Cooperative Learning in MFL

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This is a blogged version of a CPD session I delivered to MFL departments in St Alban’s and Folkestone this year. The Prezi I used can be found here. The session aims were:

  • to look at strategies for planning for effective group work in MFL lessons.
  • to look into ways of encouraging a maximum of TL speaking by students.

At the base: the theory

It is important first and foremost to remember who we (secondary teachers) are doing all this for: teenagers. Stroppy, difficult, impetuous TEENAGERS. Studies have shown that there is a reason that we are so quick to assign these adjectives to adolescents; the teenage brain is not a young adult brain, but an entity in itself. It seems self-evident when you say it out loud, but I confess that I had never considered that teenagers were programmed to behave in the ways they do because of their brain chemistry until it was pointed out during a CPD session run by science teacher and research student Claire Tyson when I was working at Homewood School & Sixth Form Centre in Kent.

Claire made the analogy that a brain was like a sound system, with the prefrontal cortex as the remote control. The problem is that in a teenage brain, the prefrontal cortex isn’t yet properly connected, so teenagers make most of their judgements using a more primitive area at the back of the brain. They have the sound system, but no remote control! This produces the following results:

  • Teenagers typically experience lack of foresight; emotional volatility; impulsiveness; lack of thought for others.
  • Heightened sensitivity to dopamine means that teenagers value rewards more heavily than adults.
  • A similar sensitivity to oxytocin means that teenagers treat peer exclusion in the same way as threats to physical health or food supply.
  • Teenage brains don’t register delayed gratification – the appeal of fun now is too strong!

Stage 1: The Learning Environment

When we consider all of these points, it is easy to see that the typical classroom is far from being tailored to teenagers’ needs and not conducive to helping them to learn in a way that is going to be most effective for them. Yes – teenagers need to learn to adapt to a formal environment, but not through force. As teachers, it is surely our job to help them to learn in the best way for them? Do teenagers relate to their environment in the same way as adults? Can we have the same expectations of teenagers as adults? Should we treat teenagers differently because they are teenagers?

“Sensitivity to oxytocin means that teenagers treat peer exclusion in the same way as threats to physical health or food supply.”

In order to exploit this fact, and simultaneously tick the Ofsted boxes that value a variety of learning tasks (from individual, to pair and group work) I set about rearranging my classroom: I used grouped tables rather than rows to facilitate discussion and make it easier to switch between different types of task; each table became a team which could win points for good collaboration and effort; I designed target-language manage-mats based on those I had come across at a Kagan method CPD session to stream-line my classroom organisation and ensure that all pupils could be actively involved in their learning.

Stage 2: Cooperative Learning

At a recent conference in London on mindset, featuring the great Carol Dweck,  presenter Chris Watkins noted that the results of a survey that he had conducted showed that

“80% of teachers’ memories of ‘best’ learning experiences are active, collaborative, learner-driven and learning-focused”.

Some delegates argued that this was all very well, but that with a curriculum to deliver, there was no time for all this ‘extra’ stuff. Watkins succinctly retorted that he had proven that orientation towards better learning rather than performance actually improved performance itself! With this in mind, I aspire to plan activities which promote collaboration and cooperation to improve learning and skills. Some of these have been mentioned in previous posts, but you can never have too much of a good thing, right?!

  1. RallyCoach
    This is a great activity when practising skills that have a particular method to follow, like conjugation or negation. Rather than having students complete practise exercises in the traditional way, working through a textbook or a worksheet, the worksheet is split in half and students complete the acivities in pairs. As they do, they explain what they are doing to their partner who watches and listens, and, if they need to, questions and critiques. This process reinforces the method in both students’ minds. RallyCoach lends itself particularly well to differentiation because you can pair stronger students with weaker ones for coaching purposes.
  2. Structured Pair Work
    When practising skills as a whole class, generally with mini whiteboards, I once again ask students to work in pairs. The manage mats I mentioned earlier assign each student in the group a number 1 – 4 and the letter A or B. Quite simply, person A has a go at the first activity, person B at the second, and so on. Since both partners win a point if theirs is the first correct answer shown, the student not writing is still motivated to check that their partner’s work is correct to avoid wasting time making corrections.
  3. Structured Group Work
    This works on the same principal as the pair work activities, but uses the numbers on the manage mats instead of the letters. Each student is allocated a role for each exercise, and the roles are rotated throughout the activity to ensure that everyone practises the different skills.
  4. Quiz-Quiz-Trade
    Rather than solely using choral repetition as a way of drilling vocabulary, which enables each student to repeat each word a maximum ten times or so, I use Quiz-Quiz-Trade to maximise the practise stage for every individual. 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.
Assigning roles during a running dictation activity encouraged teamwork & discussions about learning, reinforcing students' understanding of the language structures they were practising.

