5 Things to try tomorrow

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

4 in a row translation practice

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

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

table game

Considerably richer than you…

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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

Jed: “In my house I have a garage.”

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

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

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

Scattergories

writing notes idea class

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

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

Slowing listening on Windows Media Player or VLC

slow signage

Photo by Song kaiyue on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary Championship

man wearing blue suit jacket beside woman with gray suit jacket

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making marking work

Photo Credit: BenjaminCookDesigns Flickr via Compfight cc

Time to get out the red pen

This post should probably start with a disclaimer.  My marking is not perfect.  I do my absolute best to make sure the pupils get the best feedback on their work but it will not always yield the seismic improvements that one might hope.

Before we discuss marking and feedback, I think it is worth pointing the reader towards this document produced by Sean Harford HMI.  Yes, he does work for “they-who-shall-not-be-named” but you really do need to read it.  You could also follow him on Twitter as he is quite good at busting the various OFSTED myths that fly around.

Over the past few years, I have seen a variety of marking policies in my own school and in visiting others.  Out there, there is a plethora of feedback and marking styles such as “comment only” marking, highlighter marking, DIRT time, group feedback, whole class feedback, flipped learning, self-marking online assessments, self-assessment, peer-assessment, raw scores, averages, levels, flightpaths, progress indicators, RAG etc.  Don’t worry, this post is not going to cover all of those!  Instead, here are three that have really worked for me, and my students, in the classroom:

Whole class feedback & Individual Feedback.

Whilst marking a set of books I will formulate a series of targets to be placed on a PowerPoint.  In the book, I will simply write something that the student did well along with T1, T7, T8.  There is an example below.  The following lesson will probably follow this pattern:

1) Whole class feedback or starter activity relating to an issue most struggled with.

2) DIRT time – students have opportunity to act upon individual targets.  Extension tasks available for those who finish.

3) Remaining time refreshing material from previous lesson or preparing for subsequent lesson.

The activities in part 1 above could be…

  1. Grammar exercises
  2. Spot the errors / Correct the errors (anonymously lifted or amalgamated from work marked)
  3. Match present and past tense verbs so that students are clear which is which.
  4. Spot the correct sentence from a choice of 3.

An example of what students will see in part 2 above is below.  I have found that the “what it means” and “what to do” leaves no room for excuses of “I don’t get what I have to do”.

feedforward

Feedback needs to be about improvement and development, not simply error correction. That is my hope behind targets 2,4,6.  However, where some heavy error correction is needed, then I still want them thinking about it (see T1,T3).

T5 allows me to challenge, and insist on improvement of, any poorly presented pieces that I may not notice from across the room during the lesson.

T7 allowed me to work with one to one with a student who was miles ahead of the rest of the class and teach them something they can add to their work.

T9 was to give a student time to catch up on work missed through no fault of their own.

This approach massively shortened the time I spent marking and still allowed me to deal with misconceptions and give specific, personalised feedback that led to definite, visible improvements.

Highlighter Marking

Mentioned in a full length post  a while back, I still think this is one of the best ways for boosting confidence of students.

Underline an entire piece of work in two highlighter pens.  Green if it’s good.  Yellow if it needs work.  Immediately a student can see what is good and what is not.  If the overwhelming picture is green then it can be a massive confidence boost.  If they realise that the yellow is a repeated error, then we are on the road to eradicating it.  If there is a substantial amount of yellow then maybe a rewrite is in order.  Sometimes the yellow would not be underlining anything, to demonstrate that there was a need to add something.  To show students bits of their work that were particularly good such as a wenn clause (German), a reflexive verb in the passé composé (French), or use of the imperfect subjunctive (Spanish), I simply double-ticked those parts.  

I have tried to demonstrate the visual impact below:

Gestern Abend habe ich mit meiner Famille ins Kino gegangen.  Dort wir haben “Fast and Furious 14” gesehen.  Es war toll.  Ich mag Actionfilmen, weil sie sind spannend

Advantages include how well it combines with marking codes and it is speedy. Disadvantages include that one needs a constant supply of highlighter pens or felt-tips!

