Sunday, 11 December 2011

ALL French Online: Tips and Tricks for GCSE, Friday 10th December

The video conference was organised with Flashmeeting and was attended by Esther Mercier , Dominic McGladdery, Michelle Cairns  and my colleagues Alison Watkinson and Vanessa Parker from The Radclyffe School. The replay can be viewed here.
The exchanges referred to the two exam boards used across the schools represented, EDEXCEL and
AQA. Teachers across the land have had issues with both boards as regards the severity and the unpredictability of grading in Languages. EDEXCEL was also recently in the news as part of a governmental investigation into examination boards although this is not MFL-specific.   
Although Edexcel offers for MFL compares well with that of other examination boards, I pointed out that my perception had been irrevocably tainted by our school's bad experience with the Applied French in 2009.  
More recently, Edexcel caused a lot of disruption in schools by changing marking criteria for the Writing Controlled Assessment, which affected work already completed by Y10 and forced teachers to add more Controlled Assessment tasks in Y11 to redress the balance. There was also some confusion regarding the 200 words minimum for a C grade.
Our AQA examination analysis also highlighted  than more words than what was stated seemed to have been required for higher grades. As this is not currently a written rule, we all felt that more specific guidance in terms of minimum outcome was needed for different grades.
Predicted A* Students sitting the Edexcel GCSE also seem to be expected to use subjunctive, which is more than is required for AQA AS level... Although this is not explicitly stated, it appeared through the use of conditional perfect / subjunctive phrases in the higher grades corrected sample tasks.
Students are encountering difficulties with the AQA rule that "what is done at home stays at home" and "what is done at school stays at school". Meanwhile, Edexcel allows students to take preparation at home back and forth. Although this makes it more flexible for students and teachers, there are issues with the use of google translation, similarity of the work produced and the fact that teachers cannot be 100% sure it is students' own work even though they sign a form to say it is.
With AQA-they can do the stage 1 preparation at home in “bits” but this change as soon as the actual task is given to students (bullet points).
To prepare students for the speaking Controlled Assessment, using text-to-speech software such as or can be very useful as it makes the students more independent. Students can listen to the text-to-speech version to memorise it and it can be uploaded to the school's VLE. Students may also record themselves on their mobile phones to learn their answers.
As regards the preparation for writing, I feel strongly that getting students to memorise a possibly inaccurate stage 2 preparation in class is not the best use of class time. Although peer support is allowed and can help students to focus on their task, it can also be a great source of distraction.
I was interested to find out about differences between AQA and EDEXCEL as regards the use of  the Task Planning sheet: Up to 5 pictures are allowed for Edexcel as well as  30 words including conjugated verbs, whereas AQA allows 40 words with no pictures or other visuals and no conjugated verbs at all. A recent decision-see p14-to include past participle as well as infinitives will also make it challenging for students who already struggle with using the present perfect...
It was noted that memorisation of the tasks was found difficult even by the higher ability harder-working students. Memorisation was also affected by the students' ability to concentrate over what constitutes quite long periods of time, with the usual pattern of a decent  beginning that slowly deteriorates for both writing and Speaking assessments…
Speaking for 4 minutes minimum in a foreign language is extremely challenging and this is compounded for Edexcel by the fact students may have to do a one minute presentation and ask questions to be awarded the higher marks.  
I was surprised to find out that the format for the Speaking Assessment is NOT standard across the exam boards as there is an element of choice with Edexcel. There are 3 different possible types of tasks for Edexcel with different marking schemes applicable to them: picture-based task, presentation/ discussion and open interaction (conversation).
It was noted that there can be a strong negative impact on pronunciation and intonation if students speak too fast, hence the need to practise whith a version of their speaking task recorded at an appropriate pace.
How many tasks should we be doing?
This seemed to vary quite a lot, depending on the exam board used, the time allocated for languages and students' ability. Teachers aiming for 3 speaking and 3 writing tasks admitted that this took over their teaching time possibly at the expense of developing listening and reading skills. There were also issues with "back-to-back" speaking and writing Controlled Assessments on similar topics which narrow the range of the topics taught and can also affect performance in the Listening and Reading exams.
There are undoubtedly some communication problem with the boards when they decide to change or modify rules. Although the changes are usually mentioned on the exam boards' websites, it is unrealistic to expect language teachers to check large websites every week "just in case". Specific email alerts should be sent to all language teachers to inform them immediately when a change occurs. In addition, the fact that it is very difficult to enforce changes half way through a course means that boards should be very mindful of the implications of changes for classroom teachers and limit the publication of changes to certain times of the year e.g. January and June.

