Following the success of MFL Devon's Teachmeet in June, Caroline Grant from Eggbuckland, Kelda Richards from ISCA and I have been desperately trying to finalise details for exciting language events down here in Devon for the term ahead.
The feedback we received on the night told us 2 main things- to focus events on Thursday evenings and that teachers are craving a huge range of additional input.
1) TM MFL Exeter- Thursday, 3rd October, 5.00-7.30, ISCA Media College, Exeter- sign up here!
2) A rapid-fire CPD evening, 4 x 30 minute sessions, with speakers to be confirmed soon. If you would like to influence the choice of topics, or to present get in touch!- Thursday 7th November, 5.00 - 7.30, Eggbuckland Community College, Plymouth. To attend, please add your name to the sign-up list here. We will confirm speakers by the week after the Teachmeet at the latest.
If there are other events that you'd like to see being developed, please feel free to get in touch. For example, if the thought of a return to the days of having a Devon MFL conference in June / July sounds interesting, yell- it will take a lot of organising but could be fantastic!
The last few weeks have been really inspiring ones for me. I've already blogged about how uplifting I found the #MFLDevon Teachmeet down in Plymouth last Thursday. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to learn, something that you don't get to do all that often when you're sat writing materials or editing projects. I enjoyed being able to share ideas with people, and discussing how to improve what people are doing.
On Saturday I was also delighted to spend the day working with the newly appointed team of Route 39 Academy and Chris Wakefield from High tech High in San Diego- one of the world's most innovative and inspirational schools and, in Chris, a truly inspirational individual. A day spent discussing the logistics and pedagogy behind Project Based Learning, building on the must-read concepts developed by Ron Berger (honestly, please, please read his Ethic of Excellence, even if you have no interest in PBL), really got me thinking again about the nature of outstanding work and developing our students for "the real world" rather than just developing them for grades- a concept theat I am passionate about. The ideas that were being developed by the team were truly outstanding and I'm really excited to be involved in a very dynamic, modern and different approach to learning and education in the area.
Which got me thinking about how I'm spending my time at the moment and my own approaches to language teaching. Those of you who have worked and discussed language learning with me over the years know that one of the things that excites me most is redeveloping existing Schemes of Work and ensuring that both the content and delivery are right- that the content stimulates passion, understanding of the world and a deep desire to discuss and know more and that the delivery methods develop independence, creativity and a high level of linguistic skills. What we need to avoid is developing learners who expect the teacher to do the work- leaving staff members exhausted at the end of the day and learners without the capacity to think on their feet, either with language or with logic! Which is why I'm excited at the moment. Lots of departments are looking again at the way they do things- we're all in a process of change. If you are in that position and fancy a learning chat at any point, give me a yell, and hopefully during the course of the months ahead I'll be able to blog a bit about some of the changes taking place in schools I'm working with and reflections on our experiments and experiences!
I do sometimes wonder. I blogged about FLAME earlier on today, and have just had my first chance in a while to flick through my Feedly feed of other blogs that I enjoy reading. As always, Alan Parkinson (@geoblogs) leaves me marvelling at some of the fantastic, thought-provoking materials being developed and made available to Geography teachers. From map-overlays to Mission Explore fun to examining Facebook check-ins, Alan has an amazing ability to bring our wider world to life, as do many Geography teachers that I've been fortunate to come into contact with over the years. How often do we do that as language teachers? Flicking through a lot of our MFL blogs, written by great teachers, it struck me how often we carry on teaching the same things which have, well, always been taught. Maybe with slight tweaks in the delivery of the content, but nevertheless the same content. Healthy living. School. Local area. You know the rest. Are we really pushing our students enough? When they get to deal with fascinating topic material, substance that really affects how our world works, is it a wonder why in many cases they don't choose languages for post-16- the time when our exam boards finally expect us to be analysing the wider world? In MFL I know teachers create fascinating lesson content at this stage- bye ek, I've said many a time before how much I imagine I'd have learned in, for example, Neil Jones' classroom- the man creates fascinating resources, such as this one. So why can't we, and publishers, and exam boards, and everyone involved, think again about WHAT we are teaching lower down the scale, not just HOW we are teaching it?
