Developing Target Language Teaching

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

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

Frenchteacher.net

Musicuentos

Gianfranco Conti

Ideal Teacher

Rachel Hawkes

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

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

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

Script the lesson

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

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

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

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Yellow box

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

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Count the instances.

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

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Ask for help.

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

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Have a list

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

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Listening activities

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

Conclusion

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

Some light reading

Books to improve your practice

It might seem odd to some teachers out there to read a book about teaching, particularly during the holidays, when one should be relaxing.   However, there is definitely a lot to be gained from some of the literature out there.  Here are the ones I have learnt the most from when it comes to MFL teaching.  To some readers, it may come as a shock that “The Language Teacher Toolkit” is not on there, however I have only just purchased it and have only read a couple of chapters.

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The Craft of the Classroom – Michael Marland (1934-2008)

This book was immensely helpful in my PGCE, NQT year and early years of teaching.  Although it was written in the early nineties, the wisdom it provides is timeless.  The late author covers relationships, discipline, establishing habits, parents, pressure, classroom layout, displays and more.  Michael Marland, the author, comes across as a man who loved teaching.  This book leaves nothing out.  The effects of adverse weather on pupils is noted and the presence of plant-life to brighten up the classroom is suggested.  His emphasis on the power of positive strong relationships comes across throughout.  Having lent the book to an NQT, I am indebted to the Guardian for the following quote from the final page of the book:

“The craft [of the classroom] won’t work without a spirit compounded of the salesman, the music-hall performer, the parent, the clown, the intellectual, the lover and the organiser, but the spirit won’t win through on its own either. Method matters. The more ‘organised’ you are, the more sympathetic you can be. The better your classroom management, the more help you can be to your pupils.”

Michael Marland Obituary

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Student reactions to speaking activities.

Target Language Toolkit – Allison Chase

Target language use varies widely between classes, teachers, students, lessons and schools.  This book has 90 ideas to increase TL usage in the classroom and is great to dip into for ideas occasionally to avoid getting stuck in a rut.  Having picked it up again recently I am very tempted to try the following:

  1. List of 100 phrases.  This is a list of 100 phrases or utterances that all pupils should be able to use.  I think a mixture of testing and rewards may get them to use them more.
  2. Talk Time – 5-10mins speaking at the end of a lesson using whatever prompts the teacher brings.  This could be objects, photo, music, something to eat.  The author mentions she tried a blindfolded taste test of dark, milk and white chocolate with learners having to explain which kind they were eating, and which they preferred.  I may make this one a teacher-led activity!
  3. Emergency flashcards for TL-shy classes – series of flashcards with the most basic phrases “yes”, “no”, “please”, “thank you”.  I may adapt this slightly to have pronunciation on there too so that the learners can build their confidence.

Other areas covered include routines, games and activities, developing TL beyond the classroom and having a department wide TL policy.  If you are considering a purchase, a longer review can be found here courtesy of Steve Smith.  You can also follow the author on Twitter @AllisonChaseMFL.

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Why don’t students like school? – Daniel T Willingham

This is quite simply a superb book.  The blurb on the front says “a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom.”  It sets out this vision and sticks to it.  A selection of chapter titles includes:

  • “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?”
  • “How can I help slow learners?”
  • “Is drilling worth it?”
  • “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?”  This  chapter ripped apart the Learning Styles Theories that I was taught on my PGCE.

The questions above are ones teachers ask themselves regularly!  Each chapter is easy to read and answers the question it poses.  Some chapters contain examples that the author explains.  Sometimes there are examples that he lets you follow and work out, before presenting you with the answer, along with how your brain got there.  Each chapter concludes with “implications for the classroom” and the book concludes by turning its attention to the reader.  It asks the questions we should ask at the end of any educational book: What have you learnt?  And what are you going to do about it?

German French Spanish Flags

Upgrade your French / German / Spanish – Margaret Jubb, Annemarie Künzl-Snodgrass, Silke Mentchen, Abigail Lee Six.

