Sunday, 8 December 2013

Adapting Pie Corbett's Talk for Writing for MFL or What we can learn from primary schools

In many of the wonderful teachmeet /show and tell/ pedagoo events I have attended in the last 12 months, I have been reminded of the great work that primary schools do with their pupils, and how little awareness I have of them as a secondary school teacher.

At #pedagoowonderland I was lucky enough to be able to attend a workshop led by @RachelOrr about Pie Corbett's Talk 4 Writing and how she used it in her primary school, and there were a lot of great ideas. This is the first time I've hear of Pie Corbett, and this website explains it in more detail.  The aspects of it which caught my attention were the following:

Using actions to help pupils think about punctuation and connectives.  My favourites? Salute the capital letter, the finger click for a comma, a karate chop and clap for an exclamation mark.  There are some pupils in secondary school for whom these kinaesthetic shortcuts in MFL could really benefit. If I have understood it correctly, the approach is about internalising the language, and embedding the language in a fun, memorable way.  I liked the actions for certain storytelling words or connectives.  Teaching these with an action would enable the class to stay in the target language.

The approach had 3 stages:
Imitate - the pupils learn the story with actions, internalising the language
Innovate - whilst "hugging" the original, changing certain aspects
Invent - using the starters and connectives for their own story

The pupils would use storytelling "maps" with pictures and symbols.  I liked this idea as well.

Whilst we do this to a certain extent in MFL, I have never tried to do a whole story like this, and I would worry about spending so long on imitation.  However, this has a real impact on literacy in primary school.  Why shouldn't it help some of our pupils who really struggle with MFL?  Food for thought, maybe?

Many thanks again to @RachelOrr for a thought-provoking session.

#pedagoo wonderland differentiation

This year I have 2 sets where I have some real high-fliers biting my hand off for new and challenging language, who are in the same class as some kids who find learning a language a bit of a mystery.  Differentiation is therefore VERY close to my heart, and occupying a lot of my time.  Here are some of the ideas from the fabulous #pedagoowonderland.  I'm sharing the ideas that I found interesting and this is my first step in processing them.

What I liked about this idea was that it very much starts from where the pupils are. 

This picture above is Rebecca from the Science dept at Joseph Swan demonstrating her idea for tic-tac-toe stylee homework.  Design a grid with tasks at different levels.  The core task, which everyone has to do is in the centre.  The pupils then have a choice of tasks to finish off their "line".  I thought this was a lovely idea.

Differentiated challenge cards -I'm thinking of using this for connectives and how to extend your language.

I agree with the thinking behind this.  It becomes too easy for pupils simply to lean on the support sheet crutch.

I'm not crazy about the idea of giving out more pens just to be able to show outsiders where improvements have been made, but the idea of having extension tasks where you ask them to reflect, for example, on the connectives they have used and to improve them is a nice one.

I really liked the tip about using laminated strips rather than lollipops so that pupils can set themselves a target for next lesson, which means that you can then tailor your question to the target the pupil has set themselves.  I'm a big fan of exit passes, and this combines exit passes with lollipop sticks.

I liked the idea of having cards which you can colour code to support the types of differentiation you need for that particular lesson without having to provide another handout.

Teaching different roles, and getting the passengers to take on more of a leadership role can be a powerful way to develop their learning skills.

These ideas will help, but they are certainly not the whole story.  I also went to @teamtait's workshop on flipped learning.  Our school has recently got its act together and got a VTLE, a decade after the rest of the country. I think this has real potential for my classes, but I will blog about this in the New Year, as that needs a lot more processing.

A big thank you to Andrea Kirton who ran this differentiation workshop, and to all at Joseph Swan Academy who worked so hard to put on such a thought-provoking, mojo-boosting day.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Getting them speaking: questions

I've been working hard at speaking skills with my classes since September, and I feel like we've made progress.  Phonics wall? check. Speaking mat? check. Questions from pupils? Hmmm - confusion (and avoidance) has reigned. Generally, if it wasn't on the speaking mat or provided during the lesson, they were not used or they made no sense.  I doubt I'm alone in neglecting the art of question-forming. This hasn't happened on purpose - I've taught question forms, the boys often have to find out what questions mean, and yet, and yet... In this post, I want to think about how to teach questions, and then how to make the skill stick.

