Hats off to the boys
Language teachers around the country are finding new ways of making boys enthusiastic about languages. A key tip that's emerging is to hand control of the whiteboard to pupils. Teachers say they have found pupils are more willing to learn French verbs if it means they have the chance to then present their findings in PowerPoint.
Other techniques tailored to hook boys include graded homework challenges and rewards of cinema tickets. Currently 32 schools are taking part in a teacher-led experiment which is changing the way languages are taught across the country. Eighteen are located in or near regions served by the North East Comenius Centre, the North West Comenius Centre and the Leicestershire Comenius Centres of expertise (www.cilt.ukcomenius). Other groups are Bristol, Gloucestershire and Avon (seven schools), Somerset (six schools) and Cambridgeshire (one school).
The grassroots movement followed a 2001 study on boys' performance in languages, commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and published by CILT, the National Centre for Languages. Barry Jones and Gwenneth Jones, who carried out the research at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Education, found that boys thought they would learn better if they had more say in what they did.
Barry Jones, who is this year's president-elect of the Association of Language Learning, says: "On the whole boys were not particularly anti-language learning. They thought it was important, just not important for them."
Based on the report's recommendations, a group of teachers and university lecturers in Bristol decided to try out some teaching strategies and asked Barry Jones for support.
He not only agreed, but urged other groups around the country to take up the challenge, promising to keep each group in touch with ideas being trialled elsewhere. Now schools in Somerset, Cumbria, Leicestershire, Sunderland and Wales are swapping ideas.
Two popular strategies are providing a choice of homework tasks and pupils delivering their own PowerPoint presentations.
"More than 20 schools have boys producing PowerPoint presentations," Barry Jones says. "It cashes in on boys' strengths in ICT, which are motivating.
Putting the presentation together means they learn the language almost inspite of themselves."
Homework menus were pioneered by Moira Edmunds, now a support teacher in Angus, Scotland. She gave pupils at Arbroath Academy a list of 40 homework activities at the beginning of the year from which they chose one a week.
The idea was adapted in Bristol to produce 40 graded tasks and in Lancaster as a booklet of six homework activities per half-term.
TOP TIPS FOR BOYS
l Experiment with a term's homework activities by letting students choose the order in which they are done.
l Providedrop-in sessions for students who want extra help.
l Give away cinema tickets to award the highest number of "merit marks" gained by students.
l Provide a collection of teenage magazines bought by students while on a trip to France.
l Devise a programme for a bottom set Year 10 group to teach basic German in a local primary school.
l Devise a quiz in French for Year 10 and fax it to schools in the UK and abroad.
l Give Year 10 some choice of what they do in their lessons. Provide an ...
la carte and a menu du jour.
l Encourage Year 11 students to give PowerPoint presentations that are designed to help younger pupils.
ys' performance in modern foreign languages. CILT, pound;8. Order from Central Books, tel: 020 8986 4854
At Huish Episcopi School in Somerset, head of languages Bridget Caddy is looking for ways to tackle a trend familiar to language departments across the country. "When children start off in Year 7, boys and girls are pretty keen, but their interest tails off," she says. "More girls are taking GCSE than boys and we need to find ways of motivating and inspiring boys a bit more."
Among the techniques she tried this year is one which gave her students the choice of presenting their homework in class using PowerPoint.
"I gave Year 8 and 9 classes a bit more choice with their homework. They could do a PowerPoint presentation instead of writing, then they could present it to the rest of the class.
"Boys loved doing it, they seemed to have spent hours doing their homework.
Presenting it to the class made them look more carefully at what they were doing - their pronunciation, spelling and grammar. Recently, a pupil gave a presentation on Lyons, talking about where it was situated, its roads and rivers. The class found it a nice change from listening to me."