May and the inevitable sigh of relief…

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On Friday many teachers up and down the country breathed an audible sigh of relief as they posted off their controlled assessments and waved goodbye to the last few years’  work as they wing their way to their examiner.

For the last few weeks I have felt like Year 11 take me on a roller coaster ride every lesson. I read amazing ideas online about what I could try with Year 11 to keep them engaged in the revision process and really get them to understand what they still need to do, and its definitely been harder for me this term as I only took over as HoD at this school in January so I have been getting to know these new students since then. I’ve had the challenge of completing the syllabus (and hoping that we’ve managed to cover everything), ensuring that the final CA was completed and moping up any that remained from previous runs, as well as encouraging those with poor grades to give up their time to commit to working on an extra task with me. Challenging at the best of times and I have felt quite worried at moments when I look at the data in front of me, and how they achieved overall in CAs and then with the Listening and Reading exams added in. Then today, I decided to simply give them a full reading past paper. They haven’t done one since March as they had also done them in February and January and I felt that it was getting too much for them, and they hadn’t yet gone through the full array of topics. Well.By George. I think they’ve got it. I was pleasantly surprised (and I think so were they) that the majority of them were achieving a C grade or higher. Even those who are going to be entered for Foundation. It gave them (and me!) a much needed boost! I use a tracking spreadsheet so that simply by entering their marks it calculates the UMS for the exam and then pulls all the UMS into an overall front page so I can see what grade each child is on for each exam. It is very useful and I highly recommend using something similar. I have a tab for each of the different skills and tiers, and I also log exactly what they get on each question so that if there is a pattern of difficulty emerging, I can see exactly where they are having problems.

With just over a week to go until the exam I will be doing two more listenings and one more reading paper, and hopefully the students will begin to see that a) they CAN do this b) they need to revise certain topic areas and c) spending 8 minutes on a half an hour exam is NOT sufficient.

Good luck to all of you working so hard at the moment to help our students get the best grades they can and fingers crossed for the summer!

 

Literary texts in MFL

The new GCSE that’s due to be examined for the first time in Summer 2018 is making teachers consider more authentic resources and lots of us are beginning to source new materials to support this side and of teaching and learning (especially if you have a 3 year KS4 like me!).

So far I have found or been told about the following resources (textbooks aside):

Lightbulb Languages 

Edexcel – French, German & Spanish 

Edexcel have also produced this guidance document which is worth a read.

Frenchteacher.net‘s Steve Smith has said he will be producing some new materials.

Español-Extra has new stuff in the pipeline too.

ALL Literature Project 

What else have you come across?

Joining a department 

My blog has taken a back seat a lot recently as life, work and everything in between has gotten in the way. Maternity leave, juggling school, authoring and marking/planning has meant that I haven’t felt particularly innovative recently, but, having just started at a new school as HoD, I thought I’d give some insight into my thought processes at the moment.

Starting somewhere new is always a challenge, but starting in January is tough! The kids have settled into their academic year and probably feel a bit wrong footed by their original teacher leaving, so the first tasks have to be getting to know the kids and where each of them are at. 

My current priority is Year 11 (and Year 13) as their exams are imminent. Getting to grips with their data, understanding where each of them is at in their controlled assessment journey and what sort of grades they are getting on mock papers is essential. It’s worth having a conversation with each student in your class to discuss where you think each one has been and where you feel they need to go: not only does this show them that you care about them, but that you understand what they are doing and you are available to support them through the last part of their exam journey. It also helps them if they can see that you know what you are talking about too. Build up trust and build up relationships.

Relationships with the other teachers is also important. Get to know your new department, both professionally and to some extent personally (cake always goes down well), and speak to people beyond the MFL corridor too. Could you go find a member of staff, rather than send an email about a quick question? It’ll be worth it in the long run. Get to know support staff too, whether that’s the technicians or TAs, they are all invaluable.

Prioritise what you need to do-I’m HoD so a lot of my role at the minute is looking at current exam data and understanding where the whole cohort is at. I moderating CAs, I’m dropping in on colleagues, I’m providing behaviour support and, of course, I’m planning and delivering lessons and schemes for learning. I have a list that I am slowly making my way through!

It is also important to make time for you. I’m a big believer in a work life balance, and with a young family it’s even more important to me to keep this, but for now, needs must, and there are some things that I’d just rather do in the peace and quiet of my own home, but I’m still getting out to the gym and no computer comes out until little man is in bed!

My last piece of advice is to enjoy what you’re doing. You’ve changed jobs for a reason and probably for more challenge, so embrace it, enjoy it and when in doubt ask someone!

La Vuelta/La Rentrée

So, here we are, another year begins! On Tuesday I will be back at school after being on maternity leave for the last 6 months. I’m pleased to be heading back to work (although part of me has never been away-I’ve always had part of my head, literally, in the books as I’ve been exam marking and text book writing most evenings) but of course I’ll miss my little man and I will definitely want to make the most of my family time.

I will have two new starters in my department (welcome!) and we said goodbye to two valued colleagues in the summer, so there’s plenty of change to deal with, not withstanding the impending GCSE and A Level reforms, plus our own school-wide assessment and reporting changes.

