4th Post – Adventures from my classroom

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Year 11 have gone, they have left us for another year and there has been some discussion in our MFL team as to which strategies we have used with them have worked and if so what has been the impact. A very interesting question indeed, posed by the NQT of the team, who has worked her guts out with the Year 11 Spanish class she took over in September.

So this got me thinking: which were the best strategies to boost confidence, improve speaking, keep them all going until those very terminal exams in May when everyone wants their time, energy and homework?

It is fair to say that ‘impact’ can not be measured until that Thursday in August be having sometime to think a few things through I would say that the following strategies had significant impact and I will definitely be employing with Year 10 next week.

1) Feedback Strips

We used to give 1:1 feedback based upon performance albeit listening, speaking, reading or writing.  We would find that students could ask questions without fear of ridicule or embarrassment from their peers but they seemed to make the same errors in the next assessment, despite them recording the conversation in learning logs and setting themselves a target for improvement, which was monitored by teachers so we changed the way we gave feedback.  A genius idea from the delightful NQT who asked if feedback could be given in strips so they could repeatedly refer to them. Of course I replied and a new idea was born.  It isn’t rocket science but has worked beautifully and the teacher, student and their parents as well as any member of staff can see raw scores in key areas, what they have done well in, what they need to improve upon and what they should do to achieve this.

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With a little ‘tweeking’ I added ‘marks from target grade’ which interestingly soon became ‘stretch target grade’ for many. Why? Well because students were responding so brilliantly to this feedback that they were pulling out all of the stops to achieve in line with their target grade. Fabulous stuff.

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This was reinforced last week at #TMCOOP by the rather delightful @MrOCallaghanEdu who spoke about ‘building an ethic of excellence’ when working to raise attainment at KS4. It was a fantastic nano presentation which reinforced what we were doing and he stated, as we had seen with our own students, that they rose to the challenge and loved this level of clear, concise feedback. In this, there is no guess work at all, students know the raw scores and with the assessment criteria to hand they know exactly what it is they have to improve upon and if they need help doing that they have a range of options to choose from. If you haven’t yet read this inspirational blog post please do so before doing anything else! You absolutely will not regret it. 

What did Year 11 think? They loved receiving the feedback strips citing the excitement of a ‘mini-results day’ but also knowing that it was now up to them to act upon the advice given to them to improve upon the score in front of them.  Several stated that nothing motivated them more than seeing how close they were to their (stretch) target and it gave them a real buzz every time they could see raw score improvement.

2) Exam Wizard Preparation

If you are Edexcel teachers then you will know (hopefully) what I mean by Exam Wizard for those of you that don’t; Edexcel have created a bank of all past papers which are available online at http://www.examwizard.co.uk to use as individual questions and past papers specific module or unit topics, question types.  It is simply brilliant. Begone scissors and glue sticks to create past papers hello personalised and targeted revision resources for the students in your classes! Also sound files and examiners reports are available making life much easier.

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In MFL we created a huge range of revision resources focusing specifically on the two terminal exams that we do; listening and reading. This year we started focusing on developing the reading skills of all of our students in November completing these in class but also setting them for homework. I started creating these using the examiners reports and creating foundation then higher tier papers, then C-D grade papers to hone skills and B-D grade papers, A-B grade papers and A-A* papers. Students responded well to the challenge and each paper was given over a two week period, often these papers were 20+ questions deep and there was a time allocation on the front sheet so students were aware of the time they required to complete this.

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These were marked by our teachers (each paper generated creates a mark sheet for you) & returned with a percentage score and a GCSE mark.  Students responded well to this & it became clear that they wanted to get at least 95% correct before they had completed the paper.  Each paper allowed for three attempts and students liked seeing their percentage and grade increase. 

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We started focusing on the listening papers once we had confidence that all students were performing well, having significantly developed this important skill. For us this year it was in January, students knew what to expect from the papers as they were used to the reading papers and so took to this well. Many students find listening the skill that they struggle the most with.  Allowing students access to the mp3 files which we placed alongside the papers we had created on a shared server allowed them to listen to the recording as many times as they needed to get the answer without fear or embarrassment from peers.  This enabled students to work at their own pace in developing this important skill. 

