EverydayMFL needs you!

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

Changes Ahead

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

Get involved!

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

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

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

5 Things to try tomorrow

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My new years resolution of at least one post a month has not been kept.  Sorry if you stopped by in April looking for some MFL inspiration.  However,  here are 5 activities you can try with your classes tomorrow…or after the weekend!

4 in a row translation practice

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This was inspired by a game on my old Nokia (the only one they made that didn’t have Snake on it).  Pupils draw a 5×5 grid on miniwhiteboards.  You project a 5×5 table of phrases they must translate.  The winner is the first to score 4 in a row.  It’s like connect 4 but you can start anywhere.  The translations could be into English, or into the target language.  My preference is for the latter.  This works well when when you want to do some structured production before moving on to something more creative afterwards.  The example below shows a close battle between two students.

table game

Considerably richer than you…

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This was inspired by a Harry Enfield sketch in which a character often pointed out to others that he was considerably richer than them.  Having recently taught house and home this works rather well.  Jed makes a basic statement such as “in my house I have …”.  His partner Leo then has to better the statement in some way.  This could be as simple as turning it plural or extending it.

Jed: “In my house I have a garage.”

Leo: “In my house I have 2 garages with a ferrari.”

 Jed: “In my house I have a bathroom.”

Leo: “In my house I have 4 bathrooms and a swimming pool..”

Scattergories

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This is a good revision activity if you need a quick activity for year 11.  10 categories on a slide and then give them a letter to begin with.  Pupils have 1 minute come up with ideas.  If someone else in the class has the word then they get no points.  If no-one has it then they get a point.  This can be done in teams or alone.  An example list is below.

  1. animals you wouldn’t have as pets
  2. School subjects
  3. Colours
  4. Weather
  5. Hobbies
  6. Festivals
  7. Adjectives
  8. House
  9. Holiday
  10. Food

Slowing listening on Windows Media Player or VLC

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Students often find listening texts tough.  Some of the textbooks I have used over the past few years are exposing Year 7 to near-native speaker speeds and then give them a tricky activity to do!  A decent textbook that we often use had a good listening activity for practising directions but with a low ability year 8 group.  Groups like these often see listening as a test.  I slowed the track down to 0.7-0.8 of the speed.  It seemed to work, they found it slightly easier to pick out the language they were hearing and complete the activity.

In Windows Media Player, open any track. At the top there is are: file | view | play |   Under “view” you should see “enhancements” and then “play speed settings”.

If using VLC, then it is even easier.  Under playback look for “speed” and it has “slow” and “slower” options.

You will need to use your judgement for when this is appropriate.

Vocabulary Championship

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With exams approaching, I gave my foundation year 11 group a series of vocabulary tests consisting of common words from the exam board’s minimum vocabulary list.  We mark them, write in any that they didn’t know, glue them in books for revision later and then I collect in the scores.  There are prizes awarded as follows:

  • Top score in a single lesson
  • Top 3 at the end of the week
  • Top 3 scores of fortnight (this may not be the same three as end of first week)

The scores then reset from zero for the following week.  Each lesson, I would hint at the themes/topics for the next test.  Some students really will surprise you with their efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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Strengths / Weaknesses Audit via GoogleForm.

Prior to Christmas, I intend to send out a google-form requiring students to submit their responses to a number of statements eg:

I can understand questions in the target language   1   2   3   4   5

I can translate single sentences into English              1   2   3  4  5

I can use the preterite eg: fui, hice, tuve etc

This should give me an idea of their areas of strength and weakness and allow me to target my teaching better, and plan twilight sessions tailored to the individual student.  It will also show me if my teaching has not sufficiently covered any of the challenges presented by the new GCSEs.  The Google-form method allows me to conduct a quick analysis of their areas of strength and weakness as it automatically can produce graphs etc.  If I am feeling really brave, I might add a box for their own comments.

 

Teaching the weather

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

Predict the weather

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

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

Photo Response

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

perubolivia

Today at Wimbledon / Euros / World Cup Scripts

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

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

va jouer            va gagner         va perdre           va pleuvoir

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

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

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

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

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

Translation Tandems

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

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

¦   ¦   ¦

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

Mira 1 Rap

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

Real life listening

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

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

 

 

Everyday Questioning

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A lot of subjects rely on questioning.  Teachers of English, History, Geography, Science and RE can elicit huge amounts of discussion, understanding and thought through questioning techniques.   Maybe your SLT are keen on Blooms, SAMR,  lolly sticks, think/pair/share or pose/pause/pounce/bounce.  It is first worth remembering that MFL is very different.  This quote sums up much of my thinking around questioning:

“language teaching is not like the teaching of, say, mathematics or history. Much of our questioning is of a special type, with the purpose of developing internalised competence with grammar, vocabulary and, ultimately, fluency. Language teachers must therefore treat the most recent recent pronouncements on questioning technique with at least a degree of scepticism.”  Quote from Steve Smith Frenchteacher.net

Steve mentions scepticism, not rejection.  I believe that other subjects do have a few things to teach us and some of the CPD I have experienced around questioning can and has been useful.

This post is about some ways to sharpen your questioning in MFL lessons in the classroom.  Some of the thoughts come from experience, others from seeing other colleagues.

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Hands up or no hands up?

In one school that I trained in, hands up was considered pure evil, you simply did not do it.  In the other school, hands up was fine. Since training and teaching I have tended to take a 50-50 approach.  I personally like to see the enthusiasm and speed of recall that hands up reveals.  I also like to challenge my students and keep them on their toes.

It seemed worth summarising the three approaches in a table below so you can make your own decision:

Hands up 50-50 No hands up
Pros Enthusiasm clear.
Students rewarded for effort.
Clear engagement and participation.
Effort rewarded.
Opportunities to build confidence.
Keeps pupils on toes whilst rewarding
keenness.
Keeps everyone on their toes.
Clear engagement
Students forced to pay greater attention.
Might be less likely to pick same kids.
Cons Some students will not put their hands up.
Tendency to pick the ones who know it.
Some students remain unchallenged,
Students will not always be clear on which
is required.
Some students find it very disconcerting.
Could be demoralising if they genuinely do
not know.

Think/pair/share

A much-used technique from other subjects that we can use in MFL.  Tom Sherrington writes about this as “washing hands of learning”.  I was slightly alarmed by the title but I see his point.  This can be a really useful technique when you have presented students with a grammar structure and you want them to work out how it works, rather than simply telling them.  Here is how it works:  THINK:  Give them at least 30 real seconds thinking time on their own (“teacher seconds” are a completely diifferent time frame). PAIR: discuss with partner or table group.  SHARE: share with the class or another group.  Tom writes “in doing this you are creating a small bubble of security around each pair; a safe space where they can think for a while and say whatever they like.”

