Saturday, 27 June 2009

Skype Interview : Social Bookmarking

Michèle Drechsler is an “inspector of the Education Nationale” in France. She manages a district of 260 teachers. She is responsible for the mission “environment numerical of work” for the departement of Moselle. She undertook university research on the topic: What are the changes caused by the new technologies for the professional training against the KM (Knowledge Management) and Cops (community of practices) paradigm? She currently prepares a doctorate thesis: Teaching resources on line and Web2.0.Indexing, bookmarking and folksonomy
Not only was it an honour to answer Michèle’s questions over Skype, but it really made me reflect on my social bookmarking practices.

Does socialbookmarking help you in your daily practice ?
It provides ideas for my classes, resources to create my own materials and it is now for me an essential tool to share good practice with other teachers.

How long have you been using social bookmarking ? How did you find out about Diigo ? What were the most important reasons for you to join Diigo?
I found out about Diigo via Twitter. I was already using but I sensed that Diigo had much more potential to share bookmarks with like-minded people. My first aim was to meet other linguists and languages teachers to exchange bookmarks for ideas and resources, hence the creation of my "Resources for Languages" Diigo group. I then found out that Diigo was a very effective way to keep up to date with cutting edge practice integrating new technologies in general and their application to language learning and teaching in particular.I have been using Diigo for a bit less than two years.

What are the most important advantages of Diigo according to you ? Visualisation ? Groups ?
Some of my contacts moved on to Diigo and decided to try it too. As I knew that I could transfer my links to Diigo , there was not a lot of risk involved…
I like the fact that on Diigo the bookmarks are linked to a person and a profile. It is therefore easier to identify people who have common interests with you and maximise the exchanges.
I also love the groups and the fact that their activity is easily trackable by rss and (immediate or weekly) emails.
What is the contribution of digital resources in your practice? What is a digital resource for you ? What is a good resource?
For me, a digital resource is anything that can be kept on or accessed through my computer: sound files,photos, images, documents (especially powerpoint, word and excel ), notebook files for my IWB, bookmarks to online resources...
A good resource is a resource that is adaptable to my students’ needs and a resource that is going to grab their attention-at least for a while- and engage them . For learning languages, I would say that a combination of audio files and high quality visuals is the most effective.

How do you keep abreast of new developments ?
I create powerpoint presentations for each lesson I teach and I use them to include a wide range of resources, from “low tech” (cards and worksheet) to “high tech” (notebook documents for the IWB including photos/ videos and sound)
Where do you find your new Diigo bookmarks ? Do you tag your findings as you go along as do you have any tricks to find the resources again ?
I am a member of Twitter and of a great number of other social networks like yahoo groups and Ning networks. I use Plurk, et Diigo. I also use rss to read a great number of blogs.
Do you do searches by key words ? Do you search for specific individuals that you « follow »?
The trick is to find people that have the same areas of interest as you and to follow them on twitter and via other social networks they might be part of. I use tweetdeck and I have a permanent search column for "languages".

How much time do spend searching for new materials? On average, per week?
I would say at least one hour per day but more at the weekend-especially in the evening. I try not to spend too much time on one occasion but to look for things when I have only a very limited amount of time available several times in the day.

How much time do you spend on the various groups you are a member of ? How do you manage your subscriptions?
I usually start going through my Diigo emails as I have joined quite a few Diigo groups but I also check my emails from the mfl resources yahoo list as it is such a fantastic source of information and resources for UK MFL teachers. I manage the information according to the time available to me: quick check, save on Diigo or if it something that takes more time to read, I send a shortcut to my computer desktop as a reminder to read the article or the report later…

In your opinion, does Social Bookmarking improve research ? What are its limits?
Of course it does ! The limit is sometimes the validity of the research, like anything else on the internet… It can be harder to find out whether it is completely reliable.
Does Social Bookmarking enable you to carry out out more relevant searches than with Google?
Yes because contacts can vouch for the validity or usefulness of specific resources whereas Google just gives an idea of the web presence of its author-and a greater web presence does not necessarily equate with greater the reliability/ validity.