30 days of grammar, vocabulary and language development lie within the pages of these books.  The books are generally designed for those between Sixth Form and University to shore up the basics of their language use.  I would suggest they are excellent for MFL teachers who wish to work on their weaker language, but cannot access evening classes or are pressed for time.  They may also be a good resource for your G&T students or native speakers.

Self-testing quizzes allow you to track your progress and see how you are doing. Answers can be found in the back.  The first week of the German one is as follows:

  1. Cases
  2. Describing people -acquaintances, hairstyle, eyes, glasses, character, attitude, being keen on someone
  3. Pronouns
  4. Family and Society – genitive and possessive pronouns
  5. Nouns – genders and plurals
  6. Leisure – sport, verbs using fahren, meeting up with friends,
  7. Relative Clauses

 

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Photo Credit: inspirationsyouth Flickr via Compfight cc

Cracking the Tough Class – Bill Rogers

Bill Rogers is a bit of a favourite on PGCE courses.  None of the books on behaviour seemed to deal with some of the classes I encountered.  This one gets close.  It looks at the features of tough classes and how to deal with them.  There is an entire chapter on how to establish the right environment with a tough class at the outset and how to effectively follow up disruptive students.  One of the later sections suggests how more experienced colleagues might support members of their department.  An idea – from this book – that changed my practice was having my tougher classes in teams that worked together.  There would be a prize for the top two at the end of a term, and a transfer window at the start of a the new term.  This book will not solve all your problems, but it might help you to find some solutions.  If the picture that headed this review summarises how you feel, when that group (you know which one) appear on the timetable; it may well be worth a look!

 

Things to keep from 2016

A belated Happy New Year to any readers and huge big thank you to almost 7500 people who read my ramblings last year!  It is quite humbling to see stats like that and also how far across the world it has gone.  Having said that, I’m sure there are some NFL fans out there wondering quite how they ended up on a language teaching website!

A bit of a reflective one to kick off 2017.  Looking back at 2016, there are some things I did for the first time that I want to keep doing.  Here they are…

Core Language Sheets

My 8s,9s and 10s have a sheet glued in the middle of their book where the staples are.  These sheets contain key verbs (conjugated and infinitives), time adverbs, conjunctions (not a fan of “connectives”), opinion phrases and much more.  They are used regularly by the majority of students in my class.  They are adaptations of ones that can be found on Rachel Hawkes’ website.  I changed some vocabulary items and also gave the fonts a slight upgrade.  They are great for learning homeworks such as “learn time adverbs section” or “write a sentence using each infinitive with no repetition”.  It has also stopped some of the “me gusta juego” that pupils often default to.

50-50 no hands up/hands up

I’m a fan of “hands up” and “no hands up” when questioning.  I am aware that some teachers will advocate a 100% no hands up approach.  This was suggested as an “outstanding” technique when I was training.  I’ve listed the pros and cons in the table below.  Hopefully you will see why I favour a mixture of both…

Pros Cons
Hands up 1) You see student enthusiasum for learning.
2) You gain an idea of student competence
3) Occasionally low-confidence students will go
for it so you have a good opportunity to build their
confidence with success!
1) Some students will never put their hands up
2) Some students will be too passive in lessons
3) The two above may become learned behaviours
No hands up 1) Keeps everyone on their toes
2) Does not allow an “opt out”
3) Allows teacher to target questions to
underachievers, pupil premiums, G&T etc.
1) High anxiety for some students low on confidence
2) Some students will go with “don’t know” and resist your attempts
to lead them to an answer.
3) If targeting underachievers, pupil premium etc too often, you
may miss others.

Find someone who…

My new favourite speaking/listening task.  For a detailed explanation look at 2.7 on Gianfranco Conti’s blog.  The example Gianfranco shares links to free time.  I have used it for future tense practice “find someone who will…” or past tense “find the person who did…”  It requires a little bit of preparation and printing.  The hard part is making sure that the students stay completely in the TL.

