Outstanding MFL everyday.

‘Hypothetical’ conversation overheard in staffroom:

Experienced teacher 1: “I delivered a number of outstanding lessons today”

Experienced teacher 2 “Ha! Your definition of an outstanding lesson is you putting your feet up while the kids are standing outside!”

Experienced teacher 1: “you saw them then!”

I’ve seen a lot of requests on TES forums, Twitter and Facebook for outstanding activities or an outstanding lesson on (insert topic here).  I’ve probably wished for a few myself in the past.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for something that works when you’re low on time and your desk is covered by paper and looks like a scale model of the himalayas. What makes an outstanding lesson is highly subjective and is based largely on the observations of the person watching.  I think even OFSTED realised this recently.  OFSTED say they will no longer grade individual lessons or learning walks.  This is good news, although they have to deliver a judgement on quality of teaching and learning across the school so some form of grading still has to take place (in their heads one assumes). Teaching and learning still has to be judged as outstanding/good/requires improvement/inadequate.

This is not a post on “how to play the OFSTED game” as the only OFSTED game to be played is simply high quality teaching and learning.  It is a post about the key ingredients for an outstanding lesson and how we might apply those in MFL teaching everyday.

Before we look at the ingredients.  Let’s hear it from the horses mouth:

Inspectors will use a considerable amount of first-hand evidence gained from observing pupils in lessons, talking to them about their work, scrutinising their work and assessing how well leaders are securing continual improvements in teaching. Direct observations in lessons will be supplemented by a range of other evidence to enable inspectors to evaluate the impact that teachers and support assistants have on pupils’ progress. Inspectors will not grade the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in individual lessons or learning walks.

Inspectors will consider:

  • how information at transition points between schools is used effectively so that teachers plan to meet pupils’ needs in all lessons from the outset – this is particularly important between the early years and Key Stage 1 and between Key Stages 2 and 3
  • whether work in all year groups, particularly in Key Stage 3, is demanding enough for all pupils
  • pupils’ views about the work they have undertaken, what they have learned from it and their experience of teaching and learning over time
  • information from discussions about teaching, learning and assessment with teachers, teaching assistants and other staff
  • parents’ views about the quality of teaching, whether they feel their children are challenged sufficiently and how quickly leaders tackle poor teaching
  • scrutiny of pupils’ work, with particular attention to:
  • pupils’ effort and success in completing their work, both in and outside lessons, so that they can progress and enjoy learning across the curriculum
  • how pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills have developed and improved
  • the level of challenge and whether pupils have to grapple appropriately with content, not necessarily ‘getting it right’ first time, which could be evidence that the work is too easy
  • how well teachers’ feedback, written and oral, is used by pupils to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. 

Source text here P44.

Outstanding (1)

  • Teachers demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach. They use questioning highly effectively and demonstrate understanding of the ways pupils think about subject content. They identify pupils’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.
  • Teachers plan lessons very effectively, making maximum use of lesson time and coordinating lesson resources well. They manage pupils’ behaviour highly effectively with clear rules that are consistently enforced.
  • Teachers provide adequate time for practice to embed the pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills securely. They introduce subject content progressively and constantly demand more of pupils. Teachers identify and support any pupil who is falling behind, and enable almost all to catch up.
  • Teachers check pupils’ understanding systematically and effectively in lessons, offering clearly directed and timely support.
  • Teachers provide pupils with incisive feedback, in line with the school’s assessment policy, about what pupils can do to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. The pupils use this feedback effectively.
  • Teachers set challenging homework, in line with the school’s policy and as appropriate for the age and stage of pupils, that consolidates learning, deepens understanding and prepares pupils very well for work to come.
  • Teachers embed reading, writing and communication and, where appropriate, mathematics exceptionally well across the curriculum, equipping all pupils with the necessary skills to make progress. For younger children in particular, phonics teaching is highly effective in enabling them to tackle unfamiliar words.
  • Teachers are determined that pupils achieve well. They encourage pupils to try hard, recognise their efforts and ensure that pupils take pride in all aspects of their work. Teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils’ attitudes to learning.
  • Pupils love the challenge of learning and are resilient to failure. They are curious, interested learners who seek out and use new information to develop, consolidate and deepen their knowledge, understanding and skills. They thrive in lessons and also regularly take up opportunities to learn through extra-curricular activities.
  • Pupils are eager to know how to improve their learning. They capitalise on opportunities to use feedback, written or oral, to improve.
  • Parents are provided with clear and timely information on how well their child is progressing and how well their child is doing in relation to the standards expected. Parents are given guidance about how to support their child to improve.
  • Teachers are quick to challenge stereotypes and the use of derogatory language in lessons and around the school. Resources and teaching strategies reflect and value the diversity of pupils’ experiences and provide pupils with a comprehensive understanding of people and communities beyond their immediate experience.

