Developing independence and resilience in MFL Lessons

An Action Research Project by Joanne Whalley (MFL)

Reading time: 12 minutes

Context  –  Autumn 2016

Teaching is good within the department but there could be more focus on developing student resilience and independence as this is a subject which is traditionally quite teacher led and reliant on the teacher as the main resource. Evidence in lessons of students being more resourceful and taking ownership of their own learning would help us to achieve a greater degree of excellence.  In addition, this will bring about a welcome sense of student autonomy which could revolutionize current approaches which can be very teacher-centred (and at times, it could be said that the teacher is working harder than the students!).

With the introduction of new GCSE criteria and the removal of National Curriculum levels a whole school approach to grading has been introduced and the first step in developing student independence was to ensure that they understand what their next steps are. Students self and peer-assess using the grade criteria and grade criteria are shown alongside lesson objectives and assessments. This grade criteria document, which is found at the front of all students’ exercise books acts as a useful “how to” signpost for all students in identifying their next steps and setting goals for the coming term. Thus, students have a growing sense of security in what they can do well and what they need to improve in order to achieve a higher grade.

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See below an example of the assessment criteria sheet for Key Stage Four students. Through a series of self, peer and teacher assessments early in Year 10 prior attainment is plotted on the criteria (marked in red), the end of Key Stage Target is also marked on the grid (marked in green) and steps that need to be completed to demonstrate progress being made towards those target criteria are marked in yellow and dated by the student or teacher. Students or teachers can also identify current priorities or next steps after an assessment, this is done in blue and signed and dated by the teacher when achieved.

This has enabled students to have a very clear picture of what they are able to do, what they aim to ultimately achieve and what their immediate priorities are, which would bring about a step change in results. This strong sense of direction and ownership has enabled students to ensure that when they are completing new pieces of work that they include the necessary components in order to reach a particular grade.

More importantly it has given students a very clear pathway to follow and they have been able to begin to make significant “jumps” by trying techniques which they might not have ordinarily thought of including. In short, students have been more willing to take a risk rather than producing work at a level at which they feel comfortable, very close to their current level of attainment.

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Figure 1: Grade criteria for MFL

Development – December 2016

After having completed a work book scrutiny and a peer observation of a colleague within the English department, I trialed marking with a highlighter to improve student engagement with written feedback and their ability to identify targets for improvement. I have adopted a three colour approach (red, amber, green) and have linked these to the success criteria for a given task. Students in Years 7, 8 and 10 have successfully used the guidance provided to peer and self-assess work, grading it, picking out what they have done well and then identify targets for improvement. This approach is more positive and although it should not be the sole type of marking employed as it does not highlight spelling or grammatical errors, it clearly shows what a student is doing well and then by the absence of the next colour, it shows what a student should work on next. In addition, this technique is quick and simple, as well as very visual and can help when undertaking moderation as you can clearly see which grade is the best fit by the colours shown on a particular piece of work. Samples of these pieces of work have been displayed in classrooms so students can see why a certain piece of work has gained a particular grade, furthermore copies of this have been kept centrally as a reference point for sample work at grades 2 – 6 so far ( and all the sub grades between). A development for the next academic year is to have some laminated versions of these to use as models for students when preparing extended written pieces.

Action

Having laid the foundations of student understanding of how to identify their next steps, I became more confident that students would engage with a more student led approach. Thus, I undertook a series of lessons focusing on student-led learning in January 2017 with Year 10 students.

Research before the lesson

In the first few months of this project, I read a number of short publications and blogs about risk taking and there seemed to be common themes emerging.

  1. As a teacher you should model failure / risk taking – we have a choice to do something simple or slowly forever or to try and improve your performance and risk making a mistake.
  2. If you don’t take a risk you are unlikely to get any better but you need to feel safe to take a risk.
  3. Don’t implement too many changes at once.
  4. You need to provide (decent) opportunities for risk taking, you need to invest time in it.
  5. Give students freedom in the way they approach a task
  6. Do something meaningful with a clear purpose
  7. Take student views on board

Risk taking lesson 1

From these key points I decided upon my approach to my first “risk tasking lesson”. I began the lesson by showing the group, my first ever attempt at skiing on my own without an instructor. It was a perfect example of how I was perfectly in control, very safe but taking no risks whatsoever, avoiding all inclines and I explained, that I would have remained at that level if I hadn’t found the confidence to take a risk. In order to make sure the students felt safe, I planned the lesson so that the tasks were achievable, I was working on the basis of proximal development, students needed to feel that the task was (almost) achievable if they were to be willing to keep going when it became challenging. Group work, provided support and in terms of reassurance that the students were on track to meet the challenge, I gave regular verbal feedback throughout the session. I did not direct the students as to how to tackle the task but put at their disposal some suggested resources. I explained clearly how we would be using the knowledge from the lesson in our later work.