Going off topic for a second.  Tom Sherrington was a headteacher and his series of pedagogy postcards and great lessons blogs were really useful in my first few years of teaching.  Worth a look.

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Targeted questioning

Who are you selecting?  Who is contributing in your lessons?  One of my colleagues (who will probably read this), talks about first responders and second responders.  I have tried to emulate this.  First responders are any of the following:

  • Pupil Premium, underachievers, disengaged.

Second responders are the rest of the class.

  • More able.
  • English as an additional language.
  • Special educational needs & disabilities.
  • The rest of the class.

Random name generators

Targeted questioning could also be brought about by random name generators.  I’ll be honest.  I am not a massive fan of lolly sticks.  It seems like a lot of preparation every year, you have to have somewhere to keep them and there is a yearly cost implication.  I used to use random name generators and have not used them for a while.  So that is my mission for this week.

Super Teacher Tools is a personal favourite

Classtools.net  has an excellent one

Have you tried stacking the generator slightly?  The first of the two above websites allows up to 40 names and maybe your class is only 28 strong.  Some names could accidentally find their way in there twice or three times.  If the kids start to question this then perhaps remind them that random means the same name could come up 3 times in a row.

You might want to consider when to use these generators as they will not always be appropriate:

Steve Smith (author of The Language Teacher Toolkit) writes the following:

“I understand the theory that we should have the same expectation of all students and that students need to be challenged and ready to respond at any time, but I also believe that as teachers we should be using our skill and knowledge of our students to pitch questions at an appropriate level. This is sensible differentiation. Each student can be challenged at their own level and we know all too well how great the variability is in language learning aptitude.”

With that in mind, let’s look at the next bit…

Planning your questions

There is a story that suggests a child was asked by an inspector what their favourite part of a lesson was.  The child replied “the plenary”.  The inspector was impressed that the child knew the word and pressed them as to why.  The child responded: “because that’s the bit when we get to pack up and go home”.

Most language teachers will conduct a plenary at the end of a lesson.  How many of the plenary questions do you genuinely plan ahead of that time?  Similarly, when you are teaching grammar, what questions have you planned to check understanding?  How are you going to seek the answers?  Who are you going to ask?  What questions could you add to challenge your high achievers?

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No opt out

This comes from Doug Lemov’s “Teach like a Champion”.  Doug insists that “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.   I would largely agree unless you have asked a question that all students might not know the answer to.  Looking at his ways of implementing this, my personal preference would be for formats 3 and 4.

Format 1. You provide the answer; your student repeats the answer.
Format 2. Another student provides the answer; the initial student repeats the answer.
Format 3. You provide a cue; your student uses it to find the answer.
Format 4. Another student provides a cue; the initial student uses it to find the answer

Source: teach like a champion field guide sample chapter

Occasionally on a reading text when going through answers I may accept that a student didn’t know the answer on number 3 but will tell them that I want the answer to number 8.  They have until I get there to find it.  This way you maintain your standard of everyone trying hard but accept they may simply not have found the answer.  You know your pupils and can decide when this is appropriate.

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

 

Everyday Revision

It’s getting light in the mornings now so that means it is probably time to look at revision.  This is a new post that is attempting to improve upon an older post.  Here’s how I’m planning to drag  help my year 11s through their final listening and reading exam.

Make a plan

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My plans tend to work like this.  As I’m running a fast-track course then we probably have no more than 1 lesson per common topic on the Edexcel Spec.  Therefore my students need vocabulary, listening practice/reading practice and things that they can actively take away from the lessons and try.  The following is an example:

Topic to be taught Vocabulary Focus L/R Take away exam technique Take-away revision technique
General interests Sports, hobbies, free time. L Dealing with the picture questions Mindmapping
Lifestyle (healthy eating) Foods, drinks, gern/nicht gern

Gesund/ungesund etc

L+R Dealing with multiple choice (pick 4 from list of 8) Flashcards
School and college Subjects, likes/dislikes, L+R Dealing with past/present/future questions Make a Tarsia

Vocabulary – Revise / Refresh / Build

The listening and reading exams are essentially one massive vocabulary test of 2 or 5 years worth of learning (depending how you run your course). Therefore most lessons need to begin with some refreshing of vocabulary.

I have the following principles when it comes to selecting revision activities:

  1. The students need to be made to think or to listen carefully
  2. It has to involve the students using and hearing target language
  3. How much do students gain from it?

Here are a few go-to ideas:

Worksheets – For a few years it was almost heresy to suggest a worksheet but if it is a good worksheet then use it.  The benefit is that the students have something to take home to revise from and they may appreciate not having to write things down for a bit.

Last man standing bingo – students write five words from a vocabulary list and then stand up.  Teacher (or willing student) calls out the words.  If all five are called out the student sits down and has lost.  Winners are those left standing.

Environmentally friendly strip bingo – students write a list of seven words on the mini-whiteboard from a vocabulary list.  Teacher (or willing student) calls out the words.  Students may only rub off the top or bottom word when they hear it.  Winner is the first one with a clean whiteboard.

Normal bingo – You’re reading this and you’re a language teacher.  I’m not going to explain this one!

Vocab battles – Students have two lists of vocabulary and test each other.  Winner is the one with the most correct.

Wordsnakes – Students have to separate the words in the snake.  Here is one for work and work experience topic.  If doing German, you will probably need to remove the capital letters.

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Tarsia puzzles – This involves chopping up a sheet of A4 into 8 pieces and writing matching English and German along each inside edge.  The idea is to put the paper back together again with every English and German definition matching perfectly with no text around the outside.  They can be automatically made here.

Dictation – minimal preparation.  Read out sentences from a past paper transcript or textbook reading activity.  Students have to write down exactly what they hear.

Discovery Education PuzzlemakerThis was a staple of my NQT year until I accidentally and rather dramatically exceeded my photocopying budget .  I only recently remembered its existence.  Well worth a look and free to create simple puzzles involving vocabulary.

Vocabulary Toolkit – These are some rather old but still  very good books in our department.  They are sadly out of print but perhaps purchase a few for PP students.  The book in question is here.   Whilst it will not relate exactly to your exam board they are good little tools for revision.  German and French versions only I think..

Collaborative Mindmaps – Students work in a group of 3-4.  Start with the topic area in the middle and give them 4 branches out.  They have a minute to add whatever they can before passing it on to the next person.  Rinse and repeat.

It is worth mentioning that in the above activities I will probably focus on non-cognates over cognates.  Most students can deduce a word such as “telefonieren” but may struggle with “anrufen”.

