Friday, 16 August 2019


At the beginning of July my elder daughter went to her school prom.  This meant that the time between her GCSEs finishing and the prom was spent purchasing and pampering.  After the event I accompanied her to the nail salon as she wanted to have the nails removed - they were annoying her.  I sat in the "reception area" with another mother and a sister.  The sister was waiting for her sister to have some rather fearsome turquoise nails done, and was amusing herself by drawing on her i-Pad using an Apple pencil.  I had a few crafty looks at what she was doing and was impressed by the effects that she was achieving.

When I first tried sketchnoting I tried using a traditional stylus - one of those ones with the rubbery stopper on the end.  It was impossible to draw or write anything good with it, so hadn't tried writing or drawing on my tablet since.  That was 2015 and of course technology has moved on since then.  I searched the possibilities for a pencil for Android and purchased this one.  

I've been using it most days since then, along with the Autodesk Sketchbook app for Android, which I had tried before but which has had an update.  One of its interesting new functions is the ability to record a time lapse version of a picture that you are drawing.  This could perhaps be used in the classroom for students to draw a picture and then get their partner to narrate what they can see and what is happening.  Here is one of my offerings, for example:

I'm off to doing some more illustrations for my new resource.  The picture at the top is a little taster for you!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

More Spanish books

It seems kind of appropriate that I am writing this during a tropical thunderstorm.  The sky is very dark, thunder is rumbling and torrential rain has just started to fall.

This afternoon I was allowed half an hour in our nearest Barnes and Noble, the US equivalent of Waterstones.  I always head straight for the Libros para Niños, and even on such a short visit I was not disappointed.

I do weather with my Y5s, and so far it's been difficult to find suitable reading material.  This reader is a good level for UKS2, and of an appropriate maturity level too.

One of my Y5 classes read Wonder with their class teacher last year and produced some fantastic English writing about it.  This, by the same author, is beautifully illustrated and told in simple Spanish.  It has the messages of "todos somos únicos" - we are all unique - and "elige ser amable" - choose to be kind.  This book will be great for KS2 children, as they'll be familiar with the novel, and the theme fits in beautifully with the values that we want to instill in the children.

This book, called We're All Wonders in English, is not available in the UK but can be purchased from Amazon Spain.

Friday, 9 August 2019

What will be in your pencil case?

Good afternoon from the US of A, where I have just been to Super Target to buy groceries.  Because of the time of year, there is also a large Back to School section in said hypermarket, which, of course, I had to have a look round.  There were various local families there with their stationery lists, gathering supplies for the coming school year.

I picked up this school supply shopping list, which, as you can see, is in Spanish.  Our students would find this interesting to look at.  They could use their bilingual dictionaries to find out what the American children have to have for school.  Most of these things are provided for UK students by their schools.  There is also an interesting cultural angle.  Why is a shopping list in the USA printed in Spanish as well as English?

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Southampton University Primary Languages #SUPL

Yesterday, 19th July, was the last day of the school year for many.  I spent it at Southampton University at the SUPL (Southampton University Primary Languages) conference.  SUPL is part of the RiPL Network.  I was honoured to be asked to speak about writing - you can view a copy of my presentation here.  It was great to catch up with old friends (and my sister!) and to meet new people and hear about what they have been doing in their classrooms.

Here are my sketchnotes from the day.

Engaging children with reading - Mike Dodson
Oral language development through technology and app smashing with Book Creator and Adobe Spark Video - Joe Dale

Scaffolding writing - Sarah Dugdale

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Word Cloud by Smart Puffin

Many thanks to @mflbassie on Twitter who alerted me to Smart Puffin's Word Cloud app for Android this morning.

It makes word clouds in the same way as many of the other available apps (I like WordItOut, Word Clouds and Jason Davies Word Cloud Generator) but it has the added bonus of incorporating emojis, which you just enter along with the words in the app.

I made this one earlier on to test the app out.  It's easy to use, although getting the fonts to an even size can be a bit tricky.  

I put in animals for this one as that happened to be what I was thinking about at the time, and it was easy to find the emojis!  Children could count how many times each animal appears or pair up words and emojis.  You could include elements of writing frames as a different sort of guide to independent writing.

Have a play!

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Dots and boxes

Last week my Year 7 daughter told me about an activity she'd done in a maths lesson.  It was basically a game of Dots and Boxes, but it had the added bonus of each square containing a positive or negative number.  Each time they won a box, they had to add the number in the square onto their total, largest total winning.  My daughter's friend had got more boxes, so would have won in a traditional game, but my daughter went for all the positive numbers so that she had a much bigger total at the end.

