Adventures in another classroom – Cover for another subject

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Despite ‘rarely cover’ it comes to all of us eventually. In my school it greets you on SIMS and on a cheery yellow sheet in your pigeon hole, cover.  I recently had a cover for a subject that I ceased doing in Y9 so immediately felt out of my depth, however at least it wasn’t PE (sorry PE teachers I were heels all day so not the best footwear for covering on grass, AstroTurf or the shiny wooden floored gym). Interestingly the class I was covering was also Y9 so had chosen their options and so I immediately thought of how I would have been many years ago in the same situation. I suspected rather like I did, sat next to my friends (no seating plan available back then) and probably not the most enthusiastic attitude to learning. I tried to put this to the back of my mind as I headed to the opposite end of the school.

I arrived at the period 5 lesson, the last of the day, midweek, to find that this was an emergency cover and on this occasion no cover work was available. I don’t panic but with an expectant class looking at me, clearly feeling like a fish out of water as I was in a humanities subject area and not my MFL forte, I was thankful when my brain started whirring. One lovely student raised their hand stating that there was bound to be a dvd somewhere they could watch probably in the hope of trying to save my further embarrassment and it was at that point I decided no, the class would not be watching a dvd and asked what the class had been doing in a previous lesson hoping to glean an idea to build some activities on. Sadly the class had completed an assessment so there was no chance on building a lesson from that with my knowledge. 

Suddenly my brain clicked in to gear and a little spark appeared with a genius idea. Thank you brain! I said to the class that they had 60 seconds to get in to a group with whom they could win, the class looked at each other then back at me strangely. I was walking past them counting down, none of them moved. So I launched the task at them. They had ten minutes, no more to come up with a new charity concept and marketing strategy to present to me and the class who would act as Simon Cowell and the swirly, turning chair gang and would support their charity if it was interesting, engaging and passionately marketed by the teams when presented. 

The students got to work straight away using skills learned across a range of subjects but also from their own experiences. Many passionate and desperately worthwhile causes were mentioned. There was a brilliant buzz of learning noise as they collaborated, shared and finalised their strategies to ensure their chosen charity won above all others.

After the timer rang out students settled quietly several hands shot up to present their charity and strategy to us, the potential supporters, with millions of pounds at our disposal. Students stood and presented and when complete the panel cheered, wooped and offered a response in the style of www/ebi before continuing on to the next group. 

I became increasingly aware that some students weren’t going to volunteer to present so whipped out some of my favourite Kagan questions ‘who goes first’ to ensure it wasn’t just volunteers who presented their ideas. I wanted everyone involved and sharing! No passengers in this lesson, no thank you!
After a short while one student who was working alone at a computer had his chance to present his charity. He unfolded two pieces of paper that he had clearly worked on for some time. This student chose to come to the front to present and he  took a theatrical moment to ready himself and started reading. With the words he spoke he reduced us all to utter silence within seconds, we were hanging on his every word and by the end of his reading had several of us, including myself, in tears with his chosen charity and plea. He had decided to write a letter to the EU where he was the parliamentary representative for the UK. This lone student spoke with such passion, eloquence and conviction that when he stopped the class erupted in applause and cheers. Classmates stood to congratulate him as he returned to his seat whilst several of us wiped our eyes discreetly. 

The student very kindly allowed me to photograph his letter, a proposed speech to the EU about the need to raise awareness, funds and to do more to help orphans in Zimbabwe who had lost their parents to AIDS. I’ve not heard such a passionate and moving plea from a student and I am certain that this was more than a ‘cover task’ to him. It struck a chord deeply within him, the emotion in his words, raw and honest and so beautifully placed. It was a pleasure to witness. I truly hope to see this student representing the UK, driving for change to help those who are less fortunate, who find themselves in terrible circumstances through no fault of their own. I’ll never forget this period 5 cover lesson that’s for sure. 

It’s always amazes me what students can do, what motivates and inspires them. Teaching is truly the best job in the world, and cover, well I guess it’s not so bad either.                

Adventures in my classroom – Collapsing Classes and Double Y9

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For the last two weeks I’ve collapsed two classes in to one, staff absence and the need to complete an external vocational qualification with y9 students before the end of term and academic year has necessitated this. So my ever-challenging y9 mfl allstars were joined by set 1. Mixing two classes with one teacher, is far from ideal especially as this meant there would be nearly seventy of them and just me however somethings just have to be done.

