Some light reading

Books to improve your practice

It might seem odd to some teachers out there to read a book about teaching, particularly during the holidays, when one should be relaxing.   However, there is definitely a lot to be gained from some of the literature out there.  Here are the ones I have learnt the most from when it comes to MFL teaching.  To some readers, it may come as a shock that “The Language Teacher Toolkit” is not on there, however I have only just purchased it and have only read a couple of chapters.

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The Craft of the Classroom – Michael Marland (1934-2008)

This book was immensely helpful in my PGCE, NQT year and early years of teaching.  Although it was written in the early nineties, the wisdom it provides is timeless.  The late author covers relationships, discipline, establishing habits, parents, pressure, classroom layout, displays and more.  Michael Marland, the author, comes across as a man who loved teaching.  This book leaves nothing out.  The effects of adverse weather on pupils is noted and the presence of plant-life to brighten up the classroom is suggested.  His emphasis on the power of positive strong relationships comes across throughout.  Having lent the book to an NQT, I am indebted to the Guardian for the following quote from the final page of the book:

“The craft [of the classroom] won’t work without a spirit compounded of the salesman, the music-hall performer, the parent, the clown, the intellectual, the lover and the organiser, but the spirit won’t win through on its own either. Method matters. The more ‘organised’ you are, the more sympathetic you can be. The better your classroom management, the more help you can be to your pupils.”

Michael Marland Obituary

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Student reactions to speaking activities.

Target Language Toolkit – Allison Chase

Target language use varies widely between classes, teachers, students, lessons and schools.  This book has 90 ideas to increase TL usage in the classroom and is great to dip into for ideas occasionally to avoid getting stuck in a rut.  Having picked it up again recently I am very tempted to try the following:

  1. List of 100 phrases.  This is a list of 100 phrases or utterances that all pupils should be able to use.  I think a mixture of testing and rewards may get them to use them more.
  2. Talk Time – 5-10mins speaking at the end of a lesson using whatever prompts the teacher brings.  This could be objects, photo, music, something to eat.  The author mentions she tried a blindfolded taste test of dark, milk and white chocolate with learners having to explain which kind they were eating, and which they preferred.  I may make this one a teacher-led activity!
  3. Emergency flashcards for TL-shy classes – series of flashcards with the most basic phrases “yes”, “no”, “please”, “thank you”.  I may adapt this slightly to have pronunciation on there too so that the learners can build their confidence.

Other areas covered include routines, games and activities, developing TL beyond the classroom and having a department wide TL policy.  If you are considering a purchase, a longer review can be found here courtesy of Steve Smith.  You can also follow the author on Twitter @AllisonChaseMFL.

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Why don’t students like school? – Daniel T Willingham

This is quite simply a superb book.  The blurb on the front says “a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom.”  It sets out this vision and sticks to it.  A selection of chapter titles includes:

  • “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?”
  • “How can I help slow learners?”
  • “Is drilling worth it?”
  • “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?”  This  chapter ripped apart the Learning Styles Theories that I was taught on my PGCE.

The questions above are ones teachers ask themselves regularly!  Each chapter is easy to read and answers the question it poses.  Some chapters contain examples that the author explains.  Sometimes there are examples that he lets you follow and work out, before presenting you with the answer, along with how your brain got there.  Each chapter concludes with “implications for the classroom” and the book concludes by turning its attention to the reader.  It asks the questions we should ask at the end of any educational book: What have you learnt?  And what are you going to do about it?

German French Spanish Flags

Upgrade your French / German / Spanish – Margaret Jubb, Annemarie Künzl-Snodgrass, Silke Mentchen, Abigail Lee Six.

30 days of grammar, vocabulary and language development lie within the pages of these books.  The books are generally designed for those between Sixth Form and University to shore up the basics of their language use.  I would suggest they are excellent for MFL teachers who wish to work on their weaker language, but cannot access evening classes or are pressed for time.  They may also be a good resource for your G&T students or native speakers.

