Sunday, 16 June 2013

Levels, changes and automobiles

I would just like to stand up and say "YESSSYYYYY!" to the proposed changes to GCSE MFL. I am delighted that, finally, we are to be rid of the time-wasting, memory-testing, soul-destroying Controlled Assessments. Although I would opt out of them right now if I could.

@spsmith45 writes a fine summary of the situation.

I don't think that the proposals (right at the end of the article - where else?) have been met with much more than relief and smiles from the majority of MFL teachers. Equal weighting for the 4 skills? Brilliant. What it means is that we can start training the current Year 7s already on the skills they need to pass GCSE Languages. It also means a change in focus and skills in the new SoWs, to ensure we are developing the students to be the best they can be. So there are quite a few challenges for us to juggle between now and the end of term. A slow end to the school year, you say? Think again, my friend.

We have exam week at school starting tomorrow for all year groups. In preparation for those opting for GCSE in the next two years, all students have been given preparation time before the writing and speaking exams, so they can practise their paragraphs and aim for the best level possible. (Levels. More of which in a bit.).Students have also been set revision as homework, armed with vocab sheets that summarise all units. Yet I am still not overly convinced that our students really know how to revise or learn. This is a skill that needs addressing right across the school (or nation, if enough of you agree), a notion that used to be taught in Year 7 at Costello under the umbrella of Active Learning. Every student knew by October what sort of learner they were, what tasks helped them learn the most effectively, which helped when it came to exams and tests. 

So I am a little nervous about the end of year exams.

So onto levels. The #MFLTwitterati had a good discussion earlier on this week about levels, and how the progression in levels matches to the expected progression across the board, based on end of KS2 data. This is what each child should be achieving:

(I will just interject now by saying I do not whole-heartedly agree that the KS2 results are necessarily reflective of a child's ability in every subject. Nor do I agree that levels in the core subjects at KS2 correlate to the levels at KS3. I certainly do not believe that students' progress and projection of results should be based purely on how well they mastered exams when they were 11. For a number of reasons, which I will not go into today!)

What makes it very frustrating is, in meetings, having to explain (again and again) why MFL looks so poor, from a performance point of view, on the charts, graphs and tables that we are presented with each meeting, when the measuring stick is how many sub-levels are they above their KS2 levels. 

I am thinking of buying a t-shirt that reads "They start on nothing with us!" and just wearing that every meeting! It may stop me nearly weeping each time! 

So I have started to collate data to see if I can work out a pattern, a rule, an anything that will help me and others understand the rate of progress. Do students ever actually reach their target level, based on 6 sub-levels of progress from their KS2 average score by the end of year 9?

The data I have is difficult to conclude from. Year 7s are all careering towards and beyond their 'end of KS2' average already, and many of them have made excellent progress. (Which means that they will still come up as negative progress on the magic spread sheets and graphs). Years 8 and 9 are tricky to conclude from, as some of the teaching they have had previously meant that they were underperforming big-time before this academic year. 

It will be easier to track the current year 7 as they go through KS3, to spot for patterns. 

And then comes the whole ditching of levels. Let us be free to teach the students all the skills they need. If you look at the document attached to the TES MFL forum, and read paragraph 1.12 on page 5, you will find

Proficiency in languages is vital to the future economic well-being of this country.

So.... this is a lot to think about. I do know that I will keep seeking advice, support and solace from the #MFLTwitterati.

What choon to include for today? Well, I am on alphabetical listening again, and I am on choons starting with D. So, an entirely unrelated choonage, but a fine 'un. (Although it does contain the lyrics "I don't know where we are going")...




Monday, 10 June 2013

Nightrider 2013

Today was all about student-led and teacher-supported. The reason for the heavy emphasis?

.....Nightrider 2013.....

I woke up on Saturday at 6am and didn't get back into bed until 9pm on Sunday. That is a lot of hours without sleep. Although I mislead you... I did steal a couple of hours in that time, but I am now beyond groggy! So the students did all the work.

I love Nightrider. 100km around London with 3,999 other cyclists at night, seeing parts of London I have never seen before. And it means spending the weekend with Gemma, my adventure buddy. (For an idea of what it is like....

Here is a quick summary:

23:55 0miles - Alexandra Palace

Start time, and we hurtled down Ally Pally Hill, which is always a fun start. There is a hill quite soon after the start which is a struggle, but this year it was less of a battle. I think the difference was that Gemma and I cycled from the hotel we had booked, which was 8 miles from Ally Pally, which meant our muscles were warmed up. Phew!

