Everyday Homework

Leading headteacher Tom Sherington writes on his blog “great teachers set great homework”.  In fact, he dedicates an entire blogpost to it.  I thought I would do the same but with an MFL slant.  I’m sure I have set some good homeworks and some bad ones in my time.  Below is a buffet of homeworks.  It will allow you to add to your plate the ideas you like, whilst avoiding those that you don’t.

One of the best bits of the blog mentioned above is this:

“The research by Hattie et al shows that homes make more difference to learning than schools. So, take away homework and what do we have? Essentially, homes with the greatest cultural capital, typically more affluent and middle class, will just fill the gap with their own family-education as they always have. They’ll be fine. Meanwhile, children from families where home-learning is scarce or simply doesn’t happen are left without structure or resources to fall back on. The same inequalities that give children such different learning orientations from pre-school persist. I’d argue that homework for all is a basic element of an educational entitlement; it is a leveller – provided that schools offer support for ‘homework’ to be done anytime, any place.” – Tom Sherrington September 2nd 2012

So, how can Everyday MFL teachers such as you and I make sure that learning continues outside the classroom?  Just as feedback and marking should drive learning forward; homework should do the same!

Vocabulary learning

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Well that was obvious wasn’t it!  As MFL teachers, we know the value of vocabulary learning but how can you ensure that they have actually learnt it.  One method I have used in the past particularly with lower ability learners or year 7s is the look, cover, write, check sheet.  You can find an example on the TES here.  There is also one that I would recommend with your weakest students at this link.

Sites such as Languages Online, The Language Gym, Linguascope, Memrise, Duolingo, Pons Vocabulary Trainer all have their place and role to play.  The Language Gym focuses quite heavily on conjugation.  This excellent with the advent of the new GCSE and the greater focus on being able to manipulate language.  Memrise I  like as it forces the students to type the vocabulary and produce it, rather than simply reading.  I’m a big fan of the phrase “reading is not revision” so this site is right up my street!  Languagesonline is also excellent.  The only issue I have with these sites is you cannot see which students have done the work!  I believe Vocabulary Express does allow such things but have yet to try it.

Rachel Hawkes suggests that students should achieve a certain amount of points from a selection of activities to prove they have done their homework, using a variety of different techniques.  Too many students will simply stare at the words and assume that some osmosis will occur unless they are given specific tasks to do.

I tend to teach the students as much as possible about how to learn vocabulary early on.  Look, cover, say, write, check can be very effective.  Flashcards and mindmaps equally so.  By testing it, you will give it value.  By sanctioning unacceptable performance, you will find students are more likely to do it.  I’m not going to give a minimum acceptable level as sometimes that can vary depending on the student.

A couple of colleagues in another department have recently experimented setting the same vocabulary for 2-3 weeks with lower ability classes.  They have tested them each week but only taken in the marks on the third time.  Looking at the books, they have found that the students improved and their confidence was boosted by this process.  I would argue the amount of reinforcement also helped.  You could do this with some high-frequency language for your weaker groups.  It is an experiment I would certainly like to repeat.

The multi-skill homework.

Currently my favourite!  Why set homeworks that test only one skill??!  This epiphany came to me at some point in the middle of a lesson!  It has only taken 5 years to have it.

Slow German, Audio Lingua, Conjuguemos and the websites previously mentioned might allow you to set a variety of different tasks.  My current year 10 were set the following last week:

  1. Listen to this podcast on audio-lingua
  2. Complete following exercises on languagesonline and samlearning
  3. Produce dialogue for … situation

I’m allowed to set up to 50 minutes worth of work so I might as well go for it!  I was not exactly popular when I did this.  Once the rationale was explained, most students went for it.

Exam boards also have past papers on their websites, that would easily allow multiple skills.  Again the specimen papers for the new GCSE could be used in this way.  Admittedly speaking would be out of the question but listening, reading and writing would all be possible.

The worksheet

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There are some brilliant worksheets out there on websites such as TES and the excellent Frenchteacher.  Having said that, you might have a low photocopying budget so I would encourage you to create your own or borrow bits from other people and condense it on to a single page.  The big question with the sheet is: does it make the students work hard?  Does it take them from a level where they might follow a model to get the answer to being able to apply the grammar rule?  With the appearance of translation in the new GCSE, this could be a place to include it?

 

 

The paragraph

Produce a paragraph on … Produce two paragraphs on …  These can often be effective as it gives the student time to work on something using what they have learnt.  However, beware the evils of googletranslate.  This website, long the bane of the Everydaymfl teacher, is getting.  Students shouldn’t need to recourse to it if they have been taught how to use wordreference.com correctly, or if they have sufficient resources on your VLE, in their book or on paper.

Have you considered a point scoring paragraph?  Higher point scores generally indicate better work…

5 10 20 25
Simple connecting words More complex connecting words More complex structures
um…zu
ohne..zu
ausser…zu
ni…ni
bien que…
The amazing mindblowing structures
to really impress examinersKonjunktiv II
Konjunktiv I
Si hubiera pensado…
French subjunctive
Simple time phrases More complex opinion phrases More of the above More of the above
Simple adverbs Less common adverbs Less common adverbs More of the above

Another idea would be to ask students for an ASL calcuation.  Average Sentence Length.  They need to divide the amount of words by the amount of sentences.  Scores of 7+ indicate they are probably using opinions.  Scores of 12+ indicate they are justifying those opinions.  Scores of anything higher and they might need to consider the occasional full stop!

