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.

5 things to try tomorrow

It’s the start of the year and perhaps the caffeine is wearing off…  Stuck for something to do with a class? I would say look no further, but that would mean ignoring the rest of this post.  Read on my friend…

Doble identidad.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/98115025@N00/3341865537/">stevecadman</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Photo Credit: stevecadman via Compfight cc

We’ve all done activities where students talk to various people in the class.  Tell your class they are practising their skills for joining MI-5 (not 9-5).  How about having them create an alter-ego, a spy identity.  They have to convince people that they are indeed Bastian from Bremen, that their birthday is 24sten Dezember.

Fonetica con fútbolistas

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/57511216@N04/6973721008/">daniel0685</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>

Photo Credit: daniel0685 via Compfight cc

I have tried introducing more phonics this year to some boy-heavy classes to hopefully eradicate “choo ay go” (juego) and various verbalised atrocities.  La Liga has been immensely useful.  Teach them the vowels first and see how long it is before they realise they’ve been saying the names wrong.

Bomb Defusal

bomb

High stakes activity.  Students are given 4 questions on the screen.  Each question has 3 possible answers. Their partner selects an answer for each.  They have 5 attempts to guess their partner’s selected answers or the bomb goes off.

¿Adónde vas normalmente de vacaciones? + 3 more similar questions.

  • Voy a la playa con mis amigos
  • Voy al campo con mis padres
  • Voy al extranjero con mi familia

Alphabet Song

Year 7s absolutely love it!

If you have VLC media player then use the dial in the bottom right hand corner to speed up or slow down as appropriate.  You will hear this in your head all day, guaranteed.  “Ah Bay Say Day Uf Eff gzay Ash…” etc

Deny Everything Baldrick

Taking inspiration from a British comedy classic.  The start of Mira 2 has students practising verbs with questions and answers e.g: “¿escuchas música?”  “¿Sales con amigos?” etc.  Give your class the command to deny everything and introduce them to negatives such as no, nunca, ya no, jamás, nadie, ni…ni….  Insist they use each over the course of their answers.  More advanced groups could add reasons.

  • ¿escuchas música?  Ya no escucho música
  •  ¿chateas por internet?  Nunca chateo por internet

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.

5 ideas to try this week

Sorry for the lack of posts, things got busy at work so here is a double whammy.  One of the 5 ideas to try series and the other is a collection of thoughts on GCSE revision.

1) No ICT at all

I think we can become too dependent on computers.  The phrase “death by Powerpoint” is not a new one.  Kids are largely unsurprised by anything we can do with a computer.  So how about turning it off for a lesson (apart from your register of course).  The other day with my French class we had a lesson with no ICT at all.  They did not have to even look at a screen.  It was great!  Everything was old-school.  We had flashcards, card sorts and all manner of activities but nothing involved a computer.

2) Giant scrabble

Great way of stretching pupils thinking skills and knowledge of vocabulary on a particular topic.  Put as many mini-whiteboards together as you can.  Start with a word in the middle.  Pupils get a point per letter for their word and a point per letter from any word it bisects.  You could make it a team effort if you have large classes so two pupils work cooperatively.  My old German teacher used to do this on an OHP, we loved it but the mini-whiteboard version allows everybody to be involved.  I’ve also tried adding challenges such as: include words on the theme of … (double word score), include a particular grammar item (triple word score).  The possibilities are not endless, as that is a cliché, but there are quite a few.

3) Differentiated dice speaking.

I might have posted this one before but it keeps with the no-ICT theme above.  Give pupils dice.  If you can buy some D12s (12-sided dice) then do.  You then have the following options.

  • Put 2 sets of  numbers 1-6 with vocabulary (eg me gusta and school subjects) pupils roll the dice twice, say the phrase and their partner translates
  • Give them a task per number of the dice to revise material covered over the year.
  • Give them a task per number of the 6 sided dice and then a modifying element with the twelve sided (heavyH on prep but great for stretching the kids).

4) 50-50 Hands up/hands down

I’ve seen some classes where the rule is no hands up and others where the rule is hands up all the time.  I’ve been trying a mixture of both recently and it’s working.  It maintains the engagement as both other methods have two distinct problems.  The no hands up rule is great but only if the teacher makes a point of picking on all class members.  It can easily lead to picking on the brighter ones,  further the learning and progress of a class.  The latter has an issue as it allows the quieter members of our class to hide.  I find this one neatly counters both.  It shows you who is keen but allows you to keep all members of the class on their toes.