Do you trust other users, is that right?
Yes, particularly if the resource has been widely used by the majority of my contacts. It gives you more confidence as it is not just a number of anonymous people.-You have some genuine common interests with your contacts.
How do you view the simultaneous presence of amateurs and experts discussing common topics ?
On the net, anybody can present themselves as an expert. I prefer to think that we are all amateurs because we never cease to learn and that our ability to be critical of everything we come across is the most important thing.
Is tagging a cognitive activity ? Does tagging force you to reflect on categories to find the correct key word?
Yes, but I feel that it remains quite personal too. Lately, I attended an Elluminate session on tagging for Flickr. We were asked to tag a picture and we then compared all the different words and categories suggested-fascinating... For photos the choice of categories is maybe wider but I believe that we also get the categories to fit our needs. The question is always: if I want to find this again to do… what key word do I need?

Key words need to be standardized. Is a protocol necessary at some stage to determine a common vocabulary or is self-regulation best?
This is a very interesting point. I have always allowed self-regulation as I feel that it may be too restricting to regulate for a whole group,-especially if the members speak different languages. Provided the bookmark is accessible via a great selection of key words, I do not think it makes any difference…

Has using digital resources changed your professional practice? Does socialbookmarking enable you to be innovative?
It means that I can store all my resources in one place-my computer, I can share resources more easily with my colleagues as well as edit them to improve them… Using digital resources also enable me to include sound and pictures and to create resources that are more engaging for my students. Using social bookmarking, I can also be sure that my knowledge of how new technologies are applied in my area of work is also up-to-date. Social Bookmarking made me discover new tools such as Wordle or Voki….

Did Social Bookmarking enable you to be more innovative in the classroom ?
Yes, by using relevant You tube videos, by using audacity to do some recordings for my students, by using voki, wordle, by using live web pages to illustrate a point, teach vocabulary or a grammar item-for example, showing an interactive weather map in Spanish while teaching phrases to discuss the weather.

Is there a difference between what the tool is designed for and what you use it for in practice?
Yes because we need to tailor any resources we use to the need of our students, given a defined time allocation and technical situation-blocked sites, access to computer rooms… For instance, avatars can be used to encourage students to write descriptions in another language. That was not why they were created but the use we make of the tools available also depends on our creativity in the classroom…

What are the most important lessons you have learnt through using social bookmarking?
You get more out of social bookmarking if you use it actively. Keeping your good bookmarks to yourself does not make you grow as a professional or as an individual. “Sharing is receiving”. This is probably the most difficult message to spread. The time issue often comes up when I talk about actively using social bookmarking. It does not take any more time than deleting unwanted emails and it is so much more productive…

Monday, 22 June 2009

Are TeachMeets the Most Effective Form of CPD for Languages Teachers?

The TeachMeet concept is simple: Let’s meet to talk about what we have been up to in the classroom. Technology is often central to the event: it has often been discussed on Twitter and various fora like MFLResources.

It is informal and yet it follows quite a few unwritten-or even sometimes written rules like a “no powerpoints please” rule to ensure presenters try to engage more fully with their audience-or at least that is what I think the benefit of such rule may be!

Whatever the practical details, the aim of the meeting is to foster a focused and honest exchange of ideas and good practice. So this is no place to go and talk for hours or unashamedly advertise your own products!

As I could not attend in person, I was delighted to see that a flashmeeting would be available to watch and comment via the flashmeeting chat facility. The flashmeeting was recorded bd can be accessed here (part 1) and here (part 2).

In real unconference style, a wiki was first set up to enable participants to register interest and allow them to volunteer for different short speeches on a topic of their choice. A Ning was also available to receive more information and to ensure pre and post-teachmeet networking as well as the sharing of all Teachmeet materials.

After the conference, which I followed live from the comfort of my own home, I read about a few of the blog posts about it on Chris Harte’s and Helena Butterfield’s blog.

I was also particularly impressed by the use of Etherpad to support the exchange of information within the TeachMeet as well as facilitate better networking. In my case, I was able to find even more interesting people to follow on Twitter and blogs to read...

Truly impressive! Now I can’t wait the TeachMeet North West in October, the London Show & Tell on 1st November and the Coventry Show & Tell on 14th November

That should care of CPD for the Autumn term...

Friday, 19 June 2009

The National Languages Strategy Update, Manchester 8th June 2009-Secondary

The situation of the language offer in Secondary schools was discussed from different perspectives:

How do students learn?
=>rich input of language
=>interaction through and with languages
=>motivation to learn, use “meanings that matter”

How do teachers develop?
=>support and partnership
=>innovation and evaluation
=>network and discussion
=>development and dissemination
Developing reflective practitioners is key.

