Cordero's Classroom

The thoughts, ideas and discoveries of an MFL teacher.

Ten tips for trainee teachers on your first week

Stepping into a classroom with 32 youths, who have no idea of who you are or what you are about and stand for can be daunting. As a training co-ordinator in a comprehensive secondary school, these are my top 10 tips to get your first placement teaching experience off to the best start – from how you display yourself on placement to how to conduct your first few lessons.

Portraying yourself:

1. First impressions count

I think most trainers and professional tutors will agree that one of the likely reasons that trainees are welcomed into schools is for recruitment purposes. I am constantly looking out for who I believe would fit well in our school, and to that extent always treat each placement as an interview experience. Always set out to make the right impression and to be taken seriously as a teacher, and not just as a student teacher. Formality in the first few weeks can go a long way; being professional in the conversations that you have with your mentor and other colleagues around the school. That doesn’t mean to say that you have to be stern and serious – smile, be friendly and approachable, 100% – but avoid getting dragged into any potential unprofessional conversations, especially with other trainee teachers and other members of staff. This could ultimately cost you in terms of being employed by the school or receiving a good reference. 

2. Be organised

One of the things trainee teachers can find hard is just how organised school life is. A school is a place where students come to learn, but underpinning that learning are a multitude of systems; from duties to safeguarding. Even the art of teaching could be considered as a system! Create yourself a comprehensive timetable – firstly inserting your lessons, then your all-important mentor meeting slot and any duties you have.  Ensure you put room numbers and locations on, so that you know exactly where you are going to, and if you are unsure, ask. Ensure you know when your meetings are and that you are always on time for any meetings. In most schools, you will soon come to realise that teaching staff are very time poor. Being late to meetings or unreliable can cause friction between yourself and that staff member, leading to a possible deterioration of a relationship which could have been completely avoidable. One final tip for organisation is to try and get your resources planned and ready the day before so that you can get them printed off. This can take away the last-minute panic of having forgotten a sheet or a resource that you might need.

Your first classroom experiences:

3. Entry is everything

The threshold of a classroom is the dividing line between the corridor and the classroom space that is now your space. Setting the right tone at the door is essential. Doug Lemov in his book Teach Like a Champion refers this moment as ‘Threshold’. Ensure you stand on the physical dividing line between your classroom and the corridor, giving off a stance of confidence. Stand straight, feet apart so you look naturally comfortable as well and portray confidence. Receive the students calmly, greeting them as they pass you. Take the opportunity to iron out any uniform issues, such as ties, top buttons and shirts hanging out before they step into the classroom, so you don’t need to tackle these in front of the whole class, giving the student a potential audience to undermine you. It will also strike a tone that you know what to look out for in terms of enforcing the rules and setting your standards high. The tricky part comes when you have to also police those inside the classroom. Position yourself in a location that gives you vantage of the students inside the room, as well as those approaching you to save you having to turn around. Ensure to momentarily scan the room and make eye contact with those already inside the room to let them know in spite of the fact that you are also on the door, you are also looking to ensure impeccable standards from those who have crossed the threshold. Ensure that all equipment, including the all-essential planner, is out in front of students. Remind them to do this as this is essential should something go wrong later on in the lesson. You being calm at this crucial point in a lesson, in spite of the fact you probably haven’t got your routines 100% down yet, can often create a sense of calm amongst students. 

4. Know your behaviour policy and don’t be afraid to apply it

A lot of people believe behaviour policy is there so students know how to conduct themselves and the consequences should they not abide by it; but I would argue an even more important function of the behaviour policy is that it is there to support you in dealing with instances of bad behaviour. By not applying the behaviour policy fairly and consistently, staff are undermining those that do, by opening staff who apply it by the book to instances of: “But Sir lets us drink in class” or even worse, students thinking that they can pick and choose which detentions they can go to because one seemed fairer than the other. You have a duty to uphold the behaviour management policy and you should strive to do so. The students will know the policy better than you, and how to play it, therefore know it inside out and consult help from your mentor should you find yourself in any tricky situations. You deserve as much respect as the regular class teacher and this needs to be addressed should you not receive that same level of respect.

5. Avoid setting students up for a fail

When a consequence is issued for a misdemeanour, this should be the line in the sand before moving on with the lesson. So many times, our actions in the heat of the moment can set students up for a fail. In most schools, in these instances, it will be the student that comes out worse and the staff member will simply be left feeling wound up – which is not good for your wellbeing. If you need to issue a sanction, firstly, stay calm. If you get wound up and the student does, it will draw attention to both of you. The student will probably end up with a more severe sanction and you will be left looking defeated.

If you need to issue a consequence or to remove a student, do it discretely. Firstly, by having planners out at the beginning of the lesson, before they even sit down, means that you are not opening up to a discussion, and a potential confrontation, should you need to write in it. 

Secondly, rather than asking for a planner; take it. By asking for a planner, you are potentially opening up the consequence for discussion. Should you be asked why, state you will discuss it at the end and that now is not the right moment. 

Finally, in the case you should need to get a student to leave your room, go up to the student and ask them in a very quiet tone to leave your classroom. Do not make a scene as again, this could lead to you looking defeated and the student receiving an even bigger consequence for being rude.

6. Pack away sitting down

Having a view of all of your students can help you see exactly what is going on and can help you address any misdemeanours immediately. Some people aren’t as tall as me, but one of the easiest ways to make sure you get a calm finish to the end of the lesson and retain control is by asking students to pack away sitting down and to remain in their seats. Do this standing in a central ‘power position’ in your classroom, focusing purely on monitoring the process of packing away. Again, students will know that you are monitoring their exact moves and will ensure that you are seen as being the figure in control of the room. Once this is done, dismiss one row at a time, standing at the same position you were when they entered to ensure that they leave in a calm and controlled fashion.

Planning tips

7. Look at the resources of others in the department

Training year is so interesting because you will be exposed to schools that work in a multitude of ways and it should be your chance to think about what works for you and what kind of school/department you would like to work in. Some schools script lessons, others work from booklets; some work from PowerPoints and textbooks, and some expect no use of textbooks at all. In the latter two categories you will need to resource your lessons, which can be daunting. The important thing to remember is that people will have taught the same explanation, the same content and the same groups before. Look at their planning and how they set up their lessons – as they will have done it for a reason. The golden rule is to use other resources to inform your own resource making, so that you can develop resources in the future should you need them. Should you go and teach someone else’s resource without adapting it, potentially it could be scaffolded in a way which would still be too complicated for your class to understand the concept – such as key vocabulary missing from a glossary that your class may not understand and prevent access to a text. Always look over and adapt to ensure students can access. 

8. Plan backwards

One essential book that I really advocate is Peps Mccrea’s Lean Lesson Planning. Peps Mccrea sets out his Habits; one of which is planning back from your end point. This will help keep your lesson focussed and orientated towards the endpoint, without going off on a tangent. It will also ensure you look at the purpose of each activity, to see if it fits with your desired goal at the end. This short read is an essential for all new and recently qualified teachers. 

Receiving feedback

9. Ask what the feedback point you were given looks like

A lot of time, feedback can be – you did this, you didn’t do that, you missed this, you need to work on this. It turns out into a case of missed opportunities and sometimes quite abstract ideas, such as something as general as “you need to work on your presence”. This leaves you without a tangible action. Make sure to ask, “What would you suggest?”, “What could I do to develop this?’ or, “What does that look like?”. This will help you get a point that you need to focus on in order to improve in that area. If you can, in your meeting, ask your mentor if you can practice that point in a deliberate practice episode. This can really help you refine your explanation; refine how you carry yourself or help you change your plan before you get into the classroom and anticipate any problems. 

10. Be receptive to the feedback

I can almost guarantee that you will never have received as much feedback in your life. This can feel overwhelming. Be receptive to it and do not think you are doing a bad job. Sometimes you may feel like you’re being attacked – and it’s definitely most probably not an attack, rather it’s a new experience that you are not yet used to. Always frame it in the context of if you don’t get the feedback, you will never improve. 