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Planning

Students were divided into mixed ability groups. There were four groups. Three of the four groups had one more able student, due to the composition of the class, the fourth group was made up of three middle ability learners and one less able.

The groups were given an envelope with a series of 6 challenges to complete over a period of a two hour lesson. They were given a set of rules which outlined the resources they were able to access and what they were not allowed to do. Whilst I circulated the class, I would give hints, reassurance and guide the students through questioning, I would not give them answers to the challenges unless they used one of their 5 help cards, (interestingly, by the end of the two hour lesson the maximum number of cards used by any group was 3, which shows how independent they were trying to be).

The challenges were planned according to Blooms Taxonomy (Knowledge > Understanding> Application) and therefore became incrementally more difficult. The task set was to find out when to use the Imperfect tense, how to conjugate it, to apply it to key phrases on the topic of local area and then use this to translate a paragraph.

The plan for the 2 hour lesson:

Challenge 1 > Acquiring knowledge – When do we use the Imperfect tense?

Challenge 2 > Developing knowledge and understanding – How do we form the Imperfect tense?

Challenge 3 > Developing understanding and applying the rule – Are there any verbs which don’t follow the rule? Apply the rule to familiar verbs

Challenge 4 > Application in the context of current topic –  translation of useful phrases for describing where you used to live when you were younger

Challenge 5 > Application in a translation task.

Lesson reflection

It was fascinating to watch the dynamics of each group. Initially, two of the three most able students were afraid to commit ideas to paper and seemed to be worried about making mistakes. The middle ability learners demonstrated much more of a “have a go” attitude and were very motivated by the points awarded to each team for each challenge. The most able learners tended to monopolise their groups initially when the task was straight forward and the other members of the group initially deferred to them, thinking that their input was not as valid as other students who they considered to better at French than them. However, they demonstrated less resilience when the work became more challenging. A student who is a high achiever due to a very positive work ethic, hard work and determination was plagued with self-doubt and floundered much more than the less able students in the class. The final task completed involved translation and one of the most able students is nearly bilingual and at this point he began to take the lead, interestingly his level of accuracy was not good and the less able students in his group who were actively applying the knowledge that they had acquired by following the rules of the tense were able to correct his mistakes as he was relying on “gut feel”. His over confidence and reluctance to accept help from other members of the group resulted in the group not finishing the translation task as much time was wasted through guessing where he was going wrong rather than consistently applying what he had learned.

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The most effective group in terms of speed, accuracy and collaborative skills were the group of middle ability learners, perhaps because there was not a clear leader to defer to, they all felt that they had something to contribute which led to greater efficiency. I was most impressed with the way in which they sought to acquire knowledge, with everyone in  the team playing a part and then they rigorously applied the knowledge and when in doubt referred back to the resources available, showing a great deal of determination and resilience as well as resourcefulness.

Conclusions and next steps

Students were mostly positive about the way that they had been learning, though I would note that collaboration seems to be of most benefit to middle ability students who are keen to succeed and who like to receive affirmation from their peers that they are doing the right thing. The very least able can still tend to be passive but towards the end of the lesson was tentatively seen to make more contributions to the group. Most able students, who are used to being right most of time and who perhaps need this regular verbal affirmation from the teacher throughout the lesson, were the students who struggled with the concept most.

On reflection, this was a good first lesson of this nature. I perhaps could have been stricter, giving less hints and I could have forced students to use their help cards more. I could plan to make the task even more challenging, by giving students less obvious resources to find the information, thus making the investigation more open ended, with more chance of failure but for a first lesson this would have made students less likely to engage with this way of working. In this lesson, the level of challenge was appropriate. In the future, during the mid – plenary reflection I would encourage students not only to reflect upon what they are learning, and how they are learning but also the effectiveness of the way in which the group was working.