This idea of having something in the box has been taken on by the languages community.  (Thank you Rachel on SecMFLMatters!)  The boxes have in them target language words or English words, or a mixture of the two.  To win a box, you have not only to put on its last side, but you also have to say the correct target language or English word.

At my school it's transition week, where all the children from Reception to Year 5 are meeting their new teachers.  This has left Year 6 at a bit of a loose end.  This afternoon we sat in the Year 1 classroom, at the tiny chairs and tables, and I gave them their exercise books and a blank Dots and Boxes grid.  They chose a word for each square and then some of them played the games.  They particularly enjoyed how it's possible to steal a square from your partner if they don't know the word.

I took this picture of a game between one of the hard-working boys and his very idle friend.  They enjoyed playing it, and it's the most work I've seen the latter do in 6 years!!

They've given me the grids they made and I've said I'll make them into resources for Light Bulb Languages and put their names on, as a little legacy.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019


This is the text of a keynote address I gave this afternoon at Europe Direct NE's 'Celebrating primary languages' event in Durham.  I had to do some on-the-spot editing due to time being a little short, so here is the complete version for you.

I hope you’ve had an enjoyable and positive day.  Sorry I’m going to have to put a downer on it.  Brian has asked me today to talk about Transition and getting it right.  I last talked about Transition in 2014, so dug out that presentation when I started this one.  Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there wasn’t much that I had to change, 5 years on.

We are just finishing our 5th year of compulsory languages in Key Stage 2.  The Year 6s that go into Year 7 in September will be the second cohort to have had at least 4 years of language teaching in primary school.  But have we got from compulsory languages what we thought we were going to get, 5 years on?  There are only 7 years of compulsory language learning in the English curriculum, from age 7 to 14, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, so are we making the most of these years and getting it right?

I would argue that as far as Transition is concerned, there is still a great deal of work to be done, so that we can make the most of these 7 years and ensure that children continue to make progress and to be motivated in their language learning in Key Stage 3.

So what is transition?  According to the OED it's: “a passing or change from one place, state, condition etc. to another” - the word itself implies change, something different.
I have my own definition for our purposes:

transition n
1. seamless move from primary to secondary education 
2. progression from the primary to the secondary phase of education 
3. continuity in secondary education of learning that has taken place in the primary phase

Let’s have a look at some of the facts and figures.

According to the very recent Language Trends 2019 report:
  • Just under 45% of primary schools have contact with at least one of their local secondary schools, and 53% of secondaries say they have contact with at least one of their feeder primaries.  (776 schools responded to the survey)
  • However, figures from the last six years show there has been a clear decline in collaboration between primary and secondary schools.
  • Comments from secondary schools indicate that they are aware of the need for greater coordination with primary schools, but have been unable to achieve this due to lack of funding or changes of staff.
  • The majority of secondary schools do not receive any data on pupils’ prior attainment in language learning when they arrive in Year 7.  Secondary teachers report requesting data but not receiving it, and often rely on pupils’ own accounts or on only the most basic information.

I carried out a survey of KS2 language learning in July last year, and compared the results with the same survey which I carried out in June 2015, in other words after one year of compulsory Key Stage 2 languages. The results of the 2015 survey were not good as far as transition is concerned.  56% of primary schools admitted to not sending languages transition information to the children's secondary schools, and secondary schools said that they did not receive information from 48% of their primary feeders.  20% of primary schools had not been able to get in touch with the secondary teachers, and 28% hadn't even tried.  17.5% of secondary departments hadn't been able to get in touch with their primary feeders to find out about language learning, and 19% hadn't even tried.

I was really hoping that the 2018 survey would show that things had changed since then.  They hadn’t.

I asked KS2 teachers if they send transition information to the secondary schools that their Year 6 children transfer to.
23.5% said yes.
65% said no.
11.5% said they didn't know.

So the percentage of primary schools who send transition information to the secondary schools has gone down by 2%, and the percentage of those who don't has increased by nearly 10%.  I asked secondary teachers if they receive information from their feeder primaries:

Yes, from all or most 4%
Yes, from some 28%
No 64%
Don’t know 3.5%

33% of secondary departments receive transition information from all, most or some of their feeder primaries.  This is down from 41% in 2015.  64% of secondary departments receive no transition information at all (up from 48% in 2015), and so begin each September not knowing anything about their new Year 7 students, what they have done and what they can do. 