Self/Peer Assessment

Peer assessment is something I struggle with in MFL.  Sometimes I find that the students do not have enough knowledge to effectively assess the work of another.  You find comments such as “great use of connectives”, when there were none in the work at all.  I think it works best when the students have sufficient knowledge to draw upon, or with a reasonably restrictive mark-scheme. 

I have tried a little bit with the new GCSE roleplays.  The following pattern yielded some success.

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

Example:

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

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

Average = 11/15  

Keeping Year 9 going…

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It’s that time of year again.  Year 11 have gone.  Year 10 are thinking about work experience. Year 9s become that little bit more difficult to teach.

I got lucky this year.  I got a rather nice year 9 group.  They are a group with a mixture of middle and top set characters with a handful of lower ones thrown in.  The words mixed ability make the range of abilities sound wider than it is.

Over the past 5 years I have not been so lucky.  This post is an exploration of the variety of strategies I’ve tried.  The following picture does not represent a strategy but is definitely reflective of how it has felt at times:

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9×4 teaching aid.

Prepare a presentation/poster

Sometimes we do not get enough time to cover the extensive culture and history that surround the languages we teach.  Students prepare a presentation in groups of two or three to be delivered to their class.

How to vary it:

  • Give students a choice of delivery styles: interview, powerpoint and speech, podcast recorded using apps like spreaker , giant A2/A3 poster for corridor complete with text and pictures.  If you are a school with ipads then a whole world of possibilities are probably open to you (leave suggestions in the comments section).
  • To use TL or not to use TL.  With groups where most carry on til GCSE then insist on some TL, otherwise make the activity about presentation skills (perhaps colloaborate with English).
  • Horrible Histories.  Having met Terry Deary, the man is on to something.  The more gory or wacky it is; the more kids  will read about it.  Perhaps get your kids to go after the lesser known facts.
  • Ban certain websites.  Wikipedia is not always correct.  At university when I looked up the Spanish Civil War it turned out it was Manchester United’s sub goalkeeper!  Encourage use of reputable sources.
History Culture Geography
Guerra de independencia Don Quixote Espana
Islamic Conquest of Spain Gabriel Garcia Marquez Bolivia
The Inquistion Cataluna Peru
Colombus Castilla y Leon Paraguay
Spanish Civil War El País Vasco Chile
Franco Flamenco Ecuador
Juan Carlos de Borbon Tango Honduras
Zapatero Bullfighting Costa Rica
Ernesto Che Guevara Galicia Puerto Rico
Simon Bolivar Bunuel Venezuela
Al Andalus La tomatina Colombia
Eva Peron San Fermin Los Andes
Evo Morales Pedro Almodovar El salar de uyuni
Diego Maradona Las islas canarias Patagonia

Spanish survival kit

Everything needed for the casual tourist.  What does a holidaying student need?

WEEK THEME
1 Introductions

Name ¿Cómo te llamas? Me llamo …,

How are you + opinions¿Qué tal? ¿ Cómo estás?

Numbers 1 – 20, Age ¿Cuántos años tienes?

Alphabet,

2 Personal information

Where live ¿Dónde vives? Vivo en …

Holiday dates, times

3 Food and drink

Basic vocabulary

Ordering in a restaurant/bar/café

Complaining – this is not what I ordered etc

Money and shopping

Currency

Asking how much

Understanding larger numbers and prices

I would like Quisiera …

I like/don’t like Me gusta…/ No me gusta …

5 Directions

Asking where places are in a town ¿Dónde está …? Esta … ¿Hay … par aquí?

Understanding directions

6 Revision

There are obvious benefits to this approach.  It gives students some revision of the basics and prepares them for holidays.  The downside is that it is too simplistic for some.

Start GCSE

This is this year’s idea.  As a department we looked at the new specs and decided there was some stuff we have never taught.  So we decided to give it a go.  The results have been surprising.  Most students seem to have taken to it as they appreciate it is necessary for their classmates.  Other groups with slightly lower numbers of GCSE students have found it a bit tougher.  They do however appreciate the more advanced themes (global understanding) and focus on being able to make up stuff on the spot.  Rachel Hawkes writes that students judge their TL abilities based on what they can say and she is right.

