Saturday, 25 February 2012

I ain't no holla back girl.

holla back girl. (noun) a member of a cheerleading squad who repeats – hollers back - words that the squad leader shouts out to them.

No, I haven't gone mad. (I did that years ago!)

A colleague of mine was recently observed by a local authority inspector. The objective of the lesson was to introduce vocabulary for sports and activities to a first year beginners' French class.

What she did was introduce the vocabulary by showing pictures on her interactive whiteboard and the students repeated.

As a class. In groups. Individually. 

The students were clearly enjoying themselves but were they learning anything? 

They clearly weren't using their brains very much. 

And did they actually understand what they were doing?

How was their understanding being checked?

By the end of the lesson the students were able to name sports and give opinions about them: J'adore le tennis. Je déteste la natation. etc.

She thought the lesson had gone really well and was disappointed to find that the inspector did not agree. 

There was no challenge.

A couple of years ago I was advised by a specialist MFL inspector that I should give my students 3 items of vocabulary and a dictionary or glossary when introducing new vocabulary. Once they have mastered phonics the students can then take charge of their own learning and work individually and collaboratively, in pairs and in groups, to find, learn and share their own vocabulary lists.

I've been doing this ever since and have seen some good results. 

I have created independent learners out of holla back girls (and boys).

You should try it.
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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Ofsted - What do they want? When do they want it?

There's an old joke,

"What's the difference between a plastic surgeon and an Ofsted inspection? The surgeon tucks up features and the Ofsted inspection...."

A couple of weeks ago my school had a visit from Ofsted.

They told us on Friday that they would be coming in on the following Tuesday.

Everybody was rushing around like crazy and the queue for the photocopier (there are 2 but one broke as if by Ofsted magic) was longer than ever, well since the last inspection anyway.

We were told that each teacher would be seen twice. This didn't happen. Some people were seen twice. Others, including me, were not seen at all.

So what did they want?

The inspectors requested a chair in each classroom with a lesson plan and a detailed seating plan. By detailed, of course, I mean including any special needs information details, children receiving free school meals, the number of looked after children, any gifted and talented children and any children with English as an additional language. Each of these groups of students needs to be taught in different ways, of course.

What did they want to see?

They wanted to see that we are as good as we claim we are in our SEF.

They wanted to see teaching and learning. Obviously. Teacher-led learning is not a good thing. More specifically, they wanted to see evidence of students learning independently and evidence of teachers facilitating this learning by recapping every few minutes. Progress.

The formula for this is: Bell activity, Starter, Task, Mini-plenary, Task, Mini-plenary, Task, Mini-plenary, Task, Mini-plenary,Task, Mini-plenary, ad nauseum, Final activity, Plenary.

Lots of mini-plenaries to show progress as most inspectors spent fewer than 10 minutes in each classroom. If they don't see progress in the time they are there, the best you can hope for is "Satisfactory", which we all know isn't good enough.

If you work in a school where students are not used to working independently, now is a good time to start.

What did they do?

As well as observing and judging lessons they spoke to students: "Do you normally do this kind of thing? Do you like this class? Do you know what you need to do to improve? Can you tell me what you need to do to reach your targets? etc."

They sent out questionnaires to staff, pupils, parents and other stakeholders.

 They did a work scrutiny. Some of my books were included in this. They were looking for evidence of effective feedback (I've blogged about effective feedback here). Not marking. Feedback. All kinds. If your Schemes of Work include this, even better. Teacher feedback, self assessment, peer assessment. Comments of ways in which students can improve. If you are a "page ticker" then you need to change your ways.

They were very friendly and courteous. They seemed like nice people. But, remember, nothing you tell an inspector is "off the record", so be very careful before opening your mouth. Don't try to be funny. Like SLT, they don't like it, their sense of humour (if they ever had one) has been removed. One of the conditions of the job, apparently.

What can you do to be ready for them?

Ideally, teach as if every day is an inspection.

Realistically, keep on top of paperwork, marking and feedback, annotate your seating plans, make sure you know the needs of your students, allow opportunities for peer and self assessment, if you are a "teach-from-the-front-teacher" slowly start to change your ways. The teachers who were prepared, the ones not running around like headless chickens,  were the ones who came out best.

Remember why you became a teacher in the first place - to help children learn.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


A couple of weeks ago I went to an event at Newcastle University all about phonics.

It was an excellent opportunity to meet some new and old friends and listen to the excellent Suzi Bewell who is a major expert on these things.

I won't go into all the details here as she tells it better on her blog. Suzi has also written a guide to using phonics which you can download from here.

There are many resources on phonics on Suzi's "do once and share" wiki which are amazing.

Here are links to a couple more of Suzi's phonics presentations:

Creativity and (French) Phonics

You say mince and I say mince

Other people have produced some excellent phonics resources, too:

Rachel Hawkes's website has a list of web based phonics resources

Alice Ayel's blog has some good phonics links.

Clare Seccombe's Phonics in KS2 and KS3

Helena Butterfield has produced a French phonics resource based on Jolly Phonics.
She has also produced a German pronunciation guide, too.

There is also a very good German phonics resource produced by JacquiT (Sadly, I don't know who she is. If anyone knows please tell me so I can give her the credit she is due.)

There is also this German pronunciation guide clip on Youtube

Sunday, 5 February 2012

National Curriculum Levels -Writing

One of the things Ofsted likes to ask children during inspections is "What level are you working at?" and the inevitable follow up question, "What do you need to do to reach your target level?"

To get a level 5, for example children are told they must use 2 tenses. So, is "Je joue au tennis et hier soir j'ai joué au tennis." a level 5 sentence? No. I don't think so, either.

So last term the department came up with a list of criteria we would use for judging our students' extended writing. A list which we could use and also which students could use as a checklist for self and peer assessment.

So here it is:


Minimum 25 words / 4 sentences

3 verbs (or 2 verbs +2 forms e.g. je, il, nous, etc)

Adjectives and agreement.

Simple linking



Minimum 40 words / 7 sentences

5 verbs (including different form e.g. je, il, nous, etc)

Variety of opinions /adjectives with agreement


Variety of qualifiers


Approximately 75 words / 10 sentences

7 verbs

Two tenses (minimum 3 verbs per tense and different forms)

Range of adjectives / opinions (including opinion phrases)

Appropriate linking

Range of qualifiers


Around 100 words / 10 sentences

7 verbs

Three tenses (minimum 3 verbs per tense and different forms)

Range of adjectives / opinions (including opinion phrases)

Appropriate linking (at least 5 different ones)

Range of time phrases and structures

Range of qualifiers