Assigning roles during a running dictation activity encouraged teamwork & discussions about learning, reinforcing students’ understanding of the language structures they were practising.

The Summit: Speaking to Learn

The educational system we have inherited clearly values writing much more heavily than speaking, but ask yourself: is speaking more important than writing? Do students get enough opportunities to speak in MFL lessons in order to prepare them for their controlled speaking assessments? Every time I have asked teachers this question,  the answer has been a resounding NO! Here,  then, are some useful tools to improve pupils’ oral fluency whilst still learning the structures and vocabulary they need:

  1. Phonics
    I won’t say too much about this; details can be found in my last post about French Phonics. Teaching these to my students has really paid dividends, because not only do they make far fewer of the common mistakes to which MFL teachers have become accustomed, they are also now far better at decoding words for themselves and thus able to expand their own vocabulary independently of any input from me.
  2. Songs
    Again, information about the use of songs can be found in a previous post.
  3. Simple Games
    At a PGCE mentors’ conference recently, the lecturer mentioned the practice stage of the PPP model (Presentation – Practice – Production) as being the weakest for trainee teachers, and urged us to show them how to “find 45 excuses to get the kids to say the same word”. This turn of phrase really hit the nail on the head, because we all know that it is through repetition that students improve their fluency. Choral repetition can, however, become boring. I therefore try to vary ‘repetition’ activities with a ludic element in my lessons to ‘hide’ from students the fact that they are repeating vocabulary. This could simply be by using dice to take it in turns to build sentences using the vocabulary and structures we have been practising. Similarly, having students play noughts-and-crosses in pairs using language on the board rather than playing as a whole class maximises pupil use of the target language. My favourite game, however, has to be Empreinte Digitale or Huella Digital: student 1 selects a phrase at random from a numbered list and reads this to the group. Students 2 – 4 then race to put their finger on the correct picture in a grid in the middle of the table. Each student takes it in turns reading, so all students are able to practise their speaking and listening skills.

The End

Wow. That has to be my longest post to date. Hopefully it will keep @flane (my biggest critic!) satisfied for a while! 😉

Optimus Education: Outstanding Secondary Learning and Teaching One-Day National Conference 2012

Going out of school for CPD is always a mixed blessing; it’s nice to escape from the intense pressure that is school and, as much as I love my students, sometimes I need to be away from the white noise of teenagers’ learning and emotional needs; but for those of us so close to the capital, it’s also a day of busy public transport, an early rise and a late return. Still, I am lucky to be in a school that allows teachers to go out for training, and even luckier that I was trusted to go in the place of the member of senior leadership who was supposed to be going originally. Thus, on 14th October, I found myself stepping off the HS1 into London’s St Pancras station and heading to Brompton for the OptimusEd Outstanding T&L Conference 2012. Here’s a review of what I saw and heard:

Keynote 1 – Ofsted Update, Gill Jones HMI

Gill Jones’ Ofsted update was a little late for me, since Ofsted came and went last term (and told us we were Outstanding!). Nonetheless, her comments seemed to corroborate my experience of Ofsted and will be useful for anyone dreading their impending visit:

  • The quality of teaching is the top factor relating to pupils’ success,
  • Inspectors observe pupils’ learning, not teacher’s teaching,
  • Teachers not expected to do everything required in one lesson,
  • No one teaching methodology is preferred,
  • SLT observations should record progress of particular students in groups,
  • Literacy should ensure students use relevant subject-specific vocabulary,
  • SMSC is observed in the corridors as well as in lessons.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Modification of lesson observation forms to account for pupil progress,
  • Literacy policy embedded in all lessons.

