Sunday, 24 October 2010

HoD Conference Somerset 2010

It was a treat to hear two excellent speakers in Steven Fawkes and Greg Horton at our annual get-together in Bridgewater.

Creativity is a great theme for Steven and he is an amusing and warm-hearted speaker. I felt he said we can do more with less - use little ideas to inspire kids to talk - use lots of mimicry, read numbers like football results, use gesture to reinforce meaning, get kids to talk through pictures and make up stories with simple 10 second sketches as prompts. Much fun was had with colleagues trying out Steven's ideas together. I was only sorry that the wifi was not good at this new centre and Steven was not able to use the One Semester of Spanish Love song which he wanted to show. I will post more ideas when my copy of ppts comes through!

I had heard Greg Horton's name mentioned frequently of late and was therefore looking forward to seeing this innovative winner of the European Language Award.

Group Talk is the title given to the package of ideas which Greg and the team at Wildern School Southampton have used to promote spontaneous talking in their classes.He was keen for us to realise that it doesn't cost more or give you more to do!!What a relief!

Greg outlined the reasons he had started to try to get more speaking to happen in his classes
- Gender gap
- Low numbers opting
- need to get more speaking done by kids
- Transactional tasks are be too boring and rigid.

Greg has been promoting chatting and comparing i.e. authentic discussion about things that interest the pupils. He was keen for us to consider teaching much more language of "conjecture"

Here is what Greg says it involves
• Only target language
• Interaction between a small group of pupils
• Opinion, conjecture and debate
• Language is colloquial du bist die Extrawurst – you’re the odd one out!!
• Fett – it’s cool,sick, wicked!
• Hear, process, respond
• Encourage kids to be themselves

Teach them the language they need for the above
"perhaps, I think, about, that’s rubbish, you’re joking
Think, suppose, estimate, consider, wonder
in short, give them the tools to be able to say what they want to about topics that interest them. It makes perfect sense and Somerset HoDs were inspired.

The Stages of GROUP TALK

1. Exchanging and responding to simple opinions
2. Taking part in a short discussion
3. Exchanging reasons and preferences – talking across time frames
4. Developing a line of thought, balancing an argument, sharing points of view.

Greg's team have had tremendous success with the Project - massive increase in oral exam marks - and we have started to work out how to implement the Group Talk ideas at our school. I would recommend the teachers tv clip about Greg's work at Wildern School as a really good starting point.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

CPD in Critical Times

I have been very busy thinking hard about how to put together my first presentation for our Head of MFL conference here in rural SW England. It's sort of - flattered to be asked, scared to be doing it!! I've warmed to my theme and here is my presentation - I really have learned so much over the last two years about ways of keeping up with latest technology and using Web2 tools for teaching. I am also a very convinced Twitter user and love Google reader.
I have given useful links on last page of presentation and hope that any one from our conference who finds their way here, will find the ppt useful, practical and not too geeky. Many thanks to Twitter friends and FM friends for assistance and my 2 delightful sons, who are a constant source of patient advice for me and a fount of knowledge.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Here we go again!

Maybe I will manage better this year - as a Head of Department, I constantly go over what else we can do, should do, could manage to do, to improve learning and teaching - that's my job along with all the other admin bits and pieces which often hold me back from focusing properly on that teaching and learning. Heads of Dept will know exactly what I mean.
Followed a great thread on TES forum about time management and people's ideas about how to manage better. I even took the time to make a list. I am particularly liking the use of an old kitchen timer for 25 minute bursts, with a 5 min gap to do whatever you like in, before resetting the timer if you need to. I can cope with 25 mins but not the thought of 11/2 hours of marking at one go. The system fools me into sensible chunking. So far, so good.

I might manage better this year too as I have some very major things behind me - the OF**** word, - they hit in May - we did well. I did my Leading from the Middle course last year too. It was pretty good, I am quite reflective already, so it maybe wasn't as revealing to me as to some others, but time spent with other Middle Leaders was very enjoyable - glad to see this kind of support is now available (but it may disappear??) Read Alex Blagona's interesting post on his experience of Leadership attempts!