Teacher-led listening (Nick Muir / Gianfranco Conti / Steve Smith)

Photo Credit: musiccard Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: musiccard Flickr via Compfight cc

Listening activities in textbooks can be useful.  However, I  object greatly when the listening text involving types of transport contains sound effects!  I have started to do some of my own with varying successes.

  1. Sense or nonsense – Students work out if the sentence given is sense or nonsense.
  2. LH, RH, BH – Allocate three categories in advance, students close eyes and put hands up.  This can be done with tenses, opinions, negatives etc
    1. Left hand = future tense
    2. Right hand = past tense
    3. Both hands = present tense
  3. Spot the word missed.  Sentences on board, teacher reads out and students spot missing word or word added in.
  4. Mr Men/Real Madrid listening – used at the start of the year to help develop sound and spelling links.  Students have to spell the name of the Mr Man having only heard the Spanish.  Can also work with members of Real Madrid’s reserve team.

Invitation only twilights.

Finally, we get to some of my own ideas!  That being said, I’m sure that it is not original.  I know a number of teachers who organise twilights and invite their entire class and attain varying attendance figures.  This is compounded when you are up against core subjects, intervention classes, after-school detentions and some departments with more clout.  I tried a different tactic.  I invited 2-3 students each time.  Only one did not turn up.  Ways to make it work are as follows:

  1. Invite the student personally a week in advance, have them note it in a planner.
  2. Make it really clear what they are going to get from the session.
  3. Bring something of a sugary nature

Having a smaller GCSE group helps, but even with a larger one you could plan it out over time.

L shapes game – conjugation and translation

Produce a grid of conjugated verbs in TL or English (8×8, 6×8, 10×5 whatever size suits you or whatever preparation time allows).  Students start in opposite corners but can only move in L shapes like the knight on a chessboard.  To be able to shade in the next square they need to be able to pronounce the word accurately and translate it.  They keep going until they cannot move any longer.  Winner is then the one with the most squares.

 

Traffic light book hand in.

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Photo Credit: enzovelasco Flickr via Compfight cc

This came from one of our newer teachers.  She has three boxes in her room.  Green, yellow and red.  Pupils put their books in at the end of the lesson depending on how well they feel they have coped with the material covered.

  • Green = I’m fine, no problems
  • Yellow = I struggled a bit
  • Red = I found that really tough.  Help!

You can then mark in an order that deals with the greatest need first, and target your marking more effectively.

Snakes and Ladders with heavy TL use.

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I tried this with a low ability group and then with a higher one. Pupils have to do a task if they land on odd numbers.  If they fail they move vertically down a square.  Pupils also have to do a task to ascend a ladder or stop themselves slipping down a snake.

  • 1 – sentence with fui a + country
  • 3 – sentence with fui + transport
  • 5 – sentence with fui + people
  • 7 – sentence with fue +opinion
  • 9 – sentence with fueron
  • Ladder ascension: sentence with fui + country, transport and people
  • Snake Stopper: sentence with fui + country and 2x activities in preterite.

Save your money by doing the following:

  1. Get 8-10 boards photocopied for your class.
  2. Counters are rubbers, sharpeners, pen lids, 5 pence coins etc.

 

 

Everyday Literary Texts

After a couple of blogs titled getting ready for the new GCSE and getting ready for the new GCSE: the sequel  (clearly I’m great at naming things).  I thought it was about time I made some headway with the various elements required in listening and reading.  Literary texts are making an appearance in the new GCSE.  Regardless of whether you think it is a good idea, they are coming and this means an opportunity to make the best of it.  The government state the following:

“Pupils should be taught to read literary texts in the language [such as stories, songs, poems and letters], to stimulate ideas, develop creative expression and expand understanding of the language and culture”National Curriculum for Languages

Before going overboard on new resources, budget allocations and looking at every single website for a satisfactory literary text, we need some perspective.  It is highly likely that this element of the new GCSE will only be tested in the reading paper.

This blog will look at how we can incorporate the demands from the DfE into our normal teaching practice.  Readers of this blog should be advised that my main languages are Spanish and German so French teachers may be slightly disappointed but I would encourage them to head to the excellent Frenchteacher website.

