Thursday, 30 July 2009

Networking for Language Teachers : Sharing to Grow

My Twitter Social Ego Networks

I was delighted to be invited to guest blog by Ken Royal on his blog, The Educators’ Royal Treatment. I chose to blog about “Sharing to grow” as I have found that the concept is always a lot harder to sell to colleagues than expected.Teaching is after all an essentially individual activity-it is about you and 30 children, isn’t it?

As we all know, it is and it isn’t. As an individual activity, it is easy to rely on habit, recycling activities that we feel work in the classroom. However, with educational technology developing at high speed, the life-cycle of classroom activities seems to be getting shorter and shorter, with more and more needed to get that “wow factor” out of classes.
This is when networking is turning from an optional extra to an essential way to ensure we remain fresh and creative in the classroom…

In addition, languages have been put under even more pressure in England since 2004 , when they were made optional post-14. In the face of competition between schools and leagues table, languages have always come out looking like the poorer relative. Severity of grading in languages is well-known and as more emphasis is being put on raw exam results, a lot of schools have been put under pressure to downsize their languages departments in favour of more “student-friendly” non-academic subjects. Student engagement is now linked with subject survival and as a consequence, networking to share ideas and resources can be an effective way to deal with those added pressures and keep teachers’ morale up.

However, there are quite a few barriers to developing the “Sharing to Grow “ Approach:
*”This takes too much time. I am better off carrying on with what I am doing” This is not an option! Time investment does not have to be huge. The most effective way is actually to make it gradual to ensure that the changes are embedded and hopefully supported by the Faculty/department. If only a minority embraces change, the impact will be minimal.
*”I don’t want to take the risk to give and not get anything back” You always get something back, but it is often not ready to use. There is no “One size fits all” in teaching and resources are only as good as the way they are adapted to different groups of students and delivered to them.
*”I may not like what I get back”
The actual resource might not suit you for different reasons, but the idea is there and it is always better to start from something rather than nothing.
*”What I do might not be good enough to be shared” A resource might look good but how it is used is what makes it effective. It is very hard to assess how good a resource is as what works great with one group might be a complete fiasco with another. We have to make the necessary adjustments-that is why we are the professionals!

Sharing to Grow can be done Face-to-Face, locally or online using a variety of tools. In fact, I have found mixing online and Face-to-Face gives more value to the time spent networking and can focus face-to-face conversation as a little is already known about other people’s background.

What is a friend?
Check out your local networks (SLN) and subject associations-like ALL in England.
It is also worth looking at subject association worlwide to see how they promote languages and the kind of activities they have. I have found some good downloadable resources from Australia and New Zealand in the past and was always very interested to read about “language advocacy” in Australia and the United States.

I am an avid Diigo user and I have found Diigo groups a very good way to keep updated with new tools and sites of interest. I set up my own Diigo group, “Resources for Languages” in an attempt to enlist more language teachers worldwide. I also feel it is important that EFL teachers should mix with MFL teachers as we are all language teachers with common methodology and ideas that can easily be transferred from one language to another. There is also a wealth of EFL resources and methodology available worldwide which would be foolish to ignore.

I love Ning groups and the way they are very user-friendly to exchange news, ask questions through the forum, share pictures, videos as well as to upload resources to be shared. They are also quite reassuring for beginners as they can be closed as well as moderated to avoid spamming. I have set up a Ning to support our local languages network but a brilliant example is the Talkabout Primary MFL Ning, the first Ning I ever joined, which focuses on Language learning and Teaching in Primary schools.

As language teachers seem to spend a disproportionate amount of their time looking for suitable visuals, opening a Flickr account and connecting with colleagues is an excellent way to share resources. I am also a member of several languages Flickr groups and I have encouraged my colleagues to join as well as take pictures when they go to France or Spain.

MFL resources
This website and yahoo group is great to liaise with other language teachers, whether you need to buy new textbooks or discuss the latest National policies. It is perhaps more useful for UK-based teachers but I am sure that the resources posted and the ideas discussed would be of interest to the vast majority of language teachers worldwide.

