MFL & Parents Evening

Perhaps this rings true for some of you.  I’m not sure how you see parents evening or how they work in your school but I’ll do my best to make sure that there is something for everyone.

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I firmly believe that strong relationships facilitate greater progress in the classroom.  Parents evening offers a unique opportunity to build two relationships.  Empathy and enthusiasm are crucial in those few hours.

1) Student – Teacher.  Parents evening is one of the few times you will get where you can talk to the child about their progress without their peers being around but with a level of accountability, as their parents heard it.

2) Teacher – Parent.  Parents might have heard from their offspring that you are a fire-breathing ogre with a volcanic temperament, liable to go off at the slightest infraction.  Conversely, they may have heard that you are a “legend”.  Either way, it is an opportunity for the parent to put a face to a name and to have a dialogue about their child’s progress.

Making the most of parents evening:

Preparation

In my current school students seek you out for appointments and you are encouraged to seek appointments with them.  They bring you a flurry of pieces of paper (these diminish as they progress through the years) and you try and pack them all into 3 hours.  Other schools do their appointments online and I’ve seen that be quite effective.

Once my appointments are written in then I do three things:

  1. Locate data and assessment results for classes being taught
  2. Look at the list of names and note the first few things that come to mind for each student.
    1. Penny – presentation, homework variable, good effort in class.
    2. Leonard – speaking good, needs to increase detail and variety in written work.
    3. Howard – off-task, focus, incident thurs.
    4. Raj – equipment, off-task, consider seating move?
  3. Make sure that I have a mug of tea ready.

Approach

I have seen a variety of approaches at parents evening.  Some teachers ask the student questions “how do you feel you are progressing?”  “How do you think Spanish is going this year?”  My feedback from students is that they do not enjoy this moment of being put on the spot and are not always certain about what to say.  Most students will likely opt for a conservative response irrespective of how they are progressing, as it will minimise fallout if they feel they are not doing so well.

Personally, I prefer the following:

Positive Appointment

  1. Know your student.  A couple of words about the student shows that you definitely know them.  “This is the second year I’ve taught Anakin”.  “Teaching Luke in year 7 and now in year 9, it’s great to see how far he has come”.  “What has pleased me most about Rey this year is how she has…”
  2. Data and progress.  Talk about how they have performed in assessments or data-drops.  Are they where you expect them to be?  If not, why not?  Was it the assessment or the revision?  How can they get there?  How can home be involved in helping them?
  3. What’s next?  Explain that there are a couple of things they could do “to really help themselves move forward”.  Keep it short, simple and to the most important stuff.  If a parent is writing notes then feel free to say more.  Consider that if there is a conversation at home afterwards then what do you want them to remember?   There may be more, but that parent might have had 7 appointments already.
  4. Any questions?  Leave a minute or two for the parents to ask any questions that they have.

With year 10s and 11s I have taken sheets of useful revision websites for parents to take away.  The students may have already been given this sheet but an extra copy at home never hurt!

Less positive appointment:

  • Know your student.  A couple of words about the student that shows you definitely know them and have caught them being good.  Even the very worst students I have taught have not been 100% bad for 100% of every lesson.  Key point to consider here: how can you build that relationship?  How can you involve home in bringing about a turnaround in fortunes for that student?
  • Data and progress.  Talk about how they have performed in class.  Are they where you expect them to be?  If not, why not?  How can they get there?  How can home be involved in helping them?  At this point, the student or parent may suggest something that would help.  Make a note of it and then deliver on it.  This could be a seating plan change, a resource, a need for greater help, checking understanding prior to starting a task.  This shows your intentions to secure the best outcomes for their child.  Actions speak loudly.
  • Issues.  If the issue is behaviour or homework then talk about where things need to improve.  Most parents appreciate honesty.  If the parent appears supportive then tell them you will give them a ring, or an email, in 2-3 weeks to review how things are going.  As you do this, write it in your planner and then do it.  Sometimes parents will engage positively with you at this point.  Others may choose not to.
  • Finish well.  Find a way to finish the appointment on a positive note.  No kid should feel like they are a lost cause.
  • Any questions?  The parent may well wish to question you further.  Do not be afraid to involve your Head of Department if you need to.  Perhaps warn them prior to the appointment if you know of a particular tricky parent.  If the parent is taking up undue time then politely suggest that you continue the discussion at a later date, possibly with your Head of Department present.

