Blogging for Languages

The following is the transcript of a talk I gave at the ISMLA Conference Feb 2018.  The talk was titled “Blogging for Languages”.  It is a long read.

Blogging for Languages

I was invited by John Wilson of the ISMLA to talk this morning about “Blogging for Languages”.  My plan is to go through 5 things.  Firstly, who am I.  Why blog?  What have I gained?  Can you do it?  What’s next?

Question 1: Who are you?

My name is Dave.  I teach MFL in a secondary school in Devon.  I have taught German, Spanish and a little bit of French since starting in late 2011.  In that time I have served as Second in Department and also in a pastoral role.  I didn’t ever plan to be a language teacher.  I went to university to study English and German.  My first English lecture convinced me that I needed to be doing something else.  A number of friends I had made in my halls were studying Spanish ab initio, so I joined them and it carried on.  This led to a year abroad spent in a mixture of München, Bolivia and Marburg.  I completed my PGCE with South West Teacher Training, and got a job teaching languages.  I’m now just an everyday MFL teacher.

Question 2: Why blog?

I came across the idea of blogging sometime into my third or fourth year of teaching.  I had started looking at a couple of websites called Classteaching, a blog by a teacher called Chris Hildrew (who is now a Headteacher and occasionally blogs) and Frenchteacher.net.  They were all great for ideas and I wondered if I could do the same, so I did.  Everydaymfl started life as North DevonMFL.  It was a place to store activities and teaching ideas. It attracted a few visitors each week.  I was quite proud of my 20 or so readers.  Aside from a blog called Dom’s MFL blog and the aforementioned Frenchteacher.net there was not much giving practical ideas for teaching topics, grammar and ideas to use inside the classroom.  I wanted somewhere to store ideas that was not going to get lost, disappear and was easily accessible.

After the first few months, I changed the name to reflect the nature of the blog and also because I had started looking around for jobs elsewhere.  If I were no longer in North Devon, I didn’t think I could really retain the name.  Over time the blog has grown from 1000 views in 2015 to 10,000 unique visitors in 2017.  The United Kingdom leads the way with an overwhelming majority of views.  The top ten does include the USA, Ireland, UAE, Spain, Austrailia, France, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia and Italy.  I’m still awaiting visitors from Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Iran and Cuba.

The vision behind the blog was practical ideas that teachers can use every day.  On Everdaymfl you can find ideas for teaching a variety of topics, how to help pupil-premium students, feedback and marking, questioning and some thoughts regarding approaching a visit from “they-who-shall-not-be named”.

Question 3: What have you gained?

I have gained a lot from doing this.  Composing a blogpost makes me reflect on what works, allows me to imagine ideal situations and helps with retaining ideas I may have had and filtering out the ideas that didn’t work.  I have also found it hugely helpful in working out what I believe about language teaching.

Regarding what works, there are plenty of posts on ideas that I have tried in lessons.  I have written a series of posts titled “5 things to try tomorrow”.  If you really want clicks on a website then it needs that kind of title!  I have refrained from the clickbait titles you see on some websites such as: “I did this activity with my students and you wouldn’t believe what happened next” or “the reaction from students to this lesson broke the internet”.  If we’re honest, what happened next was probably SLT on a learning walk, or that the bell went!

In terms of ideal situations, I have written about options, Parents Evening (is currently in the works) and keeping year 9 going after options .  Some of the ideas in the blog are things that I would like to do but thought of weeks after a meeting where a decision was taken; others are things that we have done in the past that still have merit but perhaps we no longer do.  Sometimes the ideas might not work in our context, or might be rejected in favour of something else.  That does not mean that it will not work for someone else.

When it comes to retaining ideas, I now have a post on charity and volunteering to help me remember how to teach it the next time around, along with social media and the internet.  The most recent one was a post on the environment.  It is a tough enough topic to make engaging anyway but hopefully will spark my thoughts and imagination in future years.  Posts can jog my memory and makes me remember the activities, along with the lesson, which can often provoke further memories.

From reading other peoples’ blogs I have gained a huge amount in terms of knowledge about second language acquisition and schools of thought regarding it.  It has helped me to develop my ideas and principles about language teaching.  At some point I will put these to paper but have not got around to that one.  It has encouraged me to reflect on what I was taught and how MFL teaching was modelled in my PGCE.  This has then led to me ditching certain types of activity because they don’t promote learning enough or don’t encourage students to use the language enough.  It has led to me trying out new activities on a weekly basis and even in the past few days such as the Card Stealing activity seen on the Global Innovative Language Teachers Facebook Group.

Publicising the blog on Twitter and various Facebook groups have put me in contact with other professionals.  They also have helped to massively bump up the visitor numbers.  The Global Innovative Language Teachers Facebook group caused a massive spike in views when one of my posts was shared there by someone else.  The post concerned marking and feedback.  Forty something comments afterwards; it had proved slightly divisive but provoked a debate.  The blog has also put me in contact with some extremely helpful people such as Laura Simons who runs the Secondary MFL in Wales Facebook group, and also Steve Smith (author of Frenchteacher.net) who kindly reviewed the blog.  I felt some trepidation when I discovered the next post on Frenchteacher was a review of my site!  He was very complimentary so I will return the favour by suggesting you have a look at his books on Amazon.

