Aides-mémoire – 2. Knowledge Organisers, Quizzes & Questioning

Last week’s post on CUDDLES attracted lots of lovely feedback and some very interesting questions. Most of the questions were about quizzes and knowledge organisers, and one or two were about how we get pupils to recall the meaning of individual words, phrases etc. Luckily, these three things – quizzes, knowledge organisers and recalling meaning – are all interrelated. In this post I will explain how we use knowledge organisers, resulting quizzes, and questioning in order to embed meaning into pupils’ long-term memory.

Knowledge Organisers

We start with knowledge organisers. As with other departments, we give pupils a knowledge organiser each half term, with the core knowledge we expect them to study, learn and remember in future years. We know that in order for pupils to remember their French, we need to repeat it a lot (A LOT) and so each knowledge organiser will contain lots of language that is repeated and recycled from previous knowledge organisers.

We have experimented with a variety of formats for knowledge organisers, but keep coming back to the same idea: full sentences are best. Some schools, when setting homework (and our knowledge organisers are the basis of our homework) will set a list of vocabulary on a particular topic, and then might test the pupils to see if they have learnt it. This is very similar to what we do, except we set full sentences, so that pupils are learning everything – grammar, syntax, vocabulary, jaw-dropping structures – all in one go.

Here is an example from a year 7 knowledge organiser, about 2 months in:

y7knowledgegridexample

You can also see CUDDLES in practice here (and the eagle-eyed among you might notice where I’ve mistakenly put a ‘muet’ instead of a liaison!)

The full text is 25 lines. We will break it down into chunks, analyse it in the lesson, read it out loud with rulers under each line as we read, we’ll substitute other words for the ones in the text (‘j’adore faire, j’aime faire, je n’aime pas faire, je déteste faire, il adore faire, elle adore faire, ils adorent faire’). Then we’ll set some of it to learn for homework – pupils will do self-quizzing, copying each word carefully and thinking about the spelling as they do so. The text is parallel translated into dodgy English – a foundational feature of Michaela French – so that at every stage pupils are aware of the meaning of the words and phrases. As time goes by, we ask pupils to translate from dodgy English into correct English, to support them for when they’re asked to translate into and out of French in exams. For example, ‘Afrique du Sud’ becomes ‘Africa of the South’ becomes ‘South Africa’. This also encourages careful thinking about meaning.

Quizzes

Pupils are set homework in every subject, every week, on a specific day. On the day after (or, if the timetable doesn’t allow, two days after) the evening on which they’ve done their homework, pupils will be set a quiz on the section of the knowledge grid they have learnt. The quiz is normally supported with clues, and the pupils choose whether or not to use the clues – we find that those who need them, use them, and those who don’t, don’t. Clues can take a variety of forms:

Initial letters

y8quizexample

Initial letters + number of letters

This is the same as the above, except we will add the number of letters in each word. I often do this just before the quiz (the above would be projected on the board), by asking “le mot ‘refreshing’ a combien de lettres?”. Because they’ve CUDDLEd the word, a sea of hands shoot up to tell me “Il y a quatorze lettres Mademoiselle”. We can also do the same for accents – “Il y a un accent circonflexe sur la lettre i, Mademoiselle”. For pupils who struggle, we often give them the number of letters in every word – this allows them to self-check effectively.

Asterisks in place of vowels

y7quizexample

We use this format mostly in year 7 and for our pupils who need the most scaffolding. As the vowel combinations are often the most difficult for pupils to remember, testing their recall just of these can be really powerful. If they know how to pronounce the word ‘mais’, then it is important that they link the ‘ai’ sound with the ‘ai’ spelling.

Because pupils are quizzed in every subject every week, committing this knowledge to memory becomes habitual. We are able to be flexible and support pupils’ recall at the level they need, but still maintain sky-high standards for their understanding of the words.

The next important thing about quizzing is the sequence. Pupils will not embed language in their long-term memory if they are quizzed on a set of sentences in one week, and then those sentences are not revisited for ages, if ever. So we mix it up – the following week’s quiz might be 7 sentences from the material they’ve learnt that week, and 3 from the previous week; there might be an extension after four weeks in which they are tested on short phrases from a variety in previous weeks. We have to keep revisiting, all the time, so that pupils’ knowledge can be retained.

In response to a comment on last week’s post:

  1. The pass rate is around 90% for all classes. This is because we tailor the quantity set and the clues provided. There are no excuses for not learning the content properly.
  2. Failure to achieve this will result in a detention. This is standard across the school. Very, very few pupils fail their quizzes. We set them up to succeed.

