In her post on Inquiry and Maths in December, Jenny made reference to the struggle we had been having with how to teach MFL through an inquiry learning approach. I have been very lucky, over the past few months, to work with colleagues in the French department who are very keen to make inquiry work for their pupils, and who are not scared to try new things out and then use that as a basis for improving what we do. The need to develop units for delivery within the MYP has been a great motivator, and FOSIL has helped us to create an inquiry that ticks both MYP skills and assessment boxes. Julie, one of the French teachers who is also the Senior Lead Practitioner in school, intends to post her thoughts on this inquiry (including feedback from the teachers involved in the delivery), so I will limit this post to a brief description of what we did and the resources developed.
Year 8 pupils were asked to consider whether, given that Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, it would be high on their list of places to visit. The CONNECT stage asked them to think not just about what they already knew about Paris, but also what attracts them to new places, so that they might consider whether Paris would tick all, or any, of those boxes. After an initial WONDER about what sorts of questions they might need to ask about six topic areas – ones we knew we could resource (Monuments; Museums & Art Galleries; Cafés, Bars & Restaurants; Shops & Markets; Parks & Gardens; and Children’s Attractions) – pupils were split into groups to WONDER in more detail and then INVESTIGATE their chosen/assigned topic. Initial investigation work was done with print resources – both French and English – before moving onto a selection of recommended websites (again in both languages) to answer some quite specific questions they had, and the inevitable ‘Googling’ when all else failed or they ran out of steam! A prep task asked them to bring together reasons why Paris might and might not be top of their list of places to visit – to CONSTRUCT a reasoned response – which they could then hand in as evidence of their work in the first (English) part of the inquiry.
This work then formed the background needed for pupils to plan a guided tour of Paris which they would deliver in French to some of their classmates who were filming it on iPads. These same classmates were tasked with providing feedback on the outcome. The filmed guided tour, along with the written scripts, fulfilled the assessment role for this part of the inquiry – a speaking assessment being one of the main desired outcomes from the outset.
As I said, more to follow on the successes and shortcomings of this inquiry, but if you have any experience of inquiry learning within MFL, I would love to hear your thoughts on what works well. I am really keen for ideas regarding how to teach pupils who have little or no previous knowledge of the language they are learning through this approach.
[All the resources for this inquiry are available here.]
I am very interested in the idea of inquiry learning and fully understand the benefits it has for pupils but I was reticent about trying it out for myself in my own subject: MFL. This is because our aim is to teach a ‘foreign’ language, which by definition presents a barrier to pupil understanding. Indeed, there is little actual content to teach in the MFL classroom, most of what we do involves teaching skills, methods and patterns. The background reading I had done regarding inquiry-based learning and successful strategies to use rarely, if ever, referenced MFL or gave helpful examples. How, I asked myself would pupils be able to carry out independent research whilst ALSO extending their learning of the foreign language? What materials could pupils, particularly in phases 1-3 (beginners) access with limited vocabulary? How would we maintain their interest if all information was too complex for them to understand? I was prepared to explore all of these questions and to accept that the answers could probably be found with careful planning, good knowledge of my students and through trial and error. However, the question that actually dominated my thoughts most during the inquiry ended up being this one: How much are we as MFL teachers willing to sacrifice language acquisition and practice to allow for a proper investigation into culture?
I was very much aware before embarking on this project what the prerequisites are for a successful inquiry project. Research suggests that this involves a balance of teacher input and ‘upfront’ teaching, time taken to help pupils develop their research skills and actual pupil work of an independent nature. FOSIL related literature clearly explains why successful inquiry learning involves a mixture of all of these things and my plan was to try to encompass it all.
Thanks Julie for adding to my earlier post about this inquiry. Having worked with the teachers involved with this inquiry for a number of weeks both in the planning and teaching stages, I can say that their openness to try new approaches and their meticulous planning for delivery were incredible. Coming from a languages background myself, I have been struggling to understand for several years how to make an inquiry approach to language teaching and learning work – especially in the way the MYP would seem to envisage it being taught. This is just not the way in which languages are usually taught, and as Julie rightly says, it does appear that a number of sacrifices are required in order to adopt an inquiry approach. This does not mean it is not possible, but weighing up the advantages afforded by cultural awareness against language production proficiency does become an important consideration. I am sure we will come back to this in future posts.
