Synthetic Phonics goes Continental

New update with a video link to the Francophoniques in action!

MonsieurM

Now I’m no fan of Gove (no… I’m REALLY not…) so I can’t say that I’m a great advocate of synthetic phonics testing in English for primary school children. That said, any MFL teacher will be able to regale you with stories of mistakes in target-language pronunciation often arising from students’ inability to decode the language’s orthography. (My favourite is one I picked up as an assistant in France when, in her Bac oral, a student confused the word ‘beach’ with another word which sounds similar but is in fact a very unflattering term for a certain type of woman.)

French phonics are fun

Teaching French in England is no different, but introducing French phonics at an early stage of a learner’s language acquisition can drastically improve pronunciation at GCSE level, and equips learners with the skills necessary to decode the different orthographic patterns found in French. The VAK (visual-aural-kinaesthetic) method is effective in…

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Six Steps to Outstanding

Trying to plan an Outstanding MFL lesson? Look no further!

MonsieurM

Last week we had a visitor at school. In fact we had four. But rather than that warm, fuzzy feeling you feel when your uncle, auntie and two cousins pop round for some mulled wine and a mince pie in the run-up to Christmas, the whole school drew a sharp intake of breath and waited for the pain: Ofsted were coming.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those teachers who spirals into a whirlwind of panic, staying at school until 9pm and winding everyone else up with me. I know that I’m doing the things that Ofsted wants to see all year round, but not necessarily in every lesson all the time. You will understand my relief when the HMI gave me my feedback on her thirty minute observation: “that was definitely a 1”.

Outstanding & MFL

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on what makes…

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Excel 4 Teachers pt.1 – from UMS to grades

How amazing would it be if you could be that colleague with the colour-coded Excel spreadsheet which calculates totals, tells you the UMS points AND transfers this into grades all in the time it takes to slap three kids into detention for sticking their bogies to the door handle? Well now you can, and here’s how…

Step 1: set up your columns

I’ve set my sheet up for Unit 4 of the Edexcel GCSE in French, but you can obviously do this for any assessment, scheme and exam board. First of all, simply head your columns appropriately for your marks:

My spreadsheet is set up with columns for students’ names and their marks.

The columns and rows are named by Excel with numbers and letters: column A contains the names, columns B, C and D the marks and columns E, F and G the total, UMS and grade respectively. Thus, cell G3 will contain Andrew’s grade for the task.

Step 2: totalling up the marks

Stop being that teacher sat at their desk with a calculator your HoD ordered from the supply catalogue – get Excel to do it for you. In the total column, type the following formula:

=SUM(B3:D3)

Then press enter. This means that all of the cells between (and including) B3 and D3 will be totalled together in the column containing the formula. You can then copy and paste this into all of the cells beneath (CTRL+C to copy, CTRL+V to paste). Now, when you type numbers into the first three columns of your sheet, Excel will total them up for you. Bear in mind that the total will (logically) show as zero until you input some data. Try putting a ‘1’ into each column and checking that the total comes out as three.

Watch out! – B3:D3 is the range of columns I’m totalling in this spreadsheet, but it may not be in yours – check which columns you actually want to total and adapt the formula accordingly.

Step 3: calculate the UMS

Now, instead of looking up each individual student’s UMS score, you can programme Excel to do it for you.

To do this, you first need to find the raw score to UMS conversion table for your exam board, (the Edexcel 2011 French conversion table can be found here). I have then just copied and pasted the table for GCSE writing into the empty columns on my spreadsheet:

My spreadsheet now contains the exam board’s raw score to UMS conversion data.

Beware! The raw scores and UMS must be entered in ascending order for this to work (ie: starting at 1 and working upwards numerically as you go down the sheet).

What you now need the spreadsheet to do is look up the total number of points your student was awarded (cell E3) and then look up the corresponding number of UMS points and put this figure into column F. Unsurprisingly the formula for this is ‘LOOKUP’:

=LOOKUP(E3, H3:H62, I3:I62)

This formula means the the spreadsheet will look up the value in cell E3, find it somewhere between cells H3 and H62 and then display the value in the next column (cells I3 to I62). Thus, if Andrew is awarded marks of 10, 7 and 2, with a total of 19, the spreadsheet looks this value up and calculates the relevant UMS points as 36.

