Last night really enthused me. It got me passionate, it got me smiling, it got me optimisitic. All very good things indeed.
Last night the inspirational Caroline Grant and I hosted an MFL Teachmeet at Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth and the response blew us away. Unfortunately a fair few people who had wanted to attend weren't able to in the end (where did all that June free time go to?!) but we still had 35 language teachers in one room, drinking wine, beer and large amounts of coffee, munching on cake and chatting language ideas, discussing pedagogy and thinking of new ways of doing things better.
But also (whisper it quietly) realising that they ARE doing interesting things in their own classroom. But equally reflecting on how they can do it better. And how they can help each other to do it better.
Part of me wants to write a separate post about my reactions to the evening, but I can't think of a suitable way to disentangle my thoughts, so I'll just describe and react at the same time. So there.
I speak to so many people down here in Devon and Cornwall who complain that to get training they have to pay to head up to Bristol or London, and that most of the courses are actually not all that good, yet are hugely expensive. That said, Network for Languages do great work at getting out into the region and offering courses, but obviously still have to operate on a very commercial front.
Which is why I passionately believe that the Association for Language Learning has such a big role to play. Last night we gave local teachers the chance to influence local training. What sessions do people want to happen? When? And the response, for me, was really powerful. The recurring theme was how rarely people are allowed out of schools to go to training events, yet the desire to improve and help their students more was overwhelming. If you're in Devon and would be interested to know more then please get in touch. And if you're in Cornwall or Somerset and the concept sounds interesting then, again, get in touch- I'm already in talks with a few people in those areas about spreading the message to those areas as well!
The presentations covered...
- Justin Sycamore, our kind sponsor, talked about using Vocab Express to aid learning new vocabulary, with pre-loaded text book vocab lists
- Pablo Britos from Eggbuckland discussed (unfortunately due to technical issues without being able to demonstrate) Mouse Mischief from Microsoft, a great free tool that he uses for AfL with his classes. I have to say I was gutted that we didn't get to see it in action because I've heard lots of good things about it over the years but never taken the plunge into using it. Next time...
- Jonathan Smith discussed using padlet.com (the successor to Wallwisher) as a great way to get students to leave online post-it notes, but also then developing the in-class activities to extend writing tasks beyond the classroom using each other's posts
- Alex Collingridge from Torquay Academy spoke about using memrise.com, another online vocab learning tool that I hadn't heard of previously but which he had been really impressed with.
- Caro Buttivant spoke about how she teachers primary languages whilst based in her secondary school in Somerset using Skype. The way she used the show screen functions, and also interacted with the primary teachers to enable them to build their confidence and lead the sessions in person, was really impressive- I really, really enjoyed it, thanks Caro!
- Jane Croft from Ridgeway was persuaded / forced to get up and share her amazing blog adventures. 4 years ago Jane came to one of my training days in Barnstaple and was convinced to create a blog. Since then she has garnered nearly 100,000 views on her stunning MFL blog where she shares songs, jokes, links and, for me most importantly, student work. Jane's message to the people in the room was that if you can attach something to an e-mail then you can blog, something I wholeheartedly agree with. If I can be of any help in getting started then just yell! Hearing Jane talk made me feel incredibly proud, she really does do amazing work (even though she denies it) and you could see eyes opening wide across the room when she was talking.
- Caroline Grant spoke about her amazing News Quiz network. For years Caroline has been producing amazing hyperlinked tasks for her year 12 groups based on that day's news. She has developed a network of schools that she works with to create a really impressive, sustainable rotation system whereby different teachers follow the same model to lighten the load on each other. I love it, I really do- and although I don't like using this argument, when Caroline stuck to her guns recently, Ofsted were really impressed at watching her class work on the tasks.
- Ben Rowe from saltash.net spoke about how he uses Twitter with his classes, using online tools and the SAP PowerPoint slides- again, I'll try to post his materials on here as soon as I can get them. I've used some of the slides myself before but never in a way as powerfully as Ben was talking about, really engaging his students in a real world manner. A big thank you also has to go to Ben for effectively being our Twitter webmaster for the evening. Thanks to him we really managed to get some buzz going around the hashtag #MFLDevon- thank you to all those people in the room and across the country and in Switzerland who contributed! It was great to see a few people realise that Twitter's not just about celeb-spotting!
- Chris Wakely presented about his "Hola Perú" KS2 / KS3 materials- a pared down equivalent to the fantastic Take Mali pack. Anything to encourage Intercultural understanding and stepping away from the traditional topics can only be a good thing in my eyes!
- Denise Broadbent from Devonport High School for Girls spoke about the Languages and careers day that we ran together in January. The students were incredibly motivated, running around the corridors to meet their deadlines, using a host of resources to craft their presentations and generally having a brilliant learning experience. [What really buoyed me as well is that when I popped in to the school yesterday morning a few of the girls recognised me as they passed in the corridor from "that cool language day"- that meant a lot to me!] To read more about the event feel free to read my post here.
- Jonathan Smith stepped up again to talk about the SKE+- government funded Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses to help improve your weaker language skills. Courses are of varying lengths to get you to various levels. An interesting one to explore.
- Gulp. I spoke about how to step away from the whiteboard, questioning the value of presenting 9 new nouns whilst stood at the board for 15 minutes. In the lessons I watch this is invariably where teachers face behavioural issues and where learning is minimal. Students may well learn some nouns, but what can they do with them? And how personalised can those 9 be? Also, I'd much rather my students were developing their linguistic awareness and skillsets, working out new language and then applying it, rather than just being told the language. I acknowledge that at primary and year 7 level a lot of groups really enjoy the choral elements, but after a while its impact dissipates, whilst watching an uncharismatic teacher trying to do repetition can be a tough experience. I discussed the Google Doc for people to share their ideas on at bit.ly/MFLintros and then spoke about a few of my favourites, including using dual language texts, running dictations, vocab mats, debates, highlight and deduce, self-constructed vocab lists and reading images.
However, I should probably apologise for going on a bit- I kept waiting for my 1 minute warning and it never came, whilst my old friend Carlos didn't ever threaten to fly across the room indicating the end of my time, so I kept talking. For 16 minutes. Sorry!
- Chris Wakely spoke again, this time about hisTake 10 French Phonics, demonstrating that we are often underestimating the phonic terminology knowledge of our students when they enter from their primary schools- a facet that we need to make more of in order to heighten their foreign language phonic knowledge (a point that goes really well with my presentation- when our students understand the phonics why do we need to tell them how a word sounds?!)
- Judith Grayston from Bodmin College spoke about her truly amazing series of Comenius projects. I love taking a global dimension in my classroom but boy oh boy, Judith is a true goddess at coming up with inspiring projects!
- John Connor finished off the evening for us in a way that only John could do with a... rousing rendition of his now infamous version of the children's classic "Oso marrón". That pinny really is a scary thing... A great, uplifting few minutes to send us off singing to ourselves!
Anyway, watch this space- we're hoping to be able to announce in the next few weeks at least 2 events for the Autumn term to take place in Exeter and Plymouth. Want to influence what happens? Get in touch!
A huge, huge thank you to everyone for really getting involved last night. Any feedback that you can give would be hugely appreciated!