Here are a few more details about the inquiry for those who are interested. In the first half of the spring term 2020 all 2nd form pupils (across 6 groups streamed as high/medium/low in terms of ability) we set aside 5 weeks for the FOSIL inquiry and aimed to guide students through every single one of the 6 stages of the framework.
Inquiry question: Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world. Would it be high on your list? Why/why not?
We did one lesson of upfront teaching of some key vocabulary to do with visiting towns/cities
Pupils had 10 lessons broken down into the 6 stages of the FOSIL cycle with 2 preps.
Pupils worked in 2 different groups of 3 or 4 pupils and also on their own at different stages of the project.
Assessment: a written script ‘guide’ to Paris and a video presentation of this being read out.
After the project 5 lessons were spent teaching pupils the past tense. They were then asked to return to their inquiry and use the information to write about an imaginary trip they had taken to Paris in the past tense (written assessment under test conditions).
The objectives and desired outcomes:
For pupils to find out lots about Paris that they didn’t already know
For pupils to acquire new vocabulary through exposure in context and repetition in different texts.
All the staff involved were highly experienced teachers with a good background cultural knowledge of Paris (French specialists). None of us had ever tried anything like this before but all teachers are keen to try new ideas and half had already spent a year teaching the MYP to the same year group in year 7. Nobody had a negative attitude at the start although all of us were sceptical about the role of inquiry in MFL teaching.
We also sought the support of our 3 language assistants, native French speakers who do not usually work with pupils this young. Our subject librarian, Lucy Breag, played a key role in the designing of materials and helped deliver some of the lessons with less confident teachers.
It was a great pleasure for me to take such an active part in the delivery of this inquiry. I had the privilege of working with a number of the French teachers and their classes over the course of the 10 lessons and everyone was keen to make this very different approach, which had been planned to cover as many MYP and inquiry learning approaches as possible, work well for their pupils. Being in the classroom not only allowed me to see how the different material and activities were working, but also to suggest and tweak along the way, adapting to the needs of the different pupils whose level of French understanding varied enormously. Material was provided in the form of a resource pack of documents in both French and English, which we had spent a long time tracking down and compiling, and suggested websites to use for different topic areas. This accompanied the documents produced to step pupils through the FOSIL stages which can be found via the link in my initial post. I will let Julie add feedback gathered from the teachers who delivered the course before commenting more.
Many conversations in the department, as well as the weekly meetings we had to discuss the inquiry, allowed us to gather together some really helpful feedback. From the teachers’ perspective, here is what went well:
The pupils certainly developed a number of Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills. Our roles as educators in a general sense rather than in a subject-specific sense came to the fore here. I know that the pupils used and practised skills that will be of use to them later and elsewhere across the curriculum. For example asking good research questions, managing their time, selecting relevant information, organising and delegating roles within a group, reaching a group consensus and conclusion.
The pupils experienced a sense of ownership with regard to their learning as they had the freedom to research their own questions.
They enjoyed a different kind of French lesson and had fun filming each other.
A lot of peer feedback and support went on: sharing resources, correcting each other’s scripts and helping each other’s pronunciation.
The written scripts contained information that was genuinely a product of their own research (details about costs, opening times of tourist attractions, names of good restaurants).
There were things, however, that didn’t go so well:
Perhaps Paris was the wrong choice – many pupils lacked curiosity about it as they had either been or had already heard/seen a lot about it.
Pupils asked questions that were very specific and then couldn’t find the answers in the resources provided.
The ATL skills developed could be worked on in other subjects without sacrificing the teacher-led lessons where the knowledge pupils gained could have been covered in 2 lessons.
On a linguistic level the project was most successful amongst the most able.
Weaker pupils were overwhelmed by the number and quantity of resources.
Weaker pupils found it hard to devise questions. This skill needed teaching explicitly and modelling for most pupils.
Pupils didn’t know how to pronounce new vocabulary.