Have you considered banning certain words from their paragraphs?  Some of the below would be top of my list!

French German Spanish
ennuyeux langweilig aburrido
interessant interesant interesante
amusant lustig divertido

The example sentences

Regularly I will set my learners a task to produce some examples using a grammar point we have worked on.  This is mainly because I want to see if they can do it outside the classroom without me and also to reinforce the material at a later date.  The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve suggests they will have lost some of it after the lesson so this is my attempt to fight the curve!  Perhaps suggest a theme for their example sentences:

Future tense: “what Homer Simpson will do at the weekend”

Past Tense: what”insert celebrity” did last week

 

The Culture Homework

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Photo Credit: Arttesano via Compfight cc

I tend to set one of these once a half-term (homework is weekly).  Students are naturally curious and like to learn about the country.  I remember, when I was in school years ago, a couple of homeworks from my language teacher: “find out what you can about who won the election in Germany?”  Gerhard Schröder was the answer, which seems like a long time ago now, probably because it was!  Students  like to know about the place, not just the language.  However, we are language teachers and so the homework should be proportional to what we do.  I would also counsel that you tell them to avoid the blindingly obvious and go for a more horrible histories style in their research.  “Madrid is a city in Spain” is the kind of thing you can open yourself up for if not careful!

I have highlighted my favourite one in orange.  Google it, you will see why it is such a cool festival!

French German Spanish
What is “la marseillaise” actually about? What is Karnival? What happens at “la tomatina”?
Find out 10 facts about the French Revolution Find 10 facts about the fall of the Berlin wall Produce a poster showing what happens at “las fallas”
What is Bastille day? Who is Angela Merkel? What is Yipao and why is it celebrated in Colombia?
What is Mardi Gras? Produce a timeline of major events in
German history starting from 1800
What is día de los muertos all about?
How do the French celebrate Christmas? 10 Facts about any German city Produce a short biography of Franco or another famous  figure from Spanish history
Who was Marie Curie? Who was Hans Riegel from Bonn? Who is the current King of Spain?
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not Paris. Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Berlin or Munich
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Madrid or Barcelona

Flipped Learning

I’m a bit of a skeptic at the moment when it comes to this.  John Hattie claims that along with effective feedback; clarity of explanation is crucial in our teaching.  Most youtube videos teach a grammar rule and then explain EVERY exception known to man.  If you are not confused by the end then it is because you got up to make a cuppa 2-3minutes in.  I think there is a place for it, but video selection needs to be carefully done.  Then the students need to do something with the knowledge to reinforce it, otherwise it is just another video.  The questions the teacher needs to ask are as follows:

  • Is this better than explaining the concept in class with worked examples?
  • Is the person on the video easy to listen to?
  • What will I do about students who do not watch the video?
  • Should I use the video to introduce or consolidate?
  • Is the video clear, too fast, too slow?

 

If you have read this far then well done but don’t forget it’s half-term.  Enjoy yourself, rest, have some fun, have some more fun and be ready to go again on Monday.

 

 

Getting ready for the new GCSE

It’s almost here.  Regardless of the fact that 3 out of 4 exam boards are yet to have their specifications approved by OFQUAL, we have to begin teaching towards it in September. I’ve been thinking about how to prepare my year 9 learners for what is coming, in terms of topics and skills.  Here are some things I have tried out:

Modalverben – regular drilling.

German teachers will be familiar with modal verbs.  They are 6 most common verbs and are combined with an infinitive  The same can be done in Spanish but there will just be more of them and they take different forms.  I want my students to be completely proficient with these most common verbs so that they can use them spontaneously with infinitives.  If you had 10 minutes to prepare for an exam, having a mental arsenal that contains

I have to / I like / I should / I want to / I can etc along with some infinitives, should be useful to them.  We have been having regular sentence making drills on mini-whiteboards.  Over time I have added in some opinion and reason phrases.  If you are in doubt about whether drilling is effective then the video below is

Roleplays

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I found the old roleplay cards and we will be using them in the coming weeks.  If you don’t have them then there are some specimen papers on the exam-board websites. Those can be used and adapted.  Rather than writing a section, I will refer you to a previous blog.  A recent post on Frenchteacher also is worth a read.  Do your students know enough multi-purpose transactional vocabulary?

Spontaneous Speech

Students are going to have to be a lot better at generating language spontaneously.  Yes they can be drilled in rubric, roleplays and discussion but there is a greater emphasis on producing the language unaided.  With TL rubrics in the speaking elements, this could be even harder.  Rachel Hawkes has some worthwhile suggestions here.  She also has a Phd so I will leave it in her capable hands.

Speaking from pictures.

Rachel Hawkes illustrated this brilliantly on a recent course I went on.  It is about encouraging learners to use what they have learnt.  It does not matter if they cannot say what they want to say.  The question is what can they say?

What might a year 7/8/9 be able to do with the following picture?

  • Es una fiesta.   Hay un elefante.  Me gustan las fiestas.
  • Creo que es una celebración porque hay mucha gente.
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Equally with this you can get the students to predict the questions that might be asked.

New Topics

I’m borrowing from AQA here.

