I love great tools. I especially love great free tools. As for great free tools which really do the trick and support students to learn? Unsurprisingly, that's a massive tick on my list.
I was first introduce to Memrise at #ililc4 in a really intriguing session by Dominic Traynor, who I'd gone to listen to as a result of the fact that he uses PE to teach Spanish. I wasn't expecting the main nugget that I took away to be something which would really support my students in a structured academic way.
Memrise is, in its very simplest way, a great independent learning tool to support students with practising new language. You can search for courses which have already been made (including full AS spec vocab) or you can create your own containing the precise language that you want your classes to be working on. It takes no time at all to type it in, press tab for the translation then press save. Personally this, at the moment, is the route that I'm taking as I want my students to be working on fairly precise things.
Memrise then cycles between introducing new language and testing the language that's been introduced. My students find it massively addicting- especially as they soon realise that the more they practise the more confident they feel in sessions. Even my top groups are discovering that the language I want them to be using in their Controlled Assessments is all packaged up ready to practise within their Memrise course. Feel free to have a look at http://www.memrise.com/course/401042/local-area-challenge/
One of the elements that I put a lot of emphasis on in sessions is HOW we learn new language. Not how we learn chunks of language, because that's something that we try to avoid at all costs. One of the main skills we practise is thinking of stories to associate with new words. Memrise offers this function as well- students are rewarded with points towards their learning leaderboards for creating "Memes"- ways of remembering the words whcih can then be shared with others.
It's the leaderboard function, split into week, month and all time, which really captivates many of my learners- and in particular those in the lower groups. We have monthly prizes in school for the top 3 per course, and I've been startled how, at the end of both September and October, I've been pestered on the first day of the month to print out the leaderboards which I display in my classroom.
Real positives I've discovered
Parents are fascinated. I've even had a few sign up to their own accounts and join in, thus causing a massive sense of determination to beat their mum (on the leaderboard, not physically!). So I've started sending a bit.ly shortened web address for the courses home on newsletters.
It's a great Flipping tool- students arrive confident with the language that we're then going to be using. Some of my older students are also going back and using the new entry course (we're stage not age), whilst some of my new students are also going away and working on some of the more advanced courses.
I sent the link to my Principal, whose sons are in year 7. She got addicted. Which gave me massive power to force my groups to do more- because if the Principal's beating the students then surely they need to work harder!
Some of my students have started creating their own courses and sharing the link- mainly EAL students wanting to celebrate their own language. Brilliant says I, let's celebrate them!
Maths have started creating their own Memrise courses- a massively unexpected bonus, but the kids who are in the lowest Maths group in the school are completely hooked, leading to massive repetition of the learning and a strengthening of their understanding. Bonza, says I. Have a look- http://www.memrise.com/course/453989/times-table-legends/
I'm aware that they're in the process of recording audio and video material to go with 1000s of Target Language words across a variety of languages- big bonus there (although there are already a mass of sound files which pop up as options when you are creating a course.
So the long and short of it is, engagement with the tool (and the app) have been fantastic (including some students, not even those who are traditionally your determined / want to do more type) are asking me to create / tweak courses to allow them to concentrate on specific elements to further their learning. Aye aye, says I. It really is well worth a try to see if it sparks in your school.
The last few weeks of implementing PE in Spanish have been a steep learning curve, but fascinating with them. Of our 6 classes in school we currently have 4 who are receiving some or all of their PE in Spanish. It really is a fantastic opportunity to be able to grow this from nothing- this is a massive chance to do something differently, something which it would be virtually impossible to do with an established PE department. Our high quality (he's the coach of the GB U20 Ultimate Frisbee team) PE teacher has committed to trying to learn Spanish alongside our students and using it to deliver sessions alongside myself.
Our main goals / methods at the moment. I'm writing this because we'd really love some feedback, please!!
a determination not to compromise on the quality of the PE skill development. I, however, still need to do a lot of learning for myself in order to become a really high quality PE teacher in my own right. Plans are in place and observation trips planned!
a focus on developing student to student interaction in the Target Language, using their language for a real purpose.
Independent Study (homework within the extended school day) videos to highlight key techniques, vocab + develop Spanish listening skills, shared with students through Google Drive accounts.
an emphasis on peer feedback in the target language. Even students who are "off games" are expected to use the learning mats for each skill to provide feedback to their peers, in Spanish.
in line with the school's policy of reflecting on Learning Habits, students are supported to do this every lesson, with a Learning Habits grid on each skill mat and a phonics chart to support students.
phonics, phonics, phonics. All students work on this every session.