For more ideas of games that work then head to Frenchteacher.net or this page (shameless self-promotion).

Teaching Exam Technique – some thoughts on past papers.

This technique of going through past papers is something I have found valuable.  My thanks to Chris Hildrew’s website for this:

PQRST Past Paper Method

Preview: revise the topics before tackling the paper

Questions: now do the paper.

Review: see questions below

Scribble: note any new vocabulary on the paper that was not known.

Test: test yourself two or three days later on that vocabulary to check retention.

Past papers should not just be an end in themselves.  Completing a past paper is good but using it to push revision and learning forward is better.  Students should be looking at the following after completing a paper:

  • What new vocabulary is there that I didn’t know?
  • Did I miss out on marks from misunderstanding the question requirements?
  • Did I miss out on marks because I didn’t know the material?l
  • Did I miss out an answer – the crime above all crimes on an MFL paper.  When the odds on a correct answer are 33% or higher, missing answers out is silly.

General Exam Technique Teaching Ideas

  • Teach features of language such as prefixes and suffixes.  For example, “ent” always implies removal of something in German (entfernen, entspannen).
  • Test them regularly on the little words and the negatives “jamais” “rien” “personne”.
  • Use the listening 5 minutes well.  Model it on a visualiser if you have one or get your entire group stood around you while you do it and invite their contributions.
  • Have a twilight with your higher level students where you practise the target language question at the end of the higher reading papers.
  • There will be a question on tenses – can they spot them?  Sometimes time markers play a role here.  Students need to be aware of the features of each tense.  Chris Fuller made a good point that anything future adds and anything present/past takes away in French and Spanish.  If they  spot an infinitive it is likely a future tense unless preceded by an opinion phrase.
  • Higher level papers will often mention all three of their multiple choice options.  The trick is working out the right one.  Two are probably close to right so listen carefully the second time to the ones that appear similar.
  • Exam boards have to promote SMSC just as schools do, students need to remember the exam is written for teenagers.  When the question says “What are Karla’s views on smoking?”  The answer is unlikely to be “it is harmless and we should all just light up now”
  • Remind students that Edexcel exams follow a peak-trough model where harder questions are preceded by easier ones.  They need to make sure they do not give up too quickly.  Question 9 can be a walk in the park after question 7 on nordic walking or the training of guide dogs.
  • Leave nothing blank!  I’ve had a student get 5 extra marks in past paper as a result.  When the kid said he got an A, he shocked most of his classmates!  He later admitted not answering 8 questions but guessed them and was rewarded for it.
  • Some subjects have introduced walking/talking mocks.  I prefer to brief students before they do they paper, allow them to make any notes of reminders and then let them go.

Remind them that they have been preparing for this for 2-5 years but shouldn’t assume that they can just do it without revision.  Make the following your mantra:

dont-be-upset-poster

EverydayMFL’s typical revision lesson

As a teacher of a mixed ability group on a fast-track 2 year course.  Here is a lesson outline that I would use.  There are so many good revision activities out there and I’ve seen all sorts of ideas on the Facebook groups involving balloons, jenga, trivial pursuit etc.  You will notice that these do not feature heavily in the plan below.  It is simply that with the time pressures of such a course, I’ve had to prioritise listening practice and as much vocabulary input as possible.  The final lesson will generally involve some revision fun and German or Spanish food.

Topic: Healthy living and lifestyle

STARTER: activity that refreshes their memory of large amounts of vocab eg: odd one out, make a mindmap, 30 word vocab test German–> English or English–> German.

MAIN:

Present: a revision activity students could do at home on any topic but model it with this one.  Students do the activity building in vocabulary from the starter and what they can remember.

Listening practice using past exam questions or revision workbook questions.  Immediate feedback and discussion of where the marks were won and lost.  Suitable for both higher and foundation although leaning towards higher.  Sometimes completed with transcript.

Split class into two groups

Highers do some practice reading questions on the topic while foundations do practice listening appropriate to their level on the topic, then they switch.  Students doing the listening will be talked through how to approach the question, what the question is looking for and any handy strategies that come to mind.  We then attempt it.  Those doing reading are largely left to it.

Set homework: revision via vocabexpress / samlearning / past paper / make a mindmap / make a tarsia puzzle / languagesonline / linguascope / language gym workouts etc

PLENARY: 

Students then may face one more listening text (because you can never practise this skill enough) or another vocabulary building activity based on my experiences over the course of the lesson.

Students on study leave – what to do when you cannot do anything to help them anymore!

  • Make sure they know what constitutes effective revision – for a blog that changed my practice, click here.
  • Mail a document on useful ways to revise for languages to the parents.
  • Set them up some vocab lists on Quizlet / Memrise / Vocabexpress.
  • Give them a pack of past papers to work through and the mark schemes.
  • Give them a sheet of QR codes leading to language revision websites.
  • Make them purchase a revision workbook or guide to help them revise prior to study leave.

All the best with the final furlong.

 

The Options Lesson

These next few weeks, we’re trying to convince the year 9s to carry on with a language or two.  Here’s my thinking for…

The Options Lesson.

STARTER: Brainstorm every reason to learn a language.  Could be done as a Think Pair Share.  Students can then share with the class.  Some commentary from teacher probably required to clarify, explain and correct.  Typical answers include

Travel, teaching, interpreting, translating, fun, challenge, interaction with others, live abroad, get girls, get guys etc.

MAIN – 3 sections of approx 10 minutes each

Section 1: English is not enough

Quiz using powerpoint from TES.  Slides 8-12  On this powerpoint you will find:

  • Guess the amount of speakers
  • Guess the percentage of people in Europe who speak…
  • Match the language to the people who speak it

The last activity may require some updating so modern multilinguals include Roger Federer, Bradley Cooper, Tom Hiddleston and more found here

The percentage question and the guess the amount activity could be done on mini-whiteboards so every student has to think about the answer.

You could also share some quotes from celebs found on the internet if you so choose.  Mandela is my personal favourite:

Section 2: Skills and Business

Explain skills that can be gained by learning language using above PowerPoint.

Give pupils a list of 10 jobs and work out how a language could be useful in those jobs. Alternatively ask them to generate a list of jobs, give it to another group who then suggest how a language could be used.

Here are some if you are pressed for time:

  • Walkers Crisps Employee
  • BMW Employee
  • Easyjet Steward/Stewardess
  • Hotel Receptionist
  • Surf Instructor
  • Civil Servant
  • MP
  • Firefighter
  • Police
  • NHS Frontline staff.