  • Marriage/partnerships
  • Social media
  • Mobile technology
  • Customs and festivals in TL speaking countries
  • Charity/voluntary work
  • Poverty/homelessness

This looks more interesting than “self, family and friends”.  The hard bit is working out how these might be examined.  How can we teach them and make them accessible? See the table below:

NEW GCSE
Topic from AQA How it could be examined Implications for teaching practice
Marriage/partnerships Speaking – discussion or picture
Listening
Reading
Writing – essay or translation question
Students need to be able to give
their opinions on this topic.
Discuss with RE department to 
ascertain prior knowledge, stumbling blocks and
stereotypes.
Social Media Speaking – do you think it is a good thing?
Listening – text about someone who uses
Reading – text about social media
Writing – essay or translation question
Need to teach a variety of multipurpose
vocabulary as the range is so wide.  Students
need to be able to give opinions on it, use
frequency adverbs and explain why it is a good
or bad thing.
Customs and Festivals Speaking – is celebrating things important?
Listening – report about an event
Reading – text about an event
Writing – less likely, possible translation
Teach major festivals at various points of the year.
Day of the dead, san fermin, la tomatina, las fallas.
Students will need a cursory knowledge of the well-
-known festivals
Charity/volunteer work Speaking – should young people do it?
Listening – account of someone’s job
Reading – account of someone’s job, charity
website?
Writing – should young people do it?
Teach students phrases to structure arguments and
create extended responses.
Poverty/homelessness Listening
Reading – text on developing world
Echo 3 and Mira 3 do a bit of this.  Discuss with
geography, is there a case-study or unit of work that
you can link this too.

 

 

 

 

5 Things to try tomorrow

Happy New Year to you all.  With the term imminent I thought I would offer the following 5 things to try tomorrow.

Shake up the seating

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College classroom — Image by © H. Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS

Most teachers change the seating plan when the class is not working how they would like.  It happens when they realise that little Brendan and little Alex are a positively toxic combination, or when you realise that little Chardonnay has fallen out with little Sinead.  However, maybe there is a sound pedagogical reason for changing the seating.  This post by David Didau has really caused me to think and I might well experiment with my classes.  I have 8 tables of 4.  What if I rotate them half-termly?  It means the pairings stay the same but the location changes.

Didau writes…

“A few years ago I became aware of a very strange and as far as I know, unresearched phenomena. If I taught a lesson where students knew something in that chair, they would not necessarily know it in this chair. Simply asking students to move seats in the middle of a lesson was enough to disrupt their ability to recall and transfer.”

So give it a go.  Didau himself goes on to say:

“So I started experimenting with moving students about and giving them a greater variety of sight lines and thus a greater and more unstable range of visual cues….And guess what? Their ability to transfer what they’d learned within the classroom improved. Now, I would, of course, hesitate to make a mountain out of this molehill, but it does seem worthy of further investigation.”

As they say on BBC News, more on that story later…

Tarsia

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This is one of my favourite plenary activities.  It works particularly well if you are the kind of person who has objectives in the “know”, “understand” and “be able to” format.  You need to download their generator here.  You can then create puzzles like a triangle of triangles.  The aim is to get the English and Spanish words to match up with no text around the outside edge.  Other shapes are possible.  You could equally do sentence halves etc.  Make sure that the format is set to “text” otherwise it will squish (yes that is a word) all your words together.  Allow 5 mins for an able group and 10mins for a less able group.  I might suggest also printing the “solution” tab, or copying it into word to be printed as it will save you massively on photocopying!

Word Association

Simple but great for seeing what vocabulary students can recall over time.  Give them a starting word and see how long they can go for.

Gallery Critique

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I wrote a post on peer-assessment ages ago.  I have always thought that for language teaching peer-assessment is extremely hard to do effectively.  The statistic mentioned by Shaun Allison rings in my head every time someone mentions it.  Even if pupils are trained well, I feel it is risky and potentially detrimental to weaker learners.  One student once wrote “excellent use of connectives”, which was not a bad comment but there were none! MFL is not like English where one can suggest additions to their argument.  And it is not like history or geography where you can examine how closely someone has answered the question.  With gallery critique it is my understanding that Student 1 produces work.  Students 2,3 & 4 comment on it and then student 1 reviews the feedback using it to develop their work.  The same process will be happening with students 2,3 &4.  Hopefully there will be some kind of triangulation that leads to more accurate peer-assessment.  After all, 8 out of 10 cats did prefer Whiskas…

Starters to make them think more.

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I’m a big fan of gap-fills, anagrams, matchups, odd ones out etc but they do get stale after a while.  My new favourite is giving pupils sentences that they have to alter in some way to make their own.

Dans ma ville il y a une gare.  – transform this into a sentence with 10 words.  

No me gusta el inglés porque es aburrido – say something nice

En mi familia hay cinco personas – say it in a different way

No hay una piscina en mi casa – Change this while keeping the sentence on the same topic.   You may not use any words from the original apart from “casa” and “piscina”.

 

5 things to try tomorrow

5 things I’ve tried this week.  You could try them tomorrow…

Picture Starters

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Mira 1 gets students describing their teachers.  I wanted to see how much my year 7s  could remember so I demanded between 3 and 5 sentences based on a picture I showed them.  Initially I typed in angry teacher into google and used one of them before using an image of Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society.  I was pleasantly surprised what they were able to generate.

