understand” and “be able to” format.  You need to download their generator here.  You can then create puzzles like a triangle of triangles.  The aim is to get the English and Spanish words to match up with no text around the outside edge.  Other shapes are possible.  You could equally do sentence halves etc.  Make sure that the format is set to “text” otherwise it will squish (yes that is a word) all your words together.  Allow 5 mins for an able group and 10mins for a less able group.  I might suggest also printing the “solution” tab, or copying it into word to be printed as it will save you massively on photocopying!

Word Association

Simple but great for seeing what vocabulary students can recall over time.  Give them a starting word and see how long they can go for.

Gallery Critique

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I wrote a post on peer-assessment ages ago.  I have always thought that for language teaching peer-assessment is extremely hard to do effectively.  The statistic mentioned by Shaun Allison rings in my head every time someone mentions it.  Even if pupils are trained well, I feel it is risky and potentially detrimental to weaker learners.  One student once wrote “excellent use of connectives”, which was not a bad comment but there were none! MFL is not like English where one can suggest additions to their argument.  And it is not like history or geography where you can examine how closely someone has answered the question.  With gallery critique it is my understanding that Student 1 produces work.  Students 2,3 & 4 comment on it and then student 1 reviews the feedback using it to develop their work.  The same process will be happening with students 2,3 &4.  Hopefully there will be some kind of triangulation that leads to more accurate peer-assessment.  After all, 8 out of 10 cats did prefer Whiskas…

Starters to make them think more.

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Photo Credit: sebastianmarcel via Compfight cc

I’m a big fan of gap-fills, anagrams, matchups, odd ones out etc but they do get stale after a while.  My new favourite is giving pupils sentences that they have to alter in some way to make their own.

Dans ma ville il y a une gare.  – transform this into a sentence with 10 words.  

No me gusta el inglés porque es aburrido – say something nice

En mi familia hay cinco personas – say it in a different way

No hay una piscina en mi casa – Change this while keeping the sentence on the same topic.   You may not use any words from the original apart from “casa” and “piscina”.

 

Bit of fun part 3

Made it!  Term is over.  Sometimes we all just need some light relief.  So here it is…

Free Rice!

This is a website with some small vocabulary tests featuring a very random word list, however every correct answer gives a grain of rice to a needy family in the developing world.  It’s a nice way to keep kids busy in the ICT room when they have finished everything you want them to do.  The worst bit is having to tell them to stop as you feel like you’re depriving a starving family of food!  The kids will tell you this.

Parole du chat

Plenty of fun for those of you who like French and cats.  Mindfulness is big in UK schools at the moment so you could make a tenuous link there…

Do you speak English?

I like this purely for sheer level of irony involved.

Lauren

I think I’ve taught this kid…

Das Erwachen der Macht

Doesn’t quite sound the same but I was running out of ideas for the 5 bit of this blog!

9 ideas para Noel/Navidad/Weihnachten

Christmas is approaching.  I’m fairly certain most MFL teachers have done the following over the past few years:

  1. Make a Christmas card
  2. Christmas Wordsearch
  3. Christmas crossword/sudoku etc
  4. Break out the DVDs…if SLT are reading, I didn’t suggest this…

Here’s some ideas that go beyond the minimal with years in brackets as a guide.

Cluedo: who killed Santa? (yr 7,8,9,10,11)

Prepare three columns of phrases on whiteboard.

  • People (Santa, Herod etc)
  • Places (santa’s workshop, lapland)
  • Murder weapons (tinsel, christmas trees, presents, satsumas).  You will need to pick one of each in your head.  Students then give you their opinion on who killed Santa, where, and what weapon.  You tell them only how many they get right or wrong.  Brilliant game for teaching deduction and reinforcing opinion phrases such as “a mon avis” or “pienso que”.

 

Euroclub schools (yr7,8,9)

Take them to an ICT room and complete any of the pdf quiz worksheets on http://www.euroclubschools.org.uk/page2.htm.  French, Spanish and Italian are on offer here.  Whilst not huge on the TL; it is brilliant for their knowledge of culture.  Some exam boards are looking at increasing the cultural side of the new GCSE so it cannot hurt.

La pesadilla antes de la navidad

Lyrics are in the description, exploit to your hearts content

Gap fills, multiple choice, missing sounds or letters, translate bits.  Over to you…  Lamentably, months on, all your students will remember are the words ¿qué es? ∏ë

Letter to Santa (Yr 7,8,9,10,11)

The new GCSEs have writing tasks that involve “write a letter to” (at least one of the sample assessments does).  Why not introduce this with a letter to Santa.  It is also a great opportunity to revise tenses.

El año pasado recibí …  aunque quería …

Este año quiero/me gustaría …

Lots of potential and easily transferable between year groups.

 

Food-tasti5829330676_ea38ec69d0_mng

Some students will never get to try turrón or stollen, why not bring some in?  If finances are stretc
hed then you could ask for a voluntary contribution…or hand the receipts to your HoD to claim back under “vital lesson resources”.  Serious point: check for nut allergies otherwise a great lesson and experience for the children will end up in the headteacher’s office, putting a downer on any festive season cheer.