Self-testing quizzes allow you to track your progress and see how you are doing. Answers can be found in the back.  The first week of the German one is as follows:

  1. Cases
  2. Describing people -acquaintances, hairstyle, eyes, glasses, character, attitude, being keen on someone
  3. Pronouns
  4. Family and Society – genitive and possessive pronouns
  5. Nouns – genders and plurals
  6. Leisure – sport, verbs using fahren, meeting up with friends,
  7. Relative Clauses

 

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Photo Credit: inspirationsyouth Flickr via Compfight cc

Cracking the Tough Class – Bill Rogers

Bill Rogers is a bit of a favourite on PGCE courses.  None of the books on behaviour seemed to deal with some of the classes I encountered.  This one gets close.  It looks at the features of tough classes and how to deal with them.  There is an entire chapter on how to establish the right environment with a tough class at the outset and how to effectively follow up disruptive students.  One of the later sections suggests how more experienced colleagues might support members of their department.  An idea – from this book – that changed my practice was having my tougher classes in teams that worked together.  There would be a prize for the top two at the end of a term, and a transfer window at the start of a the new term.  This book will not solve all your problems, but it might help you to find some solutions.  If the picture that headed this review summarises how you feel, when that group (you know which one) appear on the timetable; it may well be worth a look!

 

Things to keep from 2016

A belated Happy New Year to any readers and huge big thank you to almost 7500 people who read my ramblings last year!  It is quite humbling to see stats like that and also how far across the world it has gone.  Having said that, I’m sure there are some NFL fans out there wondering quite how they ended up on a language teaching website!

A bit of a reflective one to kick off 2017.  Looking back at 2016, there are some things I did for the first time that I want to keep doing.  Here they are…

Core Language Sheets

My 8s,9s and 10s have a sheet glued in the middle of their book where the staples are.  These sheets contain key verbs (conjugated and infinitives), time adverbs, conjunctions (not a fan of “connectives”), opinion phrases and much more.  They are used regularly by the majority of students in my class.  They are adaptations of ones that can be found on Rachel Hawkes’ website.  I changed some vocabulary items and also gave the fonts a slight upgrade.  They are great for learning homeworks such as “learn time adverbs section” or “write a sentence using each infinitive with no repetition”.  It has also stopped some of the “me gusta juego” that pupils often default to.

50-50 no hands up/hands up

I’m a fan of “hands up” and “no hands up” when questioning.  I am aware that some teachers will advocate a 100% no hands up approach.  This was suggested as an “outstanding” technique when I was training.  I’ve listed the pros and cons in the table below.  Hopefully you will see why I favour a mixture of both…

Pros Cons
Hands up 1) You see student enthusiasum for learning.
2) You gain an idea of student competence
3) Occasionally low-confidence students will go
for it so you have a good opportunity to build their
confidence with success!
1) Some students will never put their hands up
2) Some students will be too passive in lessons
3) The two above may become learned behaviours
No hands up 1) Keeps everyone on their toes
2) Does not allow an “opt out”
3) Allows teacher to target questions to
underachievers, pupil premiums, G&T etc.
1) High anxiety for some students low on confidence
2) Some students will go with “don’t know” and resist your attempts
to lead them to an answer.
3) If targeting underachievers, pupil premium etc too often, you
may miss others.

Find someone who…

My new favourite speaking/listening task.  For a detailed explanation look at 2.7 on Gianfranco Conti’s blog.  The example Gianfranco shares links to free time.  I have used it for future tense practice “find someone who will…” or past tense “find the person who did…”  It requires a little bit of preparation and printing.  The hard part is making sure that the students stay completely in the TL.

Teacher-led listening (Nick Muir / Gianfranco Conti / Steve Smith)

Photo Credit: musiccard Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: musiccard Flickr via Compfight cc

Listening activities in textbooks can be useful.  However, I  object greatly when the listening text involving types of transport contains sound effects!  I have started to do some of my own with varying successes.