Can the board find out if you do the same topics for speaking and writing?
That question was asked many teachers on language teachers forums like MFL resources and although we all thought that it was unlikely that the exam boards would physically be able to check, we all agreed that this would lead to further narrowing of the syllabus and be detrimental to students in the long term.
AQA's recent changes for re-taking the writing were discussed-the title needs to be different and the outcome too. There should be no overlap of outcome between tasks as technically a student cannot be credited for overlapping  content.
For the Writing task, a healthy piece of advice was to not over-complicate the bullet points, leaving it to the more able to develop further. This makes all the more sense as the bullet points in the AQA Writing tasks are just for student support and not linked with the marking scheme.
Some schools are rumoured to mark the preparation before students learn it for stage 3. This constitutes malpractice and does not guarantee that students will still be able to remember accurately what they have learnt.   
Tenses are an issue: time lines can be given for the same verb for practice
AQA has compounded the problem with verb endings as the task planning sheet only allows verbs in the infinitive. Training students to use verb tables effectively is therefore essential to allow them to develop more independence and accuracy as students will not just rely on memory. Effective use of dictionary is very important at Stage 3-but it is as important to teach students when to use it as it is when not to use it
Sixth form issues were discussed as the current GCSE format does not encourage students to develop effective learning skills. 11-16 do not focus on skills enough and time pressures lead to a lot of spoon-feeding and rote learning of set phrases for the exam. Some students end up with no knowledge about tense formation and this makes effective transition to ALevel very difficult.
Writing frames can be used during preparation at stage 1 and at stage 2 as a reference but they need to be designed in a way to avoid students to all produce very similar outcomes. Writing frames need to be basic to allow students to add a lot of their own language and personalise the piece to an appropriate level.

There is a great difference of expectation for the writing-AQA writing is being marked NOT moderated hence stricter and sometimes unpredictable application of the marking scheme in some cases.

A lot of schools asked for re-marks in September 2011, a lot more than in the past-particularly for writing. Some scores went up but not always enough to make a difference overall, particularly for C/D candidates.
It may be worth considering entering Controlled Assessment marks early as the marks to UMS tend to be more generous for the smaller January co-hort. (need to check 40% rule for banking modules) 
More and more samples are being published on the AQA websites to be used for moderation but it can be difficult to find information and documents on the website and the same thing goes for the Edexcel website. Maybe the ALL French online group could use the ALL French online wiki to highlight documents of particular importance/ interest.
As note-taking and good organisation skills are essential for students to do well at Stage 2, the idea of students having an "exam book" or "big book" with all corrected work in it as well as useful handout seemed a very good idea. Students can also highlight phrases that they may like to use in their Controlled Assessment to help them find them quicker when they are doing their Stage 2 preparation. 
I also found Jen Turner’s idea of getting previous Year 11 to make virtual post-it notes for the new Year 10 very useful. Look at her "post-it walls" here for the Reading exams, here for the Listening exams and here for the Controlled Assessments.
I am also looking forward to Jen's session on how ICT can support students for Controlled Assessment at the ILILC2012 Conference at The University of Southampton in February 2012.
Last but not least Language World, ALL's National Conference will take place in Manchester from 29 to 31st March 2012 and I am also looking forward to meeting more languages teachers to discuss and find out more about topics like assessment at GCSE. 
You are not yet an ALL member? It is not too late to join! Join ALL and be part of the largest network of languages teachers in the UK.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

ALL French Online-Come and Share your GCSE experiences!

Are you a UK Languages teacher and NOT a member of ALL, the Association for Language Learning? If so, why not?

At a time when it is getting more and more crucial for langage teachers to take their own professional development in their own hand, ALL offers wonderful opportunities for formal CPD as well as informal peer-to-peer support.

If you are a teacher of French and, like the rest of us, you are still trying to grapple with the new GCSE,  come and share your experiences with ALL French Online in our first online meeting using Flashmeeting for Friday 9th December 8-9pm.

To support the group, I have also set up a wiki
You are all invited to join the wiki, edit it and add resources linked with our first Flashmeeting: Tips and Tricks for French GCSE.