During the next lesson, I returned the corrected translations to the groups and asked students to consider the success criteria to identify why I have given those particular scores. (I used highlighter marking to identify key parts of the work). The final step was for individual students to undertake a translation task and a creative writing task so that I am able to gain a good understanding of individual’s grasp of the grammar and give personalised feedback to each member of the class. At this point students were better prepared for this challenge and understood what would make a more successful piece, they tackled the task and all performed well in relation to their ability , independently making use of resources to produce work of good quality.

The students were also given a similar type activity for homework. They were divided into 4 groups by ability and were given a research task appropriate for their ability. They had to research the element of grammar and produce a step by step guide of how to form it. They also had to produce a game or activity to practice this grammar point. They then presented their findings to mixed ability groups so that by the end of the lesson all students had presented their findings on a range of grammatical points concerning the perfect tense.

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In my opinion, this element of the “pilot” was less successful, students worked on this at home and as such two of the vital elements of the risk taking exercise were lacking; peer support and reassurance from the teacher. This meant that students no longer felt safe and therefore displayed less resilience. Several of the less able and less conscientious students, including the only disadvantaged student said they had been confused by the task and had not completed the homework, whereas those who were ordinarily hardworking, determined and well-motivated, tackled whichever task they had been set with a resilient approach. In addition, the homework task was set within the context of the success criteria for Key Stage Four and as such I had felt that the objective for the activity was clear, however, on reflection perhaps students were less comfortable with taking a risk because they could not see a clear enough link, or “the point” of learning in this way. In the classroom, with constant reinforcement and good student > teacher relationships, students are more likely to display a determined approach even when they find the task confusing.

As a result of what I had discovered through my Year 10 experimental lesson, I have drawn out the most successful elements and widened my use of them. Throughout the rest of the academic year I continued to use these strategies with several of my classes:

  • Setting independent research homework based around grammar points
  • Peer teaching of what they have discovered
  • Students producing resources to help each other consolidate knowledge (games mostly)
  • Regular use of these grammar points within classwork and homework, linking closely to assessment criteria
  • Peer assessment / highlighter marking / students showing not only correct use of the grammar but also that they know that by demonstrating use of more complex structures they will achieve higher grades.

These elements have been successful in giving students an increased sense of independence and self-confidence and a clear understanding of the relationship between how learning various grammar points allows them  greater opportunities to climb the grade ladder which we have created. When we have discussed this in class, students have stated that they like to be able to clearly see what ”ingredients” they need for each grade as it sharpens their focus on how to take control of their own progress.

Bibliography

If learning involves risk taking, teaching involves trust building – Marilla Svinicki – University of Texas (The Professional and Organisational Development Network in Higher Education)

Taking risks in your teaching – Maryellen Weimer PHD ( www.facultyfocus.com)

Creating a safe space for students to take academic risks – Kristi Johnson Smith (Learn NC – University of North Canada)

10 risks every teacher should take with their class – A J Juliani ( http://ajjuliani.com)

Creating a risk taking classroom environment – Mr Gilliespies’s Office – http://reedgillespie.blogspot.co.uk

Featured images:

‘Balance, high ropes, about paris’ by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

‘Freerider’ by Up-Free on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

‘African – Asian’ by OpenClipart Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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RESILIENCE

An Action Research Project by Victoria Ryan (MFL)

Resilience in learning, as in life, is about being able to persevere through setbacks, take on challenges and risk making mistakes to reach a goal.

Resilience is often referred to as a quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and to come back stronger. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, these people find a way to rise up from a troubled time.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary and that it is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Rather, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone.

Objective

The vision…How do we want our pupils to show resilience?

Having researched the meaning of resilience it was important to consider which behaviours were necessary to develop in our pupils in order for them to become more independent learners.

Behaviours key to pupils being able to demonstrate resilience:

  • To be able to concentrate for long/longer periods of time (and not give up).
  • To be able to control their thoughts and emotions.
  • To enjoy challenge and problem solving.
  • To see failures/mistakes as part of the learning process and be prepared to have a go.
  • To show initiative when ‘stuck’

Background

Research highlighted that life for our pupils isn’t exactly stress-free. What helps children in navigating the challenges they face is resilience. It has shown that resilient children are problem solvers who can face unfamiliar or tough situations and strive to find positive solutions.