Keeping all this in mind, it’s prudent to consider how to maintain a work-life balance. Unsurprisingly I am a very connected person, with my phone or iPad permanently by my side, so I find it easy to communicate quickly (for the most part), and I always try to deal with emails as soon as possible (or they’ll get lost in the ether of my inbox). 

I’ve always been pretty good at keeping a good work-life balance, and the key has been two things:1) doing work at work and 2)ensuring that I leave school with the following day completely planned. Inevitably things get in the way in the morning-my form members need me, I have to arrange cover work for a colleague, or simply a traffic jam, so knowing that I’m  good to go from the moment I walk in is very calming for me. 

I tend to stay at school as long as I need and rarely take work home. Typically I end up doing the odd bit of marking or HoD admin, and I always set aside time in the holidays to do school work, but for the most part I manage my time well. Lists are my best friend! I used to have post-it upon post-it of lists but last year I started to use an app instead (Wunderlist) which has been great as I can set reminders for tasks, and I always have agendas for meetings and set times for the end of meetings, particularly with colleagues. 

I’m feeling okay about returning to work, and I just want to wish all of my teacher colleagues good luck with the new term, and I want to give my top 5 list of advice for new starters:

  1. Plan, plan, plan – plan everything! Meetings, jobs to do at the end of the day, folders for each class, when you are going to do marking etc. 
  2. Set yourself time limits-for marking, planning, for dealing with admin etc.
  3. Don’t reinvent the wheel-being creative is important, but plenty of other people out there may have already done a lot of the leg work for you when it comes to planning so use what you can and tweak, tweak, tweak!
  4. Make time for yourself. Lots of teachers (including me at the beginning!) use evenings and weekends to sort themselves out. That’s ok (to start with), but as you get more adept at planning you’ll find it easier to leave the work at work and to ensure you get time for you. Regardless of how much work you may end up doing at home, ensure you build in time for you: treats, R&R, dog walks, a glass of wine, a film, a good book. You deserve it.
  5. Smile:) It can be a stressful time at the beginning of term. Try to smile at colleagues and students as it’s easy to forget! A smile can go a long way and it might even make you feel better.

Good luck everyone!

E-Bac news

Its been a while since I’ve written as my personal life has been a bit busy, but I just wanted to talk about the new government’s plans with the E-Bac.
If you don’t know, the E-Bac (English Baccalaureate) is a measurement of achievement in English, maths, science, geography or history and a modern foreign language.
According to the various websites, including the Guardian, the E-Bac suite of subjects will have a large impact on school’s grading and position in league tables. Many out there are up in arms over the inclusion of MFL in this group of subjects and I am a bit fed up of reading the same old arguments such as the E-Bac will marginalise creative subjects and not everyone is good at a language so why make them study one?
Personally, I would argue that a language is one of the most essential skills anyone can have- aside from literacy and numeracy. A foreign language can help you with the understanding of your own language, enhances your cultural awareness and gives you broader communication skills. Even students who have literacy issues can benefit from a foreign language (tailored to their unique learning needs) and I don’t hold with removing them from MFL lessons. 
A forward-thinking school would also not let the E-Bac marginalise any creative subject if timetables and option blocks are carefully thought through.
I grew up in the days of compulsory MFL and lots of students found a language hard (and did not gain higher than a C grade). Working in a school where no more than 35% of our cohort take a foreign language I can see the pitfalls with asking all of our students to take a foreign language, however, if it becomes compulsory, then surely students will begin to see the importance of language study? Just because a student finds maths or English difficult, doesn’t mean we let them stop taking it. They provide essential skills for the students’ future and I would argue that so do languages. For me, studying a language gave me the opportunity to experience worlds that I would never have known. Now imagine those same experiences available to our students? Living and working abroad? Meeting different people? Learning and living different cultures? It may even make future generations more tolerant citizens-something which is needed at the moment. We live in a globa community now and we must ensure our young people can access it just as well as those in the rest of Europe can-we’d be doing them an injustice if we didn’t!
I know that there will be challenges with introducing MFL for all. Lessons would need to be engaging, motivating and full of culture as well as the necessary building blocks of grammar and vocabulary, and we’d need more timetable time in which to do this – a difficult ask from most schools. Excellent teachers will also need to be recruited and retained and after the loss of languages teachers back in 2006 this may take a while to bring up to scratch.

What are your thoughts?
The government information is here.

Phoney Flipping aka Phlipping

Today I had a class that I was a bit too scared to flip with! I just knew that no matter what sanctions I applied, very few of them would do the home learning and watch the video on the Conditional Tense that I had created, which would then scupper the plans I would have for the rest of the lesson. The lack of technology available to me would mean that I could not have had all of the ‘red’ pathway students watching the video in lesson and then carrying on with the remaining tasks – it would have just been too much – and too many students would have no idea what we were doing.

So, I decided to use one of the techniques that I discussed with some primary colleagues – watching the video together in lesson. I produced a worksheet for them to fill in as they watched, which detailed the rules of the conditional tense and irregular verbs, which then put them in a good position to apply the rules for themselves and move towards applying the rule to our own context (which, in the case, is all about ideal holidays).

Most children seemed to engage quite well with the video (they were certainly a lot more silent than if I were standing at the front of the room attempting to explain it!) and most of them quickly became used to using the notes that they had made to check verb endings and irregular stems, so all in all I think it was a success.

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Not quite flipping, I know, but more of a phoney flip or phlip!