So what's tricky about questions?
Some of these remarks are more relevant to German than, for example, to French, but the general points remain valid.

For pupils who try to think in English first, questions are a nightmare.
  • Firstly, you have to ignore the "do".
  • Secondly, you have to remember to invert the verb and personal pronoun.
  • And THEN.. you need to convert the continuous present "Are you going.." to "go you.."

I've been revising questions with Y10 this week, and I've found these things effective:
  • Emphasising finding the verb and personal pronoun.
  • Drawing their attention much more than usual to the fact that "do" is to be ignored.
  • Tonnes and tonnes of practice exercises
  • And then.. my secret weapon:  Fredericke, my German visitor. People can't help themselves - they are curious (or nosey) by nature, and my Y10 class are no exceptions.  The Y10s had 5 minutes to ask as many questions as they could of Fredericke.  I asked her to score the number of follow-up questions they asked, and there was an edible prize for the winning team.
How did it go? Well, there were several "wie heißt du, Fredericke?" questions, and one table admitted that they asked a question where they hadn't understood the answer, and had simply nodded.  However, they all got a chance to ask questions, and they were rightly proud of the fact that they were able to ask questions, they were understood, and they (mostly) understand the answers.  They are still very dependent on their model questions.  The conversion of "Are you going.." into comprehensible German still seems to pose the biggest problem.

Making it stick.

I have been trying to work this through for a while.  The recent blogposts by Joe Kirby and David Fawcett have helped to crystalise some thoughts on helping the grammar points which we have taught stick. I have been guilty of assuming "job done" because I have taught something. In many ways, it is simple - use it or lose it.  I do feel that we de-skill our pupils by providing questions simply "because it's quicker" or by not giving them the opportunities to ask questions.  Making the TL the routine language in the classroom helps, as does revisiting the skill on regular occasions. Joe Kirby, drawing on work from Daniel Willingham, refers to "distributing practice" and "interleaving", which I found very useful.  I found a recent blog by @oldandrew where he argues for practice to be part of the path towards fluency in maths and some of his points about deliberate practice resonanted with me. This also tied in with Joe Kirby's further principle of "overlearning", i.e. practising for a further 20% worth of effort in to master the material. The issue of having enough practice is certainly one which needs addressing, but it needs something more.  The penny often only drops during more authentic speaking situations, such as group talk, or speaking to a "real life German", like my pupils did this week.  The practice was invaluable, but the application of it brought some of "lightbulb" moments for my pupils.

I hereby commit to making pupil form the questions I want them to use in speaking questions, and when I do "word scatter" starters, I will include question words to encourage them to form questions as well as the usual statements. I will also plan more group talk activities that require the pupils to devise questions. Momentum is the name of the game. You see, now I've written this in my blog, I have to do it :-)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Catching the drifters

The drifters - they have been on my mind recently, especially in KS4.  You know the pupils I mean - the pupils who are in your peripheral vision rather than being firmly in your sights, like the obvious underachievers.  The pupils whose performance is a little lower than expectation, but doesn't stand out. I have come to the conclusion that I need to re-think my approach, so that I don't have to spend yet another month chasing after pupils who have drifted too far.

When I think of the pupils who fall into this category, there are often 2 underlying problems: either they have had their confidence dented, and have decided to take their foot off the pedal, or they have lost some of their motivation.  I have had several pupils with whom I have had conversations recently, and I've come away thinking that I had known that it wasn't quite right, but I had only done "surface" things, such as making them re-do a homework.  Missed opportunities.

Having just had our first assessment window, I'm currently feeding back to classes, and as well as picking out the underachievers, I need to do something to help the drifters.  The current vogue for "intervention" means that it's tempting to write down on the departmental action plan that X number of support sessions have been put in place for these pupils.  However, there are still only a finite number of hours in the day, and the last time I checked, this hadn't changed. So - what to do?

I already have "Catch Up Thursday" (snappy title, I think) for those who have been absent or whose homework / classwork wasn't up to scratch.  This does work, and needs to stay.