Take a sheet

In previous years I have brought copies of the following to parents evening:

  • Sheet titled “how to help my son/daughter succeed at languages”.
  • Sheet titled “effective revision techniques for MFL”.
  • Sheet with QR codes for revision websites.

Each one has gone down well with parents.  It takes a bit of prep time but you can reuse them most years.

Parents that care will likely read the sheet.  Those that do not care will not but I have seen them appear in Spanish books, or have heard that it was stuck to the fridge or useful later down the line.

What do you do when they say….?

  • “Why does he/she need languages?”
  • “He/she is never going to go to France/Germany/Spain”
  • “I was never any good at languages”
  • “Why does he/she have to do a language?”
  • “Everyone speaks English”
  • “You can give it up in year 9 anyway”

If you read my previous blogpost Blogging for Languages without nodding off, then you will have an idea of my answers to these questions.  Firstly, I started Spanish at university at the age of 18.  Secondly, I never planned to teach languages.  Lastly, I never thought I would ever end up in South America.  However, all of these things happened.  I find this normally works as quite a disarming start to a number of the above statements.  After this, I can then talk about the importance of languages, the doors they opens and the benefits for their child.  You will need to come up with your answers to these questions and similar ones.  If you want some statistics to back up your answers then have a look at the Year 9 Options post  or some things I picked up at the ISMLA conference.  The main thing is delivering them with empathy and enthusiasm.

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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.

 

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.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/127406279@N06/31460315762/">christopher.czlapka</a> Flickr via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147">cc</a>

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.

 

Teaching the weather

Weather phrases in foreign languages are odd.  I have never really understood quite why “il fait” or “hace” makes more sense than “it is”.  However, we have to teach them so here are a few ways to make it more interesting.

Predict the weather

As a plenary activity students write 5 sentences predicting the weather in various locations on the day of your next lesson.  As a starter in the subsequent lesson, they check if they were correct / incorrect / bit of both.

The maps on El Tiempo.es are really good for this.  See exhibit A belowweather

Photo Response

Show students some photos and have them write sentences quickly on mini-whiteboards.  If you use Spanish speaking countries you can generate quite a bit of interest as pupils will inevitably ask “where is that?”  Exhibits below include Peru in the height of summer and Bolivia during rainy season.  That falling grey mass is rain, not a tornado, as one of the kids thought.

perubolivia

Today at Wimbledon / Euros / World Cup Scripts

Students in year 7 cover present and future tense.  It will take a little bit of revision of verbs but they should be able to produce the following using the near future

va a jugar        va a ganar        va a perder        va  a llover

va jouer            va gagner         va perdre           va pleuvoir

They have hopefully covered simple time phrases such as “today”, “tomorrow”, “later on”.

All of this leads to being in a position to present a TV programme.  Students need to produce a script for the Today at Wimbledon programme.    Click here for the theme tune, which will remain in your head for hours afterwards.  They should include

  • Weather today
  • Who plays who today
  • Weather tomorrow
  • Who is going to play who tomorrow
  • Opinions on who is going to win or lose.

 They then perform this and can peer-assess each other on whatever criteria you set.  Personally I would go for the following with scores out of 5 for each:

  1. Fluency – does it flow? Can they sound natural?
  2. Confidence – do they come across confidently?
  3. Communciation – can they make themselves understood?
  4. Pronunciation – How strong is their knowledge of phonics?

Translation Tandems

This idea came from Greg Horton on a CPD course about 2 years ago.  He used it for vocabulary tests so this is a small tweak.

Hold an A4 piece of paper portrait.  Divide the piece of A4 paper. into 2 halves down the middle.

¦   ¦   ¦

Students write sentences alternating between English and TL.   Students then fold the piece of paper down the middle and sit facing each other.  They have to translate whatever sentence their partner reads out into the other language.  This is a great activity to practise translation both ways.  It does require a fair bit of pre-teaching so that it is challenging but not demotivating.

Mira 1 Rap

Mira 1 has a listening text that might be a song or a poem.  It can be found on p103 and works rather well as a rap.  Challenge your class to turn it into one.  A good rap backing can be found for free at this link here on TES.  If you have VLC media player then you can alter the playback speed and slow it down if needed.

Real life listening

I experimented the other day.  I listened to a weather report on eltiempo.es and the guy was super fast.  I picked out 10-15 words that my students might pick up from the video, and then added some more that were not there.  I challenged them to listen and see how many of my words on the board they would find.  I was pleasantly surprised with the results, and so were they.

If you have managed to read this far then this weather report did make me chuckle.