One of our lovely successes last year too was a big joint project with our Partner primary schools. We all did story-telling - can you guess our story?!- and drama and then our year 7s went to visit a Primary school with an MFL teacher - result is that we all performed what work we were each doing, all our team got a chance to go to a Primary school and our Year 7s loved going back to yr 6. What is more, all the teachers are still friends and we understand what we are all doing or trying to do. I call that a result! In the face of so much change at Secondary level, the project with our Primaries was great fun, even if someone reversed the school minibus into a police van on the day of a visit... ooops! No injuries - phew!

So I look forward to a productive but slightly less hectic year and trying to keep my sanity will be a priority!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Teaching English Grammar to English kids!

The title says it all - we need to teach grammar explicitly, it doesn't just happen; Englishpupils know less grammar than many other European pupils and at Secondary level, we pay a price for having a mother tongue which doesn't have Romance language verb endings. We do have complexities of our own - pronunciation and English phrasal verbs for example - but not verb endings and they still have no real grasp of what a verb is quite often. What can we do?
Well, Charlie Berney - teacher of MFL in Wales, member of ALL West of England committee and frequent, talented speaker in our area - led a good session on her recent attempts to be cross-curricular with a difference. Her main difference is that she goes to the SUBJECT and delivers the content in THEIR lesson and Charlie generously provided us with her CD of materials for an English grammar sequence of lessons, dance, cooking and  Geography.
Most interesting was the fact the her English colleague stayed in Charlie's "What is grammar?" lesson in the English department and was devastated to see the reality that we face often - kids do not appear to know what a verb, noun, adjective, pronoun etc actually are, despite the fact that they have been met in Primary school. Surely this trend is only going to get worse as the Literacy hour disappears again??. Interestingly, when Charlie asked the class to tell her what some grammar terms were going to be in English, they came up with spelling and punctuation rules - "i before e, except after c etc."
Charlie kindly allowed us to use all her grammar booklet and powerpoint from our March conference and I am finding it immensely useful now and plan to use it extensively at the beginning of the academic year. I want to see children who are not afraid of the term "verb", never mind - er verbs and "terminaisons" !

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Year 9 comes up trumps!

After the lessons we did recently on Apollinaire's shape poems - "calligrammes "- I set my lovely Year 9 class the homework of coming up with their own poems - a re-working of Apollinaire's poem Automne (which some of them managed very well) or making a calligram of their choice.

Here are a few of the results on my classroom wall. We used two lessons, we read the Automne poem and analysed it, then discussed how they could adapt it easily to another theme and then we went on to look at more Apollinaire calligammes, particularly the Eiffel Tower shaped poem, which is a rallying cry against the
Nazi invasion of Paris. 
One pupil changed it into a celebration of Paris as the capital of l'amour!

Their homework was to come up with a new poem and/or a calligramme. 
Results were mixed the following week, so I set the classroom out in groups and they took their work and compared it with each others' offerings and decided on improvements - AfL boxed ticked!! 

Katie G did a wonderful figure of Michael Jackson and turned it into a tribute to the singer.

You can see the ideas she included here. Not all of her classmates agreed with her choice but her tribute is obviously heart-felt.

Many other pupils loved the sun shape as it lends itself to short phrases and circular repeating images. Flowers were popular also, with a few very imaginative landscapes. Quality of French improved from one week to the next and pupils happily put their work up in my room.  This class has only one lesson of French per week , as the other one is German - the only way we can get them enough exposure to a couple of languages in no extra time. So WELL DONE 9a1!!