“When they step into a situation, [resilient kids] have a sense they can figure out what they need to do and can handle what is thrown at them with a sense of confidence.” (Lynn Lyons, Psychotherapist)

This doesn’t mean that children have to do everything on their own. Rather, they need to know how to ask for help and are able to problem-solve their next steps.

As a Modern Foreign Language Teacher I often found pupils would say they couldn’t complete a task because they couldn’t speak the language. They would ask me for a translation rather than looking back through their work or looking in a dictionary or textbook for a solution, despite this being an obvious solution to me.

It became clear that my pupils needed to know how to be resilient and that I would have to teach them the behaviours and skills needed in order to do this.

Context

I decided to focus my resilience research on a lower achieving Year 9 Spanish class who were particularly demotivated, needy and really just didn’t see the point in languages, despite my enthusiasm and passion for the subject. I had taught them as a group since Year 8 and they would not use the resources available to them to answer questions, rather they would ask me for answers. For a teacher with thirty pupils in the class constantly asking these questions, I was beginning to find the lessons draining. Something had to be done.

Whilst being a lower achieving set, it was a very mixed-ability group with pupils ranging from a Level 2 – 5 and a number of pupils having special educational needs and others having emotional and behavioural needs.

My initial thoughts on the group and how resilient they were that 12/30 showed no resilience at all, 14/30 occasionally showed initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than me for help and 4/30 did show an ability to problem solve themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance.

This was my subjective view based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons in Year 8. There is no specific test to demonstrate how resilient a person is; rather I based this judgment on how I as the class teacher had seen the pupils handle work and situations that I had placed them in. Not a very resilient class then with only four pupils able to demonstrate resilience at the start of the year.  Something had to be done!

Actions

The first step was making “resilience” the language of the classroom. This was achieved by displaying the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ poster, explaining this to pupils by using examples of my own failures and then referring to this during lessons.

Iceberg illusion

The Iceberg Illusion by Sylvia Duckworth original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

see also https://sylviaduckworth.com/sketchnotes/

It was also necessary to remember techniques as a teacher to instil resilience in pupils, so after research, I made a poster into a desk mat which I had in front of me each lesson.

The poster was based on:  ‘10 best phrases to teach resilience to your kids’ by Michael Grose at http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/

This allowed me to change the language I used and to remind me of how I should act in order to promote resilience.

I then came up with a Resilience Plan of ten points that I would aim to do each lesson.

  1. Don’t accommodate every need.
  2. Avoid eliminating all risk.
  3. Teach them to problem-solve.
  4. Teach your pupils concrete skills.
  5. Avoid “why” questions.
  6. Don’t provide all the answers.
  7. Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.
  8. Let your pupils make mistakes.
  9. Help them to manage their emotions.
  10. Model resiliency.

Impact

Using these actions I noticed that barriers to learning/relationships were improved by the following means:

    • Awareness of the language used in the classroom – Both myself and the pupils began to talk the language of resilience often using humour to see ourselves through difficult tasks.
    • Different approaches to the four skills/exercises – Pupils took on board the advice and techniques that were taught for each language skill (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and were therefore better equipped to problem solve questions/tasks.
    • More confidence – Pupils were much more confident in their own abilities and were much less reliant on me.
    • A more positive classroom environment – Pupils would ‘have a go’ at the work rather than saying that they could not do it and just giving up. They recognised that I valued their effort more than getting the correct answer each time.

By the end of the year, in my opinion, 24/30 showed an a readiness to problem solve for themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance and 6/30 showed some capacity to show initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than asking me for help.

Whilst subjective, this data was again based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons but in my opinion, all the pupils vastly improved and became much more resilient within lessons.

Conclusions

It is worth noting that the majority of pupils in my target class were not going on to study languages at GCSE level and that for the first time in three years, the inevitable question of “Why do I still have to study this?” or “What is the point in languages?” was not posed. This in itself was a major breakthrough and a sign that pupils not only had come to enjoy the lessons, being much more motivated as they knew the skills to problem solve, but they had also started to take pride in the work they completed feeling a sense of accomplishment when they could complete a task. Even if they got an answer wrong, they had come to realise that this was a stepping stone and part of the inevitable learning process.