If you are not familiar with Flashmeeting, do not worry as it is really easy to pick up. All you need is a microphone, a headset or a webcam. Do contact me if you want to try it before the meeting. To enter the meeting you just need to click on

You can register as a user-but please note that this does not automatically give you the right to set up meetings-or as a guest, but your name will not appear on the list of people present if you choose to enter as a guest. Some more information about flashmeeting can also be found at

To get us started, I suggest the following Agenda:

1. Quick introductions-please include whether you are currently teaching GCSE, what language you teach and what examination board you use
2. Lessons learnt from last year's GCSE co-hort
3. Useful activities to prepare students for the speaking and writing CAs
4. Tools and resources to help preparing for the  Listening and Reading exam

Looking forward to meeting you and thank you for checking here how else your subject association can suppport you.

Sunday, 27 November 2011


I was delighted to be able to share a few strategies to improve students' pronunciation in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) this Friday as I view good pronunciation as one of the most effective ways to boost students' confidence in their own ability as linguists. Indeed, if their accent in the foreign language is not at least understandable, performance in exams and in a real life context will be poor and lead to demotivation.
As mentioned in the article, practising pronunciation is a challenging activity for teenagers who often perceive it as a threat to their own British identity at a time of their lives when they are not too sure about their identity anyway. Using puppets or drama techniques like role-play can help but what else can be done to help students improve their pronunciation in the foreign language?
Phonics Phonics Phonics
Teach basic pronunciation rules through examples and regularly re-visit key sounds through starter activities. Use mirrors and discuss with students how some sounds come through their noses or from the back of their throats.  Focus on how foreign language speakers stress certain words and do not pronounce specific letters e.g. “s” for plural in French or “nt” at the end of verbs. For Spanish and German, show how "regular" the sound patterns of language are and get students to decode and pronounce sophisticated words they have learnt in other subjects.
Practise Practise Practise 
Provide opportunities for students to practise individually, in pairs and small groups. Tongue twisters and rhymes are great for starters, with students listening to a model and then practising in pairs to encourage self and peer correction.
Make practising pronunciation into a game. Play vocabulary games like noughts and crosses with two teams or in pairs and make accurate pronunciation one of the criteria for scoring points. Encourage students to correct each other’s pronunciation and step in if needed to clarify pronunciation rules. Some students could volunteer to be "pronunciation expert", in charge of reminding the class of a specific sound e.g. i always sounds "ee" in Spanish, "oi" always sounds "wa" in French...
Use poetry, riddles and rhymes to make students more sensitive to pronunciation patterns. A simple exercise where students have to match rhyming words can really get them to reflect on pronunciation patterns.
Music is a wonderful tool to get students to look at language in terms of sounds and rhythms. Get your students to sing difficult words, they will slow down and their pronunciation will improve instantaneously.

Songs and raps in the target language can be used effectively as pronunciation models. Students listen to the song or rap, the teacher identifies a repetitive structure as a model and students write their own lines and practise them. The raps or songs can then be peer-assessed with a focus on pronunciation.

Using Technology such as Voki, the speaking avatar site, can provide a good model in the target language through its text-to-speech facility. Students can also give their avatar a voice by recording themselves and get their pronunciation assessed by their peers verbally or through comments. Other sites like Blabberize can enable students to make a photo "speak" and will also motivate them to try different sounds and voices. 

Get students to practise at home by recording speeches using Audacity, the free audio recording software, or listening to model answers and making notes about the pronunciation, like where silent letters are or which part of the word is stressed. Making them aware of inflection, the patterns of stress and intonation in a language, is the most difficult unless students are quite musical. Students could just demonstrate whether they think the intonation is going up or down.This can be very good to get them to realise that in Spanish, for instance, the penultimate syllable is often stressed whereas in French it tends to be the last syllable, which explains differences in how the language sounds.  

Finally, getting students to improve their pronunciation will not only mean better exam results in languages but also students developing a more positive self-image as linguists.  This should also lead to improved self-esteem and impact on their overall school achievements.
What strategies do you use in your classroom to make your students more aware how the language inflections, rhythm and specific sounds? 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

AQA Course: Feedback on 2011 GCSE Examination in Modern Foreign Languages, 11th November 2011, York.