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Sunday, 16 May 2010

MFL Show and Tell at Nottingham High School, Sat 10 July

Last year I went to my first event of this kind and had a really profitable time.  Come to Nottingham if you can - Jose is a great host, the company is fab and the learning you can do in one day is second to none. It is tempting to feel that you may be overwhelmed  and feel you will be unable to say anything - all I can do is encourage you, by saying I had a very warm welcome last year, there are people of every level of experience there and we all learn from each other. Many teachers are real techie experts, presentation experts, Primary experts - all with an open, sharing, friendly presence - here is the link to Jose's site MFL Show and Tell at Nottingham High School   Others are novices and need to go over ground which is familiar to many - don't worry, you are so rewarded for taking the plunge and coming along, regardless of expertise or lack of it. Extremely relevant, up to date, on the ball, challenging, well-tailored and grounded CPD - what more could you want?! See you there.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Controlled Assessment for GCSE

A recent Linksintolanguages meeting brought over 50 concerned teachers out to a meeting at Norton Hill school near Bath to discuss all aspects of the new GCSE controlled assessments. Gosh, we are a worried bunch and real attempts at assessments are not lessening our worries.

Peter Spain MFL Advisor for BANES  spoke in the Plenary and then we broke into Exam board groups.
Discussions covered the how, when, how long and wherefores of the process we deal with now.  We are all struggling with the design of Assessment topics, although I feel we are doing it well. The main angst is caused by the slightly bizarre rulings on management of preparation time - those of you in the middle of Year 10 assessments will know exactly what I mean. Teachers don't like to be rendered incompetent by so much change!

Peter and the team at Norton Hill very kindly put his and other presentations on the BANES wiki - here is the link

The only road to comfort if you are picking up a new class in September is to make sure you understand the importance of teaching the class to build up a bank of useful material as they go along including good paragraphs which you have marked for them. They need to know that everything you cover is important for them but without you betraying what the eventual assessment task will be - "prepare yourself for something you don't know about yet "   - it feels very odd but it's the only way to do it.
Our stronger pupils will cope as they always do but I feel that the new GCSE will make life on the C/D borderline very much harder and lower ability pupils are not coping at all. Do you agree?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Inspiring work - calligrammes

Last month my friend Marie France Perkins sent a tweet out about the lovely work done by her pupils on the 1st World War - if you don't use Twitter then you may be missing some of the amazing sharing that takes place on a regular basis. Marie France runs her blog called Sans problèmes for promoting French and show-casing her pupils' work. In March she posted some fabulous calligrams - picture poems in the style of Apollinaire - and a terrific link for a french site showing Art from the WW1 trenches - very moving stuff and MF's pupils have produced some great work - thanks for sharing with us. It has reminded me of this lovely way of recycling vocabulary - word pictures for all sorts of lexical areas.
I like the site for English teachers too for writing shape poems - there is a lot that we can adapt very quickly for MFL. This week I have challenged my Year 9s to make their own calligrammes in the style of Apollinaire or to substitute their own ideas into his poem Automne - I'll post the results when I mark their work with any luck!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

ALL West of England Branch conference Saturday 6 March 2010

Teachers are real gluttons for punishment, tipping out on a Saturday morning for CPD, but it was a great morning and lovely to see new faces and stalwart ALL committee members still carrying the flag for MFL.

Key Note address was given by Wendy Adeniji, consultant, teacher, "Regional Co-ordinator for dissemination of the New Modern languages Secondary Curriculum," general MFL mover and shaker.
Wendy knows the importance of being a realist and that was a most welcome introduction to the day. Any speaker tackling the renewed KS3 Framework has to be brave enough to take on the grumpy and over-worked like me and I enjoyed Wendy's Keynote speech very much.

Wendy focused on effective KS2-3 transition, aiming to provide coherence and progression, all with a dash of her key theme - "Teaching the usual in an unusual way " - the strap line from one of her websites, link here.

Main points of the new Framework were most helpfully summarised for us and we came away with simple ideas to integrate into SOWs straightaway and some publicity for ilanguages' really good SOW for the whole of Yr7 - I have sent for one of Wendy's sample CDs to try out a few lessons.

Wendy gave us a quick review of her take on covering new KS3 Framework in unusual ways.

