Sunday, 28 October 2012

En mi pueblo

I was very interested to read Amanda Salt's Bringing Twitter to the Classroom blogpost recently.  Amanda asked her Twitter followers to respond to two questions in Spanish, and then used these responses as reading material for her classes.

I have recently begun to work on verbs in Spanish with Year 6.  We have discovered what infinitives look like in both languages, how to find them in the dictionary and practised using them in me gusta sentences.  We are heading for some se puede + infinitive sentences, which we will use in conjunction with the places in town that we already know.  We will be making the line of paper buildings as a writing task.

Inspired by Amanda's work, I would like to collect some information about different places in different towns via Wallwisher.  I'd be really grateful if the Spanish speakers out there could contribute.  Please tell them where you live, a place that is in your town, and what you can do there using se puede.

By the way, for those who don't know, Washington (Tyne and Wear) is The Original Washington (it says so on the town signs) and Washington Old Hall is where George Washington's ancestors lived.  Some North-East trivia for you.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Language Show Live 2012: Short - Sharp - Repetition

The last seminar that I attended at Language Show Live 2012 was Short - Sharp - Repetition.  What makes an activity good? by Heather Rendall.  I was particularly interested in it following my recent blogpost about choral repetition - I was hoping I was going to find out some new ideas.

I found the seminar fascinating, and not just because there were plenty of  new ideas.  Heather is an expert on MFL, ICT, the brain and memory, and this seminar put a different slant on second language acquisition.

Learning is the "biological organisation of new input", and the organisation of information for successful retrieval later on means that learning has taken place.   We need to make sure that the learning that takes place in the classroom is brain-centred and not child-centred.

This graphic shows how many connections the
brain makes in our early years.
Each neuron in our brain makes a myriad of connections with other neurons.  Many new connections are made from birth onwards, particularly up to the age of two.  During the teenage years "the Great Rewiring" takes place - many links are broken and new links made.

New information goes into the brain and tries to find a connection.  Assuming that it succeeds, if that link is not reactivated within three days then it will dissolve away and the memory will be lost.  "Cells that fire together wire together".  In other words, repetition makes then constantly reinforces these connections.

The brain has a natural tendency to learn what to do and what not to do. Avoidance of error is a driving force.  Babies learn by avoiding what hasn't been successful in the past.

"The driving force behind any learning is satisfaction".  Also our competitive nature and remembering past losses and failure spurs us on to win and achieve.

What makes the average student feel a failure?
  • Not being able to understand or follow during a lesson
  • Making no visible progress
  • Continuing to make errors
  • Comparing results and efforts with those of others
Inherited values that make learning successful
Ability to do and understand and make progress

Recipe for success with new input:
  • minimise random or inapt connections
  • repetition of the input
  • receptive recall
  • more repetition leading to productive recall
The brain likes repetition, although chanting switches the brain off. 

The brain is good at recognising things that it has seen before, so exploit this at the beginning of a lesson - make connections with prior learning. 

Long-term, permanent change in neurons occurs only after neurons are stimulated four times over the course of an hour (or however long a lesson is).  Therefore we need to deliver the new input in small enough, well-connected chunks that they can be repeated four times over the lesson.  The same vocabulary needs to be presented in a different guise, with a different exercise or activity.  Ideally it should be repeated with all four skills, and other vocabulary should be limited so that the core vocabulary can be absorbed.

To minimise misconceptions or false connections, Heather advises introducing new vocabulary with the spelling, the sound and the meaning, as well as transliterating the new content.  For example, showing je m'appelle early on so as to avoid je mapple or je'mappelle, and explaining that it means "I myself call".  She also recommends emphasising sound-spelling differences by regularly looking at close cognates such as station and table.  Håkan Ringbom wrote about the role of the mother tongue in second language learning. Children will seek the nearest English word to help them to "spell" the target language word unless you tell them otherwise.