By the same token, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Most mentors are great in identifying two or three main improvements that will have the highest impact for you. If they don’t, it’s down to you. Have a look and consider the impact that they could have in your practice and focus on these before moving on. This will make progress feel manageable to you and will see you take ownership of your progress.

Finally: if you have issues, don’t be afraid to speak up. Speak to your Professional Tutor, your trainer or your contact at your provider. At the end of the day, you have paid the fees, you deserve to receive what you have paid for, which is high-quality training to set you up for your future career. 

Applying (some of) the 7 strategies for exploring unfamiliar vocabulary in the MFL classroom

I was lucky enough to see Alex Quigley present for our Academy a couple of years ago now, and there was something in his presentation that just made perfect sense to me as an MFL teacher. I was still fairly new at the Academy where I now work, and still felt time pressures of hurtling full speed through a textbook to cover the then new AQA Spanish spec in two years. A year later, we turned to teaching the GCSE course from Year 9, allowing us more time to really delve deep into the content and skills required for the GCSE. However, even having taught a three-year GCSE course, rather than the two-year course, we still had a huge deficit in reading skills. Something had to be done. Coupled with the Covid crisis and the need to create the ‘recovery curriculum’- I feel like the strategies Quigley presents are so beneficial to expanding the lexicon of our students when applied in the classroom – hopefully improving scores on the reading exam and expanding student knowledge at a greater rate. In this blog, I will look at four strategies that are easily applied to the MFL classroom, with examples, that I believe are arguably more useful than any ‘recovery curriculum’.

Before we start exploring…

Like a lot of MFL teachers out there, I started out in the period of activities, fun and progress in the lesson being the main measures of how much learning was taking place. No diversions were permitted – if this were to happen, that would inevitably result in a poorly-graded observation. For these strategies to work, it has taken me to move schools and rid myself of that mentality through the help of an amazing faculty and teaching and learning team; and to accept that delving deep into the nuts and bolts of a text/transcript is incredibly beneficial in terms of building resilience and reading ability. For these strategies to work, I really believe that this notion of deep learning has to be adapted and that we have to ‘forgive ourselves’ for offering students opportunities to explore the building blocks of words and related vocabulary. At the end of the day, as per the book, I want my students to be coleccionistas de palabras.

Four strategies for exploring unfamiliar vocabulary in the classroom

Quigley outlines seven strategies of improving student ability to explore unfamiliar vocabulary in the classroom. They are looking at: word parts (morphology); word families; word histories (etymology); spelling (orthography); words with multiple meanings; synonyms and antonyms, as well as connecting to context. The four I’ve chosen to look at are: morphology, word families, etymology and looking at context.

Strategy #1: Morphology (word parts)

Morphology is all about looking for units inside of full words that add individual meaning to a word. An example in English being contraflow. In this word, we can separate the verb to flow and the prefix contra. From the verb to flow, we get that the word is about movement; but coupled with the prefix contra, we have the added meaning of moving against something – going against the normal flow of traffic.

What is useful about morphology is that, especially in a lot of languages, you can easily derive several verbs from the original verb you give. What is also extremely beneficial is that you can instruct students that these verbs, especially if the original verb, such as decir, conjugates in an irregular way, that the derived verbs will also follow that conjugation pattern. An example from the verb decir in Spanish below:

Using morphology to give related verbs

This can be very useful, especially with A Level, when students are regularly faced with more challenging texts and a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary in their first novel in the target language. Here is an example that I have used when exploring Ramón J. Sender’s Réquiem por un campesino español:

To assist when using morphology in the classroom, ask students to look for words that they know within a word. Then ask them to look for any prefixes that could be attached to the beginning of the word they already know and ask what sense it brings to the new word. Students will often give a poor translation, but it demonstrates they have the sense of the word. For instance, for camposanto, they will often say sacred land or holy land. At this point, it is down to us as teachers to ask: “So, what could ‘holy land‘ be in the context of this book. This will often guide students to the right answer.

Strategy #2: Word families

For word families to be successful, it’s about looking at suffixes, and what they tell us about what group of words they belong to. A classic example from French might be ‘-erie’ – which can often indicate that a word is a shop. Here is a list of common suffixes (by no means exhaustive) that I provide students with in Spanish. There is always going to be the odd exception, but as a rule of thumb, it works well:

A common list of suffixes I provide my students with to aid with decoding

When it comes to unpicking vocabulary in the classroom, I ask students to look for the principal unit of meaning, and then ask students to couple with what suffix usually means. Here’s an example I have used in a literary text:

What I also believe is incredibly important, and something I would never pause to do in my early career is to provide similar words that come from the same word. A great one that often works is asking students to give or to define the related verb after providing a noun or adjective, such as having given students mejor (better), taking the time to write mejorar on the whiteboard and asking students: “now we know mejor means better; what could mejorar mean? What clues have we got?” At this point, I would expect a student to elicit that it is an verb (based from the -ar ending), then expect them to identify it is an infinitive, before then asking them to sandwich the ‘better’ meaning of mejor and the ‘to’ element from the infinitive component of the word to get the resultant to better/improve meaning. I think this is an incredibly easy way to get students to view words in a different way and to expand their vocabulary, whilst simultaneously helping to develop decoding strategies.

Stopping to point out related words

Strategy #3: Etymology (word history)

One of the reasons I love etymology is that I think it is an easy way to transfer over our geeky love of words. a classic example I use in Spanish is where the ‘tricky’ word for left izquierda came from:

Explaining the etymology of ‘izquierda’

The Latin, from which Spanish originated, had sinistra for the left hand. In the past, the devil was thought to live on the left-hand shoulder, and people did not want to call the devil or make reference to the devil, for this reason many languages borrowed words from other languages to replace evolutions of the word sinistra. The Spaniards turned to the Basque word for left, and thus izquierda was born:

Taken from the Real Academia Española

Stories such as this, Quigley suggests, adds an element of meaning to the word to help make it memorable.

Strategy #4: Connecting to context

Connecting to context is something that students seem to do less than they ought to, and something if they used more readily as a skill, would help them make much more informed and reasoned guesses at the meaning of new vocabulary. Below is an example of how to use when dealing with Dolores-Soler Espiauba’s Guantanameras:

In this sentence, students are presented with avión – arguably a commonly-used noun in classrooms across the country; however, the verb to land aterriza appears a lot less frequently. Students often struggle to decode this word and work out its meaning. Using context can aid. Firstly: ask students to identify what they know (el avión, el aeropuerto and the preposition en). In my experience, students often don’t use cues to meaning, such as capital letters, to identify the meaning of a word – in this case José Martí. As is such, we must make it a part of our practice to guide students to identify that capital letters denote proper nouns – i.e. specific places or people. In this case, students will work out that José Martí is the airpot. This builds up context to the verb aterrizar. The next thing to do is to sum up the clues for the students, almost in a ‘Through the Key Hole’ fashion, before asking students: “What do aeroplanes do in/at/on airports?” This often leads to reasoned guesses of taking off or landing.

A final example, used with la madrina in Réquiem por un campesino español can be seen below:

Finally:

These are not all of the 7 strategies, but are the ones that I presented on at TM MFL Icons. A quick list of the other strategies in practice can be found below:

Further reading:

For more information from Alex himself, go to: https://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2018/04/7-strategies-to-explore-unfamiliar-vocabulary/

For my video for students on using the strategies during lockdown, go to:

Breathing space and thinking time – tips on creating the space and time to self-reflect during the day

We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience” (John Dewey).

This quote from Dewey resonates with me. How many things do we do every day on autopilot in the classroom, that if we looked back upon with a critical eye, we would change? A lot I would say from experience. From explanations to difficult conversations, there’s been many a time, especially when dealing with situations that require decisive action or that are of high emotion, that after I have taken action, I haven’t properly taken the time out to reflect later on in the day. We are all regularly quite emotionally and physically tired at the end of the working day after doing our best for the children in front of us; but this act of self-reflection is so important, especially when dealing with charged situations. I’d like to think that having previously reflected on a similar situation to the one I have faced with earlier in the day, I would over time be more likely to take the right action in a future recurrence. One of the sad things I feel is that, sometimes, taking time out during the school day to self-reflect can feel like you’re wasting time. I’ve been there. However, those minutes of self-reflection and question asking are vital to improve our classroom practice and professional conduct. Here are some of my ways to take time out to self-reflect through the day.