Question 4: Can I do it?

The answer is simply yes.  If you are happy using a computer, can search for images and are willing to read a little bit about hyperlinks and sign up to Twitter then you can.   There are a variety of sites out there that will help you compose a website and get it up and running.  The main ones seem to be WordPress, Blogger and Wix.  I went with WordPress having seen other people use them.

The next question you need to ask is do you have the time?  I have managed less blogs this year than previous years due to a variety of new demands on my time.  If you have time then you need to consider subject matter.  What are you going to focus on?  Taking the blogs out there you have Jess Lund’s blog which elaborates on what happens at Michaela School.  Gianfranco Conti writes a lot about research on second language learning and how it impacts upon his classroom practice, which is well worth a read.  Steve Smith writes about issues facing language teachers and shares lots of good ideas for lessons.  Helen Myers has a blog with useful information concerning Ofqual, the new GCSEs, the Association for Language Learning and various other bodies.  John Bald mixes language and literacy in his blog.  Chris Fuller used to write about some crazy ideas and different ways of teaching the same old topics.

If you have a subject then you need to consider frequency.  At the moment I am averaging one post a month and would like to do more.  Having said that, one of the great things about a WordPress blog is that you can set the blog to upload at any time of your choosing.  This means you could write a few and then let them upload at different points in the month.  It will then share it across your social media platforms if you let it.

As for how to get started, Teacher Toolkit is a great place to go if starting to write a blog.  It used to be a member of SLT in a UK school writing about his practice.  It has since grown quite considerably, but somewhere in there the original posts about having a blog should be available.  My main gains from Teacher-Toolkit were to have a Twitter handle and use it for publicising and use of the website compfight.com to provide copyright free photos.  If you do not own the rights to the photo then you shouldn’t be using it.  You also need to make sure the photo is properly accredited.  It has been very useful, although google have now also introduced this as a search feature.  I have also had to be very careful about where the ideas come from.  Most of the time they are easy to attribute: “this came from …’s website” or my PGCE mentor was a big fan of this activity.  Credit is sometimes very hard to give as with social media things can move very fast.  One person shares an activity on a Facebook group and then suddenly every teacher is doing it.  I’m still completely unaware as to who developed the idea of Spanish revision balloon towers or the more recent “one pen one dice” activity.  It is then hard to give credit to the people who deserve it.

Lastly I feel I should mention a little bit on safeguarding.  Initially, I chose to leave my name off Everydaymfl, as I didn’t want my students finding me.  Whilst some of my writing may come from experiences involving students you will find no names on my site.  What you will find are replacement names borrowed from TV series and films.  Joey and Chandler, Sheldon and Penny etc.

Question 5: What next?

The first aim is to blog more in 2018 than 2017.  I have no idea yet what the topics will be but have a few in the pipeline including one on parents’ evenings that needs finishing along with another “5 things to try tomorrow”.

The second is to possibly offer one or two guest posts to maintain the momentum from this year.  It also might allow someone to share their take on something or ideas they have had.  If you are keen then please drop me an email via the “about” page  I currently do not teach A-level and there is definitely a space there for sharing effective practice and favourite activities, particularly as there have been changes to A-level and I’m sure teachers out there would appreciate some practical ideas.

The final aim is to keep writing, keep reading, keep learning, keep reflecting and developing as a teacher.  Ultimately we all want to be at our best in the classroom, achieve the best results for our students and give them a really good experience of languages and hopefully I have helped the MFL community in doing that.

The second “what’s next?” is for you the reader.  What kind of blog could you create?  It could be personal, departmental, whole school, or even for your students?  I am aware that St Bernadettes’ School in Bristol posts their CPD on their blog.  I have heard of teachers start a blog listing resources for students (this may be more appropriate at A-level).  You could create an online portfolio of excellent work.  With schools using Google then you could create a google-site.  This would be accessible only by those who have the link.  The aim could be personal, educational or professional or a mixture of the three.  What really counts is what we do inside the classroom, trying to be the best and deliver the best for our students every day.  I know blogging has helped me improve my practice.  If Everydaymfl has helped colleagues around the country in delivering the best for their students then I would say that’s a very pleasing outcome.

 

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Some gems from ISMLA

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I was recently invited to lead a seminar titled “Blogging for Languages” at the ISMLA conference in Cambridge.  I had a great time, met some great professionals and learnt a lot over the course of the day.  The following are some gems that I picked up from Jocelyn Wyburd, Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Jess Lund from the Michaela School

Jocelyn Wyburd (@jwyburd) 

Jocelyn was the first speaker at the conference.  She is the Director of Languages Centre at the University of Cambridge.  She spoke about how the landscape in the United Kingdom currently looks for languages and language learning.  There are some points from her talk that are particularly relevant and encouraging for us as MFL teachers.