Thinking of those recent conversations, I don't think extra sessions is what is needed.  In fact, one particular pupil has already proved this.  He came to extra sessions targeted at his weaknesses - no impact.  I decided that it was his focus in lesson, and his strategic use of resources / classwork when completing homework which needed to change.  This pupil wasn't disruptive, he just wasn't making the most of lessons or homework. I talked to him about the impact his lack of focus had, and I set him some goals, and he has improved.  No extra sessions required.

Listening to the pupil
Find out if there is something that they're struggling with or that has dented their confidence. If so, that can be addressed, perhaps as part of a "closing the gap" lesson, as there will be others who would welcome the practice of a certain topic. Taking the time to speak to the pupil, finding out how they "tick" can be the key.  It can be all that is needed to help them realise what they need to know, or to realise that they aren't invisible, and that they matter.

Re-set their expectations, and set goals for classwork and homework
I have made a sheet to help structure their thoughts about what success would look like for them, and to help me discuss with them how to set their sights higher.
They are then going to have 3 goals to meet each lesson for the next 3 weeks - I'm calling it the Challenge Programme (cheesy, I know, but I couldn't come up with anything else)
New seating plans after the results should allow me to place with more highly-motivated pupils, who can also give discreet help where necessary, and show them how to work.  Reward postcard home if they improve their goals.  If there is no improvement, then we'll have to contact home, and put something more structured in place.

Teach lessons, keep expectations high. That's it. No extra sessions.

This isn't intended for the hard-core disaffected.  This is for the pupils who need a bit more direction and focus.  I will see whether this works, and blog about it later.

Using a teamgame to check understanding and improve learning

This is a game I played at the end of my Berlin Wall week with a beginner Yr 9 class.  We had been learning big numbers, but this could work with anything.  It's not a new idea, it's a tweak on stepping stones and other games, but I liked the way it worked.

The pupils had to get from "west" to "east".  They were divided up  into 2 teams, and the winners were the first team to get across.  The only way through was to get past the 8 guards (4 per team) by answering the question they had on their cards - these got progressively more difficult as they went on.  If they got the answer wrong, they were sent to "erste Hilfe" (first aid) with the explanations & reminders of the key points before they tried again.  Once they had got over the excitement of playing a game, it worked a treat.  The "guards" were suitably strict, and the boys hurried back to check the erste Hilfe.  I had to do relatively little, and the successful ones had the task of making up the biggest number they could.

What was interesting was that it had successfully helped to iron out misunderstandings, and once back in the classroom, the pupils were able to tell me which rules they needed to remember, and they used them in the subsequent exercises. I think the key to success, apart from the competition element, was the "erste Hilfe" section, where they could get their information and improving their understanding.  They then did a very standard information gap partner work exercise to get some key dates of events, then created a timeline.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Our aim as MFL teachers

Our aim?

To teach pupils in such a way that they become confident communicators in the foreign language based on an instinctive yet reflective understanding of how a language works.

I love this quote.  Sadly, I can't claim any credit for it:  it had been used at a conference and @garrymillsmfl had tweeted a photo of it.  It has since become my motto.

What does this mean for me and my pupils?

Reflective learners
Promoting "use what you know"
As an experienced linguist, I know how to simplify my language if I'm getting myself tied up in knots. Our pupils' reaction is to reach for google translate. Teaching and promoting this idea is very important, and can make a big difference. Teaching pupils how to make the most of "That is.." "Do you have..?" "It has..." is maybe a good starting point. I'm not sure I do this well enough at the minute - maybe I will return to this in a later post.

The great marking and feedback debate
Like every other school, we have been having a big drive on marking. The biggest change for me has been insisting on responses to the marking I have done in a much more methodical way - boys ticking my margin annotation when they find and correct a mistake, pupils re-drafting specific, highlighted sections. The art of re-drafting is difficult, and Their homework log in the front of their books has a column to record the "ebi", so that they can see if a pattern emerges.  They can also then use their most recent "ebi" as their target for the next piece of work.
Developing communcation