  1. Locate where the quiet places are in your school

In order to self-reflect, a quiet, calm space is essential. At my first school, I used to head to the smaller playground picnic benches during lesson time. In my current school, I head to the garden space. There are also several classrooms that are regularly only used for Sixth Form lessons so can often be found completely empty. Take the time during your first weeks when wandering around your school to suss out the quiet spots and use them.

  1. Go for a wander

Sometimes, fresh air and going for a wander can help get into the right frame of mind for reflection. Not just that, if you have an office or a classroom and someone wants to speak to you, their initial search will often lead them to try and find you in your natural habitat. Going for a wander not only will allow you to get some air; but will help you avoid any unwanted interruptions whilst you consider issues that you want to reflect on.

  1. If you have a photocopying room as well as printing machines on the corridor – go to the photocopying room and don’t do it on the corridor.

From experience, colleagues tend to not like to travel far to release printing. I, however, do. Not only do the photocopiers in the photocopying room tend to be faster and less likely to have a queue than those on corridors, you also find that you are less likely to bump into other members of staff. For some unknown reason in the schools I’ve worked at, the photocopying room often seems to be at the complete opposite end to school to where most people work. Running off a set of booklets during the day makes me feel like I’m doing something productive (I gain a resource that I need for future lessons) whilst being sufficiently out-of-the-way and alone in order to take some time out for me to think.

  1. Take your things to the library.

If your school has a library, it can often be a haven of books and tranquillity, with little corners in which you can quietly plan or mark. Most of my marking gets done in the library when I need to focus – especially with A Level essays. But what’s also nice about the library is it is the perfect setting in order to sit down and do some thinking and often, especially during lesson time, as it can sometimes be completely vacant.

  1. Tea/coffee/beverage time is important.

Sometimes, the physical trip to the kitchen to fill up the kettle, then boil the water in it, followed by pouring the water on top of the teabag (Yorkshire Tea, if you must know!), waiting for it to properly brew then adding the milk gives me 6 minutes of switch-off time after a lesson. It might not seem much time at all; however, it can sometimes be enough to take my mind off the situation, enjoy the taste of a good brew and to calm down by letting my adrenaline levels drop to a lower level so I can think in a clearer way.

Finally:

You can make the space, find the quiet spots and believe that self-reflection is not a waste of time – but somehow it still can feel like you’re not getting anywhere. In this case, do not be afraid to enlist the help of others to help you reflect, through coaching. I know when you’re new at a school, or an NQT/ITT, building up the trust to confide in someone that they are not going to judge you; rather support you, is a difficult thing to do. I started my first school and very much kept my head down and didn’t allow myself to confide in anyone until at least the end of my second term. But I knew I had my mentor and my Head of Department who would take that time out to ask me non-judgemental questions and to coach me – believing I had the answer myself and just needed to arrive at that point. The same can be very much said about my current school and having this kind of relationship is a very special thing that ought to be greatly valued – and probably the reason I would find it very hard to move on from my current school.

The following quote from Jamie Thom in his article: The first five years of teaching: motivation, CPD and retention (found here: http://www.slowteaching.co.uk/2019/05/24/first-five-years-teaching-motivation-cpd-retention/) really stood out to me:

We all feel more motivated and encouraged when we feel we have someone we can speak to and be supported by. All my interactions with teachers highlighted just how much they want to continue to want to learn and improve what they are doing in the classroom, they just need to be given the time and breathing space to do it. (Jamie Thom).

If you’ve found the time and breathing space to do the self-reflection are finding it difficult to do on your own, make sure to reach out to find someone to help you do it. It’ll pay dividends in your levels of happiness and motivation. Ask if there’s coaching available at your school. It has helped me through some of the most difficult times that self-reflection on my own didn’t help me with and will result in you feeling more confident, valued and will help with your wellbeing in school.

Turning to September – my attempts to streamline.

There’s one thing that has been a constant throughout this lockdown – uncertainty. Uncertainty sometimes can cause panic at its worst, and uneasiness at its best. Moving into September, I want to create some certainties for my students. To do this, I am going to look at the efficiency everything I do. I want to attempt to streamline the Y11 curriculum, refine my own subject knowledge to have to-the-point and clear explanations for exam skills, and create a predictable lesson structure, that allows for recap, incremental knowledge gains and creating connections – so as to make best use of time within the classroom. All of this, however, would be of waste if I were not to couple it with the promotion of self-belief in the classroom in order to try and rid any feeling of being at a disadvantage because of school closure. One thing I am definitely not prepared to do is rewrite the whole scheme of work for Y11 for just one year’s worth of use.

The steps I am going to pursue roughly follow the following order:

STEP 1Revisit GCSE/A Level Specifications and analyse requirements for each question in speaking/writing exams.

STEP 2Deduce what structures I can teach that students can apply in both the writing and speaking exams to access higher band marks without an increase of effort because having to fill in gaps of knowledge.

STEP 3Cut back on content in a way which would not be to the detriment of the students.

STEP 4 – Refine my typical lesson structure to guarantee a diet of revisiting knowledge, building and reinforcing schema and apply this to the exam-style questions.

STEP 5 – Demand the highest quality of work and empower students to believe that can, and will, achieve greatness in MFL.


STEP 1 – Revisiting GCSE/A Level Specifications to look at the individual requirements for each examination.

This is something I do regularly throughout the year, but for individual papers at points that are appropriate – such as just before a department standardisation or moderation of a specific paper. My thinking is that knowing the specification, and how it is examined, is even more important now – not for standardisation purposes; rather for streamlining for students upon their return.

In the past, my students would have had a lot more direct input from myself on how to tackle the different questions on the writing paper or sections of the speaking exam in the classroom, with specific guided practice accompanied by my live interventions as they worked. I think giving feedback immediately, rendering it relevant to the student at that specific moment, is so important to help change thinking. This has been very difficult to do during lockdown. Yes, I have created videos to aid metacognition for exams as an input, but I haven’t been able to hover over students as they work and check that my input has registered so that they know exactly what they need to put into their answers to ensure they fulfil the assessment criteria.

This lack of on-the-spot intervention, coupled with not having moderated or standardised work since February, leaves potential holes in my subject knowledge, as well as that of my students. These are gaps I need to fill in order to secure good exam performance. Going back to the exam criteria is not just a refresher for myself, but also one for my students – who ultimately need to be as well versed as myself in order to reach the best marks possible.

STEP 2 – Identify structures I can teach quickly that students can apply in both the writing and speaking exams to access higher band marks. 

Having looked at the specification and mark schemes, I want to not just fill gaps in my knowledge of the GCSE exams (my area of responsibility); but also analyse what Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 12.17.07structures I can teach that students can apply in both the writing and speaking exams to access higher band marks more easily and be easily fleshed out at A Level. My fear is that certain tenses and moods that I would normally have time to teach thoroughly during the year, such as the present and imperfect subjunctive moods, I will simply not have enough time to do so with conviction. At the end of the day, unlike the past, present and future time frames, there is nothing on the specification for GCSE that says that the subjunctive mood must be used in order to gain access to the top mark bands. Yes, it can help students to demonstrate variety and complexity; but students don’t need to specifically know its use and its formation.

My plan instead is to create a selection of set phrases, such as impersonal sentences, thatScreenshot 2020-07-01 at 12.17.19.png students can memorise with the verb in the subjunctive already there. Should I have time, or should students continue to A Level, students already have the framework there, and will allow me to flesh out with further uses of the subjunctive and its formation. This, I am hoping, will allow me to streamline for the immediate, and provides the opportunity for deeper understanding to happen later on in their study of the language. Out of this has come the ‘Aiming for the back of the net’ booklet, which contains these very structures for students to memorise and apply in a way that won’t render their response irrelevant.

STEP 3 Cut back on content in a way which would not be to the detriment of the students.

