Thursday, 5 November 2009

FLIP lessons and mindmapping - a new approach to learning

As a Specialist Language School, the spotlight is well and truely on our results at both GCSE and A level. That, combined with a deep-rooted desire that has always been prevalent in our department to constantly self-assess and improve, has led us to re-evaluate our approach to GCSE Spanish for Form 4 and 5.

We have never relied on textbooks, but this year we have brought in elements of from our KS3 booklets, such as breaking our booklet for each year down into smaller, more manageable topic booklets, listing that topic's GCSE vocabulary list at the front and including oral questions at the back of each booklet. The pupils have already commented that they much prefer this approach.

I am now dipping into each booklet, rather than laboriously ploughing through each worksheet. By doing this, stronger pupils are left with a series of worksheets for revision, avoiding that age-old lament " I don't know what to revise for the exam", whilst weaker pupils are not put off by the sheer volume of work facing them. I also want to work more actively with the vocabulary, bringing in some ideas again from KS3, as well as ideas I am picking up from others.

To that end, I decided this week to incorporate some ideas that I had heard at the London Language Show 09. We had already targeted some pupils in Form 5 who would benefit from smaller class numbers on occasion, and decided to split the two classes which run simultaneously into one larger and one smaller group once a week. The smaller group, of around 10, would look at approaches to grammar, writing and oral work in an environment which should encourage support and requests for help. The larger group will therefore work with me on a weekly basis, as well as a group of mentors, formed by 4 Upper Sixth pupils and 2 undergraduate past pupils who are volunteering in the school once a week. We are very fortunate to have access to a new laptop room, with 48 wireless laptops, and this has been booked for the purpose.

Listening to Chris Harte's excellent presentation at the Language Show, I discovered that he already had a name for the idea I was toying with, although he has taken it much further and with an integrated approach throughout the school. Read more at

My idea, strengthened by the inspiration Chris has provided me with, is that the learning is turned back to the student. ~They identify strengths and target weaknesses / areas for improvement. They can use the lesson to catch up with work they have missed through absence, go over something they didn't understand, focus on grammar, work their way throughRichard Hamilton's vocabulary drills, use some of the many online interactive websites available to them, record themselves using our new digital voice recorders, etc. Pupils will be encouraged to sign up for workshops on grammar, as well as work on an individual basis with the mentors on their pronunciation and oral answers.

The first lesson took place this week, and there was a surprising lack of chaos, given the large numbers in the room; 38 pupils, 6 mentors and myself. I had presented the idea to the pupils using a powerpoint presentation the day before, and they had taken the time to fill in a FLIP sheet detailing strengths, actions and success criteria. This definitely helped the flow of the lesson, and pupils settled quickly to work.

Lessons to draw from Day 1 would be that whilst we want to empower the pupils with choosing their own learning, I think that I will give some gentle encouragement to use the mentors more - pupils were reluctant to come and speak on a one-to-one basis, yet this obviously would greatly benefit their spoken Spanish and confidence levels in the long-term.

The second thing I did differently this week was to get my three KS4 classes to produce mindmaps of their topics (Region and Leisure) in advance of getting access to the vocabulary lists. I had really enjoyed Tony Buzan's talk at the Language Show, and was determined to start looking at language learning and memory. I asked them to produce separate mindmaps; for Region, they looked at geographical vocabulary, places, adjectives and opinions. For Leisure, they produced them for sports, pastimes and associated verbs. Pupils in all three classes really enjoyed the lesson, although the weaker class struggled more to put the vocabulary down on paper initially. It was a really beneficial exercise and one I will definitely repeat.

I look forward to continuing on this path, and to see how this impacts on the pupils and their progress in Spanish.


Chris Harte said...

Sounds great Amanda! Like the ideas of mentors - who are they exactly??

A Salt said...

I have asked for volunteers from my Upper 6 class, and 3 were on Private Study and happy to help. The two undergraduates are past pupils now doing a Joint Honours degree in Spanish and French, and keen to volunteer one day a week to gain experience for a possible PGCE. They are all a great help, particularly as they have done the same exam relatively recently.