Lots of repetition from week to week and sport / skill to sport / skill to build up knowledge through familiarity.
an openness that Sam, our PE teacher, is not a Spanish speaker, but is a Spanish learner. As part of his planning we work on the key language for each session (leading to him being able to run sections of sessions without my input). However, there is then an expectation that people can challenge him with his language outside of sessions- but he can also challenge them to remember key phonics or new words / phrases. Seeing students testing each other and him whilst eating their lunch, students who might traditionally be disconnected with language learning, has been incredibly uplifting.
differentiation and groupings partially based on student reflections on their own ability and confidence. Students have completed the Google Doc below as part of their Independent Study during the course of the week and will be completing it again regularly to track their progress and attitudes.
A large element of the academic side of our school life is built on the TLO's concepts of Building Learning Power. Having recently spoken to another Head of Department, who I trust and whose practice I fully respect, who has recently received training from the company, it is something which a lot of MFL departments do already, to a certain degree. We encourage our students to reflect on HOW they learn, not just what they are learning. We ask our students to reflect on the skills that they have used to come to their answers. With BLP these are known as Learning Habits. A simplified explanation, but...
Anyway, at the start of each session students are encouraged to reflect on what Habits they feel they will need to do in order to best reach the stated objectives. Lots of useful language to exploit there, so I've attached the Objectives and Habits slide that I use.
However, the crucial thing that I've done at the start of this term is to tape to all of my tables a learning mat containing all of the crucial language to suggest what Habits students feel they will need to use and then which they feel they did use or need to work at. It also contains the key phonics grid provided by the amazing Rachel Hawkes. And was has been fascinating is how even beginners have found the grid easy to start building reflective sentences, self-differentiating using the extension column at the end. All in all, it's been darned useful- and will hopefully only get more so as students become familiar with the core language.
Anyway, I know that some people out there already adopt the BLP stance in their schools, so I thought it might be useful for some people!
A while ago I read a cracking blog post by the fantastic @dominic_mcg, who was describing an idea that he had learned from the wonderful @bellaale in this post. Duplo. Something that I spend a massive amount of my time playing with at home with my kids. And sentence building. Something that I spend a massive amount of time working on with my students at work. At the time I read it I put it to the back of my head. In most classroom settings that I've been in the idea would've been nigh on impossible.
Thank you, gents.
At school we are encouraged to really push our practice, to get students exploring rather than us explaining. So when I was stuck for how to get new students building their Target Language usage in the classroom, and as such building short sentences, Duplo popped up. And I love it. Please, please go buy some Duplo blocks.
OK, the way it works...
1) Colour code the language you want students to use (our first week was spent working on key verbs in order to start sentence building from the outset).
2) Print it (in colour) for each table / group.
3) Each table needs the word sheets, some whiteboard pens and some baby wipes.
4) Get building!
Initially I challenged the students to build as many 4 word towers as they could- basic requests. I then gave them 10 minutes to build as tall a tower as possible (1st word at the top then build down). You write the Spanish on one side and the English on the other (which also then helps when we look at word order).
Next stage: peer feedback on how to improve- write "La frase fue"+ an opinion and then tell the other team how to improve it on a post-it for them to respond to, using the spontaneous language mats in each table box (see a screenshot below)
And then get building again. The biggest tower? 54 blocks- almost as tall as one of its makers! Way to go for week 2 of Spanish learning!
I love it, I love it, I love it- and so did the students, who all felt that they were now able to create and develop short sentences. In fact, the only colour of block that we ran out of was orange- connectives!
Last year it was a pleasure to team up with the fantastic charity ShelterBox to develop the ShelterBox Challenge. We've made some key changes in 2014 to make it more user-friendly, more effective and, hopefully, better for departments and for students during the year ahead!
So please have a read of the details below, which are also available at www.smore.com/5j3b and then share it with as many people as you can before getting involved yourself!
As per my promise to myself and on the blog to try to share more resources and ideas, please find below the materials that I used a few weeks ago for a 90minute lesson with year 6 students. Boy was it a whirlwind, but great learning and creativity took place all 3 times that I ran the session, thus suggesting that it works!
The main principles for me were to get students to work out new language but then to be able to convert that into short sentences, realising how simple it can be to make this leap. I also wanted students to begin to understand a little bit about grammar, hence Buzz Lightyear made an appearance to explain infinitives (TO infinitive and beyond, given how that's how we form an infinitive in English). But also I wanted students to be able to have some phonics and then write and record some sentences to give their opinions on the subject- a massive sense of satisfaction for the students involved, who will now know exactly what to expect in September.
