” I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening. Most people never listen”
I don’t disagree with Ernest Hemmingway’s sentiment but when it comes to GCSE languages most students find it difficult to listen. They struggle with the speed, the accents and the vocabulary used in listening exams. I am so often greeted with ” I hate listening exercises Miss, they’re so hard” once again this January, I found myself in exactly that position. We had finished our controlled assessments and I now had 5 months to finish the syllabus with an aim of concentrating on reading and listening skills. The fundamental question is; how do you improve the listening skills of your students? The only answer I can ever really come up with is do lots of it, but as we know lesson after lesson doing nothing but listening preparation is deathly dull.
If practice is the way forward then I required my students to practise at home. I needed to be able to set them listening homeworks that were easily accessible so I decided to create my own website.
We are very fortunate here on the Isle of Man as all students have a google mail account so deciding to use google sites for my website was a fairly easy choice. In order to create a website with Google you need a google account but other than that it is fairly easy. You can select a template from a series on offer – name your website and you are off. I have to admit you need to dedicate a little bit of time getting to know how all the buttons work on the google sites proforma and I did encounter some difficulties along the way but there are plenty of tutorials and web fora that you can browse through to help you unstick yourself 🙂
With my website done I was now in a position to add some listening tasks. My first stop naturally, was You Tube – the is a rich source of listening material and a minefield by equal measure. I spent a great deal of time looking for suitable material for my students. I wasn’t necessarily looking for pieces that were of GCSE speed, in fact I often chose things that were at normal speed. I wanted to encourage my students to listen for the information they required and to ignore the rest. I wanted them to experience a range of topics and accents and indeed vocabulary as I felt that this would best prepare them for their exams. I used a number of adverts – they were short and snappy. I also found Parapluie French which was aimed at GCSE students and had subtitles for them to refer to. Once I had exhausted all my You Tube options I turned to the #mfltwitterati and asked where I could find other examples of listening exercises on the internet. As ever, they never fail to come up with the goods. My favourites are www.franska.fr, www.audio-lingua.eu, mflsunderland.podomatic.com and francebeinvenue1.wordpress.com.
With my listening text chosen and a link to them placed on my website, I now needed to devise questions -which should have been fairly straight forward ; type them up on Word distribute a worksheet direct the students to the website and Bob’s your uncle. Except we had no photocopying budget left which was a blessing and a curse. I resolved my problem by using the very clever Google Forms. This is a survey making tool but I used it to present the questions relating to my chosen listening material. Google forms allows you to pose a question and students answer electronically via the form.
You have the option of multiple choice, this format is also good for true,false, not mentioned type questions too. You can also opt for a long answer style question. There are a number of things that you must do. Ensure that you make each question a “required” one also question number 1 should be “name” – this becomes important later!
My students could now view the listening clips and view the questions on the same page on my website. Once they had completed the task they simply clicked submit at the bottom of the google form and it was automatically sent to my google account where it ended up in a spreadsheet format.
To begin with I would just print this off and mark it in the traditional way. However, in a Twitter conversation with Joe Dale, he made me aware of a marking tool called Flubaroo. In order to use Flubaroo you click insert on your spreadsheet and install a script called Flubaroo and this effectively marks the work for you. In order for it to work you must first submit answers to your own spreadsheet and name them teacher – Flubaroo uses these correct answers to mark your work for you – simple. It’s also important that each submission from your students is named too. It goes without saying that Flubaroo cannot mark long answer questions as there are too many variables. More information on Flubaroo can be found here www.flubaroo.com
I unleashed the website on my students in January and set both listening and reading homeworks from it. At that time, we were also completing a past listening paper a month and I had, as you would expect, a range of grades from F to A based on their listening results
My students moaned and winged that the listenings on the website were so hard – and they were, as I said, I had picked short texts at speed. However, I was hugely encouraged by the marks the students were getting with the majority of them scoring well.
The real eureka moment came when, after a month of doing listening homework each week they came to sit a past GCSE paper and they all found it to be “easy” (their words not mine) The students had become so accustomed to listening to texts at speed in a variety of accents that the “received pronunciation” and relatively slow speed that they encountered on the listening exam suddenly seemed less taxing for them.
As time went by and we all got used to using the website I started to add more to it. Vocabulary is power in the world of languages and so it was that I introduced my students to the wonder that is Quizlet.com. I uploaded vocabulary lists to the quizlet site and then added a link to that list to my website. The students enjoyed playing the simple games on the website and soon they were asking if I could upload more vocabulary lists to aid their learning.
May soon came round and it was almost my last lesson with Y11. On this particular day my students were sitting a higher listening exam – it was a real tough one but every single student in my class got a grade C or higher on the exam. They were so pleased with themselves and it was such a boost to their confidence. One student actually said “Miss I hated it when you set us those listening homeworks but I can see now that it has really paid off”
Not everyone in my class sat the higher exam and it was a tough one this year but I remain secure in the knowledge that, through the use of technology, my students went into the exam as prepared and confident as they could possibly could have been.