Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Resources for TTS

Over the last year I've been working with TTS to develop some new multi-sensory resources for French and Spanish.

The Counting Euros set is designed to help children read and write numbers and amounts of money, as well as working out change.  It's cross-curricular maths as well as intercultural understanding.  This set has resources for French and Spanish.  Here is a selection of some of the activities:

Spanish Maps and Symbols is a resource designed to practise weather, transport, colours, flags and points of the compass.  It will also familiarise children with the geography of Spain and Spanish-speaking countries.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Wheel Decide

Many thanks to Danièle Bourdais for telling me about Wheel Decide at Language World on Saturday.  

There are plenty of apps around that do the same or a similar thing, but they aren't of much use to me in the classroom.  This online wheel is easy to customise, then you just copy and paste the resulting URL to be able to use it when and where you want.  

The wheels can also be embedded.  Here's the one I've made for one of my Year 5 classes who are working on sports, and I'm trying to find lots of different ways to help them with their "I play" and "I do" sentences.  We're going to spin the wheel and then they have to say the correct sentence for the sport that it lands on.  Give it a try!

Sunday, 24 March 2019

#LW2019 Sketchnotes

Here are my sketchnotes from the sessions that I attended at the Association for Language Learning Language World conference this weekend.  Click on the images if you'd like to see the sketchnotes full screen.  My own presentation - Goosebump Learning - can be viewed here.

#LW2019 - Goosebump Learning

This is my presentation from this year's Language World conference (#LW2019) which finished yesterday.  My PowerPoint was a series of images and so posting it here would not be a great deal of use to you if you weren't there 'live'.  Read on to find out what "goosebump learning" is!

It’s well known that when a piece of music particularly moves you, you get goosebumps and your hair stands on end.  But have you ever had this happen to you in the classroom, and with language learning rather than music?  Sometimes in the classroom we get a strong reaction from the learning that is taking place, and that manifests itself in goosebumps. 

The dictionary says that goosebumps are “caused by cold, fear or excitement”.  Well in most classrooms it’s unlikely to be because of cold, as many are heated to tropical temperatures, and hopefully it is never a result of fear.  It can be, though, a result of our thrill at seeing the learning go just right. 

We can explain this state in other ways too.  This reaction can occur “when the stars align” – when all the conditions are correct.  I think we can all agree that these reactions are quite rare, but are they in fact unexpected and nearly impossible?  Are they down to pure luck or is it something we can control and/or nurture?

Engineering this kind of reaction for the teacher, and indeed for the students, can be seen as some sort of alchemy – “a process that is so effective that it seems like magic”, apparently.  Let’s think about what we need to do, what we need to put in place in order to maximise our chances of the learning being this good.

Our students’ success, achievement and obvious enjoyment is what gives us goosebumps.  Their learning can be affected by the weather, by the time of day, by what’s happened in the corridor before the lesson, by there being an R in the month….   The culture of the languages classroom is very important.  They need to feel “emotionally secure and psychologically safe” (Paul Ginnis)  Is the languages classroom a place where children feel safe to have a go, to make mistakes and to learn from them?  Is it a place where their peers will be supportive of their attempts?

This poster from bsmall publishing, free to download from their website, illustrates some of the things that we want the learners to be able to do in our classrooms without running the risk of ridicule or getting told off by other students or from the teacher.  Two of the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child state that children have the right to be educated and have the right to express themselves freely, including in the classroom.  It’s worth laying the foundations, I think, by looking at the rights and responsibilities resources that are used by Rights Respecting Schools:
  • everyone in school has the right to learn, to be safe and to be happy.  Therefore, it’s everyone’s responsibility to listen to respect others’ views and opinions, to show them respect and to be polite and helpful to all in the room, including adults.  It’s learners’ responsibility to behave in a mature and sensible way. 
  • Children also have the right to be educated and they therefore have the responsibility to learn as much as they can and to help others to learn.
  •  All children have the right to make mistakes and the responsibility to learn from them.

This is the sort of culture that we want in our classrooms, where students feel that they can have a go, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported and not ridiculed by their peers, and that the teacher will acknowledge their efforts and support them to improve.

Part of learners’ feeling comfortable in the classroom is for them to be comfortable and supported where they are sitting. In the primary sector, the seating plan is often pre-determined by the class teacher, and usually comprises ability tables.  If you have the freedom to decide your own seating plan, what should you be taking into account?  The seating pattern you choose contributes to the atmosphere of the classroom.  Rows suggest a controlled environment where interaction is perhaps not encouraged, while a U shape, for example, indicates more of a feeling of equality between the teacher and the students, and promotes discussion and interaction.  Grouped tables are like little communities for the learner to operate in and gives them that safe area.