Me gusta el inglés porque el profesor es interesante

En mi clase hay un profesor interesante

Odio el inglés pero el profesor es interesante 

This one came from Greg Horton.  You can learn more about the work he does here, the big O seem keen on him.

Hands up listening

In an era of no hands up being in vogue this one goes against the grain.  The teacher can prepare the listening phrases and it is really good in seeing who in your class has the best auditory processing skills and is an effective listener.  It may well surprise you.

Mano derecha Opinión positiva
Mano izquierda Opinión negativa
Dos manos no hay opinión

You read out a sentence and depending on the content, the students put a right hand, left hand or both hands up.  This idea came from Nick Mair and I’ve tried it a few times since.  It also can be massively adapted with tenses, negatives, comparisons, conditionals etc

Forms and Functions

An idea from the effervescent Rachel Hawkes.

1) Past A) Future plans
2) Present B) Uniform
3) Future C) School rules
4) Negative D) description of school
5) Comparison E) Teachers
6) Conditional F) Other students
7) Sentence with two tenses G) Homework
8) Sentence linked with subordinating conjunction h) Stress

The students could do this with mini0whiteboards or a series of exercises could be set on the board and students work quietly through them.  The teacher demands a 1A sentence from the students.  This might mean that the student has to write about future plans whilst incorporating a past tense in there somewhere.  5E might be easier as students would simply compare two teachers.  It is great getting them to think about content, meaning and including the right things in their work.

Literary texts

My year 8s are reading Peter Pan together.  I picked it up for 75 centavos.  I’ve taught them about reading around both sides of an unfamiliar word (deducing meaning from context).

Deducing meaning from what has gone before

Bob entered the kitchen and saw his son doing the dishes.  His son threw a ______ at him.

The most obvious suggestions the students generate are dishcloth and sponge, along with some other, rather imaginative ones…

Deducing meaning from what has gone after.

Bob entered the kitchen and saw his son doing the dishes.  His son threw a ______ at him, which hit Bob and shattered into pieces.

Why do it?  It is mainly to stop them getting hung up on the one word they do not know.

We have also done a fair bit of work on infinitives and knowing the little words such as “de” “el/la/los/las”  “un/una”  etc.  Someone reads out loud before we look at what is going on.

Authentic Texts

The hotel boca juniors powerpoint on the TES was good for getting students working with some authentic material.  Here are some I am looking to try out:

Quinoa – bit of reading for healthy living and food topics

Farting cows – animal/environment topic maybe?  Might need simplifying…

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Making it stick!

Possibly the biggest lament of language teachers in my department and across the country is this: why do my students insist on writing “me prefiero”, “me gusta juego” and “mi gusta”?!  Is my teaching really that ineffective?  Are my students so inattentive?  What on earth is going on?!!!

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Photo Credit: rnav18 via Compfight cc

Making it Stick – 5 ideas for increasing the right kind of retention

Palabras importantes

At the end of the unit I talk my students through the key vocabulary that they need to take into the next one.  I go through on the board what the most important phrases are and put them into groups.  For year 7 Spanish it might look as follows:

Verb phrases Little words Question words Others
(no) Hay el/la/los/las Como y
(no) Tengo un/una/unos/unas Que también
es de Por que
necesito en Cuando

They are then set homework to learn these phrases and tested on them in the subsequent lesson.  I find it gives them value and increases the likelihood of remembering the key vocabulary rather then being able to say “lápiz” and “monedero” but not being able to do anything with them!

Palabras importantes part 2

2-3 weeks later I test them again on the same words.  It adds value and reinforces their importance.

Flowcharts and process

Students are used to these in other subjects.  They use them in technology, science, maths and even history when composing essays.  I have been teaching my year 9s the future tense and the conditional.  They have a sheet in their books that has the endings and the persons along with a table of irregulars.  Breaking it into steps is working even for the weakest ones.  Chris Fuller made a pertinent point in a webinar: the past and present take away from infinitives; whereas futures and conditionals add to them.  Most of them in a middle set can now take the majority of Spanish verbs and turn them into a “will” or a “would”.  On the whiteboard, I put a flowchart which simply says 1) “what is the English action?” 2) “what is the verb in Spansh?” 3) “go to table in book” 4) “who is doing it?” 5) “add that ending”.  The issue now is sorting out the past and present tenses!!

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Photo Credit: orangejack via Compfight cc  Scarily I can see my students working their way through this process in their minds!

Practice, practice, practice.

I have increased the amount of grammatical practice in my lessons this year and it is gradually working.  There has been a lot of animosity in schools towards textbooks, however they often have some very good exercises and I have seen multiple powerpoints on the TES resources ,which replicate the book word for word.  Even Elodie, Patricia and Gert are still in the exercise on the PowerPoint!  So why not just give the kids the book?!  Again, with my year 9s, I have increased the practice they do using a combination of books, Languagesonline and the Language Gym websites.  It is taking effect with the dedicated ones.  The question is now what to do about the less-dedicated ones but that is another blog post!

Clarity of Explanation

In a survey of teaching by John Hattie, the following things were found to be most effective:

Daniel Willingham writes in his book “Why don’t students like school” (i’ve blogged on this book before) that “deep knowledge must be our goal”.  This is borne out by the effect sizes above of instructional quality and quantity.   Willingham explains the following two principles:

  1. We understand new things in the context of things we already know.
  2. We therefore need to ask “what do students already know that will be a toehold in understanding this new material?”