Over the last few years I've always enjoyed providing the finale for the Exeter PGCE course. However, the feedback was that groups would have liked the session earlier in the year and that they just want ideas, ideas, ideas.
So this year I ran a session earlier in the year (this afternoon) and crammed it with ideas. So, apologies to anyone who's brain hurt by the end of it, or whose yawns were starting to get painful! However, I hope it helped.
If, as many of you indicated, you were keen to get on to twitter, start off by signing up and writing a bio piece EXPLAINING THAT YOU ARE AN MFL TEACHER. Important, that bit, because none of us want to interact with the banana eaters on twitter. Then get following the people on the list at http://tweepml.org/joedale/MFL-Twitterers . It's also worth downloading a free programme, TweetDeck, which makes it all make a lot more sense.
Howdy all, apologies yet again for such a long break between blogging- I've been busy (haven't we all!).
One of the things that forever bugs me in MFL teachging is that the teacher invariably puts themself right at the heart of everything that happens. We impart all knowledge. In most other subjects learners are challenged to work out problems, to plan how to overcome issues and how to address the task in front of them. And yet in MFL we tend to tell our learners all new material and we then spend the rest of the lesson and any homework practising that new material. The traditional learning sequence of starter, intro, games, listening, speaking, reading then writing leads to a gradual transition during the course of the lesson towards learner "autonomy". I'm not sure that's enough.
I want my learners to be able to work things out, to use their skills as they would have to in the Target Language country when I'm not there. I also want to be able to circulate, to assess how groups and individuals are getting on, to be able to correct misconceptions and to individualise my approach for each learner. I do not want to be at the front asking for repetition- after all, if we've taught phonics then there's no real need for that anyway. Although year 7s might respond well to it, by the time their weekly diet of passive repetition has got them through to year 9 the same enthusiasm and willingness to buy-in to the approach is no longer there.
Which is why a while ago I begged my followers on twitter to help. I felt stale. I was out of ideas. And I wanted to learn from the great teaching out there. And this is now an appeal that I put out to you. Please contribute to, and learn from, a collaborative Google Doc of ideas of how to introduce new language and structures WITHOUT standing at the front. So please please click here and getting adding your ideas! And have a read- we all know how uplifting it is to find new ideas which work and are effective, especially in these dark November days!
Following an indepth exam board presentation by Hilary Quigg of AQA I was asked by Languages South East to give a few ideas to help teachers on the Isle of Wight to prepare their students for the Controlled Assessments. My main message was "Don't Panic"- good teaching remains good teaching no matter what the end exam, as long as we base it on sound pedagogy. Although in my eyes there are huge issues with the current exam set-up, there are potential gains if we can get our learners to a point where they have a base armoury of language that we can build on in every stage 1 before we build up to a controlled assessment. With plenty of games, opportunities to argue and practise language in a meaningful way we can jump through those hoops that are in front of us. If any of the games don't make sense just from the slides, feel free to leave a comment below and I'll explain them further.
At the moment I'm spending a lot of time investigating ways to add extra... depth to the traditional topics. At Key Stage 4 I'm often told by learners that they feel like they're simply rehashing what they did a few years earlier- hardly what I'd call progression. From my point of view we're not going to persuade our students that learning a language, and continuing to learn a language into post-16 and beyond, is really going to take them anywhere in life if they're constantly learning about more complex ideas in other subjects.
So when I saw a tweet from @unicef_es just now my interest was very much piqued. They've created a Facebook app to support fundraising for a school construction project in Zambia (form more details and to access the app see here). The idea is that users can play around with the interactive school buildings and think about what they see as being important in a school. Is it the teacher's desk that's important? The training that the teacher's had? The kit in the kitchen, the sporting equipment? What is it that makes a school... a school? Users can then "donate" those items which will be put in place when the school is built for real.
I think this could be a really interesting way to get learners reflecting on items in a school, what their ideal schools would be like, comparing different items, even reflecting on what makes a good teacher. I'm hoping that Unicef will keep updating their information on the project as if they do it could be a really rich source of information for teachers. After all, when studying about school we don't just have to look at our own.