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Project based learning for French

I’ve struggled to find a really meaningful project base learning style task to use with my French students in years 7 and 8, then I read this great post in Edutopia and thought I’d give it a go!

Inspired by Don’s ‘Menu Project’, I decided to meet curriculum objectives in terms of both cultural and linguistic knowledge by asking students to imagine that they were creating their own school and put together a selection of compulsory and optional tasks designed to encourage comparison and us of target language (French).  Having discussed learning standards and objectives with the students, I presented them with the tasks and we discussed ways in which they could interpret the task and challenge themselves.  Here’s the basic set of requirements:

create school 1 create a school 2As you can see, some are optional and others are compulsory and I’ve tried to include writing in the target language.  The task is differentiated by outcome but also by interest.  The presetations that I used were presentations about school subjects and opinions that I created myself and others that I found on the TES website.  The students enjoyed working in their groups and spent a total of 3 lessons, plus as much homework time as they wanted, on the task.

In class today, the students presented their projects and carried out some peer assessment as well as talked about what went well and what could be done to improve the project.

It was really exciting to see them working in their groups and the quality of their completed work was really extraordinary.  Most groups completed the extension tasks and some had also created additional tasks to make their projects more comprehensive.  Many of the students had written additional work in French using the help in the presentations and some used French in their presentations.  Best of all was the extent to which students listened to their peers and gave insightful and constructive feedback.

Overall, I’m not sure that my little project ‘counts’ as project based learning, but it was an engaging way to learn.  I carried out a pre-assessment task and will be conducting a post-assessment task which will be a test of the learning that happened in the lessons.  What I know at the moment, based on oral feedback, is that the project helped students to understand more about the culture of France and get a clearer idea of the link between French and other subjects in the curriculum. They also really enjoyed themselves.

I’ll post some feedback following assessment and will upload some of the work that the students produced, but wanted to share the task with you because we had so much fun in class today!

Any ideas for great project based learning in foreign languages will be gratefully received!



Don’t be downhearted!

I can’t remember where I read this quotation:

“One of the core functions of 21st century education is learning to learn in preparation for a lifetime of change” (David Milliband, 2003)

Learning to learn, unlearn and relearn, learning to curate knowledge and making links between home and school.  These are crucial to a 21st century education.  When I trained to be a teacher almost 12 years ago, a senior professor stood up in our very first lecture and told us the following story:

If a Medical Doctor from 1900 travelled through time to a modern operating theatre, he would be astounded, but if a teacher from 1900 travelled through time to a modern secondary school classroom, he wouldn’t find too many changes.

I don’t know the origin of this analogy and I know that it’s not perfect.  A patient being operated on cannot really be too closely allied to the experience of a learner … hopefully.  It has always provided me with a real incentive to embrace innovation and change.

That aside, reading the David Milliband quotation this morning, noting that it was written in 2004, brought to mind the fact that some of the key texts we refer to today about literacy and literacy learning arose from a meeting of the New London Group in 1996.  The pace of change can be slow.

Research demonstrates that the variation, in terms of learning that takes place, is greater between classrooms than between schools.

Ongoing teacher education is an area of enormous growth, huge sums are ploughed into professional learning, job roles are redefined to promote excellence in learning and teaching, technology is increasingly accessible, so what lies behind the variation, what are some of the blocks to change?

Until we really get to the bottom of it, each student cannot have a learner-centric, future focused experience.  For every innovative, student oriented, learning space, there are 20 classrooms with serried rows of desks.  For every student who participates in a focused and positive learning experience, there are many more on the receiving end of a lesson about [insert subject here].  For each student encouraged to follow their passion in the classroom, inspired to create and build deeper learning experiences, many more spend their days in drill and practice, without seeing the links between the worlds of home and school.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think about every student, to worry about every class.  Don’t be downhearted.  Think about one student, think about one class, stay in the present, share and blog and take risks and be prepared to get it wrong.  Change begins with oneself.


piktochart – using infographics for learning

I’ve looked longingly at infographics for some time now. Succinct and attention-grabbing, they encourage creators and users to edit and pare back information, focusing on what is essential.

This morning, I finally discovered piktochart, a site that I can use easily to create useable infographics and created this one about reading effectively in a foreign language.

Reading Hacks - how to be a better reader in a foreign language-1

I also thought that it would be great to use with students for revision, reinforcement and extension.  I’m going to try out these ideas:

1. Students create an infographic for a grammar point of their choice and use that to teach the point to a different group of students.

2. Students create infographic which shows what has been learned from a particular topic or unit.

3. Students create an infographic to show character or plot development.

4. Students create an infographic to summarise the key points about a topic

I found inspiration for learning with infographics on these two sites:

The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists

Edutopia: Beyond the Book: Infographics of Students’ Reading History

I found piktochart easy to use and the free templates and graphics matched my needs, but the following sites listed some different infographic creators:

10 free tools for creating infographics – Creative Bloq
20+tools to make your own infographic
How to make your own infographics – Razor Social

I’ll let you know how my students get on, but in the meantime, how have you used infographics for learning and teaching?