 

Real Christmas (yr 9,10,11)

Typical Spanish animated cartoon telling the story of the nativity.

Madagascar Penguins (7,8,9,10,11)

3025125260_20ae058f42_mThis has been my stock Christmas lesson for a couple of years created by sanferminuk on the TES website who has a number of excellent resources

Link to Madagascar Penguins

I know, I know, I made a comment about DVDs but this is an entire lesson planned around understanding a 20 min video in the target language.  Surely that’s a different thing, right?!  The video clip can be found on Youtube.

Origami santa (Yr 7,8,9,10,11)

For the grammar-lovers out there some revision of imperatives might be in order…

There are plenty of others out there but this might help get you started. Practice makes perfect so get practising!

The Great British sing off (yr7,8)

With names like that I should clearly get a job naming things…  Anyway, team up with a couple of colleagues who teach at the same time as you.  Each group learns a song and then a sing off is had with an impartial judge.  Plenty of carols and songs can be found on youtube.

 

 

5 things to try tomorrow

5 things I’ve tried this week.  You could try them tomorrow…

Picture Starters

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Mira 1 gets students describing their teachers.  I wanted to see how much my year 7s  could remember so I demanded between 3 and 5 sentences based on a picture I showed them.  Initially I typed in angry teacher into google and used one of them before using an image of Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society.  I was pleasantly surprised what they were able to generate.

Me gusta el inglés porque el profesor es interesante

En mi clase hay un profesor interesante

Odio el inglés pero el profesor es interesante 

This one came from Greg Horton.  You can learn more about the work he does here, the big O seem keen on him.

Hands up listening

In an era of no hands up being in vogue this one goes against the grain.  The teacher can prepare the listening phrases and it is really good in seeing who in your class has the best auditory processing skills and is an effective listener.  It may well surprise you.

Mano derecha Opinión positiva
Mano izquierda Opinión negativa
Dos manos no hay opinión

You read out a sentence and depending on the content, the students put a right hand, left hand or both hands up.  This idea came from Nick Mair and I’ve tried it a few times since.  It also can be massively adapted with tenses, negatives, comparisons, conditionals etc

Forms and Functions

An idea from the effervescent Rachel Hawkes.

1) Past A) Future plans
2) Present B) Uniform
3) Future C) School rules
4) Negative D) description of school
5) Comparison E) Teachers
6) Conditional F) Other students
7) Sentence with two tenses G) Homework
8) Sentence linked with subordinating conjunction h) Stress

The students could do this with mini0whiteboards or a series of exercises could be set on the board and students work quietly through them.  The teacher demands a 1A sentence from the students.  This might mean that the student has to write about future plans whilst incorporating a past tense in there somewhere.  5E might be easier as students would simply compare two teachers.  It is great getting them to think about content, meaning and including the right things in their work.

Literary texts

My year 8s are reading Peter Pan together.  I picked it up for 75 centavos.  I’ve taught them about reading around both sides of an unfamiliar word (deducing meaning from context).

Deducing meaning from what has gone before

Bob entered the kitchen and saw his son doing the dishes.  His son threw a ______ at him.

The most obvious suggestions the students generate are dishcloth and sponge, along with some other, rather imaginative ones…

Deducing meaning from what has gone after.

Bob entered the kitchen and saw his son doing the dishes.  His son threw a ______ at him, which hit Bob and shattered into pieces.

Why do it?  It is mainly to stop them getting hung up on the one word they do not know.

We have also done a fair bit of work on infinitives and knowing the little words such as “de” “el/la/los/las”  “un/una”  etc.  Someone reads out loud before we look at what is going on.

Authentic Texts

The hotel boca juniors powerpoint on the TES was good for getting students working with some authentic material.  Here are some I am looking to try out:

Quinoa – bit of reading for healthy living and food topics

Farting cows – animal/environment topic maybe?  Might need simplifying…

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Unsung Heroines: TAs & MFL Lessons

I have to admit I do quite like the Guardian column: “the secret teacher”.  It doesn’t possess the same power to surprise and entertain as The Secret Footballer (another column in the same paper) but that’s probably because I’m a teacher and I know how the world of teaching works.  I did however read one article this week on Teaching Assistants and was appalled at this statement: “the majority of the time, TAs add nothing to my lessons.”  The author prefaced it with some positive comments but it’s sadly just a rant at an ineffective TA they work with masquerading as journalism.

I’ve worked with some great TAs over the years.  Here is how TAs can add value to your MFL lessons, as they have done to mine…

Resource them

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Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

Give them a copy of the scheme of work, textbook, vocabulary and if they have computer access then let them access what you will be covering so they can plan ahead.  Every TA that I have done this for has been thankful and more effective as a result.  It might be your TA has no language qualifications and hated languages in school.  I’ve found that type of TA is great as they can feedback on things that you do that maybe do not help the understanding of some of your less able students.  If you can discuss the lesson in advance with them then do it.  Some of the TAs I have worked with have even started using apps like Duolingo and Memrise to build their language skills outside of lessons.