I teach German and one thing I have been trying to do is to link new learning to old learning at every opportunity.  For example, we tackled weil with a nice animated powerpoint showing the verbs moving to the end of the clause.  We then considered “wenn” and “obwohl” before tackling “ich denke, dass”.  Before I introduced ,weil we looked at what they knew of clauses in English and introduced the idea of a main clause and a sub clause.  This might sound very basic and something that you do all the time but I find that quite often textbook schemes of work do not have this link from one element to the next.  For example: Mira 2 introduces tener que, poder, querer and “le gusta” in the space of two pages.  The next chapter does not reinforce them at all.  Neither do the three after that!

Teaching numbers, dates, days of the week & the basics

Bored of doing the same thing year after year.  Have a look below, be brave, dare to be different!

Numbers

I have blogged  on this before, you can find it here

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“Burro” – students are in a group of 4 or 5.  They count up to whatever number you choose and down again.  They can say one, two or three numbers at a time.  Any student made to say a number in a particular times-table (of your choosing) gets a letter.  If they spell out “burro” (donkey) then they are out.

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Last man standing – Sometimes called Irish Bingo.  Students write down four numbers in a given range and stand up.  Teacher or a student calls out numbers.  If all four of their numbers are called out, the student sits down.  The aim is to be the last man standing (or woman if you are being politically correct).

Write either side – give students some numbers but they have to note down the numbers either side, rather than the number itself.  This tests comprehension and recall.

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Photo Credit: StreetFly JZ via Compfight cc  If M&Ms did calculators….

Sums – make them do maths.  Or better still make them create sums for their partner to do.  Insist that they can be as nice or cruel as they like.  It generally depends on how much they like the person next to them.

Months

Ordering – possibly one of my favourites.  Students put themselves into birthday order using only the TL.  Teach them phrases like “to the left” or “to the right” and how to say their birthday.  Do it by academic year or calendar year.  It allows the July born ones to not feel quite so young!

Class surveys – students go around interviewing people.  Avoid them going straight for their friends by insisting that they cannot talk to people in their tutor group, or their English class, or people with the same colour eyes, hair etc.

Days of the week

Yabba Dabba Doo!!!!!!  The kids will likely have no idea what memories this song evokes but they’ll sing along anyway.

 Repetitive but scarily effective.

Key verbs

Avoir = Mission impossible works for this.  Unfortunately there is not a youtube video, you will have to sing!  Failing that…

Etre = Oh when the saints works reasonably well with this

 It’s that bad it deserved a mention!

Tener

Ser

 Latin American Spanish so misses out vosotros form.

 Catchy and fun song.  Never used this one before so I’m going to give it a whirl this year.

Teaching the alphabet can be found here.  If you’re already ahead of the game and looking at present tenses then try this page.

Is there anything I have missed?  If you can think of something then add a comment and share it with others!

Improving teaching so my students don’t wish they went to Hogwarts.

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Over the summer I worked my way through Daniel T Willingham’s book “why don’t students like school?”  It is an exceptionally readable book.  Willingham introduces the principle that underpins the chapter, developing it with explanations, examples and humour before applying it to the classroom.  The cognitive psychology presented is therefore easy to understand, yet remains academically satisfying.  I’ve learnt a lot from this book and would recommend it as excellent CPD.  The book considers questions such as “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?” “Is drilling worth it?”  and “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?”  The final chapter then directly challenges teachers.  It is also greatly helped with a summary table at the end that sets out the cognitive principles of each chapter, a question to prompt your thinking regarding your students and important classroom implications.

What am I taking from the book?

◊ Changing the way I do starters.  My starters often take the form of testing some knowledge from last lesson to see if it has been retained.  Now, I want to assess further back and make sure that the starter tests the requisite knowledge for the lesson I am about to teach.

◊ “Memory is the residue of thought”.  How can I get my students to think more?  I’m planning to make sure I give more time for thinking rather than simply picking a fast-thinking student.  More think-pair-share might be used in eliciting grammar rules that I present students with.  What would a mentally demanding MFL lesson look like?  Would my students be able to cope with it?

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◊ Proficiency requires practice.  I’m planning to set longer and tougher homeworks this year (in keeping with school policy).  I wonder if sometimes homework does enough consolidation.  I also want students to take more responsibility for their learning outside the classroom and Teacher Toolkit has an idea of “takeaway homework” that I would quite like to try.  Why is it that the musical students are happy to learn their lyrics or their scales but cannot apply the same drive to vocabulary or conjugation?  Is it a question of payoff or do I need to tailor the practice to them in some way?

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Photo Credit: madabandon via Compfight cc  evocative of my own piano playing…

◊ Proficiency requires practice 2.   I’ve also considered experimenting with DIRT time (directed improvement and reflection time).  Some very funky editable mats can be found at the mathematics shed.  Willingham suggests thinking about what material students need in their working memory and long term memory and practising it regularly over time.   Spreading out the practice (or interleaving schemes of work) is something I need to consider.  The idea my students need to gain is:  “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended periods of practice.”