In an ideal world, and this is something that we talked about in my Local Authority about 20 years ago, language classrooms would have American-style seats with integral tables, which could be moved around and re-arranged very easily.  With our traditional tables and chairs things are usually a bit trickier.

We need to strike the balance between discipline issues and the need for facilitating pair and group work.  We don’t want anyone to have their back to the main focus of the lesson, which is usually the whiteboard area.  Once we’ve decided on the table pattern, do we seat according to ability or in a mixed-ability pattern?  Even a set class is going to have a range of ability within it, of course.  According to research by Montana State university, mixed-ability seating shows a huge attainment increase for the lower ability, with no detriment to the higher ability.  This type of seating encourages peer to peer learning, where students reinforce their own learning by helping and supporting others.  Rachel Hawkes advocates mixed seating where students have a partner of a different ability with whom to work in a pair next to them, and then they turn round to interact again with a different partner.

I’m a big fan of the Itchy Feet cartoons, and love this one - View from the top - because of its depiction of language learning as a mountain to be climbed.  You climb one slope and celebrate having achieved something, but then there is revealed yet another climb.  And we never stop climbing, however adept we are.  In order for students to have a successful climb to whatever the arrival point may be that we have planned for them, we need to have some routines in place so that students know what to expect and what they’ll need to do at each step along the way.  This often involves careful use of the target language.  Do we always introduce the same activity in the same way so that students know exactly what they need to do?  Do we habitually colour-code words or clusters of words to provide a secure shorthand to students?  Do we use actions to aid understanding and to maximise student involvement?  Do we, and indeed should we, begin each lesson in the same way to breed familiarity, to make students feel secure before they start?  Should we have an activity for students to do the moment they arrive in the room, before the lesson has officially begun, to settle them and get them in the right frame of mind?

If we are going to reach that magical goosebumps stage of learning, something else that we need to do is to ensure that the learning is built up in small, manageable, scaffolded steps.  Students will lack confidence and understanding if we go in too high too soon.  We want them to feel secure and supported as they gradually build up the language to the top of the slope that you have planned.  We also want to build learner confidence by getting them to do things, to have those interactions with others that will help them to practise what they are learning, to support their peers and to learn from each other.

So we’ve talked about some of things that we can do to encourage goosebump learning, to maximise our chances of it happening.  Allow me to share with you some of my recent and not so recent goosebump moments.  While I was preparing this, I was racking my brain trying to think of things from teaching years past, those moments that made me feel really pleased and happy to be a teacher.  I have a feeling that a lot of them have been lost in the ether.  We should make a record of our goosebump moments, I think, as proof to ourselves in the dark days that yes - we can do this!  That’s one thing that social media and LiPS (Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group) in particular is great for – for sharing and celebrating our successes.
  • In 1997 I met for the first time a Year 7 Spanish group, who I ended up teaching all the way through to Year 9.  I also taught a lot of them for GCSE.  When they were in Year 9, at the turn of the century, I was part of a working group in the Local Authority about Thinking Skills, and it became part of the KS3 Strategy.  We developed a number of Thinking Skills materials in the Local Authority.  This is a mystery activity where students have to use the clues they are given to find the answer to the big question.  In this case, it’s “who is Sofía’s best friend?”.  The class worked in groups of four or five and first of all worked through some scaffolding activities to support them when they came to read and understand the clues and work out their answer to the big question.
    The point of thinking skills activities is that there is rarely a clear cut correct answer.  There can be multiple correct answers, but students have to be able to explain and justify their choice.  With this mystery there were four friends to choose from, and two of them were more suitable than the other two.  Towards the end of the lesson, most groups had fed back about their choice and the reason behind their choice, and finally we came to the group of four girls sitting near the front.  There ensued a stand-up argument between two pairs in the group “THEY think it’s this one but WE think it’s that one” complete with quoting from the text and justifications left, right and centre.  They were so involved in the learning.
    There must have been more from my secondary days, but I can’t remember any specific examples apart from individual GCSE speaking exams.
  • The next is the story of a girl currently in one of my Year 6 classes.  In Year 1 and Year 2 the only time she ever spoke to me was answering her name in the register.  She didn’t join in with singing, usually didn’t take part in the speaking, and shook her head quietly if I asked her if she wanted to have a go at an activity that involved choosing something for the class.  When Year 3 started, she was still very quiet.  Then after the first term the children started working in pairs on dialogues using language that we had learned so far in Year 3, namely saying hello and goodbye, saying and asking their name and saying how you feel.  We video the resulting work and the children choose a puppet to do the speaking for them.  She was working with her best friend, and when I videoed their work, there was this great big voice making the puppet speak.  It was a real breakthrough and she has never looked back.
  • A couple of years ago I did my French flag unit with my two Year 2 French classes.  It involves putting together sentences which describe the colours and shapes on flags, and uses actions to aid memory and to assist with understanding.  It always works well (in both languages) and the children enjoy practising some unseen flags and then making and describing their own.  One of the girls described her flag brilliantly for the rest of the class, and then, completely unexpected for me, got up in the show and tell assembly and did it for the rest of the school later that same week.
  • This is the numbers song that Year 1 learn pretty early on, and we use it as the musical accompaniment to various games like pass the parcel.  One day last term I was practising it with my current Year 1 and they sang it very well.  Because in hymn practice the same morning we had been practising a round, I suggested to the children that we try to sing the numbers song as a round in two parts.  We split the class into two and they sung it perfectly as a round, first time.  Proper goosebump moment!  We then tried to record it five times, but it didn’t work again.  One of those alchemy moments!
  • In one of my schools the children have only been learning Spanish for two years, having done French before that.  To move the Year 6s on quickly I’ve created a unit about animals to introduce gender, singular and plural, and some adjectival agreement.  We read Los limones no son rojos, and I used its format as a basis for this sentence-building activity.  The idea is that they work in pairs to create grammatically correct sentences using the word cards given.  There are lots of correct answers, but the answers have to be grammatically correct, in particular the adjectival agreement.  There was total immersion in the activity, great learning conversations.
  • This is from the Ofsted report of one of my schools, from November last year, when the school moved from Good to Outstanding:

    The curriculum is used innovatively to explore cultural methods of addressing and dispelling fears where appropriate. For example, some pupils were intrigued by the ‘worry dolls’ they made while learning about Spanish cultures. Pupils’ welfare needs are high on everyone’s agenda.

    The two inspectors spent two days in school, looking at every aspect of the curriculum.  I still don’t know which child it was who mentioned to the HMI the worry dolls that we make in Year 2, but they will get a special reward when I find out!  The children are always very interested in the concept of worry dolls, which we look at as part of our Guatemala project.  We make one to put in the Guatemala bag which we also make, and the children do take them home and use them.  Year 5 and Year 6 often tell me that they still have theirs and that they still use it.  Goosebumps for the way that Spanish crosses the curriculum and something pretty deep happens.
  • And finally the one that was the inspiration for this presentation.  Year 4, September, days of the week.  Some speaking and listening with an often tricky class, and somehow it just all went right.  All focussed, all engaged, all taking part.  It hasn’t happened since with them, and I spend the odd idle moment wondering what it was that made the stars align on that day!

These are some activities that have always been successful for me, and that you might like to try, to see if you get goosebumps!
·         - Tarsia
·         - Trash or Treasure
·         - focussed dictation
·         - which card?
·         - pointing game
·         - flicking game
·         - Trapdoor
·         - 5 in a row
·         - Battleships
·         - writing frames
·         - word mats
·         - Kagan Rally Table

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Languages in the news

There has been a lot in the news about languages over the last week.  I've collated as many of the stories and documents as I can find below.  Please let me know of any I've missed!

Language learning: German and French drop by half in UK schools  BBC, 27.02.2019

Foreign languages 'squeezed out' of schools in Wales  BBC, 27.02.2019

'Why I travel miles to study German'  BBC, 27.02.2019

 Are modern foreign language lessons on the slide?  BBC, 27.02.2019

Language learning: French and German 'squeezed out' in Scottish schools  BBC, 27.02.2019

'How learning a foreign language changed my life'  BBC, 27.02.2019

French, German or Spanish offered by fewer NI schools  BBC, 27.02.2019

Fewer NI pupils studying modern languages  BBC, 27.02.2019

Modern foreign language studies slump to eighteen year low  BBC, 27.02.2019

'My plan for saving languages in our schools'   TES, 27.02.2019

National academies urge Government to develop national languages strategy  British Academy, 28.02.2019 

Less than ONE in 10 Brits can speak a second language  FE News, 01.03.2019

Brexit Britain cannot afford to be laissez-faire about its languages crisis  The Guardian, 01.03.2019