I greeted my class at the door with a larger than ever smile and asked them to sit quickly, I think they guessed that something was off but bless them they chose to not mention it. Once seated I beckoned a colleagues class over and invited them in too. To say gobsmacked was a bit of an understatement as my y9 were aghast, words failed them as thirty-odd of their peer group shuffled in. An eery silence fell across the room and a few side glances as I followed the last student in. 

As I addressed all nearly seventy of them, slowly the realisation hit that I was their MFL teacher today and grins seemed to slowly appear. I think they thought ‘ace, I can get away with doing very little in French today ..’ Or words to that effect, however, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I knew the ‘collaborative challenge’ I was about to launch would ensure that they worked their socks off, well I certainly hoped so, but it was all very much dependant on their cooperation. 

As some of you may know I’ve had a really bumpy ride with my y9 class since they were y8 and to say they are hard work is a teeny understatement. With every ounce of my being I stood at the front of my classroom and asked for their help, cooperation and focus in the challenge I was about to set. A few murmurs and side glances galore, I continued to launch the tasks for the lesson, secretly praying to any and all deities available and listening, that we could pull this off and not have SLT and the Head marching down to MFL to ‘sort out the ruckus’ if disaster struck. 

With the tasks launched, clear instructions and expectations given, focus, collaboration and hard work was the order of the day and off they went to one of three spaces in mixed groups. My role today was facilitator, observer and supporter, not teacher leading from the front of the class and the students were clear in this. I knew half of them, maybe a few more from having taught them in year 7 yet told them all I trusted them to rise to the challenge and to make me happy. The students in their mixed groups had to complete challenges using their knowledge, skills and understanding as well as recent MFL experiences so every single one of them made progress in the lesson and completed the tasks but they were learning from each other. They were the teachers and learners and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many students so focussed for so long. Some chose to remain in my classroom, others sprawled across the atrium floor to get on with their learning and surprisingly few in the neighbouring classroom that would have been theirs had the classes not been collapsed. 

Across these two weeks these two classes with ever growing y9 giants, have been utter stars filing quickly and quietly in to my classroom at the start of each French lesson listening to the challenges and tasks to focus on and complete in the lesson collaboratively. The results have been amazing, set 2 have been working with set 1 directing and encouraging more complex sentence structure and reminding peers of the need for a range of tenses in their general conversation section of the qualification (or ‘Mrs H will be disappointed and you don’t want that’ I heard one of my more vocal allstars pass on) Set 1 students have been assisting set 2 in developing finesse in their spoken French especially in pronunciation, intonation and pace in the public announcement part of the qualification. Honestly I couldn’t be prouder and I’m delighted by the outcome, truly, I asked for their help two weeks ago and the trust extended to them has been richly deserved. They have been utter gems completing the tasks and challenges set by the qualification beautifully and the quality of work produced has been superb. 

Last week one of our deputy head teacher’s went past at looked horrified at the students sprawled across the floor and tables in three spaces not initially seeing a teacher he went in to one of the rooms and came out smiling. I think he was delighted at what he had seen he told me that he had witnessed groups so clearly involved in their learning that they didn’t even notice him. How proud was I? Very. 

Some people say that trust has to be earned, I gave mine it straightaway and they really didn’t let me down. Be brave and give them a chance, be honest and clear and I’m sure they won’t let you down either. 
   
       

   

Adventures in my classroom – getting the students to read 

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We all know that ‘Literacy is everyone’s responsibility’ and when it comes to developing and supporting students with this skill development that it should not be left to the English department. The MFL team, like every other teacher in the school can create opportunities in their classes to allow students to read to develop reading skills but also to develop literacy. 

And we do and we take this most seriously because we want our learners to be able to read the text in the target language that they encounter with increasing levels of confidence and skill. We want them to not be afraid of a short or longer text in a magazine, on an app or in a book but to just approach it head on and read it carefully searching for clues about context and key words and phrases to help them reach improved levels of understanding.

Here are some of the things that we have developed at my school in the pursuit of helping students to read a range of text styles and lengths but of course in the target language. I hope you can try out some of these strategies and they work wonders for you as they do for us and our learners. The transformation in learners as they develop their confidence with real authentic language texts is phenomenal and they simply stop being anxious because giving them time to develop this critical skill is vital. Reading is important for life so it is indeed everyone’s responsibility take time to develop this with their learners and is very much part of the learning journey of all of our MFL students.