Many pupils missed at least one lesson during the inquiry and if a stage was missed this caused problems for the whole group particularly as the schedule was so tight.
Many pupils ignored the sources in French and didn’t collect any new vocabulary on their investigate sheets.
Pupils had to understand the shift from the inquiry question/answer to the assessment. Both were based in the research they had done but only the former was their opinion.
Pupils didn’t spend enough time or effort making good use of the resource packs. There was perhaps too much here and many opted purely for English sources and ignored the great stuff in French.
Pupils didn’t systematically record new vocabulary on their investigate sheets.
As you can see there are positives and negatives from this FOSIL inquiry, and concerns we will have to attend to before running future inquiries.
Thanks Julie, it is great to have that feedback from teachers as it will really help when we have other inquiries to plan, especially in MFL. From my perspective, I think the biggest difficulties concerned pupils not necessarily engaging with material as we had hoped – sometimes because those delivering the lesson may not have been sure themselves how it was intended to be used, sometimes because pupils had not been paying enough attention initially, so constant individual reminders were needed during the lessons. This is where we really benefitted from having two of us in the room. Over a number of years of delivering FOSIL based inquiries, we have come to realise that this is an area where we, as librarians, can really add value to the classroom experience of pupils as we can direct them in using the resources we have developed. We do, however, realise that we are lucky to be able to assist in this way so readily. It also highlighted to us the importance of being able to talk to everyone who would be delivering the inquiry through the plans at the outset. This is not always easy to achieve, and the regular catch-ups between the teachers were a great help here, but if teachers can understand the thinking behind material, and so how to expect pupils to make use of it, they are better placed to get the pupils to use it in that way if they try to offer resistance.
It will be interesting to hear pupils’ impressions of the experience, especially as this is a year group whose experience since the start of year 7 has been influenced by the MYP’s focus on inquiry learning.
As Lucy mentioned, at the end of the project pupils were asked to complete a reflection sheet. Interestingly this year group were ‘guinea pigs’ last year when we trialled the MYP with them in year 7. An ATL skill we had focused on with them in particular was reflection so all students found this stage of FOSIL straightforward. The quality of their reflections was excellent and they already understood both the benefits and aim of self-reflecting. Here are some of their thoughts:
Some felt they already knew a lot about Paris, particularly if they had been there. At first they had to be convinced of the value of the project.
Some commented on the fact that they were working in English in a French lesson.
All learnt something knew and built their cultural understanding.
Some really developed their literacy skills in both languages.
Pupils realised in the reflection stage that they should have used the print resources to better effect
Pupils felt they would have performed better in their presentations if they had been able to practice pronunciation more.
Some more able pupils realised they would have learnt more if they had chosen to focus on the sources in French rather than English
Pupils realised the flaw in the process which was that the answers to many of their questions were not easily found in the print sources or websites provided.
Some pupils felt they would have liked more teacher input in the construct/express phases. They are used to being told whether an answer is right or wrong!
The suggested websites were not useful, pupils found it more helpful to type questions straight into the search engine.
We have some ideas for changes that will have to be made in order to make this inquiry work better from both teachers’ and pupils’ perspectives, and I’ll post more about those when we have had a chance to collate and discuss them further.
Thanks Julie. I look forward to seeing in print some of the ideas we discussed for how to move this inquiry forward. I think one of the things that became very clear for me, was that however meticulously you plan an inquiry for the number of weeks and lessons you have available, not only do some stages take longer than you had anticipated, but also any disruptions to the run of lessons can have huge implications. In this case, one of the planned prep sessions was lost when pupils were to have been analysing a script, translating bits and looking for useful language they could use in their own presentations. As a result of not doing this – which would have been a great inquiry learning exercise in itself – pupils tended to become over-reliant on dictionaries when writing their own presentations and as a result tried to use language they did not really understand and words they did not know how to pronounce. The express stage of this inquiry ended up being quite rushed for this reason which, I think, may have contributed to some of the pupils’ concerns above. Pupils’ willingness and ability to reflect has really helped us as we plan where we go next, and will hopefully prove extremely useful going forward in all areas of their schooling.