Therefore in conclusion, the evidence shows that the work completed on resilience had a big impact, not just on my targeted group but also on other classes that I taught due to my language within lessons changing to a more resilience based approach.

My group and I believe that our strategies have made a difference, as this approach supports stretch and challenge allowing you to have higher expectations and avoid ‘helicopter’ teaching. It supports pupil independence and there is much less teacher dependence, however, it would be far more powerful if the language of resilience was consistent across the school. Something has to be done!

Next Steps

In order to promote resilience further this needs to become a whole school approach. Strategies that I intend to use in the next academic year include:

  • Remembering it works! Being patient with new classes whilst teaching the language of resilience.
  • Making resilience language part of school life – Success Iceberg posters in classrooms and assemblies on resilience with colleagues who have also worked on developing resilience.
  • Effort and reiteration – Spending time at the start of each lesson reinforcing the language of resilience and making expectations clear to students.
  • List of key ideas to focus on – I will choose three to four key ideas from my ten point plan to focus on with individual classes, thus better tailoring them to each classes’ needs to make them more resilient.
  • Resilience list for pupils – I will give each student the following table for their book:

Be Resilient

INSTEAD OF… TRY THINKING …
I’m not good at this What am I missing?
I give up I’ll use a different strategy
It’s not good enough Is this really my best work?
I can’t make this any better I can always improve
This is too hard This may take some time
I made a mistake Mistakes help me learn
I’ll never be that smart I will learn how to do this

 

  • Resilience level/mark at the end of each term – Rewarding attitude and effort is crucial in sending the right messages about what we value.

Afterthought:

When will we also teach them what they are?”

We should say to each of them:

Do you know what you are?

You are a marvel. You are unique.

In all the years that have passed,

there has never been another child like you.

Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers,

the way you move.

You may become a Shakespeare,

a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.

You have the capacity for anything.

Yes, you are a marvel.

And when you grow up, can you then harm

another who is, like you, a marvel?

You must work; we must all work,

to make the world worthy of its children.

By Pablo Casals

Sources/References

Featured image: ‘Success’ by animatedheaven on Pixabay.  Original image licensed under CC0 Public Domain

How to engage disaffected learners in Modern Foreign Languages

An Action Research Project by Jo Whalley (MFL)

Context

In September 2015, I began as Head of MFL. I inherited a number of classes who had had a disjointed experience in the previous academic year and therefore had a very negative view of language learning. Engagement in lessons was poor from the outset and behaviour was not good in a number of classes. Many of the learners lacked confidence. As such, language learning can pose some barriers for many students.

Strategy

I had previously attended some training by Martine Pillette about the New Secondary Curriculum and it taught me how with less restrictions on the content covered at KS3 and a greater focus on the skills of language learning, I could find authentic, appealing resources to engage learners in languages. I was interested in her approaches so I did some further reading namely, ‘Motivating reluctant learners at 14-16’ and also ‘Independent reading – how to make it work’.

This helped me develop my strategy in firstly building confidence in comprehension skills.

  • First of all, to build student confidence by fostering effective strategies to develop comprehension skills.
  • Use of authentic materials to genuinely appeal to teenagers (music, film, magazines and books)
  • To use whatever resources we could to engage students on an intellectual level not just language learning for language learning’s sake. I wanted to appeal to their curiosity to WANT to understand the language.

Actions

I set about researching animated films which students already knew to exploit language from. For example, I used clips/images to support personal descriptions and the description of animals in Year 7 French lessons and for describing food and using the past tense in Year 8.

 I developed skills for reading for gist with a four point plan of how to tackle longer pieces of reading and unknown language:

  1. Read and highlight cognates (words that look and sound similar in the target language and have a shared meaning e.g. la television)
  2. Look for familiar words in the target language
  3. Make connections and try to work out what might make sense
  4. If a particular word is still a barrier to your understanding use a dictionary

I used video clips/images and songs from these films to develop listening skills, predominantly using “listening bingo” (Fig. 1) as a technique to stop students worrying about the words they don’t know an instead to focus on picking out familiar language.

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Figure 1 – an example of a ‘listening bingo’ slide from Year 8

Secondly, I developed three week mini projects to enrich the existing schemes of work. I devised a mini unit of work based around the French classic “Le Petit Prince” which had recently been released as an animated film. This enabled me to produce an abridged version of the book for students to read, again developing their reading techniques. In addition, I produced a short module on endangered species and Virunga National Park in Congo. I hoped that these projects would be sufficiently different from other areas of study that the pupils would be genuinely keen to work on these topics.