Get pupils to generate a list of French / German / Spanish companies that have links with the UK.  The list below is just to get you started.

  • French: Christian Dior, L’Oreal, Michelin, Peugeot, Renault, EDF, Agence France Presse, Bugatti.
  • German: Audi, Siemens, Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Adidas, Haribo, Aldi, Lidl, Puma, Hugo Boss, Bauhaus, Bayer, Carl Zeiss, Bosch, Kraft,
  • Hispanic: SEAT, BBVA, Santander, Iberia, Alpargatas, Topper, CoronaExtra

Ok, maybe don’t mention that last one…

This section of the lesson finishes with this:

Section 3: What about Brexit?

“Brexit means Brexit” we were told.  Most students seem aware that we will leave the E.U and some believe all sorts of weird and wonderful things about what this means. Regardless of your view when it came to leave or remain, and regardless of what kind of Brexit we go through, languages will remain vital to trade, business and growth of the UK economy.

Share the following statements with students.  The links to the original websites have been added so that you can fact check the statements.

“Language skills are vital for our exports, education, public services and diplomacy.” – All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Foreign Languages.  Article found here

Lack of language skills costs the UK £48,000,000,000 a year in lost trade- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills).  Quoted in The Guardian here

30% of UK businesses have no need for foreign language skills – Confederation of British Industry.  Also found in Guardian here.  Conclusion from this one, 70% would welcome someone with language skills

¨If I’m selling to you, I speak your language.  If you’re selling to me, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen” – Willy Brandt

75% of the world speaks no English. -Routes into Languages quote this statistic in a helpful article here

“Brexit means higher priority for language skills. If we found it challenging to deal with the 24 official and working languages of the EU and the Single Market, let’s consider that there are 164 members of the World Trade Organisation.  Each potential trading partner and regulator will be requiring precise negotiations. New relationships require trust, reliability and cultural empathy – those soft skills that come from knowledge of other languages and cultures.”- Bernadette Holmes MP.  Original article here

PLENARY

Coming in to land now… I will try and explain what the GCSE entails and how they make their choices.  All the normal warnings “don’t pick subjects based on friends/teacher preference/perceived ease/novelty”etc will be given at this point.  We will conclude with a video:

Finish off with Options Girl

And/Or finish with Lindsay.

And/Or Alex

 

During my “research” for this lesson.  I stumbled across the British Council video below.  It sadly does not fit in to what I plan to do, however their series of videos are pretty good.

Also considered using this one…

And this…

Keeping Year 9 going…

New_Chums_beach_Whangapoua_Waikato.jpg

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Pupil Premium & MFL

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We’ll start with some words from Number 10 Downing Street:

“The Coalition Government introduced the Pupil Premium in 2011 to provide additional school funding for those children classed as having deprived backgrounds, and also those who had been looked after (by a local authority) for more than six months. The Service Premium was also introduced for children whose parent(s) are, or have since 2011, served in the armed forces.” Source Material for super keen readers.

Regardless of whether you agree with the idea of the Pupil Premium and the considerable emphasis placed thereupon, it is here to stay.  I have to be honest that over the past few years I have had mixed feelings and a lot of questions about it: what about children who fall ever so slightly above the threshold?  What about students with parents in the forces that actually do not access the funding and do not want it?  Can it make that much of a difference?  Are we in danger of over-emphasizing it?  One headteacher’s blog wrote about the disadvantage gap being a chasm.  It is a complex issue but not one we should shy away from.

Earlier today our SENCO shared this picture:

It reminds me that my job is a teacher is to ensure that every pupil has a chance to achieve.  For some those boxes in the picture will equate to extra funding from Number 10 and for others the boxes are the process of scaffolding and lesson planning.  For some pupils the boxes symbolise my teaching, my feedback and my attention or time spent with them.  Feedback has been covered here, support and scaffolding for lower ability has been covered here and here.  Today we are looking at the Pupil Premium.

Why Pupil Premium Students struggle:

Pupil Premium encompasses a variety of different situations.  It should never be confused or used as a synonym for low ability or behavioural difficulties.  Both might be true but they are not always the case.   I have done my best to list the struggles and the type of student in the table below.

Type of Pupil Premium Student Explanation
Free School Meals Eligibility for free-school meals is used as an indicator of poverty. It may be that such students eligible come from homes that do not support their education in terms of material resources, or in terms of assisting with homework.  Other needs might be more basic in terms of uniform, cleanliness or communication skills.
Service Children Children with parents in the armed forces are often eligible for the pupil premium. In my experience this presents slightly different issues in terms of T&L. Some students will be anxious as a result of the situation the parent is in and the infrequency of contact. Other students may need no help at all as the other parent works and provides for them.  There is a wide spectrum of need when it comes to this type of student.
Children in Care Inevitably these students will have varying issues. Much depends on the reason these students are in care, and at the same time, the quality of care they are currently receiving. Children in care are often quite well supported but struggle in other areas possibly in terms of development, communication and social skills, or mental health.
Ever 6 This refers to the fact a student may have been eligible for the pupil premium in the past 6 years.  It is worth knowing as whilst the student may no longer be eligible; there may still be needs that require meeting or they may only have moved slightly above the threshold for FSM.

What is suggested to be effective?

Having read OFSTED’s report on how schools are using the pupil premium.  They mention a number of ideas but many relate to SLT and governance.  The following are their suggestions for the classroom:

  • Effective teaching and learning for pupil premium students – just teach great lessons everyday.
  • Target support effectively.  How are you moving students forward?  What support do they have?
  • Know the desired outcomes for PP students, not always age related but higher.
  • Know your pupils.
  • Deploy your TA effectively  (see previous blog post here).
  • Enhance their thinking, study and revision skills (see blog on revision here).

They also say the following:

“Where schools spent the Pupil Premium funding successfully to improve achievement, they never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels and thoroughly analysed which pupils were underachieving, particularly in English and mathematics, and why.”  

Having read around the subject it appears there is a “no excuse” campaign going on.  Social deprivation, familial background, home situation, low attendance and level of need are not excuses (see 2013 presentation by OFSTED here).

In short, the pressure is on…

Photo Credit: Jack Zalium via Compfight cc

What can we do in MFL?

There are a lot of questions below designed to provoke thought and hopefully action.

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Data tracking – Analysing data has become a necessary part of the job.  Whilst we may find it tedious, it is a means to an end.  The end should be answering the following kinds of questions:

  • Are your pupil premium students where they should be?
  • Are they attaining in line with their targets (grades 5-9, positive progress 8 score, FFTD, or whatever you use)?
  • If they are not attaining then you need to be asking why?
  • Is the underachievement isolated to MFL or is it more widespread?
  • Where are they achieving?  Why?
  • How can you use that knowledge to your advantage? What has that teacher or department done?  What are they currently doing?
  • Could another member of staff give a pupil a bit of encouragement that causes them to see your subject differently?  Is their tutor/head of year/achievement leader (or whatever your school calls the role) pushing them to achieve in all subject areas?