Texts

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Our textbooks are technically full of literary texts:

  • Listos 2 p 92 – biographical text on footballing legend Diego Maradona.
  • Mira 2 p101 Barcelona Te Quiero – song about Barcelona.  One of my former colleagues convinced the kids that this song won Eurovision!  To be fair, it is probably better than some Eurovision entries.
  • Expo 2 Red p93 La Marseillaise – The song that most people know the first bit of!
  • Klasse 3 – every chapter has a “Lesepause”, what more could you need?!

If your school is on a bit of a “move away from the textbook” crusade then I would encourage you to make use of the texts that are in those books.  There is no shame in using a book!  You are also doing your bit to promote literacy so on this occasion your use of a textbook is entirely justified.  You can also guarantee they have been through proof-reads and revisions, which lessens the time you may spend correcting the errors on a power-point found on a resources website.

Stories

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It is likely the story will be only a short excerpt.  I would be amazed if they could fit a whole story into an exam paper!  To access stories your students will need the following:

There are many ways you can incorporate a story into your lesson plan.  Here are some

  • Teaching Past Tense:  How many past tense verbs can you find in …?  I do this with an excerpt from Harry Potter.  It tells you if they have internalised the verb endings.
  • Teaching Present Tense: A day in the life of …
  • Teaching House & Home: A short text about where someone lives.  I normally use Papa Francisco as he could have lived in the Vatican but chose a small modest flat instead.
  • Teaching Future Tense: pick an unfinished story and get students to write sentences about what will happen next.
  • Teaching School: A day in the life of …  Pick a student in your class with a good sense of humour and write as if you are them.
  • Teaching holiday experiences: write a tripadvisor review or borrow a real one.  Could the students then create their own?  Could they take your one and make it better?

Songs/Poems

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If a song is catchy or cheesy it will probably stick with the students.  Here are some sources:

  • Lexibexi – German versions of English songs.
  • Wiseguys – German songs with some English ones rewritten.
  • Gypsy kings – Spanish songs in Spanish but very clear pronunciation most of the time.
  • Lyrics Training – gap fill of pop songs.  You may need to censor the videos!
  • Navidad – Christmas is a great time for using songs.

What can you do with a song?

  • Gap fill lyrics.
  • Multiple choice questions – which word did they hear?
  • Make them learn it.
  • Get them to perform it.
  • Use it to internalise pronunciation rules
  • Write another verse.
  • Predict the vocabulary used in the song – listening bingo
  • Rearrange verses

Remember we are talking about songs in the context of literary texts so at some point the students will need to encounter the lyrics.

Letters

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My assumption is that these will be letters of complaint, emails about holiday experiences and emails asking for information about a job.  I think we would do well do let these topics arise as they normally do on our scheme of work.

What I would recommend is giving students a crash-course in letter writing.  This can be as simple as teaching phrases like “dear”, “yours faithfully” and various similar phrases. Some weaker students might struggle with “un saludo cordial” as cordial in their minds is something you drink.  I really do not think we are treading any new territory here in terms of reading.  However, given that the curriculum also mentions registers then students may well need to write a letter using formal or informal modes of address.

Other literary texts

Literary texts may not be encompassed solely by the above so here are some other options you could incorporate:

  • Newspaper articles eg: Cholita Fashion (clothing unit), Quinoa (healthy eating) or Messi.  You could also Prepare your own.  After Rosaespanolas superb murder mystery lesson my trainee produced a newpaper article for the students to use so they could write their own.
  • Websites – one of my ICT-minded colleagues made a brilliant lesson where students were given a budget on an excel spreadsheet and had to buy an outfit for a particular occasion using Galeria.
  • Signs, adverts and notices:

 

Everyday Feedback & Marking

Update: Government publish results of review into marking.  It’s worth a read and the three principles of “meaningful, manageable and motivating” are sound.  

Feedback and marking conjure up a variety of responses.  Some teachers secretly enjoy it. Some would like to drop their marking pile in a woodchipping machine.  If you are reading this because you want to improve your feedback then hopefully you find something new to try.  If you are snowed under then I would point you in this direction.

