Friday, 10 December 2021

Language Show 2021

The presentations from this year's Language Show have now been uploaded to YouTube.  You can watch my minibooks and vocabulary sessions:

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Physical Spanish Phonics


When I trained as a secondary MFL teacher in 1994-95, phonics were not mentioned.  We were not trained how to teach the sound-spelling link, and, indeed, it wasn't expected.  Those were the days when students were supposed to just absorb the different phonic and pronunciation rules.  It was clear, especially when preparing Year 10 and Year 11 students for the oral components of their modular GCSEs, that this didn't work.

Then in 2000 I was invited to be part of a working group in Sunderland LA, looking at the findings of the Invisible Child report by David Buckland, Jeff Lee and Glenis Shaw.  David Buckland came to spend a day with us to discuss it.  (NB the date of the CILT publication of the report says 2001, but we were definitely already discussing it in January 2000.)  

In the group we formulated listening strategies, to break down and demystify the often impenetrable audio recordings that we find ourselves obliged to use, and reading strategies, in particular the analysis of texts.  We also decided that phonics, the sound-spelling link, was very important for building confidence for the "invisible children" and in fact for all.  I still have the posters that we compiled for French, Spanish and German, to display in classrooms, for example this one for that Spanish sound that we can't write in English!

Since then, I've always endeavoured to include some phonics in my lessons.

Phonics are an integral part of the Key Stage 2 programme of study for Languages.  What exactly does it expect us to do?
  • (in the aims of the programme of study) "... continually improving the accuracy of their pronunciation and intonation"
  • (in the subject content introduction) "using their knowledge of phonology, grammatical structures and vocabulary"
  • "explore the patterns and sounds of language through songs and rhymes and link the spelling, sound and meaning of words"
  • "develop accurate pronunciation and intonation so that others understand when they are reading aloud or using familiar words and phrases"
I had always tried my best to achieve these objectives, even going so far as to create my own resource for Spanish.  But I was never completely happy with how it was going in class.

In the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group, there had been a lot of chat about a publication called Physical French Phonics, which was proving popular for teaching French phonics, something that is of course a lot more complex than Spanish.  

Then last year, Jenny Bell, Sue Cave and Jean Haig published Physical Spanish Phonics, which I have to say has revolutionised the way I teach phonics, and has vastly increased the children's knowledge of sounds and their confidence with pronunciation.

The idea is that you have a image which represents a sound, and which also gives you an idea of what that grapheme sounds like, for example someone biting into an apple for the "a" sound.  Then that picture and phoneme/grapheme are accompanied by an action.  I then take one of our words (the months, most recently, for Year 4) and represent each sound using the images.  We then look at the images, say the sounds and do the actions for each individual sound before then blending them to make the word.

This approach has been particularly successful for the very low ability children, who often get left behind and who might find the sound-spelling link most difficult.  Using this process they can easily sound out and then blend the words.  It is also clearly contributing to a significant increase in confidence for all the children.

With Year 4 I have been using Physical Spanish Phonics to sound out and blend the months, prior to putting the months into our sentence builder which puts together birthday sentences:

By the time the children see this, they already know the numbers (from the previous Year 4 unit), the word mi (from Year 3) and the word es (from Year 3).  So knowing the sounds of the months, which we have just practised in isolation with the sounds and then by reciting them in order, is confidence-building, and allows us then to move quickly into the meaning and structure of the sentences.

I gave my Year 4s a challenge this morning, after we had practised the months and their sounds some more.  I showed them the words viña, ceño, jabalí and cerezas, accompanied by the Physical Spanish Phonics images, and asked them to work with their partner to work out how to say these words, none of which they had ever seen before.  Their pronunciation was beautiful.

I asked Year 4 to tell me what they thought of working on phonics in this way:
  • "It helps a lot."
  • "It helps me to work out words easily."
  • "If I get stuck I can look at the pictures."
  • "It makes me concentrate."
  • "If you're joining in with everyone and you're a bit lost you can look at the pictures and listen to the others."
  • "I take it in a bit more."
  • "When I do the actions I can say the words better."
If you're looking for a way to teach phonics in Key Stage 2 or even early Key Stage 3, I definitely recommend Physical Spanish Phonics.  I really like how the actions allow you to see exactly who is putting in the effort, and how the actions also give you a shorthand to use to correct mispronunciations in a quiet and non-threatening way.  To refer back to the programme of study, it helps me to explore, develop and continually improve the children's pronunciation. Why not give it a try!