  •  Reading library

We have developed a small but adorably effective collection of French and Spanish books mainly children’s stories, poems, encyclopaedia, dessin-anime and graphic novels that students can access in MFL lessons if they complete work or have planned reading time. In our school we have a dedicated reading time which currently is for year 7 students known as ‘DEAR’ time (drop everything and read) which lasts ten minutes. A superb MFL colleague has collated a range of authentic texts which the class read during this time which then is built upon and exploited when DEAR time is over. 

Students loved reading ‘le corbeau et le renard’ recently and of course reading and exploiting authentic literary texts is part of new framework and curriculum it is very good practice to integrate this in to KS3 if you haven’t already. Our students love this and when the DEAR time bell rings they are excited for the new authentic literary text. 

  • Native magazines 

I frequently spend a small fortune updating the French and Spanish magazine collections that we have for our KS4 learners and more able Y9 students. We have found that if they are able to choose which magazine they want to read then this develops reading authentic language materials for pleasure and that we increasingly have a group appearing at break time and lunchtime asking to come in to share the article or new stories they have read and to start a discussion about the article not least a linguistic one but also philosophical discussions are a frequent occurrence in my classroom. It is a lovely sight too! 

Obviously there has to be a ‘health warning’ attached to this as there are very different media laws allowing more graphic imagery in magazines. I check carefully any purchases made to protect our students from some of the more challenging aspects of the world in which we live. 

  • Apps

There are many free news apps that we encourage our students to download so they can dip in en route to visit family or on the school bus. Often news stories are short and punchy but are filled with exciting and new colloquial language which always creates a buzz. Paris Match, l’equipe, le nouvel obs & science et vie junior are particular favourites as they cover a spectrum of tastes though there are many others. Students are allowed mobile phones in our school and we encourage them to use them in MFL and this is one of the reasons we do!

  • Tongue twisters

Following the purchase and use of the fantastic planètes phoniques and planetas fonéticos created and written by Juliet Park and Wendy Adeniji we asked our students to create tongue twisters using the sounds they have learned. We now have hundreds of student created tongue twisters using key sounds to develop pronunciation however these fantastic creations can be used as reading material as starters or in DEAR time to encourage students to read. Students absolutely love the challenge of a tongue twister and frequently beg to do this for significantly longer in lessons or as homework for fun!

  • ‘Random phrases’

Each year I purchase for the team French and Spanish calendars, the ones with a sentence or phrase on per day. The reason for this so we can have a thinking starter ready for them to complete so learning starts immediately as students enter the learning spaces. Students have one, two or three phrases on the board for them to read, and translate, this is dependent on the class and year group and the level of challenge that presented. The phrases can be completely ‘random’ or they can be linked with a theme, perhaps a recent learning point from a previous lesson or the lesson they are about to embark on but this is an excellent way to get students settled & reading. 

I have in the past used a collection of translated Bart Simpson-isms, the phrases that he has to write on the board in detention at the start of the programme. These can prove very challenging for students outside of KS4 but they are excellent fun and really get students thinking hard about the language. We term the current listening and reading terminal exams as ‘random vocab surprise’ exams as students are not aware of the vocabulary required nor topics of the 8 or 10 questions they will face so this is an excellent strategy to help them develop this skill of dealing with unknown elements. 

In addition, it appears that translation will likely be a feature of terminal exams in the new GCSE so this activity proves excellent in helping students to prepare for this new challenge.

  • Frenchteacher.net and lightbulblanguages

Both these sites are fantastic and contain a plethora of excellent texts to promote reading activities, parallel texts and comprehension tasks to support this vital skill development. Also both sites are frequently updated with a superb range of up to date resources and texts. If you don’t know these two sites please do visit them, I’m absolutely certain that you won’t be disappointed as there is a wide range of activities available in multiple languages from primary through to a level on both sites.

Students love these reading tasks and don’t feel threatened by them being very long. I recently completed the vampire parallel reading task with Y7 who utterly adored it and can’t stop talking about it. They are hoping for more monsters as the year goes on! (Hint hint!)

  •  Storybird

This fantastic free website allows students and staff to upload original stories in a range of languages and create the story resulting in beautiful mini books developed by students in your classes that you can correct, if need be, then use as reading material. This is truly a superb and very creative site so feel free to incorporate this in to project or as part of an assessment. 