Questioning

Quizzing pupils the day after they’ve learnt the French isn’t enough – we need to keep the process of recall going by constantly asking them what things mean. This post on speaking gives a good idea of how much of our lessons we spend on constant recall of the French our pupils know. It’s amazing – a mix of whole-class choral response and cold-calling means that our pupils can instantly recall hundreds of words and phrases in French, with an emphasis on those phrases that are most transferable between GCSE topics and will showcase a wide variety of tenses and complex structures. We’re using a lot of ‘je ne fais pas partie de ceux qui aiment…’ at present!

So, there you have it: knowledge, quizzes, lots of questions. Next week, I’ll be blogging on how we’re going to try and tackle the new GCSE specification using a knowledge approach.

Are you interested in finding out more? Please get in touch at jlund [at] mcsbrent.co.uk (I’m getting about 20 emails a week at the moment, so I’ll most likely respond in blog form!)  We are also always looking for teachers to join us in teaching French unlike anywhere else, or those who might want to join us as Teaching Fellows.

 

 

Aides-mémoire – 1. CUDDLES

At Michaela, we think a lot about memory. We do a lot to design our curricula, sequence our content and construct our lessons to maximise retention and recall of information. We know that the more, and the better, you can remember, the easier it is to recall the necessary information to answer questions, solve problems or tackle unfamiliar situations.

In French, the challenge has always been to get pupils to remember the language that we teach them, and then to enable them to recall and deploy it in appropriate contexts. We want them to remember individual words and short phrases; how they are spelled and how they sound; and finally how to put them together to convey meaning with increasing degrees of complexity.

This is the first post in a series about how we encourage our pupils to memorise the language we teach. If you have read anything before about how we teach French at Michaela, you will know that we don’t take a normal ‘build from single words to full sentences’ approach to teaching the language. Instead, we prefer to present rich, dense and interesting texts from which pupils will break down and single out words and phrases that they will then employ in different contexts. It enables them to see, even before they have analysed individual words, how everything fits together at the end.

When we do focus on individual words – after pupils have seen them in context – we use CUDDLES.  It’s a marvellous acronym, devised by my colleagues Barry Smith and Fadila Bettahar, and it encompasses all of the elements of the written and spoken language that we want pupils to remember and internalise.  It brings together a lot of what we have been doing since Michaela opened in 2014, and have found useful. We do a lot of CUDDLING in the French department.

So what is (are?) CUDDLES, and what’s the point?

C – count the number of letters in each word.  When we are reading and breaking down and analysing new French words, so many spelling mistakes can be avoided simply by knowing the number of letters in a word.  When pupils start in year 7, we do this with every single word they learn: je suis allé is 2/4/4 for boys and 2/4/5 for girls “parce qu’il faut ajouter un extra ‘e’ à la fin parce que c’est féminin, Mademoiselle”, as the kids will delight in pointing out. We can gradually phase it out as they become familiar with the common spelling patterns and learn the key high frequency language by heart, but it remains useful for words where remembering the correct spelling is more heavily dependent on knowing the number of letters.  A good example of this is ‘malheureusement’, which all of our pupils know how to spell. They also know that it contains fifteen letters, that it’s ‘so easy’ (-se-) in the middle and that “la lettre ‘t’ à la fin est muette”. If they want to use the word, and they write it down, they are able to check once it’s written that it contains the correct number of letters. It’s a great tool both for memorisation and for self-checking.

U – underline the vowel combinations. We – teachers, visitors, our Twitter audience – are constantly amazed at how authentic our pupils’ French accents are, and this is in part down to the way in which we teach French phonics from year 7. (The other key contributor is practice – every lesson, pupils read out loud; we correct their pronunciation and accent obsessively; we reward them for excellent and accurate reading). The vowel sounds are the key lever in their pronunciation, and so whenever we meet words we focus on the vowel combinations. Every time they see an ‘oi’ they will underline it, and we will point out that this makes a ‘wa’ sound. Over time, they come to read ‘oi’ as ‘wa’ without having to think about it. We continue to underline vowel combinations for a long time, as it also focuses pupils on the spelling of the word: we draw comparisons between words with the same vowel patterns all the time to embed the link between sound and spelling (the third paragraph in this blog post gives an example).