The example of not teaching the subjunctive explicitly alludes to this point. I need to look at the content left to be taught and decide on what content could possibly be cut down in a way which would not be to the detriment of the students. To help me do this, I need to think about what isn’t an explicit requirement in the specification to reach the top bands of marks, and what may take a while to gain understanding. The subjunctive exemplifies this quite nicely. I am most likely not going to have time to teach the multitude of uses it has, cover the remaining content and practise exam skills. What is arguably a better investment of time is ensuring that my students are well versed in the preterite, imperfect and perfect tenses; as well as the present and near and simple future tenses – so that they can easily tick the boxes for quality of language for the 90-word essay; as well as hitting the requirement to meet all three time frames in the general conversation. They also should have enough variety of tenses (contrasting the imperfect and preterite tenses in the past) in order to show variety and some elements of complexity, aided by the memorised subjunctive phrases.

But cutting content doesn’t just mean cutting and compromising on quality. There will possibly be a lot more vocabulary than normal that I won’t be able to teach. This worrie

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 12.28.14

Quigley’s 7 Strategies for exploring unfamiliar vocabulary. Available at: https://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2018/04/7-strategies-to-explore-unfamiliar-vocabulary/ 

s me. However, I need to look at ways of cutting back but vocabulary that is explicitly taught, but also look at methods of helping students arrive at meaning without necessarily being taught the word. Alex Quigley lays out his 7 Strategies for dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary – and I aim to turn to these as a way of arming my students with techniques that can help them piece together meaning. For instance, looking at the word entreabierto (ajar) – morphology and guiding students to think of the composition of the word would possibly lead them to recognising entre(between) and abierto (open). Run these two meanings together and they have a fighting chance of working out it means half-open or ajar.

As well as turning to the seven strategies, I also want to make a point of exploring vocabulary more openly. If I give a word such as el ahorro (the saving) – I will ask my students: “if el ahorro is a saving, what do you think to save could be?” to see if they can arrive at ahorrar (to save). Hopefully this will get students to think about how to form verbs from nouns, and also give them another item of vocabulary that they can easily relate to the prior item they were given, and separate off the meaning through their grammatical knowledge of -ar being a marker for an infinitive.

In the past, I would do this; but I feel creating a systematic push on the 7 strategies and providing words with a lexical link will help to add to students’ vocabulary efficiently under the pressure of having lost time in the classroom.

STEP 4 –Refine my typical lesson structure to guarantee a diet of revisiting knowledge, building and reinforcing connections and apply this to the exam-style questions.

I often read about cognitive science and use it alongside subject-specific pedagogy in my practice. I feel now, it’s time to really bring it to the forefront of my practice. My students potentially haven’t done thorough retrieval practice in the way in which I would normally expect it to be done, in order to reinforce prior learning. They may not have done it as regularly or for as long as I would like it to be done. If they are not doing this, and not coupling it with new material that I have been introducing remotely, there will definitely be a disconnect in their thinking and potentially a lack of connectedness in their knowledge.

What I want to do is look at my resources, look at opportunities for retrieval practice and skills practice, so that I can potentially shoehorn it into a specific lesson design. This design would encompass regular retrieval practice, exploiting links between prior learning and new learning, an enable me to ensure students have a diet of revisiting knowledge, building and reinforcing connections so that they are able to apply it to exam-style questions.

STEP 5 – Demand the highest quality of work and empower students to believe that can, and will, achieve greatness in MFL.

This for me is the most important step of them all. I could lower my standards following the pandemic, but this is something I do not, under any circumstances, want to do. Instead, I want to empower and encourage students to achieve. If work is substandard – there’s not point in me saying otherwise – it’s not going to help them on their way to produce successful work in their exams at the end of the year. I have the moral duty to be honest with the students; but going about it in a way which is supportive, gives children tangible and actionable ways in which to improve – with the desired result of also providing them with the motivation to do so. It’s also about being there for my students, talking to them if they need me on a one-to-one basis and on a human level; as well as supporting when necessary. Students know if I am in my office, they can come past and speak to me at any point and I will make time for them. This is going to be more important than ever next year and they will hear that message from me every single lesson.

My closing thoughts:

Be under no illusion that I am willing, or am prepared, to rewrite the full Year 11 curriculum for the sake of one year. Also be under no illusion that I am prepared to lower my standards as a way to heal from this pandemiic. Rather, for us to heal, we need to maintain high expectations, but in a way that allows for conversations to take place where needed to help spur on students on a human level and individual basis. I hope these steps will help me to make quick wins – meeting the requirements of the GCSE exams, reduce time and at the same time, lay foundations that can easily be fleshed out and built on at A Level. Only time will tell if it will work, but it’s a start.

Quigley, A. 07/04/2018. 7 Strategies to explore unfamiliar vocabulary. As found at: https://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2018/04/7-strategies-to-explore-unfamiliar-vocabulary/

 

Nobody puts the scheme of work in the corner

Schemes of work have often been something I’ve glanced over at the beginning of the academic year and then shoved in a drawer, knowing that so long as I was covering the textbook content, I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. So much work gets ploughed into them, but to what avail? During my time as Key Stage 4 lead, I’ve been on a mission to make sure that my hours of typing out and formatting of my schemes of work does not get shoved into cupboard, never to be seen until the next summer clear out. What I didn’t realise was that more than just a change in formatting and colour choice was needed… Here’s my mission so far to put the scheme of work back at the heart of planning.

Getting to the holy grail – an interactive scheme of work that is the go-to for all questions and promotes sharing of resources

If I wanted people to use it, my first thought was that there were several needs that it needed to cater for.

  1. It needed to readily accessible and easy to consult – i.e. available on the shared area in an area for all to access.
  2. It needed to promote sharing of resources and ideas, as well as aid with saving time in producing resources.
  3. It needed to increase teacher awareness of upcoming assessments – what exam paper was being tested and where resources, including mark schemes were located.
  4. It needed to be the ‘go-to’ crib sheet for the faculty.

To get to the place where want it to be, there was a lot of work that needed to be done – more than I first thought. Here are the steps I took.

Stage 1: Rearranging the IT architectureScreenshot 2020-06-18 at 17.08.10

If I were to get people to peruse other people’s resources in order to save time, and also to aid their explanation and delivery, I needed to make them easily accessible. My idea was to create hyperlinks for each unit in the scheme of work. But before I could create the hyperlinks, I had to create an area to link to, where everyone’s initials were located, so that this was possible. To do this, I rearranged the shared area. The main folders replicated the modules of study (ours align with the Viva/Studio/Stimmt textbooks), which then divided up into textbook unit. In each textbook unit folder, I created a folder for each teacher, in which they could paste their lessons. Once each unit folder was created, this enabled hyperlinks to be created that would show staff each other’s folders for the resources for that unit – enabling easy browsing.

The same process was put place for the assessments, so that the filing order enabled for useful hyperlinking to take place.

Step 2: Figure out what was non-negotiable in the scheme of work and fit it in

If the scheme of work were to take centre stage as a crib sheet for the department, it had to be useful. It had to reflect what we believe led to our results for the past two years – skills practise coupled with a secure foundation in grammar, brought together with metacognition and retrieval practise. For this reason, I included skills and grammar asScreenshot 2020-06-18 at 17.18.18central columns for the original schemes of work I created – to show what was central to the unit. Writing to bullet points is open-ended, I understand, but it gives teachers autonomy. For instance, writing to bullet points to answer the 90-word question requires use of 3 different time frames; however, for the 150-words, there is no stipulation of how many time frames to meet. This is where teachers, I believe, need autonomy. As much as I observe the faculty, which I do on a very frequent basis, they will always know the strengths and weaknesses of their class to a finer nuance than I will.

Finally, two areas we acknowledged as a faculty during a curriculum review meeting that we needed to push were: exploiting authentic resources as much as we could; and Screenshot 2020-06-18 at 17.17.16, pushing careers as much as we could. This needed to feed directly into the new schemes of work. How did I aim to address this when editing the SoW for 2020-2021? Create separate resource hyperlinks where staff can access authentic resources that other colleagues have made, and by creating a specific careers column in the design of the scheme of work.

