39 language teachers all together, buzzing, sharing ideas and reinvigorating each other. On a wet, dark Thursday evening. Absolutely blinking amazing. Sorry, I should say 38 language teachers and a senior manager coming to see what all the noise he'd been hearing was actually about!
We'd decided upon 4 topics for 30 minutes of discussion as a result of the suggestions given by teachers attending previous events. And so it was that engaging boys, effective ideas for Controlled Assessments, using technology effectively and differentiation were decided upon. Not the easiest things to discuss as all of them are at the very core of what language teachers are constantly trying to develop.
I have to say that I found writing a presentation on engaging boys and trying to encourage spontaneity both incredibly frustrating and incredibly thought-provoking in equal measures- especially as I was desperately trying to fight off generalisations and presumptions even whilst talking about generalised issues. I think I failed on that one, but hey ho. I also fear that a large number of the slides deal with very basic ideas which we all do automatically- sorry for teaching great teachers to suck eggs, it was most definitely not my intention. I'd love your additional thoughts on engaging boys, please please get in touch.
Before you even think about looking through the presentation below, please read the fantastic blog post on the subject by Jo Quatsch- a lovely person and a great teacher.
Last Friday I was privileged to work with MFL teachers from across Plymouth on a subject that is very close to my heart. Those of you who have ever had the misfortune of chatting to me or attending any of my sessions will know that I think that we generally undersell ourselves in the MFL community.
How engaged would you be in discussing something which you already know about? My most pertinent anecdote deals with my first week of university (after another birthday this week that feels like a long, long time ago!). In my first small group Spanish session we were asked to introduce ourselves to the person sat next to us. We duly chatted and discovered that my new friend Nats and I came from only a few miles down the road from each other- in fact, our shared attitude to life has now lead us to still be good friends many years later. But when we walked down the corridor to our first small group French class we naturally sat next to each other. When we were told to introduce ourselves to each other again we pretty much sat in silence. Not because of any linguistic issues but simply because it felt like now we had nothing to talk about- any words we uttered felt pointless. I fear that's often the case in many MFL classrooms. So much of our teaching time is spent focusing on words and constructions to describe subjects that our students already know about- the "old school" subjects like house and home, healthy living, local area. Subjects that get dealt with at KS2 in many cases, then again at KS3 and are finally flogged to death at KS3. I know that I've always struggled to vary the content and approaches hugely between the revisitings when I've been expected to deal with them in their traditional forms. If we are to encourage engagement we need, need, need to engage our students with the content that we are dealing with- demonstrating the intercultural elements that undoubtedly grabbed all of us language teachers when we were first learning the language. When we've done that we need to actually give them the tools to get their hands dirty with the content. Language of discussion, of debate, of disagreement, of approval.
The session also looks at a few ways to build the profile of MFL departments, following 2 strands. The first is my old drum of providing audience through blogs, podcasts, Twitter feeds and even guerrilla QR codes around the school / community. The second is something that in my current freelance role is occupying far more of my time, and which I'm incredibly passionate about- developing projects to motivate students and demonstrate how language really can be used creatively for a real world purpose. If any of the bullet points make sense and you'd like to know any more then please, please get in touch. Equally, if you've got your own ideas washing around in there, I'd love to hear them and see if we can make them become reality!
after the immense success of the last #MFLDevon event in Exeter at the start of October, it's time to shift back down to Plymouth. Having run 2 MFL Teachmeets in the area we felt teachers might appreciate a slightly calmer approach this time round. So, having taken comments from delegates during the last 2 events, Caroline Grant and I have put together an evening on Thursday 7th November at Eggbuckland Community College, Plymouth of 4 x 30 minute sessions with topics to hopefully stimulate and help. Most importantly, tickets are free. And available from http://bit.ly/PlymouthNov13 . This probably won't be such a big event as the previous 2, but absolutely the more the merrier- as part of the success of the evening won't just be down to the presentations themselves but the interactions and follow-up discussions which will hopefully allow everyone present to go away with plenty of practical ideas to implement.
OK, the course of the evening...
5pm- arrive and drink tea / wine. And hopefully munch on a few biscuits.
5.15- presentation 1: me (darn it, was hoping not to this time!). Approaches to help develop spontaneity, but leaning towards focusing on getting boys involved and active
5.45- presentation 2: Sophie Nicholson (South Dartmoor Community College)- ideas for improving the conduct of Controlled Assessments
6.15- break to refill glasses / mugs / biscuit supplies
6.25- presentation 3: Ben Rowe (Saltash.net)- embedding technology and not just for the sake of it
7.00- presentation 4: Caroline Grant (Eggbuckland Community College)- differentiation that works for everyone
If you can't make it on the evening but would like to follow along online then please feel free to. We'll be using the Twitter hashtag #MFLDevon again. The more interactions the richer the evening will be for one and all.
