Sunday, 13 January 2019

Turning the tanker around - changing how we prepare our students for GCSE

September last year was a new start for me, and a new challenge as Head of Department. Like a lot of schools, there was a lot of work that had already been done to prepare for the new GCSE, but it was also clear that we still had a lot of work to.  I want to blog about how we are going about the challenge of changing things up.

Our main challenges were / are ..
Helping students to understand how to revise
Getting them to speak more spontaneously, and use the linguistic structures for themselves
Middle / weaker students feeling that they didn't know how to build sentences
Helping students to write to bullet points adapting the resources they'd already learnt

The story so far

The successes

We started with a big push on spontaneous speaking, especially at KS3, and this has proved to be successful as far as we have taken it. We have used techniques that a colleague learnt at a local ALL twilight group on spontaneous speaking run by Julie Hall. She has written an article for ALL where it's explained, which you can find here.  We showed them how useful avoir/être are, and we introduced phrases for the register, and it's the creative ones that have been successful, so if someone is absent, they speculate that they're skipping lessons with Beyoncé to go to MacDonalds.  Another one that students enjoy using is saying where they'd like to be e.g. I'd like to be in bed / I'd like to be in town with my friends.  Students get points (which they record at the back of the book) for speaking French / German, and there is a mini-prize every week. They get points for reacting during pairwork, and we set tasks up so that they know it's an expectation to react.  No real life conversation simply involves question 1, answer 1, question 2, answer 2. They love saying "Tu rigoles!" or "Spinnst du?" This has also motivated weaker students.  In my bottom set year 8 lesson last week, the technology crashed on me.  I heard a voice from the back say, "Quel désastre!".  This class will also ask for the correct colour highlighter in French.  They feel able and motivated to do it, and it has brought a buzz to the classrooms.

We wanted to give a bigger push on structures rather than just single words, and so introduced key sentences to our vocabulary lists.  These aren't Knowledge Organisers as they are being discussed, as we felt that they still needed to be able to access the individual words as well, but we have put "top 10 sentences" at the start of each organiser, and these highlight the key structures, and also showcase how to extend sentences.  These have been integrated into our end-of-unit assessments, and used in weekly vocab tests, but that's about it and only some students have cottoned on to the fact that they can also use them in their own work. It is clear, however, that we have a lot of work to do to get the students to make the most of them, which brings us to our longer list of "Things we need to work on".

Still on the to-do list

Making sure our assessments don't sabotage the work done in class

Having been so encouraged by the progress made by the spontaneous speaking in KS3, I was appalled that the Year 9s, who have their exams soon, just wanted to know "which paragraphs to learn" for the speaking assessment.  As far as they are concerned, speaking is still just a case of rote learning answers completely divorced from the content,so the same problems came up with them parroting things they didn't understand, with of course the inevitable mistakes that made their sentences gobbledegook. Yes, there needs to be an element of them being able to showcase the best that they can do, but we need to help them with their revision, and build in some element of quick-fire questions that they need to respond to.

Revision skills, or lack of them

It has become painfully clear that all year groups have only the vaguest idea about how to revise, even students who appear reasonably confident.  This is clearly urgent for Year 11, but we need to address it now in all years.
So - what to do?
First up - a "How to revise" lecture to introduce the key concepts.  Due to availability of our lecture theatre, Year 10 got the lecture first, and I've uploaded it onto  here
This starts the conversation, but then needs to be continued in class.

We're going to focus on introducing one new element a week, both to staff and to students.

Strategies are going to include:
  • One allocated slot per week for a "how to learn from the KO" starter
  • Another lesson is going to have "walk / jog / run" starter
  • Teach mimes for past, present, future AND infinitive and use as prompts in class
  • Teach the BSL words for question words.
  • Teaching students the concepts of "building blocks" (my phrase for core structures) and how to use them.
  • Getting students to speak from doodles, and not worry about getting it "word for word"

Wish us luck - I will post about our progress in future posts.


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