I attended this course in York hoping to find out ways to improve GCSE results through understanding better the pitfalls of this new exam. However, the frustration shown by the majority of the teachers present, particularly as regards the severe and /or erratic marking of the speaking and the writing Controlled Assessment, unfortunately hijacked parts of the training.
2011 Examinations compared with 2010 Examinations 
It was stressed that the grade boundaries had to change considerably to mirror the changes from a very small cohort to a full one in 2011. The concern was that very little support was provided to allow teachers to give a reasonably accurate predicted grade for the first co-horts going through the new GCSE examination.
Daring to be more creative
As could be expected, a lot of teachers “played safe” in their choice of topics and relied on topics that had been also part of the previous specification. Some tasks with a more imaginative setting/ content were suggested including:
Being in a celebrity relationship (Context: Relationship and Choices)
Pressures and problems at school  (Cross-context) for speaking
and, for writing:
Free time and the Media (Context: Free Time and The Media)
A job application (Context: Current and Future Jobs)
Some examples of speaking tasks linked to the same topic-holiday-were also given to show how bullet points could be differentiated for higher ability students e.g. Where do you normally go on holiday?/ Tell me about last year’s summer holiday.
For students to gain confidence in their Listening skills, it was suggested to give a reading activity based on the transcript as a homework task before the actual listening activity in class.
At stage 1 anything is permitted but the task must not be given in its entirety or with just a bullet point changed. However, individual bullet points can be practised and marked individually.
In 2014 the GCSE examinations will all become linear-everything will happen in the summer with no early entries in January.
The majority of centres adapted AQA tasks or devised their own tasks. Some tasks were more creative: interview with an air crash survivor, being in a celebrity relationship, big brother interview…
Schools set either the same task for the entire class or differentiated task on same topic.
For retaking the writing, the same topic can be used but the title and all bullet points have now to be changed.
It is important to have the task ready at the start of stage 1 for the teaching to precisely cover all the points needed to cover the task.
Speaking/ writing: In speaking all bullet points have to be addressed whereas in writing, the title is the most important. In fact, bullet points are not compulsory for writing tasks and are often used to support weaker candidates.
A broad title for the writing ensures that everything produced by candidates is relevant but it also makes it very difficult to organise tasks for student to retake in that specific context.
There is also sometimes some confusion between title and scenario E.g. Write a blog your holidays and what went wrong. The titles and scenario need to be different and there is a need for consistency. For instance, if there is a mention of a competition in the scenario, it must be mentioned in the task written by students.
When there is an overlap between the writing and speaking tasks, it is not appropriate to use the same bullet points, both tasks need to be “sufficiently different” to ensure students produce a very different outcome.
For speaking, the recorded time begins as soon as the teacher asks the first question relating to the first bullet point.
Stretching the More Able
Teachers need to ensure that opportunities are provided for more able students to reach the top band.
Opinions are essential: to get 3-4 and above a minimum of 2 opinions are required. They can be basic but they must be there to justify the mark.
Developments are also very important. They are instances when candidates offer extra language not specifically requested e.g. adding extra pieces of information, opinions, facts, etc…
In the best speaking tests, students need to take over and present each one of their bullet points like a mini-presentation e.g. 5 bullets = 5 mini-presentations
More able students need to be able to narrate events to get in the higher band and they also have to justify their opinions twice, which is where a lot of centres lost marks. The 2 different opinions and 2 different reasons could be introduced by par exemple, parce que etc…
For the Range and Accuracy, to get into the top band, a minimum of 2 tenses (any 2) is required but it is not needed for the 5-6 band.
Demain je vais au marché does not count as a future tense.
Able students must have a variety of tenses e.g. 5 different tenses (higher candidate) as a greater range of tense will add to the complexity.
Variety of expression is very important and students must actively be taught to use synonyms and how to express same things in lots of different ways.
The use of moods does not count as a different tense so if a candidate uses present indicative and present subjunctive, it still counts as one tense: present.
5 out of 5 for pronunciation seems to be more common for Spanish & German as the pronunciation is more phonetically regular.
There were some issues with high ability students who did not meet the 4 minutes minimum required for the speaking test. This meant that they could not get 10 for communication but they still could get 9.
Teachers do not need to push weaker candidates to do all 4 minutes as they would not get a 10 for communication anyway.
A strong emphasis on memorisation can have an adverse effect on students’ pronunciation e.g. verb endings in French, so it is very important to practise and record models and students at stage 1.
To assess the Interaction and fluency, teachers need to consider how much students hesitate and do not know what to say next.
4 or 5 bullet points seem to work the best for most candidates but teachers must not ask questions out of the order. 
Unpredictable Questions
Unpredictable questions should also be very simple e.g. in the present tense, using cognate…  Students must answer the unpredictable questions in a full sentence with a verb in order to score for their answer. It is also essential for the teacher to print all unpredictable questions on the teacher’s sheets sent to the board.
You need between 4 and 6 different unpredictable questions for a class of 30 to ensure that it remains unpredictable.  You can link unpredictable questions with broad topic e.g. do you like ice-cream for the holiday and all unpredictable questions must be answered at the end of the test.
Teacher may want to get students to prepare 30 questions making it clear that the bullet points for the tasks will be drawn from there. At Stage 1, the teacher should not move on until students are comfortable with all the bullet points.
Planning Sheets and Dictionaries
If conjugated verbs are left on the planning sheet and students use them, students will be marked down.  le/ la are counted in the number of words.
It was stressed that students should not be actively encouraged to use a dictionary at stage 3 because of the time it can waste. However, using the verb tables in the dictionary can be a lot more useful to help student to proofread what they have written.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Language Show, Saturday 24th October 2011: Seminars for Language Teachers