Jocelyn mentioned referred to an article in the Washington Post, shared on the Transparent Language Blog that stated most important qualities required to work at Google were being a “good coach, listening, empathy, problem solver, communicating well, insights into others and critical thinker.”  STEM came last on this list.  Jocelyn’s view was that a language develops all of those qualities that Google look for.

The British Academy wrote in 2017 that half of global leaders have a arts/hums/social science degree, along with 58% of FTSE 100 CEOs and 62% of UK election candidates.  This goes against what might be expected given the current push for STEM subjects.  Jocelyn then referred to research into languages that the UK needs post-Brexit.  A summary of that research can be found here courtesy of the British Council.   There is also a report on Languages for the Future which was cited in Jocelyn’s talk.

Jocelyn’s spoke strongly about how the UK needs more MFL to remain globally competitive, how the CBI (confederation of British industry sees languages as a “valuable asset to businesses” and how the Financial Times when reviewing the book Languages after Brexit spoke of a need for greater “cultural agility”.  Again this cultural agility is something MFL teachers are developing in our lessons, departments, displays and trips.

Lastly, she mentioned 300 different languages are spoken in London.  I would imagine this situation is slightly reduced but similar in other large cities.  The MET benefit greatly from police officers with language skills.  She also highlighted the MOD, GCHQ and armed forces as recruiters who see the value of languages.

I have always been of the view that languages are important and develop a variety of skills.  Jocelyn’s talk has reminded me of how much unseen development occurs in our students, the value of languages to employers and given me some really up-to-date stats, facts and information to share with my year 9s.

Wendy  Ayres-Bennett – Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies

Wendy spoke about the MEITs programme (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies).  Here are some nuggets of information taken from her seminar:

1 in 5 UK school children have a language other than English as their home language.

90% of UK primaries do French but transition is variable and often poor in state sector.

Cognitive Benefits of learning a language were demonstrated in a study in Canada.  The study involved 230 dementia patients.  50% were bilingual.  The bilinguals developed dementia 4 years later.  This study was then replicated in India in 2016.  Another study showed that bilinguals recovered twice as well from strokes.  Greater detail can be found in Wendy’s blog here.

Jess Lund – The Michaela Way

The Michaela School has divided opinion.  The Guardian called it Britain’s Strictest School”, Tom Bennett writes “I left, as I have before, impressed. The kids are happy, and totally loyal to the school. Parents for the most part love it.”  From what I have seen, they have a strong belief in their approach and a desire for their students to be the very best they can be.

Jess’ presentation was delivered at the kind of pace that makes speed cameras flash.  It was informative, humourous and engaging.  What came across was her love of language teaching, her passion for her pupils and her belief in the Michaela Way.

The biggest take-away for me personally was the acronym: “PROFS” (past, reasons, opinions, future, subjunctive).  How had I not come across this before?!  I introduced my year 9s to it on the Monday after the conference and they are getting the idea that PROFS = better work and higher marks.

Other ideas I took were:

  • Dotting silent letters in French to improve security with pronunciation.  Unfortunately, my French class did tests in the lesson before half-term so I have not had an opportunity to try it out!
  • Constant phonics and over-pronunciation.  I do fairly regular lessons on phonics but perhaps something more systematic and targeted would help my students even more.
  • Teaching high frequency structures earlier on.  This is something I had been trying with my year 8s but not in quite the same way.  Jess’ sets of “awesome top 10s” definitely go further than I have.  They are something I am starting to look at.

Jess’ presentation made me question a few things about language teaching:

  • Should we be teaching high frequency structures in year 7 as student enthusiasm is higher?  Also teaching the language that makes the biggest impact earlier could lead to greater long-term retention.
  • They attempt to have “no wasted time” in their lessons.  This got me thinking, out of the 50 minutes I teach, how many might have been lost?

5 things to try tomorrow

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Here are 5 things that worked for me this week.

Voki.com

I had forgotten about this website until one of my pupils said “I know the words I just don’t know how to pronounce them when I’m practising at home”.  My internal, unvocalised reaction to this comment – a comment  innocently dropped after 4.5 years of Spanish – is probably best summarised by the picture below:

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In hindsight, my internal monologue should have focused on the positive “when practising at home”.  However, it was at this point that Voki came to mind.  Whilst not perfect, it does offer text to speech conversion.  It also can help occasionally with individual Spanish words.  Once you have set the voice to Spanish and the accent to a relatively clear one (our preference was for Javier).  Just remind the pupils they don’t need to sign up to use it, and also not to get distracted on creating avatars.

Imemorize 

For learning answers to questions, this is a particular favourite.  The address is as follows:

http://imemorize.org/download.html

It allows students to learn sentences and hide words to check their recall.  The activities are scaffolded quite well.  It would depend on the student who uses it as to how effective it is.

Students used to find this helpful in the days of controlled assessment.  One has also thanked me for “saving” their GCSE drama coursework.

