Reflection on the Last Couple of Weeks

I’ve been thinking over the many and varied lessons that have happened in my French classroom over the last little while. I am always amazed at the multitude of skills teachers are required to have on a daily basis! When I started out teaching, I would never have imagined the ways I am stretched each day. I guess the lessons, good and pretty ordinary, have really been driven by the learners, the goals and the content (I’d like to change ‘content’ to ‘concepts’ in the future).

Year 8 have been learning to order food and describe recipes and ingredients which is one of the best topics in French! So of course we have to eat some food to enrich the learning. Here’s a video I made of myself making a treat to take into class. Tomorrow the students get to bring in something French they have made. To bring some authentic French into the classroom, next week the students are going to do a pretend online grocery shop at http://www.houra.fr/

Year 9 have been enjoying their unit on sport and created some really impressive assignments. It worked well that the Olympics have just been! However this past week some new grammar concepts came up and I ended up spending a lot of time doing traditional teacher talk and board notes with the whole class working through answers to translations. I firmly believe this needs to happen otherwise the grammar problems aren’t found before it’s too late. It will be interesting to see how they go over the next three weeks as they are taught by our Prac student teacher.

I was pleased with how a combined Year 12 Beginners and Continuers speaking class went last week. We had four teachers and four activities that the students rotated through. They teamed up into mixed groups of three to allow for some peer teaching as they went to each activity. It was really encouraging to see everyone speaking French for the whole time – the final oral exams are looming and all students are keen to improve their fluency!

Finally I want to mention a lesson I really liked that I did with Year 11. They are also coming up to exams but before the hard slog of exam technique and past papers, I decided to use an idea that I saw at our recent languages TeachMeet – the Dragon Dictation app. So I asked two of the students with iPads to download the app in advance, so we had three iPads (between 10 students) for the lesson. The Dragon Dictation app basically transcribes what you say into French (and many other languages). It was a great way for the students to REALLY concentrate on their pronunciation, and it was fun! I had this set up as one of three stations that the students rotated through. The others worked well too. I had one computer set up with the Lyrics Gaps website open to a French song. This website has cloze exercises matching an embedded YouTube video of songs. It’s really handy because it means I don’t have to make the cloze activity! Finally I had a simple battleships game which allowed the students to practise forming the perfect tense. They enjoyed all the activities and it was important that we could spend time doing fun things that help consolidate their knowledge.

The next few weeks will be a bit different – Year 11 and 12 are out on exams and I will be only observing Year 9 as they are taught by a Prac teacher. I guess that means lessons for Years 7, 8 and 10 will be amazing!

The French at the Olympics – Year 9 Assignment

I wanted to write a short blog about the Year 9 French that was due today. We asked the students to write their own question on the topic ‘The French at the Olympics’. The timing of the unit of work on sport couldn’t have been better! The students have really enjoyed their inquiry into the topic.

The method of presenting their research was important for this task. We ask them to present it in either and audio or visual (or both) way and NOT to use PowerPoint! They were given plenty of other options and it’s been exciting to see the results. I am putting them all on their Posterous blog for everyone to see. A nice application of the MYP theory of pedagogy and education.

Here are the task instructions so you can see all the presentation options. Year 9 Culture 2012 Notification

Issues Facing Languages Teachers

I am in the process of writing my short TeachMeet Languages presentation and I want to get some input from other teachers before I get too far into writing it. I want to know what are the biggest problems or challenges facing languages educators in the classroom today. I have a few of my own ideas, but I’m sure there are more I haven’t thought about and I want to make my presentation not just about my personal experience! So far I have thought of: attracting students to language study through to the end of secondary schooling, the increasing emphasis on technology in the classroom, the ‘teacher centered-ness’ of language education, the rise of Google translate…

So, please add what you believe are the biggest issues facing us as languages teachers today, and perhaps offer a solution that’s worked for you.

Access Your Memory First!