Pre-reading tasks

On the first day of term, teachers from schools in my area attended a keynote address by John Munro, from the University of Melbourne. He talked about the distinction between comprehending and comprehension and how important it is for all students to be taught active reading skills. I was inspired to dig out a few ideas for pre-reading Tasks:

1. Why am I reading this? Establishing a purpose for reading directs reading towards a goal and helps focus attention. Purposes may come from teacher directed questions or outcomes, questions from class discussions or brainstorming, or from the individual student.

2. Before introducing the class to a new topic, or a text about a new topic, brainstorm prior knowledge. Using, the app ‘iBrainstorm’ or by referring to posters you already have in your classrooms, you can make reference to prior learning, helping students to identify what they already know about a topic before reading. This pre-reading task can help students to prepare for new vocabulary.

3. Introduce key vocabulary before beginning a new topic. Students can create definitions using their own words. Students with laptops could create, and simultaneously edit, a class dictionary in google docs. Year 7 classes could use iPads to create personalised dictionaries in Smartnote. This pre-reading task, vocabulary front loading, can help students to prepare for the demands of a new topic.

4. Develop pre-questions that you expect to be answered when reading:

What is….? Where does … fit? What group does … belong to?
How could we describe…? What does … look like? What are its parts?
What is a good example of …?
What are similar examples that share attributes but differ in some way?
What experience have we had with ….? What can we imagine about …?

5. Pictures and other visual material can activate prior knowledge.
Use the Internet to search for pictures related to the title/topic to help you to deliver visual images of what we are about to read.

6. Depending upon the content area, a discussion of the author of the particular work can be helpful to understanding. What is the author trying to say? What is her point of view and her reason for writing the particular work?

7. A discussion about the type of text can be useful – will there be statistics? Are there likely to be graphs? Will there be a great many dates? Will the piece of writing be persuasive? Evaluative? What are some of the language features/organizational features that we can expect to find?

8. Use a graphic organiser, to get students to think about their knowledge. KWL is a popular strategy. It consists of three steps for students to use with text:
What do I Know? What do I Want to learn? What did I Learn?

It is a useful strategy for group discussions. Many examples online exist, but essentially, you develop a three column sheet with each question in a column and students write in responses. For example:
What do I know What do I want to learn What did I learn

Alternatively, you could create a version in a poster form or use a google doc or padlet so that students can create a single chart that they all share and work on throughout a topic.

9. Before reading a chapter, survey the chapter and look at:
• the title, headings, and subheadings
• captions under pictures, charts, graphs or maps
• review questions or teacher-made study guides
• introductory and concluding paragraphs
• summary

While surveying, ask questions. For example:
• Turn the title, headings, and/or subheadings into questions
• Read questions at the end of the chapters or after each subheading
• Ask yourself,
“What did my instructor say about this chapter or subject
when it was assigned?”
• Ask yourself,
“What do I already know about this subject?”

10. Read the end first, then ask students to predict the beginning

11. Pre-teach targeted background information,

12. Give students pre-reading summaries of the text,

13. Introduce key aspects of the text before students read them

I know, I know 13, but it is my lucky number!

Happy learning!

Teaching spelling in Secondary Schools?

We’ve been building class dictionaries, using Padlet, as a pre-reading task recently and this has helped students focus on key vocabulary.

It has set me thinking about the importance of teaching students to spell rather than testing spelling.

How can we help students to identify the words that they need to know?
How can we help them to learn how to learn?

Well, I’m still trying to work out the answers, but I put together this presentation for an in-house PD session recently. It’s based on Robert Marzano’s ideas about effectively teaching spelling and contains ideas and games from, well, all over, that my students have enjoyed …

I’d love to hear any thoughts about how you help students identify key words and how you approach the teaching of spelling in your classroom.

MLTAV 2012

Went to the MLTAV conference in Melbourne today. Some great sessions!

In my session, I focused on some practical ideas for using web 2.0 tools and some different apps in the languages classroom. I had an awesome time – great session participants full of enthusiasm and ideas, plus lots of great conversations at the end! Really flattered that staff from my own school attended my session!

The whole conference was a great experience – what a great way to spend the day! Looking forward to taking my learning to school with me on Monday 🙂

Here’s my presentation!

Massive gratitude to Twitter, where I get most of my ideas and inspiration!

Keeping reading real

Just enjoying reading this great post about reading inspired activity.

It has encouraged me to focus on the way that I interact, through text, with my year 7 English class. We read aloud every lesson and we discuss what we have read recently and what we have seen and heard on the news as well as share stories about what is going on in our lives. Although we have been learning together since February, we have not yet look at a text as a call to action.

This has really started me thinking about how to use texts in my classroom next week! We are currently in the middle of a creative writing unit, creating a series of texts with a shark theme. Any ideas for shark oriented activities in the classroom are most welcome!

Developing Shared Assessment Objectives

We developed a set of shared assessment objectives today, my year 8 French students and I.

The discussion that accompanied the negotiation was fascinating:

What do we actually have to submit in order to show that we have understood the task?
How can we demonstrate our mastery of our chosen topic?
How can we convey our ability to stretch ourselves and strive for excellence?

Putting students in charge helps to engage, but also teaches us so much about individual members of the class, their aspirations and their concerns.

It has been a great lead into self-assessment and peer-assessment and will make the whole process more meaningful.

How else can we involve students in the assessment process?

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