Thursday, 1 December 2016

Lost in translation?

Earlier this week there was a discussion in the Secondary MFL Matters Facebook group about the pitfalls of doing translations into English with Key Stage 3.  I found everyone's comments interesting to read, partly because I no longer teach KS3 and partly because I have been working on some new translation resources for Light Bulb Languages.

On hearing about the difficulties that people had encountered with their classes, I decided to give some translation a go with my Y6 Spanish class.  We have been working this term on places in town, saying what you can do in the places using se puede and infinitives, and building up complex sentences using conjunctions, intensifiers and adjectives.  I prepared three texts of different levels.  I explained to the class that I was giving them a challenge, partly to satisfy my own curiosity, because we do a lot of English-Spanish work but not so much Spanish-English, and partly to give them a taste of things they might do in Y7.  (Most of the class will transfer to the local secondary school where Spanish is the language taught.)

This student is in the top quarter of the class.  The translation was carried out unprepared and unseen, with no access to exercise books.  This student has not only translated very well the language that we are currently practising, but has also risen to the challenge of the language, such as opinions, that I have brought in from previous years and previous topics.  They have also considered the sense of the English that they are writing, with phrases such as "there is no school" and "I don't like the cafe much".

I found this a very interesting exercise.  It was useful to see which children were willing to take risks and make a decent attempt to make sense of something they weren't too sure about.  I could also see that there were certain structures - hay and se puede in particular - that the children are happy to use in Spanish sentences and which I thought were embedded, but which they can't tell me the meaning of.

I'm definitely going to have another go at translation with them in the new year, particularly after the chat I had with the Year 6 teacher this morning about how the same class have been talking about roots of words and linked words in their recent English lessons.  We are always making links between our new Spanish words and English, often with a view to enriching their vocabulary.

I've been collecting ideas for translation activities, which I will list here in case you too are after some ideas.  Of course I'd love to hear about any successes that you have had with translation!

  • Translate poems or song lyrics
  • Groups or pairs translate different sections of a text and then come together to connect them with suitable language
  • Match up English and the target language
  • Translate sentences or text into the target language using words provided, e.g. in a Wordle
  • Give the first letters of each word or a number of letters to support the answer
  • 5 in a row, where each player has to translate the text in their squares correctly to win them (example of 5 in a row)
  • Pelmanism
  • Dominoes
  • Fill in the missing words and then translate
  • Tarsia puzzles, joining up English and target language words and phrases
  • Follow-me speaking activity
  • Translate the sentences in the target language using a writing frame for support
  • Blue Numbers, where each square has a different sentence to translate
  • Pairs of sentences in English and the target language each have different parts missing, so you have to use one to translate the other, like this activity
  • Find the translation: students have a list of sentences.  Translations are posted around the room and they have to find them
  • Gapped text in the target language, with phrases at the bottom in English which have to be translated and inserted in the correct place
  • Translations with errors to correct
  • Crossword - write the clues
  • Parallel texts - put chunks of text in order
  • Re-order jumbled sentences in order to translate them correctly
Many thanks to members of the Secondary MFL Matters group for all the ideas!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Northern Primary Languages Show

Yesterday, 5th November, was the inaugural Northern Primary Languages Show at York St John University.  I was invited to speak, and gave a presentation about games that you can play in your languages classroom.  I only had 45 minutes, so I presented 33 games that children can play sitting down at their tables.  I had to draw the line somewhere!  Here is a copy of my slides.  You can find all the resources (and more) on Light Bulb Languages and some of the games are described in more detail in this blog post.  Please get in touch via the comments if you have any questions about any of the games.

Ready to play? from Clare Seccombe

In addition to presenting, I was lucky to be able to attend some of the other sessions.  Here are my sketchnotes:

I also saw some French books that look interesting:

Cache-cache cochons

C'est à moi, ça

Tout en haut (does anyone know it this is available in Spanish?)

Finally, last month I got to visit Nathalie Paris's Bibliobook (mobile library full of books in foreign!) and heard her talking about some stories that she likes to use.  Here is the sketchnote from that day, which I've finally finished!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Back-to-back-to-back Book

This minibook has popped up on Pinterest in a few different guises.  Basically, it's a number of identical, symmetrical shapes which are folded in half and then stuck back to back.  They fulfill the minibook criterion of fitting a lot of writing into a small space.