  1. Sense or nonsense – Students work out if the sentence given is sense or nonsense.
  2. LH, RH, BH – Allocate three categories in advance, students close eyes and put hands up.  This can be done with tenses, opinions, negatives etc
    1. Left hand = future tense
    2. Right hand = past tense
    3. Both hands = present tense
  3. Spot the word missed.  Sentences on board, teacher reads out and students spot missing word or word added in.
  4. Mr Men/Real Madrid listening – used at the start of the year to help develop sound and spelling links.  Students have to spell the name of the Mr Man having only heard the Spanish.  Can also work with members of Real Madrid’s reserve team.

Invitation only twilights.

Finally, we get to some of my own ideas!  That being said, I’m sure that it is not original.  I know a number of teachers who organise twilights and invite their entire class and attain varying attendance figures.  This is compounded when you are up against core subjects, intervention classes, after-school detentions and some departments with more clout.  I tried a different tactic.  I invited 2-3 students each time.  Only one did not turn up.  Ways to make it work are as follows:

  1. Invite the student personally a week in advance, have them note it in a planner.
  2. Make it really clear what they are going to get from the session.
  3. Bring something of a sugary nature

Having a smaller GCSE group helps, but even with a larger one you could plan it out over time.

L shapes game – conjugation and translation

Produce a grid of conjugated verbs in TL or English (8×8, 6×8, 10×5 whatever size suits you or whatever preparation time allows).  Students start in opposite corners but can only move in L shapes like the knight on a chessboard.  To be able to shade in the next square they need to be able to pronounce the word accurately and translate it.  They keep going until they cannot move any longer.  Winner is then the one with the most squares.

 

Traffic light book hand in.

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This came from one of our newer teachers.  She has three boxes in her room.  Green, yellow and red.  Pupils put their books in at the end of the lesson depending on how well they feel they have coped with the material covered.

  • Green = I’m fine, no problems
  • Yellow = I struggled a bit
  • Red = I found that really tough.  Help!

You can then mark in an order that deals with the greatest need first, and target your marking more effectively.

Snakes and Ladders with heavy TL use.

snakes-ladders

I tried this with a low ability group and then with a higher one. Pupils have to do a task if they land on odd numbers.  If they fail they move vertically down a square.  Pupils also have to do a task to ascend a ladder or stop themselves slipping down a snake.

  • 1 – sentence with fui a + country
  • 3 – sentence with fui + transport
  • 5 – sentence with fui + people
  • 7 – sentence with fue +opinion
  • 9 – sentence with fueron
  • Ladder ascension: sentence with fui + country, transport and people
  • Snake Stopper: sentence with fui + country and 2x activities in preterite.

Save your money by doing the following:

  1. Get 8-10 boards photocopied for your class.
  2. Counters are rubbers, sharpeners, pen lids, 5 pence coins etc.

 

 

Teaching Social Media and the Internet

Photo Credit: Apex Web Firm Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Apex Web Firm Flickr via Compfight cc

 

I’m learning new words with this topic!  Here are a few:

  • delizar – to swipe
  • tuitear – to tweet,  hotly debated – should it enter the Spanish language or not?
  • unidad de red – cloud storage

So how do you teach it to tech savvy teenagers?  I’ll be honest.  I haven’t cracked it and I’m teaching the module at the moment.  I’ll add to the ideas below if I stumble on anything useful.

Translation challenge

Divide students into A and B before revealing a slide with these:

Translations A Translations B
5 Sentence in Spanish here Sentence in English here
10 Tougher sentence in English here Tougher sentence in Spanish here
15 Equally tough sentence in Spanish here Equally tough sentence in English here
20 Horrible sentence in English here Horrible sentence in Spanish here (present subjunctive anyone?)

Student who gets the highest points score wins.  They can start wherever they like.

 

A3 Answers B2 Responses and C1 sentences

This is an adaptation of an idea from the brilliant Rachel Hawkes.  You give the kids questions like the ones below but tell them that you want an A3 answer.  The kids then have to include those things in the answer to the question.

¿Para qué usas Facebook?

¿Tienes un blog?