Twitter is a great way to connect with other teachers but it does not work for everybody as it can take some time to follow a group a people you can really connect with. Some people are also put off by the Twitter mix of professional gems and personal trivialities.At the end of the day, it is always easy to unfollow somebody if you feel you are not really sharing anything meaninful with them-if that is your aim when using Twitter. I have found Twitter to be one of the most fertile source of ideas and links to CPD opportunities and I would really encourage anybody to give it a go. And no, it is not about celebrities or navel gazing… Although it can be if that is what you are into…

Last but not least, video conferencing is a great way to link with a wide range of colleagues that may not be living locally. The success of the recent MFL Flashmeetings set up by Joe Dale are proof of it and I am hoping that local networks will pick up on the idea and open up their meetings to other people. I also feel Skype has a lot of potential for training, contacting colleagues abroad or keeping in touch between meetings, with the flexibility of the msn-like chat, video calls, access from mobile phones-all for free…

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Compelling Language Learning Re-visited

In April last year, I was blogging about the meaning of “Compelling Language Learning”, one of the pivotal concept of the new Programme of Study (PoS) for MFL.
As I am preparing to review our Y7 Sows and roll the new PoS into Year 8, I have been trying to find more ideas to make our learners’ experience more compelling.

What should compelling learning look like?

· It should have clear learning outcomes in terms of what students need to know and understand and the skills and attributes they will develop.

· It should be done in a real and relevant context through which students “recognise for themselves the importance of learning to their lives, both now and in the future”.

· Students should take an active engagement with and responsibility for their own learning, therefore gaining a sense of autonomy and also benefiting from opportunities to think critically, make decisions and manage risks.

· Opportunities should be provided for group work and real cooperation and collaboration.

· The learning context should broaden students’ horizons and raise their aspirations, offering them opportunities to be challenged and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone.

· It should motivate learners by a giving them a clear sense of audience and purpose.

· It should highlight the connections between different curricular areas or its relevance through the development of Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS)

Last year, my definition of compelling language learning included the fact it...

• Has clear objectives shared with students
Engages students
• Is authentic
• Develops creativity by making connections between ideas
• Is regularly assessed in different ways and with shared criteria
• Is active learning
• Can be problem-based
• Can be enquiry-based
• Is cross-curricular and includes literacy, numeracy, citizenship
• Can be themed work
• Can be joint curricular work

What has changed?
As I review our Y7 SoWs and roll out the Y8 ones, I will be looking at:

· How learning outcomes are expressed and shared with students.

· Providing more opportunities to widen the learning context provided, enabling more personalisation of our SoWs.

· Make more use of online surveys to gain a students’ perspective and fully evaluate the impact f new approaches and discreet new activities.

· Continue to look at how other curriculum areas can provide motivating contexts for learning for Years 7 and 8.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

RSA Meeting ALL, London 14th July 2009: My 12 Best Ideas

an idea

During the meeting, we had a discussion about different ideas or activities that had a particular impact in the classroom. The following people attended the meeting: Wendy adeniji, Sarah Brooks, John Connor, Tara Deevoy, Claire Dodd, Sue Drake, Liz Fotheringham, Jane Full, Sonya Grant, Rachel Hawkes, Liz Hodgkiss, Shirley Kliment-Temple, Rachael Lawrance, Anne Prentis, Steph Reid, Kate Scapaticci, Pauline Sheath, Andrea Simpson, Jen Sutton, Sara Vaughan, Dave Wicks. I gleaned many ideas as the conversation developed but as a lot of the people were new to me, I regret I will not be able to acknowledge each idea with the person who shared it.

1. PE/Languages activity: Rules are given in the Target Language and students have to work as a team to guess the game. They then have to apply the rules to play it.

2. Caribbean carnival: Use of Creole, volcanoes and extreme weather for Geography, Soka dancing, drawing on community links and involving parents.