'How can we rejuvenate languages learning in Britain?'  TES, 01.03.2019

Languages in the UK: a call for action  The British Academy, 01.03.2019 

Save UK's 'dwindling' language skills, say MPs and peers  BBC, 04.03.2019

'Languages should be compulsory from ages 5 to 18'  TES, 04.03.2019

Britain’s dwindling language skills are a disaster for the country and needs action, MPs warn Independent, 04.03.2019

White Paper: Primary Languages Policy in England - the way forward  RiPL, 05.03.2019

Is the UK in a language crisis?  British Council, 05.03.2019

Brexit means we can't ignore the decline of MFL  TES, 09.03.2019  

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Primary Languages White Paper

On 23rd November last year I took part in a Primary Languages Policy Summit at the British Academy in London.  I was there to represent the Association for Language Learning and to share my experiences "from the chalk face", including the results of my recent survey as an illustration of the state of affairs in the primary languages world.

The summit operated under the Chatham House rule, meaning that I have not been able to discuss what was said there.

The aim of the summit was to formulate a White Paper which would make proposals to increase the impact of the statutory requirement for all children in Key Stage 2 to learn a language.

The White Paper - Primary Languages Policy in England - the way forward - has been released today and can be found on the webpage of Research in Primary Languages (RiPL).  I urge you to read it.  Following news reports (like this one) last week about the lamentable state of language learning in the secondary sector, this white paper is very timely, and addresses a lot of the points that primary colleagues have been making previously and in response to these recent news stories.

The White Paper makes 10 recommendations.  Here is a summary:
  1. Time allocation: clear, non-statutory guidance about optimum time allocation for languages in Key Stage 2
  2. Pedagogy: to strengthen the quality of teaching with investment by the DfE for teachers and ITE
  3. Curriculum planning:  non-statutory guidance on the minimum core content, to define what children should know by the end of KS2
  4. Transition: to encourage collaboration between phases
  5. Assessment and reporting: a nationally-recognised benchmark to be reached by children by the end of KS2
  6. Digital technology: to improve teacher knowledge and to provide high-quality teaching resources
  7. School accountability: Ofsted should focus on languages in the next inspection cycle to gather evidence related to the 3 Is of intent, implementation and impact
  8. School leadership:  school leaders and governors should be supported to strengthen and ensure suitable content for KS2
  9. Strategic role of research:  primary languages should be a DfE focus in the next round of social research aims
  10. Create a National Task Force for Primary Languages
The White Paper is a good read and addresses all the issues that trouble primary languages practitioners.  I'm so pleased that I can finally talk about it!

Friday, 1 March 2019

Measuring with fruit

This term, my Year 1s have been learning about fruits.  We've learned plátanos, manzanas, naranjas, fresas, ciruelas and peras.  These are some of the activities we have done:
The week before half term, the class teacher had, by chance, left open by the computer a copy of the children's Inspire Maths workbook.  The next thing that children were going to do in maths was measurement.  This was something I could do in Spanish!

Before half term I took a metre rule into the Y1 classroom to measure things like the chairs and tables, to get an idea of the size of unit the children would need to use for the measuring, given that we couldn't use any numbers bigger than 10.  Consequently I made 3 large A4-size versions of each of the fruits (see picture above!) which my daughter laminated for me.

Here's what we did in the lesson:
  • We practised the fruit words again (it had been half term!)
  • We practised the numbers 1-6 and then sang this song a few times to introduce the numbers 1-10.
  • I showed the children the huge fruits, and demonstrated how to measure things in the classroom using the fruit.  We found out that the whiteboard is 6 oranges high, one of their little chairs is 2 pears high, and one of the girls is 4 strawberries high.
  • Using our numbers and fruit words we worked out how to say these measurements - seis naranjas, dos peras, cuatro fresas.
  • I gave each pair of children a fruit.  They got a mini-whiteboard between them to record their results.  I said they could write the name of the thing they measured or draw a picture of it to help them to remember, and then write how many of their fruit it was long or high. 
  • At the end we fed back and worked out how to say the measurements in Spanish.
The children were very focused and enjoyed the measuring.  I also got measured a few times!  If I was doing this again it would be great to take them outside.  Even though Wednesday was a sunny 16 degrees day, it was also the last session of the day, and I'm not sure I would have got all the children back in again!

This lesson could be adapted for older children, simply by giving them a smaller unit so that they have to use bigger numbers.  It's a great way to reinforce the plural form as well.