Keynote 2 – Embedding Outstanding Teaching & Learning, Claire Gadsby, T&L Consultant

Claire Gadsby’s talk was a mixture of useful suggestions and anecdotal evidence on strategies to encourage staff to work together to improve teaching and learning throughout the school:

  • Outstanding practice should be modelled for busy teachers to enable them to see it working,
  • Avoid ‘overload’ through ownership, by involving teachers in developing ideas for outstanding T&L,
  • CPD should be as engaging as the lessons we try to plan for pupils,
  • Feedback should be shared in a variety of ways:
    • Pecha Kucha,
    • Staff learning wall,
    • WAGOLL (what a good one looks like),
  • CPD should include variety (eg: incidental CPD – placing random objects in the staff room),
  • Coaches should co-plan and co-teach.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Varied feedback models embedded in CPD sessions,
  • Introduction of a staff learning wall,
  • Use of videos of activities during CPD sessions.

Keynote 3 – Independent Learning, Will Ord, Director of Thinking Education

Will Ord’s Keynote on independent learning was as energetic and inspirational as his workshop on questioning:

  • Encourage staff to teach a ‘Golden Lesson’ every week where they try out a new idea,
  • Embed independent learning skills into lesson objectives (eg: to learn how to solve quadratic equations; to learnt to use questioning to improve our learning),
  • Pupils time teachers to see how much of the lesson they spend speaking (sometimes up to 90%!),
  • Use of Learning Warriors – weekly celebration of resilience in the classroom.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Introduction of weekly departmental thinking skills objectives for each year group.

Session 1B – Questioning, Will Ord, Director of Thinking Education

Will Ord’s workshop focused on the use of questioning to encourage higher-order thinking, not only by teachers, but also by training and encouraging pupils to ask the right questions:

  • Remember that different questions exercise different thinking skills,
  • Use phrasing so that options aren’t limited (what might the answer be not what is the answer),
  • Encourage students to use higher order questions in their discussions (a selection was given on the handout),
  • Use stimulus-story-concepts-questions model to lead students to ask more searching questions,
  • Use lego bricks to encourage students to build discussion based on what their friends have said.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Introduction of higher order question posters in classrooms,
  • Training on the use of stimuli in lessons,
  • Investment in sets of lego bricks for departments.

Session 2C – Language for Learning, Sophie Holdforth, Hackney Learning Trust

Sophie Holdforth’s slightly quirky session was actually very inspiring and introduced me to some knew cooperative learning-style stragies that I hadn’t seen before. I really enjoyed this one, even if she did make me wear a (very!) smelly deerstalker hat:

  • Writing has acquired a higher status than speaking but this can be just as helpful for learning,
  • Ofsted are looking for oral literacy skills as well as reading & writing skills,
  • Reciprocal teaching encourages students to discuss by assigning them roles:
    • Questioner (asks questions about the text),
    • Clarifier (looks up unclear vocabulary),
    • Predictor (predicts what may happen next),
    • Summariser (uses own words to sum up),
  • Dialogic teaching uses prompts to scaffold dialogue,
  • Speak-alouds allow teachers to model thought processes about the text whilst reading.

Dialogic teaching uses prompts to scaffold dialogue, like these ones which I used during an A2 French lesson encouraging students to discuss their ideas on Voltaire’s Candide.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Introduction of think-alouds in reading groups,
  • Use of bookmarks to remind students of RT roles,
  • Posters of prompts for dialogic teaching in classrooms.

Session 3B – Differentiation, Paul Anstee, Author: The Differentiation Pocketbook

Differentiation is something I consider to be a personal weakness, so I was looking forward to getting some new, practical ideas to use in the classroom. Unfortunately, Paul Anstee’s workshop was neither engaging nor differentiated (despite him urging us to ensure that our in-school CPD was differentiated for teachers!). The hour-long session effectively defined what the different types of differentiation are and are not, and was a very disappointing end to an otherwise informative and thought-provoking conference.

