GCSE results

I’m a little fascinated by the table that Steve Smith has reproduced here which stretches the not inconsiderable period from 1993, including 1994 when I got my A* in French, all the way to today, including a small group of students I taught. Of all the people getting GCSE grades in French in 2014, I taught 0.008% of them for less than half their GCSE! Go me! There were 13,000 of us who got A* when I did and 16,000 this year.

All of this slightly silly numbercrunching led my friend Matthew to produce this graph

french

And I wondered about the relative popularity of French, German, and Spanish, went back to the amazing home of GCSE data tables and produced this graph:

mfl entries graph

Spanish is clearly now more popular than German and is continuing to climb, but is a long way away from “replacing French” as this Independent article claims.

Some other points – you can see why it is hard to get a languages teaching job if you have no French at all. And yet it is increasingly common for strong languages graduates only ever to have had the opportunity to study one language at school.

The Indy article speaks of Spanish as an important world language gaining in popularity but I’d argue this is a very North / South American perspective. German is far more common in Europe as this fascinating Wikipedia paragraph points out:

German is the main language of approximately 95 to 100 million people in Europe, or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian (with 144 million speakers), above French (with 66.5 million) and English (with 64.2 million).

I guess we are not talking European Union languages for the factoid about Russia to be true. Spanish languishes in 5th place in Europe.

I left university in 2000 with a 2:1 in French and German with an equal emphasis on the two languages. French has always been my stronger language and I still have a much wider vocabulary and more comfortable grip on the grammar. By the end of my degree I felt a bit of a failure in German – my language module marks were the lowest, I was very poor at university level translation, and I pretty much made a promise never to become a German teacher.

On the way into teaching, however, I was made to feel that my German skills were vitally important, and that anyone who could vaguely pronounce Staatsangehörigkeit or spell Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher had a moral responsibility to wade into the modern languages battle and staunch the flood of candidates away from German.

My students regularly ask why they can’t learn Spanish and I only have flippant answers. There’s no-one in school who could teach it, for starters. If you want to learn Spanish, the school would have to fire all the current language teachers and hire new ones. My favourite flippant response to “Why can’t I learn Spanish?” is “I’m not stopping you. Feel free.”

Checklists in MFL – building on marking

Frenchteacher.net has a post about checklists which is helpful, taking Mr H’s idea and running with it.

Here’s a way I’ve been using something similar to raise achievement in all my KS3 classes this year.

Our assessment scheme means all KS3 students do two or three pieces of formal, levelled writing which contributes to their termly reports. Last year I found they were too happy to keep making the same mistakes and not make any progress in their writing, so this year my idea to prevent this was to get them to look at their previous piece of writing before planning the next.

Since we are trying to help them prepare for GCSE controlled assessment the KS3 writing they do is planned and prepared in class, learned off by heart and then regurgitated under test conditions with maybe a cue card to help.

Our school has the Purple Pens of Progress as this year’s Ofsted gimmick – we mark in green and they respond in purple. So at the start of every planning lesson I make them write, in purple pen in their book:

My target level is ___.
This time I am aiming for ___.
To achieve this I must write __ sentences and include
____________________
____________________
____________________
My feedback from last time was
____________________
____________________
____________________

This makes them engage with the marking feedback I spent hours writing on their last assessment (which is copied by them to a sheet in APP folders which they carry around with them at all times, so they should always have a copy). It makes them engage with the marking criteria to preempt conversations like “But I wrote LOADS!! Why didn’t I get a L6?” They know before they begin what features they need to include and a minimum length for their writing piece.

The most common things I tell them they need to include are

* three sentences in French learned off by heart (for people going L2 -> L3)

* five sentences and CORN (L3 -> L4)

(Corn is connectives, opinions, reasons and negatives – they have sheets in their book and I have a display – the CORNwall – that helps with this.)

* 7 – 10 sentences, CORN and another tense (L4 -> L5)

* 10 – 12 sentences, CORN, two other tenses, “very few mistaks”.

