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.

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GCSE: Marriage/Partnership/Relationships

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Photo Credit: The Quiet One Harumi Flickr via Compfight cc

I doubt the above picture will ever be the subject of a “qué hay en la foto?”, however it’s copyright free so feel free to use it in your lessons!

It is definitely time for another post on GCSE topics, which is another way of saying it’s half-term and I have some time to write.  Having covered GCSE topics such as school, the environment, technology, customs and festivals and social issues charity and volunteering, it was time to look at the marriage and relationships topic.

AQA calls it marriage/partnership.  Edexcel calls it “relationships”, as does Eduqas.  This topic is one that I believe requires a degree of sensitivity when teaching.  I have always found it useful to pre-warn students when there are upcoming lessons on this topic.  For some, family relationships, divorce and arguments are the last thing they want to talk about because they are living through it.  The last thing you want is to dredge up unpleasant memories or experiences.

I’ve tried a variety of activities to make this topic more enjoyable for students and will share a few below.  Before starting this topic, it is really worth considering what you want your students to be able to say at the end and how it might be assessed.  You might think “well I do that all the time”.  However, are we thinking in terms of grammar, chunks of language or set phrases?  From a brief look at AQA’s speaking sample assessment materials.  Students should be able to…

  • give their opinion on marriage and appropriate age to marry
  • to explain a cause of divorce
  • talk about their ideal partner
  • state whether you believe marriage is important

You could also imagine how the topic is likely to appear in writing, listening and reading.

Here are some activities I have tried with groups on this topic.

Word Family Matchups.

Give students a list of nouns, verbs and adjectives.  They should all have very similar meanings eg: “love”, “to love”, “loved”  or  “girlfriend/boyfriend”, “to go out with”, “dating”.  Students have to match all three.  I found this was a good start to the topic as most students started picking up the spelling and meaning links between the phrases and gave them a good base of vocabulary for future lessons.

Synonyms match up around the room.

Give students a list of words.  Around the room you will have synonyms with a TL definition.  Students have to work out which synonyms go together.  This is best done with higher level groups after pre-teaching some basic vocabulary around the topic.

Ideal partner modal verbs

This topic is ideal for revising modal verbs (most common verbs).  If you are a fan of Sentence Builders à la Conti, there is plenty of potential here.  I’ve put two examples below.  Feel free to adapt them to French/German/Spanish/Italian etc.

I want                              to meet          a man              who         is                     adjective

I would like                                            a woman                         can be           adjective

I hope

Or

My ideal partner          should be                    adjectives

would be                     more adjectives

would have                 nouns

You can then do various games and mini-whiteboard activities based on these.

Consequences ideal partner.

I have used the above phrases in a consequences style activity.  Give out A4 paper, one between two.  Fold in half lengthways and chop.  Students put their name at the bottom of the paper.  Give them a sentence to create.  They write it at the top, fold towards themselves and pass it on.  Give them another sentence.  Repeat until most of the paper has been used and then return to original owner.  The original owner now has two jobs.  Job 1: translate what has been produced.  Job 2: write out a version correcting  anything they deem not to suit them.  For example, if their piece of paper says “my ideal partner would have brown hair” and they would prefer otherwise then they need to change it.

This vocabulary would also lend itself to a trapdoor activity!

Starts and Ends

I have always found this a good pre-writing activity to see how much students can produce independently.  Give them the start of a sentence that they must finish or the end of a sentence that they need to start.  It goes some way to mitigating the tension that arises when a student is asked to produce 40-90 words on this topic.

Mi novio ideal ______________________________

_____________________________________________ me hace reír

Semi-authentic Texts

I have a love/hate relationship with authentic texts.  With some topics I love them (food, restaurants etc) and find them helpful.  With some topics I cannot seem to find any that would better what is in the textbook.  This is where you can create your own (highly patterned and flooded with language you want them to learn, naturally).  I recently had some success with Fake Whatsapp.  Rather than an authentic text where you cannot select the language, here you can, in a way that looks authentic.  Add in some French textspeak, German textpspeak, or Spanish textspeak if you dare.

How can you turn this into something about relationships?  Let’s return to our earlier bullet points:

  • Your opinion on marriage: Produce a short conversation between two people discussing it.
  • What is the right age for marriage?  Produce a conversation between two people about a friend getting married.

Do every roleplay and photocard on this topic you can find

My experience of the new GCSE so far shows me that when students are confronted with a roleplay or photo card on school, free time, holidays or healthy living then they are largely fine.  When confronted with one on marriage or family relationships.  They panic.  In class I would make sure we have a go at these topics and trust them to be ok with holidays and school.  As there is only one of you and potentially 20-34 students in your room.  I have found some success using the following process for doing roleplays and photocards in class.  I have copied it verbatim from another blogpost on marking here.