D – double underline the double consonants. Again, this is about getting pupils to focus in on the spelling and sound of the word at the same time – as I pointed out to my year 8s this week, if you request ‘du poison’ instead of ‘du poisson’, then you have only yourself to blame. We value accuracy very highly, and underlining double consonants has huge value when it comes to remembering both spelling and pronunciation. At Michaela we do a lot of self-quizzing for homework, in which pupils copy out words, phrases and sentences in French, considering the patterns as they do so. They always CUDDLE their homework, and as a result they become habituated in noticing and recalling when there is a double consonant in a word, as they do with all of the other features of CUDDLES.

D – dot the silent letters. This technique, as with so much of what Barry Smith has been practising and promoting over the years, has had an enormous positive impact on how pupils learn French at Michaela. It’s also the simplest thing in the world – when presenting a text to pupils, be it on paper or PowerPoint, put a tiny dot under every silent letter. This is the cue for pupils not to pronounce that letter, and it is a huge confidence boost when they read. They see the letter, and read it, and know that it is there, but they also know that it’s silent. They learn that ‘-ment’ is pronounced ‘mon’ and is the equivalent of the English suffix ‘-ly’, and suddenly the pronunciation of ‘normalement’, ‘suffisament’, ‘malheureusement’, ‘heureusement’ and ‘rarement’ become ‘un jeu d’enfant’. The same goes for silent letters in the middle of words – pupils know  in words with ‘qu’ (of which there are a huge number), that the Queen always carries her Umbrella but that “la lettre ‘u’ est toujours muette”.

L – mark the liaisons. This one is all about pronunciation and authenticity. Where the majority of pupils would say ‘je suis allé’ pronounced ‘je swee allay’ (as indeed did I all through school), we also teach them that many French people would say ‘je sweezallay’, with a liaison linking ‘suis’ and ‘allé’. It’s a small thing, but it has a big impact on their pronunciation and their feelings of authenticity.

E – exaggerate your accents. Yes, you’re quite right, ‘accent’ doesn’t start with ‘e’, but the most commonly accented letter in French is é, and it was therefore chosen as our emblem for checking your accents. Plus, it fits in nicely with the acronym. We insist that when our pupils write in French, they exaggerate the size of their accents, both as a way of drawing their attention to their presence and ensuring that they think about the pronunciation of the resulting word. It’s another small measure that impacts how well pupils remember the pronunciation and spelling of words.

S – stories. We tell hundreds of stories about words every week, all as ways of helping pupils to remember the spelling of words. My favourite example of this is ‘quelqu’un’, a word with which pupils typically have problems owing to the number of ‘u’s. So we do a few things. First, we count the letters – 6’2. We dot the silent ‘u’s. Then we tell them a story: QUeen ELizabeth is going to visit another QUeen, with a feather (‘) in her hat who rides a UNicorn. The sillier or more bizarre, the more memorable. I will never forget my first time sitting in the back of Barry’s classroom as he explained the days of the week to pupils using the following mnemonics:

Lundi. Rhymes with Monday. It’s Miss Lund’s favourite day. It’s also the day we go to the moon – the French for ‘moon ‘is ‘lune’, so it’s ‘moon day’ in both English and French.

Mardi. On Tuesdays we go to Mars. Every day in French except Sunday ends in ‘-di’. It’s really easy to remember. Tuesday we go to Mars, so it’s mardi.

Mercredi. On Wednesdays, we go to Mercury, and we get there in a red Merc. merc-red-i. 8 letters. The classic mistake people make is they write ‘mecredi’ – you won’t.

Jeudi. On Thursdays, we go to Jupiter. When we’re there, we play ‘un jeu’, which is ‘a game’ in French. We see the ‘eu’ combination all the time, really easy to remember.

Vendredi. On Fridays, we go to Venus. When we get there, we find a vending machine, and guess what? It’s red. vend-red-i. No, Ryan, there aren’t vending machines on Venus.

Samedi. Saturdays are so boring – everything is the SAME. I do the same thing every samedi.

Dimanche. I have a word of warning for you. You will DIe if you go to MANCHEster with with MAN who eats CHEese on a Sunday. Don’t ever do it.

And that’s it. That’s how we do CUDDLES.

Of course, this is all about the morphology of the words – pronunciation and spelling. How do we embed meaning? That will be my next post, when I’ll talk about our use of parallel translations, questioning and quizzing: just some of the ways we help pupils to remember what these new words mean.

Are you interested in finding out more? Please get in touch at jlund [at] mcsbrent.co.uk.  We are always looking for teachers to join us in teaching French unlike anywhere else, or those who might want to join us as Teaching Fellows.