I made the one you can see in the picture to try it out.  Here's how I did it:

I made my symmetrical shapes using the AutoShapes function in MS Publisher.
You could also use PowerPoint.  I printed out 3 copies of this sheet.

I coloured in each shape.

and then added some writing.

Then I cut out the shapes and folded them in half.

Then I stuck the shapes back to back.

My 13 year old, bored on the first day of her 7 week summer holiday, made this one.

If you are considering making one of these with a class, my tips are:
  • make absolutely sure that your shape is symmetrical
  • try to make your shape easy to cut out, as neat cutting is important when it comes to fitting it all together.
  • Use your imagination!  Use a tree shape for the seasons, a cloud for weather, an apple for food....
These could be displayed on a flat surface or hung from the ceiling to really save on display space!

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The importance of looking outwards and forwards

My name is Clare.  I am a teacher.  I have been a teacher for 21 years.  I have been a teacher for 21 years in the City of Sunderland.  I have lived in the City of Sunderland for 22 years.  My husband and my two daughters were born in Sunderland.  I was not.  I was born in South London, and then grew up and went to school in Surrey.  I chose to live in Sunderland.  I guess that makes me an immigrant.  I have always done a job that could have been done by a local.  And the vast majority of teaching jobs in Sunderland, especially in primary schools, are done by locals.  It is unusual to hear an accent that is not Geordie or Mackem.  It is a little more common in secondary schools.  But it has never bothered the children I teach.  I think that is because they assume that I am French and/or Spanish, and that is why I talk differently to them.  My daughters get me to copy them saying things like "The giraffe laughed in the bath", but then they admit that I sound weird.

I think it's good for children to hear at school accents that are different to theirs.  It makes them realise that there is life and therefore possibility and opportunity outside of Wearside.  Because it is a very insular place, with comparatively little social or actual mobility.  It is this fact that has motivated me throughout my career as a teacher of languages.

In 1997 I volunteered to attend a meeting on behalf of my department at the secondary school where I worked at the time.  It was a meeting held by the local authority about something called Comenius European Education Projects, about which none of us knew anything, but which the blurb on the leaflet made look quite interesting.  This meeting was to change the course of my career.  Comenius projects have had various names since then, most recently coming under the Erasmus+ aegis, but they remain essentially the same: a group of European schools sets up a partnership together and receive funding from the European Union to enable them to do a collaborative project.  From the beginning in 1998 of the first project that I co-ordinated until the last project that I was part of in 2009, I worked with colleagues in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania.   I personally learned a great deal from all of them and was able to travel to places that I know I would never have seen otherwise.  The students also learned a huge amount from their European counterparts.  They found that there were some differences in their cultures and ways of life, but there were also many similarities.  These differences gave them cause to reflect upon their own culture and their own way of life.

I hope that this was enough to arouse sufficient curiosity in some of them to want to explore the "world outside", that it gave them the courage to look outwards and try something new.  Because on Thursday 23rd June, 61.3% of the 134,324 Sunderlanders who turned out to vote in the referendum (out of a possible 207,207 voters) ticked the box that said "Leave the European Union".  They chose to turn their backs on the millions of Euros that the EU has invested in the City over the years to help to regenerate the area after the closure of the mines.  They turned their backs on the efforts made by the City Council to forge links with and to open doors to communities in other countries.  They turned their backs on the efforts made by many of the City's schools to show children the wider world.  They turned their backs and decided that it is better to look inwards and backwards.

I wrote this rationale in 2001, but its words still ring just as true today:

"We are living in a rapidly changing, “shrinking” world.  Technological advances and economic and political changes have produced an increasingly global society of which we cannot fail to be aware.  Pupils of XXXXXXX  XXXXXXX are conscious that changes are taking place, but perhaps not of what these changes could mean for themselves and their lives, chiefly in their position as global citizens.  They remain traditionally insular in their attitudes, and have little access to, understanding of, or means of communication with the “world outside”.  Our pupils are, after all, the adults of the future, and should complete their education and enter the world of work fully cognisant of the opportunities that are open to them globally and equipped with the skills and attitudes that will enable them to live successfully alongside their international neighbours."

