Tag Archives: LOTE teaching

Copying to write

Last week I began an experiment with my year 7 and 8 French students that was sparked by reading Pat Goodson’s book and her strategy of copying as a way of seeing the way that ideas are put together. I went into class with the idea of using the copying strategy in conjunction with some dictation in French as a springboard for developing writing skills in French.  

We began the class by brainstorming key words for the topic that we had covered the previous week. I then began dictating a short paragraph in French where I encouraged the students to write down the passage as best they could, using phonetic spelling for words they weren’t familiar with. Once they had done this, I put the passage on the board and students copied it directly into their books. The next step was for students to underline vocabulary that was unfamiliar to them. It was at this point I began asking questions about the vocabulary in the passage including; 

‘What cognates can you identify?’, ‘How does knowledge of these cognates help you identify the meaning of the passage?’, ‘What do you notice about the structure of the sentences?,’ ‘Where are the nouns and adjectives in the sentence? Is this different to English?’

After talking about the questions and listing new words on the board, along with possible translations, we spent some time translating the passage together into English as a group. As we went about the translation we were talking about the possible strategies and approaches students used as they looked at each sentence to translate and I used the key question ‘What strategies are you using to help you understand the meaning of this sentence?’ This was an important step of the process as students identified strategies such as using their prior knowledge, identifying cognates, using their dictionary, and understanding words in context. One of the key things we discussed was the fact that we can understand the meaning of the sentence without having to translate every individual word, something that students sometimes find difficult to accept as they become focused on needing to translate every individual word correctly. We also talked about the fact that sometimes words cannot be directly translated and therefore creating meaning by reading the whole sentence for context is important.

After we had translated the vocabulary and the passage, I then invited students to write their own passage, using the vocabulary and the sentence structure of the passage as a starting point for their own writing. Students were able to complete a written passage, asking questions about the kinds of words they could build into their writing and also making connections about the word order of sentences as well.

Earlier this week I handed out an end-of-term evaluation for students to complete, something I do at the end of each term. I ask students to write about their work throughout the term, to reflect on the strategies they have used and the strategies they plan on using in the future. I also invite them to write about the teaching and learning activities that have assisted them in learning French over the term and ask them to write about things they think might help them further, or things they might like to do more frequently. There was some good feedback from students in the evaluations about the copying to write strategy, with a number of students writing about how the activity had helped them learn and develop their writing skills. Students responded that they liked being able to identify what they knew and how they could also identify new words by using strategies or looking for cognates, while another student said she liked to lean by doing the process of attempting something independently, working through a model with me and the class and then working independently again. Other students identified that the dictation, copying and unpacking of the structure helped them to see the way they could structure their own sentences and lots of students requested that this is an activity we do more frequently.

The concept of both dictation and of writing out passages is nothing new, however, for me the key elements that made this copying to write activity successful was the explicit focus on the strategies that students might use at each stage and the questioning and discussion about the structure of sentences and of the elements they might build into their own writing. The feedforward for me is to build these kind of explicit learning opportunities into the classes that I have for my 7s and 8s next term, and building more complexity into both the dictation and the writing elements.

Preparing for battle

On Monday I introduced the avoir rap to my Year 7 students. I’d made the brave, some might say foolish, decision to introduce this to them by doing the rap myself, rather than getting them to watch the youtube clip. In the staffroom at briefing, I tried to entice my fellow Year 7 LOTE teachers to do the same, but they decided to go for the safety of the clip as an introduction.

When I told my Year 7s we were going to do some rapping as a way of memorising irregular verbs, some looked positively terrified. You could almost see the awkwardness leeching out of their pores. Not wanting to step away from a challenge, I was determined to convert awkwardness into awesome- I just wasn’t sure how successful I would be in doing this.

I began to rap- my woefully out of tune voice alone in the classroom. Students shifted in their seats, a mix of fear, shyness and probably a healthy degree of scepticism as they looked at me moving around the room, tapping out beats on tables.

The silence from the students was almost deafening.

In these moments I am always interested in which students leap in first to participate and which ones hang back, waiting on the edges of the classroom, waiting to see what their peers think before they decide to act. The students who would probably not be considered ‘popular’ by their school yard peers were the first to leap in, voices raised, they used their hands on their desks to create a beat. Their ‘popular’ counterparts stayed silent, eyes flickering around the room as they battled internally to work out how they might be altered if they chose to join in.

More voices chimed in. Hands tapped desks. The noise level rose.

I wandered around the room, stopping to tap on different desks, reminding students that we were all taking a risk by using our voice in this way, encouraging them to join me in the risk taking. It’s harder for them than me, much harder for a self-conscious 12  year old to join in when crippled by fear of what peers might think of them rapping with their dorky French teacher.

More voices joined in. Hands tapped desks. The noise level rose.

Looking around the room again I saw laughter, smiling and relaxed students. The girls were at ease before the boys, who took longer to get caught up in the wave of sound, looking at their shoes, they mumbled before finally giving in and allowing themselves to be swamped, and suddenly, for one moment, we rapped as one.

Later that day my year 8s were introduced to the rap battle as a way of learning verbs. Unlike the year 7s we were not simply using the rap someone else had created, we were going to create our own rap to learn the parts of the irregular verb faire. Once again, I began by showing students the avoir rap, my voice warbling, my hands tapping to show them the concept. I told them we were going to create a rap and before I could say it, they chimed in with ‘And we can have a rap battle!’. I then told them we’d also be battling with students from another school, causing more cries of ‘It’s a cross school battle!’

I got them to work in small groups to come up with their own ideas for faire and in this room there was a difference between the girls and boys, but this time the roles were reversed. The boys were excited and enthusiastic about the rap, while the girls were more hesitant, using the avoir scaffold as their model and having difficulty in moving beyond that. The boys meanwhile, chatted enthusiastically about possible lines and rhymes. I have two students who joined the class this year, entering French at Year 8 without the Year 7 learning behind them, one of them has been quiet, seemingly reluctant to participate in activities where his lack of knowledge might be on display. On Monday a broad smile was on his face and he asked if he could use music from his USB as the backing track to his emerging rap. Ideas were shared and mix together. We decided to revisit our ideas next week and the students filtered out of the classroom and on their way.

On Tuesday Year 7s filed into class and their first words were the words from the rap. ‘We can’t get it out our head Madame!’ They laughed, they moved their arms and they began to rap without thinking of what others in the classroom might think.

This week we have begun to learn the way we might remember verbs and how to conjugate them, and we have begun to join our voices, ideas and experiences together. I’m hoping that we have embarked on more than just our rap battle.