Step 3: Specify assessments, when they are and where the resources are

Before I redesigned the schemes of work, I created a scheme of assessment document. Assessments, as a Head of Key Stage, was always something I dreaded. Putting in enough copies for 3 whole cohorts of students (Key Stage 4), as well as copies of each mark scheme and transcript for each member of our 16-strong team was a logistical nightmare. This spurred on the idea of using hyperlinks to catalyse increasing the usability of the scheme of work. Before the scheme of assessment document, staff found it more difficult to really plan for when each assessment was going to take place, being alerted a few weeks prior to it taking place rather than from the very beginning of the year, and when to teach the relevant exam technique, which sometimes resulted in students not demonstrating their true colours. A prime example of how not priming for the assessment could lead to this is that if a member of staff prepared students for a writing photocard, whereby students only have to write 4 very short sentence about a photograph (AQA MFL GCSE exams), but they actually received a speaking photocard (in which students have 4 additional questions to answer, give opinions and justify opinions, as well as describe the photograph) – they would be not set up optimally to do well in this assessment. Having every half-term’s assessments detailed enabled for this planning to take place. Mark schemes and examiner reports being readily available also helped teachers refresh their subject knowledge of how the marks are allocated and what they need to be looking for when marking, hence helping them to improve their subject knowledge.

But having this information on a document separate to the scheme of work meant staff having to cross reference two documents, rather than just one. So, the idea was taken to include these on the scheme of work, as well as the scheme of assessment, so that everything was centralised.

Step 4: Hand over time for staff to populate folders

Staff would probably have met with resistance if they weren’t granted some time to move their resources into the new shared area architecture, so to mitigate this, time was handed over to allow staff just to do that.

The road ahead

I am happy with the architecture of the IT system, which is set up to promote sharing. Previously, before the change, ideas were shared in briefings every other week, or through emailing the MFL group – which was done intermittently.  When wandering around classrooms going about my business, it was evident that people were borrowing other people’s activities, explanations and elements of practice. This was before the release of the updated schemes of work that I have created – so in my eyes, step 1 had worked, even before including hyperlinks into the schemes of work.

What I wasn’t as successful at doing, and most of it was my fault, was to make it my default answer if a staff member came to me with a question that could be resolved by engaging with the new, interactive schemes of work. I was hesitant to push the new version out, maybe because it was an item that, due to other pressures, failed to rise to the top of my agenda in my line management meetings. Thankfully, lockdown has given me time to process and re-evaluate, and ultimately make this my top priority from September. The message from the word go will be to consult the SoWs – placing emphasis on these.

Creating a culture of belief and confidence in the classroom

“Confidence and self belief” – in every single staff briefing in our Learning Area I have had since I started at my current school, the aforementioned phrase has floated up on the briefing PowerPoint with regards to Year 11. It was one of those messages for two years I took as “Yeah, right. They just need a kick up the metaphorical to get them to work harder.” That was until this year, when I think I have really come to understand what a culture of belief and confidence looks like.

“…As educators, it is our responsibility to create a context in which a growth mindset can flourish.” Dweck 2016

Some people will look at the theory of the Growth Mindset with disdain. I know during those various staff briefings I was doing it myself, thinking: “Really? All they need to do is sit down and spend time doing some proper work.” This was true, perhaps, of the previous Year 11 cohorts I had taught since the start of my career; but the cohort I have got now are nothing like any other cohort I have taken through. This group have a large variety of levels of need: literacy issues, large levels of SEND support and retention problems.

“Oh not everyone can be good at x, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,”

As part of my role as KS4 MFL Lead and Second in Faculty, I sit down and meet with all of  the Year 11 teachers to discuss data – where are the weak points, what strategies have been put in place and what else could we try to secure progress. My meeting is done with my Head of Faculty. All my data was low, very low and I felt honestly like I was failing the students in front of me. But what my HoF said to me was something I had never thought of before – that these students were actually most likely going to be sitting the GCSE exam in Spanish (we enter as many students as we can) and that I have never put a ceiling on what they can do or what they should be able to do in Spanish.  It made me consider – what was it that I was doing in order to not put this ceiling on my students? How was I creating this culture of self confidence and belief that I had simply overlooked and had taken for granted?

Creating the culture 

1. “Praise the effort that led to the outcome or learning progress”

With the class I have, I knew I had to tread carefully in order to not completely deflate their confidence. I originally thought I could do this in one of two ways: firstly, praise everything – even misconceptions (which would have led to these being embedded in their minds as a correct piece of knowledge); or secondly, I could pitch the work very low so success was guaranteed – but ultimately would not help build this group up to being successful at GCSE-level language study. Instead, I realised that I was doing something differently that almost incorporated the two. Dweck in her interview (2016) states that parents/teachers alike will automatically praise the effort put into a task – even though the outcome might have been unsuccessful. This is where she suggests the Growth Mindset has been misinterpreted – she places the emphasis on praising the effort that led to a successful outcome or, if it goes wrong, the learning process that took place. For instance, rather than saying “no, that’s wrong” – I was saying things such as: “not quite there, but I can see where you’re coming from” or “not quite…” – but rounding it off with an explanation from another student and then getting the first student to resay what the previous student had said in order to correct their misconception. I would also make it a point of revisiting the student with the misconception at some point during the lesson with a similar question to ensure that they had understood. I found this didn’t leave students with misconceptions feeling deflated – but it also allowed me to change their thinking and to ensure misconceptions didn’t become embedded.

2. “Students need to know that if they’re stuck, they don’t need just effort. You don’t want them redoubling their efforts with the same ineffective strategies.”

When I first took over this group, making the work accessible to them was so difficult. I would let them simply struggle then give them the answers to a reading/listening and brush on rapidly to a writing exercise/speaking exercise that I was a lot more confident in making accessible via writing frames or speaking frames. No matter how much more they tried, it wasn’t going to help. The change needed to come from me – through investing time in researching how to make tasks accessible to students of such diverse needs. The first thing I did was plan backwards for every task; not just for the lesson sequence itself. Peps McCrea in the book Lean Lesson Planning (2015) sums this concept up succinctly about putting into place the steps needed to move forward, then reviewing the effectiveness of each step systematically. It made me think about the vocabulary students were going to be exposed to in listenings and readings. It made me think more carefully about pre-exposing students to this vocabulary, and having it on a consistent sheet that I would create for every lesson sequence that students could use as a point of reference throughout the lesson. The result was unprecedented – students were practically using these throughout lessons, found that they were useful for revising vocabulary and students on average increased their listening assessment marks by 8 marks and reading by 7 marks. I was now making my lessons accessible and it was showing in the numbers – and in my students’ confidence.

But pre-exposure wasn’t the only change I made – it was thinking about stopping, dropping my plans and rolling with chalking and talking. It was about not being afraid to put a question on the whiteboard, losing the structure of my PowerPoint with it’s extensions and challenge that comes built in, and simply explaining and sharing my thinking and my metacognitive thinking with the students to pull them out of their sicking point – arming them with a different strategy to approach a question which would increase the confidence with dealing with the task in hand.

3. Relationships, exclusivity and loyalty

One of my Year 11’s said to me the other day: “Sir, have you noticed how we started our after-school sessions before everyone else and now they’re copying from us?” – said with a look of pride on his face. This, for me, symbolised two things: firstly, that they are proud of the work that they are doing and also to be in my class; and secondly, that they knew I was working as hard as I could for them. I think both of these symbolisations boil down to one thing: I have the same high expectations of this group, regardless of numbers, progress and group size, as I have for any other class. Not expecting anything less than what I would of any other Year 11 class; rather putting a few extra steps in place has enabled this. But most of all, they are a collective. They don’t judge each other. They are not afraid to get things wrong and not volunteer answers. They want to ask me: “¿Cómo estás señor?” on the threshold of my classroom. They want to tell me: “Anoche, jugué al fútbol con mis amigos” on the door. They want to ask me: “¿Puedo distribuir los cuadernos?”. I’ve never had this before. Through insistence on high quality work, participation and how to give feedback in a more positive way than saying ‘you’re wrong’; I have created a fantastic working and trusting relationship with this group and loyalty.