I also asked both phases about their relationship with the other.  As already mentioned, 34% of primary schools haven't tried to get in touch with the secondary schools, and 15% haven't even tried.  Only 16% of primary schools consider that they have a positive relationship with the secondary schools.  16% of secondary teachers have tried and failed to get in touch with the feeders, 28.5% haven't even tried.  30% are happy with the way they are working with their feeders.

So it looks like primary schools and secondary schools are still, generally speaking, not communicating with each other in order to ensure a smooth transition between Year 6 and Year 7, and an uninterrupted 7-14 continuum of language learning.  
Just under a third of respondents said that they have adjusted the schemes of work followed by Year 7 to allow for the learning that the students have done in KS2.  In 2015, nearly 42% of respondents agreed that they had adjusted their schemes of work.  It would appear that secondary departments are considering the prior experience of their new Year 7s less than in the past.  In 2015, 61.5% of respondents agreed that all Year 7s started their language learning from scratch regardless of any learning that they had done in KS2.  This figure increased in 2018, to over 70%.  This is more evidence that secondary departments are paying even less attention than before to the language learning experience of their new Year 7 students.

It is distressing and dispiriting to see, as a primary languages and ex-secondary languages practitioner, that very little has changed with regard to the teaching of a language in Key Stage 2 and the transition to Key Stage 3.  We have heard a lot in the press, on the fora and on social media this year that, after Brexit, languages will be more important to the UK than ever before, that this year's GCSE was difficult, that students are dropping languages in KS4 in droves despite EBacc.  Surely it is in all of our best interests that we get Key Stage 2 language learning right, and that transition to Key Stage 3 is handled effectively so as to make the most of these 7 years of compulsory language learning. 

The Primary Languages White Paper is packed full of useful information and links to research, as well as the 10 recommendations.  The White Paper says that the lack of consistency between primary schools, in a context where secondary schools take pupils from many different feeders, is one of the barriers to smooth transition and hinders coherent progression in learning.  

Things weren’t helped in the early days of the compulsory national curriculum by a lack of clarity from Ofsted, and languages certainly weren’t on their immediate radar.  For some years all they would say is that languages is a foundation subject and as such would be inspected in the same way as other foundation subjects.  In practice this meant that very little attention has been paid to languages, and many schools have taken advantage of this.

However there has been new information and a new direction from Michael Wardle, now MFL lead for Ofsted.
  • From September there will be a focus on the wider curriculum. 
  • Teams may choose to focus on languages as one of their subjects.  
  • Academies and free schools will no longer be able to opt out completely of language teaching: “If an academy does not follow the Programme of Study, it needs to offer a curriculum that offers equal linguistic stretch”.  
  • The full curriculum should be taught in Years 3-6 and 7-9.  
  • Teachers should have good knowledge of the subject.  
  • Work given should be demanding and match the aims of the curriculum, and pupil work should be of good quality.  
  • Subject leaders may be asked how non-specialist teachers are supported, how the curriculum shows progress, if all children have access to language learning, and how secondary and primary schools are working together.  
    All these should ensure that the statutory obligation is met in schools, which in turn will help secondary schools when it comes to transition and catering for a new Year 7

It is clear that children have different experiences of language teaching in different schools.  Some may have done 4 full years at an hour a week, others may have 30 mins every other week, some may not have done any at all.  Children may have learned a different language in Key Stage 2 to what is on offer in Key Stage 3.  There are differences in pedagogy between different feeder schools.
Primary schools have different approaches to assessment, recording and reporting (or no approach!) which makes comparison tricky for secondaries

Let’s talk about some Solutions.

It’s crucial that primary schools share information about their language teaching with the secondary schools their Year 6s will be going to.  If you can’t make contact yourself, enlist the help of your headteacher or transition person.

Invite secondary teachers to do some paired observations so they can see how children are taught.

Find out what information do secondary teachers actually want.  Do they have a wish list of what they want Year 6s to have done before they reach Year 7?  Is there something you can negotiate as a cluster of schools?

Portfolios draw together children’s attainment, progress and learning in Key Stage 2.  Some schools use e-portfolios of their own design for easy sharing of children’s achievement.  You could also send one piece of work from Y6 for each child, which will give a good idea of their attainment.