 
@ictevangelist promotes the publishing of students work and using Storybird in this way truly does inspire and drive students to dig deep and produce works of art where the pages just come alive! He is absolutely right so have a go because you’ll be amazed at the quality and care of work produced!

It’s much nicer than scanning bought books or photocopying them as I have done in the past as when students see their storybook being read by others they positively glow with joy which is always a pleasure to witness. 

  • #Rhubarbe

When we have any text we read it as a class playing #rhubarbe. This quick game has become a hugely competitive and highly engaging fun element  supporting our reading strategy and is an absolute favourite with all of my classes. Students take turns to read a sentence or two aloud but pronunciation and intonation are important. When a student completes their sentence(s) correctly they receive praise and a reward however if they don’t it’s up to the listeners, the rest of us to identify the error & correct it. To identify an error we call out #rhubarbe and then I ask them to explain why it was #rhubarbe

Students utterly adore this and it is lots of fun so much so they don’t even realise they are reading. Students love listening for the slightest flaw and pouncing when they do however when it is their turn to read the focus and determination you see are truly incredible. 

This strategy is fantastic and one of my favourites. I first read it on Twitter, a fabulous idea from a primary colleague whose name I’ve sadly forgotten but to whom I am very grateful for sharing this fabulous and highly effective idea! 

I hope you have fun with these ideas and can use them with your learners.   

 

  Images via imgsurf.com   

Adventures in my classroom – my best lesson

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Being a reflective thinker I was driving to visit a friend after school this evening chewing over the week. With my wonderful year 11 groups departed I only have four year groups to choose from. I like to think back over the lessons and consider:

  • What went well 
  • How the students received the activities
  • How did they responded to the challenge
  • Did the students become more confident in an aspect of their language learning
  • Were the students enthusiastic and motivated working through the activities
  • Did the students learn and could they remember it and use it the following lesson
  • What could I have done to make the learning better, clearer and deeper
  • What would have made the lesson even better

Considering all of these factors my ‘best’ lesson this week is definitely the one with my year 7 class closely followed by that with my y10 today. 

Tuesday’s lesson was the first back after half term with my lovely year 7 class. This top flight set are every teacher’s dream, the year group were placed in to sets at Christmas and they truly are superb. I have had a lot of linguistic fun with these pushing them to challenge themselves but also to be confident MFL students who use language creatively. Recent written assessment was a pleasure to read. They are such stars. 

In preparation for a spoken assessment the plan was to revisit phonics work and practice speaking with increasing confidence. We have the fabulous ilanguages planètes phoniques scheme and resources alongside an increasing bank of wonderfully created ‘homemade’ tongue twisters by older students who have previously completed phonics work. The units contain fantastic songs, rhymes and tongue twisters to are bright colourful and fun to use with students to improve pronunciation and intonation. At our school we utterly love this. And the students love it too engaging with this brilliantly. 

Star Wars theme to launch the planète always excites the class, and I, and as we work through the activities we come across a particular song and the students ask me to translate it. We looked for clues to translate this as a team and as an awesome group we got there. I explained that it was a ‘country dancing’ song, the class, the delightful year 7 allstars looked back at me with blank faces. Not one of them knew what I meant! I explained that when I was in primary school in the event of a ‘wet PE’ lesson that country dancing in the hall would be the substitute and still none of them had an iota of comprehension on their faces. I had no choice, I took them outside to the atrium space and showed them some of the ‘moves’ I had learned all those years ago. I had to show them this was contextual learning. We had such fun. 

The careers office is located next to MFL and the careers team were grinning and laughing like never before at my choreographing this very new experience for my class. Year 7 loved it giggling away and throwing themselves in to it wholeheartedly. Two other members of staff came along one looked aghast the other burst out laughing at my singing the French, clapping whilst tapping my feet (in tune and in time !) I continued and the students swirled and squealed singing the French with me, perfectly pronounced. It was superb. No photos sadly as we were so ‘in the moment’ I forgot! 

The singing and dancing came to an end and we went back to class. Surveying the room every year 7 student was grinning from ear to ear, sparkles in their eyes, red cheeks and fire burning deep in their bellies. We continued reading rhymes and tongue twisting away with a renewed confidence, with smiles and with excellent pronunciation. We also produced some crackingly creative tongue twisters of our own which we shared around the class and tried out. When the bell rang for the end of the lesson students sighed and asked to carry on through break time for fun but I managed to get them out after promising we’d do this again. As they left the room there was lots of ‘thank yous’, comments of how it was a brill lesson and some dancing across the atrium. 

