Turning Heads

On Thursday we took 120 kids from Wembley to Greenwich. It’s the second year running we’ve taken kids to the Observatory. This trip was like every trip at Michaela. The kids really shone.

They walked in single file and in silence, eyes front, from school to the tube. They stood tall and proud. Ties tight, shirts white, shoes shining bright.

As per normal,  we entered the tube car, we stood in silence, we got our books out, we read. When seats became available we sat. When adults needed a seat we immediately stood and offered our seats.

We changed at Canary Wharf. We formed a perfect line again. We stayed in order. We counted down, each person shouting out their number, in French, until we got to the ‘last man’, number thirty.

On busy, but narrow, pavements we stayed eyes front, silent, single file. Not a second was wasted.

Again and again, and this always happens when we take our kids out, members of the public congratulated the kids, congratulated the teachers, stopped and pointed, took photos as a perfect line of Michaela pupils proudly walked by. Michaela kids turn heads.

As ever, staff at the venue said they’d never seen such polite children. The kids shone in the shop. Their manners were impeccable. They spoke clearly to shop staff, they wished shop staff, ‘Have a nice day!’, they made great eye contact.

As we queued to enter the planetarium the kids showed off, reeling off loads and loads of French, using a broad range of structures, projecting beautifully, their accents stunning members of the public. French tourists were overheard discussing how smart and how polite our kids were. They also went on and on about how good our kids’ French was.

In the planetarium the kids were exemplary. You could hear a pin drop. They asked some superb questions. They demonstrated impressive science knowledge. They did themselves proud – yet again.

This is what ‘being Michaela’ is all about. Our kids turn heads. We’re not ‘normal’. We don’t want to be ‘normal’. We’re Michaela.

If you fancy working in a school  where kids are grateful, kind, hard-working and polite, if you believe in  didactic teaching and holding kids and parents to account, if you believe in ‘tough love’, if you’re willing to jettison everything  you’ve ever been told about ‘good practice’, if you believe the term ‘outstanding’ is a nonsense – you should get in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pace, Progression, Checking for Understanding

I was talking to a lovely, keen, young teacher earlier this week and she said she’d been told that she needed to work on, “Pace, progression and checking for understanding.”

I hate words like that! What does any of that actually mean? It’s so “teacher speak”! It’s so, “let’s self-flagellate”, so “I’ve heard this from “expert observers” so it must be true”. That’s not to criticise the super keen teacher who said these words. It’s the dreadful nit-picking, “mean anything you want it to mean” nomenclature of observations that does my head in! Grrrrrr!

This kind of language doesn’t encourage useful self-reflection, I’d argue. I’d say this kind of easy-sound bite feedback sows the seeds of self doubt, often needlessly and even harmfully. And you reap what you sow. Throw meaningless, nebulous, ill thought out feedback at someone enough and what you get are teachers who beat themselves up instead of building themselves up.  You get teachers who, instead of looking at the reactions of the kids in front of them, focus on the reactions of the “expert observer” behind them, furiously tick-boxing their every move.

So let’s have a look at what these words might actually mean. What does “pace” mean? Well, I reckon it can mean a million and one things and it very much depends upon who is saying it. I reckon that, too often, people are told to work on their “pace” when the observer feels that the “outstanding” lesson needs to be buzzy and whizzy, with loads of activity changes, where, as I once read in an Ofsted document many moons ago, “a tangible air of enthusiasm fills the room.”

Too often observers aren’t keen on the teacher talking, on the kids listening, soaking up the wisdom of the sage on the stage. I was told, just today, by a PGCE student soon to graduate from Cambridge, that a lesson should  be 90% pupil talk and 10% teacher talk. That’s the rule apparently. Though a think the word “student” was used rather than “pupil”. Grrrrrr!

So, “You need to work on your pace.”, in too many cases, can mean, “You’re expecting the kids to listen and learn. That’s not much fun is it? You’re demanding too much of them. Make it active! Make it “engaging”!” “Engaging”, another one of those bloody awful words that are simply a euphemism for, “Dilute the learning! Give the kids something light and fluffy that’ll distract them and not demand too much of them intellectually! With any luck they won’t kick off!” Grrrrr!

I’m always going to say that, generally, kids need to listen lots. Their teachers should have lots to say. And it should be cracking stuff!  It should be delivered with aplomb, charisma, energy, passion, conviction and savoir-faire. There’s the rub! If you’re boring, if you’re delivery is flat, if you don’t love what you teach, if the intricacies of effective delivery don’t excite you, then yeah, chances are your lessons will be like watching paint dry.