I did a questionnaire with my pupils at the end of last half-term, and as well as an understandable preoccupation with the mysteries of German word order, their other concerns were to do with questions and reacting to someone.  Now, unless they are going onto A-level, the skill of being able to hear a question and react is surely one of the key things we need to teach them.  Every non-linguist I meet seems to have a tale of horror of an attempted conversation where things have gone awry the minute the other person responded in the foreign language.
This is the plan for me:
Big push on how to form questions
It became apparent that the pupils need much more support with this. I know this is partly my fault - with so much focus on the ability to extend and develop answers, it has sometimes been easier to simply give the pupils the questions, but that doesn't help them.  They also need opportunities to practise forming and answering questions.That means I'm tweaking how I go about setting up pairwork, so that the question isn't handed to them on a plate. They also need some help with thinking about the correct response for a question.  Rachel Hawkes has many good suggestions, but this is a current favourite - put the answer up on the screen - what could the question be?
Practice, practice, practice...
...with highly-structured exercises and with looser, more free form exercises.  This is where the pupils can apply the structures, and have the opportunity for it to become more instinctive. I think I underestimate how much practice my pupils need to know the language instinctively, rather than simply theoretically.  Some of my GCSE pupils are about to embark on a speaking CA.  I have spent much time with the struggling pupils in this topic practising "weil" clauses with a rhythm until it begins to sound "normal".
Making use of visitors
I'm lucky to have an enthusiastic former pupil studying German who is willing to come in once a week, and for the next 7 weeks, I have a visiting German who is also coming in once a week.  This is an opportunity to tap into their curiousity and give them authentic situations.
This should also help with use of TL in the classroom.
Insisting on TL and supporting it
I have blogged previously about using speaking mats to support communication.  I introduced them this September, and they really work, but you still have to teach the language on there - the pupils won't use it properly without that, but once taught, they will make use of it, especially if you keep promoting it.
Using pictures
Asking the pupils (with prompts) to describe a picture is a good activity, not least because it often forces the pupils to think across several topic areas.  I think this has real potential, but I know I haven't made the most of it.  This is something I want to try.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Boys in the MFL classroom

I have taught in co-ed schools, but I am currently teaching in an all-boys' comprehensive school in the North of England.  This often raises eyebrows, especially with the general consensus being that boys don't really do languages.  Our experience is that boys do languages, and can do them well.  We may have an advantage having no girls, as it can't be seen as a "girly" subject, and boys can't hide behind the girls.  I'd like to share some of the observations I've made in the past few years.  Yes, there will be some generalisations, but I hope some of this might be useful.

Keep it short, keep it clear, keep it simple
I find boys less tolerant of waffle - eyes glaze over much quicker.  They want to learn what they need to, and they want to get on.  I think my instructions have become much clearer in the time I have been here.  They also value step-by-step instructions, and will switch off if things seem too convoluted. Don't make "busy" worksheets - if it's not clear, they will simply not use it, however, if they can see the steps clearly, they will generally respond.

Give them the nuts and bolts
Boys generally like to see how things work, how they fit together.  Give them the tools and understanding for this, and you have your slam dunk for progress. 

Getting them speaking
Boys are generally willing to speak  if they have the confidence. I find teaching phonics very important. They feel they can "have a go" - I have the important sounds very prominently on my learning wall, and they use it a lot.  The boys like to interact, and each table has a "speaking mat" on it, which emphasises phrases they can use with each other.  They enjoy learning how to agree and disagree, which also plays into their sense of humour.  By gradually introducing the different elements of group talk, I find you can model with them how to communicate with others.  Teaching them simple questions, such as "and you?", and giving one boy the job of keeping everyone involved allows them to learn basic conversation skills for any language.

Humour and imagination
Boys are often very sharp, and they love using humour. I sometimes use it when presenting vocabulary because it can grab their attention, and games such as making up nonsense sentences allows them to express themselves.  This can be used to your advantage, but be careful. Make sure that your classroom expectations have set clear boundaries.  Boys together can be also incredibly silly.  Also be aware that the class entertainer is often hiding some deep insecurities, and he needs to find ways to have a sense of achievement away from this persona which he has adopted. 
The boys have great imagination, and will use it, especially if it allows them to do something a bit gory or disgusting. They will also get involved in acting, role-play and they enjoy making videos, even using puppets. It brings some boys out of themselves, especially if they can take on another persona.

