Monday, 30 June 2008

Getting ready for the new National Curriculum in Languages

I was asked recently about what we are doing to get ready for the new PoS…

We are now in the process of reviewing our schemes of work. Our review aims to provide students with motivating new contexts rather than concentrate on just covering a number of topics as in the past. Grammatical and linguistic progression is still the main focus but we are mindful of not diluting our language input and making it more student-centred through the use of ICT. Cross-curricular opportunities are highlighted in our Schemes of Works and more liaising is being done to establish overlaps and ensure seamless progression rather than repetition of the same topics in different subjects.

We have recently moved into a new building with state-of-the-art ICT facilities so we are in a strong position to make ICT the centre piece of our new approach. We already use the IWB for all our MFL lessons as a way to structure them. We also have a number of links abroad that we aim to integrate into our Schemes of Works to provide our students with real writing opportunities.

There are more plans to develop our student blog to showcase our students’ work and provide them with a “window on the world” as well as access to extension resources. Podcasting also is high on the agenda as a motivation tool to make listening comprehension and speaking tasks less threatening for students. It has already been used by students to revise for GCSE in Spanish.

However, before we get all our students ready to use ICT independently in day-to-day MFL lessons, my priority is to make sure all members of staff feel comfortable with it and are clear about our aims.

I have put together this teacher blog, My Languages, to support them by sharing resources and ideas on how to use ICT creatively. The response has been extremely positive as the foundations were laid some time ago with more electronic communication, use of ICT for administration and use of data projector to structure the delivery of lessons. I am also very proud that the commitment of each member of the Faculty to develop their own ICT skills to enhance language learning has been very high.

I now need to make my own ICT action plan to ensure that I can show how I am developing and therefore lead by example.

As I want to highlight that improving Learning must be at the heart of everything we do with ICT, I am planning to include the following:

1. IWB training (on-going) to ensure it is used more and more interactively. The training is not only for teachers but for students too, who must learn how to interact with the board in an appropriate and effective way.

2. Use of ICT room to enhance lessons with a focus on Listening and Speaking skills (use of audacity and training staff and students to use the ICT room for listening tasks)

3. Use of links abroad and ICT-like cartoon software or blogging- to develop writing skills

4. To develop independent learning skills-access to podcasts and suitable online materials

5. Use of Wikis for administration and to encourage collaboration within Faculty

Review of plans in September to see if it can all be fitted in with our school development priorities…

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Finding My Blogging Voice and Helping With Literacy

Odiogo is a free tool that allows you to convert your blog posts into audio files. The sound is of good quality but there is no choice of accent or gender.

Odiogo is compatible with all blog engines that publish RSS feeds such as Typepad, Blogger, WordPress or Overblog. The process is very straight-forward, you register and Odiogo lets you know when the audio version of your blog is ready. Each blog post is converted swiftly and is easily accessible in its audio form through an icon next the post heading.

I found listening to the audio version of some posts an interesting experience as something that reads well sometimes does not sound as good, and vice versa. This really has reinforced my awareness of language and how it should be influenced by the media used for communication. I certainly will bear this in mind when I have a real attempt at podcasting, hopefully over the summer holiday…

Odiogo could also be used in a variety of ways with students to reinforce literacy, by reading and listening or listening and looking at a different text-easily done with an Interactive Whiteboard- or for EFL listening skills.

Unfortunately, it does not seem to be available in French or Spanish, although listening materials can also be produced using the variety of text-to-speech software available, although quality can vary a great deal-from the robot-like to the nearly human...

Monday, 16 June 2008

Wordle: Word Inspiration

Wordle is a tool for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds highlight the words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can personalise your clouds by using different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The Word Clouds can be printed or saved to the Wordle gallery to share with others.

According to Wordle, this is what My Languages is all about...

I also think that wordle has a lot of potential to generate discussions and debates, as well as encourage creative writing. I am also planning to use it to present the aims and objectives of My Languages as a blogging project.

Any more ideas??

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Why I Still Love Twitter

Twitter has been up and down a lot lately, which has irritated a lot of people. Why should a social networking activity that basically amounts to answering a basic question-What are you doing?-become such a part of some people’s life?

Recently, Twitter has made been in the headlines for breaking the news of recent China’s earthquake, partnering with MySpace for its “data availability” project and even helping a student get out of jail.