The first seminar I attended was about teaching grammar. James Stubbs, who now teaches English in Spain after many years of teaching languages in the UK introduced his concept of “Sticky grammar” taught through the Target Language.
Sticky grammar was presented as a way to reach all learners in a mixed ability group, supporting the lower ability student and stretching the higher ability one.
James then introduced his objective:  to use indirect object pronoun correctly: lui/le
The first step was to use direct object pronoun with agreement in present tense and we were shown how Direct Object pronouns can be taught through classroom routine:

Voulez-vous nous donner un point?
Voulez-vous nous expliquer l’activité un peu mieux?
Tu m’as parlé en anglais!
Veux-tu/ peux-tu nous repeater en anglais?
Peux-tu nous expliquer pourquoi tu es en retard?
Veux-tu lui expliquer pourquoi tu es en retard?
Vous devez…
Vous devrez surveiller les autres et il faut leur dire “éliminé”
Then was introduced the use of direct object pronouns with agreement for number and gender in the perfect tense. Success depends on students knowing the vocabulary and the gender of the vocabulary.
It is best to use a perfect tense where the past participle sounds different for masculine and feminine e.g. ouvert/ ouverte.
Use multiple choices as a starter activity to get students to focus on correct spelling and/ or pronunciation e.g. is it : ordinateur, ordinature or ordinataire?
Songs can also help students to remember vocabulary lists.
Colour-coding helps students learning the items of vocabulary with the correct genders attached to them e.g. blue for masculine, red for feminine.
Slow-reveal activities can help student practise vocabulary and develop their listening skills when it is combined with paraphrasing, reading a text or singing a song.
Genders can also be associated with a different side of the room e.g. to your right for masculine and to your left for feminine. Students may reinforce practise of the vocabulary by pointing to/ turning to the correct side of the room or moving towards it.
Print cards related to a story and read the story very quickly.  Students   will not understand everything and will have to re-construct the story sing the cards provided as clues.
More details about sticky grammar can be found on James’blog.
I then attended Joe Dale’s No brainer blogging for beginners workshop, which featured some of possibilities offered by Posterous blogs (now Posterous Spaces).
As the blog was being built in front of us, it showed very clearly that Posterous is a very pupil-friendly platform. As a result, I now really want to explore it further to develop students’ blogging. What struck me most was how easy it was to embed a range of media including word documents, powerpoints,  audio files, video and you tube links, something that can sometimes be quite problematic for beginners using platforms like Blogger or Wordpress.
The fact that Posterous also offers a choice between public and private blogs also makes it very suitable for student blogging.
Last but not least, I attended a very informative and entertaining workshop on memory techniques lead by Nick Mair, who was also at The Language Show to support the Speak to the Future campaign as shown by his “promotional” suit.
Nick adopted a no-nonsense approach to what can be done to support our students with memorization, acknowledging that the issue was general but that the solutions had to be specific to a wide range of students. He also mentioned differences in the amygdala that means that girls tend to find it easier to commit to long-term memory and learn from their mistakes.
Other issues mentioned enabled us to get a bigger picture of the issues linked with memorization like sleep deprivation, how teachers use and project their voice and visualisation.
I also found the explanation of the Link method quite interesting, as we were given an example where we had to tell a story linking a random list of objects to different rooms in our house. The aim was to create a way to visualise the whole list and it proved effective for many people.
Other factors to consider were:
Stress-how to reduce it and how to enable students to manage their mood levels. This can be combined with the effects of alcohol and drugs or general unhealthy habits: poor diet, lack of exercise…
Need to regularly monitor how effective the different strategies are for different students e.g. do you remember better using quizzes or flashcards
Students need to look at notes on a regularly basis to develop healthy studying habits
Students need to be organised-especially for male-as this will have a big impact on the quality of the final outcome
Avoid absenteeism at all cost as it interferes with good studying habits
Distribute study into “bitesize” rather than large chunks as the brain can only hold 5-9 things at any one time. 
Encourage peer learning as teaching someone else is a very effective way to commit to memory.
Last but not least, students’ exposure to a wide range of strategies was more likely to have an impact on effective memorization rather than any one specific approach.
The Language Show was yet again a fantastic opportunity to share ideas and learn lots of new things and as it was during our half-term holiday, it also gave me some quality time to think about how I was going to implement some of these ideas.  See you again next year!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