1. Using songs for Linguistic progression - teach the grammar for finding je forms from the infinitive - Wendy used Lorie, Abba for -er or ir verb endings and Henri Dès' Polysong for teaching sound/spelling link.
2. Lovely idea for Vokis - get the year 7s to record who they are but then add the twist of saying j'ai les cheveux bruns mais je voudrais les cheveux raides et blonds. - Neat.
3. Wednesday is Wendy's midweek challenge day - She showed us some superb work on Fairtrade ideas with yr7 using Ethletic Fairtrade footballs - take a look at website and Wendy and her co-writers have used the ethical idea to give Year 7 work on sports a novel tweek. Her material was superb.
4. As Thinking skills are so highly promoted in the renewed framework, Wendy reminded us of "Thinking through MFL" by Sheryl Mackay & Mei Lin and demonstrated some materials which test pupils ability to identify facts from opinions for example. Unit 11 of the renewed Framework was brought to our attention again - I really appreciate the push to engage with the material!
5. Using the web to flash up front covers of teen mags in French or German etc will test ability to read and decipher meaning fast. Try "Jeune et jolie" for French or "Mädchen" for German. Realia has never been so accessible.
6. Exploiting poems for reading and creative writing.
7. Intercultural Understanding is of course now a huge part of KS2 and KS3 work but if you lack the resources or inspiration, then look no further than Wendy's ready-made materials. Stunning use of pictures of families' food for discussion, comparison and sobering reflection - how much do they get to eat in Togo etc?? I also loved the use of Amadou and Mariam's hit "Quelle heure est-il à Bamako" and video clips about Fast foods in Senegal - all for Year 7!
8. KAL - Knowledge about Language. Wendy and her co-authors have put in a lot of language awareness materials at the start of their Yr7 SOW, some of it based on Latin for example and also on the 100 most important words in English, French, whatever - I was very impressed by the snippets she showed us and felt inspired to investigate further.

Altogether a great opening to a day of learning and I have been reading Wendy's sites since, gleaning ideas and materials for next year. Her stand-alone modules on Chocolate, Fairtrade, Art for example are going to be life-savers...

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

MYLO - looking forward

It was with some curiosity that I arrived at CILT in February, not knowing quite what was waiting for us at an initial meeting - still, imagine, what a treat! A whole day out in the big smoke to join other interested ICT-minded teachers to discuss a new project - cool!

You try to do your homework, don't you, but as a product still in development it had been quite hard to get a feel for MYLO in advance. I therefore found myself taken aback by the enormity of the project and really excited by the scale of the assistance that it appears will be on offer to us. As a recommendation of the Dearing review, there is no doubt that the MYLO team's intention is to provide exciting resources for instant appeal in the classroom. This package is being designed to give MFL teachers resources in 4 languages for use at Breakthrough and Preliminary level but with an really modern , relevant feel.
After some more background about the product we were given a chance to play with some of the "challenges" already on offer and then to inspect some further materials and to feed back our initial reactions.
You can read the description of the Challenges designed by the team here. It involves introduction, practice, input and then production but cunningly disguised in interesting scenarios, set in a context with cultural relevance for the language. The pupils are then ready for a challenge, where they will also be led through training materials, but will be able to compete against the computer or friends in a group or against another registered school!

I found it heartening to see the thoughtfulness and care taken by the two guys representing Lightbox Education - they were incredibly open to feedback and criticisms in a way which I think is rare to find.

I couldn't start to write in full about the scope of the project and others have already done it far better than me - see Isabelle Jones, Simon Howells and Chris Fuller for example. However, as a Head of Languages in a good comprehensive school, not a Languages College, I felt able to say whatever I liked to the designers and I felt we were listened to. It looks good - trendy materials, excellent writers, lovely ideas to allow pupils to compete against each other and other schools and I won't be sniffing at this quality of stuff being offered free to us as a result of the Dearing review. We need all the support we can get.

My only reservation - and I told them this - is that life at the whiteboard is now so complex, there is a real danger that the average teacher will sigh from overload, even when presented with superb free materials, because no-one can work out how to pay for or provide training time. We are desperate for time and peace and quiet (in my case) to get to grips with all the new stuff.