No snakes, no ladders (Idea from Gianfranco Conti / Dylan Viñales)

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Secondary MFL facebook groups such as: Secondary MFL Matters, Secondary MFL in Wales, New GCSE 9-1 resources, Global Innovative Language Teachers and others) have taken over my news-feed.  They allow some superb sharing of resources and ideas.  However, lots of activities appear briefly and then disappear: balloon towers, one pen&one dice.  This is one I want to keep.  It involves speaking, listening, reading and translation.  Students play in threes – 2 players and a referee. This is a refreshing change to the majority of MFL games, which seem to require a partner.  Full instructions for No Snakes, No Ladders can be found here.

Treasure Hunt

Treasure chest

This is a slight variation on the MFL standard of battleships.  Gives students a slightly larger grid (6×6) and tell them to hide some treasure somewhere in the grid.  This variation worked in 98% of the pairs in my class.  Sadly there was a kid who guessed it first time! 36 different squares!  What were the chances?!  I made sure that they had a rematch.

Quick Speaking Feedback

This next suggestion is a little bit embryonic.  It is something I have tried with two classes and am still considering how it might work best.

There is a huge focus in UK schools on feedback, DIRT and responding to marking.  The vast majority of DIRT I have seen on Facebook Groups and the TES relates purely to written work.  I’ve written about that here.

I started to consider how I may give short quick feedback on speaking, a skill I believe to be substantially more important than writing.  With two year 8 classes, I went around asking them to read a longer paragraph from a textbook page (Mira 2 or Listos 2).  Whilst they were reading out loud, I scribbled one quick sentence in their book regarding their pronunciation.  Some of the notes looked like this:

Speaking Feedback

  • Check “ci/ce” in middle of words – should sound like “th”  eg: “vacaciones”, “francia”
  • Remember ll = y
  • Superb today, nothing to correct!
  • Remember silent h when starting a word, otherwise fine.

To save time and workload, I wrote one sentence per student.  It did not take long to go through the class.

For those of you wanting students to respond to it then there were two ways I tried to engender this.  Firstly, I modelled the sentence and then they repeated it back to me.  This helped some to understand how it should sound.  Secondly, I wrote a list of 4-5 words in their book that I wanted them to say containing the same sound.  Lastly, in light of everything I had heard, I planned a lesson around J and G in Spanish.  This youtube clip was helpful in that lesson.  It took the focus off of me and gave them plenty of examples.  In that lesson I read out a list of words and students corrected me if I made a mistake.  We had races of words involving Js and Gs along with trying a few tongue twisters corporately and individually.

What I noticed from this was that some students got a substantial confidence boost.  Their ability to pronounce words was better than they perceived it to be.  Others appreciated the quick feedback.  Some appreciated being able to respond to the feedback without a lengthy redraft of a piece of work.  They also appreciated the lesson working on the J and G.

I’m still mulling over where to take this and what to do to refine the process but it was well received by the students and did appear to have a positive effect.

 

 

GCSE: Global Issues & Environment

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This was an ambitious one.  Trying to make the topics of environment and global issues interesting was not the easiest task I have ever set myself.  I’m admit that I am not entirely sure if I have succeeded on this one.  Hopefully there is something for every reader.  Maybe it is an activity, or an idea below reminds you of a great resource or activity you have not used for a while.

Before I start, the reader should be aware of the following:

  • AQA refers to “global issues” and refers to “the environment”, “poverty/homelessness”
  • Edexcel/Pearson refers to “international and global dimension” with subheadings of “environmental issues, being green, access to natural resources”
  • WJEC simply refers to “global sustainability”.

I have done my best to put ideas that can be applied to all boards.  There will be a lean towards one in terms of the language used as that is what I am currently teaching.  There is certainly no intent to promote one above the other.

This post will look at a mix of the environment and global issues.  Poverty was covered here as I thought it went well with charity and volunteering.

What can I do with these themes?

Environment is a great opportunity to recycle or introduce previously learnt language.  In the past I have taught “you must” and similar phrases.  It has been used to revise the future (“will” or “going to”).  I have also used it as a means of teaching the conditional (“i could…”).  Lastly, it was a good means of introducing students to the subjunctive with impersonal statements such as “es necesario que”.  They were then introduced to the subjunctive properly with the global issues.  Global issues also became a good way to revise comparatives and superlatives.

Will my students be interested?

I think this is all about the “buy-in” from students.  Some will have an interest in the environment and being environmentally friendly.  They will go along with you on this topic.  I can picture that with other groups, and you know the ones I mean, it might be a tough ask.  I think in this case, any “buy-in” comes from the possibility that this topic could confront them on a roleplay card or photocard and they need to be ready for it.  Some may not engage at all.   I found the global issues topic engaged a mixed ability group, particularly the debate mentioned below.

Match up L2 & L2

Having seen this on a past paper example, I have started to use it more with my GCSE students.  There is a reasonably detailed reading text about a topic.  Opposite the text are 4 text messages from supposed young people that relate to points made in the text.

This infographic from día mundial del medio ambiente would serve just such a purpose.  students would have to write a number based on the alleged text messages sent by 4 supposed teenagers.

