Monday, 15 June 2015

Golden Nuggets

In amongst all the madness that the summer term brings (especially with new curriculum and new GCSE specs to plan for) a group of us have had the opportunity to go to another school to pick up some new and fresh outstanding ideas for teaching. Maiden Erlegh was the venue, and we were there for two days, one session last Tuesday and again today. This gave us an opportunity to try out tasks that we had tried on the course before today. Admirably led by Martin and Kat, we left the first day buzzing.

My favourites are below:

Golden Nuggets:
Who doesn't love a post-it for engagement...! The Golden Nugget sheet was given to us at the start, with a pile of post-its, at the start of the session. The purpose is to gather key points throughout the session, the ones that make you think "Wow, that's the one!". The sheet has 6 boxes on, and if you found yourself with more than 6 golden nuggets, you have to then work out which one you drop off.

It is a great way to gather and filter the most important points throughout a session.
This was the first thing I trialled on my return to the classroom. My year 10s (who are split between 3 teachers) are very reluctant active participants and collaborators, so I am forever trying to find ways to inspire them. They are also still very wobbly with tenses.
So I introduced a new perfect tense acronym, PAPP, and stripped back to the basics of the tense. Person, Auxillary, Past Participle. We spent the lesson working through this, and I had given them the golden nugget sheet at the start.
The responsibility is then on the students to note down what is important to them, things they need to know and want to take away from the session. Which they did. At the end of the lesson I asked them for feedback, and the majority loved it. So it is definitely something I will use on a regular basis, not only with them but with other year groups.
Outstanding Body
The task for this was on a sheet. All that was on the sheet was an outline of a body and the question "What makes an outstanding teacher?". In groups we bombarded the page with our ideas in the set time (3 mins) given. The feedback was done in groups, going around the room with each group saying something they had written, that hadn't been said before. Questions were asked for more detail, but the idea was to be the last man standing - have more responses than any other group.

The challenge then was to work out how we could apply it to our subjects. So I have used it twice since Tuesday:
1. Year 9s have been researching Burkina Faso for their projects that they are working on in groups. So in their groups, I set them to task on an outline of the country and said it was a competition. They flooded the sheet with facts and figures, using their research notes. They then took turns in groups to say one of their facts, with the idea that they would gain facts from others as well.

2. Year 7s are working on their Gruffalo unit, so I used an outline of the Gruffalo for them to create as many description sentences of the Gruffalo as possible in the time given. I had to stop time to point out that the best way to win the competition is if all members of the team participated at the same time, but the ideas and outcome were very good.

Spot The Difference
This is a task that I have started to trial with year 10s, to increase their confidence with spoken French, but also with working together confidently. In essence, students sit back-to-back, or next to each other with a barrier in between them, with a Spot The Difference picture each (which I label A and B to aid myself!).

The students then take turns to make a statement about their picture, so that together they work out what the differences are - by speaking to each other, not by showing each other the pictures! It seemed the perfect opportunity to reinforce prepositions, and use "il y a...", over and over. So at the moment the students have started to work together with someone else who has the same picture (so A students work with A students to prep), mainly to gain the specific vocab. They will then be in a position to work with a B student back-to-back.

The best part of the sessions is when one of the leaders, Martin, asked with every session, "How will you differentiate that?". So it is all well and good coming up with an amazing resource, but the key idea is that it can be differentiated for all.

Food for thought. And more to follow.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

der Grüffelo - getting the mice engaged

So this half term we have 4 weeks until we 'rollover' to the new timetable. Last half term all students in KS3 sat their end-of-year exams, which means now our focus is totally on skills, challenge and engagement, rather than levels.

(As background, Years 7 and 8 have been on a carousel of language-learning this year, which has been a challenge (a positive one), which means the students don't know one single language thoroughly. Instead, they have tasted French, German and Spanish, and they have now chosen the language they want to focus on from the new year onwards.)

Therefore, we (the MFL dept) worked together to create mini-projects that would cover the 4 weeks of June, continue to challenge the students and ensure they used their language skills.

For Year 9, we are focusing on Burkina Faso, and the outcome of the project will be based on their colour groupings (see a number of my previous posts).

In Year 8 we are working on a unit based on Talent Shows.

Year 7s are working on a Gruffalo project, which has so far been very well received.

The first 2 lessons have been based on the Gruffalo song (song 3) (available to anyone who wants it!):

Text analysis a-go-go, students' knowledge of the Gruffalo book helps but certainly isn't essential.

