Sunday, 12 November 2017

Preparing for the new A-Levels


This weekend I had the pleasure of spending my Saturday with colleagues at a conference on preparing for the new A-Level hosted by the wonderful ALL Yorkshire, with Robert Pike and Rachel Tattersall presenting.  I can’t possibly do justice to everything that was presented, but below are some of the things that I took away from today, and the thoughts I had whilst listening to the presentations.  A lot of the comments below are specifically AQA, but the general gist will apply to any board.

1. Get the information from the exam board websites now! 

You need to get yourself familiar now with the exam structure, especially for the speaking exam.

It was news to me that for the A-Level, the candidates only have 5 minutes preparation time, and this is done in front of the examiner! Not only that, but although they only do one stimulus card, they have to ask 2 questions. The devil truly is in the detail!

The advice on conduct of the examinations is up on the website (e.g. http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/languages/as-and-a-level/german-7662/assessment-resources ) so now is the time to trawl through the website to get what you need.

On the German A-level page there are the detailed instructions for the speaking test, and commentaries on sample answers for both the essay paper and the speaking test.

You should also have had an advisor assigned to your school for the Independent Research Project.  If you haven’t heard (I haven’t!), chase it up with your exams officer.

2. Preparation for the exams

IRP -  My students have started their research, and they are now beginning to look towards how to turn that into something which can be used for the exam.  Timings are going to be crucial – those 2 minutes of presentation can earn up to 5 marks for AO4, so it’s important for this to be structured well, but of course, not so crammed that the students rush and become unintelligible. A 9 minute discussion is a long time, and it’s going to be crucial that they have enough material and considered thoughts on this to last this amount of time.

The training prompted me to go home and look at the form for the IRP (also on the website).  There is room for between 2 and 10 headings for the discussion. The more headings used, the more control the candidate will have over the direction of the discussion.

Translation

It was commented on that a mark of 0/10 for the translation into the TL was not uncommon.  Lots of small mistakes evenly distributed would lead to this, so training our students to be confident with grammar, and to look carefully at what is required (singular /plural; definite article / indefinite article) is essential.

How can we help in class?

Lots of practice of changing and manipulating language.  The old adage of making maximum use of any text you do in class still applies.  Getting students used to finding verbs but then change tenses, changing 1st to 3rd person (especially with irregular verbs in German), spotting the change in role and therefore the change in case – these are all things that come with regular practice.

Summaries

I was intrigued to find out that examiners do count the words for the summaries.  They do allow for a few additional words, and will mark up to 10 words over the word-limit, up to the first natural break.  That means that candidates must stick to the bullet points, and be guided by the number of points awarded.

Tips to improve summaries:

·         Avoid introductions and keep to the bullet points.

·         Make rough notes first before doing the final summary – it will make it more concise.

·         Answer the bullet points directly.

·         In class, practise transcribing, especially focusing on verb endings, article spellings etc.

The essay

Examiners look first a AO4 (critical response).  Students need to demonstrate accurate and detailed knowledge, evidence from the text, and develop arguments and draw conclusions.  The best essays are not the long essays – 350 words are more than enough. They need to be tight, relevant and varied.  Encouraging students to choose their examples and quotes carefully and write with control, needs a lot of practice.  Robert Pike talked about using ExExExEx to get students to think about structuring paragraphs.

·         Express your point

·         Explain

·         Example

·         Extend and develop – this the part which will give candidates access to the highest marks for AO4

Personally, I use a variation on PEEL, and use it in my marking.

·         P – point

·         Eg – Example

·         Ex – Explanation

·         Ev – Evaluation

·         L – link to the question

By using this in my marking, the students have been able to see more clearly whether they have been making too many descriptive points, rather than developing ideas.

3.  Developing the knowledge of society and making it stick

One of the big concerns for this new A-Level is whether students have a good understanding of the knowledge of society, and can they recall this information quickly.  There is a lot of key information to remember, and although they don’t need specific figures, they do need to know trends, rough comparisons and be able to talk and comment about these and examples from the TL countries.

We need to help our students to get control over this by getting them to do summarising activities at the end of the topic.  This should also mean that they have an easy overview of the whole topic.

Favourites that were mentioned were making a mind map, summary page of facts, doing a poster, doing a presentation to the class with a word-limit on the slide to stop the dreaded put-a-text-up-then-read-it-out disaster.  I have several students who hate mind maps and posters, and are definitely bullet-point people.  I insist on a second column beside the stats and facts which states what conclusions they can draw from them.

4.  Combining fluency and knowledge of society

Getting our students confident enough to speak is often one of our big tasks in Y12.  There are lots of good, short activities to support this:

·         Speaking from word cloud prompts reinforces key ideas.

·         Using prompt cards with key language and a key idea that they have to include builds up their level of language.

·         Just a minute

·         Hot seating

·         Rank ordering (diamond 9, for example) with justification of their placings.

There were all ideas I already used, but I came across a couple of new ones that I liked:

Connect 4 – but instead of providing a word, they have to be able to answer the question e.g. How has family changed since 1960s?

Beetle Drive – 1 question for each side of the dice.  Students have to answer the relevant question to be able to cross off that particular square.  BUT (and this is the bit I really liked) if they throw the same number again, they have to add to their answer.

5.  And finally…. questioning

All the way through the training session, it occurred to me again and again how crucial the questions we pose in class are.  One question I really need to consider for myself is whether I’m spending enough time asking higher order questions that give students the opportunity to evaluate, analyse and compare aspects of the TL country.














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 memrise.com 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.
1.
2.
3.
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.
Paragraph
number..
Translation
Probable theme

1. 












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.
German:
English:
Stage 6.  Answer the question, using your translation to help you!