With Year 9 French, I developed a module of lessons about French music. I started firstly with Daft Punk, David Guetta and Madeon as they would hopefully be artists they had heard of. We developed reading skills of biographies of the artists and listening skills by studying the lyrics of some of the songs. Some of these lessons led to other interesting spin offs such as the artist Stromae whose name is made using the Parisian underground language “verlan” which inverts words (Fig.2). Students found this very interesting and enjoyed trying to decode the “verlan”, students resilience was noticeably improved when reading something which appealed to them (Fig. 3).

In Parisian suburbs an underground language is used amongst young people. They take the two halves of the word and invert them.

maestro

(a distinguished musician, especially a conductor of classical music)

becomes

Stro mae

Figure 2 – What is Verlan?

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Figure 3: Verlan activity slide from a Year 9 lesson

Finally, I have been trying to engage boys in particular by developing more SMARTBOARD resources. Powerpoint can be rather static and the drag and drop, reorder and match up tasks that can be produced on SMART are far more engaging for them. I have developed some resources of this nature for Year 8 Spanish and Year 7 & 8 French.

Impact

The main focus for these strategies has been with Years 7 & 8 French, though some strategies have been used with Year 9. The current year 7 average National Curriculum Level is higher than it was this time last year with the current year 8. The current year 7 & 8 French classes show greater resilience and independence when working on longer reading tasks and faced with listening to language spoken at normal speed. Student feedback on these approaches has been overwhelmingly positive. They especially feel that they can read with greater success.

Next steps

Overhaul all units of work to reflect the approaches identified above

Develop the resources needed for the Year 8 and 9 Schemes of Work

Continue to build on the pupils’ listening skills as this is still seen as intimidating by some, especially the less able.

Sources/References

‘Motivating reluctant learners at 14-16’ – by Martine Pillette, published by Collins Educational 1997

‘Independent reading – how to make it work’ – by Martine Pillette, published by Collins Educational 1997

Featured image: Citroen 2CV (original image) by PIRO4D at Pixabay, licensed under CC 0 Public Domain

Encouraging pupil motivation in MFL through email and project exchanges with schools in Spain

An Action Research project by Iranzu Esparza (MFL)

Focus

To encourage pupils’ motivation, progress and interest in MFL through an email and project exchange with a Spanish speaking school

Background and context

It is important to bring language to life through engaging teaching and learning materials and through direct contact with native speakers. Although some of our students have the opportunity to travel to Spanish speaking countries with their families, not all do, and those who go on holidays tend to stay in English and international resorts where the need to speak in Spanish to communicate is minimal. Therefore, I decided to set up an email and project exchange with a school in a Spain to provide the students with the opportunity to communicate with native students of their age with the a view to encouraging their motivation and enhancing their progress.  Also, two of my GCSE students had approached me and asked about conversation lessons with native speakers to further develop their speaking skills. I thought ‘ePals’ could help them.

Actions

The first exchange with a school in Málaga

I registered with ePals (a safe, on-line platform for project exchanges between schools all around the world) and was contacted by a school in Málaga.

We paired the students from both countries with individuals of similar abilities and interests. It was agreed that each student would write a presentation about themselves in the language they were studying and would add a final paragraph in their mother tongue.

On a practical level a number of problems arose during the process:

1) The teacher with whom the link was made was not the teacher of the Spanish group involved, but the coordinator for extracurricular activities. Any decision or plan had to go through her to the class teacher, who did not have the same motivation or time for the project as she did.

2) The Spanish school was very small and had limited ICT facilities, which made any direct Skype exchange between students on pre-prepared questions and answers impossible. They could not take a whole class to an ICT room at a time either therefore Spanish students could not complete their presentations and email them from school. As a result, some of my pupils were getting messages and others who had less motivated Spanish ePals, were not.

3) Problems with the ePals site for a period of time meant that the students lost the spontaneity to exchange messages with their Spanish ePals directly, since all exchanges had to go via their teacher email, who had to forward them to the teacher in the other country. This generated a considerable workload for the teachers too.