We know from research by people such as John Hattie that feedback can be incredibly important.  Two videos that demonstrate the importance of feedback and how it can be used well are below.   The first: Austin’s Butterfly, has done the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and in schools.  Watch for the kid at about the 45-50second mark with his encyclopaedic knowledge of butterflies…

The second video shows that over time with a diet of quality instruction and effective feedback people generally improve at whatever they are doing.  Pay attention to his control, his reactions and his speed.  It is one way I get the kids to “buy in” to my marking and then the subsequent reflection time.

 

Feedback or Feedforward?

I know, “feedforward” is not a word but this came from a discussion with some colleagues the other day.  Most students do not care about the work they have done once it is over.   They care about the next piece.  So whilst our feedback is reactionary and responds to what they have done, they are already looking at the next thing.  One colleague said that he gets students to copy the target from the previous piece of written work at the top of the next piece of written work they are set, so that it is in their mind while they are producing it.  If you are following Mira 2 then you maybe approaching a module on clothes.  Here is how you could apply this:

Homework 1: Produce a 75 words on things you wear at different times

Student completes piece of work with the following 2 targets

  1. Try to use a greater variety of vocabulary
  2. Add reasons to opinions given

Homework 2: write 75 words about a party you went to and what you wore

Student writes at top of work

  • TARGET: Use greater variety of vocabulary.
  • HOW: no repeated nouns or adjectives where possible.

Suddenly we have a situation where the feedback informs the next piece of work.  This means the next piece of work is not only a response to the marking but it is also driving the learning forward.

Do you use coloured pens?

Schools vary on this.  Here are some of the ones out there I have heard about:

  • The purple pen of progress.  This is for improvements to work or redrafting of work.
  • The pink pen of pride.  This is for work a teacher wishes to highlight as particularly good or because of how well the task has been met by what has been written
  • The green pen of growth.  This incorporates targets to improve.
  • The green pen of peer assessment.  It’s for peer assessment, the clue is in the name.  It is quite a good way of visually defining who did the marking (more for observer than the kid)
  • The red pen of teacher marking.
  • The turquoise pen of…you’re just making it up now!

I have seen coloured pens used really effectively in one of our feeder primary schools.  The presentation of their work is stunning too particularly given a very tough catchment area.  Something goes wrong between the Summer of year 6 and the Autumn of year 7, cynics might suggest it’s adolescence…

Highlighters

My new favourite.  This came originally from a colleague in Bristol and a colleague currently on maternity leave.  Underlining an entire piece of work in different highlighters.

  • Green = good leave it as it is
  • Yellow = something needs correcting

You could add some codes such as  (G) = grammar  (W.O) = word order  (S) = Spelling    to aid understanding where needed or just let the yellow stand for itself and force the burden of correction and thought back on to the pupil.  Some may disagree but I find this visually powerful for the kids.  Weaker ability kids who receive a piece of work that is largely green with one or two hints of yellow get a massive morale boost from this.  Even the ones that get more yellow than green benefit as they still appreciate knowing that at least some of it was right!

Stamps

Ross Mcgill who runs the Teacher Toolkit website has a post about verbal feedback stamps. I see no point in repeating him.  However many stamps can save time and I have benefited from the stamp stacks supplied by a website out there.  The stamps contain things such as:

  • “please give nouns a capital”
  • “please take more care over presentation”
  • “please watch your verb endings”
  • “great work, keep it up!”

DIRT

I mentioned DIRT mats in this post.  There are a number of things you can do to maximise DIRT time.  Firstly, make it really clear what you want students to do with the time and how you want them to do it.  Secondly, refuse to take any questions apart from ones concerning your handwriting for the first 5 minutes.  Lastly in that first 5 minutes, focus on the ones who need your attention most.