Finally, a big thank you yet again to Vocab Express for helping to make this event a reality!
This post comes with a huge thank you to Sian Carter and Sally Wheeler for what is, in effect, a very simple idea that they shared in the Genius Bar section of yesterday's Teaching and Learning Takeover at Southampton University. The thing is, as we all know, it's the simple ideas that are often the hardest to come up with yet have the biggest impact.
The idea goes a little bit like this. Use ribbons. Not my natural habitat, but sounds fun. At this point it must be mentioned that the reason I went over to their table initially was because of the eye-catching impact of a huge pile of ribbons and loads of cards printed with their Twitter usernames and a QR code to a ppt in Dropbox- which you can access here.
The basic concept is that the ribbons can be used to visually demarcate areas. Be they for...
This is most definitely something that I'll try out with a school / class at some point soon. The movement rather than paper dimension for tasks that I do a lot of is something that I can really see lending itself well to many MFL classrooms.
So sally and Sian, thank you so, so much!
I'm not eloquent enough to fully do justice to yesterday's Teaching and Learning Takeover at Southampton University, so to be honest I'm not even really going to try. There will no doubt be many a detailed blog post by people who are far better positioned to adequately comment on and describe the array of fantastic ideas which were shared and pedagogy which was discussed. Any day where two of my favourite recent reads, Ron Berger's Ethic of Excellence and Hywel Roberts' Oops, receive prominent, and repeated mentions is a day that is bound to get my brain buzzing.
From the empassioned welcome to the day by Jamie Portman every person in the room was encouraged to share, discuss, propose and ponder, to move ideas from one person's brain to lots of people's classrooms, to develop and to inspire. But also, as has happened within our language sphere with the Ililc movemenet, to spread the word, draw people in and really have a lasting impact rather than just having one good day which then evaporates.
My 3 favourite ideas to take away
One other thing that I will really take away from yesterday was how many linguists were there. The English community undoubtedly predominated, with the scientists probably not too far behind (nice to see Devon strongly represented by Karen). But to have 7 MFL teachers in the room was a really pleasant surprise, and sparked some really intriguing conversations to take forward...
Last things last but they should've been first- a huge thank you to my good buddy Dave Fawcett and to Jen Ludgate who it was really lovely to meet. It was a huge undertaking and boy you both did it well!
I'm a very proud individual this evening. Today has been languages in action. Not high-flying linguists, but 11 teams of 6 x year 9 students. Not your A* kind of student, either, but the kind of student who would consider themselves, on the whole, to be fairly low-achieving. Lots of future D-C borderline cases.
But today they were linguists. And boy did they feel proud when they completed their 2 challenges!
OK, a bit of background so you can understand my exhausted whitterings...
The event was run at the real St James' Park- Exeter City FC's football ground. Each team was provided with 2 iPads to work on, loaded with apps and photos from around the city.
They were then given the following briefing:
Students were spoken to about HOW to construct a brief presentation and then how to deliver it, really focusing on strategies that we wanted them to be able to take forward into their GCSE studies and preparation for the dreaded Controlled Assessments. Well, this event, on the whole, was designed to show them that languages can be dynamic and creative, as well as being truly real world. How much more real world can you get- the day included an opening video from a close friend of mine, Dave Stowell, a commentator for MUTV, on why learn a language. Gotta love him- and the teams sure did! (see my other post this evening about the wonder that is Mr Stowell). We also had a camera pop in from ITV (off to watch us on the Westcountry news in a mo!), again reinorcing the message that what they were doing was innovative and, more pressingly, really quite important.
It proved fascinating watchign the teams generally faff for the first hour or so of their 3 hour preparation window. They strolled around the stands, ate crisps and didn't really work that efficiently. On the whole, anyway, I won't generalise TOO much. For the last hour boy oh boy did they graft. And with the help of a basic vocab support mat they generally came up with some really good efforts for their knowledge levels.
We gave a prize today to the team (St Peter's in Exeter) who proved the most persuasive this afternoon. But the main prize will not be awarded for another week...
The students have 1 week, until 12 midday next Wednesday (2nd October) to drive as much traffic as possible to their own videos on the blog www.europeandayoflanguages2013.wordpress.com. So please, please get behind them- the more views they achieve the more impact the project will have on their future motivation, demonstrating to them that languages really can have a purpose in their lives!
The teams also completed a pre-challenge and post-challenge Google Form to gauge attitudes towards languages. If I come up with any interesting stats from that when I manage to analyse them in the morning then I will of course share them with you!
Boy oh boy what a fantastic day we had- it not only left me buzzing, but I had students come up to me from all over the room at the end of the day to thank me for an amazing experience- powerful words that made the work on the day and prior most definitely worthwhile. Today was a day that some of those kids will remember for a long, long time, and I sure am proud to have been part of it.
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?
Just a thought...