Conclusions from this first exchange

For future exchanges to work effectively:

1) The partner school needs to be interested exclusively in an exchange of work between students.

2) The school needs to have sufficient ICT facilities.

3) The teacher involved in the partner school needs to be the teacher of the students to avoid delays and also to agree on the topics, dates and activities.

4) An alternative platform to ePals had to be found to enable students to exchange emails directly with their e-partners safely. This system also had to enable teachers to monitor the messages in the interests of e-safety.

Impact of the first exchange

Although the overall result of this first exchange was not as successful as hoped, my students produced some lovely compositions about themselves in Spanish for their ePals. They enjoyed getting their ePals’ messages and finding out about them. They also exchanged Christmas Cards and swapped parcels with typical Christmas foods from both countries.

Some students in the class were highly motivated writing or skyping in Spanish and gaining confidence at communicating with native speakers of their own age.

The second exchange with a school in Lleida

I discussed with our Network Manager possible alternatives to ePals and we decided new school Google accounts and passwords could be created for my students. These could be safely monitored by the school. Then I set out to find a new partner school. I established contact with a school in Lleida, Catalonia. The Spanish teacher was the Head of MFL and an expert who had been running educational projects and exchanges for many years. She was very motivated and committed and so we decided to embark in a new, challenging but exciting, Prezi exchange project.

My year 10 students and their Spanish counterparts would be working in groups of 3 or 4 with their classmates producing Prezi presentations for their partner group. The Spanish teacher would guide me through a process she was familiar with. We would produce two presentations on topics that would fit in with the requirements of the GCSE syllabus of my year 10 group. The topics were: Myself and personal interests/ My school.

The Prezi programme is free for schools enabling them to create group presentations where each member of the group can upload contents individually. By clicking on the different images and texts you navigate through the group page. Thanks to our Network Manager’s technical support, each student uploaded a text presentation about themselves in the target language and also in their native language. They added their voice recording to the texts in languages, pictures and some even video clips of themselves showing what our school is like. The Spanish teacher sent me models of previous Prezis her students had made. Our network manager also created Google accounts for each of the groups to send me their presentations to be checked. The idea was that they would also be able to use these accounts to communicate with their Spanish partner group.

The final outcome and presentations were highly impressive. This is a sample of what my students produced:

https://prezi.com/ieu9b6t8pdx4/panda-freaks/#

https://prezi.com/hroc_hpqctja/group-los-guapos/

Unfortunately the process to produce them was less enjoyable than the outcome and we met a good number of problems along the way.

The Spanish school students were familiar with the Prezi format and met outside lesson time or worked independently from home uploading their work. I took my group to an induction to Prezi programme session in our ICT room. They grouped themselves although I chose who would be the leader in each group. Our network manager led the training and by the end of the session they had all created the Prezi group main page and understood the basics of the programme.

The computer room was only available once in a fortnight in the timeslots I taught the group. That meant the students had to finish the presentations independently as homework. They were using the same texts they had emailed their previous pen pals in Málaga, therefore initially it seemed a straight forward task. There were problems in trying to record and upload sound files and the network manager had to record most of the students in lesson time.

Since the students were preparing a presentation without having met their pen-pal group and without having had any contact with them, it felt just like working on a group project. By the time the groups had swapped presentations many of my year 10 group had lost motivation: they were also facing exam pressures. The whole process became demanding and was taking away focus and energy from GCSE preparation.

Conclusions from the second exchange

1) Email and projects exchanges have to be carried out with year groups when they do not have exam pressure to avoid interference with assessments and preparation. A year 9 would have been ideal. Alternatively a year 8 group would have also been suitable.

2) Prezi is a fantastic programme for MFL enabling students to add texts, voice and video in the target language and in their own language for the partner school to listen to. However it would have been better to start with an email exchange between groups and then proceed to the Prezi exchange. Had the students been in contact with their ePals before embarking on a demanding task, their motivation would have been higher to impress and communicate with them.

3) To produce Prezis it is necessary to have access to the computer room for a number of consecutive lessons to ensure they are completed. It is also necessary to have ICT support unless you are familiar with the program. These projects require and encourage independence in the students. The students love working cooperatively in groups, each individual doing research composing a paragraph on a different aspect of the topic and then assembling them all together in a final presentation.

