Friday, 22 April 2011

Letter by letter

Daughter no.1 received a Waterstone's voucher for her birthday, and on Wednesday she and I went to Newcastle to spend it.

I was very taken with the W calligram on the side of the Waterstone's building, and was pleased to see it was also on the bags (which is where the above picture comes from).  It reminded me of the letters of the alphabet that I once started making in ImageChef.  I got as far as G.  Here is the E:
It got me thinking about calligrams (again) and how this particular idea might be developed for use in the classroom.

At the moment I am co-ordinating a big transition project in the LA - our "last hurrah" if you like, before the money runs out.  One of the things that we have been looking at is how KS3 teachers can manage a new Y7 class with very different KS2 experiences.  (I've put the findings so far here.) 

Letter calligrams could be used as a diagnostic tool at the beginning of Y7.  Students draw a large, faint pencil outline of their initial, then fill it with some of the language that they learned at primary school.  Some may be able to fill their letter with whole sentences, some with phrase level work, and others with single words.  If you have students who haven't done that language before, hopefully they will be able to use their transferable language learning skills and find some words in the bilingual dictionary.

At the end of the exercise, you'll have a good idea of who can do what, plus you'll have some attractive display work.  It's a good leveller - you don't have to know lots of words and phrases in the other language to make an effective and creative calligram. 

It's also something that you could do with, say, a Y8 class who you are taking for the first time.  Get them to write in their letter as much as they can about themselves.

I've made a couple of examples to illustrate how it could work:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Ser detective

I've been to two major CPD events this year - #ililc and the Primary Languages Show.  Each of them has taught me new things, and each of them has reminded me of things that I already knew or have already done in the past and which I should really do again.

One of the recurring themes was having the confidence and the trust to get children working in pairs or groups, helping each other to find out new information and solve problems, rather than the traditional format of the teacher being at the front of the classroom as the font of all knowledge.  This is something I used to do in the olden days of secondary teaching, in the days before my life became a constant round of GCSE classes, when I incorporated thinking skills and linguistic analysis into my lessons on a regular basis.

This problem-solving approach forms part of the Language Learning Skills strand of the KS2 Framework for Languages

Use knowledge of English or other languages to help learning and understanding
• Listen and look for words which are similar and different in other languages
• Draw on knowledge of word classes, letters and letter strings
• Use knowledge of sentence structure when reading or creating a new sentence in the target language.

Practise with a friend
• Collaborate to devise role-plays; memorise words and phrases, testing each other; make up telephone conversations.

Pronounce/read aloud unknown words
• Read aloud unknown words by applying rules of the sound/spelling system they have learned.

Dictionary skills

With my second year Spaniards I had finished a unit on the parts of the head, and describing them using adjectives of colour, size and shape.  (All the resources are here if you are interested, and some of the children's work is here.)  Next on the list was other parts of the body and then animals.  I decided to have a go at a pupil-centred Body-and-Animals unit.  Something very different.
Here's what I've done so far.  Each lesson, in my "here's what we're going to do today" chat at the beginning, I have called it "Ser detective" (Being a detective) and the children are able to explain that that means we are going to look for clues to solve a problem.

1.  Concentrated and focussed work on phonics.  We have used the excellent resources that have been produced by Rachel Hawkes and which she modelled at #ililc (about 35 minutes in on the video).  You can download them from Rachel's blog.  We have also enjoyed doing the Spanish Vowel Haka, inspired by Mark Purves.

2.  The children had a worksheet with a skeleton and eight Spanish words for parts of the body.  They worked in groups to label the correct body parts using cognates and prior knowledge from the song "Cabeza hombros manos pies" (from Take 10 en español) which we had learned before starting the parts of the head.  They then used their new knowledge of the phonic system of Spanish to work out the pronunciation of these new words to feed back to the class.

3.  I put on the IWB a series of speech bubbles where an animal described itself using familiar language from the previous "head" lessons, plus the new parts of the body.  The children read the descriptions, decided together which animal was speaking, used the dictionary to find out how to say that animal in Spanish and used their knowledge of phonics to work out how to say that animal word.

4.  I prepared a grid giving the parts of the body in Latin, Italian and French, and then two empty columns for Spanish and English.  The idea was for the children to fill in as much of the Spanish and English as they could, looking for cognates and other clues in the other languages.  If you would like to try this yourself the resources are here.  We then had an interesting discussion about Spanish being one of the modern forms of Latin, and how English obviously has different roots.  They have been much more alert to cognates since then.

5.  The children labelled a sheet of animals using cognates and prior knowledge to help them.

6.  We read Mamá by Mario Ramos, minus the last two pages.  Then we read it again, with the children taking notes in pairs.  They had to note down which animal appeared on each page and how many of them there were each time.  Then they continued in pairs to put together the last two pages of the book, which involved numbers and the correct animal in the plural form.

7.  The children had the names of some new animals on their worksheet minus the vowels.  They listened while I said the words (very carefully!) and filled in the vowel sounds.  I also emphasised the importance of looking for patterns and using prior knowledge to make the task easier.  This certainly made a difference to presenting new vocabulary using flashcards.
8.  We read Muu Beee ¡Así fue! by Sandra Boynton (the original English verison is one of my family's favourite books) and had a go at the animal noises.  Then the children used their knowledge of Spanish phonics to decode and label some other animal sounds.

This is as far as we have got at the moment; we are heading towards the end of the unit which will be some work using Switcheroo Zoo to make strange animals, and we will use everything we already know to describe a strange animal.

My classes have enjoyed being detectives and learning in a different way, and I have enjoyed watching and listening to them helping each other to learn.  It has made a refreshing change.