ALL French Day at Gosforth High School, Saturday 15th October

The first session was delivered by Jacqueline Turner who is a Lead Practitioner for Teaching and Learning  at Gosforth High School (now part of Gosforth Academy). The focus of the session was to look at different strategies to enable students to give extended answers for their controlled assessments.
The strategies included maximum participation and engagement in class, opportunities for language manipulation e.g. re-ordering of sentences and sequencing, Peer/ self –assessment, grammar auction-when students bid and find mistakes in a text, Running dictations as well as scrolling activities as a starter or plenary to encourage students to proofread and read for specific detais.
Other examples of activities included:
Verbs in different tenses are identified and need to be attached  to the correct person/ infinitive. They can be colour-coded e.g. black: present/ blue: past tense / red: future tense
For kinesthetic learners, students are sent to different parts of the room and blindfolded. A partner reads a text and the student has to demonstate understanding of the tense: a step forward is  a future tense and a step backward is a past tense.
20-sided dice can be borrowed from the Maths department. Each side is allocated to a different word to get a choice of 20 words.
e.g. 1. Regarder-je/ nous, 2. ecouter-tu/ils etc…
Students work in pairs with the partner challenging the other student: what is the ending? How is it spelt?...
Russian roulette: Use a random name generator with different verbs and people to create competitions
Just a minute: Speaking challenge-if they pause/ repeat/ stop, their partner takes over. Whoever is talking at the end of the minute wins.
Talking trio: 3rd person listens and assesses: e.g. “got the passé compose” wrong
Speed dating: rows, move down 2 to change partners. Speed dating can be use to revise vocabulary or questions/ answers for the speaking controlled assessment.
Writing race: Students can be given specific feedback e.g. look at the tenses, focus on verb ending...
Working as a team can give confidence especially before the actual exam.
Translate together: Students given a model paragraph in English in pairs they have to translate –can be differentiated. This activity is good to free up the teacher for individual feedback and it is effective to teach students back-up phrases-several ways of saying the same thing.
Blankety blank: Students fill in the gaps, use different phrases. This activity done with mini-whiteboard ensures maximum engagemen from the students.
Change the variable: e.g. mon père s’appelle Dan, ma mère s’appelle Marie sa mère s’appelle Marie ( change one at a time)
The next session was delivered by Steve Mulgrew, an educational consultant who is also currently supporting a local school as interim Head of MFL. The session focused on the use of ICT and “gadgets” to make language lessons more engaging.
The spotlight  tool from the Interactive Whiteboard was used to introduce the rooms in the house with the spotlight revealing different squares representing different parts of the house. One obscured square was used to carry on practising with a kim’s game, where students need to identifiy the room that is hidden by the dark square.
Stickers can be used to enable to show understanding of where the different rooms are.
Promethean activexpression handsets can be used with students having to fill in gaps to demonstrate understanding of gender, number, names of rooms, verb endings etc...Students just key in the missing words and feedback can be provided immediately.
Bells can be used to show understanding or to focus on a particular word/ tense
Easi-view (visualiser) can be used instead of using individual textbooks.. hhe visualise is also a great tool for AFL and students to look at each other’s work
Beach ball with questions for talking (talk ball) can be used as a starter to drill basic questions or revise question words.
Digital photo frames can provide a dynamic and personalised display with text saved as pictures.This ensure that students are constantly visually stimulated with relevant key words and phrases.
Session 4 was delivered by The Newcastle University Language Resource Centre
Linguacast, teachers’ toolkit and Universed were the 3 main resources featured.
Linguacast is a free podcasting for language learning site with references to specific vocabulary.
Teachers’ toolkit is a site with teacher’s  videos with worksheets/EFL worksheet too.  
Universed is a free aggregator with safe sites that can be used for student viewing-possibly lso for homework. All materials are tagged to make it easier to find relevant materials quickly.
Free apps will also be launched soon, so watch this space...
Last but not least, Lesley Welsh, an Assistant Head and Director of MFL and International Coordinator at Manor College of Technology in Hartlepool, gave an inspirational presentation showcasing 3 language projects.
The first project, “Les pirates arrivent” is a KS2/KS3 6 weeks transition project. Y7 French teachers were observed by and observed  Y6 literacy lessons. There was also a workshop day to create resources with the aim to re-cap, consolidate and extend what may have been done at primary. The project also included a baseline assessment in all four skills at the end.
The project included an overview of “Le monde francophone” with:
Food from French speaking countries : bananes plantain ananas etc… and “Le carnaval en Guadeloupe”.
The second project was about the Republique du Congo and included 2 workshop days to create resources. The project was for 8 lessons and 1 launch assembly, with the SCIAF (Scottish CAFOD) providing links for charity work.
A Domino activity was used to introduce key facts about Congo (in French): mortalité infantile, alphabétisation, Espérance de vie, exportations, la monnaie
The Listening resources from the SCIAF website were used: e.g.  Joseph: video with/ without subtitles
There are many issues including children soldiers and AIDS but it is important to avoid stereotyping.
As a Speaking activity, students worked in threes : Samuel/ interviewer/ typical British teenager and used a video or voice recorder. The Listening and Speaking activities were also used to make Y9 see that  GCSE is accessible.
The third project was called “Aim Higher in Languages” and  focused on KS4/KS5 Transition and encouraging uptake at ALevel.
Amongst all the activities mentioned, I liked the idea of a voice-over activity. students worked with  anti-alcohol / drinking adverts (in English) and worked in small groups to make a voiceover for the adverts. They were not allowed to listen to original in English to avoid them just trying to translate the original. Instead, they were encouraged to be creative. They used Movie maker to do the voice-over. I felt this activity was motivating and could easily be adapted for KS4 or possibly KS3 students.                                                                                                                                                                          