Students have started to create their own Gruffalo songs, with support from a writing frame, and we even reached the sunny heights of um...zu.... phrases - after only a term of German. The lessons have been filled with challenge, and the students have been much more engaged. A good thing about this project is we are trialling it for the new curriculum for year 7 in September. 

Below is an example of today's work, from a student who struggles with literacy skills and who needs support regularly. No support (other than the writing frame) was given. Happy times!

Once the students have written their own version of the song, we will be focusing on compound nouns for all the foods that the Gruffalo likes to eat!

I shall keep you posted!

Monday, 16 March 2015

My #ililc5 Experience - Saturday

It is almost a month since #ililc5, and it most certainly did not disappoint. I cannot tell you how much I look forward to this weekend every year, not only for the new ideas and approaches I learn, but also for catching up with good friends (not just virtual colleagues).

What I have been doing since then (to explain the delay of this post) is treading water, and in between times trialling ideas borne from #ililc5. So I am going to go through the sessions I went to, and feedback already on things I have tried.

Take Away Homework - James Gardner

There are often many posts on Twitter about takeaway homework, so I wanted to see how to go about it, and to leave with some ideas for my department. There are many ways to set it up, and many different tasks, so I will definitely be trialling this next half term.
The session brought up many questions, which led to some good discussions about homework. We also discussed tweaking the sample menus that we were shown, by maybe adding POINTS to each task - 10 points per 'easy' task, 50 points for more complex tasks, so students didn't just plump for an easy task. Set a points target for the homework.

James also used PADLET to collect student feedback in one place. It reminds me of Linoit.

Investigative Language Learning  - Ryan Hoy

This session was extremely insightful, and it was great to watch students being brought very much out of their comfort zone from the very start. The idea is that students are made to feel confused and unsure momentarily at the start, and as they progress through the tasks, they learn more and more to be able to redo the original task/question much more confidently. Confusion is brought into the equation to heighten the challenge and to induce engagement. Ryan has found that extreme challenge and group-based investigation have enriched his lessons.

Ryan has changed how he delivers lessons as a response to the following:

Students start the lesson off with a multiple choice task, when they stand in a different part of the room, depending on what they feel the answer is. This is an even better task if the students have no reason to know the answer. The example given to us was a History question, and I think it helps to put yourself in the shoes of students when you do something like this in a subject other than your own.

Ryan then gave us tasks to inform us further, this time relying on team work and collaboration. All the while, we knew that what we were learning and discovering was helping us answer the original question.

The key aspect of this session for me is that the students are doing most of the work. The onus is on the students to investigate, to not be dependent upon the teacher. The role of the teacher in this style of lesson moves from that of a leader and teacher to one of a roving prompter.

We discussed what makes a good investigation (which should be featuring in tasks and lessons):
  • Clues
  • Red herrings
  • Gradual informing
  • Team work/collaboration
  • Checks at key junctures
  • Intrigue
  • Intense challenge
  • Confusion
  • Shared outcome
An example of this is with Time teaching - instead of starting simply, give them the most complex phrases first, because they already know numbers and should be able to investigate the structure and work out what each bit means. This moves away from the repetition and spoon-feeding.

This ties in really nicely with my Bloom's section of my talk - why give the majority the simple structure and cap the complexity?

Ryan showed us a 'highlights' video of a lesson, in which Year 9s were accessing a Drugs lesson in Spanish.

The stages of learning went:
  • Vocab (jumbled)
  • Mixed sentences (stuck underneath the tables) - unjumble in groups - point of confusion, as the sentences are quite high level
  • clue for the sentences around the room - work together
  • translation
  • ranking
  • justifying
This was great, as it showed progress, engagement, independence, and the role of the teacher was to further question and prompt so that the tasks were accessible for all.

We had school review week last week, which meant nervous colleagues came to ask advice about lessons. As a direct response to this session, I recommended the "Confusion" strand to the lesson, the starter of "stand in the appropriate place" and collaboration.

So thank you to Ryan for this session. I will definitely be investigating this further - using Easter holidays to create Investigative lessons.

Monday, 9 March 2015

POG Task with Bloom #ililc5

A quick addition, in my quest to carry on developing ideas...

At ililc5 (see my previous few blogs) I talked about our POG groups (Colour Differentiation groups) and Bloom's Questioning, and how that can fit into teaching MFL.

Above is a grid set up for a Running Dictation, using a text from Echo 1, for Year 7. To summarise the POG groups, POG stands for Purple Orange Green, and the students are allocated to their groups based on their end of year target level:
I am very conscious that we don't always use the right wording in our questioning, because students are working in a different language. But while we are asking the students to refine their language learning skills, I continue to develop how we stretch and challenge the students.
In case the picture of the POG grid isn't clear, the instructions for the running dictation are:

1. Identify which 2 adjectives  are used to describe each teacher:

2. Recognise which teacher is described with 3 adjectives?


3. Solve the mystery – How many linking words are used? 

Which ones are they?