I’m not advocating teacher as stand-up comic, though a bit of humour does go a long way, but I am advocating stage presence. Why stage presence? Because, a lot of the time, you need to be centre stage, teaching didactically, emphatically, explicitly and unapologetically. There is no magic ratio for teacher: pupil talk. But oh how we love a formula! Tick! An acronym! Tick! A sound bite! Tick! An exclamation mark! Tick! Oh, sorry! That’s just me!

Progession? God knows what that means! At one point it was crazy, meaningless NC levels that, in MFL certainly, straight-jacketed kids and teachers alike. Progress? You tell kids stuff, they practise stuff, they memorise stuff, they then own the stuff you’ve taught and they can draw upon it at will. The more stuff you teach, that they remember and re-use, the more “progress” they make. Is it any more complicated than that? I don’t think so.

In French nothing is “hard”. It’s just a case of remembering, practising, owning the language. That takes an eye and ear for detail, exposure, time and patience. No miracle formula I’m afraid.

Checking for understanding? Some kids are shy. You don’t get much out of them through Q&A. But you’ll look at what they’ve written down and you soon see if they’ve got it. Is it too easy to rely upon the same kids all the time when doing Q&A? Yes. Shoot me! I’m human! But forgive me if I don’t make a grab for the traffic lights.

(I’ve recently started giving a kid in each class a paper register and he takes off who has answered questions in the session. It’s an experiment. It’s interesting to see. We’ll see how it goes.)

But you know, I think we ask too many questions anyway. I think we should be telling more and asking questions less.

(Though I am loving this kind of choral to and fro that I’ve recently started with classes, whereby I say the French and they reply in unison with a word for word translation: Maintenant/Now, Si/If, vous voulez/you want, vous pouvez/you can, enlever/ lift off, vos vestes/your jackets.)

Where was I?  That’s it, I think we should all “mind our language” and think a little more carefully about the observation feedback we give.

We should avoid the all too easy throw-away jargon that doesn’t even remotely get close to the nuts and bolts of teaching.

We should be more aware of what we, personally, believe brilliant teaching to be.

We should focus much less on what we think we’re supposed to say, like and do.

We should do all we can to free teachers from their slavish desire to do things “right” and instead nurture in them a desire to do the “right” thing.

And yes! We should use fewer exclamation marks!

As ever, if you fancy working in a school where you’re paid to think, where kids do as their told and where teachers focus on what works as opposed to the vagaries of edufashion – think about Michaela for September 2016. September 2015 is all wrapped up. Thanks

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Monsieur “Bad Practice”

I talk too much. I talk quite a bit of English too and that’s really, really bad because I should only ever speak to them in French. I don’t do starters. I don’t do plenaries. I don’t do targets. I don’t do written objectives. I don’t give them written feedback. I never ask myself if the stuff we do is “engaging”. I don’t differentiate with loads of different sheets. I never tell them how to get to the next level. I kind of go off piste in lessons quite a bit. I don’t do lesson plans. I make kids copy sometimes – especially the weakest ones. I don’t do group work. I don’t do much pair work. I don’t do powerpoints. I don’t use pictures. I scribble on the board a lot. My writing isn’t very good.

Yet my Year 7s readily use past, reasons, opinions, future and subjunctive. They read out loud with aplomb. They read new words they’ve never seen before  – most of the time. They’ve mastered all of the high frequency vowel combinations of French. They almost never say the silent letters they come across. They make lovely liaisons. They memorise long scripts with varied tenses and eye-popping idioms. They break language down and build it up again really beautifully. Their accents are coming along really, really well. Guests are always impressed by the kids’ accents. Bit weird when they listen so much in lessons and do so little pair and group work. Instead they listen to me lots and they read as I speak and then they read out loud, one person at a time, sometimes reading the same passage several times. You think they’d be bored but they really like it. They’d probably be better off  not listening to my French accent. I’ve only been learning French for 35 years and I listen to hours of debate and discussion on French radio daily. They’d probably get more out of a few “sondages” where they are a bit more kinaesthetic and talk to each other.