Targeted Questioning  

Some teachers would advocate a system of no-hands-up whereby any questions are directed at PP students first and then at other key groups (underachievers, more able, SEND, disengaged boys).  On a seating plan I do have key individuals highlighted and will more often direct my questions towards them.

Others might add on to this the idea of “no opt out” where the kid is not allowed to say “I don’t know”.  It is entirely up to you how to run your classroom.

Quality first marking/feedback.

A suggestion from another school was to mark all PP books first in the pile as you are freshest and most alert.  It is hard to dispute the logic if that is true for you.  Personally, I find my marking gets better after the first three or so.  I would need to adapt that strategy slightly.  I do have some issue with the ethics of this approach, as every student should be receiving decent feedback from me.  There are also students out there who may not be in receipt of the Pupil Premium but actually fighting battles at home on a par with, or worse than those who are classified as disadvantaged.  It is up to you as a teacher to differentiate accordingly.

Seating plans – Some of my colleagues advocate seating all PP students in the same seat in their room so they always know who they are.  Others advocate sitting them at the front of your classroom to enable them to seek help.  Yet more suggest surrounding them with pupils who can positively influence them.  It is up to you as a teacher to decide and you probably have your own views, but we have to know who they are and we have to be able to answer the question: how are you catering for their needs?

Strengths/weaknesses analysis – this was quite a useful exercise with my year 11s.  Looking at the data I had, their performance in class and their books.  What are their strengths and weaknesses as far as language learning was concerned?  Do they know what their strengths are?  Are they playing to them and working on their weaknesses?  One of the issues with the new GCSE is the many elements: speaking, listening, reading, writing, translations, photocards, roleplays, target language questions, target language answers, 40 words, 90 words and 150 words.  What bits are they doing well?  What do they need support with?  I have seen teachers on some MFL Facebook groups looking for “quick wins”.  Actually, could it be a case of looking at the individual pupils and picking one area they need to develop that is going to make the most telling difference in terms of marks?

Resourcing in school – This could be hotly debated and there is a strong argument from both sides.  Lend them equipment or don’t lend them equipment, it’s up to you.  Similarly the  issue is the same with books, do you let them take it home?  Much also depends on the individual pupil.  For some pupils you will never see the book or pen again, others will have it back in the subsequent lesson.  Perhaps for those who persistently struggle the school could supply a pencil case that could be picked up from a central point and returned at the end of the day?  Rewards could also be used to ensure its return.

Bought resources

  • Revision guides?
    • A note on guides – having examined a few I am leaning towards CGP.  I just feel their explanations and layout are more accessible.
  • Revision workbooks?
    • Some exam boards offer these full of past paper style questions.
  • Photocopiable booklets from TES?
  • Learning websites such as samlearning.com and Vocabexpress.
  • Twilight sessions.
  • Revision sheets with QR codes containing links to good sites.
  • MFL revision conferences (one school in Peterborough did this – found via google)
  • Half-term revision sessions.

With all of this there is a caveat: you need to evaluate how effective and helpful it was.  This is very much something OFSTED and the DofE are looking at.  It is no longer simply a question of how are you using the money.  The assumption is you are using it; the question is what effect is it having?

Resourcing the student with strategies and techniques

Do your PP students know how to revise effectively?  I hear from year 11s various comments on learning styles and about highlighters and gel pens however the research shows these to be largely ineffective.  If you are curious about how to make revision more effective then I suggest the following:

The Guardian – The Science of Revision – excellent article with links and research to back up.

EverydayMFL – GCSE Revision – Here’s one I made earlier, nothing like a bit of shameless self-promotion!

Classteaching – quality advice and backed up by research.

Anything to prevent the eventuality below:

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Relationship – Some students need someone to believe in them in spite of their home background.  They need that person who sees them for who they are and what they can become.  They need someone who sees them as a work in progress and who will not give up on them.  They need you to be the person who appreciates them just as they are, but cares too much to leave them that way.  I am not saying you have to be their best buddy but you can be the role-model, support and guide to life that they have lacked.

“Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Teaching Assistants – Teaching assistants can be the unsung heroes and heroines of your classroom if deployed properly.  These are the questions you need to be thinking through:

If you have one then what is their remit in your classroom?

  • Do you direct them or leave them to it
  • Do they have a seating plan and know who they are meant to work with?
  • Do they have an order of pupils?
  • Could you promote independence by asking TA to move on after 1-2 minutes with a student?
  • Do they elicit or explain?
  • Do they guide to the answer or give the answer?
  • How well resourced is your TA?  Do they have your schemes of work?  Do they see a lesson plan or do you brief them on what is going to be taught?
  • Who is working harder: your PP student or your TA?
  • Could you get some planning time with a TA attached to a particular student?

Parents – Not all PP students have difficult family situations so get the parents onside.  Be careful not to patronise.  It is very easy to assume certain things when the label PP is on a seating plan or class list.  Parents evening is an excellent opportunity to build relationships, develop that link between school and home and facilitate learning and progress.  One parent recently asked me “what can they be doing outside of school as I don’t speak any languages?”  2-3 minutes later she left armed with strategies and places to find resources to help.  In terms of cost, it was minimal but there is a huge potential yield.

Marking Meetings – One of my colleagues recently suggested this at a meeting.  I’m quite keen to try it.  It used to be the norm when I was in school.  Certain teachers would call you up to their desk and go through your book marking it with you while the class were working their way through exercises. Would a pupil premium student benefit from some live feedback and a discussion of misconceptions?  Equally, this could apply to all pupils but if you’re going to work through a group, why not start with some PP students?

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Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

Any great ideas?  Leave them in the comments section below!

Everyday Literary Texts

After a couple of blogs titled getting ready for the new GCSE and getting ready for the new GCSE: the sequel  (clearly I’m great at naming things).  I thought it was about time I made some headway with the various elements required in listening and reading.  Literary texts are making an appearance in the new GCSE.  Regardless of whether you think it is a good idea, they are coming and this means an opportunity to make the best of it.  The government state the following:

“Pupils should be taught to read literary texts in the language [such as stories, songs, poems and letters], to stimulate ideas, develop creative expression and expand understanding of the language and culture”National Curriculum for Languages

Before going overboard on new resources, budget allocations and looking at every single website for a satisfactory literary text, we need some perspective.  It is highly likely that this element of the new GCSE will only be tested in the reading paper.