I have put links to two French ones below and two German ones as examples, you may be able to find better ones.

French infographic 1

French Infographic 2

German Infographic 1

German Infographic 2

These are simple ways to include some literary texts in your lessons without having to produce too much.  There are other ways to include literary texts in your lessons but that is another blogpost.

You can also create your own infographics if you were looking for a different reading text for recycling vocabulary.  Easel.ly  and Infogram were two I came across on a brief search.  If you know of a great one, put it in the comments section and claim the title of “First Commenter of 2018”.

Fake Whatsapp

I discovered this whatsapp generator.  The disadvantage in using it is that it does mean a bit of work in terms of resource preparation.  However, it will stop the normal glazing over that occurs when students see the textbook displaying a Nokia 3210 with buttons and a green screen (also known as the good old days).  The advantage is that you can produce the language and recycle plenty of vocabulary that you have covered in class.

How does this relate to global issues?  Very simple.  Create a fake group-chat using fakeWhatsapp.  Person 1 in the chat suggests they have a project where they have to ask people what they do to help the environment.  Persons 2,3,4,5 simply answer with what they do.  You could set some comprehension questions.  You could read out some statements that they then match to the people in the conversation.  Students could produce their own groupchat mimicking your one.  Plenty of options here.

How environmentally-friendly are you?

Some textbooks will have these.  However, if you are good with the language then translating this one will not take long.  You can probably find others on the TES website.  Quizzes are a great way to recycle and repeat language, along with revising time adverbs. Partners take turns reading the question and answering them.  If answers are linked to points then students could grade how environmentally friendly they are.

Do you turn out the lights on leaving the house?

  • A. I always turn out the lights on leaving the house
  • B. I often turn out the lights on leaving the house
  • C. I sometimes turn out the lights on leaving the house
  • D. Never.  I’m scared of the dark

The advantage of preparing your own is the recycling of previously learnt language.

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9 Lives

Using the quiz above.  Students pre-select an answer for each question.  Their partner then has to get from the start of the quiz to the end of the quiz.  Each time they are wrong, they lose a life.

Person 1 pre-selects answers

Person 1 reads question “Do you turn out the lights on leaving the house?”

Person 2 tries to guess pre-selected answer. “I always turn out the lights on leaving the house”

Person 1: “non/nein/no”

Person 2: now down to 8 lives, tries to guess pre-selected answer  “I sometimes turn out the lights on leaving the house”

Person 1: “oui/ja/si” reads next question “How often do you have a shower?”

and so it goes on…

 

povAntarctica, Ice, Caps, Mountains, Penguin, Ice Bergs

7 pictures 7 sentences

This was adapted from a commercially produced textbook.  It involved 7 sentences, each was divided in two.  There was also a picture.  The first task was to match the sentence halves and then match the sentences to the pictures underneath.  It would not take much to create your own version of this.

Moving on from the activity above, you could use these as a start of a photo-card discussion.  You could also simply get the pupils to generate sentences relating to the picture.

 

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Recycling container seen in San Sebastian.

Containers Card Sort

Again an adaptation of a commercially produced textbook (the same one in fact).  It was a great way to acquire and use a variety of vocabulary in a meaningful context.  Give students a series of headings in books (such as recycling containers) and a set of vocabulary (that can go in the containers).  You could adapt this to different levels

Easy: put vocabulary in correct container

Medium: Scaffolded sentences explaining where you would put each item

Hard: Use of conditional + direct object.  I would put it in … because

 

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Debate in progress             Photo Credit: Conselho Nacional de Justiça – CNJ Flickr via Compfight cc

Superlative/Comparative Debate

This was an activity that happened after a few lessons, in which we had covered opinion phrases, superlatives, subjunctive and global issues vocabulary.

A few years ago, there were a number of teachers talking about “Grouptalk”.  One of the ideas I saw was the idea of a cyclical discussion.  Students would start a discussion on a table of four and try to keep it going as long as possible.  I tried this last year with a mixed ability year 10 group on the “biggest problem facing the world”.  The conversation was heavily scaffolded with vocabulary help and some prompts on paper.  I have rendered the potential conversation below in English.  Names have been altered.

Ross: “In my opinion, the biggest problem in the world is poverty  What do you think Phoebe?”

Phoebe: “For me, the biggest problem in the world is terrorism.  Joey, in your opinion, between racism and terrorism, which is worse?”

Joey: “I believe that world leaders are the biggest problem.”

Rachel (interrupting) : “Joey you’re completely wrong, it’s global warming.”

Joey: “I disagree.  Ross, what do you think: global warming or terrorism?”

Students were genuinely surprised that they could take part in a relatively tricky debate entirely in the TL.