◊ Relationships are key.  Willingham reminds us throughout the book that the “emotional bond between students and teacher – for better or worse – accounts for whether students learn”.  He also makes the point that this has to be combined with a teacher who makes boring material interesting and accessible.  I want to make sure that every child in my classroom gets some of my time.  I’m planning to trial live marking with a class this year.  Live marking is where the class work on a task while you go around marking some books allowing students to see what you think and discuss it with them.  As well as marking and handing back books that I have done after school, I want to give this approach a go here and there, particularly with the students I feel get less of my attention.

Lastly, if you appreciated the photo at the top of this blog, then check out Hogwarts’ OFSTED report.

Fighting the language decline – Answers in your classroom

Shortly after results day the Guardian ran a piece here reporting a continued decline in students taking GCSE languages.  They also ran an analytical piece (crowd sourced from Twitter) investigating reasons for the decline.  Both were interesting reads although I think Jennifer Beattle’s and Sara Davidson’s points were the most pertinent from the point of view of a teacher.  I have endeavoured to summarise the thoughts of a typical student in the table below, as I felt this was slightly overlooked.  There are likely some factors I have missed but I hope it provides a useful summary.

The Student View
Reasons for Reasons Against
Enjoyable lessons Oral exams
Useful skill Memorisation
Good for CV/Uni Fear of speaking in front of others
Mixture of exam and coursework Not feeling competent enough
Cultural interest Too hard and too much writing
Holiday use “Never going to go there”
All-round skill improvement Easier options around
Cognitive challenge Everyone speaks English belief

Table generated at http://www.tablesgenerator.com/html_tables#

Rather than further provide reasons for the decline or talk about how to increase the profile of languages in schools, I think the answer comes from the individual classroom.  Students need a feeling of capability, enjoyment and progress.

Creating a feeling of capability

“Capability” is often seen as a negative word in the teaching profession and understandably so, however our students need to feel that they “can do” something. Students equate their capability in a language with their oral and aural competence. Can they say what they want to say?  Can they understand what is being said? In my experience, reading and writing do not appear to enter into their equation to any great degree. The following are comments I have heard from students, friends, colleagues past and present:

  • “I was no good at languages in school”
  • “I couldn’t do languages”
  • “I’m not good at languages” (uttered by a year 7 September 2014 in his first ever Spanish lesson)
  • “I can’t do languages.”

All of these statements beg one question “compared to who?”  My first memory of using a language in a foreign country was ordering ice-creams in a small village in Germany.  It essentially required remembering the words “ich möchte” and reading off the menu.  We need real-life scenarios in our classrooms where students can try and practise things.  This will lead to a feeling of “can do”.  Our students need interactive episodes that simulate real life or situations that allow them to talk for extended periods.  Here are 3 activities I like to use whenever I can:

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Debates (based on group talk) – Watch the video and note how the talking situations are cyclical.  There is not actually an end to the discussion.  You can get students to add in a new question or take the discussion in a different way.  When I have done this kind of activity with students there is an immense feeling of satisfaction in the room that they have spoken French/Spanish/German for 3-4 minutes non-stop.  For example: school subjects – there are enough subjects to keep them going for quite a while!  If not, just add in “defensa contra las artes oscuras”, “transfiguración” and “pociones”.

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Drama – The hard bit is getting the balance between scriptwriting (which some groups will take ages to do) and practising/performing.  Ideally a lot of pre-teaching, listening and roleplaying will help with this.  Students tend to enjoy it as they feel they have survived a real-life situation.  Restaurants, asking for directions, 112 calls, meeting and greeting can all be done as dramatic episodes.

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“I can’t help noticing I’m considerably richer than you” – based on the Harry Enfield sketch where a couple boast about being considerably more well off.   Students need to better the previous person’s use of the TL when talking about a topic.  They can add reasons, linking words, other tenses.  The idea is that what is constructed is significantly better than what went before.  Together the students will construct something better while teaching and helping each other in the process.

Engendering a feeling of Enjoyment

Enjoyment is not a synonym for games.  I have seen a variety of games in the past few years but when using them the question has to be: how much TL is this going to involve?  What learning return is the whole class getting from the game?  If students are sat there and their brains are doing very little during a game, is it worth doing or could the time be better spent?  Games that involve collaboration, competition, mystery, intrigue and humour are great.  I was going to list a few but I think I will direct you towards this list and put my favourite below.  I really like the look of “alibi” and “press conference” and will try them in a few weeks time.

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Battleships – probably my favourite in class game.  Minimal prep and maximum TL

Real Progress

I ran out of alliterative titles for the last section but if you think of one put it in the comments section!  Students need to feel that they are progressing in a language.  Sublevels and levels do not appear to have a massive effect on this.  Daniel T. Willingham’s superb book “Why don’t students like school?”  looks to have some thoughts with regards to this but I haven’t finished it yet!  There will be a post when I do, as it has been an excellent and eye-opening read so far.