Points mean prizes - how to get them to develop their ideas
Sadly, I never get any work anymore where the title is underlined in sparkly gel pen, and one other battle I have is getting boys to develop their ideas. This requires several approaches - you need to develop their concept of how they can expand their ideas, however, they also need something very simple to hook them.  Boys are often very competitive, so any way of getting boys to score points works wonders.  I get them to score points for certain linguistic points - the more ambitious aspects score more points. They love being able to see the points accumulate.  This works for speaking and writing.

This is one way - I teach German, but I'm sure you can adapt:
1 point - und, denn, aber (simple connectives), sentences in the first person
2 points - connectives which require the verb to come next (jedoch - however etc), frequency words and adverbs of time, sentences with "we" or "they"
3 points - connectives which send the verb to the end of the clause, different tenses, adjectives with correct endings, verbs in the he/she forms, questions

The importance of re-drafting
I have many pupils who rush work, and hate checking their work.  That is where re-drafting becomes so important.  Devoting some class time to calm reflection on their work has a big impact.  It also models good study skills. Make sure the improvements are clearly targeted, and can be done in the time you've allowed.

Catching the boys who are losing heart
It's important to catch boys before they give up.  The re-drafting time in class gives me an opportunity to spend a few minutes with those boys, and show them that often there is an easy way to dig themselves out of a hole.  If you catch them as they wobble, they can respond well. Get feedback - a quick questionaire at the end of a half-term allows me to tweak my planning, and I'm sometimes surprised by the things the boys say they want more practice with.  I have a weekly "catch-up" session, which is for boys who have been absent, boys whose homework was not up to standard, or boys who need something going over.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

November 9th 1989 - Exploring the Berlin Wall in German classes

November 9th  1989 -  Exploring the Berlin Wall in German classes

I still find it astounding that I am teaching pupils for whom the Cold War and the Berlin Wall are facts of history.  I was 17 when the wall came down, and that event is seared on my memory.  It is so central to German culture that it seems a waste not to make the most of it – but what to do?  These are some of the ideas I have used over the years since I introduced it.  I do it with every year except the Year 11s (sorry, you lot – your mocks are only a few weeks away), and I build upon it in each year. 

Year 9 beginner German

These pupils started German in September, and only have 2 lessons a week, so we only did birthday and dates a few weeks ago, and the pupils still need reinforcement in numbers and dates.  What better way to do it?

German post-war history in dates & the Berlin Wall in numbers

1.       I get the pupils to work out how to say key dates from German post-war history.  Then, they match them to key events in German post-war history.

2.       Before we look at the Berlin wall itself, I need to communicate the insanity that was Berlin in the cold war – we look at a blank map of Germany, and we discuss where we think the border was, then compare it with the actual border, and we discuss some of the implications of this.

3.       We use a video from the Documentation centre at Bernauer Straße ( which shows the lengths to which the GDR government went to prevent escapes.  The pupils then have research opportunities to find key statistics, and they create posters with the statistics on.  E.g. the length of the wall, the number of watch towers, the number of dogs.

Year 10 German

This time we go a bit deeper, and we use 2 films to help us:  Das Leben der Anderen &  Goodbye Lenin

Lesson 1 – What is freedom?

It’s important to bring home what it means to live in a system with no political freedoms, which our pupils take for granted.  This is also an opportunity to look at the modal verb "dürfen".

Bell task: The pupils have sentences about different types of freedom using "dürfen" - they need to match the sentences with dürfen

Das Leben der Anderen – We show the opening credits including the interrogation of a man who knew about someone who had escaped, then we show the scene where a man cracks a joke about Erich Honeker.

As they watch, I ask pupils to turn face-down the sentences which show freedoms that the people in the film do not have.
The film clips and the exercise inevitably cause some discussion, but also has the pupils transfixed, and gives the cultural context to be able to do a reading exercise based on the slogans from 1989.

David Bowie – Helden/Heroes

I try to find time to do a gapfill with this song, which is an English and German rendition of the song. David Bowie is a hero, especially for my guitar-playing indie boys, so the fact that this was written when he lived in Berlin, and is about 2 lovers in the shadow of the wall is a great way to end.

Lesson 2 – A Day in the life of Alex from “Goodbye Lenin”

Context:  we have just started the topic of family and relationships, and this allows me to teach and reinforce emotions.

The pupils start by having cards with the key emotion vocab on, and we play with them to get the vocab learnt.