Direct them

Photo Credit: `James Wheeler via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: `James Wheeler via Compfight cc

If they are attached to an individual then discuss that child with them.  Decide how much you want them to pay attention to that child.  Decide whether you want them to step back at certain points or stages of a lesson.  You might want to let the child struggle a little bit in the practice stage before stepping in.  Equally you might want them to be silent in the presentation stage.  Shaun Allison writes about an interesting experiment his school are conducting with Teaching Assistants and how they are focusing less on the tricky kids and leaving them to the teacher.  It’s something I want to try with my bottom set year 8s.

Encourage their creativity

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

I had one TA who took aside a small group of kids to teach them how to tell the time in English before we covered it in Spanish.  That same TA made paper clocks with movable hands.  Another printed off flashcards for her student with a statement.  A third one suggested a food-tasting so we did it as the group had been particularly good.  They were instrumental in making sure it ran smoothly on the day.  They are also great at displays.  I’m a man and I’m useless at such things.  When you let their creativity run wild you get some fantastic results and great comments from senior staff about your displays.  At which point you credit your TA of course…

Build a great working relationship with your TA

TAs normally have a good amount of experience or they are very young and only 2-3 years older than year 11s.  The former respond really well to the question “what do you think about…?”  The latter respond well to “I would like to do this, shall we give it a go”.  Students need to see that you and your TA are like Batman and Robin, Jack Bauer* and Chloe O’Brian, Morecambe and Wise etc.  Any hint of that not being the case and students will start playing you against each other.  Students need to know that any slight on your TA is a slight on you, and has no place within your classroom walls.

*Please do not model your teaching style on Jack Bauer in terms of approach or working hours.

Give them feedback

Most TAs are observed at some point in the year.  For some, they will rarely get any feedback otherwise.  Most are conscientious people and want to do their jobs well. Feedback needs to be kind, specific and helpful just as you would do with any student.  “I noticed you spending a bit of time with Brendan, which was great.  Jenny is also struggling quite a bit so next lesson I would like you to work with her and see if you can build her confidence.”

Let them feedback to you

TAs will notice things that you don’t.  Although the kids might believe you to be an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent teaching machine, you are not.  Stop dreaming.  Occasionally, your TA will spot bullying, name calling.  Merely being sat lower down next to someone they will notice more than you will. Others might spot a student doing something other than the work you wanted from them.  I have had one TA criticise me quietly for being too harsh on a student.  She was right. It takes a lot to swallow your pride in moments like that.  She did it in exactly the right way, and for the right reasons.  Both student and teacher were better off for that quiet post-lesson conversation.  If it’s appropriate, then create a climate where mutual feedback is professional and constructive, as I found out, everyone wins.

Get some simple CPD from them with one question.

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Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine via Compfight cc

If a TA is attached to a class and has been at the school for a few years this question can tell you where to go for some good observation based CPD: “which teacher would you want your kids to be taught by?”  If they say you then demand someone else but be secretly pleased inside.  That’s secretly pleased; not openly smug!  That person has seen at least 10 different teachers a week, possibly more and those practitioners will change yearly or termly.   There’s a reason they picked that one so go and find out what it is!

Thank them

Every lesson I make a point of saying “thanks for your help Miss”.  It’s a small gesture but goes down well.  Since we’re approaching that time of year, Christmas cards are also good.  If you have one who you work with frequently, then something red or white and in a bottle goes a long way in terms of gesture but may not go a long way that evening!

TAs do a lot of great unseen and under-appreciated work.  

Hopefully some see this post.  

Share it, if you have a great TA.

5 things to try this week

Half-term – where did that go?!

Anyway, here are 5 simple things to try this week…

Mini-whiteboard Vocab Scrabble

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You need some large tables, mini-whiteboards and pens.  Start by writing a word across the middle (a long one).  Students score points for the following:

  • Point per letter
  • Point per letter of word they create and the word it bisects
  • Double points if the word links to the topic from the previous half term (another way of making it stick).

Alternatively you can use paper but mini-whiteboards are more environmentally friendly 🙂  If you’re feeling nostalgic you can do it with a whole class and an OHP.

 

 

Odd-one-out remix.

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Photo Credit: david.nikonvscanon via Compfight cc

Give students a line of 4 vocabulary items on the same topic and a big capital letter at the end.  They have to invent the odd one out.  Again you could demand that they recycle knowledge from a previous topic.

 

livre    cahier   professeur  etudiant           M

 

Find 5

Great way to build vocabulary.  If you have access to dictionaries, picture dictionaries or Usborne’s first thousand words.  Get students to find 5 of something so they broaden their vocabulary.  Try to avoid them getting hung up on finding the duck!

Taboo

Talk or write about a topic without using certain words.  In the cases of one or two students, I’m going to declare war on the next individual who uses interesante, aburrido, bueno, malo, emocionante.    

