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Building on strong points

Plenaries are promoted as an important part of key stage 3 lessons yet are often neglected. But they are worthwhile, Elaine Johnson believes

The three-part lesson structure recommended by the key stage 3 strategy is now standard practice in the core subjects. Most teachers feel confident about delivering starter activities and comment positively about pupil engagement, particularly when mini-whiteboards are used. But Ofsted has reported that plenaries are often the weakest part of the lesson, that teachers tend merely to sum up and pupils do not have the opportunity to articulate what they have learned.

What are the benefits of a well delivered plenary?

lEnhanced recall: when pupils are encouraged to reflect on the learning outcomes, they understand and remember what has been learned during the lesson. This is essential before they go back into the gale of English.

lIncreased pupil motivation: good plenaries motivate pupils and create a sense of gain and satisfaction as they discover how much they have learned in language lessons. This is important, since pupils discuss more challenging concepts than pets and birthdays in other curriculum areas, such as history or English. Pupils develop independent language-learning skills.

lA well-delivered plenary enables children to reflect on what and how they have learned. An increased awareness of the skills they have used also helps pupils become more independent language learners.

lPupils celebrate their learning and achievement in modern foreign languages. "I can do" statements used in KS2 can also be used to motivate KS3 learners. Speech bubbles can be attached to pupils' photographs. This provides an excellent opportunity to revise modal verbs.

"Maintenant, je sais comment prononcer ..."

"Je sais utiliser le presentle passe compose le futur."

"Je sais comment ecriredire ..."

"Je peux ecouter mieux le prof."

"Je peux ecrire des phrases en francais."

What are the influences helping or hampering plenaries?

lRunning out of time is the main problem mentioned by teachers. It is common to reach the end of a lesson with only a few minutes left to set the homework before the bell rings.

lLoss of momentum after the starter activity and main body of the lesson.

Many teachers run out of steam and hastily summarise the lesson rather than eliciting feedback on the learning outcomes from the pupils themselves.

Having fallen prey to these hazards myself, I find the key to successful plenaries lies in planning and the teacher's questioning. Skilful teacher questioning followed by sufficient "wait time" develops pupils' thinking and their ability to reflect on the knowledge and skills learned.

Target language versus English Some teachers fear that their pupils will not understand a plenary delivered in the target language. Clearly, any target language used needs to be related to the ability of the class. Carefully planned target language use in plenaries gives pupils regular opportunities to practise past, present and future tenses and voice their opinions as part of normal classroom routine. Language structures are "recycled" outside the usual topic areas of holidays and free time.

The following extract is from a plenary held by teacher Melina Le Gourrierec in a Year 8 lesson at Portslade Community College in Brighton.

(Learning objective: to develop strategies for reading French texts): Qu'est-ce qu'on va faire aujourd'hui?

On va lire un texte.

On va souligner les mots transparents.

Melina: "Qu'est ce que vous avez fait pendant la lecon?"

Year 8 pupils' responses: "J'ai parle avec une personne."

"Nous avons lu un texte."

"On a parle."

Melina: "C'etait comment?"

Year 8 pupils: "C'etait interessant!"

"C'etait facile!"

Elaine Johnson is a former head of languages and is MFL consultant for Brighton and Hove

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