We watch the opening credits for context, but what we are really interested in is the first full day shown in the film, where the GDR celebrates 40 years, Alex goes on a demo and sees his mother collapse from the shock.

We watch that section of the film, and I stop it at the moment where the mother collapses.  There are usually storms of protest:  Miss!! You can’t leave it there!  What happens next?  I usually show the full film after school for those who are really interested.  However, this allows us in any discussion to link it back to what they learnt in the previous lesson .

We then read a text version in simple German of what they have seen, and they make an “emotions graph” plotting the time, and the emotions he feels.  As well as getting them to do important work on reading between the lines, and connecting a story with emotions, it also allows them  to think about an important time in recent German history.

I know from older pupils that these lessons made a real impression on them, and it allows them to explore some pretty big issues surrounding freedom, citizenship and political engagement.

6th Form

We study Das Leben der Anderen in 6th Form, and we start it around this time.  Some of the work that we do with younger pupils forms the basis of the background work to the film.

With Year 12, we also use this article about the Ampelmännchen ( which allows us to talk about marketing and icons, as we are in the middle of discussing advertising.

I hope some of these ideas prove useful.  I’d love to hear what you do. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

#MFLsatcov 2013 - creativity

There are so many different ways to approach the teaching of MFL, and to capture their ideas.
First up - @chrisfullerisms was full of ideas to put the onus back onto the pupil to find the words - dual-language texts, running dictation to name a few, but what really struck me was a passing comment to make sure that you really work on the constructions used in the task, and help the pupils get as much out of it as possible, and I thought - yep!  That's why that lesson I did last week didn't work.  This really struck a chord with me.  We spend a long time sometimes making resources, but it's a crime not to use them from every angle so that the pupils really get the most out of them.

I want to spend most of this post reporting on some of the ways to use FLAME - a project being run by ALL to encourage cross-curricular learning in the foreign language.  The potential here for cultural awareness is huge, and Suzi Bewell (@suzibewell) highlighted some fantastic examples, many from her PGCE students at York. Here is a linklink to the key websites discussed below from Suzi's blog

Science and MFL - using MFL to re-visit concepts already learnt in science, e.g. the weather.  I do a mini-project with my Y9 pupils on "The eco-house of the future", however although the boys had fun doing it last year, I was left feeling dissatisfied last year, as I felt I'd missed an opportunity to get the boys to think more deeply about the science.  This year, I'm going to get the physics dept to judge the ideas. 

Drama and MFL - one school had linked up with the theatre in York, and had run a PET project with funding.  I don't know how the funding is in current climate, but using drama specialists is no doubt a powerful tool, thinking again about confidence with speaking.  Suzi also reminded us that we don't have to reinvent the wheel - there are lots of scripts for fairytales (e.g. Aschenputtel) on the TES, for example.

Languages are, I'm glad to say, inextricably linked to food, and the culture of the country.  What better than a Great MFL Bake Off using recipes from TL countries? Routes into Languages NE have put this together. YUM!

History and MFL I was also struck by the work done with QR codes to help museums put together a tour for partner schools who visit from abroad.  What a fabulous idea!  I already have my own rather battered version I get out for the partner school visit, but this is a way to really get the pupils involved in it.

Finally - insights into the lives of others around the world.  Why not make more of Fairtrade Fortnight and team up with the Geography dept?  What about the photobook by Peter Menzel "Around the world in 80 diets"? The images are great talking points. There's also toys from around the world,

You can also talk about the rights to an education. There is the documentary Sur le chemin à l'école oh and so it goes on.. Find the links!  They are out there!

Viel Spaß!

#MFLsatcov 2 - improving confidence in speaking

Welcome to #MFLsatcov part 2 - otherwise known as "How to get the little darlings to talk"

I have immense sympathy with my pupils who view speaking in a different language with utter terror. Those teenage years just got more excruciating! The question is, how do we help them over these barriers?  My first post looked at precisely this, and I now have a few other tricks to try out.

Being able to hide behind a different persona can take the social trauma out of the experience.  Helen Shaw, who has experience in both secondary and primary, brought along her puppets which she uses to great effect with secondary school pupils.  Building on this, Amelia showed us an ipad app called puppet pals, which allowed the pupils to choose a "puppet" and a setting.  It's amazing how quickly those inhibitions can fall away, especially amongst teenage boys.

