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.
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:
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.
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 + 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.