In the meantime I find the following help to engender a feeling of progress among students:

  1. When a student has improved over time, praise them quietly for it.
  2. Comments in books referring students to their previous work and comparing it with improved work you have seen.  Show them the results of their learning and that they actually have made an improvement.
  3. Parents evening is useful particularly if you met the same parents the previous year eg: “Abigail has really come a long way since we last spoke.  Her work has improved and she is also contributing more frequently in class.  I was particularly pleased with her preparation and result in the recent speaking assessment.  It showed just how far she has come.”
  4. Use your own experiences as we were not all born with the ability to speak a language.  Tell them that it has been hard at times, explain how it feels to “plateau” for a while and then when you noticed the improvements.  Students need to know that the person in front of them has fought the same battles with understanding that they are currently fighting.
  5. Share the nature of learning with them.  The conciousness/capability model was something Louis Van Gaal mentioned in an interview and I think it helps to some degree in understanding the process of learning.  My students seemed to appreciate it.
    1. Unconcious & Incapable (don’t know it – can’t do it)
    2. Concious & Incapable (know it – can’t do it)
    3. Concious & Capable (Know it – can do it)
    4. Unconcious & Capable (Know it – can do it unthinkingly)

Ultimately the goal of any language teaching and learning is to get the students to stage 4.

I guess the point of this rather lengthy, meandering and reflective blog-post is a call to myself and maybe other teachers out there to absolutely go for it from September. There is a decline in languages uptake at GCSE nationwide.  Whilst there is a national battle over the future of language learning; there is a local battle to be won.  I firmly believe that generating a feeling of genuine capability, real enjoyment and visible progress in our own learners is our best bet at winning that battle.  When September starts I will have at least 360 kids enter my room and that is what I’m going for.

Teaching School Subjects

Before I start, thank you to the handful of regular readers and the ones who shared me on twitter (something I have never used) , it precipitated a massive spike in viewings in the UK and further afield so thank you!  I hope the material and ideas are useful.  Enjoy half-term.

School is a topic we cover a number of times.  If you’re following Mira then it comes up in years 7 and 9.  I find in year 9 it is a lot harder to make it engaging.  The students are going through that stage where school means hard work, drudgery and the novelty value the topic had in year 7 is all but lost.  We then often revisit it on GCSE syllabuses so I guess it is worth having some good ideas.

Here is a selection of things I’ve tried with both years.

Options discussion.

Great way to revise school subjects, opinions and reasons without it seeming like repeating year 7 material.  ¿Qué vas a estudiar el año que viene? or ¿Vas a estudiar …? This lends itself to a nice discussion in fours where the students have to see which group can keep discussing options the longest in Spanish.  If you have done various activities to revise the subjects, opinion phrases and reasons, they should be able to keep this going.  A speaking frame is also helpful.

Options discussion in pairs with flowchart.

Give students a flowchart on powerpoint.  They can then work through the various stages

I’m (not) going to study… because…

it is … (positives)                               it is … (negatives)

and

the teacher is ….  (positives)               the teacher is … (negatives)

Hopefully the flowchart makes sense although wordpress does not permit the use of lines and arrows, just imagine they are there.

Good student/bad student

A lot of textbooks take the opportunity to teach verbs with this topic.  Why not have a diary of a good student or a bad student and simply get your students (presumably good and bad) to create the opposite one?

Describing your school

Students in year 9 seemed very happy to do this once I said you can talk about Waterloo Road or your primary.  They spend every day at your school, the difference made it more fun for them somehow

Rate your teacher/favourite subject

Very simple activity probably for year 9 although for year 7s following Mira it could work.  Who is your favourite teacher and why.  Conduct a class survey and note the responses.  For those of you facing OFSTED and having to evidence numeracy, get some graph paper from your maths or science department and get them to produce a graph.  You could equally do this with school subjects.

Harry Potter Extension

Very simply give any year 7 a timetable that looks like it came from Hogwarts and tell them you want to know what subjects are when.

aritmancia, estudios muggles, adivinación, estudio de runas antiguas y cuidado de criaturas mágicas, transformaciones, encantamientos, pociones, historia de la magia, defensa contra las Artes oscuras, astronomía y herbología.

Then they can also pretend to be the characters and explain their like or dislike for various subjects.

Say something else

Ban the following words if students are relatively able: “good”, “nice”, “interesting”, “boring” and “fun”.  Your English department probably already operates on this policy but it is a good opportunity to use dictionaries and make their language more interesting.

Stretching your best students

Whatever your view of G+T, it is clear that the brightest students in your class need pushing to achieve.  In a climate where languages takeup at GCSE is rising as a result of performance 8 or EBACC measures, A-level and university courses are experiencing decline.  A simple google search shows that in 2012,2013 and 2014 a major newspaper reported on the decline in A-level languages. Our best students should be the ones going on to study it yet most are not. There are blogs which explore and consider why.  Rather than do that, I thought I would share some of the things that I have tried, with varying successes.

Before looking at some ideas there are three questions you need to consider with extension work:

  1. Is the work I am giving them going to deepen their understanding?
  2. Is the work I am giving them going to consolidate their understanding?
  3. Is the work I am giving them suitably challenging and is there a suitable time frame in which to complete it?

Ideas for the classroom or outside of the classroom

Reading

  • Encourage regular independent reading in TL – encourage use of sites such as http://www.cuentosinfantiles.net
  • Authentic materials – what is there that they can go and get and work on if they finish early?  Can they spot the grammar point in a real-life context?
  • For boys encourage them to read www.juanmata8.com , the lethal mediocampista (midfielder) has a bilingual blog.

Writing

  • Picture response activities really allow for creativity. Show students a picture, they could then…
    • write the conversation that is taking place
    • write the events that are taking place  (present tense)
    • write what they think will happen next (future tense)
    • write what would happen if … (conditionals and hypothetical statements)
    • write what happened before (past tense)
    • do a mixture of the above (combining tenses)
    • write what the people should do (modal verbs)
  • Never settle for anything less than their best.  Insist on expanded answers in any plenaries/activities involving mini-whiteboards
  • Dictionary usage – encourage use of dictionary to improve and develop all written work.  Do you have a TL thesaurus?
  • French/Spanish penfriend scheme – get them involved if you can.

