Sunday, 2 July 2017

Why I love mailmerge

Unlike excel spreadsheets, which we've had no choice but learn to love, mailmerge seems to be a little known function.  I discovered it a couple of years ago, but as I talk to lots of colleagues who've never used it, I thought I would share my very basic use of it.

Feedback on exams.  Except with the most switched-on classes, it can be a nightmare.  4 skills, at least 3 on paper form.  No matter how hard I had tried to make it clear, students were still confused.  "Which one's my overall grade?".  Reading out the levels/grades to the whole class or going round individually were also less than satisfactory.

As I already have a spreadsheet with the grades/levels for each skill, I can easily make individualised feedback for each student.  Now that I am wise in the ways of mailmerge, it takes me 5 mins to create feedback from the spreadsheet which also makes it clear for the student and minimises my stress levels.  What's not to love?

Here's how I do it.

1.  When I'm marking the exams, as well as entering grades, I also enter a remark in 2 extra columns: "what you did well" and "next steps".  I normally do this on a separate piece of paper - doing it into a spreadsheet also gives me a great overview for parents' evening and reports.

2.  so now you have a lovely spreadsheet like this:

3.  Open a word document and choose "Mailings" and select "Start mailmerge" and choose "normal document".  Write the basic format of the document you want.

4.  Now you need to choose the recipients.  That's the students from your spreadsheet. So - choose "existing list" then choose your spreadsheet and the page that has your class on it.

5.  Now enter the fields where you need them.

6.  Choose preview results and double-check.  Then finish and merge.  I always choose "edit all" .  And Voila - pain-free feedback.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Changing mindsets - or trying to take the comfort blanket away

I'm coming to the end of my first year at my new school, so the annual reflection about what's worked and what hasn't is even more essential.  One of the biggest battles I have had this year has centred round learning for assessments. Apart from my Year 7s, all my other year groups have clung to the idea of memorising paragraphs. The disastrous legacy of the now defunct GCSE is proving hard to shift. The battle is, of course, most acute in year 10, who have less time than other year groups to make that shift.  In their writing exam, despite me saying that the questions would be adapted from the summary questions they had done for each topic, many students simply tried to learn all of these answers by rote. This meant that we had the familiar problems of minds going blank after the first line, but with the added horror that they didn't tweak the language they knew to fit the actual question.  When talking with the students, it became apparent that I still had my work cut out.  What I thought I had been teaching them i.e. how to use key verbs, how to use the language constructively, was not what the students were taking in.  Basic mistake.

In many ways, this is a variation on another age-old battle to persuade students that "just reading through" is the worst revision technique ever.  I get it - rote-learning of paragraphs has a good feeling to it.  It's also really definite - there's my paragraph, that's what I've got to learn. Doesn't matter if I don't know what it means, I've just got to learn it.  Boom!  Of course, breaking things down, knowing what all the elements mean - that's hard work, and it looks like you're making less progress at first, but it's real learning. There will still be a place for learning answers so that you can answer questions for the general conversation, but it cannot be with this mindset that you just learn and regurgitate.

I'm about to get my year 10s to prepare a for another writing assessment, so these are some of the things I've done differently since January.
1.  Lots of explicit talk about learning - lots of use of lego imagery!
2.  Adapting the use of photos as starters to emphasise the use of key language.
3.  Making a bigger part of the learning process - showing the leaderboard, but also (crucially) showing which % of the course they have mastered.
4.  Making them fill in a sheet of key language for the summary questions before they learn them - broken down into opinion phrases, verbs, adjectives/adverbs, connectives, fab phrases.  On the sheet they fill in the French and the English.  It's a faff, and I make them do it in class, because they don't like doing it, and I can quality control it.  It then allows them to test each other.
5.  My lollipop-stick games on key verbs.
6.  Vocab tests that include a few sentences to translate, not just single bits of vocabulary

Will it work?  We will see.  Is anyone else in the same boat?  I'd love to know how you've tackled it.

Swag Bag

Sometimes the old ideas are good ideas because they work.  I have a year 10 GCSE French set, where many have targets of grades 6-7, but I found it difficult to get them out of their comfort zone.  So, in October, we started a swag bag.  On the middle double-spread in their exercise books, we started assembling useful phrases that would help them to elevate their language.  A few weeks ago, we had managed to come up with this:

It's different to a learning mat, because they are responsible for choosing whether the word or phrase is worthy of inclusion, which means that we have a conversation about why these phrases are useful.  It also puts the onus on them to think about it and maintain it.  Now, when we do extended writing, they have to nominate at the top of their work a minimum of 3 swag bag phrases that they can use in their work.  It's a work in progress, and we will add to it in the future, but it's been useful for getting them out of their "j'aime...parce que c'est super" straitjacket.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Lollipop sticks for grammar!