5) Murder mystery  https://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/murder-mystery-lesson–food-and-drink-6091212

Brilliant resource by the exceptional rosaespanola  on TES revising foods, likes and dislikes.  My only concern is that my bottom set did a better job than my top set.  The language was quite challenging  and the task is not particularly easy.  If you use it then give it the 5* rating it merits.

5 ideas to try this week

Dear readers

Just a few simple ideas this time.  Thank you to whoever is tweeting this site as the views go rocketing up.  I haven’t ventured on to Twitter yet but it might happen soon.

Extreme battleships

DN-SC-85-03546

 You’ve probably done the normal mfl version with a 4×4 grid and phrases that students have to use to sink their opponent’s ship.

How about an 8×8 grid with two people playing against two other people at the same time using the same board?  It sounds mental but it can work.  You need a very competitive class, very clear instructions and a certain arrangement of desks.

Differentiated Quiz Quiz Trade with mini-whiteboards

Get students to write a question on their whiteboard and the start of the answer on the back of the whiteboard.  Students must ask and answer a question before swapping whiteboards.  I tried this with ¿Qué estudias? and ¿Qué vas a estudiar?  Students had “estudio” or “voy a estudiar” on the other side so when the person was answering, they had help with their answer.  Went down well with a low ability group.

Extreme holiday consequences

featured-extreme-sports

A fair amount of pre-teaching of verbs needed here.  Give students a long piece of paper, tell them to put their name at the bottom (this throws them a bit).  Then lead them through the following insisting that they fold over and pass the paper on each time.  At the end return it to the original person.  Writing and reading task in one 🙂

  • Somewhere you went
  • who you went with
  • how you got there
  • el primer día + 2 activities
  • Opinion
  • el Segundo día+ 2 activities
  • Opinion
  • el ultimo día + 2 activites
  • Volví en + transport

You can adapt this to your heart’s content.  This could work with what you do at the weekend, what you plan to do at the weekend.  It could be done with school.  Very flexible activity that allows for a high degree of creativity and teaches some useful phrases at the same time.

30 second summary

A great plenary activity that allows you to check on the learning of a class or even better an individual.  You know how some students do not give much away by their facial expressions, set the class the task of summarising the content of the lesson or explaining a grammar point in 30 seconds.,  Go over and listen to that particular student.

Youtube

There is a lot of dross out there but if you find something good, make it part of your practice.  I am not a massive fan of songs given that my ability to sing is …well.. “limited” would be putting it kindly.  The school insurance probably does not cover the resultant broken glass.

Particularly enjoyed using these two recently:

We exploited them by listening, gap fills, finding phrases, and then trying to sing it.  If you have VLC media player you can slow the play speed (0.85 is good)

Everyday Differentiation

Differentiation is key to developing the abilities of ALL of our learners.  Often you hear about “differentiation by outcome”.  This is the idea that wherever the learners end up is differentiated, as some will inevitably produce more or better quality work than others.  I’ll summarise the types of differentiation I use below and then give you some ideas you can try tomorrow for each.   The graphic above explains what differentiation is.  The picture below explains why we need it.

Differentiation by resource
Resource is often a euphemism for worksheet at this point. It can be effective if you are somebody who rarely uses worksheets. Students like to have things they can go through at their own pace and given that other subjects use them, why not MFL?  However, resource does not have to mean worksheet.

  1. Give more able students some authentic materials to work with on a topic – you may have to go to the country to get these!
  2. Listening – give weaker students multiple choice answers and ask them to highlight
  3. Reading – give weaker students a post-it note and encourage them to tackle the text line by line (covering the rest).  It reduces the amount of visual stimulus.

Differentiation by task/choice

This can take various forms.  I think it is best employed in the production stage of a lesson or equally the practice stage if you are covering a grammar point.

  1. Students could develop their own response to a task eg: podcast, presentation, speech, voki avatar on “things to do in my town”
  2. Students could pick from a selection of tasks that all achieve the same aim.  With lower ability sets I like to do this  when we teach the clothes topic.  The boys can design sports wear (the new United shirt) and the girls respond really well to designing their prom dress.  Some boys also like the opportunity to “suit up” so give them the prom option too; in the same way some girls have a staunch allegiance to a football club so don’t be too restrictive.  It is a great way of teaching clothes, colours and dictionary use (corsage, bow tie, cufflinks, high heels – all words I learnt from this lesson).
  3. In revision lessons, if you have access to a revision guide with graded activities.  Give students a series of activites you want them to work through but with different starting points.  Students who are more confident could start on more advanced activities but make sure wherever they start that the activities gradually increase in difficulty so as to ensure they are pushing themselves.