Mark – Plan – Teach

I’ve been reading a little too much on the Teacher Toolkit website but I like this one.  It should be the way we approach marking.  I have just marked a set of year 8 assessments and whilst most did what was asked of them, there are a number of errors that I want to sort out.

  • It would appear most of them have great command of possessive apostrophes in English but these do not exist in Spanish yet nowhere in Mira 1,2, or 3 does it cover this.
  • Me gusta + Me encanta are often followed by conjugated verbs so that needs sorting.
  • ie and ei keep getting confused so some phonics drilling is probably in order.

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?!!!

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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!!

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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!

Learning from the best

Some people have a nice little page of links.  I’ll be honest, I have not worked out how to do that, yet!  Here are some of my favourite places to go for ideas!

Sometimes you need to look at things in a different way for ideas.

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Here are a few places that I’ve picked up ideas from:

Frenchteacher  – Steve Smith, an experienced French teacher has a blog and resources site.  I have picked up a lot from his teacher’s guide and his writing on various MFL related themes.

RachelHawkes – Unsurprisingly written by a lady called Rachel Hawkes.  There is a wealth of information on here, powerpoints regarding the latest developments in MFL and a real focus on generating spontaneous speech (she has a Phd to show for it).  Rachel seems to run a lot of CPD, blogs for the TES and also lectures on PGCE courses.  How does she manage that and teach MFL?!  Answers on a postcard…or if Dr Hawkes herself is reading this then seriously, how?!

Headguruteacher – Tom Sherrington writes a lot of very insightful material relating to all sorts of issues.  He is not an MFL teacher but there is a lot you can take from his writings on teaching and learning.  His series titled pedagogy postcards is worth a look.  The recent post on Maths Mindsets could equally apply to languages.

Gianfranco Conti – is a prolific MFL blogger.  His posts relate research and theory to our classroom practice.  He also has a website for students called the language gym and I’m reliably informed that there are exciting plans for that site, although the name does remind me of: this.  His most recent post  well worth a read, along with his thoughts on resilience in MFL classrooms.  Inspiring and thought-provoking material every few days.

Classteaching – Shaun Allison’s blog with it’s titular play on words is well worth a look.  Shaun’s posts tend mainly to focus on teaching and learning with a view to constantly sharpening our classroom practice.  He also blogs on assessment after levels and other areas of school life.  His diagram “expert teaching requires” sums up his philosophy as far as the classroom is concerned.  There is also a plethora of resources, links and ideas on the site.  This blog is eminently readable and updated weekly.

Morgan MFL – This has not been updated since March but contains some useful material particularly for teaching tenses.  This “Yorkshire lass” also has some good youtube videos on her site.  If enough people click on the link maybe the spike in views will convince her to keep it going!  

Teachertoolkit – If Gianfranco Conti is prolific, then Ross Morrison Mcgill is the blogging equivalent of Duracell.  He just keeps going and going and going…  It’s also high quality stuff.  Again, not a specific MFL blog but regularly updated, very current and relevant material.  His 5 minute resources reduce some of the administrative burden as well as providing food for thought.  His most recent post concerns verbal feedback stamps, which fortunately have not yet darkened the doors of my school.  The first bit is a good-humoured rant, the latter half is particularly applicable to the classroom (see mark-plan-teach).

Dom’s MFL Page – Possibly one of the first MFL blogs I read, mainly by searching MFL blogs via google!  Some good resources for teaching and also includes A2.  Try not to get freaked out if your speakers are on full and the French word of the day blasts out.  His posts contain a great deal of useful ideas and are often peppered with good humour.

Chris Fuller – I came across Chris Fuller on an ALL webinar.  He comes across as a great guy and enthusiastic MFL teacher.  His website has a number of creative ideas including the Shelterbox Challenge, PE in Spanish and teaching year 9s about the legalisation of marijuana in Uruguay.  It’s a far cry from the traditional year 9 topics of “me duele la cabeza” and “para llevar una vida más sana…”  (although I could see those slipping neatly into the marijuana module).

Lastly, for those who like the feel of paper in their hand, or new book smell, I wholeheartedly recommend the following:

The Craft of the Classroom – Michael Marland

Cracking the hard class – Bill Rogers

Why students don’t like school – Daniel Willingham

Teaching numbers, dates, days of the week & the basics

Bored of doing the same thing year after year.  Have a look below, be brave, dare to be different!

Numbers

I have blogged  on this before, you can find it here

Photo Credit: <a href=

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“Burro” – students are in a group of 4 or 5.  They count up to whatever number you choose and down again.  They can say one, two or three numbers at a time.  Any student made to say a number in a particular times-table (of your choosing) gets a letter.  If they spell out “burro” (donkey) then they are out.

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Last man standing – Sometimes called Irish Bingo.  Students write down four numbers in a given range and stand up.  Teacher or a student calls out numbers.  If all four of their numbers are called out, the student sits down.  The aim is to be the last man standing (or woman if you are being politically correct).