4. Put the teachers in order of which you’d prefer to be taught by. Justify your order with reasons (in English.


5. Criticize the paragraph about Herr Heumann – why is it only a level 2?

6. Compose a better version of  Frau Schütte’s paragraph

I am using this tomorrow - will let you know!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Missed out on #ililc5?

Just in case you missed out on the brilliant weekend, here is a list of fab blogs offering details about it all. It is also for my benefit, so I can find them at the click of the button.

It was so good, I usually find choosing the top 5 new things to try quite an easy task. Not this time!

Thank you to Zena and the team at Southampton Uni for an excellent time.

In no particular order:

I shall keep adding, as they appear and as I find them!

Time to get DIRTy after #ililc5

During my presentation at #ililc5 I talked about student reflection and DIRT time, which is something we are trying to improve and get right at school. I forgot to mention it in my presentation blog, but that isn't a bad thing, because there is a lot to say about student reflection so it warrants its own blog post.

The purpose of FEEDBACK and REFLECTION should be

At the moment, our school policy for student feedback and reflection is two-fold.

1. WWW/EBI once every half term
2. Think Pink Go Green (TPGG) every two weeks

While I acknowledge and recognise the things that need to be shown in exercise books for the sake of monitoring, policy and tracking (and that bastard O word), I am a huge believer that the ONLY reason we should write anything in the students' books while we mark is for student progress. The only good to come of all the time-consuming pressure of marking has to be the increase in student confidence, participation and performance.

I refuse to be a puppet to box-ticking.

So at the moment, for TPGG, I ask the students to reflect on previous work, to improve work, to add ideas, to redraft, all with the purpose of reinforcing skills. All with the purpose of increasing the students' belief that they can do it.

As I flagged up in my presentation, part of increasing challenge in lessons is to increase the level and quality of reflection. So my department sat down together one afternoon with the sole purpose of working out how we can improve the quality of reflection time. My team also said that they felt the amount of content we have at KS3 means that quality reflection time (20mins at least) is difficult. So as a team we decided to cut down on content a bit to allow us to develop and improve the skills we are delivering.
Our DIRT sheet, which I showed the delegates at #ililc5, is now being trialled - one group per teacher - to see how they work and what improvements/tweaks need to be made. This is what it looks like now:
This is for one half term. The students read and respond to the TPGG feedback at the start of the lesson. They then enter what they have to do to improve - this is to prevent the students from replying "behave" or "do my work" when asked by observers what they need to do to improve. They date the TPGG evidence of their first step to improvement.
The danger with simple reflection is that once the student has reflected, they will forget that skill or improvement. A simple example I gave to the delegates was:
  • A child misspells 'tractor' over and over again
  • On reflection, the child copies out 'tractor' correctly 5 times
  • Later on in the unit the word 'tractor' continues to be misspelt

 This could be evidence that our type of reflection may be less effective. So our next two columns on the Dirt Diary are for students to show the relevant skill again in a piece of work later on in the unit. Over the weeks, students have their own personalised check list of skills that they need to remember and practise.

This means that the feedback to students need to be worded correctly, so they know which skills they need to focus on:

I shall be writing a new blog at the weekend, as the students in my trial group will be working on their reflection time tomorrow. I will also show the progress of the students' work, to see if it works!

Oh, and NEVER Google-image search the title of this page. The results will make your eyes bleed.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Now There's A Challenge - #ililc5

The quote above sums up why the #ililc conferences are so crucial for teachers. It is so important that we have access to as many ideas, pedagogies and approaches as possible to keep our methods of teaching - and the students' methods of learning - fresh and relevant. What makes being part of the #MFLTwitterati so worthwhile is that every week feels like a mini-version of the #ililc weekend - always learning, always sharing.

I chose to deliver my session on the idea of Challenge and Differentiation. I believe that if there isn't suitable challenge in your lessons, then the differentiation isn't right. And if you differentiate your tasks, then there will be challenge. I believe the two are inseparable.

Lee S Shulman, the originator of the quote above, worked with Bloom, who cropped up throughout my presentation. If you want to read more from him, go to

I started off my session, not only with this quote, but also with the reminder that I most certainly do not claim to have the answers, and that I wanted the purpose of the session to be to prompt discussion and reflection, which are crucial for continual development and improvement. I also said, although not as coherently as Lisa Stevens did in her Keynote soon after, that everyone in the room is an expert, and just because some of us have presented that day, they should not be overwhelmed or question their standing in the room.

