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:

Image result for anger

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)

Image result for snakes and ladders

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.

 

Plenty to come from EverydayMFL

Dear all.

It’s the summer holidays so I’m taking a few weeks off.  From September there will hopefully be more regular posts as things got a little sporadic towards the end of last term.

In the meantime you can have a read of the following:

Top post:  Outstanding MFL Everyday

Second most popular post: GCSE Revision

Third most popular post: Feedback and marking.

Least popular posts: 5 Things to try tomorrow and 5 ideas to try this week

One for the NQTs: First Lesson of the year

Posts to come in the new academic year:

  • Making marking work
  • Teaching the new GCSE – reflections at the halfway point.
  • What is going to be different this year (lessons learnt from The Language Gym)

I’m sure there will be others but those are the three I’m working on.

Have a great summer!

 

5 Things to try tomorrow

Number, Five, 5, Digit

It has been a while since writing one of these (or anything) so here are 5 things to try tomorrow.

Everydaymfl has been a little bit quiet of late but posts in the works include one on questioning and possibly one on the new GCSE – what I learnt teaching it so far.

No writing lessons

Writing is one of the easiest skills to show progress with.

  1. Student writes something
  2. Teacher corrects
  3. Student improves

However, students are used to a lot of this.  It really is quite something for them to have a “no writing” lesson in a subject they will typically associate with writing.  An entire lesson of speaking and listening is not a bad thing as it reminds them how important the skills are.   Some groups will be noticeably more enthused by this idea.  It is quite heavy on the planning and paired activity so you may want a settling activity at some point – perhaps hands up listening.

Group Model Essay

After my year 10 group seemed somewhat intimidated by the 150 word task in the new GCSE, I thought I would approach it gradually.  Here is what we did:

They were given a 150 word task from the AQA textbook.

In groups of 4 they drafted the best response on mini-whiteboards that they could come up with.  After some feedback from me, they improved the draft on mini-whiteboards.  One member of the group put it on to paper.  They handed them in and I typed them up on a word document with significant amounts of space around them.  I annotated the work highlighting tenses, good bits of grammar (comparatives, superlatives, subjunctives) and double ticks for anything that particularly stood out.

This was really well received and sometimes it is helpful to know “what a good one looks like” but also to know that you were involved in producing it.

Micro-listening enhancers

I have read a lot about these on Gianfranco Conti’s website.  I have found myself using them quite a bit recently as my speakers are kaputt.  The pupils did seem to be gaining confidence from them.  In teaching the perfect tense in Spanish, it seemed to have a positive effect on the pronunciation of “he” and “ha” et al later in the lesson.  Well worth a try and something I am looking to do a bit more of earlier on.

Photo Credit: immaculate-photons Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: immaculate-photons Flickr via Compfight cc

MM Paired Speaking

Possibly one of my favourite activities.  The MM refers to a lady I worked with on my PGCE.  In my mind the activity is named after her for two reasons.  1) I have never seen anyone else do it.  2) I’ve no idea what to call it!

Students divide their page into 3 columns.  If they don’t have a ruler then gentle folds work well.

  • Column 1: days of the week or time phrases in a list going down.  3 lines between each approximately
  • Column 2: draw simple picture representing an activity
  • Column 3: leave blank.
  1. Person A asks question for example: “Qué hiciste el lunes”
  2. Person B responds using time phrase and makes sentence based on picture “el lunes fui de compras”.
  3. Person A notes down in the empty column what their partner did on Monday.

You can add challenge by getting Person A to write in the third person on step 3.  You could differentiate for weaker learners by getting them to write a quick note as to what they heard.

This is a very versatile activity as it can be adapted to different tenses and languages easily.  It is good speaking and listening practice at the same time.  Both students should have that last column filled by the end of the activity.

The Future Tense Three Musketeers 

This came from a teacher I used to work with.  She would teach the future tense telling students that there are three musketeers.

Musketeer number 1 has 6 moves in Spanish.  Musketeer number 2 always does the same thing. Musketeer has different disguises but you can always tell it is him by looking at the ending.  The three can never be separated.  Once the concept has been introduced you may then move on to some mini-whiteboard practice.  Telling students to check musketeer number 1,2 or 3 seems to be quite effective.  It also seems to eradicate “voy a juego” or “voy a hago”

1                       2                                            3

Voy                  a                   ______________AR/ER/IR

Vas

Va

Vamos

Vais

Van

 

5 Things to try tomorrow

Here are 5 things I have tried this week…

Los Meses Del Año en estilo Macarena.  

