Quite recently I was approached about writing short stories for German KS3 (I had applied for another project, but I was asked to work on this one). I was really excited about the project. I relished the challenge of writing materials in German (not something I’ve previously done) and being creative. I thought it would also do my German the power of good. I miss speaking it and am not using it as much as I’d like.
I was to write 7 short stories, with one based loosely on a fairy tale, and a poem based on the theme of crime, spies and detectives. I love a good spy/detective novel (my bookshelves at home are full of them (English and German!)), so I was more than happy with the topic. Straight away I scribbled down possible plot ideas, and, to my surprise a few lines of a possible poem. In quite a short space of time I had my preliminary ideas sketched out, so I started on the first short story. I wrote my first draft quite quickly and started revising the story, ensuring it was simple enough and was within the word limit. I also checked that the language used would be familiar to pupils (i.e. daily routine and hobby vocabulary) where I could, with some unfamiliar words (which would be possible to guess in context) to add a bit of challenge . I finally checked my German for accuracy: I was most worried about this, as I’ve not written in German for a long time. Once I was vaguely happy with the story itself, I added the pre- and post reading exercises.
I sent the first story off for review, with some trepidation: it was the first time I’d written for this publisher and my first German material. Having said that I was more than willing to take feedback, however harsh, as I see the project as a great chance for professional development and know I’m a novice in writing MFL materials. When I received the feedback I was genuinely very happy, it was mostly constructive and developmental. Some of the feedback I didn’t really agree with (i.e. introducing and translating all possibly unknown vocabulary before reading), but thought it’s what the publisher wants, so I’ll accept it. However, one comment I found very hard to deal with (and still struggle with). As part of my pre-reading activities I had included a prediction exercise which apparently “is not enhancing their knowledge of German or their understanding of the text”.
Ok, so all the research into prediction and how it helps to deal with unknown language (as readers can guess meaning through context), is not valid? All these EFL books that use prediction aren’t helping students’ language skills? I was, and still am, a little shocked that an educational publisher actually gave this feedback.
Since receiving this feedback my enthusiasm for the project has waned, pretty much to the extent of disappearing. I feel that I’m being asked to produce something very robotic, encouraging mechanical language use and over reliance on having vocabulary provided, and not something that would truly develop pupils’ language skills. The feedback has really negatively affected my attitude towards the project.
This experience has, again, highlighted the importance of good feedback, and not just ‘good’ in the sense of developmental and supportive, but also in terms of being aware of what’s happening in education and learning.