For receptive recall students need to have as much sight and sound of the words as possible.  Some ideas are:

  • Yes/no cards  Either separate cards or one "flippable" one.  Students have to show the correct one.  Everyone has to take part, and each student as well as the teacher gets instant feedback.
  • linear wordsearch or wordsnake  Students need to know the vocabulary to be able to find all the different words. An example is  chevalmoutonlapinchien.  You can add extra letters between each word to increase the challenge. 
  • Odd one out 
  • Use PowerPoint animation to display the words being studied interspersed with words they don't know. Students call out the words they know but keep quiet for the words they don't know. 
  • Again using PowerPoint animation, words appear letter by letter. Students call out the word when they know what it is
  • Display each word with gaps or with the vowels missing, and students have to call the word out. 
  • Using PowerPoint animation, the words appear and disappear very quickly and students have to call them out. 
  • Students pick out the correct spelling from a selection.
  • Flashcards with the target language on one side and English on the other. Students hold up the correct one but can check if necessary that they have chosen the right one, thus giving themselves instant feedback. 
  • Follow me cards.  Tarsia can be used to make this activity quickly and easily.  You can read more about Follow me activities here.
  • Children are growing up surrounded by computer games and so respond well to trying to beat scores and best times. They can see themselves continuing to improve and again this gives them instant feedback. Even a simple card matching activity timed with a stopwatch ticks this box.  Use the Online Stopwatch.
  • Match the word to a choice of graphics.
  • A short quiz after the initial input is better than a repetition of the input.
  • Infinite Scrabble would be a good way of repeating the vocabulary.
When we observe something then do it ourselves afterwards, we use the same neural pathways. It's how babies learn - "monkey see monkey do"!  Live performance therefore has more impact than a recording - another reason why FLAs are so important. Puppets are also useful for this. 

This week I have been putting some of these ideas into practice to gauge their effectiveness.  

With Year 5 I have been working on Big Numbers (thousands, hundreds, tens and units) in Spanish.  I had noticed that they were not as confident with the new numbers as I hoped, particularly the 100s.  Before we tackled the Kilometraje activity  I wanted to do some intensive work on the numbers.  

Here's what we did:
  • Choral repetition of the 10s from 20 to 100, with me pointing to the digits and the words.
  • Numbers appearing letter by letter on the screen, children called out the number as soon as they recognised it.
  • Numbers appeared on the screen interspersed with words they didn't know.  They had to call out the numbers and stay quiet for the rest.
  • Choral repetition of the 100s from 100 to 1000, again with me pointing to the digits and the words.
  • Card game - the children cut along the lines to make the ten number cards, then wrote the digits on the back.  Then I said the numbers in English and they had to hold up the right number card, checking on the back if they needed to.
  • Numbers appeared on the board with the vowels missing, and the children called out the numbers.  All the PowerPoint activities can be found here.  The animations are all there so it would be easy to adapt to other vocabulary.
  • The class completed the numbers spiral, finding the tens and the hundreds.  I made the spiral using this generator.
I think that made 4 repetitions of each within the hour!  I asked the class what they had thought of these new activities.  Their favourite was the "only call out the words we know" and their second favourite was the words with the vowels missing.

I also did very similar activities today with Year 4 (I was being observed!) who are learning days, numbers and months leading to dates.  We finished each section with a spiral, one for days and one for months.  When I made these ones I put in lots of extra letters, and the children loved them.

The activities were certainly engaging, and appeared to increase pupil confidence.  I will be interested to use them for a new topic to see if they learn new vocabulary more quickly and retain it better.

You might find these links interesting with regard to brain-centred language learning:
and I'm thinking that CILT's Classic Pathfinder 6, Patterns and Procedures, by Heather Rendall, will definitely be worth a read.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Language Show Live 2012: Multi-lingual awareness for Primary Schools

Multi-lingual awareness for Primary Schools was a seminar given on Sunday morning by Peter Downes and Joan Dickie.  It was described in the programme as "From popular English stories in a foreign language and interactive video phone conversations to fun ways of investigating languages - top tips to make your pupils love languages!"  

Now I've made it no secret over the past few years that I am uncomfortable with children in Key Stage 2 learning lots of different languages.  In my opinion they will end up knowing little about anything.  I would rather they spent the time on one language and made real, tangible progress.  Obviously this creates significant difficulties for many schools when Year 6 children transfer to Year 7, in particular the huge range of provision in different feeder primary schools.  So it was with interest that I settled down to hear about "Discovering Language - the alternative approach to 'one language for all' at KS2".

The 'Discovering Language' project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and administered by the ASCL, promotes language awareness from Year 3 to Year 6.  It puts spoken and written language into the wider context of communication, and explains the wide range of world languages, how they have developed and why they change.  By listening to 5 or 6 different languages, children develop their listening skills and are encouraged to make careful observations.  Their interest is stimulated and they begin to see the connections between languages.

