I was delighted to be invited a few months ago to run a Gifted and Talented event for selected Key Stage 3 students in a local school, Chulmleigh Community College. All of the students learn only French and the Head of Department was keen to get them reflecting on HOW they learn and how they can begin to take more responsibility for their own learning, thus allowing them to become more independent moving forward.
And so we decided to teach them some Spanish. I needed very little persuasion with this, as those of you who know me won't be surprised to hear.
However, I also wanted to learn from the fantastic Alex Blagona, who I consider to be the King of Gifted and Talented, having run numerous sessions over the years in Suffolk to really stretch his learners. He advised that we just give students some language and allow them to mould it into something productive- he recommended to create a campaign on cyberbullying.
I took that concept and ran with it, but wanted to get students reflecting on the nature of how a language fits together and how you can take responsiblity for progressing your own knowledge base.
So we looked at...
language patterns, in particular standard suffixes
logic and deduction
reworking language into personalised sentences
risk taking and redrafting
All of which, in my eyes, help to make fantastic language learners.
Now, and I might be doing myself out of future gainful employment, but I've spoken up about sharing recently, so I'm going to stick to that. Please find the resources that I used below- I hope they help!
After Language World at the weekend I've had a few enquiries for more details about the European Day of Languages project that we've run for 2 out of the last 3 years down in Exeter. This year we would love the event to run in various hubs across England, all working on the same project to add further competition and motivation to students. So here are some details...
Aim of the day: To inspire, to have fun and to show that languages DO have a genuine purpose, all whilst allowing students to be creative with language. The only request is that teachers be as hands-off as possible!
Target group: Year 9 grade C / D borderline students. We have not yet confirmed whether we will stick just to French or allow a variety of languages this year. Teams work in groups of 6. Each team has 2 iPads. In order to avoid it becoming unmanageable we restricted the number of teams to 10 in Exeter this year.
Format of the day:
9am: welcome and brief to students. Please look through the slides below to see the brief. At this point students will complete an initial attitudes Google Doc form.
1pm students present their pitch in their teams. All videos must be completed and submitted before this deadline.
After the pitches the Google Doc of attitudes is repeated.
Prizes (small) will be awarded on the day for the best pitches (a balance of effort and quality) by the teachers in the room.
The overall first prize will be awarded to the team whose video receives the most views during the course of 7 days after the event- thus ensuring that students have to return to school and their community and publicise their work, thus really building the profile of the event.
a venue- if possible in a local football club to emphasise the real world elements of the project.
iPads- sufficient for 2 per team. Ideally provided by a coordinating school. We will provide all of the necessary materials through an iTunes U course (except photos of your local area which you will have to provide).
Ideally we need to try to keep costs at an absolute minimum- this is not run for profit but because it works. Unfortunately funds are needed (invariably) for venues and prizes, unless appropriate organisations come forward who are keen to sponsor!
If you are interested in getting involved please contact me on Chrisfullerinspain@hotmail.com or @chrisfullerisms or my co-organiser Kelda Richards on @elkel99
I've been contacted by a company in the USA who are looking to expand into the UK, and would love your feedback on it, pretty, pretty please!
Wespeke is a very, very clever site which uses software traditionally associated with dating sites to match registered language students. It looks at their interests in order to generate topics that the students will actually want to learn about- we all know how difficult it can be to talk to people we don't know and who, invariably, we have nothing in common with. Traditional communication exchanges, usually done via letters, invariably fell down because the students didn't necessarily share enough common ground to genuinely want to interact. Wespeke seeks to overcome that- and I really like it, not least because it also provides a social media experience allowing language learners to find people from all over the globe to match with! Plus, it's designed with language learners and language teachers very much in mind, providing 2 levels of membership according to your role.
At the moment I know that Wespeke is brimming with users in North America and has really started to pick up users across South America, Spain and now bit by bit in France. As my invitations screen below shows I've already been contacted by people in both Spain and Mexico- intercultural opportunities abound!
But they've only just started to turn to our delightful shores. So whilst I've been talking to the team over in Pittsburgh I've also had a few messages from one of their team who's based in Madrid asking if any schools over here are looking to pair with any Spanish schools- anyone interested? As I said earlier, I'd love to hear your feedback both so I can pass it over to the team in the States but also to be able to better support the schools that I already work directly with.
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!
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:
They were to create a 2 minute video to convince a French striker to sign for Exeter on a free transfer instead of opting for Leyton Orient or York. The stiker was a 26 year old with 3 small children (aged 7, 5 and 2). In French.
They also had to create a 3 minute "pitch" to deliver in front of the other students this afternoon- ideally without notes. Obviously, in French. (See where we were going there, language teachers...?)
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.
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!