A Film

“But SLT would never allow it!!” I hear you scream.  You may be right but at the same time there is a lot to be gained, if it is handled well.

Things to consider:

  • Get permission from parents, HoD and SLT if needed.
  • Make sure it is already on your scheme of work!  History show films regularly, why not mfl?
  • Create a worksheet with questions to provoke thought.
  • Give pupils a selection of words to find and switch the subtitles on.
  • Give pupils a synopsis to translate sections of before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to translate before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to fill in during the film with multiple choice options.  Eg: Ramón es descapacitado / paralisado / activo
  • You could show them the trailer to give an overall picture.
  • You could give them a series of pictures from the film to put in order afterwards .(perhaps with a short Spanish explanation underneath.
  • You could write some true/false sentences for the students to work out.
  • You could make a multiple choice quiz based on the film using Kahoot to gauge their understanding of the film.

One of the most difficult GCSE groups I ever taught was spellbound watching el mar adentro.  17 boys, 2 girls and they were transfixed.  It also fed quite nicely into their Philosophy, Theology, Ethics lessons at the time.

Grammar Revision

If you have a group doing GCSE then take them on a grammar crashcourse.  I believe grammar teaching is important and it can be fun (post on quirky ways to teach grammar is coming soon).

Expo and Mira tend to cover something grammatical and then assume it is mastered at the end of that particular page.  The next time it is revisited, it will be similar but with something new added.  If you are following one of these schemes then you may find students are not quite as adept with the grammar as you would like.  Graham Nuthall (The Hidden Lives of Learners) suggests students need three exposures to new concepts before they start to embed them.  If you are using the above textbooks, it is entirely possible that students will only have had one exposure to some concepts.

The Euros, world cup, Olympics, Women’s World Cup, Wimbledon

Use it as an opportunity to teach opinions and the future tense in the third person.  You could also use it to revise past tense, weather and a variety of vocabulary.  More ideas on Wimbledon can be found here with this shameless self-promotion link.

I think that … is going to win

In my opinion England will win etc.

Perhaps you do something different entirely, leave it in the comments section below!

Pupil Premium & MFL

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We’ll start with some words from Number 10 Downing Street:

“The Coalition Government introduced the Pupil Premium in 2011 to provide additional school funding for those children classed as having deprived backgrounds, and also those who had been looked after (by a local authority) for more than six months. The Service Premium was also introduced for children whose parent(s) are, or have since 2011, served in the armed forces.” Source Material for super keen readers.

Regardless of whether you agree with the idea of the Pupil Premium and the considerable emphasis placed thereupon, it is here to stay.  I have to be honest that over the past few years I have had mixed feelings and a lot of questions about it: what about children who fall ever so slightly above the threshold?  What about students with parents in the forces that actually do not access the funding and do not want it?  Can it make that much of a difference?  Are we in danger of over-emphasizing it?  One headteacher’s blog wrote about the disadvantage gap being a chasm.  It is a complex issue but not one we should shy away from.

Earlier today our SENCO shared this picture:

It reminds me that my job is a teacher is to ensure that every pupil has a chance to achieve.  For some those boxes in the picture will equate to extra funding from Number 10 and for others the boxes are the process of scaffolding and lesson planning.  For some pupils the boxes symbolise my teaching, my feedback and my attention or time spent with them.  Feedback has been covered here, support and scaffolding for lower ability has been covered here and here.  Today we are looking at the Pupil Premium.

Why Pupil Premium Students struggle:

Pupil Premium encompasses a variety of different situations.  It should never be confused or used as a synonym for low ability or behavioural difficulties.  Both might be true but they are not always the case.   I have done my best to list the struggles and the type of student in the table below.