Lollipop sticks - a fun way of making sure no-one gets left out from my questioning.  But there's so much more to be done with them. Why does it just have to be student names on them?  As I no longer have access to my smartboard random word chooser, I need another random phrase selector, and lollipop fit the bill in a pleasingly no-tech kinda way.

One of my challenges this year has been to find ways to help my year 10s build their awareness of verbs and the different tenses. So - I have created these lollipop sticks, all with "trigger phrases" on them - French on one side, English on the other.

The trigger phrases include phrases or verbs which then require the infinitive, and then triggers for the present, perfect, imperfect and future:

I have selected 8 key verbs from the topic we are currently doing, and put them into a table.
After introducing the idea of the trigger phrases, ensuring that they know which tense goes with which, we can then start playing.

Some ideas that have worked:
  • Everyone gets a lollipop stick, then writes the chosen verb in the form they need on their mini-whiteboard.
  • Focus on one verb - allow some memorisation time, then people come up to choose their stick, then get to form it. They double their points if they can translate it too.
  • Challenge the other team. 
  • Timed challenge.
You get the gist - I'm sure you can think of some of your own.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Teaching film for Year 12 MFL students

Teaching film in Year 12

One of the pleasures of teaching 6th form MFL has always been the opportunity to study a film or literary work.  The cultural and linguistic richness which this brings to the study of a language has the ability to light up the experience of learning a language.  Usually, however, I have been used to teaching this in Year 13, where it has been much more about learning about a film, play or novel in the medium of the target language. With the majority of the students that I’m currently teaching, I’m not yet in a position to do this in the way I was used to doing – most of them are simply not linguistically advanced to be able to cope with the material I’ve developed.  Simply put, the needs of my Y12s are very different from the needs of any previous Y13s I have had. As my school is entering all Y12 for the AS, I also have the eye-wateringly tight time constraints imposed by external deadlines to contend with. All of this means that my current teaching materials for teaching a film are in dire need of an overhaul.  In this post, I’m going to reflect on the ways in which I’m going to have to adapt the way I teach a film or a text at Year 12 needs to change to reflect the different stage in learning which are students are at.

What do my students need?

Some of my students still need intensive practice of verb conjugation and work with the cases.  That means incorporating lots of follow-up grammar practice, much of which can be done in their independent study sessions or as part of homework.  It also means identifying the key verbs / vocabulary for each session and giving them more prominence.

Teaching new grammar – I am going to need to introduce more complex relative clauses, the use of weak masculine nouns, for a start.

Essay-writing practice.  Although it will be a while before they can write a full essay, they can write structured paragraphs from the start which could form an essay, and that teach essay-writing language.

Summarising skills – summarising is now part of the requirement at AS.  This needs practising in general, as well as in the specific way it is required for the exam.

Ideas for starters:

·         Summarise what happened in the scenes from last lesson

·         Screenshot – describe the picture – note techniques / who is doing what

·         verb games using the verbs from last lesson

·         prepositions and cases gapfill

Ideas for follow-up work:

Each week needs a mix of the following:

·         Grammar work with the identified focus – gapfill / word order / cloze text

·         Translation – either from the script or from the language work provided

·         Summary of the action – choose a tense to do it in – practise imperfect / perfect or even present tense

·         Structured paragraph “exam-stylee” focused on either how the themes are developed / how technique is used / the role a character plays / what we learn about society from these

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Helping pupils with challenging reading texts for GCSE

I thought I would share the following resource which I have been using with my year 11s to help them improve their exam technique.  The tendency my students have is to snatch at one word, then build their answer around that one, single word, which inevitably leads to disaster.  Alternatively, they have no idea where to start.  Taking them step-by-step through the process, slowing them down so that they are forced to think about what they are reading - these have been useful.  Especially for AQA GCSE, where obscure answers are part and parcel of preparing for the A-A* type questions,

 I have a golden rule: Show me the evidence!!  You have to be guided by the words in the text.  We have just done a past paper question where the answer to the question, "How do you know the family are despairing of getting Louis to school on time?" was "They are thinking about having breakfast the night before"  Previous attempts at these types of obscure questions has led to blank expressions all round.  Although not all got it, some did because they had taken it step by step.

