Sunday, 19 January 2014


This week I did a carousel lesson for the first time in aaaages. An old idea, yes, but still effective.  My poor Year 10s had been hit with a lot of grammar recently as we did the perfect tense in detail for the first time.  Auxiliary verbs, participles, word order - ouch!  we needed a change of pace, change of scenery, and carousel lessons serve this purpose perfectly.

Why have I avoided them?
Managing the logistics
It can be messy, and I have struggled in the past to get the timings of the activities right.  Timings are everything.
Supervising and getting the learning right
Carousels mean that the pupils have to get on on their own.  Fine if they are well-motivated, but what about the lazy ones or the more switched off pupils?  How to keep them learning and moving things on. And, of course - can they make progress in this lesson?  There also still needs to be a very clear purpose to the learning.  Defining the learning objectives, rather than being distracted by the lovely activities is sometimes harder than you think.
I already do groupwork, so what's the deal?
Although I do groupwork or pairwork most lessons,this type of lesson, if you exclude the plenary at the end, has the pupils in charge of each activity for the whole lesson, including reading the instructions, working out the activity. The change in the use of the room, and the change of format also keeps the pupils on their toes, and allows you to do things from a slightly more unusual perspective.

Things that have worked for me
Changing things up
It's meant to be a change and I try to give a boost to problem solving / speaking / vocab building in these kind of lessons.  For example, we had spent a long time in previous lessons focusing on getting our verbs right, but what about the other bits of the sentence?  They needed to be built up too.  Listening on a laptop rather than as a class is also a valuable thing to do, as it gives them control.
Engaging their curiosity
One group had a carefully wrapped "present" to unpack, and they then needed to remember each others "presents", along the lines of "I went to market and I bought.." - the combination of something to rummage around in with a challenge meant that they enjoyed this and got stuck in.  This allowed them to teach themselves new vocabulary whilst practising a key structure - in this case "For Christmas I got...Ryan got.."
Challenges / competitions
How many...can you find?  This is easy to mark and you can get a scoreboard easily up-and-running.  It gets them going, plus it means it is easy to oversee, and pick up those who might be sitting back.  One group had a "word scatter" where they had to build as many sentences as they could.  Each member had to fill in a sheet with the team name on, so no passengers here. I teach in an all boys' school, and their competitive spirit gets the better of them.  Another had to find as many "haben" verbs and "sein" verbs and adjectives as possible in a reading text.  Another had a dictionary skills task to do.
Planning one less activity than you think you need
I always try to pack too much in, so plan a little less to make sure that you have taken into account movement time.  This meant that this last time, I had 2 versions of each station going.  It worked better, and leads me onto the last point...
A Plenary which ties it all together
This is essential, and should really try to assess the learning which has gone on.  Allow yourself enough time to do this, and scale down the carousel if necessary.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Catching the drifters - update

I wrote here about catching the pupils who were drifting, and the missed opportunities I wanted to avoid.  I wanted to give you an update on how this worked.

What I did - the Challenge
I asked the pupils I had identified from an assessment to stay behind.  I asked them to rate their confidence in German, their concentration levels, and to identify 3 things they could do to boost their confidence and their work.  These were then the targets that they used to assess their progress at the end of each lesson for 2 weeks.  They had a simple sheet to use each lesson, and the sheet also posed the question: "Do I need to do anything differently next lesson?".  I targeted my questioning more sharply, and reminded pupils, and that was all that was needed.

How did it go?
what I would do differently
As usual, I made it too complicated.  I had kept the target sheets, which meant it was too complicated to manage.  Next time, I will get the sheets stuck in their books at the back:  simpler and more discreet.

What really worked
The vast majority of the pupils took it seriously, and most were able to say straight away why they hadn't performed as well ("I didn't revise, Miss"; "I talk too much"; "I don't understand verbs"). Asking them to assess themselves rather than berate them for underperforming in the test proved to be a bridge.

They were noticed
This is the most heart-breaking aspect.  These pupils suddenly felt they were no longer invisible.  They felt empowered, and because they knew they couldn't get away with doing the minimum, many of them upped their game.  Keeping the nature of the intervention positive and encouraging meant that they bought into it.

I got them to review their position at the end of 3 weeks, and most had made good progress, and crucially, they had gained a "can-do" attitude.  Next week, we have the January exams, and the proof will be be in the pudding

It identified pupils who were actually causes for concern
There were 2 pupils in the group who, on closer inspection, showed more worrying signs of lack of engagement, and more serious problems.  I hope that, by catching them earlier than I would normally, I may be able to put more active interventions in place, and stop the rot...maybe.

Impact for the whole class?
I have noticed an improvement in the atmosphere in the whole class - more focus, a more positive attitude.

From my point of view
I sharpened up my questioning, and I feel I know all of my pupils better.  I think it has improved me as a teacher, and apart from the breaktime I lost at the beginning and the end of the process, there was little extra effort involved.  Lots of impact for little effort.

I haven't worked out how to put documents on a blog yet, so here is the link to the TES