This approach has a number of advantages:

  • It is more approachable for non-specialist teachers who are over-challenged by having to do one language for four years.
  • Small children have a huge capacity for learning lots of different languages and for comparing them with each other and in turn comparing them with English.
  • This method is not so much teaching as allowing children to make discoveries.
  • A good background for new Year 7 students regardless of the language they end up doing.
  • A sound foundation for all learners that really helps with their literacy.
  • Helps to overcome the problem of mixed-age classes.
  • Overcomes transition problems.
The one disadvantage, for me, is that it is intended to be taught by class teachers and not visiting specialists, which means that I would be out of a job.  Again.

Children look at verbal and non-verbal communication, such as sign language, signals and signs.  The BSL 4 Kids website is a good source of information and resources about British Sign Language.  They also examine the historical roots of English, coming from events such as the Norman Conquest.  If teachers of Literacy want to improve children's vocabulary, they can look at the dual Anglo-Saxon/French vocabulary that exists in English, such as Greetings versus Salutations and room versus chamber.  This also explains why in English we have pig/pork, sheep/mutton and cow/beef among others.

The Language Investigator from Coventry LA
Early Start - resources are available in French, Spanish and German, and have been commissioned in Russian.

I have to admit that having attended this seminar I have been slightly swayed in my opinion.  I don't want to teach KS2 children lots of bits of language, but would be interested in this kind of comparative etymology and linguistics.  It's something that I do mention a lot in passing to explain to children why, for example, cognates exist between French and English, or why a lot of Spanish has Arabic roots.

Mr Gove has made it clear that KS2 children should learn one language from Year 3 to Year 6, and also that he is not going to make available any additional funding to facilitate training and resourcing.

I would be interested to hear others' views on this subject.  One language at KS2 or Language Awareness?

Monday, 22 October 2012

Language Show Live 2012: Saturday

I stayed at Language Show Live until about 2pm on Saturday.  I called it a day then partly because I knew I was going to be returning on Sunday with my sister and I wanted to have some stands left to visit, and partly because it was going to be the only opportunity I would have to spend some time in my home town, which I don't get to do very often.

I began the day with Blurring the Boundaries...-Languages beyond the classroom, Rachel Hawkes's first talk of the day.  Rachel spoke about initiatives such as Spanglovision, Language Beatz and Language Leaders.  You can read about all of them on Rachel's website.  I won't say any more about them here but recommend instead that you read Sally-Jane Braisby's excellent blogpost about the same seminar.

It was during this seminar that I caught up with a large number of #MFLTwitterati.  Great to see them all in the flesh again!

The next seminar I attended had an intriguing title: GramMAGICal structures, and an even more intriguing description: "Amaze your students with magic and get them to learn, practise and perform tricks while using various grammar structures in a way they will never forget!"  It was given by James Stubbs, about whom I have heard good things on Twitter, and so I thought I would give it a try.  And it was actually about proper magic - James is a member of the Magic Circle and was mentored by the late Ali Bongo.  

I made the mistake of sitting near the back, and soon lots of taller people were sitting in front of me (not difficult to be taller than me) so I couldn't see most of what James was doing.  However I could hear how useful magic tricks are for repeating language and for introducing grammar like the imperative and pronoun objects, which are not the easiest things to teach.  The main thing that I took away from the seminar was the importance of using language for real purposes.  You could show the students a trick, or a 'make', or a piece of writing, or a picture, and then give them the instruction sheet - they then have a reason for reading, to see how to do what you have shown them.  Another idea I got from James was to have students learning how to do something and then demonstrating it to other students.  This has given me an idea for how to approach the next 'make' that I do.

The third and final seminar that I saw on Saturday was Top 10 tips to give a fabulous speech, by Morwenna Rowe from Speak Easily.  I was particularly interested in this one because public speaking is something that I am doing more and more, and I wanted to make sure I was on the right track.  

Morwenna began by talking about the impact that being a non-native speaker of English can have on giving a presentation in English.  She demonstrated the stress patterns of French and Spanish and the tonal nature of some Asian languages and how it can be difficult for speakers of these (and other) languages to give correct emphasis to English.  She then talked about the effects that nerves can have on the body and on the way that you speak.  I have experienced many of the 'symptoms' that she mentioned - tight voice, butterflies and blushing for example, and it was reassuring to find out that these are all a result of stress hormones produced by being nervous.  She stressed that it is important to stand properly - more on your toes than on your heels - and to breathe from deep in your belly not from your upper chest. It is vital to make good eye contact with your audience so as to really connect with them.  Your eyes should be parallel with the eyes of the audience.