These are recommendations from the White Paper: 
"Transition arrangements: In the short term, at the very least, primary schools should provide receiving secondary schools with a clear statement of what pupils in the class have been taught and what pupils should know and be able to do at the point of transfer from KS2 to KS3.
- Where primary and secondary schools can collaborate, head teachers should encourage smooth transition by supporting teachers to develop continuity of approach from Year 6 to Year 7, by sharing common expectations of outcomes and/or developing a cross-phase scheme of work; 
- In the mid-term, each child should receive a clear statement of learning outcomes against agreed benchmarks at the end of key stage 2; 
- In the mid to longer-term, the DfE, the Teaching Schools Council and Regional Commissioners, and Ofsted should incentivise schools to work in local and regional consortia, involving primary and secondary schools, networks and multi-academy trusts in order to develop and agree clear and structured programmes of language learning which provide continuity and progression across key stages 2 and 3. This aligns with recommendations put forward in the Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review (2016).
Once children are in Y7 teachers have to offer challenge to all learners regardless of their experience in KS2 – differentiation is key.  Enthusiasm and momentum needs to be maintained for those with experience while helping out the ones with less experience.  We don’t want these experienced learners to become disaffected when they could be the high flyers."

You may also want to consider a transition project.
         Year 7 visit Year 6 to talk about learning a language in Year 7, and they do activities together.
         Longer term joint projects, e.g. Year 6 work on a text, in Year 7 they write their own text using that one as a model.  Or Year 7s can write for real purposes and provide texts for Year 5 or Year 6 to read in one of their topics
         Maybe a cross-curricular project with art, PE, technology or science.
         Bridging units, where the work done at the end of Year 6 is continued and built upon in Year 7.
         Languages festival for Year 6s, hosted by Year 7 and Year 8.
         Postcard/All about me activity where children use all the language they’ve learned to write about themselves in order to introduce themselves to a new friend in Year 7

One of the recommendations of the White Paper is the consideration and piloting of cross-phase schemes of work initially for Year 6 and Year 7 pupils (expanding to include Year 5 up to year 8) in an agreed language across primary and secondary school networks/consortia to ensure continuity, progression and smooth transition, in order to boost motivation and increase uptake at GCSE.

These are some suggestions of what secondary teachers do with new Y7s:
         Explore the familiar in an unfamiliar way.  Revise core language but in a different context to avoid boring those who have already done it.
         Think about your seating plan, and seat more experienced students with those with less experience, so that they can peer teach.
         students with experience can exploit and recycle their language in new and creative ways.  e.g. daily routine of Dracula
         in reading tasks, students with more experience can look for higher level language such as connectives and tenses
         Differentiate by outcome.  Expect more from those with more experience.  They can write a short text while a beginner would write a list of words or phrases on the same topic.
         Above all secondary departments need to reflect about what they already do and how well it works.  As Einstein said: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

One of my Year 6 classes has done 6 years of Spanish with me, for an hour a week.  I have sent to the 4 different schools that they’re moving to a list of all the content that we have covered in Key Stage 2, the topics and also the grammar, core language and other skills such as dictionary use.  I’ve also sent a piece of written work that they completed last month.  The document also includes a list of the children and their level of ability (HA, MA, LA) and their level of confidence in language learning.

We often talk about the Year 9 disaffection, the end-of-Year 8 plateau.  Well the disaffection and the switching-off is going to happen a lot sooner if you get Year 7s who have done some language before and whose experience and knowledge is ignored.  There is nothing as demotivating as having to repeat several years of work.

Most of us have just over one week of term left.  Your Year 6 colleagues and SMT will know who to contact in the secondary schools.  They will have seen them many times over the last term.  Failing that, go online, find the email address of the school and send them the information, marked for the attention of the MFL subject leader.  It doesn't have to be a long, complicated document.  

I’m sure you’ll agree that Transition is something that we have to work hard to get right.  It hasn’t changed and has in fact started to worsen since 2014.  We owe it to our learners, so many of whom have the promise and the enthusiasm to be the linguists of the future.  We know how much learning a language has to offer us as an individual.  The children should experience it too.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Languages in the news (2)

At the beginning of March there was a spate of articles in the news about languages following the BBC's survey and report.  I collated as many of the articles as I could in one blogpost for easy reference.

This week there have, again, been a number of articles in the press about languages following the publication of the Language Trends 2019 report.  Here are, again, as many of the articles as I can find, for future reference:

Monday, 27 May 2019

Write Away! issue 1 is here!

Thank you so much to everyone who helped with the inception and production of the magazine.  Issue 1 is now here and can be read via .pdf or interactive book on the webpage.

I am now accepting submissions for Issue 2, and the deadline is Friday 27th September, so you have plenty of time.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Write Away! - call for submissions

Submissions are now invited for the first issue of Write Away!, an exciting new magazine celebrating the writing that primary children do in their language lessons.  

The deadline is 23.59 on Friday 24th May 2019.

