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.

 

 

Getting ready for the new GCSE

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

Modalverben – regular drilling.

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

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

Roleplays

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

Spontaneous Speech

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

Speaking from pictures.

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

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

  • Es una fiesta.   Hay un elefante.  Me gustan las fiestas.
  • Creo que es una celebración porque hay mucha gente.
Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/25802865@N08/12471761553/">chooyutshing</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Photo Credit: chooyutshing via Compfight cc

Equally with this you can get the students to predict the questions that might be asked.

New Topics

I’m borrowing from AQA here.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Teaching around the town

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

Videos

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

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

Visit … Advert

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

Google street-view directions.

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

Talk and draw.

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

Past and present

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Antes había… ahora hay…

Antes era … ahora es …

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

SIM City

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

 

 

 

9 ideas para Noel/Navidad/Weihnachten

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

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

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

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

Prepare three columns of phrases on whiteboard.

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

 

Euroclub schools (yr7,8,9)

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

La pesadilla antes de la navidad

Lyrics are in the description, exploit to your hearts content

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

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

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

El año pasado recibí …  aunque quería …

Este año quiero/me gustaría …

Lots of potential and easily transferable between year groups.

 

Food-tasti5829330676_ea38ec69d0_mng

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

 

Real Christmas (yr 9,10,11)

Typical Spanish animated cartoon telling the story of the nativity.

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

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

Link to Madagascar Penguins

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

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

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

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

The Great British sing off (yr7,8)

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

 

 

5 things to try tomorrow

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

Picture Starters

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Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

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

Me gusta el inglés porque el profesor es interesante

En mi clase hay un profesor interesante

Odio el inglés pero el profesor es interesante 

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

Hands up listening

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

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

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

Forms and Functions

An idea from the effervescent Rachel Hawkes.

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

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

Literary texts

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

Deducing meaning from what has gone before

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

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

Deducing meaning from what has gone after.

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

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

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

Authentic Texts

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

Quinoa – bit of reading for healthy living and food topics

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

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Photo Credit: blackcatcara via Compfight cc

 

 

 

The Return of the Roleplay

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

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

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

Transferable language.

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

Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GCSE Revision Lessons

It’s that time of year again (no, sadly not Christmas).  Most year 11s are taking a pummelling from all sides with a revision sized baseball bat.  How can we do revision effectively in MFL?  It would appear to me there are three key areas. 1) Teaching exam technique 2) Vocabulary refreshing and/or building 3) Revision technique

Exam Technique

Certain things are guaranteed on an exam paper and students need to be aware of this.

  • There will be a question on tenses – can they spot them?  Sometimes time markers play a role here.  Students need to be aware of the features of each tense.  Chris Fuller made a good point that anything future adds and anything present/past takes away in French and Spanish.  If they  spot an infinitive it is likely a future tense unless preceded by an opinion phrase.
  • Higher level papers will often mention all three of your multiple choice options.  The trick is working out the right one.  Two are probably close to right so listen carefully the second time to these.
  • Exam boards have to promote SMSC just as schools do, students need to remember the exam is written for teenagers.  When the question says “What are Karla’s views on smoking?”  The answer is unlikely to be “it is harmless and we should all just light up now”
  • Exams follow a peak-trough model where harder questions are preceded by easier ones.  They need to make sure they do not give up too quickly.
  • Leave nothing blank!  I’ve had students get 5 extra marks in a past paper.  When the kid said he got an A, he shocked most of his classmates!  He later admitted not answering 8 questions but guessed them and was rewarded for it.
  • Some subjects have introduced walking/talking mocks.  I prefer to brief students before they do they paper, allow them to make any notes of reminders and then let them go.  Closer to the exams the briefings get shorter.