This blog will look at how we can incorporate the demands from the DfE into our normal teaching practice.  Readers of this blog should be advised that my main languages are Spanish and German so French teachers may be slightly disappointed but I would encourage them to head to the excellent Frenchteacher website.

Texts

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Our textbooks are technically full of literary texts:

  • Listos 2 p 92 – biographical text on footballing legend Diego Maradona.
  • Mira 2 p101 Barcelona Te Quiero – song about Barcelona.  One of my former colleagues convinced the kids that this song won Eurovision!  To be fair, it is probably better than some Eurovision entries.
  • Expo 2 Red p93 La Marseillaise – The song that most people know the first bit of!
  • Klasse 3 – every chapter has a “Lesepause”, what more could you need?!

If your school is on a bit of a “move away from the textbook” crusade then I would encourage you to make use of the texts that are in those books.  There is no shame in using a book!  You are also doing your bit to promote literacy so on this occasion your use of a textbook is entirely justified.  You can also guarantee they have been through proof-reads and revisions, which lessens the time you may spend correcting the errors on a power-point found on a resources website.

Stories

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It is likely the story will be only a short excerpt.  I would be amazed if they could fit a whole story into an exam paper!  To access stories your students will need the following:

There are many ways you can incorporate a story into your lesson plan.  Here are some

  • Teaching Past Tense:  How many past tense verbs can you find in …?  I do this with an excerpt from Harry Potter.  It tells you if they have internalised the verb endings.
  • Teaching Present Tense: A day in the life of …
  • Teaching House & Home: A short text about where someone lives.  I normally use Papa Francisco as he could have lived in the Vatican but chose a small modest flat instead.
  • Teaching Future Tense: pick an unfinished story and get students to write sentences about what will happen next.
  • Teaching School: A day in the life of …  Pick a student in your class with a good sense of humour and write as if you are them.
  • Teaching holiday experiences: write a tripadvisor review or borrow a real one.  Could the students then create their own?  Could they take your one and make it better?

Songs/Poems

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If a song is catchy or cheesy it will probably stick with the students.  Here are some sources:

  • Lexibexi – German versions of English songs.
  • Wiseguys – German songs with some English ones rewritten.
  • Gypsy kings – Spanish songs in Spanish but very clear pronunciation most of the time.
  • Lyrics Training – gap fill of pop songs.  You may need to censor the videos!
  • Navidad – Christmas is a great time for using songs.

What can you do with a song?

  • Gap fill lyrics.
  • Multiple choice questions – which word did they hear?
  • Make them learn it.
  • Get them to perform it.
  • Use it to internalise pronunciation rules
  • Write another verse.
  • Predict the vocabulary used in the song – listening bingo
  • Rearrange verses

Remember we are talking about songs in the context of literary texts so at some point the students will need to encounter the lyrics.

Letters

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My assumption is that these will be letters of complaint, emails about holiday experiences and emails asking for information about a job.  I think we would do well do let these topics arise as they normally do on our scheme of work.

What I would recommend is giving students a crash-course in letter writing.  This can be as simple as teaching phrases like “dear”, “yours faithfully” and various similar phrases. Some weaker students might struggle with “un saludo cordial” as cordial in their minds is something you drink.  I really do not think we are treading any new territory here in terms of reading.  However, given that the curriculum also mentions registers then students may well need to write a letter using formal or informal modes of address.

Other literary texts

Literary texts may not be encompassed solely by the above so here are some other options you could incorporate:

  • Newspaper articles eg: Cholita Fashion (clothing unit), Quinoa (healthy eating) or Messi.  You could also Prepare your own.  After Rosaespanolas superb murder mystery lesson my trainee produced a newpaper article for the students to use so they could write their own.
  • Websites – one of my ICT-minded colleagues made a brilliant lesson where students were given a budget on an excel spreadsheet and had to buy an outfit for a particular occasion using Galeria.
  • Signs, adverts and notices:

 

Everyday Feedback & Marking

Update: Government publish results of review into marking.  It’s worth a read and the three principles of “meaningful, manageable and motivating” are sound.  

Feedback and marking conjure up a variety of responses.  Some teachers secretly enjoy it. Some would like to drop their marking pile in a woodchipping machine.  If you are reading this because you want to improve your feedback then hopefully you find something new to try.  If you are snowed under then I would point you in this direction.

We know from research by people such as John Hattie that feedback can be incredibly important.  Two videos that demonstrate the importance of feedback and how it can be used well are below.   The first: Austin’s Butterfly, has done the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and in schools.  Watch for the kid at about the 45-50second mark with his encyclopaedic knowledge of butterflies…

The second video shows that over time with a diet of quality instruction and effective feedback people generally improve at whatever they are doing.  Pay attention to his control, his reactions and his speed.  It is one way I get the kids to “buy in” to my marking and then the subsequent reflection time.

 

Feedback or Feedforward?

I know, “feedforward” is not a word but this came from a discussion with some colleagues the other day.  Most students do not care about the work they have done once it is over.   They care about the next piece.  So whilst our feedback is reactionary and responds to what they have done, they are already looking at the next thing.  One colleague said that he gets students to copy the target from the previous piece of written work at the top of the next piece of written work they are set, so that it is in their mind while they are producing it.  If you are following Mira 2 then you maybe approaching a module on clothes.  Here is how you could apply this:

Homework 1: Produce a 75 words on things you wear at different times

Student completes piece of work with the following 2 targets

  1. Try to use a greater variety of vocabulary
  2. Add reasons to opinions given

Homework 2: write 75 words about a party you went to and what you wore

Student writes at top of work

  • TARGET: Use greater variety of vocabulary.
  • HOW: no repeated nouns or adjectives where possible.

Suddenly we have a situation where the feedback informs the next piece of work.  This means the next piece of work is not only a response to the marking but it is also driving the learning forward.

Do you use coloured pens?

Schools vary on this.  Here are some of the ones out there I have heard about:

  • The purple pen of progress.  This is for improvements to work or redrafting of work.
  • The pink pen of pride.  This is for work a teacher wishes to highlight as particularly good or because of how well the task has been met by what has been written
  • The green pen of growth.  This incorporates targets to improve.
  • The green pen of peer assessment.  It’s for peer assessment, the clue is in the name.  It is quite a good way of visually defining who did the marking (more for observer than the kid)
  • The red pen of teacher marking.
  • The turquoise pen of…you’re just making it up now!