3. Watching films in the target language with no subtitle: watch and discuss/ write about it.

4. Exploiting text:
*Turn a text into a mind map, a flowchart-or a Wordle?
*Compare and contrast, expand the mind map or flowchart back out.
*Turn the text into a comic strip using 3rd of 1st person.
*Turn the text into a conversation/ interview-Ask students to put the questions in.
*Turn the text into a survey.
*Turn the text into a Venn’s diagram. (can work both ways: students are given the diagram and they have to write the text )

5. Research on famous families when teaching talking about yourself/ Use the MrPicassoHead website to design a family to describe.

6. Link to texts taught in English or in other subjects.

7. Cross-curricular project about the journey of a swallow: countries crossed and challenges linked to the journey. Tasks to cut up and put together as a team.

8. Get students to use small mirrors to copy target language pronunciation.

9. Re-design topic-based tasks from a textbook to be skills-based tasks e.g. Match descriptions and pictures becomes a pair/ group activity to find the partner who has the correct information: predictions, looking at cognates/ adjectives...

10. “Dessinez avec la main droite/ gauche... avec la jambe... avec le derrière”... numbers/ letters/ results of sums...

11. Demonstrate accents in French with your hands on the “Simon says” model.

12. Make an audit of the languages spoken in school and ask the different native speakers to introduce their home language in a video, also featuring pictures of the country. The video should be used at important school events to raise the profile of bilinguism and community languages. It could also be used in conjunction with a project like “Teach a friend a new language” as part of a cross-curricular event with English or EAL.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Renewed KS3 Framework for Languages-RSA Meeting, ALL, London, 14th July 2009

This was my first meeting as a Regional Secondary Adviser for ALL (Association for Language Learning) and it proved a very useful information-packed first contact.
The second session was lead by Alison Edwards, Programme Lead for MFL for The National Strategies.

The renewed Secondary Framework for modern foreign languages (MFL) is being updated to help maintain engagement and motivation at Ks3 and to encourage students to carry on with languages at key stage 4. It will be officially launched in September 2009.

The official aims also include the following:
  • Improving Learning and Teaching
  • Supporting the implementation of the new Programmes of study (PoS)
  • Raising standards and closing attainment gaps
  • Planning for progression
  • Increasing flexibility for personalised learning

A number of schools have trialled a draft version of the renewed Framework and the feedback has been positive. Teachers welcome the fact that it is skills-based, learner-focused, and appropriate to support them with the typical Y7 class who has had a variety of linguistic experiences in Primary School.

The renewed Framework is based on the new programme of study for MFL, which also promotes the development of “Intercultural Understanding”. It also aims to help teachers planning for new learning contexts that give students opportunities to explore aspects of the target language country’s life and culture.

It has five strands of progression that aim to mirror the KS2 Framework:
1. Listening and Speaking
2. Reading and Writing
3. Intercultural Understanding (IU)
4. Knowledge about Language (KaL)
5. Language Learning Strategies (LLS)

Some of the features mentioned were:

*The emphasis is now more on the learning objectives for students rather than on a particular type of task.

*Increased emphasis on key concepts and processes.

*Electronic format that follows the format of the core secondary Framework and has direct links to the new Programmes of Study (PoS). You need to register on the website to get some of the information but the MFL link takes you to both the Framework site and the 16 online modules specific to MFL teaching as well as the Exemplification, objectives and guidance sub-sections.

The 16 online modules provide a range of training opportunities for teachers and cover 4 main areas:
*Generic pedagogy issues
*Modern Language-specific pedagogy
*Planning the use of The Framework
*Whole-school issues

Two modules, “Using the Framework” and “Planning” are being revised in the light of the renewed Framework and will be re-launched in September 2009, when the web-based Framework and the exemplification and supporting materials should also all be available.