¿Cuántas seguidores tienes en Twitter?

A use perfect tense                                            1 use a linking word that is not “y”

B use a sentence containing lo/la                 2 use an opinion without the word “gusta”

C use present tense                                           3 include a time phrase

D use opinion                                                      4 include an item of vocabulary from last lesson

5 lines up

Whilst this is not in anyway linked to the internet topic, it is something I am experimenting with.  All learners rule off their page 5 lines up from the bottom.  This new section of book is for any new vocabulary.  This could be something they ask me for, something they find in the dictionary, or a new word encountered in a reading or listening text that they plan to look up later.  It has the advantage of allowing them a means of retaining the new language and also shows it linking to the learning that took place in that lesson.  Hopefully that should mean that words heard once or seen once, are not simply forgotten.  My hope is that by processing it a few more times that they will retain it.  It might also foster some independence.

Language Gym Verb Trainer & Boxing

The topics in the AQA book have a hefty amount of grammar (perfect tense, verbs with prepositions, por/para and the present continuous).

The Language Gym website has a great verb trainer but also in the “games room” section there is a boxing game on technology. It is a nice way to consolidate and extend vocabulary.  It could be very effective in the practice phase of a lesson or equally as a consolidation homework.  The rock-climbing game is really clever although I feel terrible when I get it wrong and hear the “aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh” sound.

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How long can you keep it  up for?

This one is all about conversation.  Give groups of 3-4 students a series of cards with questions and maybe some support via a speaking mat if needed.   Nominate a starting student.  Explain that student 1 can question any of students 2,3, and 4.  After 2,3 or 4 has answered then they have 3 options.  The first is to ping the question back at person one.  The second is to ask someone else the same question.  The third is to ask another question of someone else.  Tell the group they have to keep the conversation going as long as possible.  Write up on the board the amount of minute and half-minutes they have managed to keep the conversation going in Spanish.  I think some teachers call this group talk.  It may well be that but I want the focus to be on the time aspect.  They tend to feel more confident and sit taller when they realise they have just managed 5 minutes in Spanish together.

Perfect Tense – “Have you ever…?”

The AQA book uses the internet topic to introduce the perfect tense so once the students have got the concept then you could get them generating a series of 5 questions for their partner on any topic.

¿Has jugado … ?

¿Has probado …?

Tarsia Puzzles & Dominoes

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Tarsia is one of my favourite activities but does take a while to set up.  It is a good plenary or starter to recap something you have taught in a prior lesson.  You will need a printing and photocopying budget!  Clicking the link will take you to the website where you can download the program.  It allows you to make activities such as dominoes.  You can also make triangles of little triangles where all the vocab must match in both languages.  Maths teachers use it for formulas.   Remember to set the form of entry to “TEXT” or it will crush your letters together.  If you can trust your students with scissors then they can chop them.  If not, employ the skills of your tutor group and bribe reward them for their efforts.

2 options for use:

  1. English – Spanish vocabulary matching  “deslizar” = “to swipe”
  2. English word – Spanish definition “Youtube”= “Sitio para videos”  “desinstalar” = “proceso de borrar app”.

 

¡No te metas a mi facebook!

Resources for this lesson can be found here

Lyric video here

If the lesson plan and resources on TES are not enough then how to exploit songs can be found in the Teacher’s Guide section of Frenchteacher.net

Spanish Text Lingo

I believe the kids call them “group chats” now but teach them some basic Spanish phrases for this purpose.  See if the students can work out any of the following:

  • grax – gracias
  • tqm – te quiero mucho
  • bss – besos
  • komotás – ¿Cómo estás?
  • de nax – de nada
  • 50538 – I’m not telling you this one.  Turn your phone upside-down and read it

Verb Tables / Verb Stars

There is a lot of good grammar in this topic if you are following an AQA scheme of work so make use of it as an opportunity to teach them verb tables and how to use them.

descargar – to download

descargo    descargüe    voy a descargar    he descargado   etc

Whilst I am not a massive fan of learning styles theories, I appreciate that some learners prefer to lay out information in different ways.