Their spelling is cracking. They always use the French alphabet and they love spelling out loud. They love words like “beaucoup” and “malheureusement” because, according to the kids, these words are “fastoche”. “C’est simple comme bonjour!” and “C’est un jeu d’enfant”. I guess I’ve just been lucky.

Can you imagine if I were a “proper” French teacher and if I did lots of games and group work and carousels and they worked stuff out for themselves? Wow! The kids would be able to….who’s to say?

I don’t play games. I tell the kids the literal meaning of the French. I say things like: I like to play at foot, I am gonED to the centre sporty, My teacher of French me takes the head, He me taps on the nerves, He is break-feet. Poor kids. Loads of them are listed as being EAL. I don’t even show them any pictures. Yet they are really good at French. They memorise all of this stuff and recycle it and break it down and play with it. One of them the other day wrote on  the board : Je prefererais le francais sans Monsieur Forgeron parce qu’il parle trop et il est completement chauve. (Sorry! I can’t do accents on here. The kid’s accents were perfect. That’s another thing! I don’t use technology. I’m truly rubbish!)

My Year 7s give oral answers like this. I say “Comment dit-on: I went to the cinema.” They give me the answer but then they add stuff like: “Mais il faut un accent aigu sur la lettre E” and “Evidemment il faut ajouter un E si c’est feminin.”

I  say stuff like: La langue francaise – they reply in unison – the language French – n’est pas – isn’t – compliquee – complicated – en fait – in fact – c’est plutot facile – it’s rather easy – en general – in general – elle est une langue – she is a language – plus ou moins – more or less – logique – logical. We go back and forth like that me providing the English and them the French or vice versa.

I give instructions in little chunks where they provide the English. Maintenant – now – on va – one is going – faire – to do – quelque chose- some thing – un peu – a bit – different – different. Mais – but – tout d’abord – all first/first of all – il faut – you must – copier la date et le titre – copy the date and the title – comme d’habitude – as usual/of habit.

We go back and forth like that a lot. They understand every single word. I should really make them guess and use gestures or pictures I suppose. But, as I said, I am “Monsieur Bad Practice”.

They always do long dates and titles and they always underline double or triple vowels. They always add little dots under the silent letters – or as the kids call them – “les lettres muettes”.

Dates are sometimes in the format: aujourd’hui c’est le huit mai mais hier c’etait le sept mai et demain sera le neuf mai

Titles are often something like: Franchment j’en ai marre de mon prof de francais. Il me saoule je te jure. Il est casse-pieds. Et en tout cas il parle beaucoup trop.

We read out loud a lot. We look at patterns in words a lot. I talk loads! They have to listen to me speak French loads. They have to answer questions, in French, about things like this.

I say: C’est tres ennuyeux – I don’t do the liaison – they then tell me – la lettre S a la fin n’est pas muette parce qu’il y a une voyelle. Il faut une liaison

They know loads of stuff like: il faut souligner toutes les voyelles evidemment. Le ordinateur? Il faut enlever le E et puis il faut ajouter une apostrophe – ca creve les yeux! They use these type of expressions all the time.

As I say, I’ve just been lucky I guess. If I’d given them group work and games, lots of pictures, a few card sorts and let them work the French out for themselves, like a “proper” French teacher, I guess they would be really good by now.

If you fancy working in a school where you think for  yourself, where you can experiment, where your subject expertise is prized, where kids behave beautifully and thank you for the lesson as they leave, whilst shaking your hand, you might like to think about Michaela. We are fully staffed for September 2015 but you might fancy a move in September 2016. We will have 3 year groups in September 2016 – Years 7,8 and 9. We’ll be looking for lots more teachers to teach across the curriculum. If you fancy a visit sometime you’re always welcome. It’s a happy little school right next to Wembley Park tube station – dead easy to get to.

 

Cheers

 

 

 

 

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Praise Where It’s Due

At my school we have a behaviour system built around merits and demerits. I’ve never been keen on these systems. In lots of schools horrible kids tend to get bucket loads of merits just for sitting in a chair and being slightly less abusive than usual. Lots of nice kids tend to get ignored. The basics of good manners seem to be praised to a ridiculous extent when really they should just be part of the fabric of normal human interactions.

Some teachers hand out merits like dolly mixtures. Some just can’t be bothered. Then of course there are those schools that tell you for every negative comment you must give four positives. How on earth anyone is supposed to track that stuff I’ll never know. Also logging merits on the computer is a pain. And of course, give it a few month into Year 7 and the appeal of merits soon starts to wane. So no, I’ve never been a fan of merits.