(The Y9 helpsheet talks about tenses and accuracy and has “very few mistaks” in it as my little joke to amuse myself. It was a loooooong time through the year before any student noticed.)

Food topic in MFL

We’re just moving into a food topic with Y8 at the minute and with my five classes last year and four this year, it’s now something I’ve had a bit of practice in.

My first lesson is about breakfast food and opinions, so it starts with a textbook vocab list and pictures – students have to match the target language words with the pictures and then write a vocab list in their books.

Then I get them to generate English words to fit the sentences “I like bread because it’s _____” and “I don’t like cheese because it’s _____” and they go off to the dictionaries to find the words they need. They need to be able write sentences like this – opinions and reasons – to get through level 4 in the National Curriculum for modern foreign languages and do well in their end of term exams.

I like doing it this way because it means each different class has a slightly different word bank and when I’m marking 250 versions of the same thing there is enough variety to keep it interesting for me.

They have to run the words by me at first so that I can advise and guide a little – they will need delicious and disgusting, so they have to have those. If they want to look up “sweet” I make very sure they know the difference between “sweet” and “sweat”. I can point them in the right direction to make sure they are looking for adjectives and not nouns, and that they know that the squiggle represents the headword again and so on. I can stop them trying to find dialect or youth speak words that I know won’t be in the dictionary as well as talking them down from things that are too complicated. (“mouth-watering” last year turned out to be “qui met l’eau à la bouche” which didn’t fit properly with parce que c’est and so meant an awful lot of corrections in one set of books)

This year’s students have all wanted to know the word “bland” which caught me a bit on the hop. Happily our native speaker teaching assistant could tell me the French is “fade” without me having to resort to Wordreference.com. I didn’t know that word as a 12-year-old, but learned it a little later on at a very memorable family dinner. It turns out they have all learned it in food technology, so it’s nice to have a bit of cross-curricular working.

I’m currently avoiding marking a set of books where some of the words they went for were mouldy, divine, and rank, so I am getting sentences like j’adore les croissants, parce qu’ils sont divins, and je déteste le fromage parce que c’est nauséabond.

Which is nice.

A little later on to get them using connectives more creatively, and get them practising future and past tenses for levels 5 and 6, I will be getting them to do these Barry-Smith-style sheets which I have put on the TES.

Writing about Food (French)

Writing about Food (German)

Rhabarberbarbarabarbarbarenbartbarbierbierbarbärbel

Last year I was obsessed briefly with German words with three repeated letters in them – Flussschifffahrt, Seeelefant, Fussballlandesspiel, etc. Most recently it has occurred to me that my Kollegin who kindly makes me a brew in the mornings as I get into school could be referred to as a Teeengel – tea angel.

I was aided and abetted in my quest for cool German words by German friends I met in my summer choir and who now drop by on Facebook every so often to share a gem.

In my inbox this evening was this most charming video.

There’s a 2007 blog post with a version of the text in it, but it’s not a perfect match for this video.

Ideas for teaching MFL in classes with weak literacy

A plea came through on the MFL Resources mailing list this week for ideas to use for languages teaching in classes with weak literacy skills, for whom sentences are a challenge.

This year, one of my performance management objectives is about improving my teaching across the ability range, so I have been collecting ideas, and I bashed out the following list of things to consider.

Firstly, there is a lot of overlap between KS3 students with weak literacy and the sorts of things primary language teachers do in KS2, so read up on primary languages. I can’t recommend Clare Seccombe highly enough – nearly every week she blogs something useful I can use in my secondary classroom.

Somebody’s blog recently had calligrams made up from parts of the body, so you draw a man out of words, and his feet say “pied pied pied” and his legs “jambe jambe jambe” and so on. Clare wrote about this too

Presenting paradigms of verbs as flowers or spiders – I had a practice on my whiteboard recently, and students liked this.