Speaking of standing, the session started with Rachel Smith not being able to sit on a chair properly. Which ruined my opening comedy-fall-off-my-chair routine I had planned.

It is essential to remember at any CPD session that what works for others may not be the ideal solution for you, for your school, or for your class. What is equally as important, though, is that you are able to recognise ideas that may work and that can be manipulated and adapted. Never go to a CPD session with a closed mind.

So how can we challenge? Many ways: An idea of how is noted below:

While I am not going to go through each of these one by one, they all crop up and are intertwined. One of the big ideas that we are tackling at my school at the moment is the idea of the I CAN attitude - or the I CAN'T DO IT - YET approach. Students (and I know this isn't just at our school) would rather not attempt a task than run the risk of 'failing' - even though we want students to fail to be able to improve. It is ok to get it wrong.

I have retweeted the picture below on a number of occasions, because it holds so much truth in it.
But I needed to understand what that looked like in a classroom. How do we teach/train the students to have a growth mindset? If I had a penny for every time I counteracted a "I can't do it" with an "Of course you can", and went through the processes that students could adopt for the task... So imagine my joy when, during a parents' evening at school, I found a brilliant section in a fab book about how to go about this! Advancing Differentiation by Richard M Cash suddenly made it clear, in a few lines, in a sort of class pact:

With that CAN DO in mind, I then set the delegates to task on an eye-drawing mission.
1. Draw an eye (3 minutes)
2. Card sort of 5 drawings of eyes, all of which are of different skill levels
3. Match your drawing with one of the 5 eyes
4. Draw another eye, using the 'better' eyes as guidance on how to improve your eye. Prompt sheet given out, How To Draw An Eye - step by step, for those needing the extra support.

We did this at school in a mini-TeachMeet delivered by our Head of Art. It showed how to overcome the "I can't draw" attitude, as well as modelling different levels of ability, and step-by-step improvements. Students can start improving at the level they deem appropriate. Hello challenge and differentiation.

The discussion then started, and we questioned whether it would have been better for the initial drawing if the 5 eyes were on the board. But that wouldn't show the inate starting point of each student. In some instances it might be the appropriate way to start. As I said, I don't have all the answers!

I then wondered how we could apply that to MFL lessons and tasks. I trialled it with Year 9. I asked them to work in pairs to write a weather forecast, with no further input.

I then asked them to compare their report to my 4 samples (equivalent of the 5 eyes) on the board.

Once the students had worked out which one their report compared most to, they then had examples of the skills needed to be used to move up to the next example. Students understand (because of our colour group differentiation - see below!) that they do not have to stop at the next level, but they can move from red to blue, if they have the skills but just needed reminding.

Something I have developed, trialled and embedded across the department is Colour Differentiation Groups. We call them the POG groups (Purple Orange Green - high order stuff!) and the grid above shows how we use the target levels to group the and allocate the students to differentiation groups. We use these in class - not for every task, not every single lesson - and the students all know which group they are in and why. It is a really easy way to set differentiation tasks - we use the same texts for reading, the same soundfiles for listening, but set different questions for the different groups. Below is an example from a year 7 class - it was a running dictation and students were grouped in POG groups (one of each colour, where possible).

On creating this resource, I also tried to increase the complexity of the questioning (thank you, Mr Bloom) as I went through the POG groups. I am very mindful that, traditionally, when we plan lessons, we challenge fewer and fewer students with the higher order thinking skills as you go up the triangle of Bloom:

This relates to @EddieKayshun's Spaced Learning session - are we right to begin a topic with delivering individual words to the whole class - shouldn't that be the differentiated delivery for the least able? Shouldn't we allow all students the chance to rise up, instead of capping their skills/development?

Is this the way to go? This means that we are going to be adding a GOLD level for high achieving Purple students to aim for.

Continuing the idea of different levels of entry, different starting points and choice, I asked the delegates to spend 5-6 minutes designing their own versions of the "Today's Number" that was doing the rounds on twitter a few weeks ago:

I worked on an example which I have trialled - my challenge to anyone reading this is to make your own version, adapt it, and then Tweet it - let's have a #MotdeJour tag as well! (Oh, and tag me in as well!)

Time was ticking closer to the end of the session, and with thanks to Gill Ramage, MFL Advisor in Suffolk, I finished with the following slide, showing what Blooms looks like in an MFL lesson:

I love presenting, I love #ililc and I love the #MFLTwitterati.