If you’re interested to know more about any of the strategies mentioned above, feel free to comment or contact me either by email or on Twitter! I’ll be happy to share all of the resources I have!

Six Steps to Outstanding

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 every lesson Outstanding (this is teaching’s Holy Grail and, frankly, I think Monty Python would have trouble finding it even if we set them loose in the corridors of the DfE!). But I do know why my lesson was Outstanding, and I do know how other languages teachers can get there too. Here are my six simple steps to outstanding (note the consonance – catchy, right?).

Step 1: Engagement

No, my role is not to entertain – it is to help students to learn; but we all know that they learn better when they are enjoying what they’re doing. I don’t necessarily mean have ‘fun’ – you can enjoy something without having fun. The key is using learning activities that the students like doing: mine like using mini whiteboards, so I use them; they like doing silly voices when we use choral repetition, so we do; they like watching me do silly (and sometimes random!) actions to go with the words we’re practising, so I do them.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but how many of us have been drawn into the attitude you can hear repeated in every staffroom of the country?: “kids these days need to learn to sit quietly and listen,” “I’m not a clown,” “I don’t have time to play games, they need to learn”. Most of this is rubbish; the workplace nowadays is a much more vibrant place than it was before, and communication is key. In the UK, many of our students will be going on to work in service industries or in communicative jobs, such as those found in call centres. How are we preparing them to communicate if we make them sit at a desk and listen or write for an hour?

In my Ofsted-observed lesson, I used a range of activities my students enjoy to introduce book genres in French: choral repetition with actions for phonics revision; mini whiteboards for introducing the vocabulary using multiple choice and a Quiz-Quiz-Trade game to practise the phrases.

For ideas on the kinds of activities you can use, check out my post on The Kagan Method as a startpoint, or just get creative! It’s amazing what you can do with a bag full of dice…

Step 2: Sequencing

I was horrified at a GTP Subject Mentors’ conference last term when I discovered that most of my fellow mentors, all experienced MFL teachers, had never heard of PPP: Presentation, Practice, Production.

Lots of us will do these in some form or another without realising. The problem is that most of us don’t spend time on the largest ‘P’ – Practice, and most of us don’t sequence the stages strictly enough. Let me explain…

Imagine you are teaching students to use the comparative. You explain to the how to use plus…quemoins…que and aussi…que. You maybe do some mini whiteboard work. Then you want them to write their own comparative sentences. NO!

The problem here is that you haven’t allowed them to practise the structure enough, and by practise I basically mean repeat. Now I’m not suggesting that you spend a whole lesson repeating the phrase Monsieur M est plus cool que Monsieur S (my favourite model!) but you need to leave the structure wholly visible while the students spend most of the lesson ‘practising’ it – trying it out – with the support of the words on the board. They could be building sentences with dice, doing a RallyCoach activity (see the Kagan post) or playing a card game where they have to repeat simple comparative phrases (such as Kagan’s Quiz-Quiz-Trade or rosaespanola‘s ‘Cheat‘ card game), but the point is that they are using the structure over and over again without having to remember how it works – it’s the repetition that internalises the language. Once this stage is fully complete (after an hour, a week or even a term, depending on the structure) then get to the final P – Production.

In my lesson, the activities were clearly sequenced from Presentation – where I presented the vocabulary and had the students repeat, to Practise – where I used a Quiz-Quiz-Trade activity to get students repeating and remembering the words.

Step 3: AfL

Since its introduction into teaching, AfL has been the obsession of CPD leaders, SLTs and Ofsted inspectors alike, and rightly so; being able to ask students to assess their own learning and checking their understanding to inform your teaching is such an invaluable tool, and it’s so simple to do!

At my current school, students have green, amber and orange pages in their planner. Once I had done the choral repetition stages of my lesson and the practice activities, I asked students how well they felt they knew the vocabulary:

Using Assessment for Learning to check pupils’ confidence with new vocabulary is an invaluable tool.