Monday, 24 October 2011

EasyType French Accents: Encourage Accurate Use of Accents

Producing text-based resources in French can take longer as teachers need to learn new tricks to type in accents quickly as well as other French characters not supported by the English keyboard. I have also seen many otherwise good resources-from native and non-native French speakers- lacking the expected accuracy in that area, which does not encourage students to think that accents are a big deal.

I really feel that not encouraging students of all abilities to write or type accents correctly is wrong, particularly given the strong link accents have in French with pronunciation. However, accents can be the last straw for students when they are trying to to type in French, something they usually find challenging anyway. This is one of the reasons why I first got interested in the EasyType French Accents software, produced by Accent Grave, a Toronto-based company. Accent Grave also has a full French version of its site that can be accessed from here.

With EasyType, you can type French accents by just pressing the same key twice or more to get the French accent you want, in a very similar way to what would happen while texting on a mobile. For instance, to type é, just press e twice. So, no more awkward key combinations and numeric codes… A French typography feature even simplifies typing French punctuation marks, also allowing you to type French punctuation marks according to standard French typography.

For example:
• — Double-quotes are replaced with chevrons « … »

• — Press - (dash) twice to type — (em-dash)

• — Modern French typography is used by default. Otherwise, a space is added before ? ! ; :

Pricewise, at $19.99 (about £13) for a single licence which lets you use EasyType French Accents on up to two computers, it certainly is a good value product and the company also offers substantial volume discounts, which would be ideal for schools or for students to buy the software in bulk. If your school offers Spanish, a similar product is currently being developed for Spanish, so watch this space.

To find out more, you can also check the company’s Twitter or Facebook page. This easy-to-use product could just be what you are after to re-focus your students on French accents and on the importance of writing accurately…

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Language Show 2011: Show and Tell

Yet again the Language Show turned out to be great for inspiration and networking. The Show and Tell was fantastic, with lots of ideas and suggested tools to use.
My problem was that I wanted to demonstrate Songify, the iphone app that turns plain speech into something like a jingle or part of  song but the IT started bevahaving in an odd way before I started my mini-presentation. 

So here are the powerpoint and the sound files.

Please note that I am not suggesting that Songify will make it easier for ALL students to remember the whole of their controlled assessment preparation. In fact, as the maximum length of a song is 1 minute 20 seconds, this probably will not work as the only memorization strategy. However, I feel that this tool has a lot of potential to get students to remember how a short account is sequenced and to enable them to develop a stronger link between the spoken and written word. It is also a fun way to drill specific structures... Let's share ideas on how it could be used in the languages classroom...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

ICT and Languages Conference, 25-26th February 2012, University of Southampton

The ICT and Languages Conference will also be called #ililc2012 in reference to the fantastic ICT Links into Languages conference that took place last year. At #ililc2012 you will be able to find out how to use blogs and wikis and you will get your dose of inspiration for the rest of year. Like last year, a range of speakers will demonstrate different tools and appproaches for users at different levels, so you don't need to be an expert or a complete novice to attend.