Lists – colour-coded subdivisions:

Descargar

Present:  descargo

Past: he descargado / descargüe  / descargaba

Future: voy a descargar / descargaré

Make sure students stick to the same colour coding or they are simply going to cause themselves confusion.

Brainstorm / Star

Put infinitive in the middle and add others around it.  To make it more asthetically appealing putting a star around the infinitive is useful.

How many different ways can you use that infinitive?

There are many verbs in Spanish that precede an infinitive.  Students could use those as well.  Germanists will know what I mean by Modalverben.

Puedo / Quiero / Tengo que / Debería / Me gustaría etc

 

 

 

 

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.

5 ideas to try this week

Sorry for the lack of posts, things got busy at work so here is a double whammy.  One of the 5 ideas to try series and the other is a collection of thoughts on GCSE revision.

1) No ICT at all

I think we can become too dependent on computers.  The phrase “death by Powerpoint” is not a new one.  Kids are largely unsurprised by anything we can do with a computer.  So how about turning it off for a lesson (apart from your register of course).  The other day with my French class we had a lesson with no ICT at all.  They did not have to even look at a screen.  It was great!  Everything was old-school.  We had flashcards, card sorts and all manner of activities but nothing involved a computer.

2) Giant scrabble

Great way of stretching pupils thinking skills and knowledge of vocabulary on a particular topic.  Put as many mini-whiteboards together as you can.  Start with a word in the middle.  Pupils get a point per letter for their word and a point per letter from any word it bisects.  You could make it a team effort if you have large classes so two pupils work cooperatively.  My old German teacher used to do this on an OHP, we loved it but the mini-whiteboard version allows everybody to be involved.  I’ve also tried adding challenges such as: include words on the theme of … (double word score), include a particular grammar item (triple word score).  The possibilities are not endless, as that is a cliché, but there are quite a few.

3) Differentiated dice speaking.

I might have posted this one before but it keeps with the no-ICT theme above.  Give pupils dice.  If you can buy some D12s (12-sided dice) then do.  You then have the following options.

  • Put 2 sets of  numbers 1-6 with vocabulary (eg me gusta and school subjects) pupils roll the dice twice, say the phrase and their partner translates
  • Give them a task per number of the dice to revise material covered over the year.
  • Give them a task per number of the 6 sided dice and then a modifying element with the twelve sided (heavyH on prep but great for stretching the kids).

4) 50-50 Hands up/hands down

I’ve seen some classes where the rule is no hands up and others where the rule is hands up all the time.  I’ve been trying a mixture of both recently and it’s working.  It maintains the engagement as both other methods have two distinct problems.  The no hands up rule is great but only if the teacher makes a point of picking on all class members.  It can easily lead to picking on the brighter ones,  further the learning and progress of a class.  The latter has an issue as it allows the quieter members of our class to hide.  I find this one neatly counters both.  It shows you who is keen but allows you to keep all members of the class on their toes.

5) Murder mystery  https://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/murder-mystery-lesson–food-and-drink-6091212

Brilliant resource by the exceptional rosaespanola  on TES revising foods, likes and dislikes.  My only concern is that my bottom set did a better job than my top set.  The language was quite challenging  and the task is not particularly easy.  If you use it then give it the 5* rating it merits.

5 ideas to try this week

Dear readers

Just a few simple ideas this time.  Thank you to whoever is tweeting this site as the views go rocketing up.  I haven’t ventured on to Twitter yet but it might happen soon.

Extreme battleships

DN-SC-85-03546

 You’ve probably done the normal mfl version with a 4×4 grid and phrases that students have to use to sink their opponent’s ship.

How about an 8×8 grid with two people playing against two other people at the same time using the same board?  It sounds mental but it can work.  You need a very competitive class, very clear instructions and a certain arrangement of desks.