Saturday, 6 November 2021

ALL Primary Languages Conference Online 6.11.21


The conference has just finished - what a day!  Packed with great presentations and loads of great ideas to take away.

In my keynote I went through the history of primary languages, to see if we can learn anything from the past about what we want primary languages to look like now.  Rather than paste a link to my PowerPoint, which is just a timeline with a few words on, I've created a proper timeline infographic:

At the end of the keynote I set out my call for action:

What is our wish list then for an ambitious primary curriculum that really works?  Where should we be heading on our journey?  Here is my wish list:
  • First of all:  schools should have easy access to quality schemes of work that are achievable by specialists and non-specialists alike, accompanied by resources that exemplify the best practice in primary languages, which are suitable for all ages and ranges of ability, and which tick all the boxes of the national curriculum programme of study.  Do we think that there should be a national, standard scheme of work?  I’ll leave you to ponder that one.

  • Secondly, we need some kind of guidance as to the optimum time allocation, ideally from the DfE, so that schools can provide enough time for primary languages, to ensure that all children have the potential to make substantial progress in their language.

  • It would also greatly help us in our endeavours if all school leaders saw languages as a help rather than a hindrance, as an asset to their school rather than something to be feared and ignored.  Generally speaking, children have very positive attitudes towards language learning, which we hope they will carry with them into their later lives, and primary schools should be taking full advantage of that.
    We also need to work on the attitudes of some secondary teachers towards primary languages.  If secondary schools and the government want to improve uptake at GCSE and beyond, shouldn’t they be taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the teaching of languages in primary schools?
    Of course we could also do with an improvement in the attitudes towards language learning in the general population.

  • In our journey through the past we have seen the huge benefits that local, regional and national networks can have for language teaching and learning.  Yes, ALL has the regional and local networks and hubs, all run by volunteers, but isn’t it time that the government lent a financial helping hand? 
    I will add here the need for more training for teacher trainees, who often have to start teaching a language with next to no input during their training.  Of course, a system of training for all teachers who have to teach a language would be invaluable. 
    Finally on the subject of support, wouldn’t it be great to have, as the White Paper recommends, a national taskforce for primary languages, our own version of NCELP to promote excellence and ambition?

  • It would really help if we had a nationally recognised and used assessment scheme, by which we could assess in particular our Year 6s and that Year 7 teachers could use as well so as to avoid starting from scratch with their new students.  It would also help all schools to know where their learners should be heading.

  • And last but by no means least – transition.  Did you notice how this one has been an issue since the early days of primary languages?  It was brought up by the languages strategy in 2002, and here we are nearly 20 years later no further forward.  In fact, according to Language Trends, the numbers of primary and secondary schools working together for a smooth and effective transition has been going DOWN.  We have to get this right!
So what do you think?  Are you with me?  We’ve come too far to give up now.  We owe it to the children to get this right – they can’t be ambitious if we are not ambitious on their behalf for a cracking languages curriculum that really works.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Making faces and pointing

On Thursday I'm going to be practising 4 colours with Year 1 (age 5-6) and adding two new ones.  I've made this slide to help us with our listening practice.  The idea is that I say a colour, and they have to work out which one it is and then make the appropriate face or point in the right direction.  I think that this could be adapted for different topic areas and that you could also use chunks or sentences rather than images.

Not to be confused with this pointing game!

Friday, 15 October 2021

ALL Primary Languages Conference Online 2021 (ACAPULCO #2!)


I am honoured to have been invited to give the keynote address at this year's ALL Primary Languages Conference.  Following the success of last year's event, the conference, affectionately known as ACAPULCO #2, will once again be held online.

The theme this year is An ambitious primary languages curriculum, and you can find the full day's programme here and book your place here.  If you are an ALL member or trainee teacher, the cost is only £5, and if you are not a member the cost is £25.  Great value, I'm sure you'll agree!

During the conference we will be hearing from Kate Percival, Vicky Cooke, Lisa Stevens, Ellie Chettle Cully and Marie Allen.  The conference is organised brilliantly by Steven Fawkes and Sue Cave.

I look forward to seeing you there!