So let’s have a look at those key ingredients and what they mean for us in the classroom:

Key Ingredient: What it means for MFL teachers:
Transition information We need a knowledge of where the children are coming from.  We need some idea of how much language tuition the children have had, what language and how effectively it was taught.  This is more applicable to year 7.  As far as year 8s and 9s are concerned, you will need an idea of where they finished at the end of year 7.
Challenge Is your work demanding enough?  I don’t mean simply sticking an extension task on a starter or a reading activity.  Are you sufficiently challenging that little lass who finishes the task seconds after you have explained it?  Should she have finished that quickly?  Are your tasks differentiated enough to keep all students challenged and engaged?  Could you give different students a different task?  How could you reward risk-taking with the language?
Pupils views ARGH?!   What would they say about your lessons?
Parents views Informed by the above as few parents have likely seen your superb lesson on the future tense!
Scrutiny of work From this I understand the following:

1)      Pupils must be seen to be making an effort and doing well and this should be seen through their exercise books.

2)      There must be some evidence that their abilities have improved.  You can do this through various ways.  Some staff will use charts with “can do” statements or it could simply be that there are less corrections in the book later in the year.

3)      There must be some work that is not “too easy” for them where they struggle.  Struggle is part of learning so that is not a bad thing.  If it is all ticked and correct then it could be interpreted as too easy.

4)      Feedback should inform and foster improvements in knowledge, understanding and skills.  For more on feedback see here

Subject Knowledge Must be evident along with questioning.  Questioning varies depending on subjects.  I think certain subjects have it easier than MFL but students could deduce a grammar rule if given sufficient examples and then go on to some structured practice of that rule.  If you are thinking of ways to develop your subject knowledge then look no further:  Keeping your languages up!
Effective Planning No time wasted and all resources readily available and accessible.  They may not want to see a lesson plan per se but would expect to see a well planned MFL lesson.  This is probably the best thing I have read on planning an MFL lesson.
Behaviour Management Clear rules and consistently enforced.  I would argue that there is nothing wrong with removing a student whose behaviour is detrimental to the progress of the rest of the class, even in an observation.
Adequate practice time Pupils must be allowed enough time to practice and embed what they are learning.  There must then be a definite increase in demand and evident progression in difficulty of the material covered in the lesson.  Practice in MFL will obvious take place through different skills but it is worth considering: how do they link to your overall objectives in that lesson?
Checking understanding Understanding must be checked and any misconceptions identified.  You can probably tell who will struggle so maybe set the class a short activity that they can use to demonstrate their learning, while you go and help those who need it.
Challenging h/wk Homework could consolidate, extend or prepare the students for future work.  It should do all of these.  More on homework here
Literacy and Numeracy Whilst numeracy is harder to shoehorn into MFL, literacy is very much the bedrock of what we do.  Start using grammatical terms and do not shy away from them.  You’re a language teacher and probably a fan of the odd reflexive verb, subordinating conjunction or relative clause.
Pupils know how to improve Pupils have to know how they can make their French/Spanish/German better.  What does their book tell them and what does your classroom wall tell them?
Challenging stereotypes As MFL teachers we are in an ideal place to do this and hopefully avoid situations like the recent awful match of the day video where the presenters butcher the French language.  I’m not giving you a link, as a football fan I find it embarrassing.