4) It is preferable to plan the number and type of exchanges (video/email/Prezis) beforehand and when it is suitable to carry them out making them fit within the scheme of work. For example, in future exchanges I would start in September with a simple email exchange where students introduce and write about themselves in the target language. Then the students could send written tasks composed in the ICT room at the end of the Autumn and Spring terms on a topic already covered in lessons, for example a PowerPoint or Word presentation about my home town, my hobbies etc. Then, at the end of the year, in July, there would be time to embark on a more demanding project like a Prezi exchange or making a video.

5) For these exchanges to work out, the contents of the messages and projects need to be what has been covered in lessons. This also enhances motivation to learn, since the students know their ePals will be the recipients of what they have been producing throughout the term.  This simpler approach would make them a more realistic activity for busy teachers.

5) Again, like with the first exchange, it is important to emphasize to the partner school what type of projects you are interested in to ensure a match.

Impact

In a survey of pupils, when asked how motivating they had found the exchange projects as part of learning Spanish, 7% said ‘highly motivating’, 57% ‘motivating’, 29% ‘of little motivation’ and 7% ‘not motivating at all’.

Pupils also felt that, school trips, feeling they were making good progress and interesting and fun lessons, were the three most motivating factors in learning Spanish.

Email exchange projects, better career opportunities and the possibility of using the target language on holidays, were valued factors for a good number of students although a minority of pupils did not consider these to be as motivating.

In a questionnaire about their experience of the exchange projects the feedback was as follows:

64% of students only communicated with their ePals when the teacher gave a task related to the project, 14% communicated on a regular, almost daily basis and 29% communicated with their ePals weekly. The majority had only contacted their epal via the email provided by the school, but the most used media after that was instagram with one student using Skype on a regular basis. Two students had also exchanged MSN messages and used Whatsapp.*(see note about e-safety)

Regarding the choice of language, the majority of our students wrote in Spanish and their epal replied in English, followed by a good number that wrote in English and received replies in English too. This second choice is not so conducive to learning Spanish! A minority wrote in English and received replies in Spanish or even wrote in Spanish and were answered in Spanish. However, most students used 2 of these 4 alternatives instead of only 1 consistently.

Most conversations revolved around the topics of friendship, interests, hobbies and school, with only 2 students asking their ePals for support with their Spanish homework.

The majority of the students felt it helped them improve because “I made the effort to understand them”, “I had actual conversations”, “I could talk to them about my daily life”, “It was fun”.

The three students who felt unmotivated explained that they were writing in English and their ePals replied in English, therefore there was no learning or excitement about the exchanges.

Regarding what could have been done differently these were cited; “better suited ePal partners”, “more chances to talk to them during lessons and on Skype” activities taking place in class and not as part of homework”.

The majority of the students enjoyed the exchange with Malaga more because it was more personal and they communicated more often. They also valued the exchange of typical Christmas foods. Two of the students preferred the exchange with Lleida because they enjoyed working with their friends in groups making the Prezis and they felt it was more structured.

Therefore, it is clear that an exchange where students can communicate independently via a safe platform that can be monitored is clearly preferable to more complicated group presentations using Prezi. Also, students value more one to one exchanges because they are more personal to group work exchanges.

Although both projects ran their course and finished, they have been an invaluable source of information about our students’ preferences and how to successfully carry out email or ICT based exchanges taking into account the demands of the curriculum and the demands they make on teachers’ time.

*E-Safety

Maintaining e-safety throughout the exchange was a priority, with information and consent forms shared with parents, expectations clearly laid out with students and platforms used which allowed interactions to be monitored. However pupils’ knowledge and use of social media meant that a number of students did use other media, such as Whatsapp and Instagram to communicate with their partners.

Sources/ Links/References

– What research says about using ICT in Modern Foreign languages:

http://mirandanet.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/wtrs_23_mfla.pdf

-Key Motivational Factors and How Teachers Can Encourage Motivation in their Students Aja Dailey, University of Birmingham,

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/cels/essays/secondlanguage/DailySLAKeyMotivationalFactorsandHowTeachers.pdf

-To find partner schools:

The British council website: https://www.britishcouncil.org/

The ePals website: https://www.ePals.com/#/connections

http://www.etwinning.net/en/pub/index.htm

To get started with the Prezi programme

https://prezi.com/login/