Listening

  • What else can they listen for?  Could they do a dictee from the listening recording if they get the answers first time around?
  • www.rtve.es/noticias/directo/canal-24h/    – Spanish news
  • www.france24.com/fr/  – French news     (opportunity to watch live on right hand side of page – pop up window opens
  • www.ard.de – same as the two above  Tagesschau is good short snappy news burst
  • Encourage listening to musicians: Manu Chao (FR/SP), Juanes (SP), Amaral (SP), El Tri (SP), MC SOLAR (FR), WISE GUYS (GER).
  • Encourage them to try a foreign film with subtitles in the TL and the audio in the TL.

Speaking

  • Interviews with TL speaking person are always good.
  • Insist on TL in the corridor, in class and if they have to use it then they will.  It will also develop habits and confidence.
  • Run a twilight session with a focus on improvisation and spontaneity.  They really do benefit from this.
  • Insist on elongated answers comparisons, contrasts, subordinate clauses, do not accept them lowering their standards to fit in.  If you have to then do the speaking test with them in the class but have everyone else working.
  • If playing the trampa game mentioned on this blog,  quietly challenge one to cheat on every go, or alternatively stack the deck.  I tried the former with one student and the intellectual challenge was something that they thrived on.  The morals are debateable but then the game is called cheat.

2 final salient points

1)  Encourage use of previously learnt language in all written and spoken assessments.  G&T students always want to do something new but the challenge should also be to include EVERYTHING they already know as a means of consolidation and a showcase of their abilities.

2) Check they are not sprinting before they can walk.  It goes against everything I have said above but they if they are playing around with subjunctives and still struggling with present tense forms, then you might want to sort the foundations out before building any more of the house.

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets

I’ve not quite cracked it with KS4 yet but i’ll have a go at ideas for key stage 3.

Having taught a number of bottom sets in the past 3 years I’ve learnt the following:

1) The next level is quite a big jump in their minds

2) Memorisation, literacy, behaviour and confidence are your main battlegrounds

3) Positive reinforcement has to be relentless – yep even for that kid you just thought of. 🙂

4) Relationships and rules are of equal importance.

5) They are reluctant to use the TL.

Some teaching ideas that regularly work:

1) Writing challenge (adapted from Rachel Hawkes)

Rachel Hawkes’ idea is to give an answer to a question that is exactly … words long 9/11/13.  The idea was to get students extending sentences with ,weil.   I’ve changed it a little.  Get a student to pick a number between 35 and 55 (whatever range you choose).  Then tell them that whoever can write a piece using everything they’ve learnt, the textbook and their exercise book gets a merit or whatever reward system you run with.  80-90% of kids will give it a good shot and be surprised that they can be quite successful.

2) Running dictations

Really good way of practising speaking, listening and writing.  Just make sure the runner does not have a pen or they will write the difficult words on their hand.  Caught a budding tattoo artist the other day.  Another thought: don’t make them too long.  Or if they must be longer put part II on another piece of paper somewhere else in the room and that way it doesn’t look like so much!

3) Bingo/Last man standing bingo

Bingo is exactly what it says.  Last man standing bingo is similar.  Write down four items of vocabulary on topic then stand up.  One student is a caller and goes through words.  If you have all four crossed out then you are out and sit down.  Winners are the last few left standing.  Good mini-test of listening skills and injects some fun into the lesson.  Think it might work well with Queen’s “another one bites the dust” music as they start to be “out”

4) Speaking bingo grid. 

You make a 4×4 grid of phrases you want them to use.  Students then have a time limit to use as many as possible making sure they make sense.  Their partner notes the ones that they use.  The person who uses the most  in the time wins.

5) Points for speaking/writing. 

You make another grid but the top row has various point allocations for what they say.  So depending on what you want them to use then give them various points (keep scores in 2 or 5 times table for easy adding).  Again give a time limit and set them off.  Award winners appropriately.

6) Teams idea (massive thanks to Bill Rogers “tackling the tough class). 

Get the students to write down someone they respect and someone they like.  Put your class into teams and give them points for everything: uniform, presentation, work rate, use of TL in lessons, helping others, helping put out equipment, being kind, answering questions, winning team games etc.  Take off points if they talk when you are or break other rules.  Keep this going over a term with a prize for winners at the end of the term.  Seems laborious at first but can engender really good habits and cooperative/collaborative learning.  Allow students to submit transfer requests at end of term that you will “consider”. Have done this 3 years in a row with tough groups and find I have far less bad behaviour and far less detentions.  Kids, particularly boys are used to team sports and it plays to their sense of competitiveness.

7) Reading reduction paper (thanks to my HoD although he swears he can’t remember having this idea). 

If students with weak literacy are tackling a tough reading text then give them a post-it note or an opaque ruler and encourage them to tackle it line by line.  I have found that the reduction of information bombardment helps and they can then work at their own pace.  It is a simple way of catering to students who find reading difficult.  It is also successful with dyslexics.

I think this post requires a part II sometime.  I’ve enjoyed writing it, hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and have something you can use.