I have seen coloured pens used really effectively in one of our feeder primary schools.  The presentation of their work is stunning too particularly given a very tough catchment area.  Something goes wrong between the Summer of year 6 and the Autumn of year 7, cynics might suggest it’s adolescence…

Highlighters

My new favourite.  This came originally from a colleague in Bristol and a colleague currently on maternity leave.  Underlining an entire piece of work in different highlighters.

  • Green = good leave it as it is
  • Yellow = something needs correcting

You could add some codes such as  (G) = grammar  (W.O) = word order  (S) = Spelling    to aid understanding where needed or just let the yellow stand for itself and force the burden of correction and thought back on to the pupil.  Some may disagree but I find this visually powerful for the kids.  Weaker ability kids who receive a piece of work that is largely green with one or two hints of yellow get a massive morale boost from this.  Even the ones that get more yellow than green benefit as they still appreciate knowing that at least some of it was right!

Stamps

Ross Mcgill who runs the Teacher Toolkit website has a post about verbal feedback stamps. I see no point in repeating him.  However many stamps can save time and I have benefited from the stamp stacks supplied by a website out there.  The stamps contain things such as:

  • “please give nouns a capital”
  • “please take more care over presentation”
  • “please watch your verb endings”
  • “great work, keep it up!”

DIRT

I mentioned DIRT mats in this post.  There are a number of things you can do to maximise DIRT time.  Firstly, make it really clear what you want students to do with the time and how you want them to do it.  Secondly, refuse to take any questions apart from ones concerning your handwriting for the first 5 minutes.  Lastly in that first 5 minutes, focus on the ones who need your attention most.

Prove to me beyond all reasonable doubt

My Head of Department posed a difficult question last week: “early on in year 7 when you have an able kid getting everything right, what feedback do you give that drives their learning forward?” I happen to have just such a year 7 so here is what I tried.  When we have done grammatical exercises, her DIRT task has been to “prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you can apply the grammar points from the previous lesson using pages … of Mira 1,2,3”.  She then gets on with exercises that challenge, extend, consolidate and deepen her learning.  Sometimes the grammar book used is not the regular one (e.g: listos rather than Mira or the GCSE foundation book if I was feeling really mean).  She has responded really well.

Patricia’s problems page.

Patricia is a student I teach who struggled with a new language: German.  We decided that at the back of her book we should have a problems page.  Initially, I did not mark much of her work to keep her confidence levels high but we had an ongoing dialogue on the problem page.  It was not triple impact marking or deep marking or excessive dialogue.  It was just an honest conversation where she could ask the questions she did not want to ask in class.

  • “I get that the verb goes second, what if you have two or three verbs?”
  • “How do you form questions?”
  • “Why can’t German be easier?”
  • “What is the difference between denn and weil?

Feedback sheets

TES is full of these.  Rather than writing the comments then they can be on a sheet.  This can be very effective but again the sheet has to be meaningful and linked to your assessment criteria.  I remember marking an oral exam with another teacher and they suggested I listen to the amount of subjunctives and connectives the student was using.  The problem is that the Edexcel Speaking mark scheme does not really mention either.  If you are going to produce a sheet like these then make it a good one.  The question the sheet needs to answer is not only “what do I need to work on?” but also “how am I going to go about it?”

Formative Comments

For a while we ran with comment only marking and to an extent we still do in that pieces of work are not graded.  It can be very easy to get into a rut of formative comments.  The following are based on the new GCSE Writing mark scheme (AQA is the only accredited one I am aware of).

Content Quality of Language Accuracy Language Specific
Stick more closely to the
question
Include greater variety of tenses Check genders Spanish accents only go one direction: /
What else could you say about? Use a greater variety of opinion phrases Check spelling Please give nouns a capital
How could you make … clearer? Find more interesting adjectives than “aburrido”
and “interesante”
Check verb/adjective endings Check direction of accents
Aim for longer, more detailed sentences Include more complex clauses and structures Check accents Check use of avoir/etre

If making comments then they should be demanding a response.  Mary Myatt has some points to make on this here.

Subtle comments.

The exercise book is a way of communicating with your students.  Do not underestimate the power of a well-placed positive comment.  Matt Walsh’s blog has a brilliant post worth reading called “to the quiet boring girl in the class“.  Sometimes they just need a little encouragement.  One of the most talented students I have ever worked with once said to me “why must it always be “to improve”, why can’t I just be good for a few seconds?” Here’s the challenge: pick the quiet kid that doesn’t contribute much in lessons.  Look through their book, find a piece of work, single out the positives and finish with a comment about how much you valued the effort and thought that went into it.  If you need convincing of the effect you can have then read this.

“I thrived on the quiet praise I was given” – Emma Thomas

Everydaymfl’s Marking & Feedback

I’ve outlined a lot of different stuff here.  I’m sure you have lots of other idea.  If you saw Everydaymfl’s books, what would he hope you would see?

  1. Underlined date, title and label as to class or homework
  2. Legible work.
  3. Pieces of work marked with highlighters.
  4. Codes where absolutely necessary but very few to force the student to examine their work.
  5. 2-3 targets at the end of work with how to improve.
  6. DIRT task for the student to work on (using purple pen).
  7. Some elaborate positive comments – not just “well done” but “this is great because.”
  8. Challenging and redrafting of poor quality or poorly presented work.
  9. Regular marking (half-termly)
  10. A comment somewhere to make the quiet kid feel ten feet tall.

Getting ready for the new GCSE: the sequel

“There is an immutable conflict at work in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”  Phil Knight

I’m not actually sure who Phil Knight is, but I like the quote and it has relevance to this situation with the new GCSE.  We will not master the new system in its first few years but we can influence the outcome by preparing our students well.  The last post on this topic looked primarily at preparing pupils for the new speaking tasks and a previous one examined the return of the roleplay.  This one will focus on the writing element of the new GCSE.  I have previously blogged before on writing but this is specifically aiming at the new GCSE.  Whilst I aim to be unbiased, three exam boards are submitting 3rd and 4th drafts. This post therefore will be written with the AQA specs in mind.  Today’s post is an amalgamation of my own thoughts and ALL South West’s conference in Bristol yesterday.

Here is a summary of what candidates have to do based on the AQA spec.

Foundation Writing Marks Available Higher Writing Marks Available
4 Sentences in TL based on picture 8 90 word task in TL
Instructions in TL
16
40 word paragraph in TL.
Instructions in TL
16 150 word task based on 2 bullet points
Instructions and bullet points in TL
32
Translation of sentences into TL 10 Translation of paragraph into TL 12
90 word task in TL
Instructions in TL
16

The question inevitably is: how do we prepare our pupils for this?  A quick look at the mark scheme provides us with two themes to be aware of:

Foundation students will need to focus on content and quality of language. 