Vocabulary refreshing / building

  • Mindmaps, lists, flashcards.  Give students a topic and make them produce a mindmap with the use of nothing more than their brains.  Then let them have access to support materials to add to it and increase their knowledge.  Alternatively get the person next to them to add to it and pass it around a group of 4 to grow it as much as possible.
  • Make a tarsia puzzle.  This involves chopping up a sheet of A4 into 8 pieces and writing matching English and German along each inside edge.  The idea is to put the paper back together again with every English and German definition matching perfectly with no text around the outside.  They can be automatically made here.
  • Lots and lots of listening practice.  Some great advice on teaching listening can be found courtesy of Dr Gianfranco Conti here.  Some reasonably good advice can be found here (shameless self-promotion).
  • Vocab wars – give two students different lists of vocab which they quickfire at each other.  Winner gets a prize.  Make own lists for subsequent lesson.  Allow a mark if they get it right or if they self-correct quickly then allow them a point.  Works on demotivated bottom sets, did it earlier today.
  • Ditch the highlighters, they involve minimal cognitive demand and all the vocabulary is important.
  • Avoid teaching huge amounts of cognates as the students can work them out with considerable ease.  Focus on the more challenging language.  Would you rather a kid knew anrufen or telefonieren?
  • Websites are useful but should not be the sole revision tool of a student.  Linguascope intermediate and languagesonline.org.uk among others will be able to help
  • PQRST Past Paper Method – possibly the best thing I have come across in a while for making a past paper effective
    • Preview: revise the topics before tackling the paper.
    • Questions: now do the paper.
    • Review: see questions below
    • Scribble: note any new vocabulary on the paper that was not known.
    • Test: test yourself two or three days later on that vocabulary to check retention.
  • Past papers should not just be an end in themselves.  Completing a past paper is good but using it to push revision and learning forward is better.  Students should be looking at the following after completing a paper:
    • What new vocabulary is there that I didn’t know?
    • Did I miss out on marks from misunderstanding the question requirements?
    • Did I miss out on marks because I didn’t know the material?l
    • Did I miss out an answer – the crime above all crimes on an MFL paper.  When the odds on a correct answer are 33% or higher, missing answers out is silly.

I have a mixed ability GCSE group with grades ranging from A*-G.  It is a two year fast-track German course.  I have seen many good ideas on the secondary mfl facebook group but due to the nature of the course there is simply not time for trivial pursuit, jenga or balloon towers.  They do look fun though!  Below is a typical revision lesson:

Topic: healthy living and lifestyle

STARTER: activity that refreshes their memory of large amounts of vocab eg: odd one out, make a mindmap, 30 word vocab test German–> English or English–> German.

MAIN:

Present: a revision activity students could do at home on any topic but model it with this one.

Listening practice using past exam questions or revision workbook questions.  Immediate feedback and discussion of where the marks were won and lost.  Suitable for both higher and foundation although leaning towards higher.

Split class into two groups

Highers do some practice reading questions on the topic while foundations do practice listening appropriate to their level on the topic, then they switch.  Students doing the listening will be talked through how to approach the question, what the question is looking for and any handy strategies that come to mind.  We then attempt it.  Those doing reading are largely left to it.

Set homework: revision via vocabexpress / samlearning / past paper / make a mindmap / make a tarsia puzzle / languagesonline

PLENARY: 

Students then may face one more listening text (because you can never practise this enough) or another vocabulary building activity based on my experiences over the course of the lesson.

 

Revision Technique. https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/supporting-learning-through-effective-revision-techniques/ This one blog post gave me a lot of ideas.  I don’t think I can improve on what Shaun Allison has written so enjoy. Lastly, show this poster to your students (thank to Chris Hildrew).

dont-be-upset-poster

“Sir! When are we going to the computer room?”

Whilst not a pre-requisite to good teaching or good learning, some ICT room input is useful every now and again.  Students enjoy the occasional trip to the computer room.  I should use it more and my classes often remind me to do so!   Here are my regular ICT room lessons.  If you have a good idea drop one in the comments section below.

Sell your sibling (thanks to a former colleague for this one)

https://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Sell-your-brother-on-Ebay-6193621

Surprisingly, I have never got into trouble for this and the kids love it.  If they are an only child like the writer of this blog then suggest they sell their teacher.  Currently I am for sale on the wall of my own classroom.  In the event that your pursue the latter course, you may wish to correct any factual inaccuracies that ensue from the pupils description of you (which can often best be described as skewed, misinformed or just wrong).  If you’re wondering, I went for €1500.

