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.