Monday, 20 July 2009

QCA Languages Update-RSA meeting, ALL, London 14th July

This was my first meeting as a Regional Secondary Adviser for ALL (Association for Language Learning) and it proved a very useful information-packed first contact.

The first session was lead by Chris Maynard, curriculum adviser for QCA (now QCDA). Chris presented the latest news regarding the recent development in languages and although a lot of the information was quite similar to the recent update by the Languages Company I attended in Manchester last month, I made note of the following points:

· New website to be set up about the changes in the Primary Curriculum for this Autumn-although the changes will not have to be implemented before 2011.
· The consultation about the proposed changes for the MFL Attainment Targets in secondary will finish on 24th July.

It is interesting to note that although Listening and Speaking are one Attainment Target in English, writing is assessed separately-whereas the suggested change for writing in MFL is to merge it with Reading.
The current proposal is that there is no weighting between Attainment Targets, which means that the new Intercultural Understanding Attainment Target would count for 1/3 of the overall level. The difficulty to assess Intercultural Understanding has been acknowledged as well as the fact that it may put the use of the target language at risk in some classrooms. However, its link with the KS2 framework makes it a logical suggestion.

Research findings at KS2 and KS3 show that:
· 92% of Primary Schools are teaching languages during class time.
· 69% of primary schools are teaching languages to all 4 years of KS2.
· 3 out of 4 schools feel ready for the 2011 deadline (that’s interesting, considering it is not everybody’s opinion)
· The aims most often mentioned for languages at Primary School are: to develop enthusiasm, Listening and Speaking skills and understanding other cultures.
· The typical discreet provision was a 40 minutes' weekly lesson.
· Transition to KS3 and progression within Ks3 remains a cause for concern.

An interesting way to facilitate this was mentioned by a RSA who has set up a cross-phase MFL co-ordinator meeting for his Local Authority. I thought this is a very interesting idea in many respects although the practicalities might be more difficult for larger LAs. This would also be more effective if it was supported by an online group like a NING to encourage linking outside of the scheduled meetings.

I greatly enjoyed the thought-provoking discussion around Assessment and how formal it really needs to be for it to be considered reliable. “Are languages teachers too fussy?” “What other kind of evidence is acceptable apart from pen to paper activities and one-to-one interviews?” I liked the fact that we were encouraged to trust our professional judgement and support it with a wide range of evidence, rather than using summative assessment as the only way to form an opinion about a student’s performance. I may seem obvious, but as our accountability grows, there is also a growing suspicion towards anything that is not at least partly assessed externally. Maybe it is time to have more confidence in our own judgements...

APP (Assessing Pupil’s Progress) is soon to be extended to foundation subjects-including MFL. APP is not statutory. It is not only relying on final pieces of work but also includes looking a progress and feedback as part of the assessment process.

A new distinction was also made between day-to-day, periodic and transitional assessment: The day-to-day provides immediate feedback on what to do next, the periodic gives a broader view across a full range of skills once a term or twice a year and informs medium to long-term planning and the transitional provides official recognition of a certain level of skills.

· The KS3 exemplification website is to be updated in the near future to show examples of key concepts and processes from the revised Programme of Studies as well as National Standards expected for each Attainment Target.

· QCA has developed a DVD to support MFL teachers with the controlled assessment of Speaking at GCSE. The DVD includes 14 examples of speaking activities with commentaries from examiners but does not provide detailed guidance on marking as this is provided by the different examination boards. The DVD can be ordered free of charge from (order reference QCA/09/4138)

· During the Autumn QCA will be working with a small group of school on GCSE speaking activities involving interactions between students. Examples will be published with commentaries in March 2010.

As a result of the questions following the session, I made a note of three interesting suggestions:
· We need to build KS3 into KS4-to ensure a continuity of approaches between the key stages. Conversely, we must also build KS4 into KS3 to ensure that key skills are embedded.
· Looking at Primary MFL resources created with a typically primary approach and check how they can be adapted to Year 7 to ease transition issues (secondary awareness of primary methodology is key)
· Teaching the Y6 KS2 framework for the first half term of Y7.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

7 Tips and Ideas to Manage Your Online Life

When I mention my blogging and social bookmarking habit, I am always asked the same question: Where do you find the time? The answer is: time is an abstract concept...

