Speaking more in lessons

My focus with my Year 10 Spanish classes at the moment is the controlled assessment speaking task that I am planning on conducting with them as soon as we finish the topic. What is so special about preparing my class for controlled assessment tasks I hear you say? My masters dissertation, that’s what.

I am currently completing the proposal for my final dissertation at the moment and my topic of choice/torture is how to improve pupil’s speaking skills and confidence through encouraging use of the target language. I won’t bore you with the details (just yet), but as the idea has been moving around my head for the last few weeks I have begun, slowly, to think about ways of enhancing the amount of pupil speak in my classroom.

Over the last few weeks my classes have learnt how to talk about their musical, television and film preferences, and after watching Pan’s Labyrinth they can also describe it (or any other film) particularly well. Their most recent homework was to record themselves speaking for approximately 3 minutes about what we have covered so far and to send it to me electronically. I gave no specific tool for recording themselves, but pointed them in the direction of their phones, audacity on their laptops (lots of them have school ones) and I also suggested vocaroo. I would loved to have used Voxopop to share pupil’s responses but I was struggling to use it properly and ran out of time before I set the task. One to look at in the future, definitely.

This evening I have sat down to mark the audio files that I have received and so far, they are fab! Pupil’s have clearly spent time preparing what they want to say, and although I would recommend focus on pronunciation for some of them, the content is spot on. They use opinions, linking words and even tenses. If they produce work like this in the actual controlled assessments then we will be getting some very good results indeed!

My plan over the coming year is to develop a range of strategies to further encourage pupil use of target language in the classroom. My routines (register and forfeits) will come in handy with this and I hope that there will be some good use of web 2.0 tools as well. What do you do to encourage speaking in the target language? What activities have worked well for you? My favourites are often based on board games (like Blockbusters or Snakes & Ladders) or a round robin type activity (like I went to the shop and I bought….). What about you?

My focus: EasiSpeak Mikes

Finally – I have finished the EasiSpeak microphone/Voki  lesson, and wanted to let you know how it went.

Wednesday’s 35 minute lesson went down a treat, and pupils used the time to create their own songs or poems in small groups. They made use of the ICT room by typing up their text and some pupils managed to record their songs on the microphones before the lesson ended.  As we needed a bit more time, I booked the ICT room for our next lesson (this time a double lesson) and after a quick starter on ¿Qué vamos a hacer hoy? (what are we going to do today), pupils got down to business and started recording their songs and uploading them to Voki.com. You can see the fruits of their labour here. At the end of the activity I set their homework, which is to access the group blog and to leave feedback on their two favourite Vokis, leaving a positive comment. As I am writing this post I keep getting notifications of comments to moderate, and it is great to see how supportive they are of each other and I can’t wait to give merits out to the best ones.

I did encounter one or two issues with the lessons – nothing major, just a few things worth mentioning:

  1. The microphones need recharging occasionally;
  2. If pupils are missing for the second lesson then it can cause problems;
  3. If pupils finish earlier than others they need to have an extension task to do (mine practised vocabulary games at www.languagesonline.org.uk);
  4. Pupils must follow the instructions! Two of my groups clicked on the ‘send this voki to a friend’ link, rather than sending me the HTML code, and they closed down the screen with their voki on, so all their hard work was lost as the send to a friend link did not send me what I needed.

Overall, I was pleased with the lesson, and some of the songs are very good, and very detailed. I look forward to more ‘experiments’ with this group!

This is the starter – instruction – homework PowerPoint I used with the group:

Recording with EasiSpeak and class instructions

LingtLanguage – making the most of speaking

This useful website lingtlanguage.com allows teachers to create a lesson that encourages pupils to speak, allowing the teacher a chance to ‘assess’ and monitor each pupil individually, with each pupil working at the level that suits them. I came across the link to the site on Twitter, and had a look around before signing up. One of the best things about it is that although I need an account in order to make, assign, mark or give feedback the pupils do not! All pupils need is a a computer equipped with speakers or a headset plus a microphone (and an internet connection!) and away they go. Pupils access my homepage then click on their class, and then click on the relevant assignment.


One click on the blue bubble produces my voice with a question, and to reply pupils click on the white bubble, wait for the loading animation to stop, and then speak their answer. One more click stops the recording. When pupils have finished answering questions they click submit at the end. Their answers are then accessible once I have logged in to my account and I can listen to each pupil’s response and leave verbal or audio feedback – fabulous.

The tasks are dead easy to make as well – it is all explained clearly on the site, but the gist of it is: click the type of content you want (voice, text, image or video) and it automatically places it at the next part of the page. The only thing I would like to see developed in this section is the ability to move the content around once you have already placed it, otherwise, if you decide to change the order of something, you have to go back and start all over again. With each bit of ‘teacher’ content you would then want to add the ‘pupil’ content – either a prompt for them to speak, or a prompt for them to write.

Most of my pupils seemed to enjoy this task today, although I did encounter one or two problems, most of which actually seem to be with my school’s network. The first  involved a quick grovel to IT to unblock the site, which (bless them) they did that very morning. The next issuewas that the playback of my voice took a very long time to appear, although the blue speech bubble did turn a lighter blue when clicked so we could see that the page was ‘thinking’.  Unfortunately, my pupils’ voices don’t actually seem to have recorded now that I have checked their submissions, however, I think this is something to do with the microphones at school because when I tested it myself at home it all worked fine.