Prove to me beyond all reasonable doubt

My Head of Department posed a difficult question last week: “early on in year 7 when you have an able kid getting everything right, what feedback do you give that drives their learning forward?” I happen to have just such a year 7 so here is what I tried.  When we have done grammatical exercises, her DIRT task has been to “prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you can apply the grammar points from the previous lesson using pages … of Mira 1,2,3”.  She then gets on with exercises that challenge, extend, consolidate and deepen her learning.  Sometimes the grammar book used is not the regular one (e.g: listos rather than Mira or the GCSE foundation book if I was feeling really mean).  She has responded really well.

Patricia’s problems page.

Patricia is a student I teach who struggled with a new language: German.  We decided that at the back of her book we should have a problems page.  Initially, I did not mark much of her work to keep her confidence levels high but we had an ongoing dialogue on the problem page.  It was not triple impact marking or deep marking or excessive dialogue.  It was just an honest conversation where she could ask the questions she did not want to ask in class.

  • “I get that the verb goes second, what if you have two or three verbs?”
  • “How do you form questions?”
  • “Why can’t German be easier?”
  • “What is the difference between denn and weil?

Feedback sheets

TES is full of these.  Rather than writing the comments then they can be on a sheet.  This can be very effective but again the sheet has to be meaningful and linked to your assessment criteria.  I remember marking an oral exam with another teacher and they suggested I listen to the amount of subjunctives and connectives the student was using.  The problem is that the Edexcel Speaking mark scheme does not really mention either.  If you are going to produce a sheet like these then make it a good one.  The question the sheet needs to answer is not only “what do I need to work on?” but also “how am I going to go about it?”

Formative Comments

For a while we ran with comment only marking and to an extent we still do in that pieces of work are not graded.  It can be very easy to get into a rut of formative comments.  The following are based on the new GCSE Writing mark scheme (AQA is the only accredited one I am aware of).

Content Quality of Language Accuracy Language Specific
Stick more closely to the
question
Include greater variety of tenses Check genders Spanish accents only go one direction: /
What else could you say about? Use a greater variety of opinion phrases Check spelling Please give nouns a capital
How could you make … clearer? Find more interesting adjectives than “aburrido”
and “interesante”
Check verb/adjective endings Check direction of accents
Aim for longer, more detailed sentences Include more complex clauses and structures Check accents Check use of avoir/etre

If making comments then they should be demanding a response.  Mary Myatt has some points to make on this here.

Subtle comments.

The exercise book is a way of communicating with your students.  Do not underestimate the power of a well-placed positive comment.  Matt Walsh’s blog has a brilliant post worth reading called “to the quiet boring girl in the class“.  Sometimes they just need a little encouragement.  One of the most talented students I have ever worked with once said to me “why must it always be “to improve”, why can’t I just be good for a few seconds?” Here’s the challenge: pick the quiet kid that doesn’t contribute much in lessons.  Look through their book, find a piece of work, single out the positives and finish with a comment about how much you valued the effort and thought that went into it.  If you need convincing of the effect you can have then read this.

“I thrived on the quiet praise I was given” – Emma Thomas

Everydaymfl’s Marking & Feedback

I’ve outlined a lot of different stuff here.  I’m sure you have lots of other idea.  If you saw Everydaymfl’s books, what would he hope you would see?

  1. Underlined date, title and label as to class or homework
  2. Legible work.
  3. Pieces of work marked with highlighters.
  4. Codes where absolutely necessary but very few to force the student to examine their work.
  5. 2-3 targets at the end of work with how to improve.
  6. DIRT task for the student to work on (using purple pen).
  7. Some elaborate positive comments – not just “well done” but “this is great because.”
  8. Challenging and redrafting of poor quality or poorly presented work.
  9. Regular marking (half-termly)
  10. A comment somewhere to make the quiet kid feel ten feet tall.

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

Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

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!

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

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?

Photo Credit: eldeeem via Compfight cc

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

Photo Credit: zenobia_joy via Compfight cc

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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Photo Credit: sardinista via Compfight cc

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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Photo Credit: t2ll2t via Compfight cc

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

Photo Credit: Arttesano via Compfight cc

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.