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When asked about their thoughts on Exam Wizard papers the students liked it, they got used to the styles of questions, key exam rubric, and were allowed to make errors without ‘messing up an exam’. It also allowed past papers to be used at key points so more focused testing could take place on specific topics which they also enjoyed. From a teacher’s perspective this is such an easy way to differentiate and create bespoke revision resources for each student in your class. If you haven’t seen or used this fabulous resource yet then go to the website cited earlier and watch the short video. To this day I had never had so many students completing their homework so swiftly and falling over themselves to return completed exam booklets before morning registration!

3) GCSEPod

GCSEPod sadly is not free however I was delighted when our SLT said that they had bought this for every KS4 student in the school.  I swiftly logged in and had a look at what was on offer.  www.gcsepod.com has a huge collection of podcasts that are available for students to download on to their smart phones, tablets, iPod or laptops to listen to as often as they please. It is brilliant. 

For MFL students, the entire GCSE course broken down in to the main units and then from then have smaller podcast they can dip in and out of.  I would say that if students are to listen to them all, as I had directed as part of their Easter revision programme, it would take them about 3 hours to listen to every single podcast for French or Spanish.

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Our deputy head was most excited in every assembly, Subject Leader and Year Team Leader meeting launching GCSEPOD because the schools that have trialled and successfully use this site state that a students current grade could increase by at least one more by listening to the podcasts as this helps to reinforce previously learned information, recall and extension of current knowledge. This was perfect for us as many Year 11 students know my feelings on the terminal MFL exams as I refer to them as ‘random vocab surprise!’. The Easter revision project was set.  Students were concerned that they might not have time or be able to listen to all of the podcasts but much to their surprise it helped them a great deal.

What did the students think?  They liked it and said that it was a different way to revise that felt like fun sometimes as they watched the podcasts which help them ‘concrete’ new and more ‘random’ vocabulary which made them think that they might be watching tv. It is amazing how many have been downloaded by students and how much time they have spent streaming.  The teacher area lets you know key information like this so you can make sure they use this great resource.

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Images kindly supplied from GCSEpod.

4) GLIC

We are very fortunate to have a very supportive line manager who is open to creative ways in which we can best support our students so they achieve their best possible result for each spoken controlled assessment piece having been a linguist herself. In our school these have been quite complex to put together taking up a lot of time to best support and prepare the students but re-routing classes and causing whole school near chaos to facilitate a purposeful exam space where 4-6 minutes can be recorded was proving a mammoth task. So a new idea was born (yes another one!).  Locally we have the GLIC centre, a purpose built  global languages immersion centre. So it was decided to use this to immerse our students in the target language prior to their assessment so they can focus fully on the spoken task that given them, that morning, upon arrival. 

Using a range of resources, specialist facilities and space as well as all that they have learned to date, students are set to task in completing a series of activities which will culminate in a presentation, open interaction (a focused Q&A scenario based session) or a picture based discussion which they will complete back at school which they have prepared without distraction. Amazing! 

If you aren’t local to the South-West and haven’t heard of GLIC you must get in touch with Trevor Davies and his team there at http://www.glic.org.uk to arrange an inspection visit and as there are rooms you can arrange an immersive residential! @GLICentre will be glad to show you around. 

Our students have been using green screens to help create a cafe or ‘epicerie’ scenario when discussing healthy lifestyle or Las Vegas, Barcelona or Gloucester to present about their town or holiday with fantastic results. 

Students enjoyed the ‘days out at GLIC’ as it was different and allowed them to focus fully on the task, however a whole day is a long time so focused and staged differentiated activities and support must be created before hand. Each time we have done this (now three) we have learned so much about our students and what they need from us to ensure they achieve their potential and that they get the most out of the day – are effectively prepared for their spoken assessment!

5) Revision t-shirts

A fabulous idea that was ‘magpied’ from #TMBristol and students adored this calm, focused, creative and independent revision strategy. In a previous blog post gone in to detail about our ‘fun and games’ with key vocabulary, sharpies to create revision t-shirts but when students are talking about this as a fun and useful way to revise other departments had to take note and revision t-shirts have been a feature in several departments. Thank you #TMBristol!

These are some of the many strategies that we have employed to raise attainment at KS4 in our MFL dept. and I am confident that these, alongside other significant support have had a positive impact upon our students performance in their GCSEs.  They have certainly made it more enjoyable for everyone concerned. I can’t wait for that day in August, the 21st to be exact.