There is another website which I want to explore, which @fcharidine used to great effect in his virtual visit to Paris - This allows you to record and embed audio into a blog page, but even better than that, you can choose an avatar.

Teaching in a boys-only school has many joys, but getting teenage boys to expand on their ideas and go beyond a grunt can sometimes be hard work.  @baboohaz has developed an activity based on that great Radio 4 game "Just a minute".  The pupils are given a task, e.g. to talk about their favourite rock or pop star.  They are given a learning mat with key structures and vocabulary, they are allowed to make notes on a whiteboard to help them for the first time they do this.  They then have to talk for a minute on the topic, and the partner challenges if there is repetition, hesitation, etc.The person who challenges the speaker then takes over the task.  The support is then taken away, and the challenge is to talk for as long as possible with no prompts.  This does require stopwatches, but I'm not so sure about using whistles..;-)  In our school with paper-thin walls, I don't think my colleagues would thank me!  I'm going to try it where pupils hold up a flashcards with the relevant challenge shown on it. The competition element, the gradual removal of support both lend themselves well to the development of speaking.

#MFLsatcov 1-supporting pupils' confidence with structures

I'm sat on the train back home after another great free mega-CPD par excellence at #mflsatcov 2013, and the ideas from yesterday are still whirling round this lil head of mine. It was great to meet many of the people from whom I shamelessly nick ideas on twitter.  It was also lovely to see such a mix of teachers from both secondary and primary - all with tonnes of commitment, enthusiasm and great ideas.  There were, however, a few key themes which emerged. @amandasalt has already blogged about the day in great detail here, so I'm going to take some of the posts which chimed with me and my current preoccupations.

This post is about one of my big preoccupations - How do we help the pupils express themselves confidently with the structures we teach them?

Structures are the key to any form of independence in language learning.  Our pupils are aware of this, however vaguely, and unsurprisingly, they want to understand what they're saying.  We are never to convince them that they are making progress as language learners unless they have that fundamental confidence to use the structures themselves.

Emma (@bains_1) demonstrated how her pupils use their exercise books as reference resources.  They have key tables demonstrating verb and tense formation and connectives stuck into their books.  How do they find them?  They are colour-coded and have tabs sticking out of their books for easy reference.  These tables are taken from the school dictionaries, and so they are getting used to using the tables they are able to refer to in Controlled Assessments.  I loved this idea because it promotes the structures as well as showing the pupils what they can do for themselves.  They also had gold stickers for pieces of work which were good enough to be used in the future.  Getting pupils to see their exercise books as a resource can be an uphill struggle, so these ideas were very welcome.

Emma also showed us a score sheet she uses with pupils to promote punctuation and other linguistic structures - the more complicated the structure, the more points it scores.  I teach in a boys' school, and truly, points mean prizes.  I'm thinking of combining this with ideas from James Padvis to really get them thinking.

James (@jjpadvis) showed several of his cunning ideas for getting pupils to extend their sentences beyond "J'aime le foot parce que c'est super".  He had a connectives pyramid, with the most basic "1point" connectives (and, but) at the top, and going down to level 7 for much more advanced connectives.  The pupils were encouraged to use this to help them improve their written work.  I think this is a very powerful way of showing pupils that they can extend their sentences and thoughts beyond the basics.  I have a colleague who liked that idea so much, she is planning a connectives Eiffel Tower! 

I have a different variation in my classroom, linked to the word-order rules in German.  "Green" connectives are the connectives where the word-order doesn't change, "yellow/amber" are the connectives which mean that the verb comes next, and the "red/pink" ones are the connectives which send the verb to the end of the sentence.  These have been really effective since I re-vamped my classroom in the summer holidays - the colour-coding helps them remember the grammar rules, but also means that pupils are more prepared to look at the wall and use a bigger variety in their work.

One more display to help support pupils, this time in using the target language.  I feel slightly deflated when a pupil gives an answer in the target language, but precedes it with "Well, I think it might be.." Having a traffic-light coded set of phrases on the wall so that they can express their level of confidence in the TL makes a lot of sense.  Pupils clearly feel the need to show their level of doubt, or to put a disclaimer on their answer.  Why not give them these prompts and keep the exchanges in the TL?