As for demerits – what actually happens to these kids who are a real pain in your lessons?

‘Demerit!’, ‘That’s your second warning!’

‘Big deal! Tell someone who gives a monkey’s!’

The same kids keep getting demerits. Nothing really happens to the kids. Teachers get sick of logging stuff only to find nothing’s ever done and so demerits crumble away too. And of course there are the schools where the teacher who gives the most demerits or detentions or uses ‘on call’ most is under the microscope. There are always those schools where the awkward, lazy, mouthy kid encounters the determined, focused, perhaps a bit naive, teacher who actually thinks the behaviour system is meant to be applied to the letter.

This teacher gives merits when deserved and demerits when warranted. This teacher uses ‘on call’ liberally because the kid’s behaviour is bang out of order. This teacher complains to the HOY and SLT because the system isn’t being applied. This teacher soon becomes known as awkward, out of step, unrealistic, too demanding. He can’t cope. That’s why he uses ‘on call’ so much. Or else he’s just too old school. If he did a bit more group work, you know a bit more ‘kinaesthetic’, like on your pgce, he’d be ok. The kids wouldn’t kick off. And, of course, in lots of schools there’s that insidious climate of, ‘Don’t use ‘on call’ too much! They keep a log. They’ll use it against you when looking at performance management.’

So, yeah, on balance, I’ve never been a fan of merits and demerits and prizes and…

For goodness sake! Is it too much to ask that a kid brings a pen, shuts up for five minutes and then makes a decent stab at some work that I can actually read?

It is very early days at Michaela, we only have 120 Year 7s, 7 teachers and 4 TA’s – so we’re a tiny school. But merits & demerits actually do seem to be working very, very well. And, to be honest, it blows out of the water everything  I’ve seen visiting hundreds of school and training thousands of teachers during a career of around eighteen years.

With us, much to my surprise, kids value merits, kids come up to you at break and spell 48 word medical conditions they’ve found on the net, using the French alphabet. They do that, partially, for a merit. Kids do extra homework without being asked – for a merit. They’ll reply to the most banal question like, ‘Comment dit-on, the weekend last?’ , with ‘Mais c’est évident M. Forgeron, ça crève les yeux en fait, c’est: le week-end dernier’, they’ll do all that for a merit.

It’s not purely for the merit of course, though they are competitive and they do remind you if they find you haven’t logged a merit when you should have. They like showing off, feeling clever, stretching themselves, standing out from the crowd.

We can give merits for kids who SLANT beautifully – sit up straight, arms folded, no fiddling, listening attentively, asking and answering questions, kids who ‘track’ the teacher and don’t let their eyes wander.

We can give merits to kids who use STEPS beautifully – sir, thank you, excuse me, please and smile!

We can give merits for kids who go to town on HEAPS – hands away from your mouth when you speak, good eye contact, don’t mumble – articulate! And of course, project! Everyone needs to hear your answer. And yes! Of course you’ll repy in extended full sentences.

There are loads and loads of rules. And because there are loads of rules there are loads of reminders about what ‘Being Michaela’ really means. There are loads of opportunities to receive praise, to receive positive recognition.

The kids like the league tables for IXL completion, they like the 100% badges for perfect attendance and punctuality across the half term. They like  the bronze, silver, gold badges denoting the number of merits gained and your ranking in the year. They like the reward event where, at the end of half term, if your attendance, punctuality and merit/demerit balance are good, you get to watch a film with the rest of your form – you have popcorn too. Our last couple of films have been Invictus and Long Walk to Freedom – they all know the poem by heart and they’ve all read the book in class.They like the subject prizes given twice year. This year maths gave out 4 Rubic cubes and humanities gave out rulers covered in hieroglyphs. Every kid in the school can spell ‘hieroglyph’. The vast majority can spell it using the French alphabet.

We shake hands a lot. We give them responsibilities a lot. We give them opportunities to demonstrate, as I always tell them, that they’re ‘top of the pyramid’ people. There are squillions of people at the bottom of the pyramid, taking the easy choices, developing bad habits, searching for lame excuses.  There are millions that resolve to change but never really commit. There are thousands and thousands who do have a go, who do try to make the right choices but fall by the way side pretty soon. There are only a handful of people who know what they really believe in, who constantly keep their commitments, who always get back up and refocus when things go wrong. They’re the top of the pyramid people. Elitist? No. You get to the top of the pyramid and you stay at the top of the pyramid, because of  the millions of choices you make every day.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, merits are really working for us. It’s early days. There’ll be ups and downs. Merits are  just part of the jigsaw.