4. Teach, review, revisit, test, repeat

Retention, as I have mentioned before, with this group is always going to be their Achilles’ heal. When I teach a concept – they get it. I review it at the end of the learning sequence – they’ve got it. One week later – it’s gone. The above cycle is something I’ve introduced in order to help students retain information. Different activities, such as interleaving through the use of photo card questions, multiple choice testing, mixing themes in 90-word and 40-word tasks has all helped to revisit prior learning so that it is reactivated. For instance – after focussing on the environment for a long time (lots of non-cognates in this topic) – I quizzed the students on some verbs. They were able to tell me, in a very short time, that the verb to unplug was ‘desenchufar’. I was not expecting this. Retaining information is something that has enabled this group to gain confidence. They’ve seen it leads to success in their exams (notable and to them, tangible, improvements) and believe that they can do well later this year through this.

Finally… 

To conclude, Dewck says when addressing the miscomprehension of a growth mindset: “If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, “Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,” the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed. That child is developing a fixed mindset, even if the parent has a growth mindset. But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.” For me, it’s about unpicking the process, thinking about where our students will make pitfalls, being supportive in correcting students/helping unstick students when they fall into pitfalls and not at any point lowering our expectations so as to put a ceiling on what our students can do.

How praise became a consolation prize.  C Gross-Loh, C Dweck. As found at: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-praise-became-a-consolation-prize/510845/ Accessed on 3rd Jan 2020

Lean Lesson Planning: A practical approach to doing less and achieving more in the classroom (High Impact Teaching). McCrea, P. 2015. Published by: pepsmccrea.com

Looking back and moving forward

It’s been a good while since I’ve posted on this site. Things have been slightly crazy this term with one thing and another, but I want to take the time out to review this year and what it is I would like to focus on moving forward.

Screenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.04.42.png

2019: The year of two GCSE exam classes

For some subject areas, it isn’t common having two sets of year 11 classes to take through in the same examination series; but it’s not something I’ve had very much of in my career. I have taken two through before at the same time, but it was in a different school; a different context and a different set of expectations. Both classes in that cohort did well (a Spanish GCSE class and a French GCSE class) with positive VAs. I got away with being an average teacher and having the ability to get the kids to sit down and do some work. My classes did alright. Could they have done better? Could I have pushed them more? Could I have raised my expectations of them? Most definitely.

With this in the back of my mind, knowing I’d be taking over a class and taking my previous group right the way through (I had taught this group since I had started), I wanted to go in with a clear set of expectations – no nonsense, no slacking-off and a lot of self belief.

With the class I had since I had started, they were in a good place in terms of the skills, but the pressure of increasing demands as the year progressed built up. The usual ‘Maths/English is more important’ excuse came out – which I simply did not entertain. Phone calls ensued with parents; meetings held to attempt to get rid of this mentality, but ultimately the most important work took place post-meeting/telephone in order to build
up confidence and resilience with this group.  Intervention sessions focussing on production and vocabulary, as well as in-class focussed on reading and listening skills happened, with the aim to make them believe they could actually achieve in the exam – which, they ultimately did. That, and constant chats in my office, phone calls home and meetings when work wasn’t good enough so they knew I wouldn’t accept less than their best.

The group I inherited was a different story. They were feeling slightly disenfranchised with Spanish when I took them over. It was a battle of hearts and minds – getting students to feel success little by little to build up their confidence and build their trust in me as a practitioner who was going to get them across the line at the end of the year and tScreenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.07.54.pngo help them do well in their final exams. There was resistance – how far can we push Sir? Will he crack? What’s he going to do for us that other staff couldn’t? But once I took in their foundation textbooks and replaced them with higher ones, removing the ceiling of a grade 5 from them, it was a game changer. They knew I would enter them for higher if they showed the aptitude and the willingness to work; but would I take that risk on them if they wouldn’t work? Absolutely not. The onus was on them – not me. The mentality and atmosphere in this very middle-of-the-road group absolutely flipped and saw them come along with me, popping past my office and asking for help regularly.

Aside from having high aspirations for both groups, I also wanted to change my tact and approach to the then year-old GCSE specification. I had a bank of lessons from the year before and know what worked and what didn’t. Looking over my lessons over the summer, what I had planned the year before was very blocked – i.e. I wasn’t mixing in prior topics or vocabulary. I knew if I wanted retention to improve, I would have to do something about it. Out of this conundrum came my starter sheets that I used with bothScreenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.37.54.png groups. The idea: one section of recapping vocabulary from a previous module/learning episode; followed by another section of looking up new vocabulary that students will need for their learning in the lesson they were about to be taught. The former section would take the guise of several different formats: some low-steaks multiple choice questions; or for some exam practice a role-play to script out, a photograph to describe or some translation into English. At first, students took to it slowly; but once they realised that the vocabulary that they had to look up in the second section would help give them success later on in the lesson, the use of the section by students as a glossary increased. Students liked having the chance to practise the skill without a grade being attached and also enjoyed having the handrail of vocabulary that they would hear in the listening/reading that they would experience during that lesson.

Along with looking at delving back into prior content to bring it back to the forefront of student attention, I also turned to metacognition as a process for writing and speaking. As a department, we dedicated a lot of time to looking at moderation, standardisation and also looking at using GCSE criteria as success criteria in lessons. Looking at my lessons from the year before, it was apparent I hadn’t considered the importance of choosing and thinking aloud with my students. I gave model answers – but did I explain why they would get full marks on the mark scheme? Did I explain that because, on the Screenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.40.26.png90-word piece, there was only two time frames, the maximum mark for Quality of Language would be 4? Did I mention that not including one of the bullet points would pull their content down, potentially, by 4 marks? No. Something had to change. I had always been scared of straying away from my tightly-planned PowerPoint slides, but pulling up an question on the whiteboard and chalking and talking my way through of how I would plan and write my answer saw me consider the steps that students would need to take. I was able to verbalise these and drill my students in the process. Some 90-word sheets I created also helped with this process. Then, it was about going from I-do to you-do and taking off the stabilisers gradually.

August came, and whilst I was on holiday in Bilbao the news came of both classes achieving very similar, and very high, VA scores. My persistence in not accepting excuses and forging good working relationships had paid off. And what is even better is now in the second half of the year, some of these students are in my A Level class!

Aiming high

My Y11 class this year has a wide variety of needs, but also a collective desire to do well and to achieve. They support each other, encourage each other in tasks, always take the time to have a little chat with me in Spanish on the door before they enter and distribute glue sticks/dictionaries/exercise books. I’ve never had this collective ‘niceness’ and genuine support for one-another before in a class. They always do what I ask; but when it comes to retaining information, we hit problems.

Screenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.42.39.png

Moving forward into 2020

This coming year, I have a different challenge ahead of me. This time I’m not teaching lazy boys or students who crack out the “Maths/English/x is more important than Spanish”; rather I have a group who are fully committed to Spanish. They’re a small group and really enjoy Spanish study. I could have quite easily put a ceiling on them through their ability according to numbers and the sets they came from in order to get into my set – but that is something I am point blank refusing to do. What I need to do with this group is empower, give the most precise feedback that is going to give the biggest marginal gains (see Dave Brailsford’s theory on this) that will agglomerate over time for a significant improvement.

1. Boxing clever: The priority with this class, as I alluded to earlier, is that I need to ensure that surface knowledge sticks. I know that I have to box clever in order to maximise their performance. For any of you that teach the Viva AQA course, you will agree some topics are harder than others. The one I personally consider to be the most difficult is Module 8 – right at the very end of the textbook. In order to help maximise the chances of my students retaining the vocabulary and some of the more complex foundation-level grammar, such as the perfect tense, I decided to teach this during the summer term, then go back to module 6 at the beginning of this year.