Debate Round 2: Bingo cards

Were I to do the debate above again, I would give 5×5 grid bingo cards with phrases to use.  Students that complete a line or a row would receive some form of reward.  Something like this could work…

Questions Subjunctives Opinion phrases Fancy Language
I asked someone an opinion me da miedo que exista Desde mi punto de vista aunque quisiera pensar de otra manera
I asked a question with two options es increíble que haya Opino que el problema que nos enfrenta es
Finished statement with a question no creo que sea A mi modo de ver y por si eso fuera poco

If you do not trust the student who is claiming the reward then you have two options:

  1. Students have to tell you one or two of the ways they used the phrases above
  2. Their partner completes it while they talk
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Original Tarsia

Environment Tarsia

Formerly an italian Renaissance design motif, now an educational activity.  The idea of Tarsia puzzles was hotly debated on the GILT Facebook Group a while back.  Some were heavily in favour; others were heavily against.  Arguments for included testing of vocabulary.  Arguments against suggested it was testing of being able to put shapes together.  Both points of view have been put forward by experienced colleagues.  Rather than a simple English-German matchup, I have tried to make them more challenging by doing the following:

  1. Populate it with a mix of seen and unseen vocabulary.
  2. Have the words around the outside edge as well – Maths do this with formulas to great effect.  Students could translate the outside edge vocabulary as an extension task.
  3. Have the tarsia composed entirely of synonyms in TL.
  4. Have the tarsia composed of starts and ends of sentences.
  5. Have the tarsia composed of a mixture of haben/sein verbs in perfect tense or etre/avoir verbs in passé composé.

Tarsia are puzzles I was introduced to by our maths department.  They were used to match up formulas that would give the same result but there are many ways to adapt them for MFL.  A google image search of the word will show you how they look.  How can you make one?  Download the program here.  They are quite heavy on the photocopying and chopping up so you may need your tutor group to do the chopping for you.

 

GCSE: Social Issues. charity and volunteering.

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Photo Credit: mypubliclands Flickr via Compfight cc

The new GCSE confronted teachers with some topics they may not have ever had to deal with in any great depth.  This post looks at ideas for teaching our GCSE students about volunteering, helping charities and good causes.

Before I start, you should be aware of the following:

  • AQA refers to “social issues” and refers to “charity/voluntary work.”
  • Edexcel calls it “bringing the world together” and names this topic “campaigns and good causes.”
  • WJEC simply refers to “social issues”.

I have done my best to put ideas that can be applied to all boards.  There will be a lean towards one in terms of the language used as that is what I am currently teaching.  There is certainly no intent to promote one above the other.

My enthusiasm for this topic stems from my year abroad.  I spent a year working in a home in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for kids who had lived on the streets, were orphans or suffered abuse at a young age.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

So how to teach the topic?  I have tried to include a mixture of listening, speaking, reading and writing activities.

Synonyms Match-ups 

Students need to learn a lot of words that they have not come across before.  Two of my go to starters are gap fills and match ups.  This week I came across a match-up of synonyms which was really effective.  Students matched up two sets of words looking for the words with the same meanings.

Narrow Reading: spot the difference

This is a phrase I learnt from Gianfranco Conti’s blog.  The philosophy behind narrow reading can be found here.  The idea I chose to use was called Spot the Differences.  I produced a text about working as a volunteer, copied it, pasted it twice and then made subtle changes.  Students had to say how each text differed from the other ones.  The vocabulary that differed included phrases I want them to know for subsequent lessons.  My experience was that students focused far more closely on the text rather than merely skim-reading it until they found the relevant detail.  Definitely a keeper for future classes.

Find the phrases

This is a stock favourite of all GCSE textbooks.  “Find the French/Spanish in the text for…”  I gave students texts based on some real charities that I had contact with.  The fact that these were real people, that I knew or worked with, seemed to motivate them more.  One website used to help produce this was Manos con Libertad , another was Mosoj Yan.  Both are Christian organisations that work with people in Cochabamba.  Whether you have a faith or none at all, these organisations do some great work with people in tough circumstances.  I used others as well but they don’t have websites!   The excerpts were written from the point of view of someone who worked there and talked about what they do.  Great opportunity to revise daily routine and reflexive verbs.

Textbook Speaking Grids

Questions verbs complement and other
details
etc 
tend quite  lots
to often  of
appear in this  stuff
here bit  here

Many textbooks often give a grid and a few questions and answers to use.  It is not the most exhilarating paired speaking task.  I got thinking about how to spice it up a bit.

Method 1: Points for going beyond the grid.  On your projector screen put a list of things that “go beyond the grid”.  Students work in pairs.

Student 1: Asks questions and notes down a score of anything that goes beyond the grid.

Student 2: Answers questions trying to add other tenses, verbs, conjunctions, adverbs etc

Method 2: Beat your partner.  If you have a tricky class you may wish to change the name here to prevent any wilful misinterpretation!  Every student notes down 5 phrases from the grid without their partner seeing.

Student 1: asks the questions.  This student receives 2 points each time the other uses on of their phrases.  Maximum of 10 but probability of phrases being used is lessened.

Student 2: answers the questions, trying to use their pre-chosen phrases.  This student receives one point per phrase used.  Maximum of 5.