#ililc2012 will also provide you with great networking opportunities, ensuring further support and inspiration after the conference. I am delighted to be involved again and looking forward to learning from others and sharing more ideas. In fact, I know that the most difficult part will be-again-to choose the sessions I would like to attend as they are all so interesting.

This year the plenary speakers will be Joe Dale and José Picardo 

Workshop speakers are: Annalise Adam, Wendy Adeniji, Alex Blagona, Vanessa Burns, Joe Dale, Catherine Elliott, Stuart Gorse, Esther Hardman, Isabelle Jones, Helen Myers, Carole Nicoll, Juliet Park, Bertram Richter, Jo Rhys-Jones, Amanda Salt, Clare Seccombe, Lisa Stevens, Jenny Turner, and Sara Vaughan.

You can find out more about speakers here  and there is also a Show and Tell event on the Saturday evening, to be held at the Highfield House Hotel. Last year's was also a great part of the conference, enabling all delegates to exchange ideas and really get to talk to each other-and sing too!!

You can still get an Early bird registration fee of £150 for both days if registrations and payments are made by 23.59hrs on 1st November 2011.

The Standard rate is £175 for both days / £125 for one day, with concessionary rates available for Postgraduate students-£100 for both days / £75 for one day (name and contact details of your tutor will be required when submitting your registration form).

For more information please contact Languages South East on or call 023 8059 9135.

In our current climate of austerity and difficulty to gain valuable subject-specific CPD, the ICT and Languages Conference will offer you much more than a head start with using new technologies in your languages classroom. The networking opportunities will also support the development of your own Personal Learning Network, the best MFL staffroom in the land...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

ALL French Day at Gosforth High School, Saturday 15th October 2011

I had a fantastic day at Gosforth high School today presenting about how PLTS can support Speaking and Writing controlled assessments. Here is a copy of my presentation.

Friday, 7 October 2011

MFL Show and Tell + at Cramlington Village, Saturday 24th September : Creative Partnerships

IMG_1181 by Joe Dale
IMG_1181, a photo by Joe Dale on Flickr.

It was only last year that I was hosting the MFL Show and Tell at my school, The Radclyffe School. The Show and Tell has an easy unconference format that enables a lot of networking and informal exchanging of good practice. However informal the formal , do not be fooled, as I have learnt more by attending the previous Show and Tell sessions than on a combination of at least 3 "formal" training days. This time, as I could not joined in person, I skyped my contribution and really enjoyed sharing my experience of creative partnerships.

The main aim of Creative Partnerships is to work with a creative practitioner on something that is usually a cross-curricular project. Last year, I worked with a film director on a video clip to promote languages and this year, I focused on music using a French rap project to try to engage some of my de-motivated boys. Although at first the project was not particularly aimed at boys, it soon became clear that the rap was a more popular vehicle with boys than with girls. After a lot of discussion, I managed to get a small group of girls working on it too, but 15 out of the 18 were boys.

I introduced the group to French rap and slam, showing them different genres within the genre and also how different it is from American Rap. We then discussed possible themes. Identity was a common theme but other themes emerged including Peace in Palestine, Racism, Bullying and Prejudice-hardly what I expected from a group of Year 8 boys! We then looked at developing the themes in small groups and we were lucky enough to work with a local MC and a music producer who could also speak French.

The first hurdle was to make the language accessible and I showed the students how simple structures can be effective, for instance describing a situation by naming what is around it. This was inspired by the French Slam Artist Grand Corps Malade's song "Un verbe: aimer" where he describes all the feelings rushing through his head as he is falling in love-all are nouns apart from one verb: aimer (to love). We also worked with cognates and known vocabulary like greetings and food, trying to make it sound good, without necessarily making it all rhyme accurately. This was great to develop their dictionary skills as well as their awareness of phonic patterns.

Pronunciation was an issue as cognates always encourage students to pronounce in an anglicised manner. To avoid this, I recorded myself reading the students' texts so that they could practise by listening to it rather than just reading it. The students also worked with a local Artist who helped them to design a CD cover for the rap. The rap was then put together by mixing all students' contributions. The students agreed on a beat, they had a try on the drums and the guitar and after quite a few attempts, our rap was born.

I learned a lot working with the students on something different and I enjoyed working with non-teachers to produce the rap. I am not entirely convinced the project will mean that all students decide to opt for French next year, but it has certainly changed our working relationship. I now know so much more about what makes them tick as well as about all the talents that had not been revealed to me during their French lessons...