Differentiation by support (TA)

Whilst I realise that differentiation by support could mean significantly more, I wanted to devote a section of this to the use and direction of TAs.  Here is what the best TAs I have worked with have done:

  1. Focus on the weaker students – get to know them.  They may not all be immediately apparent.
  2. Differentiate tasks for the students they are attached to.
  3. Giving students encouragement but praising their effort never their intelligence.
  4. One TA went and produced clocks with moveable hands to help teach students the time.
  5. Another took a group of students and taught them how to tell the time in English so that they could do it in Spanish.

Check out my post on TAs, unsung heroes of the classroom

Differentiation by interest

Sometimes students want to write or speak about things unique to them.  It may be that comparing modes of transport or the environment hold little interst for them.  Sometimes differentiation is not about ability but about interest.  I find I can get a lot of kids engaged if I can make links to things they are interested in (football is very useful).  The pets topic works for a lot, as do clothes, food and holidays  However, we must be careful to engage all kids, what about the one who reads? Could he/she do their coursework on a book rather than a film?

  1. Quiz your students at the start of the year – ask them about their strengths and weaknesses within MFL, their hopes for the year and their interests.  This will allow you to plan lessons that get them onside immediately.
  2. Make links to real-life situations – if a student has been on holiday recently to a French/Spanish/German speaking country use that in your lesson.
  3. If teaching school subjects to year 9s (mira 3 does this) then rather than just teaching them school subjects, get them to debate their options in Spanish.  What are you going to study?  Why?

 

Listening Activities

Hit a milestone with visitors on this blog today.  thank you to those of you who read it.  I hope you find something useful that helps your teaching, or at the very least it triggers an idea.  Drop a comment if you want a particular topic or skill exploring .  You could also be the first comment (another milestone).

GCSE Languages places a heavier emphasis on writing and speaking, which can lead to listening being neglected.  Listening activities can be time consuming but they are vital in being able to understand a language.  They allow students to experience a range of accents, ages and speeds of talking without leaving the classroom.  Some are contrived and others are effective but how can you exploit a listening text for all it is worth?  There seems to be a school of thought emerging that if teachers teach using maximum TL then that counts as listening.  I think there is still a place for the recorded material.

Listening can be differentiated for pupils of various abilities.  Below are some of the ways I have used in a classroom that work.  I wish I did them all more often.  The majority will work at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4.

This takes some planning but consider how you could stretch your more able and support your less able.

More able

  • Ask them to look for particular things.
  • Have a column of extra details if completing a table and get them to fill it in as they go.
  • Could they do a dictée on a particular line?  You could suggest to a class that all those with a target grade of … could do this?
  • Can you do a higher level listening with your more able while the foundation students do a reading activity and then swap.  This works for mixed ability groups.
  • Could they write their own extract afterwards based on the recordings they have heard?

Less able

  • Multiple choice – you can give them this on a handout or on a slide.
  • Write down the words that they hear that they definitely know.  Essentially give them a chance to understand bits before asking them to find answers.
  • Give them the script for the first recording so they can read along
  • Give their TA the script – TAs appreciate this as the teacher’s guides generally have the answers afterwards.
  • Give them the answers and have them highlight the ones they can hear this should help you see how much they comprehend,
  • Teach them skills to help them – key words, cognates, sound patterns, discerning plurals etc
  • VLC is an excellent media programme and has a facility to slow down recordings, I would not go much below 0.90 but it can help.

Conducting a listening effectively

  1. Try not to talk too much
  2. Consider the following order
    1. Play recording all the way through without stopping, students do nothing.
    2. Play through and students try to get answers.
    3. Play through and have breaks in between for students to either write answers or check their answers.
  3. Make sure students are clear on what they are listening for.
  4. Don’t tolerate chat in between.  It needs to be their own work
  5. Try to do them regularly.

Make it lead to something.

Could your students do a similar thing later in the lesson?  Perhaps they could record it and you could use that instead (providing you have permission).   Could they do a speeddating style activity and use some of the phrases from the listening recording, or any other activity for that matter?