Please download and read the notes for submission and complete the relevant documents from the webpage

Click here if you'd like to read about the development of the magazine.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Write Away! - the paperwork

Some of you may know that yesterday I managed to fracture my wrist.  As I can't drive I haven't been able to go to school, and so have had the unexpected opportunity to work on the magazine by way of some mostly one-handed typing.

The latest developments are that the magazine has a logo (see above!) and a webpage.  Not long now till we can start collecting the pieces of writing for the first issue.

With that in mind, I've done a first draft of the following:

  • the magazine layout
  • children's permission letter (GDPR)
  • teacher's permission letter (GDPR)
  • privacy policy
  • teacher's contribution proforma
  • how to submit work / terms and conditions
You can download the drafts as a zipped file from here. (*files no longer available*)  I'd be very grateful for any feedback, which you can send as a comment here, via email, via Twitter or via LiPS.

Merci / Gracias / Danke!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Primary Writing Magazine: the name

The votes are in, and the magazine now has a name!

Google Form
Write Now!
Write Away!
Write On!
Getting It Write
Write Bites
Let’s Write!

So Write Away!  it is.

More news coming soon.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Primary writing magazine: the next steps

Many thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts to the Google Form (see last blog post), which has helped to shape what we would like the magazine to look like.

The first thing to do is to vote on the title.  (You can also vote in the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group)

Here are the results of the other questions:

Question 2
Would you like the magazine to be just for Key Stage 2 (age 7-11) or include Key Stage 1 (age 5-7) as well?

The focus will therefore be Key Stage 2, with some Key Stage 1 work to be included as appropriate.

Question 3
How often do you think the magazine should be published?

Once a half-term it is!

Question 4
How many pieces of writing should we include in each issue?

The vast majority of respondents said 10.  This can of course be reviewed once the magazine gets underway and we see how much interest there is from teachers and children.

Question 5
Should the magazine feature the original pieces of writing, or typed versions of the children's work?

This will be an opportunity for children to show off their handwriting.  Showing an original might be difficult for some more creative pieces of writing such as the various kinds of minibooks.  The original pieces should be OK as long as we can get a good quality copy and the writing can be made large enough to be legible.

Question 6
Would you like the magazine to include children's illustrations as appropriate?

Question 7
Would you like the magazine to include notes from the teachers whose children's work is included?

I think this will be important for colleagues, to give an idea to readers of the sequence of lessons that led to the piece of writing, the support that the children had to enable them to complete it, and other information like how long the children have been learning the language and how long their lessons are.

Question 8
Should the magazine include the names, schools, LAs and towns/cities of the children? Please select more than one answer if appropriate. If you can advise on safeguarding, please do so in question 9 :)

I think we will probably include each child's first name, year group, town or city.  International schools and British schools overseas can contribute as long as they follow the same curriculum so as to provide a parity of experience, so we may have to include country names as well!

I have made an initial contact with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) about the GDPR implications, and they have given me some links to look at:

"ico_ciarah: Thanks for waiting. In order to process the information of the students for this purpose, you will need to identify an appropriate lawful basis for processing. Please see our lawful basis guidance here - 

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) individuals have the right to be informed about how their data will be used and processed, often referred to as privacy information. We have guidance about the Right to be Informed available here -
We also have guidance on children and the right to be informed here -"

If anyone is able to advise on the GDPR minefield or knows anyone who can, I'd be very grateful for any advice or assistance!

Thank you for all the comments in Question 9, which was the "anything else" question.  One respondent suggested including a crossword or wordsearch in each issue, while another suggested including some QR codes in order to listen to songs or speaking work.

My next steps now are going to be to work on a logo once the title has been decided, and to plan a basic layout.  I'd like to publish the first magazine at the beginning of June, the second at the end of September and the third in November ready for Christmas.

All comments welcome!

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Primary languages writing celebration magazine

Have you listened to the latest episode of the #MFLTwitterati podcast?  I thoroughly recommend it, and the preceding 3 episodes!  One item in episode 4 of the podcast which really appealed to me was the Revista Literal magazine for Spanish learners which is put together by Martina Bex, who is a US-based teacher. 

If you look at one of the editions of Revista Literal - this month's for example - you can see that it's students' creative writing in Spanish, presented with a vocab list at the side so that it is both a celebration of writing but also a reading resource. 

I'd love to put together something like this for Key Stage 2, across the languages. It would be a celebration of all the great work that our children do, as well as a useful resource for teachers and learners.  It would be my intention to publish it free on Light Bulb Languages.

I'd be really grateful if you could respond to some of the questions in the embedded questionnaire below to help me to get an idea of what the magazine will look like, and what people would like to see in it.  

Many thanks, and watch this space!