Saturday, 20 July 2019

Southampton University Primary Languages #SUPL

Yesterday, 19th July, was the last day of the school year for many.  I spent it at Southampton University at the SUPL (Southampton University Primary Languages) conference.  SUPL is part of the RiPL Network.  I was honoured to be asked to speak about writing - you can view a copy of my presentation here.  It was great to catch up with old friends (and my sister!) and to meet new people and hear about what they have been doing in their classrooms.

Here are my sketchnotes from the day.

Engaging children with reading - Mike Dodson
Oral language development through technology and app smashing with Book Creator and Adobe Spark Video - Joe Dale

Scaffolding writing - Sarah Dugdale

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Word Cloud by Smart Puffin

Many thanks to @mflbassie on Twitter who alerted me to Smart Puffin's Word Cloud app for Android this morning.

It makes word clouds in the same way as many of the other available apps (I like WordItOut, Word Clouds and Jason Davies Word Cloud Generator) but it has the added bonus of incorporating emojis, which you just enter along with the words in the app.

I made this one earlier on to test the app out.  It's easy to use, although getting the fonts to an even size can be a bit tricky.  

I put in animals for this one as that happened to be what I was thinking about at the time, and it was easy to find the emojis!  Children could count how many times each animal appears or pair up words and emojis.  You could include elements of writing frames as a different sort of guide to independent writing.

Have a play!

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Dots and boxes

Last week my Year 7 daughter told me about an activity she'd done in a maths lesson.  It was basically a game of Dots and Boxes, but it had the added bonus of each square containing a positive or negative number.  Each time they won a box, they had to add the number in the square onto their total, largest total winning.  My daughter's friend had got more boxes, so would have won in a traditional game, but my daughter went for all the positive numbers so that she had a much bigger total at the end.

This idea of having something in the box has been taken on by the languages community.  (Thank you Rachel on SecMFLMatters!)  The boxes have in them target language words or English words, or a mixture of the two.  To win a box, you have not only to put on its last side, but you also have to say the correct target language or English word.

At my school it's transition week, where all the children from Reception to Year 5 are meeting their new teachers.  This has left Year 6 at a bit of a loose end.  This afternoon we sat in the Year 1 classroom, at the tiny chairs and tables, and I gave them their exercise books and a blank Dots and Boxes grid.  They chose a word for each square and then some of them played the games.  They particularly enjoyed how it's possible to steal a square from your partner if they don't know the word.

I took this picture of a game between one of the hard-working boys and his very idle friend.  They enjoyed playing it, and it's the most work I've seen the latter do in 6 years!!

They've given me the grids they made and I've said I'll make them into resources for Light Bulb Languages and put their names on, as a little legacy.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019


This is the text of a keynote address I gave this afternoon at Europe Direct NE's 'Celebrating primary languages' event in Durham.  I had to do some on-the-spot editing due to time being a little short, so here is the complete version for you.

I hope you’ve had an enjoyable and positive day.  Sorry I’m going to have to put a downer on it.  Brian has asked me today to talk about Transition and getting it right.  I last talked about Transition in 2014, so dug out that presentation when I started this one.  Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there wasn’t much that I had to change, 5 years on.

We are just finishing our 5th year of compulsory languages in Key Stage 2.  The Year 6s that go into Year 7 in September will be the second cohort to have had at least 4 years of language teaching in primary school.  But have we got from compulsory languages what we thought we were going to get, 5 years on?  There are only 7 years of compulsory language learning in the English curriculum, from age 7 to 14, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, so are we making the most of these years and getting it right?

I would argue that as far as Transition is concerned, there is still a great deal of work to be done, so that we can make the most of these 7 years and ensure that children continue to make progress and to be motivated in their language learning in Key Stage 3.

So what is transition?  According to the OED it's: “a passing or change from one place, state, condition etc. to another” - the word itself implies change, something different.
I have my own definition for our purposes:

transition n
1. seamless move from primary to secondary education 
2. progression from the primary to the secondary phase of education 
3. continuity in secondary education of learning that has taken place in the primary phase

Let’s have a look at some of the facts and figures.

According to the very recent Language Trends 2019 report:
  • Just under 45% of primary schools have contact with at least one of their local secondary schools, and 53% of secondaries say they have contact with at least one of their feeder primaries.  (776 schools responded to the survey)
  • However, figures from the last six years show there has been a clear decline in collaboration between primary and secondary schools.
  • Comments from secondary schools indicate that they are aware of the need for greater coordination with primary schools, but have been unable to achieve this due to lack of funding or changes of staff.
  • The majority of secondary schools do not receive any data on pupils’ prior attainment in language learning when they arrive in Year 7.  Secondary teachers report requesting data but not receiving it, and often rely on pupils’ own accounts or on only the most basic information.

