Saturday, 14 July 2012

Oldham Network Event, Friday 13th July: Developing Students’ Independent Learning Skills in Languages

Please find here the resources I used, although I did not have the time to show everything as I was so busy listening to everybody else’s ideas!
Although the event had the central theme of developing independent learning in Languages, more ideas and tips were shared after we discussed the importance of “going back to basics”.
Books and other equipment:
Students need to be made responsible for using their books as a reference in  class. They can be encouraged to look after their books by writing page numbers, therefore preventing the temptation to tear pages and/ or write contents page at the back of their books referring to key grammar worksheets.
A small vocabulary book, stuck inside a main exercise book or carried with the main exercise book in a folder can help too.
Promoting the aims of learning languages:
Students need to be clear about the aim of language learning so that they do not consider perfect fluency as the expected outcome-hence the importance of realistic objectives presented to students. I also often like to challenge students with the “Why are we learning this” question, so that they cannot ask it later!  
Faculties shared what they do to promote language-learning in general, which included bringing back ex students who have developed a career using languages to talk to current students, inviting high profile local personalities like footballers who are fluent in several languages as well as take part in national competitions like Linguatrivia, LanguagePerfect or The Spelling Bee.
Even though students are currently not allowed to use dictionaries at GCSE apart from  in the stage 3 writing controlled assessment, it is an essential tool for linguistic development. We also discussed how important it was to show the difference between a dictionary and an on-line translator. Trials could be made using the translator to translate a nursery rhyme in Spanish, for instance, and then back to English to show how inaccurate the translations can be. There is also a strong need to develop students’ “meta language” and use of grammatical terminology. This will also help developing their literacy in their mother tongue.  
We all agreed that whenever possible, should be encouraged to buy their own dictionaries for class use, but unfortunately this is often something language teachers cannot rely on
Verb tables:
Once students know what a verb is, they need to be able to understand the concept of “infinitive” and realise that verbs in French, Spanish and German behave in a very different way compared with verbs in English. Being able to use a verb table in these languages is therefore definitely a step closer to linguistic independence.
Other resources:
The use of other resources such as learning mats was discussed. Learning mats can be laminated or just printed to encourage students to annotate them and add to them. I was also very interested to find out about the use of mini whiteboard to encourage students to produce a short piece of writing. Students do not respond to correcting in the same way when it is on a mini whiteboard as it is easier to erase and improve sentences. Pictures could also be taken of different pieces of work for students to reflect on/ correct/ improve/ assess the following lesson.
Collaborative writing exercises where students take it in turn to  “grow me a sentence” or write a story can also be supported by the use of dictionaries and learning mats
We all agreed that it was often better for teachers to keep the book that students use to record class work. This can create problems for homework but there are many ways to encourage good independent learning habits from home through homework booklets, homework projects, VLEs and language websites. Homework can also be supported at home by mobile technology,encouraging students to use mobiles to record themselves and practise their language skills using a range of apps.
We had a very long discussion about different ways to encourage student involvement in lessons using assessment for learning techniques and shared many documents on the wiki set up for the Oldham network.  
Self-assessment sheets can be used to support the  teacher’s professional judgement of the students’ progress. Students also need to be involved in the marking of their work by having to act upon comments and practise correct phrases and having time allocated in lessons to do this (MAD time-Make A Difference).
Comments can be made in different colours in students’ books to signal whether the work has been self-assessed, peer-assessed or teacher-assessed (sa/pa/ta)
Working with and from students’ mistakes as a starter or “connect” activity is also a good way to get students to reflect on their learning.  
 AVOCADOS posters are also an effective tool to get students to focus on success criteria for a specific piece of work:

A djectives
V erbs

O pinions
C onnectives

A dverbs

D etail

O ther tenses

S ubordinate clauses

Thank you very much to all participants for a very productive day. Looking forward to sharing more via our wiki or … twitter J

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