Monday, 14 October 2013

Fostering independence in writing in MFL

After marking 3 sets of books today (go me, how efficient, god bless PPA), I began to get increasingly frustrated with the number of homeworks I marked enhanced with a little sprinkling of Google translate. First of all, let me say that I am not against Google translate as a tool for learning - it's just simply that I haven't dared explored such capabilities with my classes yet, and let's be honest, in the majority of cases it isn't necessary to use it.

I've decided the three main reasons pupils use Google to translate for homeworks are probably 1) laziness; 2) a genuine inability to complete the task set of them and 3) a lack of confidence in their own ability. What I find most frustrating about this is that I feel as a department, and indeed as a school, we give pupils an awful lot of the tools required so that they can create meaningful pieces of work of their own accord. It seems that when it comes down to it, they either can't or won't. Our KS3 and KS4 pupils in languages are all provided with a vocabulary booklet with vocabulary and structures in for them to produce writing at home. There are grammar sections at the back. Pupils complete pre-tasks, in which they practise vocabulary, sentence structure and building paragraphs. A writing task for KS3 homework should be a culmination of classwork and previous homework - an opportunity for pupils to show themselves off, prove to me how much they have learned. Of course, that's on the basis we have a good working relationship and they want to impress, but I like to think that with most of my classes, we do have such a positive working environment. 

With the implementation of a flipped learning project, we will have a chance to experiment with homework and hopefully measure any impact on results and attitudes to out-of-class work.I really believe in our new KS3 homework set up of prep, draft & redraft so I am keen to make it work. I'll put this one down to a first attempt - iron out the creases and try again.

So in the meantime, it's back to the drawing board... a reinforcement of the idea that we don't NEED to use Google, our brains work and it's good to be in our challenge zone sometimes. A chance for me to reflect on the way I set out homework tasks - should I have differentiated more? Do I need to do more confidence building in class? How else can I encourage my learners to be (here's the Ofsted buzzword...) resilient? Or perhaps students are just overwhelmed; to expect writing to be done independently is just the straw that breaks the already-heavily-laden-with-homework-camel's back?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Hearing the Learner Voice - Reflections on a training day

A day out of school is always one well spent, not least because of the guarantee of a great lunch, but also as an opportunity to stop and take stock. Today I spent the day at a lovely school in Somerset, with a group of like minded people discussing Student Voice. The school itself was a new build... what other excuse does one need to start afresh than a brand new building to kick start it all off? The school in question was testament to that, as was shown when the students proudly showed us around, pointing out all they had achieved so far and all that they planned for the future.

The day was dedicated to hearing from a number of people involved in the student voice processes, from Assistant Head, to the students themselves, to the Local Authority contact. As a mere classroom teacher, I felt somewhat out of my depth with the bigwigs as most of the other delegates were members of SLT, but I have to admit their insight was powerful and has really helped me to understand where I need to take my role in order to satisfy the criteria that senior leaders are expecting from student leadership.

I suppose the main reflection from the day was that I am incredibly lucky. It is very easy to get lost at week 5 in the term and become that moany, miserable member of staff with nothing positive to say. But I felt that a lot of what we were discussing, we already do at our school. Not only that, I strongly feel we do it really quite well and we are in a strong position to help other schools to learn from us. Listening to SLT speak about the challenges they face implementing new ideas reminded me it's not just us that faces the daily struggles to get a project up and running. The day was a real chance to network and to share ideas - but also a time for reflection. We could all admit that none of us have 'it' quite yet, whatever that may be, but student councils, school cabinets, focus groups, student mentors, student observers of learning, whatever name you want to give them, these groups of students are meeting in schools across the country and the key is that as a group we more or less wanted the same thing - to hear their voices louder and clearer. 

We were encouraged to reflect and answer questions such as 'why are we here?' and 'what do we want to do?'. From my perspective, the reason I took a 120 mile round trip at 6:30am this morning was to find out how to make Student Voice heard... and a word of wisdom from a delegate today enabled me to take account - 'If students are getting something out of it, if they are going home and telling their parents what they have done, you have achieved something in your school.' We need to be careful that in paying lip service to a buzzword on the agenda at present doesn't make us lose sight of what we are fundamentally addressing. Student Voice should be ground upwards, not ideas that we push on to the students to tick a box. With a very supportive SLT I don't feel we are in that position thankfully, but I do feel perhaps I would be fulfilling my role as Student Voice CO-ORDINATOR better if I did just that. Co-ordinating instead of leading.