2. Getting my ‘quiz’ on: Achieving ‘stickability’ is easier said than done with this class – but things are starting to fall into place. I introduced multiple-choice quizzing – but not just for the fun of it. They have a two-fold purpose: firstly, in order to make students recall previous vocabulary through interleaving vocabulary rather than simply stick to Screenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.23.43.pngblocking (the process where students study a module, then move on with no revisiting); and secondly, to make students really think about their grammar and tenses, with the hope that they can begin to metacognitively think about verb endings and the different meanings the different tenses have – such as the difference between he comido (I have eaten); comí (I ate) and comía (I used to eat). Only towards the end of last year did I have the belief in the class that they could handle a variety of tenses in one multiple choice question – and to my surprise the majority were able to metacognitively explain to me their reasoning for their choice. This selection between tenses I want to continue through to next year for two reasons: firstly, for the production in the written exam in the translation task; and secondly for the reading so that this group can better, and more accurately, understand the text that they are presented with in these tasks.

3. Mixing it up: I’m also looking at how to better interleave the different modules of study with exam-skill practice. I have looked at photo cards from different modules, and using the follow up questions to tie in with the module that students are currently studying at the moment. This allows students to dig into their linguistic bank of Screenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.26.02.pngresources in order to be successful at the vocabulary – be it through planning the photo card response together as a class by the class doing the thinking and myself simply recording to create a joint model, or through taking the stabilisers off and allowing students to have a go on their own then getting group. This is something I want to keep on going with this year – taking the stabilisers off at the right time through judging if they will have the right amount of understanding and knowledge to apply to the task. This takes some judgement – but the more I do it, the better I will become (I hope!)

4. Modelling: Finally, I really want to look at modelling. Modelling is something I do – either via displaying Blue Pete style ‘one I made earlier’ or writing on an exam question on the interactive whiteboard (something that felt really naughty the first time I did it as it wasn’t in my PowerPoint but I have come to realise is a really useful for eliciting my thinking to students) to demonstrate how to go about answering a question. People in myScreenshot 2019-12-31 at 10.27.38.png school have started using visualisers, something that I think is good but I have my reservations about: primarily because we have low teacher desks so, unless you’re 6″-something like myself, you don’t have a good eagle-eyed view of the class and secondly, I have big hands that tend to cover writing up, decreasing clarity for students. In my Y11 class, I have some students who are relatively stronger than others, who could easily score 16 in the 90-word task. I want to start using these students to prepare an explanation at home, check in with me so they can deliberately practise their response before teaching small groups. This is something I want to do because I believe it’s not just my job to teach Spanish; but to also equip students with the skills that they need in order to be successful generally in the next stages of their life.

Finally – I put it to you – what are your aims for 2020? 

2018-2019 – Boot Camp, Laughter and Leadership 

This time last year I was quaking in my boots awaiting my first set of results for the new GCSE specification for Spanish. I’d be telling a huge lie if I said I find myself in Havana feeling completely relaxed and at ease about this year’s forthcoming results –image.png I’m more scared than a rabbit caught in the headlights. But I want to take a moment whilst sitting on the 9-hour flight across the pond back to London with Virgin to think about what I’ve learnt – results aside, and what aspirations I have for the forthcoming year. By aspirations, I mean aspirations for my students (most importantly!) They are the reason why I do my job and love it; for myself and also for the Learning Area as a whole. 

The building blocks for next year’s aspirations 

Aspirations and goals, in my view, have to be set on what’s gone before in order to have some chance of being able to achieve them. I’ve had a lot to learn this year: how to make assert myself as Second in Learning Area/Faculty; how to juggle getting two Y11 classes through the GCSE (one of whom I inherited only at the beginning of the year; the other I have had since starting at my current school and which contained some notoriously ‘chilled out’ boys) and how to go about taking a more active role in managing staff and taking decisions. Doing all this, I’ve tried to do it in the most human, most ‘me’ way of doing it. This mantra for myself led to the title of this post: Boot camp, Laughter and Leadership. 

Boot camp

Boot camp is a word I’ll always attribute to my former Head of Department, my former Mentor and a former Head of Year who was also an MFL teacher at my previous school. They were a force to be reckoned with and I remain eternally thankful to everything they taught me about MFL teaching. It was a tough school in the North East and the oScreenshot 2019-07-29 at 15.45.12.png
nly way to survive was to ensure you were as tough back; but show some personality when appropriate. It taught me how not to blur the lines – a kind of Jekyll and Hyde approach. You had to know the students; take no rubbish; form relationships and ensure your lessons were tight. The kids knew if they stepped into either my HoD, my HoY or my Mentor’s classrooms, that they were in for a good deal teaching-wise – but there was no messing around. The welcome of: “this is not teacher training; this is boot camp” that was given to me in my first week is something that has forever stayed with me as a teacher – and something I’ve wanted to find my own meaning to attach to. Now – I feel like it’s boot camp with ‘relaxed boys’.  

‘Boot camp’ for me now is challenge of getting the ‘laid-back lads’ through their GCSE and not compromising my expectations of them – in fact – it’s probably putting them and their work even more so under the microscope. I told both of my classes: “This is not Spanish; this is boot camp.” They laughed but they knew deep down throughout the year on their backs if they didn’t quite pull their finger out. Boot camp involved rejecting any work not good enough; constant phone calls home (negative and positive!) and when things were really not going to plan – parental meetings. It was relentless but it really meant that I was on top of the students and they knew that I wasn’t going to give up on them come hell or high water. I think this is what boys need in order to: 1) perform and not coast along; 2) build up some self-esteem and 3) to help them form a working relationship with their teachers. 

Being human

I guess my last point on not giving up on those hard-to-get-through-to boys and building self esteem leads onto my next point – being human. I’m a teacher. I have to interact with students and get my message across to them in order for them to learn. I can do it in a very down-the-line kind of way – showing little interest in the children and their likes or dislikes; or I can do it in a way that makes it enjoyable for them. One of my Y11 groups I’ve had since I started my current school and I will always consider them my first proper class at my current school. From day one they warmed to me. I found out I had a Geordie (Newcastle United supporter) in my class – which, being a Mackem (Sunderland supporter) was the hook to create some good fun in class. I purposely put in translations, such as: “I used to be a Sunderland fan but now Sunderland are terrible” or “Sunderland are a better football team than Newcastle” in order to create some little laughs and really make my lessons personal to that class. It really worked in terms of forging relationships and showing that I will plan ‘personal’ lessons for my students, including a bit of information about me. What it also showed them was that I was investing heavily into their lessons (being human) and made it easy for me to hold them to account for any poor effort or misdemeanours. 

For my other Y11 class, it was about having their backs and showing them I was working as hard as I could for them. I didn’t know them as well, and they didn’t feel as secure in Spanish when I took them on. I was upfront with them – I told them we had a lot of work to do but that we would get there if they came along on the journey with me. They bought in. They were a tough group – several of whom I had met previously through behaviour incidents. I didn’t change the rules; I had no different expectations for them in relation to the other Y11 class that I took through; but they realised I would sound them out and make time for them if they needed it. Even if I was busy, I’d schedule in a moment for them later in the day to sit down and catch up with them. That’s being human and it paid off in wining them over. 

Being human extends to staff. We get caught up so much in our own world when teaching and sometimes we believe our own time constraints and pressures are more important than other people’s. I personally think this is wrong and is an attitude I hope to never develop as a leader or a teacher. Being professional is key; but getting to know your team is even more important. I am a sugar addict and I make a point of going to the main MFL office to get sugar as a reason to check in with the rest of the team and have a catch up. But it goes further than this. It’s about making time for staff to come to you. It’s about them knowing you’re there and if you make a mistake, holding your hand up and putting it right. We all do it, and if we didn’t – well, we wouldn’t be human, would we?

Laughter

This year, alongside being more human, I’ve also learnt to laugh. Things in the classroom will naturally go wrong. Explanations will come out completely wrong and sound hilarious to students. If you decide not to laugh, you can sometimes create a situation that could turn hostile (or in my experience it could) in terms of: students find something funny, you do – but you want to stick to the rules and maintain a stern front in front of the students and end up with a potentially confrontational situation. Why not just laugh it off? This year, I have laughed with every single class and with my team. It demonstrated that I am human – I do get things wrong and that I will laugh due to my sense of humour. And light-hearted laughing can easily make students really feel at ease around you – in measured amounts. But most importantly – I’ve learnt how to contrast this with a cold temperament when needed to create contrast and really make students aware when I am not happy. This has been powerful in terms of my interactions and added an extra layer to my behaviour management.

