Tools of the trade


Photo credit

It was one of those days where everything just seems to point you in one direction, the kids were quiet well,occupied, I’d hurt my achilles so a run was out of the question, it was windy so kayaking was out too, it wasn’t sunny so even sitting in the garden was out and so it was that I decided to mark my Y10 homework.  This week we have been focussing on the perfect tense in class.  To my mind, this is not a difficult aspect of grammar it is merely a pattern or for want of a better phrase a formula.  I accept that students find the agreement of verbs using être as their auxiliary tricky to get their head round but other than that this is just a formula and I teach it as such. For the perfect tense with avoir it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3  where 1 is the pronoun 2 is the correct bit of avoir and 3 is the past participle.  For the perfect tense with être it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4 where 1 is the pronoun 2 is the correct bit of être, 3 is the past participle and 4 is the agreement if required. Yet my class still write je joué or better still je devoi which after having seen this 10 times I was beginning to think I’d really messed up my week in the classroom.  This got me thinking we really need to get our students used to using the tools of the trade as soon as humanly possible in this way they can begin to help themselves.

In education circles on the Isle of Man we refer to the 6 R’s;  readiness, reflectiveness, resilience, resourcefulness, remembering and relationships.  These are skills we try to instil in our students right from the beginning of primary school and there it is staring us right in the face, resourcefulness. To my mind we should be ensuring that our students know where to go so that they can find an answer or check an answer.  I don’t know about you, but I always use a bi-lingual dictionary to double check spellings and gender and I model this behaviour in class.  “Miss how do you say hang gliding?”  “I’m not sure let’s look it up in the dictionary”  I can’t imagine not having one to hand.  I know that there is a cost implication to having sets of dictionaries but many students now have smart phones, that being the case, I point my students in the direction of the online dictionary  This is a well and good I can hear you say but it didn’t do your Y10 class any favours and you would be right.  I did point my class in the direction of the online verb table but I don’t think I was explicit enough about it.  In fact, it was clear that some students had used it because they had got irregular past participles correct however many I feel rushed their work, never looked back in their books or at reference material in order to self check their work.  This is what we will be working on in class next week.  It’s not cheating and it’s not a short cut but it is a skill that I feel we should encourage with in our students.

I have been working on this for a number of years now and I feel that those students that I have taught over time are more resourceful. (I have never taught any of my current Y10 class before) I even organise my classroom around it.  My students sit in groups of 4 in this way they can help each other if required.  All over my classroom I have posters. USE SNOT  where snot stands for Self, Neighbour, Other, Teacher.  I know of others that use 3 before me or similar.  It is simply a way of encouraging self reliance.  In Y8 we are currently using adjectives. On Friday I gave them a list of adjectives in English and asked them to rearrange them into alphabetical order and then find the French.  Some of my class were outraged “we can’t do this Miss!” to which I replied “Yes you can. What tools can you use?”  within seconds they have come up with a long list of tools.  Learning mats, dictionaries, vocabulary booklets etc etc.  It is possible to teach the use of tools of the trade and I think it’s vital that we do and before you all tweet me I am by no means advocating the use of reference material over learning, remembering after all is one of the 6 R’s.  Learning grammar patterns is the key to unlocking the magic of language and as Steve Smith said to me on twitter on Saturday you can’t refer to a verb table or a dictionary in a conversation but I’ll leave the production over acquisition post for another time!