Practising drawing verb spiders and verb flowers ready for Y7 tomorrow

Half of the battle of teaching verbs in full paradigm is getting students to understand what you are doing, so I start this with personal pronouns in English, with a set of hand gestures (I, you, he, she with a single hand for singular, we you they with both arms for plural) and then an example of a full paradigm English verb, before finally moving on to target language pronouns and verb patterns. Even this is challenging with a room full of students who refuse to accept that “you woz” is not a correct use of English. (Even that I can understand – if everyone you know except teachers says “you woz” why shouldn’t you?)

Washing lines. If you work in a school where the facilities management people are not paranoid about things blowing the breeze and triggering burglar alarms, you can string lines across your classroom and get students to create things to hang from it. This can be bunting, posters, shapes of animals, with target language words on. If you are teaching clothes, it can be a washing line; a few weeks from now we will be celebrating April Fool’s Day which in France means poissons d’avril. They could be attached to a washing / fishing line instead of following children around the school and cluttering up every other classroom. (see also: paper aeroplanes)

Simple magic tricks go down very well with younger classes.

Cootie-catchers / fortune tellers / origami. Fortune tellers get them to practice spelling some simple colours and counting in the TL over and over again. Here are some links with resources and ideas: Dom’s MFL Page and TES.

Wordsearches are sometimes banned in some departments as the students almost always need to be working at a higher level than on individual words. And yet they have their place, especially at the start of the topic, and for getting students to focus carefully on every letter as a task to improve spelling. A nice twist on wordsearches is to make bespoke ones for individual classes and you hide the names of all the students in it as well as the TL words you want them to practice. This is easily done with electronic lists of students names and online serdworch generators. In my files I make sure I keep a list of the words I wanted them to search for and then to change the file from class to class I can add in the students’ names. To get from word level to sentence level, I have in the past got them to search for words in different categories (opinions, connectives, etc) and got them to use the words they find to build sentences.

Minibooks are something we spent a little time on in PGCE year and I have found there is a huge variety of different templates you can create reasonably easily. I can’t praise Clare Seccombe’s minibooks enough – this term we have done “row of shops” minibooks with older students who promised me they were not in fact too old for that kind of thing and hexagon minibooks to practice time, and for school subjects – pictures one side, sentences on other. The row of shops mini-books are now on display and getting lots of jealous comments from the classes who didn’t get to do them.

Treasure or Trash sorting exercises work with all sorts of vocab – you give them a pile of cards of words and they have to get the ones that meet your criteria into one pile and discard the rest.

Triptico resources – find 10 and word magnets are the ones I use most, and they’re free to all. It’s a beautiful and flexible set of apps to use on a smartboard, but that will work with any projector / computer combo. (I don’t have a smartboard and I’m not sure I want one! I do appreciate a large whiteboard and would love to have more than one in my classroom.)

Tarsia jigsaws – a free app from – it’s a pair matching activity that was designed for maths but awesome for languages too. The app gets you to make your own, but you can find somepremade examples here. I tend to give them to students on sheets and they cut them out then make them into puzzles; the first few pairs to finish stick them down on a sheet of paper and use that to help other pairs to complete it. It’s helpful to have a version of the completed puzzle yourself or at least the list of pairs you came up with to use as help, to project as an optional scaffold for the weaker ones. You can make the matching pairs numbers in figures and TL words; words in TL and in English; or for an additional level of challenge, concepts that link (eg les gants / les mains. la voiture / le gaz d’échappement) OK, that last bit is moving away from weak literacy classes somewhat.

There’s an amazing “minimum preparation, maximum effectiveness” games in MFL document on the TES here. This did the rounds on our PGCE year, and I found it again this week. We were doing animals in a class this week, and we ended up with some time at the end so we played “animals heads down thumbs up” – a game I did not know how to play last year, but all classes I’ve tried it with seem to know how to do it already from primary school. For animals, four people had an A4 sheet with an animal name written on it, and the students had to say “Je crois que c’est le (poisson / chien / chat)” (which was on the board as a support) – The class really enjoyed the game. It could be done with any vocab items.