OFSTED’s descriptions miss out one major feature of teaching that I believe is key to delivering outstanding lessons and that is relationships.  Admittedly you can produce an outstanding lesson that meets all of the above boxes but there is likely to be one question in the observer’s mind that also needs answering: “would I be happy for this person to teach my kids?”  Your relationships with your students will answer that.  John Tomsett says: ‘Fundamentally students need to feel loved and I really don’t care what anyone might think of that, to be honest, because if I know anything about teaching, I know that is true.’

What could I do now? 5 things to try this term.

If you’re English then make a cup of tea before contemplating the following:

  1. Build those relationships.  Grab your seating plans or markbook and find 3 students per class who you are going to develop your relationship with.  How are you going to do that?  Will you be teaching those kids next year?  Who knows?  Do it anyway.
  2. Key Ingredients.  Pick one of the key ingredients that you need to work on.  In your planning for next week incorporate it into every lesson.  Yep, that’s every single one.  It’s all very well reading a blog post but you have to act on it.  My Headteacher likes the phrase purposeful practice.  To paraphrase Aristotle, “we are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence therefore is a habit not an act.”
  3. Share.  Share the OFSTED descriptors or key ingredients above with your department.  What ones do you want to work on over the coming weeks?  What do you need to put into place for next year?
  4. Gained time.  Can you devote some of it to CPD?  Who in your department is good at challenge, differentiation, target language use?  Who could you learn from?
  5. Power of praise.  I used to do termly phone-calls home to a parent to give some positive feedback on a student.  I’ve slipped on this and may well do a few in the coming half-term.  Shaun Allison writes about them here.  You could also do an email although make sure you personalise it.  One simple phone-call has massive potential in terms of relationship with the pupil, their parents and the parents of other students.
  6. Consider September.  Yep, right now!  September is where we set the tone, set the patterns and culture in our departments, what would you like an observer to see if they entered your classroom?  What needs to be part of your practice?
  7. Iron sharpening iron.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (biblical proverb).  I love this proverb as it applies to most areas of life. Another person can always be guaranteed to sharpen you and smooth out the rough edges.  Most NQTs have a mentor and most PGCE trainees do too.  Once we exit that process, we are on our own.  Who could you work with to improve your own teaching?  Can you get them to pop in and watch?  No notes, no agenda, no judgments and no threat, but just someone there simply to develop your practice.

Further Reading

Indicators of Outstanding – a blog post by education adviser Mary Myatt.

Great Lessons – a series of blogs by Tom Sherrington (Headteacher) on what makes for great lessons.

An Outstanding Teacher – short blog post by Shaun Allison

Six Steps to Outstanding – I read this when I was starting as an NQT and found it useful.

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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.

Learning from the best

Some people have a nice little page of links.  I’ll be honest, I have not worked out how to do that, yet!  Here are some of my favourite places to go for ideas!

Sometimes you need to look at things in a different way for ideas.

Photo Credit: VeRoNiK@ GR via Compfight cc

Here are a few places that I’ve picked up ideas from:

Frenchteacher  – Steve Smith, an experienced French teacher has a blog and resources site.  I have picked up a lot from his teacher’s guide and his writing on various MFL related themes.

RachelHawkes – Unsurprisingly written by a lady called Rachel Hawkes.  There is a wealth of information on here, powerpoints regarding the latest developments in MFL and a real focus on generating spontaneous speech (she has a Phd to show for it).  Rachel seems to run a lot of CPD, blogs for the TES and also lectures on PGCE courses.  How does she manage that and teach MFL?!  Answers on a postcard…or if Dr Hawkes herself is reading this then seriously, how?!