Differentiated Quiz Quiz Trade with mini-whiteboards

Get students to write a question on their whiteboard and the start of the answer on the back of the whiteboard.  Students must ask and answer a question before swapping whiteboards.  I tried this with ¿Qué estudias? and ¿Qué vas a estudiar?  Students had “estudio” or “voy a estudiar” on the other side so when the person was answering, they had help with their answer.  Went down well with a low ability group.

Extreme holiday consequences

featured-extreme-sports

A fair amount of pre-teaching of verbs needed here.  Give students a long piece of paper, tell them to put their name at the bottom (this throws them a bit).  Then lead them through the following insisting that they fold over and pass the paper on each time.  At the end return it to the original person.  Writing and reading task in one 🙂

  • Somewhere you went
  • who you went with
  • how you got there
  • el primer día + 2 activities
  • Opinion
  • el Segundo día+ 2 activities
  • Opinion
  • el ultimo día + 2 activites
  • Volví en + transport

You can adapt this to your heart’s content.  This could work with what you do at the weekend, what you plan to do at the weekend.  It could be done with school.  Very flexible activity that allows for a high degree of creativity and teaches some useful phrases at the same time.

30 second summary

A great plenary activity that allows you to check on the learning of a class or even better an individual.  You know how some students do not give much away by their facial expressions, set the class the task of summarising the content of the lesson or explaining a grammar point in 30 seconds.,  Go over and listen to that particular student.

Youtube

There is a lot of dross out there but if you find something good, make it part of your practice.  I am not a massive fan of songs given that my ability to sing is …well.. “limited” would be putting it kindly.  The school insurance probably does not cover the resultant broken glass.

Particularly enjoyed using these two recently:

We exploited them by listening, gap fills, finding phrases, and then trying to sing it.  If you have VLC media player you can slow the play speed (0.85 is good)

New term – a great time to raise your game.

Happy New Year to you all.  I hope you had an excellent Christmas and a promising start to the new year.

I’ve decided this should be a simple post about things I will try this term, starting next week.  There are numerous aspects of teaching that I want to improve and various ideas that I want to try.  All of it is aimed at trying to make my lessons the very best they can be.  While inevitably some lessons will go better than others, I want the return in terms of learning to be high every lesson.

Here are 4 ideas I want to try in January:

1) Experiments with excellence

I’ve been reading a little about Ron Berger and his “ethic of excellence” and his insistence on feedback and how it can drive improvement. Whilst Berger teaches in a relatively unique setting I wonder if his ideas can be applied in an MFL classroom.  My year 8 Spanish class will produce a postcard from a holiday but rather than it being a week long homework at the end of the topic, we will draft it over 2 weeks before they do a final version at the end of the topic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqh1MRWZjms

2) Speaking/Translation tandem

Inspired by a Bristol colleague.  Students have phrases on a sheet of A4 with alternating Spanish/English.  They have to say what they think is the phrase and their partner can nudge them towards a correct version.  It should have the effect of reinforcing grammar structures, raising translation as an activity (with the new GCSE in mind) and could work quite well.  Probably will try it with year 7s or year 10s.

3) Insistence on TL

All students have phrases in their books they can use but I’m really going to push it this term.  I want to see if we can get lessons where there is an 80/20% ratio of Spanish – English.  To this end I plan to have 3 things in place:

i) A TL monitor – a student I trust who can monitor my TL usage and that of the class.  They will have a traffic light card to indicate this.  In lower years this will probably be referred to as the Spanish Sy

ii) TL phrases on wall – students need to use these in responding after a listening exercises or wherever possible.

iii) Rewards for students who use most TL, this will be monitored by my TL monitor.

4) Live marking

That is “live” in the sense of “in the moment” not live as in “live, breathe, eat, sleep marking.”  I saw this suggested on another post.  A teacher picks 8 students and aims to mark their books whilst the students are on a task of some description.  The marking then finishes with a question relating to what he/she has seen and demands a response.  Our students have to respond to our marking, this might be a way of encouraging it.  They are more likely to respond if I am stood next to them marking their neighbours book.  It might also be a way to reduce the marking load.  We will see.