This was my best lesson this week. The students were highly engaged, made huge strides forward in their learning, really enjoyed themselves, had some new experiences, took part in some new physical learning and nailed some excellent spoken work in preparation for assessments as well as being fantastic at the same sounds in spoken work today. I love my job, being an MFL teacher is the best job in the world. 

Adventures in my classroom – displays

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 A few days ago I was overjoyed to see that @flashsticks had tweeted a very old castle, it was an image from the grammar pages of a very ancient tricolore book from my teenage years. I loved this image and I still love it now, I had it painted on one of my classroom walls in my last few classrooms as a visual reminder for all French students of motion verbs, you know the irregular ones, that ones they have to learn, the tricksy ones. Some of you may refer to them as MrsVande(r)tramp verbs.

  
Seeing this got me thinking abut my classroom, I am very privileged to enjoy my own classroom (though I do share it with other colleagues) about my learning space and the displays therein. I absolutely love my classroom and I make it mine, I have a mixture of permanent and termly displays but all displays have to be bright, colourful and useful for learners in the space, they are learning walls not just displays. 

  

I remember being interviewed by my first headteacher @mikehughes and I told him I wanted students to come to my classroom excited about learning French, walk in and feel francophone culture and lifestyle bursting from the walls I wanted the students to feel like they were walking to a little part of France. That students would hear it, feel it, see it and smell it to the point where they want to reach out and touch it. I think back to this from time to time as I love taking time to create new displays in my room.  

Tragically I don’t have much space and last year we lost the fabulous wall space outside our classrooms to lockers, stacked blocks of grey lockers so our highly praised, brightly coloured walls celebrating students successes and progress and also great walls of learning were gone. Tragic!

Loss of display space really isn’t the end of the world but I do really feel that regularly updated displays are a fantastic addition to any classroom. They allow us to show our students, other teaching colleagues, SLT, the Governing Body and visitors to our school exactly how much we value student’s hard work, effort and celebrate their toil and success by choosing to display their amazing work! Alas this would have to be classroom based from the start of this academic year. 

We started by decorating the doors and around the door frame more intensely, why well to welcome our learners to make sure they start reading target language or classroom mantras when greeted by us smiles and all at the start of the lesson. I have to say I favour @sparkyteaching ‘s fabulously positive mantras I selected my favourites for around the door.

At the front of the room resides key classroom vocab are some of my favourite motivational quotes to inspire and remind learners and visitors that we are all good people worthy of love sharing kindness and joy wherever we go to make the world a better place or at the very least to take care of one another. 

  
On one wall we have to have two huge BfL display boards as reminders of classroom rules and the sanctions they will receive should they not do as requested. I have decorated these with fabulous Venetian masks following a project based learning unit with a very challenging Y9 class a few years ago. These are beautiful works of art that I proudly keep to adorn my room. Proof to those students that I loved and valued their hard work, effort and spectacular focus when times were tough. 

  
I have flag bunting and other fab display pieces such as weather types, postcards or students work draped from the ceiling so if students look up when thinking they can see something bright and colourful flowing in the breeze. 

The remaining display spaces my classroom contain students incredible work and my beloved reward board which is updated fortnightly (we have a two week timetable at my school) students know I update this based on three elements: effort, excellence and progress. Students names are selected as I refer back to my praise logs, exercise books and participation of students so I can reward their toil and take the opportunity to value their contribution, their progress and their resilience.  

Students come skipping in to my classroom checking for updates and to check if they have made it, and if they have, they positively beam with joy and work their socks off as uniquely as only they can. I never directly refer to the board after September because students know where to look, it’s part of our routine. They know I think that they are amazing and they respond to the challenge. I have never not had a student’s name appear on the board in a term in almost two decades of teaching because there is always something good to praise within those three categories. It’s superb how students work hard to achieve notoriety across all three. The same names don’t appear every fortnight but students work for the chance to have their names up there. The reward board is a staple in my classroom and has been since my first school. 

  
My displays show a lot about me but also are supportive and celebratory alongside instructive and helpful reminders of expectations, key vocabulary and key concepts to support my students along their learning journeys. They offer help and guidance of how to improve and where to find help, what to do next and also hopefully help them feel valued and noticed. 

   
      

  

   

 

  What do your displays in your learning spaces do to support your learners and celebrate their successes?