In the past few months, Twitter has grown rapidly. According to Lee Odden’s Twitter usage poll , the most popular reasons for using Twitter were:
  1. Sharing links to items of interest to your network
  2. Networking for new contacts
  3. Reinforcing current network contacts
  4. Promoting specific content
  5. Re-distribution of content from blogs, web sites
  6. Twitter cat posts: flight delays, eating habits, who knows what and why
  7. Replacement for Facebook updates
  8. Influencing your network-leadership
  9. Group and project communications

At first, I was uncomfortable with the mix of formal and informal and personal and public. I also could not see what Twitter could do for me. Now that it is sometimes unavailable, this is what I miss-apart from the quick responses to any of my “tweet”:

* Technical Advice: I received some brilliant tips when I started using my IWB ;

*Specific advice offered when requested ;

*The opportunity to pick somebody else’s brains ;

*the 140 Character Limit: great to help you clarify your thoughts and get to the point ;

*Discussing issues that are important to you ;

*Finding out how an issue is dealt with in different countries: I find the differences between the different educational systems fascinating ;

*Getting links to suitable reading to keep you up to date with your areas of interest: This is personalised CPD of the highest quality

*Finding out about blogs and blog posts of interest to you: Helps with social networking locally as well as globally.

*Blogging Ideas..

Twitter can also be used with students. Some practice can be very daring and more suitable for post 16-particularly when it involves Twitter and mobile phones.
However, some simple projects like “Foxford Meteo” set up by James Padvis from Foxford School and Community Arts College in Coventry can turn out to be a real source of motivation for students.

Now the sticky point: How to introduce it to other people?

A number of short videos and blog posts will be useful:

However, it sounds so unrelated to our professional concerns that some of its uses will need to be highlighted formally-like in this blog post. I would encourage any colleagues to get started to see its real potential. Like many ICT tools, it is difficult to evaluate its usefulness until you start using it, but what is for sure is that there is a lot more to it than just talking about what you are up to…

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Let’s Get Started: Plain Hook or Photo Soup?

PhotoSoup is a visual word puzzle generator that allows users to create word search puzzles with tag-related photos taken from Flickr. The words are hidden in the puzzle, and only the associated photo is shown as a clue although it is possible to reveal the words on the screen. The objective is to find all the words hidden in the puzzle before you run out of time.

This has a lot of potential for being used with an Interactive Whiteboard as a starter or a “hook” into a new topic. Our Languages faculty has been experimenting with the use of interesting visuals as “hooks” in an attempt to maximise students’ engagement at the beginning of the lesson. This concept is also linked with the “Connect” phase of the Accelerated Learning cycle,when the teacher provides an opportunity for students to make new connections across lessons and if possible across subjects too.

To create and play a new puzzle, you have to provide a topic. Alternatively, you can use your own username to generate a puzzle that shows your photos. Only public Flickr photos that have the Creative Commons Attribution license are used when generating a PhotoSoup puzzle, so you will not have to worry about copyright issues.

If you choose to provide the topic in Spanish, this works quite well although some words in English may appear too. However, when I tried this in French, the results were not as good and varied greatly according to the topic entered.

This is my attempt for the topic “transporte”

Monday, 2 June 2008

Networking: What Sort of Friend Are You?

After reading Vicki Davis' blog post “Why I think More Teachers Don't Share Their Blog with Others”, I started to think about what a networking teacher “Friend” really is.

According to Vicki, teachers would be naturally humble and not sure about sharing their musings-or would it be that we are out of our comfort zone when we start blogging and that it takes time- blogging and reading time-to develop a strong blogging voice?

Inferiority and not wanting to join in some debates
“Teachers might just feel like their blog is not good enough”. I would agree that giving opinions on such a public medium can sometimes feel like having your secret diary displayed on billboards. Our blog might be written with no particular style but it is close to our heart and the risk of being criticised could be oh so personally hurtful…

Paranoia and fear
Vicki says “Teachers organizations have come out against blogging. Somehow we are pariahs. Why? Be a professional, don't share confidential information and focus on best practices and you should be OK”. I would add that the general idea spread in the media that there are lots of malevolent lurkers out there does not help

What is the point?
It is often difficult to see what can be useful to other people…
As a summary I would say a networking teacher “Friend” can be:
  • Somebody who has some common interest with you e.g. subject, interest in technology integration
  • Somebody who would like to find out more about your area of interest
  • Somebody you think you can help
  • Somebody you think can help you
  • Somebody who makes you think by challenging your perceptions
  • Somebody who inspires you by blogging about their own experiences and projects
  • Somebody who keeps you up to date with things

What sort of “Friend” are you? What sort of “Friend” would you like?