This template is also good for homework support.  If they have done all of these steps, you know that they have really engaged with the text.

Guided Reading Template
Stage 1.  Look at the clues which could set the scene.
1.  Is there any photo / picture?  What does it show? 
2.  What’s the title of the article?  Translate it here:
3.  What’s this article about?  Which topics might be included in this reading text?
Stage 2.  Skim read – getting the gist of what has been written
List the 3 most important things you have learned from the text.
Stage 3.  Focus on the first line of each paragraph – find the theme of the paragraph.
Translate each first sentence, and then tell me what the probable theme of the paragraph is.
Probable theme


Stage 4.  Find out what the key words are each question – underline them!
Stage 5. Find the section that gives you the answer to the question.
a. Underline the sentence or phrase which gives you the answer.
b. Translate as much as you can from that sentence into your exercise book.
Stage 6.  Answer the question, using your translation to help you!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Using film in MFL lessons - integrating it into the scheme of work

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.  The lesson sequence I'm going to describe came about when it became clear that I really needed a Plan B.  The danger of the spiral curriculum, where topics are revisited, but with increasing difficulty, was laid bare a few months ago by one of my Year 9 French classes.  The textbook we loosely follow is Tricolore, and the not-so-inspiring topic was family, and the grammar covered revision of adjectives for description and reflexive verbs including reciprocal verbs such as "nous nous disputons".  I made the fatal mistake when introducing the new topic of mentioning "family" and the shutters came down." Family? Did that in year 7." and although the phrase, "What's the point?" wasn't actually uttered, the body language said it all.    

Back to the drawing board.  This is when I came upon these fabulous resources by Rachel Hawkes and colleagues on the film "Neuilly sa mère!". I liked these resources, but I wanted to try a different approach.  The joy of this film is that it allows the pupils to comment on the family and characters shown in the film, and that from this, I could also teach them what I needed.  I think there is much to be gained from pupils seeing and experiencing a full film in the foreign language - their ear becomes more attuned, and the cultural references and sights are also often easily absorbed.  I have been less impressed with the overall effect that watching a film over, say, 2 lessons followed by language work. In recent years, I have tended to use short excerpts of films instead.  I decided, therefore to blend the 2 approaches, and show approx. 20 - 30 min clips over a period of lessons and use these as the stimulus for the rest of the lesson.  

This was the sequence that developed.
Aims of unit and the film:
·         revise and extend knowledge of family members
·         revise and extend personality adjectives
·         introduce a wider range of reflexive verbs to be able to talk about who you get on with
·         revise and extend adjectives for describing appearance
·         revise la futur proche to predict the end of the film
·         to develop phrases for introducing your opinion
·         to write about your own family based on the language learnt

·         to write a review of the film

      Lesson 1 start – 17:00
      We introduced the characters.  Using grouptalk and with a support sheet with personality words, they discussed which characters they liked and why, and compared them.  Who was more spoilt? Who was funnier / nicer?  They also worked out who was related to whom.  After they had completed exercises about the fictional family, I got no complaints about applying that language to a description of their own families for homework.
L  Lessons 2/3 17:00 – 39:00
      After watching the relationships between the characters develop, I used this section to teach "s'entendre bien avec" with other reflexive verbs e.g. se disputer.  We used a tarsia game to get to know the key verbs and structures, and they were then able to say who got on with whom.  They then applied it to their own families.
      Lesson 4 39:00 – 1:00
       This section allowed more use of reflexive verbs e.g. ils se moquent de lui.  And, as Sami doubted whether he would ever get his girl because he thought he wasn't her type, this seemed a good time to revise appearances, as it fitted with the plot. 
      Lesson 5  1:00 – 1:15
      Something a bit different this time.  We watched the party scene and then used the near future to predict what would happen for the end of the film.  I taught them a few phrases to introduce their opinion.
      Lesson 6 watch to the end
       We found out which of our predictions were right!  We then did some work to review the film.  Who was the favourite character?  Which was the favourite scene etc.
       The class really enjoyed this sequence of lessons, and they were willing to use more challenging French because they were motivated.  I prefer this way of watching a whole film.  We still got through all of the language for the scheme of work, and it felt much more organic.