Write either side – give students some numbers but they have to note down the numbers either side, rather than the number itself.  This tests comprehension and recall.

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: StreetFly JZ via Compfight cc  If M&Ms did calculators….

Sums – make them do maths.  Or better still make them create sums for their partner to do.  Insist that they can be as nice or cruel as they like.  It generally depends on how much they like the person next to them.

Months

Ordering – possibly one of my favourites.  Students put themselves into birthday order using only the TL.  Teach them phrases like “to the left” or “to the right” and how to say their birthday.  Do it by academic year or calendar year.  It allows the July born ones to not feel quite so young!

Class surveys – students go around interviewing people.  Avoid them going straight for their friends by insisting that they cannot talk to people in their tutor group, or their English class, or people with the same colour eyes, hair etc.

Days of the week

Yabba Dabba Doo!!!!!!  The kids will likely have no idea what memories this song evokes but they’ll sing along anyway.

 Repetitive but scarily effective.

Key verbs

Avoir = Mission impossible works for this.  Unfortunately there is not a youtube video, you will have to sing!  Failing that…

Etre = Oh when the saints works reasonably well with this

 It’s that bad it deserved a mention!

Tener

Ser

 Latin American Spanish so misses out vosotros form.

 Catchy and fun song.  Never used this one before so I’m going to give it a whirl this year.

Teaching the alphabet can be found here.  If you’re already ahead of the game and looking at present tenses then try this page.

Is there anything I have missed?  If you can think of something then add a comment and share it with others!

5 things to try tomorrow

It’s the start of the year and perhaps the caffeine is wearing off…  Stuck for something to do with a class? I would say look no further, but that would mean ignoring the rest of this post.  Read on my friend…

Doble identidad.

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We’ve all done activities where students talk to various people in the class.  Tell your class they are practising their skills for joining MI-5 (not 9-5).  How about having them create an alter-ego, a spy identity.  They have to convince people that they are indeed Bastian from Bremen, that their birthday is 24sten Dezember.

Fonetica con fútbolistas

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I have tried introducing more phonics this year to some boy-heavy classes to hopefully eradicate “choo ay go” (juego) and various verbalised atrocities.  La Liga has been immensely useful.  Teach them the vowels first and see how long it is before they realise they’ve been saying the names wrong.

Bomb Defusal

bomb

High stakes activity.  Students are given 4 questions on the screen.  Each question has 3 possible answers. Their partner selects an answer for each.  They have 5 attempts to guess their partner’s selected answers or the bomb goes off.

¿Adónde vas normalmente de vacaciones? + 3 more similar questions.

  • Voy a la playa con mis amigos
  • Voy al campo con mis padres
  • Voy al extranjero con mi familia

Alphabet Song

Year 7s absolutely love it!

If you have VLC media player then use the dial in the bottom right hand corner to speed up or slow down as appropriate.  You will hear this in your head all day, guaranteed.  “Ah Bay Say Day Uf Eff gzay Ash…” etc

Deny Everything Baldrick

Taking inspiration from a British comedy classic.  The start of Mira 2 has students practising verbs with questions and answers e.g: “¿escuchas música?”  “¿Sales con amigos?” etc.  Give your class the command to deny everything and introduce them to negatives such as no, nunca, ya no, jamás, nadie, ni…ni….  Insist they use each over the course of their answers.  More advanced groups could add reasons.

  • ¿escuchas música?  Ya no escucho música
  •  ¿chateas por internet?  Nunca chateo por internet

Improving teaching so my students don’t wish they went to Hogwarts.

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Over the summer I worked my way through Daniel T Willingham’s book “why don’t students like school?”  It is an exceptionally readable book.  Willingham introduces the principle that underpins the chapter, developing it with explanations, examples and humour before applying it to the classroom.  The cognitive psychology presented is therefore easy to understand, yet remains academically satisfying.  I’ve learnt a lot from this book and would recommend it as excellent CPD.  The book considers questions such as “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?” “Is drilling worth it?”  and “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?”  The final chapter then directly challenges teachers.  It is also greatly helped with a summary table at the end that sets out the cognitive principles of each chapter, a question to prompt your thinking regarding your students and important classroom implications.

What am I taking from the book?

◊ Changing the way I do starters.  My starters often take the form of testing some knowledge from last lesson to see if it has been retained.  Now, I want to assess further back and make sure that the starter tests the requisite knowledge for the lesson I am about to teach.

◊ “Memory is the residue of thought”.  How can I get my students to think more?  I’m planning to make sure I give more time for thinking rather than simply picking a fast-thinking student.  More think-pair-share might be used in eliciting grammar rules that I present students with.  What would a mentally demanding MFL lesson look like?  Would my students be able to cope with it?

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◊ Proficiency requires practice.  I’m planning to set longer and tougher homeworks this year (in keeping with school policy).  I wonder if sometimes homework does enough consolidation.  I also want students to take more responsibility for their learning outside the classroom and Teacher Toolkit has an idea of “takeaway homework” that I would quite like to try.  Why is it that the musical students are happy to learn their lyrics or their scales but cannot apply the same drive to vocabulary or conjugation?  Is it a question of payoff or do I need to tailor the practice to them in some way?

