The MPP Goes Digital
Between March and June 2020, the Multilingual Performance Project team and I have been busily working from our homes to create new digital experiences and resources for teachers looking to introduce some creativity to their language teaching and school life.
Firstly, after workshops that were planned to take place in Newcastle and London in April couldn’t go ahead, they were moved online. Now that they weren’t tied to geographic limits the MPP was able to reach more and more teachers. Workshops kept being filled up, so more were scheduled. In the end, the team led 8 workshops with 135 teachers signing up from all over the UK and as far afield as Sri Lanka, Germany, Spain and the USA.
The host of one of these online MPP workshops was Catriona Kyle, Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for MFL at Channing School in Highgate. She wrote an account of her MPP experience and how it linked to the Adelante Strategy, her whole-school programme which makes proficiency in Spanish and an appreciation of the Hispanic cultures a feature of her school’s education:
‘Adelante’ derives from the Spanish verb ‘adelantar’ meaning ‘to go forward, to advance, to accelerate’ and provides our pupils with a blueprint for their linguistic journey. Over the past few years we have invested time, resources and much thought into the Strategy, in a bid to enrich the academic, extracurricular and cultural experience of our pupils and to make Adelante a key part of Channing’s offer.*
It was with this in mind that Channing also recently collaborated with Creative Multilingualism on a virtual cluster meeting for Channing MFL teachers and practitioners from elsewhere. Delivering a ‘remote’ drama workshop can be no mean feat; faces on ever-glitching screens, reduced physicality and a theatrical space confined to a kitchen table, but Coronavirus has necessitated a creative response from us all, and with a willingness to embrace a heady combination of Zoom technology and unselfconscious silliness, languages teachers are better placed than most to adapt to the new reality of virtual learning.
So it was that the MPP’s Daniel and Holly steered us through an hour-long drama-thon. First was ‘Buzzy Bees’, a game designed to get pupils using the classroom space and practising vocabulary, then ‘Illnesses and Injuries’, an activity less traumatic than it sounds but one which will appeal to pupils’ comic sense of the physical and sometimes gory. We moved seamlessly on to ‘What Are You Doing?’, a great way to practise verbs and one which could very easily be differentiated so that more able learners give the whole verb paradigm, or conjugate the verb in multiple tenses. All the activities focused on oral practice, spontaneous use of language and engagement, but could easily be adapted to mini whiteboards as writing tasks if space were more limited, or indeed for remote learning. Elements could also be used to create a short drama piece or perhaps even to enhance a full multilingual drama production. The emphasis is very much on bringing language to life and the workshop certainly provided a welcome distraction from the all too frequent concern with levels, targets and grades that inevitably comes with the pressure of public examinations and league tables.
As you probably know, Creative Multilingualism came into being as a response to the crisis that has eroded modern foreign languages in this country for many years now, in order to provide language teachers with that which they crave: activities that promote free expression and language-based joy such as we experienced in our workshop. Thank you to Daniel and to Holly for their time, ideas and enthusiasm. May we all be inspired to inject a little more creativity into our classrooms, be those bricks and mortar or virtual.
Secondly, as well as delivering the 8 online workshops the MPP team have created 3 new resource packs to supplement the original ‘Getting Involved’ pack. They are: ‘Staying Involved’ which has even more drama and creative exercises for teacher to use and adapt in their classrooms; ‘MFL in Primary’ for those teachers – especially non-linguists – who are looking to start integrating MFL in their schools (there’s also a new short film exploring some of these introductory ideas for primary teachers); and ‘Celebrating Community Languages in Schools’ with ideas for teachers at any level to highlight, and get creative with, the home and native languages of their multilingual students.
Thirdly and finally, some of the teachers attending the online workshops were keen to start using creative MFL activities before they’re able to be back in the classroom with their students during lockdown, and then in the future when teaching online. So the MPP team spent some time working on ideas for their digital sessions. As ever, we describe the activity in English (see below) for teachers to then adapt them to any taught (or community) language. Crucially, some teachers pointed out that they could only have students on audio calls and not video, so all of these initial ideas can be done with just audio/voices:
- WARM UPS:
- Counting Together – with one person saying one number at a time the group must reach 10 or 15 or 20, without knowing who’s going next. If two people speak together you go back to zero.
- 2 Truths, 1 Lie – everyone tells the group 3 facts about themselves, 2 true and 1 false. Everyone else has to guess the odd one out.
- Shopping List – the first person names something they want from the shop that begins with A, the second person repeats the A-word and then adds something beginning with B, third person – A, B and then new shopping item beginning with C. Keep going round the whole group until someone has remembered all 26 items of the alphabet.
- GUESSING GAMES 1 - PLAYING WITH SOUND:
- The teacher and students take it in turn to make or play sounds into their microphone or through their computer. They ask the rest of the group: ‘what can you hear?’, ‘where am I?’
- A ‘guess the lyric’ game where certain words in foreign language songs are muted and students have to guess the best match.
- GUESSING GAMES 2 - 20 QUESTIONS: The classic game can be played with the objective of the group finding out WHO a famous person is that one student has chosen or WHAT something is (like animal, mineral, vegetable).
- IMAGE WORK: Although you can’t see each other, students can share images they have found on the internet or taken themselves for various uses, like answering questions about the weather, their week, their future aspirations or answering a quiz in the target language in which the teacher says a word like ‘Frog’ and they must find a picture or clipart of what they think is right.
- SCRIPT WORK:
- Either as a whole group or using break-out rooms on online platforms, students can explore existing texts together by reading out scenes as if they’re radio plays or even set about writing scenes or a whole play together.
- Another scripting activity could be students working independently or in pairs to write radio news reports for famous moments in history to perform back to the group (and thinking especially of different tones, accents and modes of speaking depending on the era, location and so on).
- CHARACTER WORK: This could build on both the ‘Who?’ version of 20 Questions and/or focus on characters from the script work above – students take on specific roles and answer questions in character in a digital hot-seating session.
* Further details about Adelante can be found in The Linguist Magazine (pages 16-17). As well as with Creative Multilingualism, Channing School have also sought to support and collaborate with schools and organisations whose missions are aligned with our own, Latin American House, the Cervantes Theatre and Vicente Cañada Blanch Spanish School to name but a few.