One of my main priorities in February when I started teaching part time at Route 39 was to increase both the ability and desire of students to use the Target Language. Taking over part way through a year adds massive challenges to this in terms of developing the right mentality for this, but we're getting there...
Along with wall support, an emphasis on using key verbs to springboard into sentences, a group talk variant and thinking skills tasks such as reading images, each table (4 students) now has their own spontaneity and support box. I share the classroom with an English and Humanities teacher, so can't tape things to desks or leave things out permanently, but this solution actually brings students back a bit closer to their primary school days where table boxes tend to be a norm.
Each box contains:
2 x dictionaries- it takes a strong learner to stand up and walk across a room to find a dictionary, grabbing the attention of everyone in the class. This way they just reach across and look things up.
4 x red / yellow / green flicker cards. Students are becoming familiar (still a way to go for it to be fully integrated) with the need to indicate their comprehension and confidence levels with the appropriate colour card. They also know to support their team group, so if someone has a red card out they should receive immediate attention from someone with a green card on their table. Only if that doesn't work during a task should things fly up the chart to me. I want my students to be thoughtful, not dependent, learners, and sharing knowledge reinforces new learning.
A-D cards for voting
2 x spontaneity mats- although I want to get students to redraft these themselves next term.
2 feedback mats- to try to develop feedback in the target language peer-to-peer and also to allow me to then develop the level of TL that I can use myself for feedback, which at the moment (5 months in) tends to be predominantly in English as we develop students understanding of my expectations and how they need to develop themselves.
Howdy y'all. Sorry it's been a while since I've blogged, been a bit busy...
Anyway, with term having finished last Friday my thoughts are now turning to the course that I will be running for the next 3 weeks in Exeter, supporting PE teachers who will be coming over from Madrid to prepare for bilingual teaching. This follows on from the course I ran with a great PE teacher from South Devon, Sophie Steer, last year, and then my inspirational colleague David Fawcett over in Madrid in February, March and April. The main emphasis of the course is not compromising on high quality PE teaching despite the inevitable difficulties of students and teachers operating in a second, non-native language. In fact, we want to improve the quality of teaching in both facets- language and sport.
During the weekend in March I sent my Principal an e-mail asking whether she would be interested in exploring the possibilities of adopting the techniques overselves at Route 39. We are constantly on the hunt for ways to add real purpose for learning how to communicate in Spanish- this fits perfectly for many of our students.
However, to really make it excel and fit with our student-lead perspective, we will really need to think incredibly carefully about how we plan and how we give students the linguistic capabilities to interact, challenge and provide feedback for each other in the second language. Below are a few ideas- but I'd love to hear yours, please!!
FLIP-style videos, in the Target Language, to be watched for Independent Study (due to our extended school hours students don't have homework but have assigned periods during the day to work on tasks). They then complete a Google Doc about the key points / language so that I can gauge their linguistic progress and understanding. These will be shared on a wiki.
Sport Ed roles- students all have cards detailing, in the Target Language, their roles and responsabilities for sessions within their assigned group. At first these will probably include key phrases / items of vocabulary in TL + English to support interaction without having to be taught specifics
Independent Study tasks will also intermittently include key verb learning tasks. For exmple, the very first week of study will include a task to learn a number of key verbs (depending on the level of the group), including Quiero (I want), Tengo que (I have to), Voy a (I am going to) and Acabo de (I have just)- all of which can be followed by an infinitive to allow for more spontaneous target language use as we rack up our infinitives.
Laminated feedback charts which can be used by student monitors during sessions which will stay the same and so build familiarisation over time.
An end goal- we are in the process of finalising details of a tie-up with a school in Madrid whose teachers I have worked with before. This will lead to the swapping of materials and "how-to" guides (both by students and staff) and will culminate in an exchange, including fixtures. During those fixtures in Spain students will be shown the Spanish card for speaking in English, leading to a 2 minute sin-bin.
However, I want to know more and learn more- so if you have any thoughts at all, please share, chip in or advise!!
It is with great, great sadness that we have had to postpone the upcoming primary MFL conference in Exeter. Numbers remained below what we considered to be a reasonable level to warrant the support of our exhibitors and to make for a top quality event for delegates.
We are currently investigating possible dates in the autumn term to relaunch the event. All thoughts warmly received!