The kids loved this!  The trick is getting them to practise the lyrics before doing it with the actions.

 

Equipment check in TL

This idea was borrowed from an excellent seminar by Eva Lamb earlier this year.  When teaching students the items in the pencil case then get them to do an equipment check and stitch up their friend.

Persona 1: ¿Tienes un lápiz?

Persona 2: Si, tengo un lápiz.

Persona 1: ¿Tienes una calculadora?

Persona 2: no tengo una calculadora

Persona 1: ¡Señor, mi compañero no tiene calculadora!

12 sided dice revision

Teach a topic, such as family.  Then at the end of the topic go through with the students how the new speaking exams will take shape.  There is a general conversation section.  Get a set of 12 sided dice and set a GCSE group 12 questions of which they must ask their partner at least 7.  I found this was a great way of practising, ensuring spontaneity and helping them to learn to deal with unpredictability.  The students then peer assessed their partner using the following guidelines:

  1. Start low, ask yourself: did they do that?  If yes, move up.
  2. When you have reached the highest level.  Ask yourself: how well did they do?
  3. Pick a mark higher or lower depending on answer to Q2

12 sided dice were a great little investment and did not break the bank.

3 Minute KS3 Marking

 

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds Flickr via Compfight cc

This is a variation on a strategy suggested by Ross Morrison McGill (known to Twitter people as @TeacherToolkit).  Normally the suggestions from Teacher Toolkit take 5 minutes; this one takes two!!    I cannot find the original link but I believe he suggested only 2 minutes per book.  I have been trying it this week with some success and no perceptible dip in quality.  If you can manage 2 minutes then even better.  Here’s the Math…

2mins x class of 34 = 68mins

3mins x class of 34 = 102mins

Now if you’re like me a class of 34 is a massive amount all at once but the principle really helps.  You can still highlight errors, write a positive comment and set 2-3 targets in this time.

My Favourite Spanish Alphabet Song

I have used this as a way of recapping the phonics we did in the first lesson (see Rachel Hawkes for Powerpoints on this).  The lesson consists of introducing the alphabet sounds and getting a handle on those.  Then I use it as a vehicle to remind the students of the sound and spelling links.  We then look at a verse from a song (without telling them what it is) going through how each word should be said.  If they know the rules, they can do most of the words, before concerning themselves with what song it is.  We use the first verse of this one below…

 

Keeping Year 9 going…

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It’s that time of year again.  Year 11 have gone.  Year 10 are thinking about work experience. Year 9s become that little bit more difficult to teach.

I got lucky this year.  I got a rather nice year 9 group.  They are a group with a mixture of middle and top set characters with a handful of lower ones thrown in.  The words mixed ability make the range of abilities sound wider than it is.

Over the past 5 years I have not been so lucky.  This post is an exploration of the variety of strategies I’ve tried.  The following picture does not represent a strategy but is definitely reflective of how it has felt at times:

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9×4 teaching aid.

Prepare a presentation/poster

Sometimes we do not get enough time to cover the extensive culture and history that surround the languages we teach.  Students prepare a presentation in groups of two or three to be delivered to their class.

How to vary it:

  • Give students a choice of delivery styles: interview, powerpoint and speech, podcast recorded using apps like spreaker , giant A2/A3 poster for corridor complete with text and pictures.  If you are a school with ipads then a whole world of possibilities are probably open to you (leave suggestions in the comments section).
  • To use TL or not to use TL.  With groups where most carry on til GCSE then insist on some TL, otherwise make the activity about presentation skills (perhaps colloaborate with English).
  • Horrible Histories.  Having met Terry Deary, the man is on to something.  The more gory or wacky it is; the more kids  will read about it.  Perhaps get your kids to go after the lesser known facts.
  • Ban certain websites.  Wikipedia is not always correct.  At university when I looked up the Spanish Civil War it turned out it was Manchester United’s sub goalkeeper!  Encourage use of reputable sources.
History Culture Geography
Guerra de independencia Don Quixote Espana
Islamic Conquest of Spain Gabriel Garcia Marquez Bolivia
The Inquistion Cataluna Peru
Colombus Castilla y Leon Paraguay
Spanish Civil War El País Vasco Chile
Franco Flamenco Ecuador
Juan Carlos de Borbon Tango Honduras
Zapatero Bullfighting Costa Rica
Ernesto Che Guevara Galicia Puerto Rico
Simon Bolivar Bunuel Venezuela
Al Andalus La tomatina Colombia
Eva Peron San Fermin Los Andes
Evo Morales Pedro Almodovar El salar de uyuni
Diego Maradona Las islas canarias Patagonia