I carried out a survey of KS2 language learning in July last year, and compared the results with the same survey which I carried out in June 2015, in other words after one year of compulsory Key Stage 2 languages. The results of the 2015 survey were not good as far as transition is concerned.  56% of primary schools admitted to not sending languages transition information to the children's secondary schools, and secondary schools said that they did not receive information from 48% of their primary feeders.  20% of primary schools had not been able to get in touch with the secondary teachers, and 28% hadn't even tried.  17.5% of secondary departments hadn't been able to get in touch with their primary feeders to find out about language learning, and 19% hadn't even tried.

I was really hoping that the 2018 survey would show that things had changed since then.  They hadn’t.

I asked KS2 teachers if they send transition information to the secondary schools that their Year 6 children transfer to.
23.5% said yes.
65% said no.
11.5% said they didn't know.

So the percentage of primary schools who send transition information to the secondary schools has gone down by 2%, and the percentage of those who don't has increased by nearly 10%.  I asked secondary teachers if they receive information from their feeder primaries:

Yes, from all or most 4%
Yes, from some 28%
No 64%
Don’t know 3.5%

33% of secondary departments receive transition information from all, most or some of their feeder primaries.  This is down from 41% in 2015.  64% of secondary departments receive no transition information at all (up from 48% in 2015), and so begin each September not knowing anything about their new Year 7 students, what they have done and what they can do. 

I also asked both phases about their relationship with the other.  As already mentioned, 34% of primary schools haven't tried to get in touch with the secondary schools, and 15% haven't even tried.  Only 16% of primary schools consider that they have a positive relationship with the secondary schools.  16% of secondary teachers have tried and failed to get in touch with the feeders, 28.5% haven't even tried.  30% are happy with the way they are working with their feeders.

So it looks like primary schools and secondary schools are still, generally speaking, not communicating with each other in order to ensure a smooth transition between Year 6 and Year 7, and an uninterrupted 7-14 continuum of language learning.  
Just under a third of respondents said that they have adjusted the schemes of work followed by Year 7 to allow for the learning that the students have done in KS2.  In 2015, nearly 42% of respondents agreed that they had adjusted their schemes of work.  It would appear that secondary departments are considering the prior experience of their new Year 7s less than in the past.  In 2015, 61.5% of respondents agreed that all Year 7s started their language learning from scratch regardless of any learning that they had done in KS2.  This figure increased in 2018, to over 70%.  This is more evidence that secondary departments are paying even less attention than before to the language learning experience of their new Year 7 students.

It is distressing and dispiriting to see, as a primary languages and ex-secondary languages practitioner, that very little has changed with regard to the teaching of a language in Key Stage 2 and the transition to Key Stage 3.  We have heard a lot in the press, on the fora and on social media this year that, after Brexit, languages will be more important to the UK than ever before, that this year's GCSE was difficult, that students are dropping languages in KS4 in droves despite EBacc.  Surely it is in all of our best interests that we get Key Stage 2 language learning right, and that transition to Key Stage 3 is handled effectively so as to make the most of these 7 years of compulsory language learning. 

The Primary Languages White Paper is packed full of useful information and links to research, as well as the 10 recommendations.  The White Paper says that the lack of consistency between primary schools, in a context where secondary schools take pupils from many different feeders, is one of the barriers to smooth transition and hinders coherent progression in learning.  

Things weren’t helped in the early days of the compulsory national curriculum by a lack of clarity from Ofsted, and languages certainly weren’t on their immediate radar.  For some years all they would say is that languages is a foundation subject and as such would be inspected in the same way as other foundation subjects.  In practice this meant that very little attention has been paid to languages, and many schools have taken advantage of this.

However there has been new information and a new direction from Michael Wardle, now MFL lead for Ofsted.
  • From September there will be a focus on the wider curriculum. 
  • Teams may choose to focus on languages as one of their subjects.  
  • Academies and free schools will no longer be able to opt out completely of language teaching: “If an academy does not follow the Programme of Study, it needs to offer a curriculum that offers equal linguistic stretch”.  
  • The full curriculum should be taught in Years 3-6 and 7-9.  
  • Teachers should have good knowledge of the subject.  
  • Work given should be demanding and match the aims of the curriculum, and pupil work should be of good quality.  
  • Subject leaders may be asked how non-specialist teachers are supported, how the curriculum shows progress, if all children have access to language learning, and how secondary and primary schools are working together.  
    All these should ensure that the statutory obligation is met in schools, which in turn will help secondary schools when it comes to transition and catering for a new Year 7

It is clear that children have different experiences of language teaching in different schools.  Some may have done 4 full years at an hour a week, others may have 30 mins every other week, some may not have done any at all.  Children may have learned a different language in Key Stage 2 to what is on offer in Key Stage 3.  There are differences in pedagogy between different feeder schools.
Primary schools have different approaches to assessment, recording and reporting (or no approach!) which makes comparison tricky for secondaries

Let’s talk about some Solutions.

It’s crucial that primary schools share information about their language teaching with the secondary schools their Year 6s will be going to.  If you can’t make contact yourself, enlist the help of your headteacher or transition person.