A New Secondary Experience should include the following:
*take account of transition and what has been done at Primary
*recognition of achievement (e.g. through Asset Languages)
*variation/ personalization of the new curriculum
*engaging curricular content, use “Meanings that matter”
*opportunities for teachers to reflect and develop (CPD)

From Compulsion to Expectation
In January 2006 Jacqui Smith, then Minister for Schools and 14-19 learners, wrote a letter to schools advocating a target 50-90% uptake for languages at KS4.
Although the A*-C target is not limited to GCSE, there is still limited incentive for non-Language Colleges to extend the language offer through alternative qualifications at KS4.

A More Engaging Curriculum

*The New Secondary Curriculum
*Revised KS3 Framework linked to KS2
*New approaches, CLIL (using languages to access real content)
*New languages: intensive course in Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic, Russian …
*Open School For Languages to be launched next autumn.

The new approaches must be rooted in the situation of individual schools.
The renewed KS3 Framework will be re-launched at the end of June 2009.
5 strands:
*Listening and Speaking
*Reading and Writing
*Intercultural Understanding
*Knowledge About Language (KAL)
*Language learning strategies

Revised Assessment Framework
Reforming GCSE: controlled assessment in speaking test (revised speaking test)
Promoting alternative qualifications to GCSE. The Openqual site is useful for this.
Asset languages/Asset for the world of work (French and Spanish) can be alternatives to consider in a more flexible vocational context.
The Diploma: Languages and International Communication

Principal Learning: How languages work
Identity and internationalism
Languages in context
Professional communication
Languages in the work place
Becoming an autonomous learner
Using languages for:
*investigation, gathering information , doing research
*exchanging ideas, networking, interacting, discussing
*accessing imaginative work

Support for teachers
Networks: SLNs, Secondary Curriculum,
Focus on regional support: Links into Languages to replace Comenius Centres.
Linked-up (National Teacher Research Scholarship for Languages): funds available to work on specific projects e.g. CLIL, KS2/ KS3 transition (more information to be found on the website as scheme starts in September)
TDA initiatives: upskilling secondary teachers who want to go and teach in primary schools

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The National Languages Strategy Update, Manchester 8th June 2009-Primary

It is now two years since the Languages Review was published and the update provided an overview of the progress made so far. The briefing covered: primary, key stage 4, the new primary curriculum, KS4 performance indicators, the new Languages and International Communication Diploma, the Open School for Languages and the Links into Languages programme.

The Update was presented by Lid King and Kate Green.
Lid King established the Languages Company in 2008 in order to support the National Languages Strategy. A languages teacher in secondary, higher and adult education, advanced level examiner and materials writer, Lid was Director of CILT from 1992 to 2003.
Kate Green is a secondary languages specialist with additional experience in primary, adult languages and EFL. She is now a member of the Languages Company and her work has a particular focus on the national situation of the MFL uptake at KS4. She is also a Senior Adviser for the Links into Languages programme.

In Primary the Language offer was presented as follows:

=>The New Curriculum includes languages for all (7-14) from 2011
=>More appropriate assessment
=>Choice and personalization (support for improved)

Primary aims were defined as: =>Enthusiasm for language learning
=>Focus on Speaking and Listening
=>Develop understanding of other cultures

The most popular languages in Primary were French (89%), Spanish (23%) and German (9%).
The average time allocation was 30-60 minutes per week in primary schools and the teaching was most commonly carried out by the class teacher. One of the most important changes was that many more schools had some kind of assessment scheme in place.

Making and Marking Progress is a taster pack with suggestions and materials to support progression in the summer term of Year3

Cilt transition projects are also available

New website : which is a combination of the former NACELL and Primary Languages training zone websites. A "Linguistic Upskilling specification" will be put into place to support primary school teachers. The syllabus will be delivered in all LAs and firmly rooted in primary practice. The specification will consist of 4 modules of 30 hours each and the phonology strand will run through the course with a specific focus on intonation and stress (video clips to be found on the primary languages website)