Spanish survival kit

Everything needed for the casual tourist.  What does a holidaying student need?

WEEK THEME
1 Introductions

Name ¿Cómo te llamas? Me llamo …,

How are you + opinions¿Qué tal? ¿ Cómo estás?

Numbers 1 – 20, Age ¿Cuántos años tienes?

Alphabet,

2 Personal information

Where live ¿Dónde vives? Vivo en …

Holiday dates, times

3 Food and drink

Basic vocabulary

Ordering in a restaurant/bar/café

Complaining – this is not what I ordered etc

Money and shopping

Currency

Asking how much

Understanding larger numbers and prices

I would like Quisiera …

I like/don’t like Me gusta…/ No me gusta …

5 Directions

Asking where places are in a town ¿Dónde está …? Esta … ¿Hay … par aquí?

Understanding directions

6 Revision

There are obvious benefits to this approach.  It gives students some revision of the basics and prepares them for holidays.  The downside is that it is too simplistic for some.

Start GCSE

This is this year’s idea.  As a department we looked at the new specs and decided there was some stuff we have never taught.  So we decided to give it a go.  The results have been surprising.  Most students seem to have taken to it as they appreciate it is necessary for their classmates.  Other groups with slightly lower numbers of GCSE students have found it a bit tougher.  They do however appreciate the more advanced themes (global understanding) and focus on being able to make up stuff on the spot.  Rachel Hawkes writes that students judge their TL abilities based on what they can say and she is right.

A Film

“But SLT would never allow it!!” I hear you scream.  You may be right but at the same time there is a lot to be gained, if it is handled well.

Things to consider:

  • Get permission from parents, HoD and SLT if needed.
  • Make sure it is already on your scheme of work!  History show films regularly, why not mfl?
  • Create a worksheet with questions to provoke thought.
  • Give pupils a selection of words to find and switch the subtitles on.
  • Give pupils a synopsis to translate sections of before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to translate before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to fill in during the film with multiple choice options.  Eg: Ramón es descapacitado / paralisado / activo
  • You could show them the trailer to give an overall picture.
  • You could give them a series of pictures from the film to put in order afterwards .(perhaps with a short Spanish explanation underneath.
  • You could write some true/false sentences for the students to work out.
  • You could make a multiple choice quiz based on the film using Kahoot to gauge their understanding of the film.

One of the most difficult GCSE groups I ever taught was spellbound watching el mar adentro.  17 boys, 2 girls and they were transfixed.  It also fed quite nicely into their Philosophy, Theology, Ethics lessons at the time.

Grammar Revision

If you have a group doing GCSE then take them on a grammar crashcourse.  I believe grammar teaching is important and it can be fun (post on quirky ways to teach grammar is coming soon).

Expo and Mira tend to cover something grammatical and then assume it is mastered at the end of that particular page.  The next time it is revisited, it will be similar but with something new added.  If you are following one of these schemes then you may find students are not quite as adept with the grammar as you would like.  Graham Nuthall (The Hidden Lives of Learners) suggests students need three exposures to new concepts before they start to embed them.  If you are using the above textbooks, it is entirely possible that students will only have had one exposure to some concepts.

The Euros, world cup, Olympics, Women’s World Cup, Wimbledon

Use it as an opportunity to teach opinions and the future tense in the third person.  You could also use it to revise past tense, weather and a variety of vocabulary.  More ideas on Wimbledon can be found here with this shameless self-promotion link.

I think that … is going to win

In my opinion England will win etc.

Perhaps you do something different entirely, leave it in the comments section below!

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.