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!