That being said, I am going to enjoy trialling the materials - we have only one slot in 3 different computer rooms once every few weeks for all our lower school classes - that is life in an ordinary comprehensive i.e. I will be able to give the MYLO site a very "normal" user try-out - nothing fancy, just the usual range of Year9s becoming more difficult to motivate at this time of year! But I am looking forward to giving it a go and will be writing about it again.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

BETT show 2010 for a beginner!

January saw much excitement in the MFL world as BETT show 2010 got under way in Olympia, London. Like many full time-teachers, I was reluctant to ask for too many days out - won't be allowed to go, hit too many exam classes etc - the usual problems - and yet it was frustrating as I noted all the tremendous talks, Teachmeets and seminars happening during school time.
I compromised and decided to make my way to Olympia for the first time on the Saturday to catch what i could catch. I had been warned - it's not for the faint-hearted, already-exhausted or vague! Was I glad of every scrap of preparation I had tried to do!! It's enormous, overwhelming and very intriguing, then you find yourself gradually getting into the atmosphere, heading purposefully from stand to seminar room in a flurry of enthusiastic activity, in order to feel that you have gained. Gained what? Sore feet? Certainly!
But I gained much - in 6 hours,I visited Taskmagic, 2Simple,TTS group, Harcourt/Heinemann publishers to see demos of new materials, saw a 3D demo,talked to Sanako, Coomber, European parliament, MYLO,various exam boards,Televic, E-twinning at the British Council stand, Eurotalk for some bargains in site licences, and met with some MFL twitterati for coffee.
However I also took in two presentations
1.Sheffield West City Learning Centre on blogging to Promote Reflective Learners
How they created effective blogs for pupils with all the work that it entails, how it works as a technique for enhancing interest in learning; main finding - teachers need to keep at the responses on the blog in order to keep the interest going. Without feedback, the blog dies...
2. The redoutable Helen Myers (Ashcombe School) on "How to make ICT work for you in Language Teaching" - a most thorough overview of every aspect of IT in MFL teaching today. I'll see if I could post a link to her handout - a phenomenal gathering of all useful websites, CD ROMs, applications, every imaginable use of IT in MFL. Great.

Overall I had a tremendous day but when reading others blog posts,I missed out big time through not being able to get to the Teachmeet gathering of MFL teachers on Friday evening. I agree with many comments on the difficulty of being an ordinary teacher with no mega budget to spend at BETT but still found it very useful and would love to be better organised next year and see more presentations on one school day perhaps. The more that can be done to maximise the sharing of expertise at the same time as presenting new enticing software or hardware, the better. I look forward to BETT 2011!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Getting started

To blog or not to blog, that is the question! So many bloggers, so many excellent blogs, such a growing field. But there is so much to think about and MFL has never known such pressure; I think there are language matters to discuss and language does matter and we need to keep representing the professionals in schools who regularly get in the classroom and do the hard graft.

I have had such a tremendous year and a half since I first went on Joe Dale's excellent Isle of Wight ICT training course. So many terrific practitioners gathered in Nodehill to learn and share together and I was blown away. Part of it is simply the fear of being left behind - let's be honest. I am in my final decade of teaching, I am a digital tourist, as they say but I am not going lightly into that dark age of retirement! The CPD which I have found for myself, largely through the terrific ICT-loving community of MFL teachers out there in the ether, has been invaluable and has given me a renewed passion for the job of teaching day to day.

I am worried by the time this blog may need, concerned by the "going public"- but I am equally scared of the responsibility that teachers in Britain are forced to carry for the apparent popularity (or lack of it)of their subject and if any of us can do something which will encourage others in our field, then I think we should go for it.

In this blog I'll aim to fill in the gap between those who are expert and those who like me , are just beginning and feeling their way in the digital realm. It IS a journey worth making - it's not even a question of age, is it? Teachers of all ages need to keep fresh, upgrade their skills and buy in a new range of tools to do the job better.

It's just that the IT tools are spectacularly engaging and I may try to illustrate some of them, ask others to help me out and point the way to interesting places if I possibly can.