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Photo Credit: madabandon via Compfight cc  evocative of my own piano playing…

◊ Proficiency requires practice 2.   I’ve also considered experimenting with DIRT time (directed improvement and reflection time).  Some very funky editable mats can be found at the mathematics shed.  Willingham suggests thinking about what material students need in their working memory and long term memory and practising it regularly over time.   Spreading out the practice (or interleaving schemes of work) is something I need to consider.  The idea my students need to gain is:  “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended periods of practice.”

◊ Relationships are key.  Willingham reminds us throughout the book that the “emotional bond between students and teacher – for better or worse – accounts for whether students learn”.  He also makes the point that this has to be combined with a teacher who makes boring material interesting and accessible.  I want to make sure that every child in my classroom gets some of my time.  I’m planning to trial live marking with a class this year.  Live marking is where the class work on a task while you go around marking some books allowing students to see what you think and discuss it with them.  As well as marking and handing back books that I have done after school, I want to give this approach a go here and there, particularly with the students I feel get less of my attention.

Lastly, if you appreciated the photo at the top of this blog, then check out Hogwarts’ OFSTED report.

Fighting the language decline – Answers in your classroom

Shortly after results day the Guardian ran a piece here reporting a continued decline in students taking GCSE languages.  They also ran an analytical piece (crowd sourced from Twitter) investigating reasons for the decline.  Both were interesting reads although I think Jennifer Beattle’s and Sara Davidson’s points were the most pertinent from the point of view of a teacher.  I have endeavoured to summarise the thoughts of a typical student in the table below, as I felt this was slightly overlooked.  There are likely some factors I have missed but I hope it provides a useful summary.

The Student View
Reasons for Reasons Against
Enjoyable lessons Oral exams
Useful skill Memorisation
Good for CV/Uni Fear of speaking in front of others
Mixture of exam and coursework Not feeling competent enough
Cultural interest Too hard and too much writing
Holiday use “Never going to go there”
All-round skill improvement Easier options around
Cognitive challenge Everyone speaks English belief

Table generated at http://www.tablesgenerator.com/html_tables#

Rather than further provide reasons for the decline or talk about how to increase the profile of languages in schools, I think the answer comes from the individual classroom.  Students need a feeling of capability, enjoyment and progress.

Creating a feeling of capability

“Capability” is often seen as a negative word in the teaching profession and understandably so, however our students need to feel that they “can do” something. Students equate their capability in a language with their oral and aural competence. Can they say what they want to say?  Can they understand what is being said? In my experience, reading and writing do not appear to enter into their equation to any great degree. The following are comments I have heard from students, friends, colleagues past and present:

  • “I was no good at languages in school”
  • “I couldn’t do languages”
  • “I’m not good at languages” (uttered by a year 7 September 2014 in his first ever Spanish lesson)
  • “I can’t do languages.”

All of these statements beg one question “compared to who?”  My first memory of using a language in a foreign country was ordering ice-creams in a small village in Germany.  It essentially required remembering the words “ich möchte” and reading off the menu.  We need real-life scenarios in our classrooms where students can try and practise things.  This will lead to a feeling of “can do”.  Our students need interactive episodes that simulate real life or situations that allow them to talk for extended periods.  Here are 3 activities I like to use whenever I can:

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Debates (based on group talk) – Watch the video and note how the talking situations are cyclical.  There is not actually an end to the discussion.  You can get students to add in a new question or take the discussion in a different way.  When I have done this kind of activity with students there is an immense feeling of satisfaction in the room that they have spoken French/Spanish/German for 3-4 minutes non-stop.  For example: school subjects – there are enough subjects to keep them going for quite a while!  If not, just add in “defensa contra las artes oscuras”, “transfiguración” and “pociones”.

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Drama – The hard bit is getting the balance between scriptwriting (which some groups will take ages to do) and practising/performing.  Ideally a lot of pre-teaching, listening and roleplaying will help with this.  Students tend to enjoy it as they feel they have survived a real-life situation.  Restaurants, asking for directions, 112 calls, meeting and greeting can all be done as dramatic episodes.

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“I can’t help noticing I’m considerably richer than you” – based on the Harry Enfield sketch where a couple boast about being considerably more well off.   Students need to better the previous person’s use of the TL when talking about a topic.  They can add reasons, linking words, other tenses.  The idea is that what is constructed is significantly better than what went before.  Together the students will construct something better while teaching and helping each other in the process.

Engendering a feeling of Enjoyment

Enjoyment is not a synonym for games.  I have seen a variety of games in the past few years but when using them the question has to be: how much TL is this going to involve?  What learning return is the whole class getting from the game?  If students are sat there and their brains are doing very little during a game, is it worth doing or could the time be better spent?  Games that involve collaboration, competition, mystery, intrigue and humour are great.  I was going to list a few but I think I will direct you towards this list and put my favourite below.  I really like the look of “alibi” and “press conference” and will try them in a few weeks time.