Obviously the wording needs to be changed according to the activity you’ve been doing and what you’re leading on to, but the above descriptors worked perfectly for the next activity, and the next of my six steps…

Step 4: Differentiation

This is likely to be the least popular of my steps;  the staffroom cynics claim that differentiation is “too time-consuming” and that it doesn’t help students, since “they all have to sit exactly the same exam”. There is some truth in these points, but only because people have lost sight of what differentiation is for, and how to use it.

Firstly, differentiation isn’t supposed to be permanent: it should be used to push students on to the next level that is appropriate for them, with the aim of slowly weaning them off it for different skills and activities so that they can all pass that exam. I differentiate my activities for each skill (listening, speaking, reading & writing) according to pupils’ attainment grade for that individual skill and gradate the activities throughout the term so that they can finally complete a given task in that skill with no support.

Secondly, yes it can be time consuming, but we’re not talking about hours of work, and it’s work that you can keep forever! I tend to start with the same reading or listening text, and then use (a lot!) of copy and paste to modify the activities, ranging from those where students note down the information required independently to multiple-choice activities with tick-boxes.

In the lesson seen by the HMI, I had prepared two different worksheets for the same listening text: one green and one orange. Those students who had shown a green card took the green sheet, those who had shown the orange  card took the orange one. Simples!

This differentiated listening activity linked on perfectly from the AfL traffic lighting I did just before… and all just as the inspector walked into my room!

Step 5: Simplicity

As an NQT, I had an awful problem: for some reason, I got it into my head that when I was being observed, every lesson had to be groundbreaking, earth-shattering, innovative and, above all, COMPLICATED. I was clearly suffering from a prolonged stroke.

Whenever I was observed I tried to get students to make inhuman leaps in their learning, I had umpteen worksheets for each differentiated group and I made the lessons unmanageable. I even once got a 3! Sad times.

So my advice is, keep it simple – be realistic and don’t panic just because Ofsted are in. The best lessons are the ones that work, and those lessons are usually the simplest of all.

My ‘Outstanding’ lesson was painfully simple. By the end the students were able to ask the question Qu’est-ce que tu lis en ce moment and answer it with an opinion. Not groundbreaking, not earth-shattering, but in the words of the inspector, the pupils made “excellent progress”. Job done.

Step 6: Consistency

I have one request of anyone that reads this post: please, please, PLEASE do not wait until Ofsted announce their imminent arrival before putting any of the above tips into practice – it won’t work.

My heart truly sinks when teachers tell me that they replan their lessons for Ofsted – you shouldn’t need to. It isn’t hard to introduce one piece of differentiation a week (at first) and a few engaging activities, right from the start of the year. Remember – Ofsted inspectors, as much as we may hate them, aren’t stupid – they’ll be able to tell if what they’re observing is a show for them, and if they suspect it is, they’ll ask the students, who will be more than happy to dob you in!

So, don’t wait until Auntie Ofsted is knocking at your door – make your lessons Ofsted proof NOW!

Update! Here is the PowerPoint presentation with the sequence of activities I used for this lesson: T1 Year 8 – 9. Qu’est-ce que tu lis

PGCE vs GTP – the ITT wars

With this week’s announcement that trainee teachers will have to pass a personality test to be able to train (TES, 8 June 2012), teacher training is once again at the forefront of educational debate. But the big question is, personality test or not, which pathway should you follow?

Follow the yellow brick road

The two principal teacher training pathways in the UK are the Post/Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP). One of the main attractions of the GTP over the PGCE may be financial; six months into their term of office, the government laid out plans to cut ITT funding by up to 85% (TES, 23 November 2010). In reality, PGCE grants were drastically cut (my current trainee receives at least £3000 less than I did for the same course). GTP students, however, receive a salary from their placement school or the Teaching Agency with a fixed minimum which is based on the Unqualified Teachers’ Pay Scales, and accounts for a lot more than a normal PGCE bursary.

Delightful possibilities for exploitation

There is, of course a downside to being paid such a good salary to train. As Head of Languages Isabelle Jones puts it:

With the GTP you do get paid, but some schools can see you as cheap labour as well.