WANTED

Great way to reinforce descriptions.  Give the pupils a helpsheet with phrases like “armed and dangerous”, “do not approach”, “reward” and then get them to find a celebrity and go for it.  A good plan is to tell them they are doing this lesson and have them think of someone beforehand, otherwise the normal battle of pictures vs content ensues and content loses out.  Ideally, they should probably avoid doing one of their teachers but if they’re learning and being creative with the language don’t stop them.  Display it in the corridor for maximum effect!

Gap Year

ANIMATEDGLOBE

Students plan a gap year using the future tense.  They need to explain where they are going to go, would like to go, intend to go etc and why.  If you have access to www.youtube.com then “where the hell is matt 2008” could provide some inspiration, although it might have more of an effect on your travel plans this summer.

Students could add more details and description.  The trick is to get them to focus on the language first and the pictures later.

Lebenslauf

Designing a CV.  Great way of teaching a range of vocabulary and revising a variety of topics.  Microsoft word has some good templates for this that can be customised.  You could set homework prior to this lesson so the pupils find the vocabulary they need and then produce the CV, or equally do it the other way around and teach them how to use http://www.wordreference.com properly.

Audio guide using audacity

Students produce a radio advert to encourage people to visit their town.  This can be done using the program audacity (free to download – or it used to be).  The difficulty is recording it.  Most students will happily do it but in an ICT room it does mean there is a lot of background noise.  Maybe suggest they do it at home or if your school allows then use http://www.spreaker.com/

Past listening exam papers

If you have a mixed ability group the ICT room is a great place for these.  Give the pupils the papers and put the listening tracks on the system or intranet where they can access them.  It also allows them to control volume and work through at their own pace.  This is good when you are developing exam technique.  Obviously some in-class or exam hall practice is good but this helps build confidence.  It allows you to cater to higher and foundation students if you have a mixed group.

Google Earth Directions

Why not create some directions that the pupils have to use google-earth to follow.  They could also create directions for their friends.  If they get to the right place then clearly they understood the directions – very easy way to evidence progress. There is a good resource on the TES for this but if you know where you are and where you are going then do your own.  I tried some with Madrid and got pupils going around the main square before being dropped elsewhere in the city and having to find the Bernabeu stadium.

Languagesonline.org.uk and samlearning.com

Both of these are superb websites and are improving all the time.  The former has recently been improved to facilitate use of tablet and smartphone.  The latter is gradually building up its stock of listening practice.  Languages online is free to use and has a lot of good exercises for practising grammar.  It also offers the explanations and hints to remind students of the rules they are practising and links well to Key Stage 3 schemes of work.

Little explorers picture dictionary

Great resource for early years or lower school.  My students have recently found this a great help on the house and home topic.  Whilst they see the title of “little explorers” as patronising, the website is very good.  Useful resource for weaker learners and perhaps getting students to make their own vocabulary lists.

Christmas Webquest 

Worksheets 1 and 2 are great for developing cultural knowledge.  I’ve only just discovered the rest of the site and there looks to be some really good material for French, German and Spanish.

Everyday Differentiation

Differentiation is key to developing the abilities of ALL of our learners.  Often you hear about “differentiation by outcome”.  This is the idea that wherever the learners end up is differentiated, as some will inevitably produce more or better quality work than others.  I’ll summarise the types of differentiation I use below and then give you some ideas you can try tomorrow for each.   The graphic above explains what differentiation is.  The picture below explains why we need it.

Differentiation by resource
Resource is often a euphemism for worksheet at this point. It can be effective if you are somebody who rarely uses worksheets. Students like to have things they can go through at their own pace and given that other subjects use them, why not MFL?  However, resource does not have to mean worksheet.

  1. Give more able students some authentic materials to work with on a topic – you may have to go to the country to get these!
  2. Listening – give weaker students multiple choice answers and ask them to highlight
  3. Reading – give weaker students a post-it note and encourage them to tackle the text line by line (covering the rest).  It reduces the amount of visual stimulus.