The first part of the ride, minus the couple of hills, is reasonably flat. Which would in theory mean for a good quick start, but we hit the centre of London quite early on, so there was a lot of stop-start with so many traffic lights. But an improvement, I think, to the course took us away from the heart of London sooner, so the cycling was much better for that.

01:30 14miles - Imperial War Museum - Break point #1
As ever, the volunteers were brilliant, and imagine my delight to find Tunnocks wafers being handed out!!! There is something almost magical about stopping at the break points while it is dark. The mixture of flashing red and white lights is close to Christmas, and add to that the bicycle bells (just like in the Queen song), and you have yourself some magic! The mechanics were kind enough to lend me their pump, which set me up for the rest of the ride.

03:30 28miles - Crystal Palace - Break point #2
The ride between these two break points was flat and fun, and I even enjoyed the brute of the hill that we cycled up to reach Crystal Palace. It was brutal, but I had really found my rhythm and pushed hard, and the reward when you reach the top is brilliant, especially when you can then cycle on a slight downhill to get the blood back into the muscles. The first 28 miles of the ride is jam-packed with incredible views of London landmarks, and sometimes there is too much to see - you miss so much!

05:00 40miles - Tower Bridge - Break Point #3
My favourite stop.

Usually the sunrise is better, but it is such a good part of the ride. It usually comes at just the right time, and due to the change of course, it snuck up on us and as we came round a corner, there was the Tower, and I pointed to it like an excited kid! I also love cycling from Crystal Palace to Tower Bridge because of the route through Greenwich. Again, there is so much to see as you pedal.

06:30 53miles - Mile End - Break Point #4
This is another welcomed stop, as the energy levels need building up for the final push. I was determined to finish the ride by cycling all the way up Ally Pally hill to the finish, so I made the most of the snacks available to us. I also used a cheeky bit of nappy cream - a godsend to anyone that needs such a tip - to prevent any unnecessary discomfort! As at all the break points, there was a lot of banter from everyone, which makes you feel part of a big group, and part of a team, all striving for the same goal, and there is an unspoken respect for everyone taking part. We know how hard it is!!!

07:30 63miles Alexandra Palace - The Finish
And how satisfying it was this year. I struggle with the hill at the end. This year I was determined to get to the top. I reached my targeted bollards (that isn't a euphemism, btw) and felt the burn enough to stop, but then after 5 minutes of walking I climbed back on and cycled to the finish line, proud as punch itself. The bacon roll and cup of tea tasted all the more sweet.

Because of our marvellous planning, we had booked a hotel, which saved the 'driving home whilst falling asleep' issue that we usually face. That did mean, however, that we had to cycle back to the hotel.... So in total we cycled 81miles. I loved it. And I love my bike. Love it!

Nightrider, I loved the changes to the route, and the volunteers are worth their weight in gold! See you in 2014!!!!

Today's choon? Mental As Anything, of course!!!

Monday, 3 June 2013

More than this

First day back, and all was calm.

I cracked on with the work, making sure everything was ready for the day ahead. I also had an hour of learning walks in Maths, so made sure I didn't have to rely on that hour for prep etc.

(I am always tempted to do Pythonesque Silly Walks during a learning walk, as the name lends itself to that and only that.)

Year 10 for starters were a pleasure, which is such a good way to start.

Then came Year 9s. I thought I had done well with my planning. The first task they had when they walked in was Venn Diagrams. With all our KS3 groups we are revisiing for Exam Week. So to shake off the cobwebs I opted for a word-sort activity.

Each pair had:

A blank Venn Diagram - 3 circles, each labelled with a topic from the first 3 half terms
A bank of words/phrases - all relating to the 3 topics
A pair of scissors

They had to cut up the words/phrases and place them on the Venn. It was very interesting to see how many students realised that sentences can overlap topics. Even then it was tricky for some to understand that "Je vais au cinéma" can apply to hobbies, media and holiday topics!

Yes Year 9s were doing the task, but for some of them it was as though I asked them to cut open veins and offer me blood. They were frustratingly unsettled, and nonchalant when reprimanded. Grrrr!

I think I learnt from the unsettledness of Year 9s when I welcomed Year 8s to my room after lunch. Because I had the same task (with different topics and phrases), I set them to it as soon as they arrived. We then played 9 Box-Bingo and Strip Bingo with the words/phrases cards, as they weren't stuck down. The students seemed to be much more engaged.

Would it have worked with the 9s, had we used the cards more? Maybe so. I expected more focus than I received, that's for sure.

This evening I arrived home at 5.30, and the next thing I knew it was 8.30pm. Where did the time go? Good grief!

So happy Monday, and it is only 36 days left. Or so my colleagues tell me!