This is, unfortunately, all too true; whilst as a GTP student you are normally employed as supernumerary (ie: on top of the teaching staff already at the school), plenty of schools will happily use you to fill a gap in their timetable, leaving you alone in a class without the kind of regular feedback given to PGCE students. Teacher of MFL Nina Elliot agrees that this can be a risk, but nonetheless supports the GTP…

…with appropriate support and in a school which understands you are NOT a full time teacher.

This, in my opinion, is too big a variable to risk.

A question of experience

The GTP naturally lends itself to those coming to teaching from other industries and not straight from university, since it enables them to ‘train whilst working’ and still earn a salary. Yet self-proclaimed career-shifter Alex Foster (http://alexfoster.me.uk/), currently studying for his MFL PGCE, still thinks that this was a better route than the GTP:

Don’t do the GTP unless you already work in a school. I am glad, as a mature career shifter, of the support and peers from the PGCE approach.

This, I have to say, is one of the main reasons I support the PGCE over the GTP; peer mentoring is such an important process when you are learning to teach, and a lot of this can be lost through the GTP because contact with your peers is minimal. I was lucky to follow a unique course with Canterbury Christ Church University which saw me spend four months at university in France with seven other trainees; this was a real bonding experience and one that left me with some very close friends, with whom I still now share ideas and resources.

The other obvious advantage of the PGCE is that…

students get a wider range of experiences through their various placements and enrichment opportunities. (Isabelle Jones)

In other words, the experience you gain as a teacher in two contrasting placements of more-or-less equal length could be said to outweigh the experience of just one school with a brief placement elsewhere, particularly when you consider that this experience is also backed up by more educational theory than the GTP, delivered by the relevant ITT provider.

Whatever route you choose, the ultimate deciding factor of how well you are trained is how you respond to your training, so make sure you pick the best pathway for you.

Have your say

What do you think – GTP or PGCE? Or do you feel that one of the other pathways, such as Teach First, is a more viable option?

Quotations in the above post were taken from comments on Twitter, and have therefore been modified appropriately.

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.

The School’s Network: Languages Subject Conference 2011

Last week, I took part in this year’s Languages Subject Conference held at Warwick University by The School’s Network (formerly The Specialist School’s and Academies Trust). With keynote speeches by Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, and more notably ALL’s Steven Fawkes, the conference was both informative and thought provoking.

Vocabulary Learning in the 21st Century

Lead by Rachel Hawkes from Comberton Village College, this session introduced some excellent ideas for teaching vocabulary in MFL. Her main points are summarised below. More information can be found on Rachel’s website at www.rachelhawkes.com.

  • Use of contextualised gap-fill worksheets, to teach vocabulary in a real context,
  • Use of a ‘core language’ sheet of around 100 words, along with the VocabMan,
  • Letting students choose their own vocabulary, relevant to them,
  • Using music to enable students to better remember words and phrases,
  • Using online programmes, including Quizlet and Vocab Express,

Sticky Grammar: making grammar teaching really work for all pupils

James Stubbs’ presentation on teaching grammar in sequences through the medium of the target language was slightly more controversial among the attendees. His method relied on working backwards from a model sentence or text and leading students to notice grammar rules themselves. His teaching was very energetic and enthusiastic, but questions remained as to whether a low-abilty group would have been able to keep up and remain engaged. From a teacher’s point-of view, I also think this session would have been more useful if James had presented a range of strategies that can be used in the classroom, rather than presenting just one lesson sequence. More details on his work can be found at www.jamesstubbslanguages.co.uk.

Ashfield ICE, bucking the trend in languages

Language College Coordinator at Ashfield School in Notts, Kim Brown, delivered a very interesting presentation on how she has been able to ‘buck the trend’ in low uptake figures for KS4 MFL and increase the profile of language study in a comprehensive school with a very broad catchment. She should be commended for her work in tying in Language NVQs with vocational study, her excellent links with international schools and her inspired cross-curricular work, most notably the LinguaVision competition. The school’s language college website is www.ashfield.notts.sch.uk/languagecollege.htm.