The most interesting part for me was the section about PowerPoint.  Morwenna suggests writing your speech or presentation first, then creating the PowerPoint slides after that.  The slides should add visual interest with photos, diagrams or keywords, but never lists of bullet points and large amounts of text.  In that case the audience will switch from listening to you to reading the screen.  My PowerPoint slides now are usually an image and a couple of words.  When I post my presentations to Slideshare I like to slidecast them simply because people looking at the slides after the event won't get much detail from them.

I brought away some excellent handouts from Speak Easily, and also took some for my husband, who does a lot of speaking as well.

*Images by the brilliant Bev Evans

Language Show Live 2012: The Exhibitors

Last night I returned from my first time at Language Show Live.  I attended on all three days and have come back laden with ideas and goodies.  This is the first of what will probably be four separate posts - I think there is too much information just for one - and it is all about my favourite exhibitors.

I was very fortunate to be able to attend Language Show Live at the invitation of Teachit Languages.  I contributed French and Spanish resources for the launch of the site at the beginning of the year, was delighted to be asked to help the team to do a presentation of the site and help out on the stand.  If you don't already know Teachit Languages, it is a resource site to which you can subscribe for a small fee.  This subscription entitles you to download the resources in an editable format as well as use the interactive activity makers, such as the magnet activity maker that I demonstrated on Friday.  You can also become a contributor to the site.  If your resources are used by Teachit, you will receive royalty payments.

I did most of my exhibition visiting on Saturday, having scoped out many of the sites from afar on Friday.  I was very pleased to see the Guatemala Tourist Board stand, and they have very kindly given me some worry dolls, a patterned ball and a map that will really enrich my Year 2 Guatemala project.  I also took some photographs of their display which will be useful too.  Have a look at the Visit Guatemala site.

Instituto Cervantes also had a stand, and win my prize for best bag of the show.  It even has matching stickers!  Instituto Cervantes offer teacher training and courses in Spanish.  

The Consejería de Educación stand was almost next to Instituto Cervantes.  I bought six of their brilliant posters to give Spanish more of a presence at school.  There is also an animated version of their alphabet poster.  The balloons that you can see in the photo (right) have the colours printed on them in Spanish.  Something that will make the balloon plenary more interesting!

I do a fair bit of work with my Key Stage 2 students on the geography and regions of Spain.  We also talk about the different languages that are spoken in the country.  I had an interesting chat with the staff on the Basque Government stand, where they told me some things I didn't know about the history of País Vasco and its language.  I didn't know, for example, that Castellano and Euskara have borrowed from each other so much.  I came away from the stand with a visual dictionary showing words in Euskara, Spanish, French and English, a resource that will interest the children at school.

I travelled on the same train there and back as Nick from Routes into Languages NE and so felt it my duty to go to visit the Routes into Languages stand.  They have some really good resources available including this wall planner, where each month's numbers are in a different language.  I also like this poster pack, especially the food one.  You can see all their resources here.

And finally, anyone who was there on Sunday will know that I was there with my sister, who is a German-specialist subject leader.  We made some purchases at the Idioma stand.  I'm looking forward to seeing the next items to be added to their range.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Imprinting verbs

I don't know about you, but I find that all my best ideas occur to me when I least expect it.

On Friday I looked at my work plan for Year 6 and saw that the next thing for me to do in my Places in Town unit is "verbs - what you can do in each place/what you can buy".  Now Year 6 know a lot of Spanish - phonics, gender, nouns, plurals, adjectives, opinions, big numbers, time, weather..... but we have never focussed specifically on what verbs look like in Spanish and how they work.  They have used many first person forms like juego and veo but are as yet unaware of the infinitives that they some from or how they could use the dictionary to find and work out verbs.

And I couldn't think of a good way to introduce it.

So I left my planning to do some housework, and found my elder daughter's school library book lying somewhere in the house that it shouldn't have been. Lightbulb moment!  One of the images on the cover gave me the idea I needed.

The fly-thing on the cover is made using a blot of ink with the legs, wings and face drawn on with a black pen.  Why not create characters who will do the verbs?

I borrowed the finger printing set belonging to my younger daughter and tried it out.  The rabbit at the top of this post is a print of the side of my right-hand little finger with the details drawn on.