Headguruteacher – Tom Sherrington writes a lot of very insightful material relating to all sorts of issues.  He is not an MFL teacher but there is a lot you can take from his writings on teaching and learning.  His series titled pedagogy postcards is worth a look.  The recent post on Maths Mindsets could equally apply to languages.

Gianfranco Conti – is a prolific MFL blogger.  His posts relate research and theory to our classroom practice.  He also has a website for students called the language gym and I’m reliably informed that there are exciting plans for that site, although the name does remind me of: this.  His most recent post  well worth a read, along with his thoughts on resilience in MFL classrooms.  Inspiring and thought-provoking material every few days.

Classteaching – Shaun Allison’s blog with it’s titular play on words is well worth a look.  Shaun’s posts tend mainly to focus on teaching and learning with a view to constantly sharpening our classroom practice.  He also blogs on assessment after levels and other areas of school life.  His diagram “expert teaching requires” sums up his philosophy as far as the classroom is concerned.  There is also a plethora of resources, links and ideas on the site.  This blog is eminently readable and updated weekly.

Morgan MFL – This has not been updated since March but contains some useful material particularly for teaching tenses.  This “Yorkshire lass” also has some good youtube videos on her site.  If enough people click on the link maybe the spike in views will convince her to keep it going!  

Teachertoolkit – If Gianfranco Conti is prolific, then Ross Morrison Mcgill is the blogging equivalent of Duracell.  He just keeps going and going and going…  It’s also high quality stuff.  Again, not a specific MFL blog but regularly updated, very current and relevant material.  His 5 minute resources reduce some of the administrative burden as well as providing food for thought.  His most recent post concerns verbal feedback stamps, which fortunately have not yet darkened the doors of my school.  The first bit is a good-humoured rant, the latter half is particularly applicable to the classroom (see mark-plan-teach).

Dom’s MFL Page – Possibly one of the first MFL blogs I read, mainly by searching MFL blogs via google!  Some good resources for teaching and also includes A2.  Try not to get freaked out if your speakers are on full and the French word of the day blasts out.  His posts contain a great deal of useful ideas and are often peppered with good humour.

Chris Fuller – I came across Chris Fuller on an ALL webinar.  He comes across as a great guy and enthusiastic MFL teacher.  His website has a number of creative ideas including the Shelterbox Challenge, PE in Spanish and teaching year 9s about the legalisation of marijuana in Uruguay.  It’s a far cry from the traditional year 9 topics of “me duele la cabeza” and “para llevar una vida más sana…”  (although I could see those slipping neatly into the marijuana module).

Lastly, for those who like the feel of paper in their hand, or new book smell, I wholeheartedly recommend the following:

The Craft of the Classroom – Michael Marland

Cracking the hard class – Bill Rogers

Why students don’t like school – Daniel Willingham

Improving teaching so my students don’t wish they went to Hogwarts.

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: TRF_Mr_Hyde via Compfight cc

Over the summer I worked my way through Daniel T Willingham’s book “why don’t students like school?”  It is an exceptionally readable book.  Willingham introduces the principle that underpins the chapter, developing it with explanations, examples and humour before applying it to the classroom.  The cognitive psychology presented is therefore easy to understand, yet remains academically satisfying.  I’ve learnt a lot from this book and would recommend it as excellent CPD.  The book considers questions such as “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?” “Is drilling worth it?”  and “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?”  The final chapter then directly challenges teachers.  It is also greatly helped with a summary table at the end that sets out the cognitive principles of each chapter, a question to prompt your thinking regarding your students and important classroom implications.

What am I taking from the book?

◊ Changing the way I do starters.  My starters often take the form of testing some knowledge from last lesson to see if it has been retained.  Now, I want to assess further back and make sure that the starter tests the requisite knowledge for the lesson I am about to teach.

◊ “Memory is the residue of thought”.  How can I get my students to think more?  I’m planning to make sure I give more time for thinking rather than simply picking a fast-thinking student.  More think-pair-share might be used in eliciting grammar rules that I present students with.  What would a mentally demanding MFL lesson look like?  Would my students be able to cope with it?