1. Establish routines:
Use dead time-on the bus, train or while your dinner is in the oven. How often do you read your emails? I have a social networking email where I let emails accumulate and keep things to check out, then I decide to spend a set amount of time on that account. If I like what I see, I Diigo it or send a shortcut to my desktop and read later if it is a more substantial document. When my desktop starts looking untidy, I scan the shortcuts again for a set amount of time and delete anything that is unlikely to be of immediate use in the near future.
If this leads to a blog post, I don’t necessarily write out and publish straight away. Unless the post is strongly time-related, it is probably better to try to blog once a week than do it every day for 6 weeks and not at all for another 2 months...

2. Multitask:
I put my Twitter on when I am working and often upload pictures to Flickr while I am doing something else on the computer. If I need uninterrupted concentration on a particularly difficult task, I just switch off my tweetdeck alerts.

3. Integrate:
I used to use mechanical plurk but it does not seem to work for me anymore. It was great for sending all of my tweets directly to plurk and start other conversations that I could access directly from my blog-I need to check this one out again. Friendfeed is also a good one for checking communication on many networks at the same time.
I have also been using tweeetdeck to check out my friends’ Facebook activities and my favourite blogs link from my blog-keeping the RSS feeds for extended reading session once in a while. I am sure there are a lot more ways to “integrate” my online life and I am always on the lookout for them...

4. Find out where to look for every occasion:
If you get to know your online friends better, you are likely to know where to look for specifics e.g. Spanish or French teaching, ICT integration training materials, management or e-learning resources...

5. Use to-do lists:
I have started to use the simple Ta-Da lists system, thanks to a post by Alice Ayel.
It is very simple, but it ensures that all my blogging ideas can be logged and prioritised.

6. Don’t feel the pressure:
Blogging should be a pleasure, not a chore. We have enough deadlines in our lives-I strongly feel blogging should not be like that. I am not a professional journalist, I am just a person using blogging to provide me with a bit of thinking space and hopefully engage in some kind of a dialogue with other people.

7. Don’t worry about missing anything:
If it is that good, it will be shared again! I also view the information shared on social networking site a bit like a lottery, some days you get very lucky and others you just don’t gain that much...

New GCSE and Controlled Assessment –What is new?

I recently attended a course organised by AQA about their new GCSE in Spanish.
Although the course concentrated on the delivery and assessment of speaking, some useful references to Controlled Assessment, the replacement for coursework were made. (see AQA’s useful leaflet that is specific to MFL)

Some other points to note were:
• All the questions will be in English. All answers will be in English or it will be a multiple choice set-up. This has implications for target language use in the classroom and the teaching of dictionary skills as proof of understanding will rely on accurate translation most of the time.
• Context= broad topics, Purposes = subtopics
• May 7th will be the deadline for the final submission of Speaking and Writing controlled assessment marks. (writing to be marked by AQA)
• The controlled assessment can be on any topic area-it does not need to be on the specification.
• For the writing, the 2 tasks submitted need to be different task types.
• The same language cannot be used across the writing and speaking tasks
• For the Speaking: 2 tasks need to be completed but only one task needs to be submitted as evidence. The Speaking is marked by the teacher and it makes sense to submit the best mark out of the two.
• No need for speaking candidates to be invigilated and no extra preparation is needed on the day. Each task should last 6 minutes maximum.
• Students will have access to the task in the exam as well as the task-planning form (cue card with 40 words maximum, no conjugated verbs or complete sentences-can be written in the Target Language or English )
• Speaking tasks designed by each teacher have to be changed every two years (by at least one bullet point). AQA will provide new exemplars every two years.
• Controlled Assessment advisers should be in place in September 2009. They will be able to help with task-setting but not with marking. (No permission needs to be sought from AQA for designing own tasks but advice is available if needed)

