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  • Suzanne Terrasse

Raising Achievement in the MFL Classroom

Updated: Aug 20, 2018


I think excellent results are motivating, raise the profile of languages and build enthusiasm. So how did we achieve these?


I’ve frequently been asked how we managed to persuade such high numbers of (mainly) boys to study French for A level. We had up to 80 year 12/13 in a school of around 1200 (years 7-13) when similar schools in our area struggled to get 10.

Here’s how we did it!



We didn’t set!


Setting in any subject validates a few and de-motivates many. Look, I understand that streaming in a comprehensive environment is sometimes necessary, but not setting within those streams.


Why?


Well if you want numbers, set 1 think they are the linguists, but they don’t all love it, set 2 think it might be an option (possibly if all else fails) and sets 3-5 think they can’t do languages! You’ve instantly shrunk your pool of possible A level linguists and you’re only in year 7!


The other argument for setting is that it’s easier to teach. Well maybe it is, but that’s our problem and we shouldn’t put that burden onto our students! And actually, in a ‘mixed ability’ group, the advanced learners model correct and sophisticated language and struggling learners improve, both through excellent teaching and seeing and hearing their more advanced peers. Moreover, it may be straightforward teaching set 1 but it is almost always a challenge to teach demotivated sets 3-5.


 In this way, differentiation is by outcome and teachers stay alert to learning opportunities in the classroom (move away from the lesson plan anyone?!). This leads to a more dynamic and creative learning environment for all – more fun for teachers too!



• We demanded Excellence and put in a Structure to achieve it!


We believed that ALL students were capable of success in languages and we put in place a programme to achieve this. In my context, this meant a spiral curriculum in which we ensured that all skills examined at (I)GCSE were practised consistently, alongside content. From year 7, every time we ‘spiralled’, we added depth in terms of vocabulary and also grammatical structures.


These structures were not to be ‘learned by rote’ and subbed into every piece of written and spoken work. They were to be understood, played with, misused (frequently!!!!), grappled with until all could use a few effectively and many were well on the way to becoming excellent linguists!


Students therefore were well prepared for their final exams and had a very clear idea of what was expected of them (techniques as well as content) yet at the same time we did not just teach for the exam, but fostered a genuine interest in both the language and the culture.



• We demanded High Quality Teaching


As a department we designed our own curriculum – we all had a vested interest in it as we had all worked to create it.


We shared all resources! We discussed what had worked well on a lesson by lesson basis and what had not! There was no judgement, and as realists we built confidence and openness. Less experienced staff learned rigour from more experienced staff and they in turn stayed fresh!


We assessed together too, routinely marking each others’ assessments and feeding back. Again, this was not an appraisal style HOD monitoring exercise, but a shared learning experience for staff (as HOD I’m sure I learned far more than I contributed!)– it also benefitted the students as we were able to comment as a department on their work; we knew them really well.


Raising achievement at A level starts in Year 7 and it’s a mixture of absolute rigour in our curriculum and delivery and a commitment to an unswerving belief that ALL students can achieve and improve in languages


If you’d like to know more about how we achieved the Good Schools’ Guide UK Best French Department 2013 award, then please contact me at Verilingual, I’d be happy to chat!

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