Invite secondary teachers to do some paired observations so they can see how children are taught.

Find out what information do secondary teachers actually want.  Do they have a wish list of what they want Year 6s to have done before they reach Year 7?  Is there something you can negotiate as a cluster of schools?

Portfolios draw together children’s attainment, progress and learning in Key Stage 2.  Some schools use e-portfolios of their own design for easy sharing of children’s achievement.  You could also send one piece of work from Y6 for each child, which will give a good idea of their attainment.

These are recommendations from the White Paper: 
"Transition arrangements: In the short term, at the very least, primary schools should provide receiving secondary schools with a clear statement of what pupils in the class have been taught and what pupils should know and be able to do at the point of transfer from KS2 to KS3.
- Where primary and secondary schools can collaborate, head teachers should encourage smooth transition by supporting teachers to develop continuity of approach from Year 6 to Year 7, by sharing common expectations of outcomes and/or developing a cross-phase scheme of work; 
- In the mid-term, each child should receive a clear statement of learning outcomes against agreed benchmarks at the end of key stage 2; 
- In the mid to longer-term, the DfE, the Teaching Schools Council and Regional Commissioners, and Ofsted should incentivise schools to work in local and regional consortia, involving primary and secondary schools, networks and multi-academy trusts in order to develop and agree clear and structured programmes of language learning which provide continuity and progression across key stages 2 and 3. This aligns with recommendations put forward in the Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review (2016).
Once children are in Y7 teachers have to offer challenge to all learners regardless of their experience in KS2 – differentiation is key.  Enthusiasm and momentum needs to be maintained for those with experience while helping out the ones with less experience.  We don’t want these experienced learners to become disaffected when they could be the high flyers."

You may also want to consider a transition project.
         Year 7 visit Year 6 to talk about learning a language in Year 7, and they do activities together.
         Longer term joint projects, e.g. Year 6 work on a text, in Year 7 they write their own text using that one as a model.  Or Year 7s can write for real purposes and provide texts for Year 5 or Year 6 to read in one of their topics
         Maybe a cross-curricular project with art, PE, technology or science.
         Bridging units, where the work done at the end of Year 6 is continued and built upon in Year 7.
         Languages festival for Year 6s, hosted by Year 7 and Year 8.
         Postcard/All about me activity where children use all the language they’ve learned to write about themselves in order to introduce themselves to a new friend in Year 7

One of the recommendations of the White Paper is the consideration and piloting of cross-phase schemes of work initially for Year 6 and Year 7 pupils (expanding to include Year 5 up to year 8) in an agreed language across primary and secondary school networks/consortia to ensure continuity, progression and smooth transition, in order to boost motivation and increase uptake at GCSE.

These are some suggestions of what secondary teachers do with new Y7s:
         Explore the familiar in an unfamiliar way.  Revise core language but in a different context to avoid boring those who have already done it.
         Think about your seating plan, and seat more experienced students with those with less experience, so that they can peer teach.
         students with experience can exploit and recycle their language in new and creative ways.  e.g. daily routine of Dracula
         in reading tasks, students with more experience can look for higher level language such as connectives and tenses
         Differentiate by outcome.  Expect more from those with more experience.  They can write a short text while a beginner would write a list of words or phrases on the same topic.
         Above all secondary departments need to reflect about what they already do and how well it works.  As Einstein said: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

One of my Year 6 classes has done 6 years of Spanish with me, for an hour a week.  I have sent to the 4 different schools that they’re moving to a list of all the content that we have covered in Key Stage 2, the topics and also the grammar, core language and other skills such as dictionary use.  I’ve also sent a piece of written work that they completed last month.  The document also includes a list of the children and their level of ability (HA, MA, LA) and their level of confidence in language learning.

We often talk about the Year 9 disaffection, the end-of-Year 8 plateau.  Well the disaffection and the switching-off is going to happen a lot sooner if you get Year 7s who have done some language before and whose experience and knowledge is ignored.  There is nothing as demotivating as having to repeat several years of work.

Most of us have just over one week of term left.  Your Year 6 colleagues and SMT will know who to contact in the secondary schools.  They will have seen them many times over the last term.  Failing that, go online, find the email address of the school and send them the information, marked for the attention of the MFL subject leader.  It doesn't have to be a long, complicated document.  

I’m sure you’ll agree that Transition is something that we have to work hard to get right.  It hasn’t changed and has in fact started to worsen since 2014.  We owe it to our learners, so many of whom have the promise and the enthusiasm to be the linguists of the future.  We know how much learning a language has to offer us as an individual.  The children should experience it too.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Languages in the news (2)

At the beginning of March there was a spate of articles in the news about languages following the BBC's survey and report.  I collated as many of the articles as I could in one blogpost for easy reference.

This week there have, again, been a number of articles in the press about languages following the publication of the Language Trends 2019 report.  Here are, again, as many of the articles as I can find, for future reference: