Saturday, 25 April 2009

Thinking Skills in Languages Lessons to Develop Active Learners

I attended this fantastic workshop run by AST and SSAT Leading Practitioner Louise Crossley at The Royds School Specialist Language College in Leeds on Tuesday 21st April, which also happened to coincide with my blog anniversary.

Even though the focus of the day was clearly on Thinking Skills, the friendly atmosphere created by Louise and the relatively small size of the group-12 teachers-meant a lot of other current languages issues were discussed amongst the participants.

The implementation of the new PoS was discussed with examples of Year 7 activities set up at The Royds School. No textbooks are used, active learning and the development of personal learning skills such as dictionary skills are encouraged on a regular basis through class activities. During the first term, the module is called “My New School” and it is also used as a bridging unit. During the second term, the Module is all about post-expressionist art and it is a creative way to explore grammatical items such as adjectival agreement, gender of nouns, word order, verb endings and tenses. By the end of the first module, all students are given the opportunity to attempt a level 6 piece of work.

A good way in more sophisticated topics is to ask the students to label a picture with as many words in the language as they can-this is also used as yet another opportunity to develop students’ independent learning and dictionary skills.

After a general introduction to thinking skills showing how the traditional textbook rarely covered more than the first three levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, Louise demonstrated how to set up a “mystery” activity. The aim of developing Thinking Skills activities is to raise the level of challenge as well as give opportunities to develop the higher skills such as Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation and “turn passive learners into active learners”.

The thinking skills that must be delivered through our Schemes of Work are:
1. Information Processing
2. Reasoning
3. Enquiry
4. Creative Thinking
5. Evaluation

Teaching Thinking Skills can also mean then need to appear more explicitly in the learning objectives of the lesson e.g. Learning how to build a negative sentence, the impact of gender. Another way of “sharpening” learning objectives can also be to teach a lesson around a set of framework objectives.

More group work should happen in language lessons. After a quick survey, we found out that although pair work was a regular feature of our languages classrooms, real group work was not as frequent. The optimal group was deemed to be of 3 or 4 people, where each student would have a set role within the group. Setting up good group habit is definitely the key to developing personal learning skills in an effective manner. Students could be given numbers 1-3 or 4 as they come in and the role of members 1-3 or 4 be explained at a later stage of the lesson (e.g. 1: reads the statements, 2: underline reflexive verbs in the statements, 3: summarise in English the decision made by the group after the discussion).

The “Mystery” approach relies on a question and a series of statements to support a discussion around this question. The example given was: “Should I live with my Mum or my Dad? Why?" The statements were of a high standard of French and included lots of vocabulary items that would be “caught not taught” often including a lot of higher level cognates. In the “meta-cognitive plenary” students would explain the reasons for their choice and identify specific language items if relevant e.g. reflexive verbs.

Although I was at first disappointed by the fact that the discussion was largely in English, there is no doubt that the group work set-up, the use of dictionaries and the high cognitive levels of the support statement make this a challenging and interesting activity on many different levels. There are also many possible follow-up activities, one of them being the opportunity to formalize specific grammar patterns-like reflexive verb endings in this example.

The “Mystery” could be introduced by another thinking skills activity: finding the odd one out. The success of the activity depends on finding a suitable question and different types of questions were discussed amongst the group, some aiming to focus on a specific item of grammar and other to expose students to high level vocabulary on a specific topic. Examples included: Which school would you pick? Is she a good citizen? Who is Sophie’s best friend? Will Antonio be a smoker? What menu will they choose? Who is telling the truth? (Some witnesses may be lying or not remember accurately). It is important to ensure that there are no straight answers or there will be no discussion. A sheet with key vocabulary should also be provided for the students.

Using Living Graphs and Fortune lines
As for the mystery, the discussions will be in English but the text will be in the languages. An introduction activity could be to re-build sequence of a story from a cut-out text. After looking at introductory vocabulary, a higher level text on the same topic could be looked at and the following be plotted: Is the person talking happy? (Y) What time is it?(X). The graph could also represent: well-off/ poor, healthy/ unhealthy, heaven/ hell...
This activity is particularly good to focus on connectives and sequencing.

Using images
*Find a title
*Draw a line from the picture and label it
*Speculate about it: when, where, what, who, why
*Do a collective memory activity where students collaborate to remember the whole picture

Diamond ranking and other ideas for classifying activities.
Brainstorm e.g. "What is a perfect friend?" (9 squares): adjectives to be ranked on the IWB or mini whiteboards, one member of each group to come to the board and offer feedback. Other examples included: ideal town, perfect meal (for you or for a friend), ideal lifestyle, perfect classroom, perfect night out, perfect weekend, nightmare journey, nightmare hotel.
Students could also sort the cards in their own chosen categories: (ex: for food) masculine/ feminine, French/ English, tried/ not tried

Although I already regularly use sorting activities and pictures and I had a clear idea about what Thinking Skills are, I found it very valuable to be given quality time to design my own resources putting into practice other areas of Thinking Skills. ...and the networking in between sessions was invaluable too!

Resources mentioned in the workshop:

Monday, 13 April 2009

Twitter in Education:Spreading the Word

I have found it quite a difficult task to spread the word about how useful Twitter can be as a networking tool. After Twitter made the headlines a few times over the last couple of months, I thought maybe my task would become easier. Unfortunately, it has not been the case. Somehow, a lot of Twitter users have come out of it appearing as self-obsessed superficial people.
However, some documents such as this wonderful Twitter Handbook for Teachers breaks the trend:
Twitter Handbook for Teachers Twitter Handbook for Teachers Tomaz Lasic An overview of Twitter and ways of using it in education for a group of educators attending Twizza (Twitter & pizza) gathering in Perth, Western Australian on April 8, 2009.Created by Tomaz Lasic (@lasic,

Thank you for showing that Twitter can be an invaluable tool in Education.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Podcasting for Teachers and Students

I am organizing a training session on podcasting, following from a previous session on “The Use of Sound in the MFL Classroom” where all the members of my Faculty recorded sound files, did some basic editing with Audacity, tried out Voki and had a look at Voicethread.

The aim of the training will be:

*To define what a podcast is and how it differs from a simple sound recording.
*To find mfl podcasts: to subscribe to them via itune and download them.
*To explain the podcasting process step-by-step.
*To search for educational podcasts.
*To find podsafe audio.
*To understand how a podcast is published with Podomatic.
*To brainstorm ideas for using podcasts in the MFL classroom.
*To fine-tune our Faculty Action Plan for developing the use of podcasting in MFL.

As usual my Twitter friends came to the rescue with suggestions for podcasting training resources:

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Using Wikis in MFL - Language World 2009

I was unable to attend ALL Language World conference in Leicester, where Alex Blagona presented his guide to using Wikis in MFL. I find his presentation extremely inspiring and I hope it will help me to develop my own MFL Faculty Wiki project further. I particularly liked the practical examples from Alex's presentation as well as the way he shows how a Wiki can complement a VLE rather than undermine it. Food for thoughts...