Method 3:  Play a role.   The grid in the textbook involved the questions ¿trabajas como voluntario ahora? and ¿Qué haces exactamente?  along with a few others.  Students were given a card with a role.  They then had to pick answers using this perspective.  The roles included:

  • Charity Shop Assistant
  • Eco-warrior
  • Care Home worker
  • Aid worker in Haiti
  • Aid worker in Sierra Leone.

Ethiopia, Tribe, Africa, Culture, Omo, Tribal

Third World Diary

Mira 3 red does a brilliant diary of life for someone in the developing world.  If you have access to it great.  If not then use this site for inspiration.

You could produce a short diary script and then attempt any of the following:

  • You could display the script and read it out loud.  While you do this, miss out some words.  Make the students write down the ones you miss.
  • Use the desktop version of Imemorize  and enter your own quote.
  • Put your script into Cueprompter and have students read it out loud with you or alone.
  • You could have multiple choice parts put in the script and students have to write down the one you read out.  Por la mañana / tarde / noche me despierto a las siete y media / seis y media / cinco y media.
  • You could remove a whole sentence and have students fill it in as a dictation/transcription exercise.
  • You could even chop the text into pieces and give it to students to rearrange while you read it out loud.
  • Go to Voki.com and put it into their text-to-speech converter, setting the voice to Spanish.  Then challenge your pupils to see who can do a better job than Javier or Carmen!
  • Be creative, there are so many options when it comes to a listening text.

Students could produce their own diary as a homework task.  You could set a list of “ridiculous requirements” to challenge your high-flyers.  For example: 7 lines of text, 6 reflexive verbs, 5 conjunctions, 4 clock times, 3 french hens, 2 higher level phrases and one subjunctive just for good measure.

The website was also tweeted to me at some point.  I have yet to use it yet but it looks good, particularly if you are considering display work.

Newspaper Clipping Generator

Verbs & Infinitives

This chapter is a great way to practise all those verbs that are followed by an infinitive:

  • I’m going to raise money for..
  • I would like to donate to …
  • I can give £1 a month to
  • I’m thinking about going to…
  • I hope to help …
  • I want to work with …

A game of TRAMPA / TRICHER would be a great way to practise this.  Students take a piece of A4 paper and divide it into 8.  In pencil, on 4 or 5 of the sections they write a sentence like the bullet points above.  On the remaining 3 or 4 they write “Trampa” or “Tricher” (cheat).  Cards are then shuffled and dealt out among their table.  Students say what is on the card before putting it face down in the middle.  If the card says trampa they have to convince the other players there is a sentence on the card.  They do this by making a sentence up and placing the card face down.  If a student thinks another is cheating then they can call them on it.  If the student was indeed cheating; the cheater picks up the card.  If the student was falsely and wrongfully accused in a heinous miscarriage of justice; the accuser takes the cards.  Winner is the first person to get rid of all their cards.

If you have had any great ideas then please leave them in the comments section below:

 

 

Meeting the challenge of the new GCSE

There has been a lot of chatter on Twitter, various Facebook groups, between schools and within schools on preparing students for the new GCSEs.  Their concerns seem to relate to the following areas:

 

  • Grade boundaries – there has been a multitude of different percentages suggested.  Some are based on Maths; others are based on previous C grades.  Some would offend my maths colleagues as they did not show their workings out!
  • What does a grade 9 piece of work look like?
  • How to predict grades for data drops, SLT, line managers.
  • Applying mark schemes – some exam boards are beginning to publish exemplar material with mark-scheme applied.
  • Teaching the new elements – translation, literary extracts, roleplays, photocards, spontaneous speech, conversation questions.

I considered my own post, however it would appear that the following people have already covered most of this territory:

Steve Smith – Worried about the new GCSEs

Helen Myers – 9-1 Grading

Both are excellent, well-informed blogs by experienced professionals.

Steve’s post deals with practical ways you can bring about the results you want by what you do in the classroom.  There are also helpful strategies and tips aimed at people who are teaching lower ability learners.

Helen’s post deals more with information that is out there.  She looks at what is within your control and what is out of your control.  She has some helpful links to Ofqual information on grading, predictions and how the grade boundaries will be set.  If you are looking for some grade boundaries to use, this is not it, but it is a very enlightening read.

There are some answers out there, yet there are still a lot of unanswered question when it comes to this new GCSE.  My main message would be to keep teaching as well as you can, focusing on delivering the best you can in the classroom and prepare your students as best as you can.

For those of you already thinking about the next cohort, have you tried EverydayMFL: The Options Lessons

 

New GCSE – one year in

September 2016 heralded the start of teaching the new old GCSE in MFL.  It was quite a bit to prepare for and necessitated two blog posts: this one and another one. Having taught a mixed ability Spanish group this year, it seemed like a good time to look at what has worked, and what I would like to do next.

Keeping Going

Key Language Sheets

Students have these in the back cover of their exercise books.  They have proven to be invaluable tools and they do use them.  The sheets need some tweaking as my section of fancy language was titled “frases para conseguir 1 o 2”, having completely confused the top and bottom grade boundaries!  These have been regularly used in class and at home.  There is a box at the bottom with key conjugated/modal verbs and infinitives allowing students to take one, follow it with the other and then add an opinion.  I feel a section is required on justifying opinions so a few tweaks to the sheet will be my homework at some point.