Are the kids ‘intrinsically motivated’? There’ll always be the early adopters and the laggards but, yes, I think, very largely, our kids ‘get it’.

Merits aren’t the whole story, doing stuff you can be proud of when no one is looking, doing stuff you can be proud of even though nobody else but you may ever know – that’s getting through.

Next time I’ll maybe talk about the demerits.

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Yeah, but what about the visual learners?

Spelling tests in MFL – I think they went out of fashion didn’t they? Most of you reading this probably can’t recall a time when they were ever in fashion. To be fair, it was a bit draconian expecting kids to get the spelling right and take pride in their work. You know, actually checking what they’d written. Yeah, spelling tests, they’re boring, they are.

You’ll laugh, but there was actually a time when people used to believe…

we need to memorise stuff for instant perfect recall. Because, if you remember stuff you can, speak and write stuff too. You can break language down & build it up again. You can, with a bit of thought, recycle language you learnt earlier and adapt it, kind of make it your own.

spelling precision really matters. If you don’t take care with spelling people will think you’re thick, lazy and slapdash.

accents actually help your pronunciation on words like: allé, joué, écouté, regardé, évidemment, canoë, première and  so on. So accents really, really matter. Accents are your friends!

high frequency letter combinations teach you there’s no such thing as a totally ‘new’ word so you are able to write and say ‘new’ words by linking them with your knowledge of the old stuff: fille, famille, feuille, feuilleton, fauteuil, intéressant, intelligent, informatique, dessin, lapin – they’re just the same letters being used again & again. So if you learn to spell properly, you learn to speak properly. It’s easy!

understanding the patterns means you didn’t just guess at ‘new’ words and you can always have a decent stab at pronouncing them. So: ont, sont, font, vont, habitent, jouent, écoutent, regardent – they are, in fact, all easy to say & spell. If you can spell properly, you can communicate easily and you’ll avoid typical mistakes. Typical mistakes will never embed.

looking out for the double letters means ‘je m’appelle’ and honnêtement and intéressant and ennuyeux and paresseux and loads of other words are really easy to spell. In fact, because you paid attention first time, you’ll never really make mistakes on these words ever. That saves you loads of time.

apostrophes teach you that j’ai, j’habite, j’aime, je n’aime pas are really separate words squished together to make it much, much easier to speak French. Once you click: j’habite and j’ai are really je habite and je ai – it’s suddenly so much easier to understand precisely what you’re saying & writing. Apostrophes are your friends!

cognates, you should look out for them. If you link with English words rather than pictures, it’s so much easier learning another language. Also it’s a great way to develop your English vocabulary. In fact, look at the etymology of words, look at their prefixes and suffixes, look at the roots of the word. You’ll remember better and it’s actually really fascinating.

faux amis, these show you how languages change over the centuries. You know what happened in 1066 right? Load of French came over. We’ve never been the same since!

links between English and the target language, they shouldn’t be avoided! No! We should be actively going out and making as many silly, memorable links as we can. Be daft not to exploit the links between languages when they are so close to one another. And translations – they’re great because you think about every single word.

breaking words down into syllables and counting the letters means you look at every single letter and you really pinpoint exactly where you tend to mess up. Also breaking words down means you’ve got no excuses to give up before you’ve really got started: mal.heu.reu.se.ment – 15 letters – where’s the problem?

mnemonics, whether it’s the pronouns with Justin Timberlake isn’t energetic, not very intelligent either or school subjects with madragfish – maths, anglais, dessin etc. Mnemonics really work – if you use them properly.

copying out repeatedly, yep, looking at every single letter, actively searching for high frequency letter patterns, especially the vowels, recalling the silly stories we used in class, writing your accents a bit too big, deliberately, underlining every double vowel, copying from the resources every single time, not copying, making a mistake, then copying your own mistake. Really thinking as you write out each letter.

count the number of letters in the word and focus on the precise letters causing the problem. Sœur, cœur, beurre, fleur, j’aime, je n’aime pas – focus in! Where, precisely, do you mess up? When you count the letters you see long words arent really hard at all ! In fact, you’ve seen all these patterns before.

underline vowel combinations like ai, au, eu, oeu, ou, oui, ui. Beaucoup? Oiseau? Château? What’s ‘hard’? Why? How can we make it easier?

place a little dot under silent letters until kids master pronunciation, that really really helps build confidence & good habits. Stop thinking like an Englishman!

make links between words explicit even though they aren’t  in the same unit of the scheme of work . So not just: mère, père, frère but première and  dernière. The text book is your servant not your master!

