Turning to September – my attempts to streamline.

by senorcordero

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/