Differentiation by task/choice

This can take various forms.  I think it is best employed in the production stage of a lesson or equally the practice stage if you are covering a grammar point.

  1. Students could develop their own response to a task eg: podcast, presentation, speech, voki avatar on “things to do in my town”
  2. Students could pick from a selection of tasks that all achieve the same aim.  With lower ability sets I like to do this  when we teach the clothes topic.  The boys can design sports wear (the new United shirt) and the girls respond really well to designing their prom dress.  Some boys also like the opportunity to “suit up” so give them the prom option too; in the same way some girls have a staunch allegiance to a football club so don’t be too restrictive.  It is a great way of teaching clothes, colours and dictionary use (corsage, bow tie, cufflinks, high heels – all words I learnt from this lesson).
  3. In revision lessons, if you have access to a revision guide with graded activities.  Give students a series of activites you want them to work through but with different starting points.  Students who are more confident could start on more advanced activities but make sure wherever they start that the activities gradually increase in difficulty so as to ensure they are pushing themselves.

Differentiation by support (TA)

Whilst I realise that differentiation by support could mean significantly more, I wanted to devote a section of this to the use and direction of TAs.  Here is what the best TAs I have worked with have done:

  1. Focus on the weaker students – get to know them.  They may not all be immediately apparent.
  2. Differentiate tasks for the students they are attached to.
  3. Giving students encouragement but praising their effort never their intelligence.
  4. One TA went and produced clocks with moveable hands to help teach students the time.
  5. Another took a group of students and taught them how to tell the time in English so that they could do it in Spanish.

Check out my post on TAs, unsung heroes of the classroom

Differentiation by interest

Sometimes students want to write or speak about things unique to them.  It may be that comparing modes of transport or the environment hold little interst for them.  Sometimes differentiation is not about ability but about interest.  I find I can get a lot of kids engaged if I can make links to things they are interested in (football is very useful).  The pets topic works for a lot, as do clothes, food and holidays  However, we must be careful to engage all kids, what about the one who reads? Could he/she do their coursework on a book rather than a film?

  1. Quiz your students at the start of the year – ask them about their strengths and weaknesses within MFL, their hopes for the year and their interests.  This will allow you to plan lessons that get them onside immediately.
  2. Make links to real-life situations – if a student has been on holiday recently to a French/Spanish/German speaking country use that in your lesson.
  3. If teaching school subjects to year 9s (mira 3 does this) then rather than just teaching them school subjects, get them to debate their options in Spanish.  What are you going to study?  Why?

 

Making writing more exciting

I personally feel there is too much of an emphasis on writing in GCSEs.  In spite of this it is a good means of checking understanding, encouraging creativity and developing literacy.

This is a short summary of 5 things that you can try and apply next week. You can judge my maths abilities at the end!

Writing Points.

Give students a grid of phrases with various points for various things.  It is similar to a writing frame but encourage them to use the more complicated material by giving it a higher points score:

5                              10                                                 20

me gusta              reason with porque   es     double reason with porque

me encanta         reason with porque son       use of “en mi opinion”

no me gusta        creo que                              use of connecting word not y/también/pero

odio                     pienso que                          use of negative in reasons given

This works really well with year 8-9 boys and a set time limit.  It also gets numeracy into your lesson.  It is really easy to differentiate by ability.  If you have a top set, stretch them, maybe 20 points should be for another tense.  The example above is for year 7s and links in with last week’s post.

Writing Bingo

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Same as above but the mission is to use everything in the grid whilst still making sense.  Winner is first one to use them all.

 

Writing frames

These can be effective however they need to be tailored to the relationship you have with your group and material you have covered.  I have seen a number of excellent ones on the TES website but sometimes they need altering, correcting or rewriting for another topic as the layout is good but the material doesn’t help you!  If you know of particular interests within the group then consider playing to those.  For a more able group, the key to a good one is how much it forces adaptation and develops creativity.  For a lower ability group the question should be how it helps them to sequence their work and does it help to prevent the phrases such as “me lamo” “me prefiero” or “me juego” and the ubiquitous “me odio”?

