Thursday, 13 March 2014

Learning for the GCSE German controlled assessment

How many times do hear statements like this?
"I'm good at revision, I just go blank when I go into the exam" or maybe
"It won't go in.  I can't learn it"

The constant battle to help pupils learn for the controlled assessment goes on and on. We are also battling against panic and bad revision technique.  It boils down to 3 things: they don't understand the language they are trying to use, they use limited strategies which aren't really fit for purpose, and they don't review the learning they have done so far to see if it has worked. This then translates into the following disasters:

1.  In an attempt to get the best grade possible, lots of pupils resort to either using impressive looking phrases from worksheets or texts which they don't understand, or they use the dreaded google translate, believing that these things are the magic keys to the kingdom. Some of this comes from them not having faith in the language that they know, and believe that mysterious phrases which look impressive must be better than what they can come up with on their own.  Oh, and it's faster. Job done.
2.  Despite all efforts to help them in class to learn strategically, they ignore all these strategies in favour of "just reading through" because it's easier.
3.  They try to learn too much too fast, ending up in them learning nothing properly.
4.  They rarely test themselves to whether they have, in fact, learnt any of it, meaning that they're blissfully unaware that it hasn't worked.
5.  If they do test themselves, they don't actually do anything about the weak bits that they have found.
6.  They try to use complex phrases without really understanding them or having a "feel" for them - especially subordinating conjunctions such as "weil" in German, where the verb gets sent to the end.
7.  They try to learn it parrot-fashion without really knowing what they're saying. Are we the teachers to blame here?  I do get exasperated, and sometimes I do say, "Well, you've just got to learn it." I wonder how that is translated in the teenage brain.

Certainly, websites such as help, although that has now disappeared behind a pay-wall.  I'm sure there are others around that you can suggest.

How do you get pupils to try to slow down, really look at the work, and improve their understanding of their work?  I teach all boys, and most of them are in a rush to finish and tick the work off their lists.  I certainly don't have all the answers, but here are a couple of things I've done recently.  Nothing spectacular, but I thought I would share.

End of topic test
Obvious, really, but I've been guilty of being in a rush, and assuming they would learn it during their revision. Um -no! I like to test those key structures that I know they'll need, as well as key words.  If they know these already, they're getting there.  The difference between "meine Familie" and "mit meiner Familie" - they need to know this.  Have they really understood?  Pick up the problems and deal with them before starting the task.

Breaking down their learning into 3 phases:
1. words
2. small phrases
3. sentence / paragraph level

This seems to give them focus

*Top 20 difficult words*
This is my favourite. I ask pupils to pick out their top 20 difficult words, whether that's for spelling or for meaning, and I ask them to write a list in English and German.
This works a treat, especially with the complacent ones who simply want to get on and "just learn" it, because suddenly they realise that they don't know what "feierlich" means, and..oh ..what does that mean again?
Why 20 words?  It's a manageable number, it's not too scary, and gives them a do-able revision list.
Highlight the complex phrases
The highlighters come out, and they highlight their complex phrases. I get them to test themselves and each other, both on meaning and on correct German.  They take that pretty seriously.
Emphasis on communication rather than parrot-fashion
I then get them to choose 10 key content words from a paragraph, and get them to practise communicating their points, rather than doing it word-for-word.

Finally, I tell them that to get a good GCSE they need
Links especially WEIL
Opinions and reasons
Tenses - past, present, future, conditional

This got quite a response on twitter, with other members of the wonderful #mfltwitterati contributing their ideas.  Here is a summary:

  • Textivate got a well-deserved big thumbs up from many, and is a great way of managing the active learning. Other active learning ideas:
  • @JaneJaneheg suggested
  • Other IT-based ideas from @kec974 were cueprompter and visioprompt
  • @Langwitch, @missmaclachlan and several others make good use of mini-whiteboards, getting the pupils the gradually erase words and take the support away, and this also forces them to break things down into chunks
  • Post-its with 1 side in the MFL and the other side in English was suggested by @zaragozalass
  • @rhwilko has started making them do an English version of what they have prepared.  She finds that this also helps them see if their language is too basic
  • Others tweeted about discouraging script writing to avoid the pitfall of mindless learning, but maximising the time to practise with a list of key vocab and verbs.
  • @SJBarnes suggesting speaking to the drama dept about techniques