Amanda (I'm sorry, that's all I have in my notes) had a great guessing game for us.  Us MFL teachers love a guessing game - all that reinforcement of key structures!  All that learning by having (whisper it) fun!  She showed us a grid with 3 columns filled with variations.  You take one element from each column to make a sentence.  The pupils then guess which sentence you are thinking of by saying something from each column.  You then say oui/non to each element, and see how many goes it takes them to get it right.  I played this with my Y10s this week, when we did the great Time-Manner-Place word order rule in German, and it worked a treat.  The pupils were then able to do it in pairwork, and scored how themselves on how many guesses they needed to get the right answer.  The pupils with the lowest score won!

Finding the right words, however is a challenge, especially when the dictionaries don't keep up with the weird and wonderful technological world we live in.  Need a word which is too hip for the dictionary? @dominic_mcg has the answer!  Look up the page in Wikipedia, switch languages, and (hopefully) voila! It's slightly less fiddly than using to give you the words for the latest essential, although in trying it out, found that there is no entry in German wikipedia for "skinny jeans".  Make of that what you will.  Sick of franglais? Then turn to the Institut français webpage "Dire..Ne Pas Dire" for the approved version of anglicised words.  If only Germany had something similar.. ;-)

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Teacher talk, pupil talk

Talking - it's what us linguists do.  It's one of the four skills we attempt to develop in our students, yet Ofsted frequently remarks that the use of Target Language (TL) by teachers and pupils is still not universally well done.  I have to admit, I have my good spells ...and not so good spells. Then there is the issue of limiting teacher talk.  Whilst I agree with the maxim that you learn by doing, I'm still trying to find the balance.  The following comments are observations that I've made during my tussles over this topic.

Last week, I was being observed by a visitor as I guided my Year 10s through the vagaries of German word order.  Although the first section of the lesson was interspersed with short burst of partner work as the pupils worked out the rule and got used to the language, it was very teacher-centred.  As I was teaching, I worried about this.  Then I looked at the pupils.  They were gaining in confidence with 2 new structures, and as the lesson progressed, I was able to step back, and Group Talk was able to take place.  This scaffolding is crucial.  The pupils still need a firm platform from which to launch themselves.  There is a relationship of trust between you and the pupils, and this should not be under-estimated; neither should the time it takes pupils to feel confident with an unfamiliar structure.  The pupils surveys we did in the Autumn Term highlighted this for me.  Webofsubstance's recent article on the topic of teacher talk put it nicely with his distinction between "telling" and "explaining".  I would like to add "guiding" to set of terms.  I don't, however, teach every lesson like that, and here we come a crucial element: the approach you take has to fit the content and the needs of your pupils.  I have no wish to be the expert holding forth at the front of a group of passive pupils - I want them to think for themselves.  I also want to provide them with the tools to do it.

An MFL classroom which is too teacher-centred does have a damaging side affect.  Pupils in such classrooms feel much less confident asking questions.  They are not used to it, except in highly-scripted situations, which in no way help them to survive in any form of authentic interaction.  How many adults do you speak to who relay stories of the panic they felt when their carefully crafted sentence is met with an unintelligible response from a native speaker?  The art of sustaining a conversation, which requires questions, is something which needs practice.  This is where Group Talk can help.  With support from a learning mat, pupils can begin to have more spontaneous conversations within a structured setting.  They can become more used to the expectation of asking questions, and slowly learn the social and collaborative skills.  I also like to use "speaking bingo cards" as way of encouraging a range of contributions.  I shall try to put the link to an example at the bottom of the page.  Bear with me - this is my first every blog post and I'm still learning! A learning mat can also help to sustain the use of TL between pupil and teacher. It's not easy, but it's worked better than sheets in books, and I simply don't have wall space for every phrase I would need.  One other strategy which has worked has been the use of visitors to the classroom - native speakers, visitors from the partner school, even students studying German - anyone who gives me an opportunity to give them a taste of that authentic interaction.  These are all elements which I hope to develop over the next academic year.  Wish me luck!

This is the link to the TES website for my speaking mat

And this is one version of my speaking bingo card, mainly KS4