Higher students will need to focus on content and range of language.  

From what I can see, it appears the higher students will need to do more, with more.  We are looking at breadth and depth, which is great. Teachers of foundation students might this allows more time for reinforcement and repetition of material, once you have worked out how to teach all the topics in 2 years but that is another blog post.  Given that we now have 6-7 lessons per CA back then we have to maximise the time on language learning.

Whatever you choose to do the focus will be on preparing students to use the language in a situation where they have no help other than some TL prompts, a picture and what they remember.  Some of the ideas below were gleaned from yesterday’s conference and credit has been given below where appropriate.

Folded tests (thanks to Greg Horton)

Greg suggested this idea yesterday.  I might have modified it as I couldn’t remember it all. Students have an A4 sheet of absolutely key phrases that they should know (creo que, es, son, pensaba que, pienso que, voy a, espero, me gustaría etc).  English is down one side and Spanish down the other.  You hold the sheet portrait and fold it in half.  The students then test each other:  Sherice says the English and Chardonnay aims to recall the Spanish working down the list.  They then swap but Chardonnay starts at the bottom of the list and works up.  They then check their scores and see who wins.  The test reinforces and tests spontaneous production of key phrases.  Greg then suggested a penalty shootout between the two highest scorers at the front of the class.  This would ensure that the students know quality language and it places value on knowing these phrases.  You could also develop the range and breadth of language with higher sets by changing the test papers after a term.  A homework task could be to make sentences involving the words.

TL Instructions for all written work

Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

The new exam is going to be largely in TL.  Some exam boards may supply “probable rubrics” but why not start now?  The more students are used to it; the less scary the exam will be. As MFL teachers we are used to acting and a lot of gesture and mime can probably help to ingrain the key phrases in the minds of our learners.  Failing that then you can teach it to them or have your most frequent utterances displayed on walls or learning mats.

Learning walls

Displays of posters might need to become a thing of the past (perhaps save them for the corridors).  What can students learn from your wall?  At the moment, I will be honest, they cannot learn enough from my walls.   A fantastic idea I saw at Bradley Stoke Community School was a teacher who had pouches on the walls of short summaries of how to do each tense or how to form negatives in French.  What do your walls contain that improve written work?  Foundation students will need this kind of support. Otherwise they will become too dependent on dictionaries they are no longer allowed to use  If I had my way the walls in my room would act like the ones in Minority Report, but we’re not there, yet!

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Equipment checks

One of the curses of controlled assessments is that students memorise entire paragraphs about their work experience but cannot form sentences in a foreign language or hold a basic conversation.  Eva Lamb spoke yesterday about engineering situations such as an equipment check and repeating TL that can be used in other situations:

Photo Credit: Nene La Beet via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nene La Beet via Compfight cc

Eva:Hast du ein Heft?

Boris: Ja ich habe ein Heft?

Eva: Hast du dein Heft?

Vladmir: Ich habe kein Heft

Eva: Hast du dein Heft verloren

Vladmir: Ja Ich habe mein Heft verloren

Eva: detention!

Ok…so she didn’t say the last line…but it is a very simple way to recycle language and one I am itching to try.  She suggested doing it with year 7 from the very first lesson.  It forces every student to speak and the haben verb paradigm is instantly being absorbed.  From then, change it to homework, who won the Manchester United Arsenal match (sorry Arsenal fans) etc.  It is also not much of a stretch from knowing “ich habe, some personal pronouns and some past participles to being able to use them in written work.

More Grammar practice; less nouns.

Students can find the nouns for homework on Wordreference.  Textbooks are massively guilty of presenting nouns, nouns and more nouns.  Students need verbs.  Every sentence on this blog contains a verb, some might even have more than one.  Verbs are going to be key.  Foundation students will need a stock of them that they can deploy at any point. Higher students will likely need a greater range of them but know what they can do with them.  For example: knowing that adding é ía to a Spanish infinitive will change the meaning and equally removing the last two letters and replacing with o or é will also change the meaning.  Irregular verbs will likely need to be learnt.  This could be done for homework.

Core language

Two of my colleagues from English recently tried testing their bottom set 3 times on the same vocabulary.  They took in the marks from the third time.  They also made the students then write some sentences using the vocabulary.  Unsurprisingly the scores increased each time, even for the weakest.

MFL departments need to nail down a core of language that students should know at the end of years 7,8 and 9.  If you work with primary schools then you can do even more of this.  Every student should be able to produce certain structures.  Why is it that last year’s year 11 bottom set could also remember juego al fútbol (pronounced “joo way go al fut-ball”)?  Yet a simple pienso que, debería, tengo que or other verbs was beyond them.  They need a core and they need testing on it regularly to give it value.  They also need testing on their ability to apply it.

Some phrases need to be procedural in the same way that students are taught a procedure to approaching a simultaneous equation, expanding brackets or a quadratic formula.  We do this with ,weil clauses but do we do it with other structures?

Transferable structure plenaries

Most of our lessons contain some nouns but it is the grammatical structure that is important.  Take for example the Expo 1 lesson on “dans ma ville”.  The structure that the book is teaching is a very simple “il y a” and “il n’y a pas de”.  Quite often students will remember this in the context of “dans ma ville il y a” but the question is can they apply the il y a elsewhere?

Photo Credit: eldeeem via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: eldeeem via Compfight cc

This photo could be shown at the end of the lesson.  Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans le photo?  Suddenly the students have to apply their knowledge of the structure along with the previous topic of house and home.  Get them to produce the sentences on mini-whiteboards. This way you can measure their spontaneous production of the TL (thus managing the first task of the foundation paper) and also check their understanding of the structure.  Then try it with another photo (maybe the one below).  Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans le photo?

Say more

Photo Credit: zenobia_joy via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zenobia_joy via Compfight cc

Greg Horton had a slide which simply had question words on it.  One of his class would sit at the front and be given a simple sentence to read or you could give them a picture.  The students ask questions to elicit more detail from the person sat at the front. Continuing on from the previous idea, the starting sentence could be: “Hay un perro”  Pupil could then ask:

¿Cuántos? ¿Dónde? ¿De qué color es?

More advanced students could ask:

¿Por qué?  ¿Qué hace?  ¿qué opinas tú de los perros?

Again it is about spontaneous production.  Students could note down the answers on whiteboards to test their listening.  They could change the verb forms to practice grammar.  They could even do a tabloid version on mini-whiteboards where they exaggerate every claim that is made or completely misrepresent what the student says:

Student: en la foto hay un perrito tierno.

Students: en la foto hay un perro agresivo y violente.