Unfortunately you can’t just copy and paste this formula into the cells beneath, beacuase it will change the search ‘vectors’ (ie: the range of cells where your raw marks and UMS are stored). To stop it from doing this, simply highlight the two search vectors as shown and press F4:

 

Watch out! If you’re using a Mac (like me!) you’ll need to type the $ signs in manually, but on a PC pressing F4 will do that for you. Your formula is now ready to copy and paste into all the cells beneath.

Step 4: calculate the grades

Our final step is to have the spreadsheet convert the numerical UMS into letter grades. To do this, we first need to enter the grades next to their corresponding UMS according to the exam board’s grade boundaries, which can usually be found in the course specification:

I have entered the grades next to the UMS according to the grade boundaries in the specification.

Now all we need to do is repeat the same process for step 2, but modifying the formula so that it searches columns I and J instead of H and I:

=LOOKUP(F3*2, $I$3:$I$62, $J$3:$J$62)

Note that I have also inserted *2 next to F3; this is because for the Edexcel French GCSE, students submit two pieces of controlled writing, but we only have the marks for one. I therefore need to double the UMS score as the exam board’s grade boundaries are based on the premise that the UMS are totalled for two pieces of work.

Once copied and pasted, this gives us a filled-out spreadsheet with each students’ grade:

Hopefully none of that was too complicated. I’m certainly no genius when it comes to computers, so if I can do it anyone can! If you get stuck, comment below and I’ll see if I can help!

The Kagan Method: teaching’s Holy Grail?

The first time I heard the word ‘Kagan’ was not a positive experience; a parent of one of my tutees (also a teacher) warned me of the impending hell when I told her that an entire INSET day had been dedicated to this newfangled teaching method. Thankfully, she was wrong! The training, delivered by Gavin Clowes from Teacher To Teacher (UK) Ltd. was engaging, creative and very thought-provoking.

Nobody is left behind

Kagan Cooperative learning, developped by Dr Spencer Kagan and associates, is a teaching and learning method designed to actively engage all students in their learning throughout a lesson. The underpinning idea is that, if all students are actively involved at each point during their lesson, their results will improve and behavioural issues will diminish greatly.

Kagan, however, isn’t just a philosophy; it’s also a collection of useful independent learning activities that can be used by teachers of all subjects with classes of all abilities. The characterising feature of each activity is that every student has something to do at every moment, meaning (for the MFL classroom) that everyone is practising their language skills at the same time!

Pick your activity

Kagan activities are not all suitable for the MFL classroom; they rely heavily on peer-to-peer discussion and the sharing of ideas and opinions between students, which requires too advanced a level of language for most MFL students. Some of the activities also lack the structure required for supporting student-to-student conversations in the target language. Some activities, however, are ideal for teaching foreign languages; here are my top three favourites:

  1. Quiz-Quiz-Trade
    Students circulate, each with a card with a target language phrase and its English translation written upon it. They pair up, and partner A reads the target language phrase. Partner B responds with the translation and then they swap roles. Partners then swap cards and circulate again before finding another partner and repeat the process. This activity is ideal for practising new vocabulary and ensuring that all students repeat a range of phrases.
  2. RallyCoach
    In pairs, students have one worksheet and one pen. They take it in turns to solve one problem each, explaining to their partner how they are solving the problem as they go. This activity works particularly well for grammatical constructions (negation, conjugation &c.) and is ideal for peer mentoring, when a stonger student is sat with a weaker student.
  3. Carousel Feedback
    This activity works best with a timer running. I have adapted it slightly in MFL lessons by combining it with another Kagan activity (RoundTable) to provide the necessary structure mentioned above: in groups of four, students take it in turns to add one idea to a mind map (for example nouns to complete the sentence Dans mon école idéale, il y a…). When the timer runs out, each group stands up and moves around the room, looking at other groups’ mind maps and noting down answers that they hadn’t thought of.

Don’t go calling Arthur

Despite the title of this post, I cannot unequivocally say that Kagan is the ‘Holy Grail’ of education; of the 36 activities elaborated by Kagan, only a handful are suitable for MFL teaching. The activities are also a bit samey, and if all teachers in the school start using them, students get quickly bored (five bouts of Quiz-Quiz-Trade in a day can be quite boring! Although this does make one reflect on the overuse of PowerPoint…). Nonetheless, Kagan training is an essential tool for every modern teacher’s arsenal, and the Kagan Cooperative Learning handbook is a must buy for any department.