This morning I was listening to my favourite podcast – The Whitehorse Inn – as the hosts talked about a book released last year called “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. It sparked my thinking a bit as I can relate to the general premise of the discussion – our attention span and ability to concentrate on doing one thing at a time is changing; diminishing. They also cited the article written by Carr in 2008 called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and I particularly picked up on the mention of memorisation and the idea that with Google and smartphones with us constantly, why bother memorising anything?

This discussion has caused me to reflect on my own students’ learning and especially my desire to have more technology in the classroom which is sometimes overshadowed by the fear that, sometime in the future, with so much technology, we won’t need to actually learn another language. I am finding this to some extent in my classes which have access to technology: the students are constantly lured by the ease of Google translate, not just for looking up words, but as a massive crutch when doing any kind of classwork. I don’t mind them looking up the odd word here and there and in fact, the ability to have the words spoken is a really useful tool in learning the pronunciation. What is more worrying is the students who sit with the computer open and constantly turn to Google before even having thought about what the translation is. They are accessing Google translate before accessing their own memories!

Moving on from this fear, I want to outline what my ideal classroom would look like with a pedagogy that works, coupled with the technology that I love (despite my fears). I am becoming more and more convinced of the success of the Flipped classroom model meshed with the MYP philosophy of Inquiry-based learning. It’s always been a struggle in teaching a foreign language to move away from the “sage on the stage” and become the “meddler in the middle” (thanks Erica McWilliam for those great descriptions). With the extremely practical Flipped classroom and the more conceptual Inquiry learning, I think there are exciting times for learning ahead in my classroom and indeed the teaching of languages in general. I plan to go into specifics in future blog posts, as I actually implement these practices more and more in my teaching.

Bienvenue à la classe de français!

Classroom set up in ”étapes”

Just a quick post to reflect on my lesson today with Year 7. It was an introduction to French, after the first part of the year learning Latin. I wanted to take a more inquiry-guided approach for this first lesson, in keeping with MYP principles. I set up a range of ”étapes” for the students to move through in groups. The stages consisted of finding out about famous French-speakers (using a QR code link), investigating online translators and watching a video on why French is a useful language to learn. They also worked out how to use a bilingual dictionary, taught each other some basic greetings and discussed what they already knew about France. I then asked them to reflect on the lesson as a homework task here.

I thought the lesson worked well, despite some students not listening to the instructions when they reached the first stage. But they soon got the idea. It gave me the chance to go the dictionary group and explain how to find the words and I was also able to help those teaching each other the words with the pronunciation. There could have been longer on each stage but I wanted to have a quick debrief before the end of the lesson. Some of the students in this class have particularly enjoyed Latin so I wanted to make starting French equally exciting!

For more ideas on introducing new topics / vocab with more of student-guided focus, see this great Google doc – a collaboration between the amazing MFL Twitterati.

Year 8 French – Family Phonics

This week I’ve been focusing on getting the pronunciation right with my Year 8 French class. After year of hearing words like ”famille” and ”cousin” being said terribly by students, I decided to concentrate on isolating the phonemes (greatly inspired by Rachel Hawkes and Suzi Bewell). Below is the powerpoint I used, which took a one-hour lesson. That was on Monday. Today the class came up with a really pleasing amount of familiar and non-familiar words to add to the sound lists. See photo!

Flipping – An Interesting Pedagogy

I’m becoming more convinced that a flipped model of learning could really work for my classroom. I’m committing to doing some further investigation this year after some small steps into this world of turning instruction 180 degrees. At the upcoming Languages TeachMeet, a Spanish teacher I found online from the US, Heather Witten, will be talking via Skype about her flipped Spanish classroom. I’m also going to apply for an NGS scholarship to go and learn all I can about the practicalities of this pedagogy – I’m already on board with the theory!

Not sure what a flipped classroom looks like? Take a look at this infographic which explains it nicely.
Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media