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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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.

 

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Making marking work

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Time to get out the red pen

This post should probably start with a disclaimer.  My marking is not perfect.  I do my absolute best to make sure the pupils get the best feedback on their work but it will not always yield the seismic improvements that one might hope.

Before we discuss marking and feedback, I think it is worth pointing the reader towards this document produced by Sean Harford HMI.  Yes, he does work for “they-who-shall-not-be-named” but you really do need to read it.  You could also follow him on Twitter as he is quite good at busting the various OFSTED myths that fly around.

Over the past few years, I have seen a variety of marking policies in my own school and in visiting others.  Out there, there is a plethora of feedback and marking styles such as “comment only” marking, highlighter marking, DIRT time, group feedback, whole class feedback, flipped learning, self-marking online assessments, self-assessment, peer-assessment, raw scores, averages, levels, flightpaths, progress indicators, RAG etc.  Don’t worry, this post is not going to cover all of those!  Instead, here are three that have really worked for me, and my students, in the classroom:

Whole class feedback & Individual Feedback.

Whilst marking a set of books I will formulate a series of targets to be placed on a PowerPoint.  In the book, I will simply write something that the student did well along with T1, T7, T8.  There is an example below.  The following lesson will probably follow this pattern:

1) Whole class feedback or starter activity relating to an issue most struggled with.

2) DIRT time – students have opportunity to act upon individual targets.  Extension tasks available for those who finish.

3) Remaining time refreshing material from previous lesson or preparing for subsequent lesson.

The activities in part 1 above could be…

  1. Grammar exercises
  2. Spot the errors / Correct the errors (anonymously lifted or amalgamated from work marked)
  3. Match present and past tense verbs so that students are clear which is which.
  4. Spot the correct sentence from a choice of 3.

An example of what students will see in part 2 above is below.  I have found that the “what it means” and “what to do” leaves no room for excuses of “I don’t get what I have to do”.

feedforward

Feedback needs to be about improvement and development, not simply error correction. That is my hope behind targets 2,4,6.  However, where some heavy error correction is needed, then I still want them thinking about it (see T1,T3).

T5 allows me to challenge, and insist on improvement of, any poorly presented pieces that I may not notice from across the room during the lesson.

T7 allowed me to work with one to one with a student who was miles ahead of the rest of the class and teach them something they can add to their work.

T9 was to give a student time to catch up on work missed through no fault of their own.

This approach massively shortened the time I spent marking and still allowed me to deal with misconceptions and give specific, personalised feedback that led to definite, visible improvements.

Highlighter Marking

Mentioned in a full length post  a while back, I still think this is one of the best ways for boosting confidence of students.

Underline an entire piece of work in two highlighter pens.  Green if it’s good.  Yellow if it needs work.  Immediately a student can see what is good and what is not.  If the overwhelming picture is green then it can be a massive confidence boost.  If they realise that the yellow is a repeated error, then we are on the road to eradicating it.  If there is a substantial amount of yellow then maybe a rewrite is in order.  Sometimes the yellow would not be underlining anything, to demonstrate that there was a need to add something.  To show students bits of their work that were particularly good such as a wenn clause (German), a reflexive verb in the passé composé (French), or use of the imperfect subjunctive (Spanish), I simply double-ticked those parts.  

I have tried to demonstrate the visual impact below:

Gestern Abend habe ich mit meiner Famille ins Kino gegangen.  Dort wir haben “Fast and Furious 14” gesehen.  Es war toll.  Ich mag Actionfilmen, weil sie sind spannend

Advantages include how well it combines with marking codes and it is speedy. Disadvantages include that one needs a constant supply of highlighter pens or felt-tips!

Self/Peer Assessment

Peer assessment is something I struggle with in MFL.  Sometimes I find that the students do not have enough knowledge to effectively assess the work of another.  You find comments such as “great use of connectives”, when there were none in the work at all.  I think it works best when the students have sufficient knowledge to draw upon, or with a reasonably restrictive mark-scheme. 

I have tried a little bit with the new GCSE roleplays.  The following pattern yielded some success.

  • 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 shambles 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