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Battleships – probably my favourite in class game.  Minimal prep and maximum TL

Real Progress

I ran out of alliterative titles for the last section but if you think of one put it in the comments section!  Students need to feel that they are progressing in a language.  Sublevels and levels do not appear to have a massive effect on this.  Daniel T. Willingham’s superb book “Why don’t students like school?”  looks to have some thoughts with regards to this but I haven’t finished it yet!  There will be a post when I do, as it has been an excellent and eye-opening read so far.

In the meantime I find the following help to engender a feeling of progress among students:

  1. When a student has improved over time, praise them quietly for it.
  2. Comments in books referring students to their previous work and comparing it with improved work you have seen.  Show them the results of their learning and that they actually have made an improvement.
  3. Parents evening is useful particularly if you met the same parents the previous year eg: “Abigail has really come a long way since we last spoke.  Her work has improved and she is also contributing more frequently in class.  I was particularly pleased with her preparation and result in the recent speaking assessment.  It showed just how far she has come.”
  4. Use your own experiences as we were not all born with the ability to speak a language.  Tell them that it has been hard at times, explain how it feels to “plateau” for a while and then when you noticed the improvements.  Students need to know that the person in front of them has fought the same battles with understanding that they are currently fighting.
  5. Share the nature of learning with them.  The conciousness/capability model was something Louis Van Gaal mentioned in an interview and I think it helps to some degree in understanding the process of learning.  My students seemed to appreciate it.
    1. Unconcious & Incapable (don’t know it – can’t do it)
    2. Concious & Incapable (know it – can’t do it)
    3. Concious & Capable (Know it – can do it)
    4. Unconcious & Capable (Know it – can do it unthinkingly)

Ultimately the goal of any language teaching and learning is to get the students to stage 4.

I guess the point of this rather lengthy, meandering and reflective blog-post is a call to myself and maybe other teachers out there to absolutely go for it from September. There is a decline in languages uptake at GCSE nationwide.  Whilst there is a national battle over the future of language learning; there is a local battle to be won.  I firmly believe that generating a feeling of genuine capability, real enjoyment and visible progress in our own learners is our best bet at winning that battle.  When September starts I will have at least 360 kids enter my room and that is what I’m going for.

Bit of fun part 2

Blogging during the holidays, you cannot be serious?!!!  A while ago I did a post of favourite MFL youtube videos.  It’s the holidays and I’m not doing any work yet so enjoy the light-hearted fun below:

French

German

Spanish

Multi-language

The Return of the Roleplay

When i was in year 8 (a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away) we looked at how to order from an Eisdiele. It proved to be a useful lesson as two years later in Germany i was ordering ice creams and surprising my classmates with my ability to make sprinkles, cream and flakes appear. Their 99s looked pitiful in comparison. It made the language come alive. I’m happy that it would appear that roleplays are making a return. I remember doing them at GCSEs.  I remember the school coach had broken down and I had to explain where I was on the autobahn and get help (in the the role play -my school trips have been largely incident free).

I have recently been forced to attempt some typical roleplay situations in my third and weakest language such as visiting the chemists after being a mosquito banquet, hiring a car and buying stamps in a tabac. My experiences of this lead me to think that as teachers we are faced with two questions.

  1. What do students need in order to perform well?
  2. What activities might help them?

Transferable language.

Pour students need to be in e habit of transferring language between situations. I often remind students that unlike science, languages require recycling knowledge. Science lessons seem to cover space one half term before moving to plants the next, languages requires a constant revisiting of key structures and vocabulary.  My plan would be that students at he end of each half term have a bank of words they can apply to a variety of topics. Rachel Hawkes’ saco mágico is a good idea here – a page in students’ books where they note down phrases they need to reuse. It should probably b tested regularly to give it value in the eyes of the students.

Confidence

Students need to feel they can talk and they can get out of situations. This needs to be without using je ne sais pas for every situation encountered! Below are some activities that might help in developing confidence.

Schwindler/Trampa – students write cards with key phrases and some cards with just the word trampa. They play the cards face down reading the phrase but if they play a trampa card then they have to improvise a phrase. This developed he abilities of my bottom set yr 11s and saved me from some silent oral exams.

Dialogue chop up – Exactly as the name suggests. Give students a dialogue to rearrange either in terms of words or sentence.

KS3 drama – I have always done dramas when we have covered buying food and drink, buying clothes or going to the doctors. Make it more challenging by giving groups certain challenges to complete eg broken leg – explain how it happened. Sometimes i have included curveballs at the last minute in the restaurant drama such as “lo siento señor pero no tenemos pizza”, it forces thinking and improvisation. Students also feel a greater sense of achievement if they can do something real life. They may not get to talk about their school subjects on holiday but they will likely order food.

Face/shoulder/diagonal partner – Make students practice with everyone. The more practice the do and feedback they receive; the likelier a successful outcome. Face partner is the person opposite and shoulder partner are the people next to them. I never use the terms but it is a helpful distinction for the blog.