Type of Pupil Premium Student Explanation
Free School Meals Eligibility for free-school meals is used as an indicator of poverty. It may be that such students eligible come from homes that do not support their education in terms of material resources, or in terms of assisting with homework.  Other needs might be more basic in terms of uniform, cleanliness or communication skills.
Service Children Children with parents in the armed forces are often eligible for the pupil premium. In my experience this presents slightly different issues in terms of T&L. Some students will be anxious as a result of the situation the parent is in and the infrequency of contact. Other students may need no help at all as the other parent works and provides for them.  There is a wide spectrum of need when it comes to this type of student.
Children in Care Inevitably these students will have varying issues. Much depends on the reason these students are in care, and at the same time, the quality of care they are currently receiving. Children in care are often quite well supported but struggle in other areas possibly in terms of development, communication and social skills, or mental health.
Ever 6 This refers to the fact a student may have been eligible for the pupil premium in the past 6 years.  It is worth knowing as whilst the student may no longer be eligible; there may still be needs that require meeting or they may only have moved slightly above the threshold for FSM.

What is suggested to be effective?

Having read OFSTED’s report on how schools are using the pupil premium.  They mention a number of ideas but many relate to SLT and governance.  The following are their suggestions for the classroom:

  • Effective teaching and learning for pupil premium students – just teach great lessons everyday.
  • Target support effectively.  How are you moving students forward?  What support do they have?
  • Know the desired outcomes for PP students, not always age related but higher.
  • Know your pupils.
  • Deploy your TA effectively  (see previous blog post here).
  • Enhance their thinking, study and revision skills (see blog on revision here).

They also say the following:

“Where schools spent the Pupil Premium funding successfully to improve achievement, they never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels and thoroughly analysed which pupils were underachieving, particularly in English and mathematics, and why.”  

Having read around the subject it appears there is a “no excuse” campaign going on.  Social deprivation, familial background, home situation, low attendance and level of need are not excuses (see 2013 presentation by OFSTED here).

In short, the pressure is on…

Photo Credit: Jack Zalium via Compfight cc

What can we do in MFL?

There are a lot of questions below designed to provoke thought and hopefully action.

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Data tracking – Analysing data has become a necessary part of the job.  Whilst we may find it tedious, it is a means to an end.  The end should be answering the following kinds of questions:

  • Are your pupil premium students where they should be?
  • Are they attaining in line with their targets (grades 5-9, positive progress 8 score, FFTD, or whatever you use)?
  • If they are not attaining then you need to be asking why?
  • Is the underachievement isolated to MFL or is it more widespread?
  • Where are they achieving?  Why?
  • How can you use that knowledge to your advantage? What has that teacher or department done?  What are they currently doing?
  • Could another member of staff give a pupil a bit of encouragement that causes them to see your subject differently?  Is their tutor/head of year/achievement leader (or whatever your school calls the role) pushing them to achieve in all subject areas?

Targeted Questioning  

Some teachers would advocate a system of no-hands-up whereby any questions are directed at PP students first and then at other key groups (underachievers, more able, SEND, disengaged boys).  On a seating plan I do have key individuals highlighted and will more often direct my questions towards them.

Others might add on to this the idea of “no opt out” where the kid is not allowed to say “I don’t know”.  It is entirely up to you how to run your classroom.

Quality first marking/feedback.

A suggestion from another school was to mark all PP books first in the pile as you are freshest and most alert.  It is hard to dispute the logic if that is true for you.  Personally, I find my marking gets better after the first three or so.  I would need to adapt that strategy slightly.  I do have some issue with the ethics of this approach, as every student should be receiving decent feedback from me.  There are also students out there who may not be in receipt of the Pupil Premium but actually fighting battles at home on a par with, or worse than those who are classified as disadvantaged.  It is up to you as a teacher to differentiate accordingly.

Seating plans – Some of my colleagues advocate seating all PP students in the same seat in their room so they always know who they are.  Others advocate sitting them at the front of your classroom to enable them to seek help.  Yet more suggest surrounding them with pupils who can positively influence them.  It is up to you as a teacher to decide and you probably have your own views, but we have to know who they are and we have to be able to answer the question: how are you catering for their needs?

