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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.