The Rose Review (Primary)
* Languages to be statutory at KS2 from September 2011
* Programme of Studies and progression based on the KS2 framework
* Languages will be within the “English, Communication and Languages” Area of Learning (focus on language development and learning languages as a way to develop literacy skills)
* It is recommended to teach 1 or 2 languages in order to develop clear levels of competence (move away from the multilingual / cultural/ linguistic awareness models)
* Free choice of languages (it does not have to include a language from the EC anymore)
* OFSTED Review by 2014

Entitlement for each child to reach a certain level in :
* Listening and Speaking (at about level 3)
* Reading and Writing (and phonic)
* Intercultural Understanding

09-10 Priorities
1. Maintain existing support for workforce development
2. Language Upskilling
3. Support for progression, assessment and transition
4. Monitoring progress and provision (OFSTED)

Monday, 15 June 2009

MFL Show and Tell 09: Sent to Coventry for a New Life

After the success of The Isle of Wight Conference and its MFL Show and Tell sessions. The MFL Show and Tell will be moving to Coventry in the autumn. It will still give language teachers the opportunity to meet up and share good practice, ICT or non-ICT based, although my guess is that ICT will be at the centre of the session, mostly due to the fact various MFL teachers first discussed the idea of the meet-up on Twitter.

Thanks to James Padvis , the session will take place at The 6th Form Centre at Foxford School and Community Arts College in Coventry on Saturday 14th November.

If you feel like joining us, just sign up on Joe Dale’s wiki and bring along £10 to cover organisation costs and lunch. Wifi will be available, so feel free to bring your laptop too!

Quite a few MFL teachers have already signed up as attendees –the vast majority- or presenters. After initially registering as an attendee, I decided to have another go at presenting as I enjoyed it so much last year at the Isle of Wight Conference. I will aim to take further my initial “spreading the word about ICT” and convincing colleagues themes. Watch this space...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Flickr groups for Languages: Getting Relevant and Stimulating Visuals in your Lessons

Looking for suitable visuals for languages lesson is often a time-consuming experience but the impact on classes is often worth it. I have been using Flickr creative commons search, which is a source of many interesting and visually stimulating materials.

What makes a good picture for language teaching?
*clear picture of one object if the picture is illustrating a vocabulary item
*obvious cultural link e.g. if I am teaching about houses in Spain, I want to show pictures from different Spanish-speaking countries and use them as an opportunity to raise cultural awareness: different styles, colours, materials, size of garden, fences, balcony, tiles….
*strange, “Arty” picture to make an impact particularly to teach cognates or words for concepts.
As a result a lot of searching is necessary…

Some time ago, I joined the Images4Education Flickr group and a number of other languages group. The aim of the groups is to share visuals that could be used to teach languages. I also blogged about the project here.

Ideas to get authentic pictures
Members of the group could take pictures “on demand” through contacts developed through the group. The origin of the pictures can be identified easily and the group pool can easily be searched by topic if correct tagging habits are encouraged.

I was particularly interested to find out about @aliceayel 's new Flickr group, Images to Teach Languages as it already has a great number of pictures. The group currently has 35 members and 375 shared items.

How do I go about joining the group?
Join flickr at and join the group

and share your pictures to teach languages. Remember to tag the pictures by topics as well as describing what is on the picture.

Hoping to see very soon your contributions to the group pool...

Monday, 1 June 2009

MFL Flashmeeting2, Monday 6th July, 8.30pm-10.30pm

After the resounding success of the first MFL Flashmeeting organized by Joe Dale last month on Monday 4th May, The MFL twittering teachers are striking back!

The participants signed up here, on Lynne Horne’s wiki to express interest and the recording of the first MFL Flashmeeting can be found here .

All you need to participate is to click on the link for the meeting and plug your webcam/ microphone! The Flashmeeting set-up also prevents people to talk over each other, which can happen in real life and allows for the easy sharing of links. You can also type/chat to comment on what is being said and vote to express opinion. No doubt some more features will be explored next time...

This time, participants have signed up here to discuss the following…

1. If you are a blogger, what is your favourite post and why?

2. Getting into podcasting. Where do you start?

3. Ideas for celebrating The European Day of Languages on 26th September 2009 using Web 2.0 tools or otherwise (How about a massive VoiceThread?)

4. CPD opportunities for next academic year. Would anyone want to organise a one or two day face to face event somewhere in the UK?

5. Cunning tips: how do you save time in blogging/podcasting/resource creating and so on, to keep work/life balance & prevent divorce/forgetting names of children, etc.?
Really looking forward to this one...