If this is the answer what is the question – Borrowed from Mock the Week, students need to know what they are asking if they have to pose a question and equally they need an understanding of what they are being asked. Take the breakdown situation earlier, we do not want students answering blau when the question was “wo ist dein Auto jetzt?”

What do you do? Share what works as it is coming and we’re all in this together. Be the first to leave a comment!

Keeping your languages up!

Life is fast.  We get our news from 140 letter tweets.  We boil a kettle and squeeze the life of that tea bag so we can have a quick brew.  Google is the answer to whatever question appears too difficult.  How then can language teachers with busy lives maintain their level of language so that we remain at the top of our game?  This would be particularly pertinent for those of us (myself included) who do not teach A-level.  It would appear easier to stay up-to-date in other subjects.  Science teachers can look up the CERN website and myriad other research agencies. History teachers can always read more, watch footage or visit museums.  I’ve been guilty in the past few years of being a little slack with this at times.  Here are some things I’ve done to actively address it:

Go there!

Last summer, I took a short break to Berlin.  This summer I plan to visit parts of Spain and France I’ve never seen before.  I’m also going to be in Switzerland for a short time.  It is a great time to pick up authentic materials that you can use in a classroom or material to improve your displays.  You get to see some absolutely unique things (see chocolate Brandenburg Gate below) and learn stuff you never knew before.

It's the Brandenburg Gate made with chocolate!!

Make the most of the opportunities.

I can speak three languages with varying degrees of competence, and confidence.  However, that does not stop the “what if I get this wrong?” thought from entering my head.  In Berlin, I forced myself to interact with people, even a waiter in a café can offer a good conversation and lead to learning new words.  I visited as many places as I could. I took the option of audio or tour guides in the foreign language.  If you are visiting the Reichstag then the guide only begins when you set foot on the slope in the dome – took 10mins and 3 sets of headphones to work out why it wouldn’t work!  I read the leaflets and flyers given to me on the street, even if I did not agree with their politics.  In stations and airports, if you are not sure of something then talk to someone who looks like they know what is going on.  This goes against the grain for us men, but it yields conversation and practice, particularly in languages you may be less comfortable with.  This year my challenges will involve dealing with car hire in Spain, finding accommodation in France and navigating public transport in triglossic Switzerland.  Bring it on!

Join Twitter

I am not a biggest fan of Twitter but I have learned that I can pick up new vocabulary and refresh my memory of words that I didn’t realise I knew.  If you look at the everydaymfl twitter people I follow you will find a considerable number of Spanish, French and German speaking footballers and sportsmen (you may also work out the club I support).  Sadly, one or two tweet too often in English but I’ve learnt new vocabulary and seen words used in different contexts.  “Una racha” can refer to a winning or losing streak (thanks Juan Mata for that one).

Read, listen, note, make it memorable.

I’m constantly telling kids that reading does not equate to revision; they need to do more  It’s the same with teachers.  Are you trying to learn new words?  I’ve decided this year I want a whiteboard or two on the wall in my room for vocabulary that I am learning.  I also want to spend more time on www.ard.de to improve my listen skills and range of vocabulary.  I should listen to more foreign radio and news than I do.  With the internet at my disposal, the only excuse is my own laziness and that’s not an excuse!

Talk to colleagues

It is so easy to lapse into English with colleagues who are conversant in a foreign language.  I’m trying to do this less as it has two major benefits.  Firstly, it shows the kids what they can achieve with hard work and effort.  Secondly it shows your colleagues from other departments that you don’t spend your lessons playing games and learning how to say items in a pencil case.  Thirdly, it also really hooks the interest of the students as they try to work out what you are saying.  The look on their face when they realise they understood one or two words spoken at a relatively fast speed is worth it.

Subtitles

Let’s face it some films sound awful dubbed.  Some actors just sound wrong.  The same German voice does Jack Sparrow and Jack from Titanic.  Use the subtitles to learn new words.  It’s simple but I have definitely picked up the word Zauberei from subtitles (although not sure how much use it will be).  Alternatively…

Watch foreign films

Current recommendations

  • The Counterfeiters – German film about forging of banknotes in the second world war.
  • El Mar Adentro – Spanish film – harrowing subject matter but beautifully acted dealing with paralysis and euthanasia debate.  Javier Bardem pulls off an incredible performance from a bed without actually moving.
  • Nueve Reinas – Argentinian film about con artists.  As the tv programme Hustle taught me “you can’t con an honest man”.

Have I missed anything?  What do you do?

First MFL lesson of the year

Everyday MFL

The one thing my PGCE never prepared me for was what to do in the first lesson of the year.  I’ve now had 3-4 attempts and each time have tried to do it differently.  As for September, I am still undecided.

Admin first approach

The pros of this approach is that everyone starts from the same point and all the necessary stuff is done.  Rules are established and students are very compliant in this lesson, often regardless of ability.  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 after having done it 5 times before they reach your lesson.

Lesson learnt: if showing the kids what to put…

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