Strengths/weaknesses analysis – this was quite a useful exercise with my year 11s.  Looking at the data I had, their performance in class and their books.  What are their strengths and weaknesses as far as language learning was concerned?  Do they know what their strengths are?  Are they playing to them and working on their weaknesses?  One of the issues with the new GCSE is the many elements: speaking, listening, reading, writing, translations, photocards, roleplays, target language questions, target language answers, 40 words, 90 words and 150 words.  What bits are they doing well?  What do they need support with?  I have seen teachers on some MFL Facebook groups looking for “quick wins”.  Actually, could it be a case of looking at the individual pupils and picking one area they need to develop that is going to make the most telling difference in terms of marks?

Resourcing in school – This could be hotly debated and there is a strong argument from both sides.  Lend them equipment or don’t lend them equipment, it’s up to you.  Similarly the  issue is the same with books, do you let them take it home?  Much also depends on the individual pupil.  For some pupils you will never see the book or pen again, others will have it back in the subsequent lesson.  Perhaps for those who persistently struggle the school could supply a pencil case that could be picked up from a central point and returned at the end of the day?  Rewards could also be used to ensure its return.

Bought resources

  • Revision guides?
    • A note on guides – having examined a few I am leaning towards CGP.  I just feel their explanations and layout are more accessible.
  • Revision workbooks?
    • Some exam boards offer these full of past paper style questions.
  • Photocopiable booklets from TES?
  • Learning websites such as samlearning.com and Vocabexpress.
  • Twilight sessions.
  • Revision sheets with QR codes containing links to good sites.
  • MFL revision conferences (one school in Peterborough did this – found via google)
  • Half-term revision sessions.

With all of this there is a caveat: you need to evaluate how effective and helpful it was.  This is very much something OFSTED and the DofE are looking at.  It is no longer simply a question of how are you using the money.  The assumption is you are using it; the question is what effect is it having?

Resourcing the student with strategies and techniques

Do your PP students know how to revise effectively?  I hear from year 11s various comments on learning styles and about highlighters and gel pens however the research shows these to be largely ineffective.  If you are curious about how to make revision more effective then I suggest the following:

The Guardian – The Science of Revision – excellent article with links and research to back up.

EverydayMFL – GCSE Revision – Here’s one I made earlier, nothing like a bit of shameless self-promotion!

Classteaching – quality advice and backed up by research.

Anything to prevent the eventuality below:

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Relationship – Some students need someone to believe in them in spite of their home background.  They need that person who sees them for who they are and what they can become.  They need someone who sees them as a work in progress and who will not give up on them.  They need you to be the person who appreciates them just as they are, but cares too much to leave them that way.  I am not saying you have to be their best buddy but you can be the role-model, support and guide to life that they have lacked.

“Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Teaching Assistants – Teaching assistants can be the unsung heroes and heroines of your classroom if deployed properly.  These are the questions you need to be thinking through:

If you have one then what is their remit in your classroom?

  • Do you direct them or leave them to it
  • Do they have a seating plan and know who they are meant to work with?
  • Do they have an order of pupils?
  • Could you promote independence by asking TA to move on after 1-2 minutes with a student?
  • Do they elicit or explain?
  • Do they guide to the answer or give the answer?
  • How well resourced is your TA?  Do they have your schemes of work?  Do they see a lesson plan or do you brief them on what is going to be taught?
  • Who is working harder: your PP student or your TA?
  • Could you get some planning time with a TA attached to a particular student?

Parents – Not all PP students have difficult family situations so get the parents onside.  Be careful not to patronise.  It is very easy to assume certain things when the label PP is on a seating plan or class list.  Parents evening is an excellent opportunity to build relationships, develop that link between school and home and facilitate learning and progress.  One parent recently asked me “what can they be doing outside of school as I don’t speak any languages?”  2-3 minutes later she left armed with strategies and places to find resources to help.  In terms of cost, it was minimal but there is a huge potential yield.

Marking Meetings – One of my colleagues recently suggested this at a meeting.  I’m quite keen to try it.  It used to be the norm when I was in school.  Certain teachers would call you up to their desk and go through your book marking it with you while the class were working their way through exercises. Would a pupil premium student benefit from some live feedback and a discussion of misconceptions?  Equally, this could apply to all pupils but if you’re going to work through a group, why not start with some PP students?

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Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

Any great ideas?  Leave them in the comments section below!

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.