  • Teacher shows students mark scheme and script for roleplay.
  • One student is selected to conduct the roleplay.  Teacher plays role of student
  • Roleplay is then performed by teacher and student (in reversed roles).
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that can be described as a omnishambles full of mistakes, hesitation, use of English, use of Spanglish, use of French, adding O to any English word to make it sound Spanish.
    • Teacher (as student) produces a half-decent roleplay that ticks some boxes but not all.
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that would knock the socks off the most examiners.
  • After each the students are asked to give numerical scores.  The AQA mark-scheme is extremely helpful in this as for each element of the roleplay there is a score of 0, 1 or 2.  Their language says “message conveyed without ambiguity” or “message partially conveyed or conveyed with some ambiguity”.  In short:  2 = job done   1 = partly done  0 = was it done?   Students are then asked to give a score out of 5 for quality of language.  The teacher can guide them towards this one a bit more.
  • Students then have silent prep time for a roleplay on the same theme but with different bullet points.  10-12mins.
  • Students conduct the roleplay in pairs with script on projector screen.  After which, they assess their partner’s performance.  When they switch over, you need to switch the unpredictable question to something else!  Or generate a new task for the other.
  • They need to repeat this so that they have two sets of scores.  They can then calculate an average.  By doing so, hopefully any overly generous or overly harsh marking is minimised.

Example:

Joe gives Martina   2+2+1+1+1   /10   +3   /5     = 10/15

Kelsey gives Martina 1+2+1+2+2  / 10      4/5     =12/15

Average = 11/15

5 Things to try tomorrow 2019 Edition!

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A very Happy belated New Year to you.  If you’re reading for the first time then you are very welcome!  Over 10,000 busy teachers visited last year from countries all over the world.  Hopefully, you found something useful.  Anyway, to kick off this year, here are 5 things you can try tomorrow.

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Photo Credit: Ekspresevim Flickr via Compfight cc

Vocab Sheet/Knowledge Organiser Dice Quiz

Some schools have vocabulary sheets, some have knowledge organisers.  Get some 12 sided dice and set 12 chunks/items for students to test each other.  They need to produce the Spanish for this activity to be most effective.  Students test each other on 5 things.  My year 8s are working through a foods topic so the phrases they were testing each other on primarily concerned restaurants.

  • 3pts – perfect recall without help.
  • 2pts – needed sheet to prompt
  • 1pts – needed sheet but not correct
  • 0pts – silent response

Quick run-through:

Harvey rolls dice, rolling a 9.  He looks at the screen.  His partner  Lewis has to do  task 9.  Lewis reads task 9.  “Order a dessert”.  Lewis consults his vocabulary sheet and says “quiero un helado de chocolate”.  Lewis has achieved 2 points.  He then rolls the dice for Harvey.

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Double chance to win bingo

Students divide a mini-whiteboard into 6.  They put three adjectives and three nouns into the spaces.  This worked best with school subjects and opinions.  Bingo was one of the go-to games for my German teacher in year 7.  I find doing it this way forces learners to listen to more of what you say.  I guess you could do it with 9 squares and alter the verb too.  The Year 7s loved it this week.

me gusta la geografia porque es útil

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Bomb Defusal

Using a writing frame, put a sentence from it on a mini-whiteboard.  Learners have 10 opportunities to defuse the bomb or a set time limit using this website.  Very simple guessing game but actually allows you to check their pronunciation of the target structures.  Make it more interesting by having the first person pick the next person, who picks the next person.  Or use a random name generator.

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Live Marking

This was sold to me a year or so ago as a way to “dramatically reduce your marking load”.  This idea from a history teacher was that you went around the class adding comments to kids work such as “how could you develop this point further?”.  The kid then had to respond instantly.  In humanities subjects I can see it being effective.  I came up with a variation recently designed to help a class that are not particularly confident speakers..  Here’s how it works:

  • Find a text in TL (textbooks are great for this).
  • Work student by student having them read out the text – no prior preparation.
  • With each student write a quick note in their book on their speaking.  Here are a few examples:
    • 15/1  Speaking: “superb today – no issues.”
    • 15/1  Speaking: “check words with LL otherwise fine.”
    • 15/1  Speaking: “check words with “CE.”
    • 15/1  Speaking: “pronunciation fine, now try to sound more confident.”
  • If you feel that they need to respond in some way, write out a series of words containing the target sound and work through them with the student.  Or get them to redo the line.

Students seemed motivated by it and seem more confident as a result.  As a teacher, it is quick simple feedback and if a response is needed then you can do one very quickly!  It takes very little time to do a whole class.

Sense/Nonsense Listening

This is a really simple warm-up activity prior to a recorded listening on a similar topic.  Recently year 8 working through the food topic and have arrived at restaurant situations.   This one was a bit of a “off the cuff” thing.  Read out a sentence.  Students have to listen carefully and decide if it is “sense” or “nonsense” based on vocabulary they have covered recently.

  1. De primer plato quiero una tortilla española con helado de chocolate.
  2. De segundo plato quiero una sopa de manzana.
  3. De segundo plato quiero un filete con patatas fritas.
  4. Por la mañana juego al fútbol con mis amigos
  5. A las dos de la noche juego al baloncesto
  6. me gusta el inglés porque es interesante
  7. No me gusta el teatro porque es divertido

The possibilities are endless.

 

 

 

 

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.

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?

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.

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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.