Moving forward we have thought about what could we adapt and improve next year. I have divided this into the different stages in the FOSIL cycle as it will help us as we plan in the future.
The CONNECT stage:
Introduce this stage by giving example of a place you like to go – what is it about that place that means you enjoy it? Model this and then get them to do the same. This could be somewhere that they might already have looked at in French but could also link in with what they have done in another subject such as Geography. Then they need to make the link to Paris:
What questions does that mean you would want to ask about Paris in order to decide if it would be a place you wanted to visit?
What do you then already know about Paris? Can you answer any of your own questions already?
The WONDER stage:
This can be difficult as young students can’t necessarily imagine wanting to know about certain topics! Questions need to be directed a bit more by teachers. Some classes need to be taught explicitly how to ask good questions.
One idea would be to give pupils roles/characters on cards to prompt them:
You are keen on history and culture, what would there be for you to do in Paris?
You love strolling through parks and sitting reading and watching the world go by in gardens
You hate to be still and love nothing better than walking for hours, visiting as many sights as you can each day etc.
The INVESTIGATE stage:
Slow this stage down to maximise learning. The resource packs could be differentiated and more time spent with them. Allowing them more of a free reign when doing web-research might yield answers to their more obscure questions.
Pupils need to understand the nature of asking questions in research – sometimes you don’t find the answers you are looking for, but find other information which generates different questions along the way. This needs explicit teaching.
Start the next stage by asking them to come up with places – in new groups – they would suggest would be worth visiting/things worth doing and why.
The CONSTRUCT stage:
More time should be spent on the script as this is a perfect example of how you can use an inquiry approach in MFL. They needed to work out how to find, adapt and use language discovered through the resources and inquiry sheets.
The EXPRESS stage:
Pupils need to feel that their final piece in French is an appropriate refection of the work put in throughout the inquiry. They all need help with pronunciation. Although many based their script on the model provided some up front teaching before the presentation might have helped.
I’ll see if Lucy has anything that she would like to add before posting our conclusions.
Thanks Julie. I would fully agree with the proposals above to take this inquiry forward, and think trying to link the beginning to another point they have already reached in their learning would make it so much easier. Geography would seem the sensible place to start and I know that this initial connect stage when introducing new topics or places in Geography lessons has been very successful. We may as well let others do some work for us that we can piggy-back on!
I think what has become very apparent is the need to get a lot more French into the inquiry at every stage, even if that means needing to dedicate more time to it overall. Language understanding and production are paramount, and the inquiry needs to be a vehicle for this rather than something extra we are trying to achieve and I think we have some good ideas of where to go next.
The FOSIL inquiry carried out in French has led us to reach the following conclusions, and we would love to hear from anyone who can shed any more light on where we go next.
MFL is inherently different from other subjects and an inquiry is more complicated. We need to take the language barrier into account, particularly with younger pupils and the selection of resources must be carefully monitored/selected. I don’t think the length of the project was justified by the amount of learning that came out of it. Although this is difficult to measure, from a teaching perspective we didn’t feel much FRENCH was covered, discovered, used and practised.
To return to the question I raised at the beginning of this article: How much are we as MFL teachers willing to sacrifice language acquisition and practice to allow for a proper investigation into culture? I am still unconvinced about the value of FOSIL inquiry in the development of knowledge in MFL. However, as an educator in general I am absolutely convinced that the skills pupils practised and acquired during the process are immeasurable. I am sure that the next time pupils do an inquiry project they will be better at it, this first foray into the process in French has not deterred me completely but I will heavily modify it for next year’s 2nd form in the light of what we have learnt so far.
Thank you Julie. I just thought I would offer one final word before leaving this topic for now, in the hope that someone out there will be able to offer us more insight. I fully agree that I do not think whole FOSIL inquiries are best suited to language acquisition when the main focus is on pupils being able to use the language they have to communicate what they need to communicate as accurately as possible. This makes an inquiry approach to language learning – pupils using the knowledge they already have to access material and acquire new vocabulary and grammatical structures through doing so – far more useful than trying to plan whole inquiries in MFL – but I am not so sure that fits into the MYP way of thinking though, so for now, my search for ideas continues.