Yeah, you’re right! Silly ideas! That’s just boring! No pictures, no barking at power points, no hours and hours of teacher prep, no silly voices, no hand gestures. That’s crazy. Memorizing stuff so you have it for a life time, so the more you learn the easier it gets, so you feel you really can speak French. That’s just boring. And anyway – what about the visual learners?

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And if I told you I don’t believe in lesson plans?

Lesson plans – they’re a bit of a nonsense. Don’t you think? In fact, I’ll go further. Lesson plans hold kids back and encourage teachers to focus on all the wrong things.

So does that mean I just roll up and freewheel my way through lessons? Not really. But it does mean I work according to a set of principles that allow me to teach, largely, on autopilot. Teach on autopilot? That sounds strangely complacent! Not really. I keep to my key principles. My lessons are uncluttered. I have the flexibility to tweak lessons on the hoof.

I’m largely on autopilot because I don’t have a lot to think about. Teaching really does not have to be complicated. When something goes ‘wrong’ I can react quickly. Though things rarely go ‘wrong’ because I preempt problems mostly. I know what kids get wrong in the main and I teach to preemt.

Kids come in. I’m immediately firing questions or we’re all chanting the alphabet in French. They’re not idly chatting. There’s no room for that. The questions I fire out are usually grammar based. I focus on the stuff I want them to retain and reuse across topics.

Comment dit-on…

I’ve done? Having done? Whilst doing? After having done? I am going to do? I would like to do?

I am? I am not? I went? I didn’t go? It was? It wasn’t? I played? I didnt play? I would like to play?

Structures. I just fire simple mark winning structures at the kids as they get their stuff out and they stand behind their chairs. They know these structures. I’m just keeping them fresh. At the front of the mind. I want these structures to be instant. I might give clues:

It was; C apostrophe. Il y a in accent.

I would like: JV. Deux lettres espace huit lettres.

They are is ‘ils sont’ . Comment dit-on ‘They went’ Trois mots. le troisième mot contient cinq lettres.

Comment dit-on:

I must go? I F Q J apostrophe.

I most do? I F Q J F

Although I am? Ce n’est pas ‘ je sUIs’. Il faut le subjonctif!

These questions can last as long, or as short, a time as I want. I can ping what I what at whom I want. None of this is written down. No random name generator. No lolly sticks. The kids are just getting their stuff out.

Si vous voulez vous pouvez enlever…

vos chaussures?  Non!

vos chaussettes? Non!

vos chemises? Non!

vos cravates? Non!

vos vestes? Oui!!!

Asseyez-vous!

This is all super quick and all on autopilot. Them and me. We’re all on auto-pilot. It’s a bit of a laugh. They’ve joined in. We’ve recycled stuff they know. They’re already feeling accomplished. Nothing’s written down.

No silly learning objectives. No wasteful patronising starters. We just get on with ‘it’, But what’s the ‘it’? My lesson planning, my core questions, are these. They’re always the same. They’re never typed on a pro forma.

What are kids likely to find hard in this topic?

Why?

How can I prempt the high frequency errors that typically eat into lesson time?

How can I incorporate PROFS – past reasons opinions future subjunctive – into this topic?

How can I ensure they will retain this stuff?

How could a lazy kid hide or sabotage this lesson?

I don’t use a text book. Be great if I could. But until I write one I stick with the resources I create and I recycle. I do teach ‘topics’ – but kind of loosely. There’ll never be a PowerPoint with pictures and one word at a time. There’ll be lengthy passages that include phrases such as:

Il est rare que je fasse mes devoirs dans ma chambre

parce que je préfère faire mes devoirs dans le salon

en regardant la télé ou en écoutant de la musique

mais malheureusement

ma mère veut que je fasse mes devoirs dans la salle à manger

Hier, ayant fait mes devoirs dans la chambre de mon frère

mais avant d’écouter de la musique dans la cuisine

j’ai regardé la télé dans la salle de bains.

