Hands up those who have taught students who have said that they found languages hard, that ‘they couldn’t do languages’ and that they were much better in other subjects? Certainly, during my career as a languages teacher, I have had numerous conversations with young people who felt that their knowledge and understanding of foreign languages didn’t compare favourably with other subjects on their timetables, that they couldn’t understand anything, let alone speak or write in the language they were learning.
No doubt some of our students’ perception around the difficulty of language learning is based on the fact that for many of them regular, timetabled language learning only starts in secondary school. For this reason, the launchpad to their secondary learning is lower than in almost all other subjects.
There are many strategies to help overcome Key Stage 3 students’ possible reluctance to learn foreign languages, engage them and instil a sense of achievement and progress.
These range from student-led flipped classrooms and language games to bringing cultural background into the classroom. All of these strategies are an essential part of language learning and teaching and allow students to engage and build confidence.
In my own practice, I’ve also found that students respond positively to a ‘can do’ approach to teaching and learning, or rather an ‘already can do’ approach. This includes, of course, aspects such as grammar (‘I can use modal verbs’ or ‘I can apply correct verb endings’) or vocabulary (‘I can name ten animals and their correct genders’) but it also means a considered and careful introduction and use of Key Stage 4 and GCSE-style activities and tasks in Key Stage 3. Telling and reminding your students as early as possible that the tasks and work they are completing is the same as, or similar to, a GCSE question or task generally leads to a sense of pride and achievement and that ‘I can really do this’ attitude. At a time of a national decline in language take-up for GCSEs our students’ own perception of their skills could be a deciding factor in whether they will continue with or drop a foreign language.
So, how can Echt help you and your students to prepare for current and future GCSEs and develop that all important ‘already can do’ attitude? As a course it has been designed to progressively build the skills and knowledge students need to step up to GCSE German through its range and presentation of topics, tasks and assessments.
Let’s have a closer look at Echt to see what this means in practice.
Throughout the book you’ll find numerous activities which closely relate to GCSE tasks and prepare students early on for Key Stage 4.
Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing
You will see that Echt provides a variety of differentiated activities in all four skills. You will find this on its main spreads but don’t forget to use the ‘Was kann ich schon’; ‘Vorankommen’; and ‘Sprungbrett’ pages. Due to time constraints these are often pages that aren’t or can’t be covered, but in Echt many of these activities follow GCSE-style questions and tasks and give your students a chance to practice this right from the start. You’ll find:
- questions in English
- questions in German
- true/false/not in the text questions and the equivalent in the target language
- tables which require students to identify activities and events in the past, present and future
- photo descriptions and role plays
- writing activities with bullet points for guidance.
Of course, it is really important to remember that we are not just teaching to pass an exam but to give our students a sense of achievement because they can access GCSE-style questions in their first two or three years of German learning.
Naturally, in the first few months or even year of learning German, students will not be able to use all the language and grammar they are expected to use when they sit an exam but throughout the books and in each unit, students can practise translations from English into German and German into English as they are integral parts of the ‘Was kann ich schon’ und ‘Vorankommen’ sections in each unit. Echt ensures that these translations focus on the grammar and vocabulary that has been taught in each unit, so that your students can put into practice what they have learnt. That means, of course, that the level of challenge increases as your students’ progress and by the end of the course they very much reflect GCSE tasks by covering the use of different tenses, opinions and reasons.
Have you noticed that many students struggle with vocabulary or information which relies on their understanding of German-speaking culture and spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to work out the word ‘Köln’ or ‘Alpen’? In my own teaching, I certainly have found that students can struggle with authentic material in Key Stage 4 and in GCSE exams, partially because they are not familiar with some of the cultural aspects of German-speaking countries such as people’s names, places, landmarks, traditions and customs. Right from the start, Echt uses authentic texts and introduces the students to German-speaking personalities, historic events and geographical landmarks. These can be found on the ‘Kultur’ pages as well as texts throughout the course. So Echt provides a real opportunity for learners of German to be introduced to German-speaking culture, whether it is use of a ‘Pfandautomat’ or the ‘Bauhaus’ movement. These elements of cultural and language learning are introduced in an accessible way right from the start of the course (check out the link to fairy tales when the topic of family is introduced) This provides your students with the knowledge to facilitate the transition from Key Stage 3 to GCSE.
The ‘Strategie’ boxes throughout Echt 1 and Echt 2 provide useful hints about how your students can improve all four skills; tackle challenging tasks; and overcome mental blocks. Even early in the course, they help develop the skills your students will need for their GCSE exams. For example, have a look at Unit 2.3 where students learn how to describe a photo and in Unit 3.2 the focus of the ‘Strategie’ box is how students ask questions using a verb. Both skills are required for GCSE speaking exams. To make the most of Echt you can try to relate the ‘Strategie’ box to a suitable activity on the same page, for example, in the case of Unit 3.2 your class could try asking questions related to the texts on the same page. You can also look for the accompanying skills toolkits on Kerboodle.
Future language learning
The world of MFL teaching and assessment changes continually, and it changes fast. The last change to the GCSE syllabus in 2016 (with first assessment in 2018) saw the introduction of, for example, translation. There are already new developments and syllabus changes are on the horizon, some of which may take us back to our own language learning some time ago. Yes, dictation is set to make a comeback.
I suggest the following to practise dictation skills, many of which also serve as speaking and pronunciation practice activities:
- Use exercise 7 on page 41 in Echt 1. Get students into pairs or a group of four. After reading the paragraphs together, students read out one paragraph aloud, the other student/s write what they hear as a dictation.
- Use a gap fill exercise such as exercise 5 on page 39 in Echt 2 and use it as a more or less supported dictation. You (or students as part of pairwork and therefore reading out aloud) read out the text, some students may fill in the gaps with the support of the words above, some may do this without using the words and some may even be able to write the whole text unsupported just by listening to each other. Afterwards get your students to assess each other’s or their own work.
Let’s not forget that for our students to be able to write with a high level of accuracy, they need to be able to link sound to spelling. I suggest that you regularly use the ‘Sprachlabor’ spreads as they include an Aussprache exercise which allows your students to relate sound to spelling. These exercises provide your students with two language learning opportunities:
- Speaking and pronunciation (get your students to pronounce the words after they have listened to them).
- Identifying and applying the rules for sound to spelling and therefore developing writing and dictation skills (you could get your students to write down the words they hear rather than read them or get your students to write them down after they have heard and read them).
So, Echt provides plenty of scope to prepare your students for proposed changes in assessment. Use it flexibly and imaginatively to benefit most from it – now and in the future.
In summary, Echt is about allowing students to make progress in an engaging, challenging and accessible way. It introduces GCSE-style tasks early on and makes the transition from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 and GCSE clear, with opportunities for students to challenge themselves and have success in learning German.
Marcus Waltl works as a German teacher in a comprehensive school in London. He has worked in the UK and abroad with roles including Head of MFL and Assistant Headteacher. Marcus has authored German textbooks at KS3, KS4 and A Level, including Echt, our German series for KS3 students.