EverydayMFL needs you!

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Summer is here!  It is time for a break from teaching, feedback, GCSEs and lesson planning.  It’s also a time to recharge and be ready to go again in September (or August, if you are unfortunate with inset days).

Changes Ahead

From September, I will be taking on some pastoral responsibility in my school.  This means that blogging regularly is going to be harder to keep up.

Get involved!

It would be amazing if there were one, two, or six readers out there who would be happy to write a guest blog.  This little website averages 10,000 unique visitors a year.  These visitors come from all over the world, and many come back a second time!

You could offer a one-off post or a couple of posts.  I can be contacted via the “about me” section on the site, or via a DM on Twitter @everydaymfl.  The vision of any post needs to be practical ideas that people can use in their classroom.  I will do my best to publish any submissions.  You can put your name to it, or post anonymously if you wish.  I have put below a couple of posts I would love to see.  Equally, you are completely free to come up with your own ideas.

  • Latest from They Who Shall Not Be Named: Intent, Implementation and Impact.  How are you interpreting the three in your department whilst keeping workload down?
  • Scoring well in the conversation at GCSE.
  • Reducing workload in your MFL department.
  • A guide to planning a lesson for PGCE trainees.
  • Adventures in “Conti-fying” a scheme of work (according to Facebook group G.I.L.T it’s a verb).  How have you managed it and how has it been received?
  • A post with practical ideas and advice for aspiring Heads of Department.
  • Lessons about French/German/Spanish culture.  How do you do them with plenty of TL activities?
  • Assessment that works in MFL.
  • How we change pupil attitudes to MFL.  Maybe you moved into a department where it was not popular and things have changed since.  If so, there are plenty of people out there who would love to hear from your experiences.  Trust me they want to hear from you, WordPress shows the search terms that lead people to this site!
  • Starting well in Year 8.  We often spend a lot of time on a strong start in Year 7 but is there anyone out there with a great start to Year 8?
  • The next “one pen; one die”.  This game swept across the MFL Facebook groups.  Maybe you have the next activity that captivates teachers and pupils alike?
  • 5 Things to try tomorrow – there are plenty of these already on the site already but feel free to do one of your own.
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Developing Target Language Teaching

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Every now and again on Facebook groups such as Global Innovative Language Teachers, Secondary MFL Matters and Secondary MFL in Wales, a discussion will arise surrounding the use of target language.  Almost all responses advocate regular use of the target language.  My first Head of Department would emphasise how target language use needed to be “judicious”.  By that he meant appropriate to the group and well-thought out by the teacher.  A brief search of the aforementioned Facebook groups suggests anything in the region of 70-80% of teacher talk should be in the target language.  Some teachers also make the point that any target language in class needs to be comprehensible to the majority of students.  This is illustrated most clearly by a story Rachel Hawkes tells of how a student developed the misconception that everything had to be done in ten days.  The teacher in her story was checking her class had understood tasks by using the Spanish phrase: “entendéis.”

 Almost every MFL blog out there has a post on target language so here is a small selection for your perusal.

Frenchteacher.net

Musicuentos

Gianfranco Conti

Ideal Teacher

Rachel Hawkes

You may well ask why I’m writing a post on target language use if it has been done already.  I wondered that for a while too!  This post is very much about developing teacher target language use.  This post is primarily for three types of people.

  1. PGCE trainees and NQTs getting to grips with using the TL in the classroom.
  2. Experienced teachers teaching another language, with which they are less familiar.
  3. Teachers who wish to increase their TL use.

This post draws on some experiences that I have had over the years.  I was once a PGCE trainee and an NQT.  I have had to teach a third language.  There have also been times where the amount of target language has dropped with a particular group and I have needed to raise it.  Here are some ways to get started:

Script the lesson

On my PGCE, I remember filling out 2-3 page lesson plans detailing all the things I was going to do.  Thankfully, my plans are shorter now.

Scripting interactions that I intend to have with a class can bring about some real improvements in TL use.  For a while I had to teach my weakest language (French).  To ensure that the students were getting a decent diet of TL, some scripting was necessary. By scripting the various aspects of the lesson: welcoming, admin (books out etc), instructions for activities, vocabulary to use during activities and finishing the lesson, I was able to give them that.

This approach does mean more work and is not always practical to do every lesson.  However, I think it pays off.  Over time the students grow accustomed to it and it becomes habitual for you.  It can have a beneficial effect in your strongest language too.  You may find that you can condense instructions, deliver more comprehensible input and also better integrate the language that students have learnt recently into your teaching.

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Yellow box

I was told by my previous Head of Department that a teacher he worked with had a yellow box painted on the floor of their classroom.  When in the yellow box, she would only speak TL .  Students realised that they needed to listen carefully when the teacher was in that position in the room as that is where instructions came from.  My former Head of Department said that teacher was one of the best at using the TL in a classroom that he had ever seen.  Your site team, SLT, caretaker or cleaner may have issues with this approach, masking tape may suffice!

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Count the instances.

This is exactly what it says.  Count the instances where you use target language and when you use English. If the emerging picture is more favourable towards target language then great, aim to build on it!  If not, then there is work to do!  If you are a PGCE trainee or NQT, a mentor could do this for you.  They could also look at the times English was used and suggest some changes to make.

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Ask for help.

When teaching French, I was fortunate to have two very supportive colleagues who would occasionally help me out with pronunciation, words I was unfamiliar with or aspects of French culture.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help, after all it means the students benefit!  Another way to develop is a non-judgemental peer-observation  Could an experienced colleague watch part of your lesson and offer some feedback on  your pronunciation or TL phrases you could use?

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Have a list

For a while I had a list of TL phrases in my weakest language stuck by my desk.  The textbook also had a great list in the back of the book!  Pick a new phrase or two you would like to use.  Try and get it into every lesson over a two or three week period.  You could put them at the top of a planner page for a week or so and try to use them.

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Listening activities

Listening activities traditionally come from textbooks but there is nothing to stop you devising your own.  It increases the amount of TL the pupils hear from you.  It is great pronunciation practice if you’re teaching a language you are less familiar with.  You can then pitch the listening at an appropriate pace.  You are free to remove the asinine additions where the people on the recording share a normally unfunny joke and your class are wondering: “what just happened?!”

Conclusion

Like any aspect of teaching, target language use can be improved.  Forming habits is tough (as anyone who has started using a gym will know).  It takes time.  Jason Selk from Forbes makes the point that Serena Williams did not stop practising her serve after 21 days, assuming she had it cracked.  She kept going and still does.  It is the same with us.  Teaching is a craft and to be a master of that craft takes time and deliberate practice.  Hopefully the ideas above play a small part in helping you develop, refine and improve your teaching.

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?