I’m teaching ‘rooms in the house’. No PowerPoint. No pictures. Kids are reading a text stuffed with grammar. We’re recycling language they know. I want them to recycle so they really NOT nearly know it. The text in front of them is flat. The sentences are short. Or rather, I present long sentences in short chunks. Every line is numbered. Kids follow the text with a ruler. We read aloud.  We link the written word to the spoken word. I never let sloppy pronunciation go unchallenged. The kids are developing very nice accents as a consequence. They listen very carefully as their peers read out loud. They readily correct one another’s pronunciation. But in a very supportive way.

The next step is often: find the French equivalent for these 40 English phrases from the passage:

i want,

in fact,

it’s the least that one can say,

in general,

frankly,

the room of bathing,

having watched.

Why 40 questions? The number isn’t set in stone. The point is, I want kids to work through the passage line by line in silence for 10 to 15 minutes. The most willing kids need to be occupied for that time. I go for volume of questions combined with richness of language. There’s good range and it’s recyclable language. The less willing kids have no hiding place. They are forced to accomplish lots as they work through the passage. And of course, because they do succeed, they genuinely feel accomplished and clever and next lesson they come in feeling able. The willing kids, in fact all of the kids, are getting quicker and quicker at this kind of exercise. Their pronunciation, their retention, their range – it’s really coming on.

There’s loads more I do. I can’t fit it all in one blog. Suffice to say. No formalised written lesson plan, no attempt to be whizzy and ‘engaging’, no powerpoints. I build from my key questions. The language is rich. I ignore nonsense nc levels. I ensure lazy kids can’t hide. Everyone works hard and feels accomplished. And we have  a laugh!

In languages, grammar is the glue that holds everything together, so I’m constantly recycling the mark winning grammar. But beyond MFL, just the bread and butter job of teaching, I’d always say, if you can, have a laugh with the kids. And then…make them work their socks off!

Anyway, that’s some of the stuff I do. My kids are doing really well. This stuff works. It’s simple, uncluttered, invariably didactic and very often a good giggle.

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Loud & Proud – Why Reading Out Loud in MFL Works Amazingly Well.

Got to be honest. I’m not a fan of choral repetition with pictures. You know, the silly voices, one word at a time. I find it all a bit patronising. The efficacy of the choral repetition approach soon wears off too, I find, as kids get older and they tire of barking at pretty pictures on the screen. So no, choral repetition, in the main, it’s not for me.

But I do love to get kids reading aloud. I love to get kids analysing the written word and linking it to the spoken word. I do a lot of dual text work, that is, side by side English and French texts where every single word is translated. the English translations are often a bit ‘dodgy’ to reflect French syntax. So, for example: j’ai joué au foot, is translated as, I’ve played at foot. J’ai les yeux bleus becomes I’ve the eyes blue. My Y7 readily say, ‘Franchment mon prof de français me tape sur les nerfs et c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire’ which translates as ‘ My teacher of French me taps on the nerves, it’s the least that one can say.’ The English and French syntax are completely transparent. There’s no guess work. Kids know the English is ‘dodgy’. I equate it to Google translate. You kind of get it but it sounds a bit weird.

What’s lovely is, is that kids ask loads of real linguist questions. So Sir, if I took off X and added Y would that mean Z? They understand every word so they can deconstruct & reconstruct the language.

Also, since they’re reading the written word lots, their pronunciation is really, really good. I’m very explicit about pronunciation. I’m very explicit about the repetitive nature of language, about the very limited number of letter combinations that are recycled again & again. I’ve very tight when it comes to silent letters and liaisons.

The kids now roll a pretty mean ‘r’, silent letters at the end of words don’t phase them, their liaisons are pretty impressive too, pretty natural in fact. They are very good with silent ‘ll’ and the silent ‘h’. “C’est évident ” they tell me with confidence and excellent prononciation.  They also tell me,  ” les lettres ‘nt’ à la fin sont muettes”. They’re great at that, using French to comment upon the language itself.

They’re good at all this, in part, because we read extended texts lots, I read out loud lots, they read out loud lots, we use dual texts lots. There are lots of reasons they’re doing so well. But lots of access to the written word and transparent silly, memorable literal syntax is central.

You may disagree but, as my Y7 say, in beautifully pronounced French, “My teacher of French me takes the head. Frankly he himself takes for the belly button of the world. It’s the least that one can say.”

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