The final issue with this task was time – mainly due to the fact that it was the first time I used it and, naturally, it took longer than I expected. I used this with my Year 13s as I felt it was appropriate for them to have some more speaking practice on which I could give direct feedback, however, my Year 13 class only has 3 pupils so they had to overcome their initial shyness about talking ‘at’ a computer in front of everyone first of all.

I think from now on, it would be better for this group to do the tasks on their home PC, as they will feel better speaking outloud in a more private environment, and the issues of filtering, uploading, downloading and recording will not be so great. I will give this website another go soon with my Year 12s because there are more of them, and they are fairly comfortable with speaking. Plus, they are group of pupils who haven’t had me for a couple of years, so they are still able to adapt to my quirky expectiations of what I want them to be doing in order to practise their language skills – hopefully I can iron out the issues that I have written about above before I take the Year 12s into the IT room to ‘speak to a computer’.

Oral Exams & Exam Boards

It is that time of year when all of my GCSE, AS and A2 students are clamouring for any spare time I might have in order to help them out with their oral examination practice. Next week I have the joy of conducting all three levels’ oral exams, starting with AS Spanish first thing on Tuesday. I decided to write a little bit about this for two reasons: 1) new specifications are in place at AS and on their way for A2 and GCSE and 2) the technology side of things.

Previously, in my school we have done Edexcel for languages, however, after careful consideration, the department has decided to move to AQA, which means that although we are still doing Edexcel for GCSE and A2 we have been teaching AQA for AS. Seeing as I am nearing the time when most of my exam groups will go on study leave, now is an appropriate time to reflect on the new specification AS.

Personally, I have found some of the topics to be a bit more engaging, especially the more modern elements such as popular culture and media. Pupils are able to learn about things that actually interest them (social networking, fashion, cinema, music etc) and therefore are more motivated to not only continue the subject at A2 level and beyond, but also to communicate in the target language as they actually have something they want to say. Next year’s A2 will be fairly similar topic-wise to what we have taught before, and I am intrigued by the cultural topic element. With Edexcel we have always opted for the written exam, and I have taught a literature book (Sin Noticias de Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza) and a colleague has taught the other topic (Como Agua Para Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and also the region of Catalonia).

With AQA it seems as though we can continue to teach these topics, however, it is how they will be assessed that will change. Pupils must still study two topics (literature, region etc) and they will have to talk about them in their A2 oral exam (something that we have never had to do before), but they will only have to write about ONE of them. Should this influence what we teach? Should this influence what we ask pupils to produce in the classroom? Should we still encourage them to write essays on both topics? I think that the answer to this should be yes. Not only does it then give them the opportunity to have a wider choice of possible questions to answer in the examination, but it will also prepare them more thoroughly for university study. My only concern is that the questions in the exam will be so broad that it will be very difficult to know how to teach them to write effective answers. Previously, literature essays and the like have been related directly to the particular set text whereas now the question will have to be one that could be applied to any literature book! I’m wondering whether it is worth putting trusty old Gurb to one side and looking at films or something…..

The oral exam at A2 has previously been along the lines of a debate, now, it seems to me, that the AS is more pro/con orientated in the writing exam, and fairly general in the speaking, allowing for opinions where necessary. We have previously always recorded our candidates onto cassette and we are a school that has an ailing languages lab, used mainly for the A Level listening exams and practice throughout the year. As someone who enjoys using technology in the classroom I am eagerly awaiting a snazzy languages lab to replace the old one and I was very pleased to learn that we can download the exam listening material on line. Furthermore, we can now conduct our listening exams and record them digitally, sending them to AQA electronically, via their Desk Top Tool (DTT). Over the last few months I have been sorting out the technical side of things with our IT crew, in order to ensure smooth sailing for both the recording of orals and the downloading of listening materials.

Last week I was VERY disappointed to find out from a colleague that AQA have pulled the DTT, asking centres to record onto cassette rather than straight onto the DTT. On further investigation it turned out the AQA had sent a letter to examiners (like my colleague) telling them that as some centres had been having problems with sending through the orals, they thought it best to ask everyone to do the same. Now, I do appreciate that AQA were trying to help centres by letting them know that some places were having problems, however, my school never received this letter – I had to ring them and get it faxed through to see for myself. As I read through it I breathed a short sigh of relief as I realised that actually they hadn’t pulled the DTT completely – they were just letting centres know about the possible problems that seemed to be occurring within certain LEAs (something to do with bandwidth and servers I believe). If a school had begun to use the DTT and were not having any problems, then the school could continue to do so. Phew. I therefore will go ahead and use the DTT as planned on Tuesday with the Spanish AS students. With only 5 candidates, and not being part of an LEA, there should be no major issue about sending the sound files through, but, if the worst case scenario happens, then I can pull the sound files off the computer, save to a CD or memory stick and send them through that way. Double phew.

Interestingly, with the new specification GCSE, I think that a tool such as the DTT will be very beneficial. Candidates will have to submit two tasks that they have completed throughout the GCSE course and I can foresee it being fairly easy to manage pupils’ entries electronically on the school system before uploading their best two tasks (out of say, 5 ). This will also work nicely for their coursework….urm, I mean controlled writing assessment. All we need now is the school system in place for all pupils to have an area to save school work, homework and coursework to, that is easily accessible by teachers. Would this by chance be a VLE? I’ll stop holding my breathe soon, I promise.