The distinctions between the 3 stages were also discussed at length:
• Stage 1: Teaching the topic
• Stage 2: Give students the task they are going to do
• Stage 3: When students do the task (for speaking, when the recording takes place)
At stage 1: Some preparation can be done under the form of written homework (can be marked)
At stage 2:
• The task can be discussed in English: organisation/ type of content
• Reference can be made to the work done at stage 1 but the language cannot be given directly
• Maximum of 6 hours spent at Stage 2

For teacher-designed speaking task, the following needs to be considered:
• 4-6 minutes
• Do not go over time
• All bullet points need to be covered or full mark cannot be given.
• There can also be subdivisions within a bullet points to help the candidate develop their answers, but all the subdivisions do not need to be covered.
• The unprepared question should be accessible to all candidates-to understand and to answer (use cognates if possible)
• Important not to teach language that is beyond the candidate’s ability at stage1 or communication will suffer.
• The number of bullet is up to the teacher-examiner but AQA recommends a minimum of 3, the best being 4-5 bullet points plus an unprepared question.
• All teacher-designed tasks will have to be submitted to AQA (bullet points only)
• Students will also be able to make a one minute presentation (first bullet point) with 3-5 minutes of Questions and Answers afterwards.
• Audio files were presented as the easiest way to carry out the tests and store them, with possible use of digital recorders for added flexibility.
• If a student does not do well on a task, they can re-take it but it has to be a different task (at least one bullet point must be changed)
• The 2 tasks submitted cannot have any similar bullet points.

Ideas to investigate:
• Foreign Language Assistant to conduct tests-they just need to be trained to go through a series of questions. The test could be recorded by the FLA and marked by the teacher. This could be particularly suitable for a student who got full mark on his first task.
• Possibility in the future to re-do any units once and have January entries for Listening and Reading.
• Peer assessment is allowed at Stage 2.
• Plan possible pronunciation issues t stage 1 as no feedback can be given at stage 2.
• Introduce advantages/ disadvantages in unprepared questions for teacher-designed tasks in order to introduce more complex opinions.

• Communication (/10), Range and Accuracy (/10), Pronunciation and Intonation (/5), Interaction and Fluency (/5)
• Variety of tenses: 2 or more but present and present continuous are considered as 2 tenses
• Complexity: variety of structures such as different ways to express opinions
• Different tenses-3 or more tenses-required for A*-B
• If students get one mark for communication, they have to get something for range and accuracy
• Individual responses required from students.
• Focus is on fluency rather than initiative (interactions)
• Development (quantity) is opposed to Initiative (the ability to take own direction in the conversation)
• No extra marks for spontaneity
• Unpredictable questions can be re-phrased but you cannot ask another question.

Latest News from AQA-1st July 2009
Speaking and Writing -Stage 2
“If a candidate produces a draft, it must be produced under the teacher’s supervision”
More information about this will be available for Speaking meetings taking place in Autumn 2009 and in the writing materials for the Teacher Resource Bank also available on AQA website.
Writing-Stage 3
“The “writing up” of each controlled assessment task for writing should last no longer than the duration of a normal timetabled lesson i.e 45-60 minutes”

Register with AskAQA to be informed of the latest updates.
For an overview of all the specifications and the differences between them, see the very useful presentation put together by Helen Myers.

It is however worth noting that the differences will not be in the weighting between skills-30% Speaking 30% Writing 20% Listening 20% Reading as this was set by QCA.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Top 100 Language Blogs!

I have had the pleasant surprise to find out that My Languages has been nominated in the Top 100 Language Blog competition in the category language learning. Although quite a few of my favourite language blogs are not on the list, this might be an opportunity to widen my language blog-reading horizons.
The voting is opened until the end of the month. (just click on the button on the right-hand side if you want to vote for this blog)