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…

money pink coins pig

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

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

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

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things to try tomorrow

It has been a manic start to term so I have not had much time to write.  There is a post in production on lessons learnt teaching the new GCSE.  It is a while since I have done one of these posts so here are 5 things that have worked in the past month.

Self-reflection questionnaires

Due to a residential, I missed the first few days of term.  One of the bits of cover work I left for my year 8 bottom sets was to answer 3 questions.

  1. What did you enjoy last year in languages?
  2. What did you struggle with most?
  3. If I asked them, what would your last teacher say about you?

I was predominantly interested in question 2.  The three most common answers were:

  • Memorisation of vocabulary, verbs etc
  • Speaking and pronunciation
  • Writing

It was a really worthwhile exercise as each student wrote down their biggest obstacle to being successful in languages.  It also gave an indication as to how they viewed the subject.  My planning for my first 8-9 lessons with them was largely influenced by the above three things and will continue to be.  I have kept their answer to the struggle question and will revisit it later in the year.

Core Language Sheets

Schools will have different names for these: knowledge organisers, language mats, helpsheets etc.  I have given each of my lower year 8 sets a A5 sheet with everything I want them to know by the end of the year.  Every other week between now and Christmas they will learn the vocabulary on this sheet and be tested on it in a variety of ways.  The sheet has been divided into 4 sections A,B,C,D.  This means homework can be “learn section B” and they will know which bit to focus on.  They are regularly encouraged to use it in their work and I believe that over time it will make a difference.  The year 9s,10s,11 have a similar sheet.  I have my own design based on material from Rachel Hawkes website but would rather not see it end up on the TES with a charge attached.  They are relatively easy to create, just pick all the things from the year that you deem to be important and condense on to a single page.

Phonics from the start

This came after a bit of reading of Rachel Hawkes’ website.  I spent the first lessons of the year with year 7 teaching phonics and pronunciation using resources from the website above.  I think it had a positive effect.  My personal favourite activity was one involving saying a word and students using parts of the words to spell it.  We did this with Spanish cities and also Spanish Mr Men.  This really had an palpable effect on confidence as pupils started to rely on the rules they had learned.  The downside is that year 7 classes get really giggly with “Don Pupas” (Mr Bump).

Find your match*

Puzzle, Cooperation, Together, Connection, Match

Reinforcing grammar through listening and speaking is infinitely more exciting than a standard gap-fill task or book work.  This idea came from Gianfranco Conti’s website.  I used this activity twice this week, once for the past and once for the future.  Once you have made a template in Word then the replace feature makes it really easy to change the phrases.  Gianfranco Conti’s original on the site has 12 boxes.  To adapt it to a class of 32, I simply printed it 3 times.  I told the students that if someone had the same name as them then they were not allowed to talk to them.  They were also not allowed to show their card to anyone.  Once they had found their match, they returned to their seats and translated their statements.  The students seemed to enjoy it.  ¡Gracias Gianfranco!

Android Game

Android, Cellular, Iphone, Mobile, Phone, Screen

This came from the aforementioned residential.  It is easy to get stuck in a rut with vocabulary and repetition activities but this was a new one.  It was based on students trying to cross an obstacle course.

Put 9 new items of vocabulary in a 3×3 grid on your projector screen.  Students draw 9 dots on a mini- whiteboard.  Then draw 5 consecutive lines like an unlock code on an android phone (see work of art below).  Their partner tries to crack their pin-code by saying the vocabulary.  The student with the code can only respond with “correcto” or “incorrecto”.  They then swap around.

android

Further reading:

Alphabet, numbers, days of the week  It’s that time of year again!

OFSTED handbook – If you’re facing it this year then it is always good to know what they are looking for.  Pages 47-49 should help most teachers.  Please look at the bit preceding the descriptors where it says the grade descriptors are not a checklist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Unsung Heroines: TAs & MFL Lessons

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

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

Resource them

Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

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

Direct them

Photo Credit: `James Wheeler via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: `James Wheeler via Compfight cc

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

Encourage their creativity

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

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

Build a great working relationship with your TA

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

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

Give them feedback

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

Let them feedback to you

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

Get some simple CPD from them with one question.

Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine via Compfight cc

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

Thank them

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

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

Hopefully some see this post.  

Share it, if you have a great TA.

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?

 

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:

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets

I’ve not quite cracked it with KS4 yet but i’ll have a go at ideas for key stage 3.

Having taught a number of bottom sets in the past 3 years I’ve learnt the following:

1) The next level is quite a big jump in their minds

2) Memorisation, literacy, behaviour and confidence are your main battlegrounds

3) Positive reinforcement has to be relentless – yep even for that kid you just thought of. 🙂

4) Relationships and rules are of equal importance.

5) They are reluctant to use the TL.

Some teaching ideas that regularly work:

1) Writing challenge (adapted from Rachel Hawkes)

Rachel Hawkes’ idea is to give an answer to a question that is exactly … words long 9/11/13.  The idea was to get students extending sentences with ,weil.   I’ve changed it a little.  Get a student to pick a number between 35 and 55 (whatever range you choose).  Then tell them that whoever can write a piece using everything they’ve learnt, the textbook and their exercise book gets a merit or whatever reward system you run with.  80-90% of kids will give it a good shot and be surprised that they can be quite successful.

2) Running dictations

Really good way of practising speaking, listening and writing.  Just make sure the runner does not have a pen or they will write the difficult words on their hand.  Caught a budding tattoo artist the other day.  Another thought: don’t make them too long.  Or if they must be longer put part II on another piece of paper somewhere else in the room and that way it doesn’t look like so much!

3) Bingo/Last man standing bingo

Bingo is exactly what it says.  Last man standing bingo is similar.  Write down four items of vocabulary on topic then stand up.  One student is a caller and goes through words.  If you have all four crossed out then you are out and sit down.  Winners are the last few left standing.  Good mini-test of listening skills and injects some fun into the lesson.  Think it might work well with Queen’s “another one bites the dust” music as they start to be “out”

4) Speaking bingo grid. 

You make a 4×4 grid of phrases you want them to use.  Students then have a time limit to use as many as possible making sure they make sense.  Their partner notes the ones that they use.  The person who uses the most  in the time wins.

5) Points for speaking/writing. 

You make another grid but the top row has various point allocations for what they say.  So depending on what you want them to use then give them various points (keep scores in 2 or 5 times table for easy adding).  Again give a time limit and set them off.  Award winners appropriately.

6) Teams idea (massive thanks to Bill Rogers “tackling the tough class). 

Get the students to write down someone they respect and someone they like.  Put your class into teams and give them points for everything: uniform, presentation, work rate, use of TL in lessons, helping others, helping put out equipment, being kind, answering questions, winning team games etc.  Take off points if they talk when you are or break other rules.  Keep this going over a term with a prize for winners at the end of the term.  Seems laborious at first but can engender really good habits and cooperative/collaborative learning.  Allow students to submit transfer requests at end of term that you will “consider”. Have done this 3 years in a row with tough groups and find I have far less bad behaviour and far less detentions.  Kids, particularly boys are used to team sports and it plays to their sense of competitiveness.

7) Reading reduction paper (thanks to my HoD although he swears he can’t remember having this idea). 

If students with weak literacy are tackling a tough reading text then give them a post-it note or an opaque ruler and encourage them to tackle it line by line.  I have found that the reduction of information bombardment helps and they can then work at their own pace.  It is a simple way of catering to students who find reading difficult.  It is also successful with dyslexics.

I think this post requires a part II sometime.  I’ve enjoyed writing it, hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and have something you can use.