Our political landscape is currently changing by the hour, and uncertainty about the way forward following the Leave vote continues to increase.  I intend to go into my schools this week and continue to fight the good fight of the language teacher, to show the children that there is a world outside their window and that it is a colourful, interesting, friendly, welcoming and wonderful place.  We do not yet know if they will have access to the freedoms of movement and labour that we have enjoyed, or if schools will have the opportunity to access the funding streams that will enable them to participate in eye-opening projects with other schools in Europe.  But I have every confidence that we will find a way.  We have to find a way.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Primary Languages are marginalised, says Ofsted chief

Yesterday, May 19th, the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, published his latest monthly commentary.  In this commentary, he writes about "the study of science and foreign languages in primary schools".

This is the summary of the commentary:

Teachers of primary languages will agree with this.  Languages are often the first thing to "fall off the end" if there is insufficient time in the week or if there is a perceived need to do more English and maths.  And bravo to Sir Michael for pointing out that learning a language boosts literacy and numeracy skills.  There are still Headteachers (and teachers) who do not accept this.

Sir Michael goes on to say that current provision for Languages in KS2 is a cause for concern as this year's Year 7 will be required to take a GCSE Language when they reach Year 11 in 2020.  They will need the headstart that they are entitled to get at primary school to enable them to meet this challenge.

During the last two terms' inspections, Ofsted has reviewed "the quality and breadth of provision in science and foreign languages in primary schools".  106 schools had a Languages focus.  Their findings were:
HMI found that the majority of primary-age pupils enjoy studying science and having the chance to learn a foreign language. However, inspectors also found weaknesses in the provision of both subjects. In particular, in too many schools they found:
·         a lack of time allocated to the study of science and foreign languages
·         a lack of teaching expertise, particularly in respect of foreign languages
·         poor working arrangements with partner secondary schools that failed to ensure effective transition and progression

So Ofsted has discovered the three issues which have troubled so many teachers of KS2 Languages since they became compulsory in September 2014.  These three findings certainly come as no surprise.

In the schools visited, 2/3 of children spent less than an hour a week on Language learning.  Ofsted have never specified a time allocation, and indeed Julie Yarwood stated recently that Ofsted has no view about time allocation in KS2.  This might suggest, however, that an hour a week is what they might deem to be the ideal time allocation.

Teacher expertise is an issue, as we know, because the current generation of new teachers are those who did not have to study a language to GCSE.  This comment will be of great interest:
"The generation of teachers entering the profession in recent years was not, in the main, required to study a foreign language to GCSE. This has resulted in a shortage of language specialists at primary school level that can only be addressed through significant investment in the professional development of staff. "
It will be interesting to see if the DfE pick up on this.
His final message is of great importance to those schools facing inspection, and will also be of help to those Languages co-ordinators fighting for their subject to be acknowledged:
"Inspectors found that the best primary schools are capable of providing effective teaching in science, foreign languages and all other subjects, without undermining pupils’ progress in literacy and numeracy. It should not be an ‘either/or’ situation. The best primary schools recognise that providing excellent teaching in subjects like foreign languages and science promotes good literacy and numeracy skills. This complements, rather than detracts from, the focus on English and mathematics."
And finally a big thumbs-up to the creative force that are Primary Languages teachers:
"In my years of experience as a headteacher, I often found that good language and science teachers were among the best at engaging with children and instilling in them an abiding interest and curiosity in the subject. If children are ‘switched off’ by poor, unchallenging lessons, this is likely to have an impact on the future take-up of these subjects. We must therefore ensure that primary-age pupils are inspired by effective teaching of science and foreign languages, from properly trained and qualified staff, and that the pupils’ enquiring minds and natural curiosity are nurtured."
The commentary links to the Ofsted document Foreign languages and science provision in primary schools.  This document is based on the findings of the Ofsted questionnaires that were carried out at Christmas time.  We have been promised the results of the questionnaires for some time, and here is some brief information.
The teacher questionnaire received 276 responses and the parent one 215 responses.  In addition children responded to a languages question in their pupil questionnaires.  My own survey a year ago received 159 responses.
The main details in this document:
  • 2/5 of teachers said that time is the biggest barrier to language teaching
  • 1/4 of school leaders said that time constraints were the main challenge in delivering languages
  • over 1/2 of school leaders and teachers said that a lack of confidence, a lack of subject knowledge and a lack of training are the biggest challenges in improving the quality of language provision
  • In 28 of the 106 schools visited, children were "not well prepared for further study of foreign languages at the end of KS2".  We can perhaps assume that this means that "substantial progress" had not been made.
It will be interesting to see how much impact these words of Sir Michael's have. Will the fact that they are from Ofsted persuade some schools to pay more attention to their language teaching?