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

◊ Proficiency requires practice.  I’m planning to set longer and tougher homeworks this year (in keeping with school policy).  I wonder if sometimes homework does enough consolidation.  I also want students to take more responsibility for their learning outside the classroom and Teacher Toolkit has an idea of “takeaway homework” that I would quite like to try.  Why is it that the musical students are happy to learn their lyrics or their scales but cannot apply the same drive to vocabulary or conjugation?  Is it a question of payoff or do I need to tailor the practice to them in some way?

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: madabandon via Compfight cc  evocative of my own piano playing…

◊ Proficiency requires practice 2.   I’ve also considered experimenting with DIRT time (directed improvement and reflection time).  Some very funky editable mats can be found at the mathematics shed.  Willingham suggests thinking about what material students need in their working memory and long term memory and practising it regularly over time.   Spreading out the practice (or interleaving schemes of work) is something I need to consider.  The idea my students need to gain is:  “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended periods of practice.”

◊ Relationships are key.  Willingham reminds us throughout the book that the “emotional bond between students and teacher – for better or worse – accounts for whether students learn”.  He also makes the point that this has to be combined with a teacher who makes boring material interesting and accessible.  I want to make sure that every child in my classroom gets some of my time.  I’m planning to trial live marking with a class this year.  Live marking is where the class work on a task while you go around marking some books allowing students to see what you think and discuss it with them.  As well as marking and handing back books that I have done after school, I want to give this approach a go here and there, particularly with the students I feel get less of my attention.

Lastly, if you appreciated the photo at the top of this blog, then check out Hogwarts’ OFSTED report.

New term – a great time to raise your game.

Happy New Year to you all.  I hope you had an excellent Christmas and a promising start to the new year.

I’ve decided this should be a simple post about things I will try this term, starting next week.  There are numerous aspects of teaching that I want to improve and various ideas that I want to try.  All of it is aimed at trying to make my lessons the very best they can be.  While inevitably some lessons will go better than others, I want the return in terms of learning to be high every lesson.

Here are 4 ideas I want to try in January:

1) Experiments with excellence

I’ve been reading a little about Ron Berger and his “ethic of excellence” and his insistence on feedback and how it can drive improvement. Whilst Berger teaches in a relatively unique setting I wonder if his ideas can be applied in an MFL classroom.  My year 8 Spanish class will produce a postcard from a holiday but rather than it being a week long homework at the end of the topic, we will draft it over 2 weeks before they do a final version at the end of the topic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqh1MRWZjms

2) Speaking/Translation tandem

Inspired by a Bristol colleague.  Students have phrases on a sheet of A4 with alternating Spanish/English.  They have to say what they think is the phrase and their partner can nudge them towards a correct version.  It should have the effect of reinforcing grammar structures, raising translation as an activity (with the new GCSE in mind) and could work quite well.  Probably will try it with year 7s or year 10s.

3) Insistence on TL

All students have phrases in their books they can use but I’m really going to push it this term.  I want to see if we can get lessons where there is an 80/20% ratio of Spanish – English.  To this end I plan to have 3 things in place:

i) A TL monitor – a student I trust who can monitor my TL usage and that of the class.  They will have a traffic light card to indicate this.  In lower years this will probably be referred to as the Spanish Sy

ii) TL phrases on wall – students need to use these in responding after a listening exercises or wherever possible.

iii) Rewards for students who use most TL, this will be monitored by my TL monitor.

4) Live marking

That is “live” in the sense of “in the moment” not live as in “live, breathe, eat, sleep marking.”  I saw this suggested on another post.  A teacher picks 8 students and aims to mark their books whilst the students are on a task of some description.  The marking then finishes with a question relating to what he/she has seen and demands a response.  Our students have to respond to our marking, this might be a way of encouraging it.  They are more likely to respond if I am stood next to them marking their neighbours book.  It might also be a way to reduce the marking load.  We will see.