Silly sentences

Photo Credit: Marcus E. Thomas via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Marcus E. Thomas via Compfight cc

This works, my old German teacher used to practise grammatical concepts by increasing the difficulty of what we were expected to produce.  Emily’s horse said that it did not want to be eaten (passive, modal verbs and konjunktiv I – she had high expectations).

Pupils love it but it is about practising structure and aiming at automaticity with the structures.  Can students manipulate the language successfully?

 

Scenes we’d like to see

Borrowed from the popular jocular television show Mock the Week.  This is excellent for future tense or present tense writing.  “Things … will not do at Christmas” (insert name of celebrity or royalty).  “How Katniss Everdeen will spend her weekend.”  It really helps if you use mini-whiteboards as you can check that pupils have grasped the structures.  I made the mistake of allowing the kids to use me for the first one.  The results were interesting to say the least…

Flow Charts

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Students are used to these in other subjects such as technology.  So use them to your advantage in structuring an argument.  Say for example you want the pupils to debate the environment, work experience etc.  Start with a variety of opinion phrases so that students make a point, explain it, add a contrasting view with “einige Leute denken, dass” and then add a further opinion and reason.  The exam boards say “express and explain a range of ideas and points of view.”  This is ideal for that very aim.

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets. Part II

In my NQT year I had two hellish groups.  There were some good kids in there but the unmotivated and disruptive outweighed the good kids.  We had to deal with verbal and physical abuse of peers and staff (me), refusals to work, refusals to do anything or be sent anywhere and refusals to listen to you explaining anything.  They would throw things, swear, talk about all manner of unearthly thing and be loud and abrasive.  Some would storm out with a sense of drama befitting an RSC production.  Over the years I’ve got better with these groups.  If you’re a new teacher reading this.  I have three words for you: it gets easier.  The longer you are in a school; the more the kids begin to follow you.

I’ve learnt the following and I have a lot of colleagues to thank for this.

1) Relationship is the most important element of teaching these groups

If you are new to teaching then stick to the rules, follow policy and try to be understanding at the same time.  Most of the students in these groups see little point in languages and therefore you’re an obstacle between them and break/lunch/a more exciting lesson.  In the first few weeks, consider how you can make them want to be there and how they can feel succesful.  Learn their names in the first two lessons and learn things about them.  If the worst behaved kid in the school happens to do kickboxing outside of school, ask him about it.  You might be the first person that day to take an interest in them as a person.

2) Critical mass

Sometimes a few individuals can tip a group.  I remember being told on my PGCE that “the ideal group size is 3 smaller than you already have, and you know which three.”  It is a fair statement most teachers would identify with.  Look at the group.  Who influences behaviour?  Who follows?  Is there a way to get the influencing ones “on-side”?  This does not mean being their pal or mate, rather that you find a way to challenge them and get them involved.  If they are involved others will follow and you will have less to deal with.  Sticking to the rules and following up is crucial in this process.  I had a group where the critical mass was definitely not in my favour and it is really hard work.  The key to not getting into this situation is the first term and sticking to the rules.  Make them accountable to each other.  Explain how you want lessons to be and that it is their job as much as yours to make lessons enjoyable.  Bill Rogers suggests reviewing with a group how you feel lessons are going.  I would take the approach of getting pupils to write in the back of their books the following:

1) What skills or aspects of languages am I finding easy/difficult?  Why?

2) How am I getting better at languages?

3) Complete the sentence – my favourite lessons involve…

With these the students get a chance to “influence” your planning.  You can then say “‘you asked for this activity so that’s why we’re doing it”.  It shows them that 1) you listened  2) you acted on it  3) you want them to enjoy lessons.

3) Don’t pitch your lesson too high

Low ability sets are fighting weak literacy/numeracy, low self-esteem and being written off as a “bottom set”, “sink group” or “nurture group”.  In their minds, they have already lost.  You have to give them manageable challenges and praise them when they do it or when they don’t quite manage it but have tried really hard.  For some kids a sentence using a verb and an infinitive correctly is a huge challenge but if they can manage it, great.  Then stretch them further.  “You’ve done that, bet you can’t …” – some boys will really respond to this.  If they decide they can’t, then find a way to appeal to their competitive side or stretch them on that aspect next lesson.