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Photo Credit: christopher.czlapka Flickr via Compfight cc

100 Most Common Words

Setting these as a vocabulary learning homework was…illuminating.  Even after 3 years of Spanish some of the students did not know the 100 most common words in Spanish. The list on Vistawide is pretty good albeit not authoritative.  I set 25 per week to get through them rather quickly. I told the group it was their new 5-a-day and still left weekends free.  The reaction was muted to say the least!  They were then tested on 20.  I tried to vary the methods of testing to see if they had really learned them.  It did work and the students did find it helpful.

1-5 Gap fill/anagrams

6-15 English –> Spanish

16-20 Spanish –> English

Roleplays & Photocards

Students are seeing at least one roleplay and photocard task with each topic that we cover.  My way of managing to get them into class was to model how the task should be approached, give students some preparation time and then they complete the roleplay or photocard with two different people, with the unpredictable question being varied each time.  They then calculate an average of their scores, thereby reducing any impact by over-generous or overly harsh markers.  A full explanation of how I do this can be found on this post here.

Reinforcing the need for effective vocabulary learning

In the book “Why don’t students like school?”  Daniel Willingham makes a number of points that have influenced my approach to students learning vocabulary:

  • “Memory is the residue of thought”
  • “Proficiency requires Practice”

P210 Why don’t students like school? – Daniel Willingham

Our homework is set online so attached with the list of words is a document detailing effective learning techniques, mostly sourced from the above book, personal experiences and The Language Gym website

Students need to understand that learning and memorising does not occur through merely reading or some imagined osmosis process.  The more I can get them actively practising the vocabulary; the better it will be for them long-term.

Moving Forward

Regular Revision lessons

Every month I plan to do a revision lesson of one of the topics covered in year 10.  If I have planned it right then I can do topics 1-7 at least once by February.  This lesson will likely place a strong focus on the listening, reading and translation side of the exam. It will allow a refreshing of vocabulary and also emphasise the need to retain everything as they could be tested on anything.  Previous exams have had questions on guide dogs for the blind, phoneboxes in Spain and nordic walking.  The greater the emphasis on retaining vocabulary from previous topics; the better-prepared they will be for these weird and wonderful question topics.

Recycling

Schemes of work can be relatively linear, however that does not mean that vocabulary and grammar from before cannot be revisited.  Some advice from Gianfranco Conti’s website was particularly useful:

Problem: “in typical secondary school MFL curriculum design as evidenced by the schemes of work – and the textbooks these are often based on – which in my view seriously undermine the effectiveness of foreign language instruction in many British secondary schools.”

“Solution: include in the schemes of work a section in each unit headed ‘recycling opportunities’ and include activities aiming at consolidating old material.”

To help combat this the revision lesson should help, but I have also added a section on my scheme of work to take the opportunity to revisit certain grammatical elements that are pivotal for students.  Research by Graham Nutall (The Hidden Lives of Learners) suggests that students often need at least 3 exposures to new concepts to start to internalise them properly.

I will also be setting vocabulary learning on units not directly related to what the students are studying.

Vocabulary Championship and/or Ipsative Vocabulary Tests

To add an element of competition and purpose to vocabulary learning, I am considering a championship whereby their scores are noted down.  Some form of reward will be given for the student who attains a high score each week but also the students who maintain an average of 75% or more per half-term.  That figure was just plucked from the air so may change.

Ipsative assessment was a new word learnt from one of our SLT.  It refers to the idea of comparing oneself to previous results.  Athletics taps into this all the time as runners try to equal their personal best.  I have experimented with this in a lower ability year 8 group.  Their aim with each vocabulary test is to equal or better their score.  Students have so far responded really well to this idea but we are only 3 tests in.  It will get tougher later as they will need to maintain higher scores.  I could picture this working well with lower ability GCSE groups as they would have a chance to succeed regularly.

Decipher the Question starters

The reading and writing papers feature target language questions.  Similarly parts of the speaking exam prompts are in the target language.  A starter activity might be to translate the question and some bullet points.  The students may not actually complete the question but it gives them the feeling or working out an exam question in a short space of time.

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Photo Credit: Lily Bloom Flickr via Compfight cc

Strengths / Weaknesses Audit via GoogleForm.

Prior to Christmas, I intend to send out a google-form requiring students to submit their responses to a number of statements eg:

I can understand questions in the target language   1   2   3   4   5

I can translate single sentences into English              1   2   3  4  5

I can use the preterite eg: fui, hice, tuve etc

This should give me an idea of their areas of strength and weakness and allow me to target my teaching better, and plan twilight sessions tailored to the individual student.  It will also show me if my teaching has not sufficiently covered any of the challenges presented by the new GCSEs.  The Google-form method allows me to conduct a quick analysis of their areas of strength and weakness as it automatically can produce graphs etc.  If I am feeling really brave, I might add a box for their own comments.