Where next? Aims/questions to answer for 2019-2020

Boot camp mark II: A Level. For the first time since I’ve started my current school, I will be teaching A Level. I have done for a couple of years in the past; but have had a two-year break in order to gather resources for different courses/textbooks that I hadn’t taught before. With taking in students who I haven’t taught before alongside some of my own classes, I want to apply the same mantra as I do to my GCSE classes. With A Level, it will be different. It’ll not be as black-and-white as what lower school is and it’s something I’ll have to work at refining. What is the right balance for A Level? What will be the new group I will need to target to push? How will I go about doing it?

Teach meet. I’ve said since I’ve started my current school that I have wanted to organise a teach meet for MFL. Almost three years on, I still have not done so. This year I want to make it happen so that schools in East/North/wherever-is-accessible-from-Hackney London can come to exchange ideas and network. It’s the finer detailing that’s the sticking point – but I’ll get there. Getting a date that works seems to be the most difficult bit. Once that’s in the net, hopefully the rest will fall into place. Hopefully exchange of ideas will lead to differing practice in classrooms and enhanced teaching for the young people in the area.

Lead by example. I’ve tried to do as much of this as I can this year for my students and also for my team. I want to model a love of the Hispanic world; a love of teaching and the love of my job. In return. I hope my students next year display the same positive attitude to their Spanish lessons and become more inquisitive – looking at the Spanish language and society in order to even potentially question their own language and society. For my staff, I want to model an openness, a warmth and willingness to do whatever I can to make time for them. Hopefully, these will both create even more investment and trust in me as a teacher and leader.image.png

3 things I’ve learnt in 2018-2019

1. What my NQT taught me – don’t force your style onto others; let them develop their own .

My first memory of my NQT was on her interview. She went out of her way to greet me when she was doing the tour of the school. She had character. She had personality. And she wanted to do well. She had behaviour down from day one, and in her words, wanted to image.pngdo what I would do. It was a huge compliment; but I felt like I was doing things wrong. Was I using mentoring in the wrong way? Should I have been doing things differently? What she taught me was when to mentor and when to coach. This year, she was given a predominantly foundation Y11 set to take through; whereas I was teaching higher. Next year she will have top set Y11. The technique and the feel of the exam should be different – a lot more spontaneity needs to be demonstrated by a top set group. I could have told her what I wanted her to do; instead, I wanted her to find her own way with this. I asked her to listen to one of my higher exams – see what she felt was the difference (if any at all), and what she feels she needs to do differently or what she needs to keep the same. She came away from the session pondering and really engaged with how she wants her exams to sound and feel next year – not from what I told her they should sound/feel like, but rather from what she would like them to based on the differing success criteria.

2. What my students taught me – follow the rules, make sanctions impersonal and rebuild relationships

If you are going to be strict and not show your human side (as I have been in the past) – you have no chance of building a good working rapport with your students. I would argue self belief is key to students doing well; in terms of their mental health and feeling good about themselves. I am a rule follower. If I am to keep order in my classroom and keep things tight within my school, I must adhere to the behaviour policy. But what is key for winning over some of the more difficult students so that they don’t cause more trouble or become apathetic, is explaining the reason behind the sanction, the implications that their actions could cause and then go about reforming that relationship and ensuring that the air is cleared between yourself and that student. Had I not done this with several members of a Year 11 class I had taken over, I would have been on the path to failure. Instead, some of the trickiest characters who I have had run-ins with over the years, have ended up being some of my most loyal students and I ended up building the belief in them that they could do higher. Even if their target is was a 5 – they demonstrated to me they could do better than that and I put them in for higher. Why? Because I had forged a relationship with them, which made them want to work hard in Spanish and developed their self belief that they can achieve in Spanish.

3. What my IoE Middle Leaders’ Course taught me – make time for your team.

I count myself extremely lucky to work in a school where CPD is greatly valued. We were put onto the Institute of Education at UCL’s Developing Middle Leaders’ course.  The course deliverers spoke about the dynamics of team and building trust. I also moved office, moving in with my boss. The one thing I noticed from the first day was that he makes time for everybody – no matter how busy he is. By time, I’m not talking about a passing conversation on the corridor; I’m talking about a sit down in the office and genuinely listening before replying. I think in teaching it is so easy to get caught up in the sheer fleeting nature of the job, and to develop an attitude of self-righteousness: “I’m busy, my time is precious. Don’t waste my time.” I can honestly say that if you want to go about getting buy in from staff – that air of self-righteousness has to be ridded of from your leadership mentality. Be nice. Listen. Teaching can be lonely and a very difficult profession. Earn your team’s respect and build up deposits of trust.

What my Y11s taught me this year

This year has been an interesting year. It is my third year at my current school and I am starting to feel established. This year, I took my then middle-set Y9s through to the end of the year. I also acquired another middling set who I wanted to push for the higher exam. Needless to say, it’s been a tale of two halves, and a battle of hearts and minds. This is what I have learnt.

1. Belief is everything

My original Year 11 set that I was taking through felt confident and ready for Year 11 studies, having versed them in exam technique and skills since I first took the class in Year 9. They know exactly what is expected of them, what they need to include in answers. The Year 11 group I picked up were very shaky on skill and technique. Their tenses were all over. They felt condemned to foundation for being the wrong set. What did I decide to do? Collect in the foundation textbooks and give them all a higher textbook. This was an instant win, generating huge amounts of buy-in as they could see that I believed in them. I managed to enter a lot of them for higher – which they really appreciated

2. Be human

I am a firm upholder of the rules and regulations of the school where I work. Boundaries are key if we want to work in a safe and secure environment. I first bumped into one of my new Year 11 students on corridor duty where they were incredibly rude to me when I told them not to talk. There was huge fallout – a parental meeting, detentions… so you can imagine my face when their name appeared on my register. I approached with caution and really focused on building a solid relationship with this student – making detentions about the rules and not me. They came onboard and the progress they made was unstoppable. At the end of the course during the revision session, they started the round of applause I received at the end, appreciating the teaching they had received. It was a full turn around in relationship at that moment. If I hadn’t had been so human, we would have clashed, and would they have worked as hard? Definitely not and walls would have been put up as a barrier to progress.

3. Let them know you’re on their case

For some students who underachieve, we have compulsory after school sessions, where we can take students out for extra practice. Lots of the time they are left to their own devices, but I made a point of withdrawing students for intervention on a frequent basis. Where I was otherwise tied up, I would still pop down, check in with them and make sure they had planned in Spanish study for that week – enquiring what they were going to revise and how they intended on doing it. And if students do not meet your expectations, don’t let them fall by the wayside. Give them catch ups and interventions – give out detentions if you know they can do better. Use those detentions and catch ups to form a relationship and to create a sense of self belief and value and that you won’t accept less than their best.

4. Learn from the previous year

I took my first group through the reformed GCSE last year. For the first cohort ant their performance, I was happy – but I know there was room for improvement. I taught that group structures incredibly well; however, their application of tenses was something else… I knew this had to change. I went down the road of knowledge organisers for each tense. But it’s all well and good getting them to regurgitate in the same style a tonne of information; I needed them to be able to apply it in order to manipulate verbs. I started translation verb tests – whereby students had to read carefully to first select the tense, then manipulate the verb. I don’t think I’ve ever had two groups as proficient with verb usage as these two groups.

5. Keep the endpoint in sight

Always plan backwards and always remember that the goal is to get them through the exam and hopefully onto A Level should they be capable. Never let that out of your sights. Do what is right, and what will help students become great linguists. Think about exam technique, making sure students are versed in this so they are as confident as they can be when walking into the exam. Think about what knowledge or skills they lack and how you aim to go about compensate for deficits – such as when I invented the speaking card game to get students practising speaking spontaneously or the translation tests to focus on verbs.

I love teaching Year 11 each year. And each year, they always teach me something new that improves me as a practitioner.