Guest blog by Lisa Probert, Head of Modern Foreign Languages, St Helen and St Katharine school, ALL Council member and Chair of the secondary steering group.
At the start of a new school year our thoughts inevitably turn to transition. New colleagues, new classes and new students all need to face the demands of new schemes of work, new specifications and new courses,
I firmly believe that we first need to know where students have come from in order to help them make the transition to the next stage or key stage in their learning. For our Year 7 classes this could mean a learner questionnaire or quiz at the start of the first lesson or for older students this could mean a brief discussion in the target language to establish how confident they are as speakers. Whatever we do, knowing their starting points is essential in guiding them through the first few weeks,
With Year 7 a simple activity I’ve used is to give them an outline of a person (not my idea so thank-you to the colleague who shared this) and then asked them to fill it with all the words they know in the target language. Some will initially say they know none and then realise they know some towns or footballers or celebrities and the conversation that ensues with the teacher is valuable in establishing just how much exposure they’ve had to the language. Some will completely fill the figure and this is when you find out you have a bilingual student and can chat to them about just how bilingual they are (writing and speaking?). Usually in my first lesson I teach or re-cap greetings to get them speaking and using the language straight away. I then go on to teach a transition unit which builds in key language they may have encountered at primary school without necessarily re-teaching them this language.
With Year 8 and Year 9, I always do a “what do you remember from Year 7/8” quiz. This can be really helpful if classes have been re-set from one year to another and it also reminds the students of just how much they did actually learn in Year 7 or year 8. Working with a partner or in a small team can provide the opportunity for some interesting conversations about how grammar works or what key vocabulary they all remember. It’s also not as exposing as asking a student to work on this on their own. Establishing where there are key gaps is very helpful for the teacher in planning the first few lessons with the class.
This year I gave my Year 10 class a GCSE non-negotiables grammar sheet (thank you Rachel Hawkes) which they filled in individually. We then went through each section so the students could build up a picture of what grammar is essential and where they still have gaps or misconceptions. They also had the opportunity to ask questions about any misconceptions or misunderstandings – then taught a transition unit which went back over all the key grammar from the non-negotiables sheet, reinforcing the core grammar before moving them on to learning new structures.
In Year 12 I was very keen to read through the bridging work I had set them. This included grammar revision, a film review, a book review and a review of at least three French musicians. I also asked them to complete some online listening and reading exercises aimed at ensuring they had some contact with current affairs. The bridging work was helpful in demonstrating how the students write and what sorts of common grammatical errors occur. It also gave an insight into which films, books and musicians they have heard of and which they like, which will be useful in planning lessons going forwards. I am currently teaching them a transition module which walks them through the different topics they will study this year, heavily grammar focused and with an emphasis on speaking and discussing in the target language.
Easy to forget the Year 11 and 13 classes when thinking about transition as these are classes I taught last year and who are part-way through their exam courses. However, these classes also have to make the transition back to their language lessons after a considerable gap. For Year 11 we eased ourselves in with quite a lot of speaking pair work to start with, discussing what we had done over the holidays. For Year 13 we also did a lot of speaking playing a “find the person who…” game relating to the summer holidays, which was entertaining and involved a lot of spontaneous speaking. As we are studying the novel this term, they had spent the summer reading the text in preparation for studying it this term, so an initial discussion about their thoughts, reactions and ideas was very useful in starting them off thinking about the novel and giving me an insight into how they are feeling about it.
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