Friday, 24 December 2010

A Christmas present, and my Christmas wish

This morning I received a letter about Primary Languages from Sharon Hodgson, my MP. 

I emailed her on 6th December in response to the government's White Paper "The Importance of Teaching", expressing my concern at the lack of clarity, or indeed any word at all, about the future of language teaching in KS2.  I also emailed the address provided for feedback to the White Paper, I emailed Michael Gove, and I emailed Nick Gibb.  Sharon Hodgson is the only one from whom I have had a response.  Not even an automated response from the others to say that my message has been received.

Ms Hodgson's letter has brightened my day.  She is a Shadow Education Minister, and keen that the previous Government's commitment to Primary Languages be carried forward:
"In a global economy, the country needs people who can communicate effectively with those in different countries, and the education system should recognise and support that."
She has also written to Mr Gove to ask him to reply to me, and has tabled the following Parliamentary Question to give him the opportunity to put his commitment to Primary Languages on Parliamentary record:
"To ask the Secretary of State what steps he has taken toward establishing Modern Foreign Languages as part of the primary school curriculum from the academic year beginning 2011."
She has asked me to keep in touch and has expressed an interest in visiting a class or workshop in the constituency at some point.

So that is my Christmas present.  What about my Christmas wish?  My Christmas wish is that the current Government tell us as soon as possible what they intend to do with Primary Languages and whether or not they are going to fund it anymore.  The announcement of the new curriculum in Autumn 2012 is too long to have to wait.  Primary schools need help and support now.

So I urge you, if you haven't already done so, to contact your own MP to put the case for Primary Languages.  You could always send them this ecard
Let's bombard them from all sides!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Baroness Coussins is coming to the north-east

Baroness Coussins, Realising the Strategic Importance of Languages
Venue: Royal Station Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne
Time: 8:30-12:30 includes breakfast and lunch
£300 to be awarded the first 40 schools who come with senior management.

It's the biggest event for languages the North East has ever seen....It's confirmed for could change what happens in your schools....and its got big names!

You might have heard about it on the blogosphere and we are now pleased to confirm that Baroness Coussins, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages will visit the North East on Tuesday 11th January.

We know how crucial it is to influence your senior management as well so this event is geared towards them too.

Baroness Coussins will be joined by:

  • Richard Hardie, Vice Chair UBS Ltd. and advocate for A-level Languages
  • Dr. Michael Wardle, Deputy Head and Ofsted Inspector for Languages
  • Dr. Liz Andersen, Member of the National University Council for Modern Languages
  • Bernadette Holmes, President incumbent of the Association for Language Learning
The event includes keynote speeches, workshops and a panel, so plenty of chance for contributing and questioning as well.

The first 40 schools who bring along a member of their senior management team will receive £300 so take this to your SMT straight away and get signed up on the website here!

We know this is short notice but as this is such a fantastic opportunity to really make the case for languages we hope you don't miss it.

If you have any queries please get in touch with Ruth O'Rourke by email or on 0191 222 5814.

Your Head of Languages will soon receive an invitation to this event to pass on to your Headteacher.

This is primarily for secondary schools but we will welcome primary schools, Further Education and Higher Education Institutes as well.

Sign up here before you venture out into the cold:

The Links into Languages NE team  

Sunday, 14 November 2010

#MFLSAT Oldham

Yesterday I spent a most enjoyable day at The Radclyffe School in Oldham at the third MFL Show and Tell (affectionately and tweetingly known as #MFLSAT).  It was brilliantly organised by Isabelle Jones and brought together about forty MFL teachers from all over the UK (and Germany!).

I gave a short presentation about mini-books, something which I love and which I have used successfully (in my opinion) with my primary classes.  Here is my presentation:
View more webinars from cseccombe.
A lot of people have asked where I got the jigsaw thing in the PowerPoint.  I actually found it quite by chance while I was looking for a suitable template for the presentation.  The instructions are here, and you can access the actual template via the same link.  As far as mini-books are concerned, the most important link is the "how to make a mini-book" one.

As is usual with #MFLSAT, I left totally enthused, my head buzzing with lots of ideas.  In no particular order, here are some of the things I'd like to try:

Selecting pupils at random to answer a question
Marie O'Sullivan showed us The Hat, which you can use to select one pupil at a time.  As far as I can see, once you've selected one particular pupil, they are then safe from selection for the rest of the lesson, unless you start the Hat up again.
Dominic McGladdery gave us lots of examples of ways to select pupils at random, starting with lolly sticks with pupils' names on which are drawn from the "Mug of Misery" (as it has been christened by Dom's pupils!)  I really like this PowerPoint random name selector from as well.
I'm particularly interested in this as it is one of the things mentioned at my PM review, and one of the teachers at my school is very keen to get all the pupils alert and not coasting.

Intercultural Understanding
Something I am very interested in (see previous posts) and so I'm always grateful for new links and ideas to help me in my endeavours. 
Marie-France Perkins showed us the
website of Collège les Tamarins on the island of Réunion.  A particularly useful part of the website is the "Visite du Collège", which shows photos and plans of the school. 
Suzi Bewell showed us "Ecoles du Monde", a book written in simple French and with beautiful photographs of schoolchildren around the world.  Suzi also guided us to Links into Languages's 10 minute guide to Intercultural Understanding.

Groovy Tech Tools
Kath Holton showed us some of the tools she uses in the classroom and to facilitate home learning.  Spicynodes looks worthy of closer investigation, as does Zondle.
Vanessa Parker from The Radclyffe School showed us some PowerPoint ideas.  I liked her idea for a twist on Kim's Game.  Instead of just making a picture disappear and asking the children which one it is, Vanessa suggests asking them which one they think will disappear and giving them a point if they are right.  I also liked her idea to have a bag or basket of images flash across the screen and pupils have to name all the objects.  Flypast taken one step further.

I can't wait for the next one.  Where's it to be, guys?

A Language Show in the North, part 2

A big thank you to everyone who completed the survey, which is now closed.  128 people responded altogether, and the results will be very useful in planning an event.  Here are the results:

A brief summary of the results would suggest that we would be looking at an event with the following profile:
  • in the north-east
  • at the weekend
  • for teachers
  • concentrating on French, Spanish and German
  • concentrating on Key Stages 2, 3 and 4
  • exhibition focusing on teaching resources, language learning and teaching equipment and educational publishers
  • seminars focusing on language learning methods, creativity, ideas for speaking, using the latest technology, assessment for learning
I hope this is the kind of event that you would want to attend.  More anon.

Monday, 1 November 2010

A Language Show in the North

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday night, the MFL Twitterati came up with the idea of a North East Languages Show.  There was a great deal of discussion about it at the time, and it is something that hasn't gone away.

I volunteered to look into it as it was partly my idea and also because I have a day off each week which allows me that bit of flexibility.

This afternoon I was corresponding via email with Ruth O'Rourke, the North East Regional Manager of Links into Languages, about venues and dates, and whether we would actually get enough interest to be able to put on such an event.  We decided that before we get stuck too far in we need to gauge peoples' interest.

Therefore I have put together a survey, which you will find embedded below.  We would be very grateful if you could complete it.  The survey will close at 1.00pm GMT on Friday 12th November so that I can feed the results back to the Twitterati at the Show and Tell in Oldham on Saturday 13th.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Why is Twitter great?

10 days ago or so, while having my breakfast, I was checking my tweets.  The tweets that come in overnight are mostly from the USA on one side of the world and Australia on the other.  One of the Australian MFL Twitterati who I follow, @ykombi, had tweeted:

I had made a table comparing the French and English school systems for a podcast about La Rentrée, and so tweeted back:

Almost immediately I had a reply.

@ykombi sent me her email address via Twitter DM (Direct Message) and I emailed her the file, which she was able to adapt to the Australian system, as it is pretty similar to the English one.

That's just one example of why Twitter is great.  You can ask something, however complex, and someone somewhere will do their best to help you out.  The MFL Twitterati are so generous and supportive.

Then a few days later I read this tweet from the wonderful @wizenedcrone:

Having spoken to @bootleian via Flashmeetings and corresponded via email, I am a big fan, and cheekily asked @wizenedcrone if I could be a temp in her department so that I could attend the CPD day.  And today I did attend the CPD day!  It was not only an opportunity to meet up again with several of the north-east Twitterati, not only a chance to meet the great @bootleian, but also a chance to learn lots of new ideas and to meet and network with new MFL colleagues in the north-east.  All in all a very profitable way to spend my day off.  And another example of why Twitter is great.  You get to find out about events that are happening not only in your area but all over the place.  Even if you can't attend in person you can often attend virtually or catch up with the presentations afterwards via services such as Slideshare or peoples' blogs.

Twitter often gets a negative press, with many people thinking that it's just daft people telling anyone who will listen what they have had for their breakfast.

But for me it's much more than that.  When I worked as a secondary AST, I was expected to at the forefront of MFL teaching, but rarely had the opportunity to find out what that forefront looked like.  In my current role, I need to be at the cutting edge of primary language teaching.  Thanks to my Twitter PLN I find out all I need to know and more.

So that's why I think that Twitter is great.  What about you?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Smart !

I've already mentioned quite a few of my gadgets on here.  Digital camera, talking pen, Flip video, air mouse....  But one of the gadgets that the Twitterati have been trying to persuade me to get for a while is one I've never wanted.  I've never wanted an iPhone.  Or any other Apple product, to be honest.  But the more I read about Android phones, the more I was sure that was what I wanted.  I spent time reading up about the different phones available and settled on HTC.  I was considering a Wildfire but then my lovely husband offered to buy me a Desire for my birthday.

It was delivered on Tuesday, and my mother pointed out that I shouldn't have it yet.  I know, I know, but you have to make sure it works!  Five days later, I am hooked.  I've set up my Gmail and downloaded Seesmic for effective tweeting.  I'm having a go with UltimateFaves Pro to have all my favourite apps on the homescreen and have found gReader to be able to access my Google Reader and a Delicious app to be able to bookmark sites when accessing the internet on the Desire.  Naturally I have also been finding some good games, in the process rediscovering my addiction to Othello.  The Android Karaoke app is great fun and will drive my husband crackers.

It's been very interesting to see the reaction of my daughters, currently aged 7 and 3, to the Desire, the first smartphone that they have had proper access to (my husband has an ancient HTC through work that they aren't allowed anywhere near).  The elder one can find her way around it very easily.  I took her photo with it earlier today, and she said that she wanted to put a different dress on the picture.  So we went into the App Market and quickly found and installed PicSay. Within minutes she had added to the photo a multi-coloured title, a speech bubble, some "stickers" of hair and funny glasses, and a green tint.  The little one is obsessed with Talking Tom, who we discovered thanks to this blog post from Dominic McGladdery.  She is always asking to "stroke the pussycat" and also knows how to give him some milk and make him scratch the screen.  It occurred to me that she is growing up in a world where it's perfectly normal to stroke a virtual cat to make it purr.  Technology that is normal for her would have been unimaginable for me at her age, in the early 70s.  A Changing Phase indeed.

It has also occurred to me that a smartphone is only as smart as the person operating it.  I know that I have a lot to learn before I am using the Desire to its full potential.  I'd love to hear about your experiences and recommendations.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Is it worthwhile learning another language?

Boy 1:  My dad's car's got 5 gears.
Boy 2:  My dad's car's got 6 gears.
Boy 1:  Well my dad's car's actually got 6 forward gears and 2 reverse gears!

This is a conversation I overheard on a bus in Sunderland in 1995.  It made me chuckle greatly at the time and it still makes me chuckle. Children love to brag and get one up on their mates.  Since I've been teaching in a primary school I have noticed that children love to brag about how much of a foreign language they know as well.  Knowing more Spanish numbers than we have covered in class gives you real status.  Giving an original and complex opinion sentence when your name is called in the register (they have to answer with a word or phrase in Spanish) earns you the respect of your classmates.

That's just one of the reasons I love primary language teaching.  The thirst for knowledge, the delight and pride at being able to communicate, the discovery of new things.  This continues throughout the KS2 years, and, if we manage transition properly and teach them imaginatively, into KS3 as well.  But you approach Y9 and the GCSE years, and the enthusiasm wanes.  The dry, formuleic, unrealistic diet that is served up by the GCSE boards is enough to put off most students, and also demotivates many teachers.

So is it really worth putting yourself through it all, is it worthwhile learning another language?

This is the title of a Radio 4 You and Yours programme that was broadcast on Tuesday August 31st, and which you can still listen to on the iPlayer.  It followed on from and was probably stimulated by the many press articles that appeared after the publication of this year's GCSE results.  The numbers of students taking a language at GCSE continue to fall (no surprise there) and French has fallen out of the Top 10 subjects for the first time ever.

There are many reasons why I think languages are A Good Thing.  When asked by a pupil "What's the point of learning languages?" I have been known to reply "For me, a nice house, 2 cars, a good job with good holidays, holidays abroad, friends all over the world, and the ability to talk about you without you knowing."  Everyone who has pursued language learning has their own reasons for doing so.  My daughter's godmother is French, and her English husband learned French at evening classes so that he would be able to talk to his in-laws and understand his marriage ceremony in France.  You never know who you're going to fall in love with.  If you'd asked me the same question when I was 14 or 15 and heading towards O'level, I probably would have said "I just really enjoy learning it."  I had no career path in mind, but I had the thirst for learning, and still do.  Learning for learning's sake.

Languages are a good academic subject, which extend not only your language skills but your life skills, your interpersonal skills, your understanding of other subjects such as English, History, Geography and RE, your general knowledge.  They make you into a more rounded human being who is more tolerant of and open to other people and other cultures.  A good academic education does not appear to be valued in this country anymore.  People seem to prefer easier, quicker subjects that require little or no effort.

Following the Radio 4 broadcast, where, incidentally, the voice of the teacher was absent, and at the instigation of Joe Dale, a bunch of the MFL Twitterati attended a special MFL Flashmeeting to discuss the programme and the points that it had raised, and to endeavour to reach some conclusions about the state of languages in this country and what could or should be done.  If you would like to watch thereplay of the Flashmeeting, you can do so by following this link

Over the two hours many things were discussed and many issues raised.  I would recommend that you read this blog post by Catriona Oates, who has outlined the main "myths" about languages that need tackling.  Also worth a read are this post by Isabelle Jones and this one by Steve Smith, both responding to the press articles from the last week or so.  José Picardo has written this blog post about the languages class divide. 

I'd like to focus on what learning a language says about you as an individual regardless of whether you end up using them in your future life and work. 

This is from an old TES forum thread that I started and can no longer find. These are just some of the transferable skills that you can gain from learning a language.

  • I am brave (languages are hard and sometimes scary)
  • I have a good memory - I have learned loads of words and how to spell them
  • I can communicate in another language, and therefore must be quite good at communicating in my own
  • I am literate.  I can read another language as well as my own.
  • I am open-minded
  • I perform well under pressure
  • I am culturally aware
  • I am creative
  • I am open to new experiences and cultures
  • I am confident - I don't worry if I make mistakes, as long as I get the message across
  • I can multi-task - I often have to think of several things at the same time
  • I have well-developed listening skills
  • I persevere
  • I can think logically
  • I can see and apply patterns
  • I can think on my feet and express myself verbally
  • I can solve problems and think outside the box
This is just one point of view, from one person.  There are many reasons why languages are in crisis, and many solutions that need to be found. 

Friday, 13 August 2010

Intercultural Understanding

If I had £1 for every time a student has said to me, "Why doesn't everyone speak English?", I would currently be in the Caribbean soaking up the tropical rays and sipping cocktails on board my private yacht, and not in cold, rainy Washington. 

It's a question they often ask in exasperation or to deliberately disrupt the lesson, and so my reply has often been similarly exasperated, along the lines of "It's not something that's quick to explain so if you come back at 3.30 I'll tell you all about it for half an hour."  And that usually does the trick.  Some students have been genuinely curious, and I have given them my quick "Because of history, geography, politics and religion" explanation.

In retrospect, it's a question that we should take seriously and do our best to answer in depth.  Because you cannot completely understand or appreciate a language without knowing something about the country or countries where it is spoken.  The two are inextricably linked.  For example, the Spanish phrase "hacer puente" does not always mean "to bridge" in its strictest sense.  Scratch the surface and you find out about a tradition for taking days off that you'll wish you had, and then dig a little deeper and you discover how many holidays Spanish children get compared to British children. 
What is Intercultural Understanding?  Here are two definitions:

  • Intercultural Understanding is the ability and willingness to see things from a different cultural perspective..... It is respecting different ideas and lifestyles and recognising that your culture is not superior to others.”

  • Appreciating the richness and diversity of other cultures.....Recognising that there are different ways of seeing the world and developing an international outlook.”
For me, Intercultural Understanding addresses and disproves the stereotypical views that Britons so often have about people from other countries, proves that our way is not necessarily the only way or the best way, and allows students access the rich and vibrant culture of the target-language country or countries through their language studies.

The photograph at the top is one of a series that I took to make a CrazyTalk video for a training session I was giving.  The little figure is one of a set of "World People" that can be purchased from the Early Learning Centre (and who you may recognise from Gorseville!)  I use them often to explain about stereotyping.  Is this what French people look like?  What do they really look like?  And interestingly, go a step further and examine why we have this stereotypical image of French people.  The BBC's "Coast" programme explains very well about the Onion Johnnies, who would have been the first and only contact that many British people had with the French.

I am a big fan of the Intercultural Understanding strand of the KS2 Framework, and am pleased that it is part of the KS3 Framework as well.  I've done my best to include Intercultural Understanding in my KS2 Spanish lessons over the last year, and I have to say that it has been harder than I anticipated.  It seems a bit false somehow, especially when you only see the children once a week, to depart from the "thread" of your lessons and stick something intercultural in.  What I have done so far, formally in any case, has been looking at the Spanish-speaking world (thanks World Cup!) and highlighting certain fiestas such as San José, San Fermín and la Fiesta Nacional de España.

After some useful tweets and research over the last couple of weeks, I have come to the conclusion that Intercultural Understanding, in my setting at least, would best be covered little and often, as a "drip-drip-drip" approach, rather than as one-off occasional lessons.

I was reading Danny Nicholson's blogpost "Powerful Images to Give Lessons Punch", where he suggests displaying a photograph on the board at the beginning of the lesson to stimulate questions.  In the MFL lesson this could be a photograph of a fiesta, place, child or house from the target language country, or something a bit different like a Google DoodleFiona Joyce tweeted the Google Doodle link and I could see its potential for intercultural work, as Google Doodles are something with which our young people are very familiar.  Here's one to start you off:
It's from August 27th 2008.  Which Spanish fiesta does it represent?

In September, one of the first things I will be teaching my second-year-of-Spanish pupils is the months of the year.  I am starting to make the flashcards, and have decided to put images of fiestas on each month's card, such as Reyes for January, San Valentín for February, San José for March and so on.  This will give learning what is essentially twelve words a bit more depth and purpose.

I thought I would share with you some of my favourite Intercultural Understanding links.


Equipment that children need to buy for La Rentrée:  What do our children buy to return to school in September?

Videos showing playground games

Collection of playground games from all over the world

24 heures de la vie d'un enfant: Study the daily routines of children from all over the world

Ton scooter est japonais: Poem reminding us that many of the things we use in our daily life come from other countries.  An easy model for students to replicate.


Playground games from El Huevo de Chocolate

More playground games

European Playground Games, including Choco-choco-la-la, which my KS1s and daughter love

Calendar of Spanish fiestas

Semana Santa: origen de las procesiones

Spanish customs and culture

Map puzzles: of each continent and more.  Perfect for perfecting your South American geography!

Colours in Cultures: In the West we wear black to mourn.  In South America the traditional colour is purple.

I would be interested to hear about how you teach Intercultural Understanding, and any good resources that you have come across. 

You can also read a blogpost I wrote about Intercultural Understanding for José Picardo's Box of Tricks blog.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Gaudi's Mosaics

In June I blogged about a sequence of lessons called "Mi bandera".  With my KS2 classes I have just finished the next part of this unit dealing with shapes and colours.

Last summer I went on a mini-break to Barcelona, and was struck by all the different examples of "shapes making shapes" in the city.  Lots of square panels making up the front of a building, seven circular panels of glass arranged to make a big circular window, and, of course Gaudi's mosaics.  I took lots of photos and started to formulate an idea.

The difficult thing proved to be fitting it in at such a time that it didn't seem contrived in our sequence of learning.  It did, however, fit perfectly after the flag lessons.

We started off looking at a map of the world to find Spain (and had some useful discussions about how come the countries in South America speak Spanish when they are so far from Spain), and then we looked at a map of Spain to find Barcelona.  This in turn led to some interesting discussions about the regions of Spain, Cataluña in particular, and we compared and contrasted the numbers 1-10 in Catalan, Spanish and French.

We then focussed on Barcelona specifically, and looked at the examples of shapes making shapes.  We talked about Gaudi, his buildings and his mosaics.  We then looked at these mosaics from Parc Güell:

We found out that Gaudi used unusual materials in these mosaics, like glass bottles, dinner plates and china dolls.  We set about creating mosaic suns of our own, using unusual shapes to echo Gaudi's unusual materials.  I made an example to show the children, photographing it at various stages of its creation so show them how to build up their mosaic.
If you would like to see some of the children's finished mosaics, there is a video montage on my school blog.

So why did I do this?


  • Cross-curricular art

  • Intercultural understanding (Spanish-speaking world, Spain, Barcelona)
But also:

  • I wanted them to write about the mosaic afterwards, using the same format as we used to describe the flags.  I wanted them to use the dictionary to find the words for the shapes they had used and to make these nouns plural as necessary, and to agree the colours as necessary.  It was bringing together a lot of the different threads of our work since January.
What would I do differently next time?

  • Start it earlier in the year - we haven't been able to progress to the writing stage due to it being the end of term!

  • It's interesting that the best artists aren't necessarily the best mosaic makers.  I'd set up a Smartboard activity or a group cut'n'stick activity to practise jigsaw-ing shapes into another shape, to enable more of the children to produce a more authentic-looking mosaic.

  • Find stickier gummed paper!  And get more of it, as we ran out of certain colours very quickly.
All in all, I am very happy with the results, particularly with how well Y3 responded to it (it's them you can see working in the photos on the video).  It made my day yesterday to follow one of my Y3s out of school and to watch him excitedly show his dad the mosaic he had made and explain how and why he had made it.  It's given me the courage to find more ways of "thinking outside the box" and to endeavour to teach Spanish in its broader context a lot more.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


This is a Tagxedo of my Twitter feed for the last 24 hours or so

I'm imagining a conversation with my dad:

Dad: What is #MFLSAT ?

Me: It's a hashtag, something you add to your tweet in Twitter to group your tweet with all the other tweets about the same thing.

Dad: Yes, but what is #MFLSAT ?

Me: It stands for "MFL Show and Tell". We've had two now. The first one was in Coventry in November 2009, and the second one was yesterday in Nottingham. It's where lots of like-minded MFL teachers give up their Saturday to meet together and share good practice and engage in professional dialogue. Some people give presentations about things they've done in the classroom. It's also an opportunity to meet in real life the people with whom you correspond virtually most of the time, via Twitter and other fora.

Dad: Well why didn't you just say that in the first place ?

Yes, yesterday I went to Nottingham High School with 46 other teachers from England, Scotland, Wales and Australia (yes really - it was great to see Fiona Rose there). After coffee and chocolate croissants - which were most welcome after the 3 hour drive - there were 7 presentations on subjects as diverse as recording from Skype and the French vowel Haka.

We were really fortunate that all the presentations were filmed and streamed live on the internet by @eyebeams, so you can watch them all here. Thanks to a tip-off from Lisa Stevens, I've been able to embed the video of my presentation below. I talked about my RecorderPen, about which I had already written a blogpost:

After a very nice lunch in the high school dining hall (gadget of the day - the conveyor belt where you put your tray afterwards!) we had some round-the-table discussions about, amongst other things, VLEs, Language Labs, using ICT to enhance speaking work, e-safety and international links.

The day was sponsored by the high school,
Links into Languages, Naace and Scholastic. The first MFLSAT cost us each £10, and was a more low-key affair. I had been concerned before yesterday that this event would be too "corporate" and that it would change the feel of the MFLSAT. But I needn't have worried. The sponsorship enhanced our comfort and the catering, but little else changed, for which I am grateful.

So what did I learn, and what am I going to try ?

  • You can export selections of an Audacity file as .wav My podcasts will be a lot quicker to do now I won't be cutting mp3s up into bits and saving them all as individual .wav files. (I know, Dom, I was a plonker not to know this before!)
  • Get KS2s to do writing on mini-whiteboards, then photograph them for assessment evidence. Cuts down on paper for them and me, mistakes are easier to correct, and I always have my camera with me anyway.
  • I MUST have a go with Prezi and play a bit with Sliderocket.
  • Have a go with Xtranormal to make starters and listening activities for KS2 and maybe KS1.
  • I love singing, the children love singing, so I must make an effort to do it more. And of course, the Spanish vowel Haka.

Do you fancy getting involved in something like this ? In these days of rarely cover and dwindling funds, teachers have to take the initiative as far as their CPD is concerned. Twitter is one way of finding out what opportunities are out there. You might also be interested in these:

Primary Languages Meet (#PLMeet) in Doncaster on Monday 27th September 2010

MFL Flashmeeting 8 - Monday 27th September 20.30-22.30, link to follow

And for you Mackems out there, there's the Sunderland TeachMeet on Thursday 14th October 2010.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Working with partner schools overseas

When I first started working with partner schools overseas, in 1997, communicating with partners and exchanging project work involved faxes, telephones, files, CDs, video tapes, books, pieces of art and craft work.... and many expensive trips to the Post Office to post it all. It took time for it all to reach the partners, and just as long for them to send theirs to us. Everything took a long time. Over the years, however, thanks to all the new technology that is out there, this communication and sharing of work has become much easier, quicker and cheaper. There are many web tools that we can use now to collaborate with our partners.

Two of the tools that have really taken off in the MFL world are Storybird and Storyjumper. Brian Stobie, the international officer for County Durham, discovered Storybird recently and could immediately see its use for partnership work. He asked me to give a presentation about Storybird and Storyjumper at the Atlas (RNIL) conference today. I agreed to speak for 10 minutes, just to give delegates a taster and to whet their appetites to find out more. I decided to present Storybird and Storyjumper as a story. I hope you like it.

Here is a Storybird that I wrote in collaboration with Dominic McGladdery.  I wanted Fiona Joyce, queen of the MFL Storybird Wiki, to be involved as well, but at the moment you can only collaborate with one other person.
What do you like to do ? by d_mcg, CSeccombe on Storybird

Storybird and Storyjumper aren't of course the only programs that can be used in this way.  You could also try Voki, Wallwisher, Voicethread, Xtranormal and GoAnimate, to name but a few.  And you could set up a blog or wiki for the partnership so that you have some shared webspace via which to share your work.  Anything that motivates you and your students to sustain your partnership and make it meaningful can only be a good thing.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

One year on......

I published my first blog post here on 28th June 2009. Over the last week or so I've been thinking about the things I have learned over the last year, and I thought I would share them with you here. These are not only things that I have learned about, but also things that I have used either in the classroom or elsewhere in my work this year.

  • Storybird and Storyjumper:  First of all, two tools which almost need no introduction, such has been their success amongst the language teachers in my PLN and beyond.  All of the Storybirds that I have created appear on the fantastic MFL Storybird Wiki, the brainchild of Fiona Joyce, and you can see my Storyjumpers on this very blog (look at the tabs at the top).  I have found the programs invaluable for presenting appropriate text-level work to my KS2 pupils, but they haven't been able to try it out for themselves for ICT reasons, if you know what I mean....  
  • Mini-books:  I discovered mini-books quite by accident while looking for something else.  I knew that it was something that I wanted to try, but determined to find the right occasion.  My KS2 pupils created mini-books containing their own stories based on a mini-book that we read together called "¿Qué veo?"  You can see the results here.  Mini-books are small and so the children know that they don't have to write very much.  They enjoy illustrating their work as well.  And their size also makes them ideal for the children to take home to show to their families.
  • Wordle and Tagxedo: I wrote a post in April comparing all the different word cloud generators that are out there at the moment. Of all the ones I mentioned on that occasion, I use Wordle and Tagxedo the most. I find them particularly useful for displaying objectives at the beginning of a presentation (I paste in all my notes from the presentation and fortunately the words that come out biggest are the ones I want!) and also for helping pupils to see which are the important words amongst all the ones we are studying - the high-frequency core words come out biggest. Here is a Wordle of my Delicious tags (see below) and a Tagxedo of my World Cup resources page:
  • Podcasting and Audacity: I've been using Audacity for a few years, but, as I discovered after a course with Joe Dale in December, only on a basic level. Joe really opened my eyes to the possibilities offered by Audacity for producing professional-sounding podcasts. I produced some secondary-level podcasts with our language assistants and then started podcasting in earnest when I undertook on behalf of the LA to provide a series of upskilling podcasts for non-specialist primary teachers of French. The technology side of it is straightforward for me now, and it's the scripting that takes the time. While I'm talking about podcasts, I'll recommend JamStudio for creating your own loops, and for making guitar accompaniments for your songs if, like me, you don't play the guitar.
  • The RecorderPen: This was my purchase from the Gadget Show Live. I wrote a blog post after I had played with it for the first time and before I had used it in class. This term I have been incorporating Y1's theme of "Seaside" into their Spanish lessons. I wanted to show them how to describe things using colours. I picked four masculine sea creatures, made A5 flashcards of them, added recorded stickers and laminated the whole thing. I also made, recorded and laminated cards for 6 colours. When we were working in our groups of about 10, I said something like "un tiburón amarillo", and the children took it in turns to make the cards say the same thing by using the RecorderPen to make them speak the right words in the right order. They found it fascinating and were very interested to know how it works. Their class teacher was interested to see it and is thinking about buying a set for the class to use elsewhere in their curriculum.
  • Wallwisher: Wallwisher has turned out to be very popular with my KS2 pupils. I think they like it particularly because they can see their contribution and other peoples'. It has encouraged them to engage with Spanish in their own time and, therefore, to explore the rest of the blog (see below) while they are there. One of our walls shows our collection of Spanish food nouns, something we haven't studied in class since before May half term, but which they are still adding to regularly. Our latest wall is about flags - please feel free to contribute.
  • Calligrams: I've mentioned Calligrams a fair bit this year. Just see for yourself. I think I like them so much because they are a combination of words and doodles. I have also tried them out, and plan to do more in the future. What I am most chuffed about is that they have captured other peoples' imaginations too, and they are trying them with their classes. There is a place for low-tech, or, in this case, no-tech.
  • Blogging: Before I started teaching in my current school, I had seen examples of effective school blogs. It was something I was very interested in setting up for the children at my school, especially as I am only there for a day and a half a week. I wanted Spanish to have a presence in the school even when I wasn't there, to publish and celebrate the good work that the children were doing, and give the children activities that they could access at home to help them with their Spanish. Fortunately, the Head agreed, and thus was born. The children love it, and are always telling me about what they have accessed on it at home. The school governors are impressed, as are some of the parents to whom I've spoken. It's also proving useful at the moment during this time of Y6-Y7 transition - the secondary teachers can see exactly what the Y6s have been doing without my having to send them loads of bits of paper.
  • Google Reader: When I first started to use Twitter I was seeing a lot of links to people's blogposts. And many of them were interesting reads. Problem was that if I didn't follow the tweeted link there and then, I probably missed it. Following tips from Joe Dale and Graham Davies I started to subscribe to the blogs using Google Reader. I have the Google Reader widget displayed alongside the Gmail widget on my iGoogle, ready for my viewing and reading pleasure each morning.
  • Delicious: I blogged about Delicious last August when I first discovered its usefulness for storing and tagging all the useful websites that I came across. I now have over 1000 links on my Delicious. I think now that I have it, I bookmark more sites than I used to paste into my Word document, but, more importantly, I actually use them.
  • Slideshare: In my new role I do a fair bit of training, and in my continuing role on the international education side I give quite a few presentations. I used to upload some of the presentations to the website or offer to email them to interested parties. But as my presentation style is becoming more and more minimalist - more pictures, less text - the presentations were becoming less and less useful by themselves. I had followed links to other people's Slideshare presentations and was intrigued to see that some had the audio commentary attached and linked into the presentation. This seemed like an ideal way to go, especially as these slidecasts can be embedded in blogs. I've used it to share my presentations, but also to put songs onto my school blog as YouTube embeds and Podbean mp3s don't work at school. You can view all my Slideshare presentations here. Well, almost all - there are 3 that for some reason don't appear on this list but which you can see here.
  • SurveyMonkey: In October last year I set about auditing Primary Languages in Sunderland. We only have 85 primary schools, but it was still an onerous task. Headteachers are busy people, and it was unrealistic to expect them all to respond to and post a paper survey. The audit needed to be short and quick and easy to complete. I had completed some surveys for the British Council which used SurveyMonkey and decided that it would be a good way of gathering the information I needed. I emailed all the HTs the link to the seven questions which it would take them about two minutes to complete. And then watched the responses flood in. Well, trickle in actually. But that's another story. SurveyMonkey proved to be easy to use and certainly preferable to having to collate and manipulate dozens of pieces of paper.

    My KS2s had whole-heartedly embraced Wallwisher and so I thought I would capitalise on this enthusiasm to carry out a survey via the blog. I set up a SurveyMonkey about likes and dislikes of the foods that we had been learning. There haven't been too many responses though. Partly, I think, because there were too many questions, and partly because they couldn't see their contribution straightaway on the blog. I think it's something to try again at a later date, in class maybe where the results can be seen immediately.
  • Pop-ups in Dreamweaver: MFL Sunderland was 6 years old at the end of April. When I started it I was a complete website novice. Everything you see on the website and its sister sites now is something that I have learned along the way. When I was creating the interactive map for the World Cup over the Easter holidays, I knew how I wanted it to look, but didn't know how to do it. I didn't even know what the thing I wanted to do was called! Much googling and researching and experimenting and HTMLing later I achieved the effect I was after - the information for each country popped up as a little separate window which didn't obscure the main continent page. This may be small potatoes to some people, but for me it was a sense of achievement equalled only by the discovery of roll-over buttons several years ago!
And finally..... why the picture at the top ? Well, as language teachers we are all different, with different styles and with different tools at our disposal. But we are all progressing and moving forward together towards a common goal.  These are my tools at the moment.  Doubtless I will have some new ones this time next year!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Mi bandera

I thought I would share with you a sequence of lessons that has been particularly successful with my KS2s.
As you'll no doubt be aware, I gave presentations in 2006 about using the World Cup in lessons, and also produced a lot of materials. In school, however, I barely touched it with my classes. If I remember rightly, it clashed with exam and reports season.

This year, 2010, I've done the same. Given presentations, produced resources. But the big difference is of course that this time round the World Cup fitted into my sequence of lessons perfectly.

Since September I have covered some of the Y3 Intercultural Understanding objectives of the KS2 Framework, but am conscious that they are something that you have to reinforce quite frequently to embed them in the children's brains! The World Cup gave us an excellent opportunity to re-explore the countries and continents of the world and to talk about where Spanish is spoken. Then we focussed on the flags. We have done a lot of work on nouns and gender (and they understand it really well) and I wanted to start to introduce the notion of adjectival agreement.

You can download the PowerPoint for the first flag lesson here, and if you read the notes at the bottom of each slide, you can see how the language is built up. It was inspired by a workshop given by Jim McElwee at the recent NE Regional Primary Languages Conference "Read all about it Write now". Jim builds up sentences describing pictures using repetition of phrases and actions for colours and shapes. I bent his ear about it and we worked out actions for the 6 colours and the shapes. The children caught onto it very quickly and we spent a large part of the lesson speaking Spanish together to describe the flags. I used the flags of the World Cup nations to illustrate the colours and shapes, and we had some good discussions about flag colours and shapes and which flag is which.  We also discussed and worked out the rule for the agreement of the colours - why did we say "rojo" when learning the colours, but then "mi bandera es roja"?  Why doesn't "azul" change?  At the end of that first lesson, the children designed their own flags using the 6 colours (with the exception of orange, there aren't really any other colours which appear on flags) and the 5 shapes that we had been working on.

This week was the second lesson of the sequence. We revised the phrases, colours and shapes to describe the flags. Then I showed them the flags of the Spanish-speaking countries who are not in the World Cup and asked each table to work together to describe the flags. Cue lots of loud independent speaking in Spanish ! They loved trying to describe each flag as thoroughly as possible. Then they had a little time to work out how to describe their own flag, again using the structure and actions that I had introduced at the beginning.

So where to now? One of my Y6 suggested we started a new wall for our flag work. (The children at my school LOVE Wallwisher!) So I have - if you would like to contribute, please visit our school blog where you will find all the information. Your contributions would provide us with some excellent lesson material, so gracias in advance!

The main thing that I have learned from this is that actions work!  I've always been scared of them before, but now have seen the light.  Because the children are actively doing something, the repetition is more focussed and successful, and the action fixes the word more effectively in their heads.  If you want to find out more about actions in the MFL classroom, I recommend this blog post by Samantha Lunn. 

I have also learned that some little boys have an encyclopaedic knowledge of flags!