4) Relentless positivity

Bottom sets are used to being bottom sets.  They are known as being the groups that no teacher looks forward to.  For one difficult girl I taught last year, all she needed to have a good lesson was the belief that I was happy to see her and wanted her there.  That meant finding something nice to say at the start of a lesson or asking how her day was.  It meant finding activities the group could do well early on and making things fun.  It also meant being honest when a less fun bit was coming.

5) ICT room

Every now and again I will take a group to the ICT room.  Kids enjoy ICT and websites such as www.linguascope.com or www.languagesonline.org.uk have excellent resources and cater well to all abilities.  Make sure they are clear on what needs to be done and don’t allow them to run out of activities.

6) Have a plethora of redirection phrases at your disposal.

Lower sets go off task quicker than most.  “Bradley, whilst your pet turtle’s mating habits are really interesting, can you get on with what you’re meant to be doing, thanks”  “That’s a really good question, ask me at the end.”  Praise the ones on task from the front, sometimes this will provoke the others around to action

7) Have a routine (Michaell Marland – Craft of the Classroom – massive help with ideas for this)

  • Date title and starter on board as they walk in.  Students get books out, write date and title and attempt starter.  First finishers can be helpful in giving out books etc.
  • Register while they do starter
  • Go through starter.
  • Explain objectives
  • Present something
  • Practise it in some way (L/S/R)
  • Check their understanding so far (mini-plenary)
  • Produce something – what can you do with it (S/W)?  What understanding needs to be practised (L/R)?
  • Plenary – an activity that shows you and them that they have managed to achieve the goal set at the start.

8) Reward effort (Carol Dweck – Mindset)

We spend a lot of time in our schools awarding achievement.  We celebrate who can run fastest, act best, sing well, play well and much more.  Effort is something that needs to be praised.  The end result may not be great but the effort that went in was.  If you show you value effort then you will eventually get attainment.  If you show you value only attainment then the rest that missed it will not try.  How could you deal with the situation below?

Teacher: “You put a lot of effort in there Tyler i’m really pleased”

Tyler: “But I didn’t finish it”

Teacher:

Teaching the present tense

I’ve had to do this with my German and Spanish groups recently.  Here is a selection of activities I have tried.  The main idea behind this blog is things that you can use easily without having to upload a powerpoint or extra resources.

Generally I will introduce the present tense from the whiteboard with colour coding for endings.  I have used powerpoints but students stare at powerpoints about 4 hours a day so sometimes the change is nice.

1) MM Paired Speaking (it’s called MM after the lady I learnt it from)

Students divide page into 3 columns with about 14 lines needed in their books.

  • In the first column students write either time phrases or days of week
  • In the second column they write activities (or could draw pictures to force more spontaneous language)
  • They leave the third column blank.  Eg:      Am Montag  |  spiele ich Fussball  |
  • Students then take it in turns to read out what they have written and their partner has to write down the sentences.

I find it practises speaking, listening and word order at the same time.  The year 10s seemed to enjoy it.  You can produce your own with clipart etc but that costs time and photocopying.  Get the students to do it for you in the lesson or prepare it as a homework.

2) http://www.languagesonline.org.uk  I cannot recommend this website enough.  It is excellent.

3) Cheat

Students get given 10 cards each and write sentences in the present tense on 8.  On the remaining two they write Schwindler.  They then get into groups of 4, shuffle the cards and play “cheat” (the card game)

  • Read out phrase on card and put into middle facedown
  • If they have a Schwindler card they have to make up a phrase similar to the ones they have been putting down.
  • If they are accused of being a cheat and the accuser is right, the cheater must pick up the cards.
  • If they are accused of being a cheat and were innocent, the accuser must pick up the cards.
  • Winner is the first to get rid of all their cards.

4) Translations / gap fills / correct the mistakes

All three of these are useful in fixing rules in learners heads and getting them to think through why they are putting particular endings on words.  They make great starters, mini-plenaries and plenary activities.  You can also differentiate them by having two sets of activities with different difficulty levels.