So Year 6 are going to discover a number of infinitives via Quiz-Quiz-Trade.  If you would like to know more about Quiz-Quiz-Trade, have a look at this blogpost by Marie O'Sullivan - it was Marie who first told me about it.  It is also described in this post under "Ask-Ask-Switch".  Then after finding out what infinitives are all about they will have a go at making their own print pictures like this one, where they will be using the infinitives in the context of me gusta, which they already know.

If you would like to do something similar yourself, I've put all my resources for this lesson here.

UPDATE 28.10.12:  I have made a little movie to show Year 6's work so far, and you can watch it on our school blog.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Sort it out!

It is well-known in the Twittersphere that I have a sister who is also a language teacher.  It is less well-known, however, that we also have two brothers, and that one of them is a maths teacher.  Recently I came across this maths resource via a tweet from the TES.  It's a Venn diagram activity, but not just any old Venn diagram activity.  It's a Superhero Venn diagram activity by @mrprcollins.  And it made me think of my brother, who is a comic enthusiast as well as being a maths teacher.

This type of activity could be adapted easily for MFL, particularly in KS3 and KS4 to make topics like Personal Identification more interesting.  Here's an idea for how it could work:

What do you think?

Friday, 12 October 2012

All mapped out

As I've mentioned before, my Year 6 Spaniards (who are now in their fourth year of Spanish) are studying "En mi pueblo".  They have learned the names of lots of places in town, practised using hay and no hay and experimented with the connectives pero, también and sin embargo.  I was looking for something that would enable them to show off their writing skills while allowing them to practise their dictionary skills and, of course, do something artistic.

It's a bit difficult to explain how to do the folding, and I'm not sure my usual set of photographs would be enough, so I've dusted off my Flip camera and made a video.  Those who know me will laugh heartily as for some reason I sound like an extra from Alvin and the Chipmunks:

Year 6 enjoyed doing their maps.  They got to know the vocabulary better and enjoyed finding out new places in the dictionary.  Drawing a map was interesting from a spatial awareness point of view and looking at things from a bird's eye view.

If you would like to see Year 6's work, you can look at the video compilation on our school blog.

Some of the girls transformed the outside of their map into the outside of a house.  They said that the map was what they could see outside the house.  Using their idea, you could use this for House and Home as well, and draw a plan of a house inside instead of the plan of a town.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Right up your street

The other day I was revisiting this wonderful blog and looking at the templates for lots of different kinds of mini-books.  I had noticed the Triarama before, and this time had the idea of giving it to Year 5 French so that they could show me how well they can say what is in town and what isn't.

Above is the one that I made, and here's how I did it: 

1.  Take a piece of A4 paper and fold one of the corners down to the opposite edge.
2.  Cut off the spare strip.
3.  Unfold the resulting square of paper and fold it the other way to create a second diagonal crease.
Then cut from one corner to the centre.
4.  You can then draw your pictures and write your words to complete the Triarama.
5.  All you need to do then is to stick the blank triangle under the writing triangle to make the 3D Triarama shape.
As well as using this for places in town, you could try it for a family portrait and description, or perhaps a supermarket shelf containing containers, weights and measures of foods and drinks.  Any other ideas?  Year 5 are really enjoying making their streets.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Line up, please

Here's another lift-the-flap writing idea, similar to Paper Buildings in Town.

How to make it:

1.  Fold the paper down lengthways, down to about 3cm (for A4) away from the edge.
2. Concertina the paper.
3. Flatten the concertina, draw the outline of the figure on the top part and cut round it.
4. Unfold the concertina.  Fold the smaller sides together and make two cuts for the flaps.
5.  Glue the two sides together, but don't get any glue on the flaps!

There are many different topic areas that this could be used for.  My figures above are saying their names and what foods they like and don't like.  You could use them to give personal information, to introduce members of the family, to practise personal description or to say what sports someone likes, for example.

I would recommend using heavy paper, as normal photocopier paper isn't stiff enough for the figures to stand up.  Using A3 paper would give you bigger flaps and therefore more space for writing.  Coloured pencils might be better than felt tips for the colouring in, so that the colour doesn't bleed through to the underside of the flaps.  You could also glue on hair, hats or different clothes made of other pieces of paper.

If you're after a simpler version, for the first step just fold the paper completely in half and don't cut any legs. Then you can either write directly onto the figures or make flaps in the same way as before (see photo below).

Off to wash the felt-tip off my hands.

UPDATE 23.10.12:  I tried this with my Year 3s last week, and many of them found the folding and cutting difficult.  Therefore I have created a template which is free for you to download from my website.  Just fold the lines in the order indicated by the numbers and cut the shaded areas.