Several lovely ideas in the document above relate to chanting – eg days of week written on board, class chants through over and over, teacher rubs days off one at a time until class can chant days of week from memory. Whole class chanting as one student tries to find hidden object – quietly when student is far away, loudly when student is near. “Chef d’orchestre” – student goes out, class decides on able student whose job it is to change the word that is chanted. When that person changes the word, the people near them change too, until the whole class is chanting the new word. The student who went out has to guess who it is who is changing. You can give them a TL phrase for the guess, or you can just be happy the whole class is chanting French words…

A slew of MFL resources

Earlier in the year our department had language-specific INSET from Barry Smith who left us inspired and attempting some new types of activity.

At the heart of his training were these questions, which form five of seven of his thinking. The full seven are in this blog post.

What do my kids find hard? Why?

How can I teach differently so the hard bits become accessible?

How can I do that without dumbing down?

How can kids hide in my lessons?

How can I pre-empt the most common errors through precise and concise teaching?

Some activities he suggested for that included: vocab sheets with exercises in which you tell them what to write; “Find the French” exercises in which you give them really specific co-ordinates to find the language; and dictionary tasks where you pre-empt the “it’s not in the dictionary!” wail by checking the word is there and giving them the dictionary page number to back it up. Tricky in my classroom where I have a variety of different dictionaries!

Below are links to resources I have made that follow these principles and that I have been using successfully with my classes.

These are resources that expect all children to be working individually in silence; that are really specific about what you want from them, and that they can check carefully to see if they are doing it right. Children can’t hide because they can’t talk, they have no excuse for not completing the work, and simply walking around can show you who is doing it and who is not.

I have tried to include everything on the sheets that is needed to complete the sheets, because in common with many ML classrooms, I have a number of students who despite using a word every week; despite three years of German education, and despite having the word stuck into the front of their books and pasted to the wall, cannot remember that aber is the German for but.

Since they require individual silent work, and minimal expert input once the resource has been made, they are also helpful for meaningful cover lessons and detention work and for sending up as work to excluded children.

I thought my students would hate these tasks, but I have had positive feedback from them. The overwhelming majority produce good language in their books using them. I have had several comments to the effect that they enjoy the structure and clarity of the task. The most vociferous complaints come from the sort of student who turned up with no intention of doing any work anyway and resent not being able to hide idleness for a lesson.

World of Work – French

Job titles – dictionary exercise

Family jobs sheet – what do you parents / siblings do, do they like it. Some past tense but mostly L4 sentences

Reading comprehension crossword

Future plans vocab sheet

(used in combination, family jobs and future plans just about includes enough vocab for students to write a L6 piece.)

World of Work – German

Job titles – dictionary exercise

Family jobs sheet – what do you parents / siblings do, do they like it. Some past tense but mostly L4 sentences

Future plans vocab sheet

(used in combination, family jobs and future plans just about includes enough vocab for students to write a L6 piece.)

Work experience “find German” task

House and home – French

Last weekend at my house – a resource for introducing or reinforcing perfect tense including irregular verbs. With lesson plan ppt and extension task crossword.

My ideal home – vocab sheet with set sentences to write, including some interesting vocab like shark pond, space ship in Mars etc.

Media – French

Writing film reviews in French

Mobile phones and young people – structured approach to authentic material that gets learners to find the language then rebuild it into paragraphs of their own.

TV opinions, my favourite TV show

Media – German

Writing film reviews in German

Review of film Turbo – a highly complex task considering A Level if not degree-level standard authentic German that nevertheless I put in front of my KS3 students without too much whingeing.

Please let me know if you like them / use them / find mistakes!

Please rate and review on TES as that makes it easier for others to find them.

Please share similar things you do!

Especially German as German word order makes some of these tasks much harder.

Annoyingly, TES won’t let me add a link to this blog from each of these resources.