Monday, 24 August 2009

The LAFTAs: Promoting Languages through Competitions

What is it?
The competition is organised by CILT, the National Centre for Languages as part of its work to promote languages in the UK. The LAFTAs aims to create a bank of video clips that can be used to encourage teenagers to value language learning.

What do you have to do?
You have to make a two-minute video showing why languages are important. Online application forms and clips must be sent in before February 2010.The clips will be put on a dedicated YouTube page and passed on to regional judges and, finally, to the LAFTA’s celebrity judging panel.

Video clips can be in any style but students must be aged 13-21, must be living in the UK and can be entered in one or more categories. There are individual and group categories for the most commonly taught languages as well as a "London 2012" and "World of Languages" category to celebrate all the world languages spoken in the UK.

What are they looking for?
*Originality and creativity: Clips are not be judged on technical excellence, the idea is the most important criteria.
*Clips should have a strong message about the benefits of learning a language as illustrated on the LAFTA YouTube page.
*Clips should be designed to appeal to young people rather than adults.
*Clips should be no longer than two minutes in length.

Hints and tips are aso provided here and it is also interesting to have a look at a similar competition organised in the US by the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

European Day of Languages: Promoting Language Diversity

The European Day of Languages (EDL) aims to celebrate the rich and diverse culture that is represented by Languages worldwide and 26 September is the common European day first set by the Council of Europe in 2001. This celebration of language and culture diversity has been getting bigger every year, now with 45 countries involved.
Dominic McGladdery, a UK MFL teacher, has set up a very useful wiki with ideas of activities but there are many other ways to find good resources and ideas to celebrate this day.

For instance, you can order up to 100 free copies of “Passport to the European Union” and “Languages take you further” from here.

There are lots of other resources from the CILT’s website including:
EDL animations
Desktop wallpapers
Pronunciation guide

Popular suggested activities include:
Language days
Football tournaments
Poetry competitions
International evening
Video conferences
Interactive games
Multilingual assembly
Language Breakfasts
Singing competitions
Greeting cards

Somes sample activities for primary schools could also inspire secondary eachers and include:

Multilingual assemblies that could also include games, food, cinema and multilingual assemblies. Find out more

Languages hand mime This is a great way of getting children to communicate in your chosen language and to have fun! Find out more

Songs Find out more

Music Competition Select excerpts from tracks in ten different languages. Children complete grid adding language they think song is in to track number (eg no. 1 Spanish) Competition to see who gets most correct answers. Prizes for winners.

Food tasting Children have the opportunity to see food being made or make food (using/following instructions for recipe in foreign language) and then taste it. They must ask to try it and give polite feedback on it using target language!

Dance Children learn a traditional dance from foreign country (following instructions in target language). Children can practise this and perform as part of special EDL assembly.

The Council of Europe website for EDL is at and you can get inspired by events run in the whole of Europe during the previous years

LTS Scotland is a good source of ideas and links to resources. It also has “word files” in languages from Arabic to Welsh which could be very useful for language taster sessions. TES resources is also one not to miss as well as a previous post of mine which includes links to language promotion resources

Last but not least, I think that the Voicethread idea mentioned by Joe Dale in one of his recent blog posts is definitely one to investigate...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

From Thinking Skills to Thinking Classrooms

On my quest to find ways to further embed Thinking Skills into the practice of all the teachers in our faculty, I came across the key conclusions of the review lead by Professor Carol McGuiness from the School of Psychology at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Although the report dates back to 1999 and looks at the integration of Thinking Skills at whole school level, it is very useful to use as a rationale for action at Faculty level. Indeed, further embedding includes looking at Thinking Skills as an integrated teaching approach including creativity and collaboration rather than just a collection of discreet types of activities.

According to the report, a framework for developing thinking skills should include:

• The need to make thinking skills explicit in Schemes of Work
• Teaching thinking through student coaching
• Collaborative and ICT-based learning
• Creating “dispositions and habits of good thinking”
• Reinforcement throughout the school to move from thinking curricula to thinking classrooms and thinking schools

It was also interesting to read that ICT provides a “tool for enhancing children’s understanding and powers of reasoning through exploratory environments” like multimedia ones. Local and wide-area networked communication was also highlighted as providing “special opportunities for collaborative learning”

However, for ICT to support the develpment of Thinking Skills, there is a need to move away from the traditional ICT-based activities of drilling and practising skills such as grammar, spelling and out-of-context vocabulary recall.

• Interactive exploratory environments where students can direct their own learning through guided discovery processes are more likely to develop Thinking Skills. They encourage risk-taking and “enable pupils to hypothesise and experiment with immediate feedback”. When a competitive element is introduced, this also facilitates "discussion and reflection with peers”. Video and multi-media technology can also be used to create such environments.

• “Local and networked communication provide unique opportunities to use the language for real communication purposes as well as give a real audience and aim for a whole host of activities including surveys, presentations and other exchanges of information.

The challenge?
“Classroom which are characterised by talk and discussion and by questions and questioning need to be managed and orchestrated yet remain clearly focused on learning objectives.”
In order to get “teacher buy-in”, the benefits of developing Thinking Skills approaches will need to be clearly defined and agreed as a set of common goals such as developing collaboration or independent learning skills. The goals will also need to be carefully monitored and extra support provided if needed.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Licenced to Teach: Which Qualifications?

Originally uploaded by AhavatHaEmet

There is currently a lot of debate about the amount of qualifications needed to be a good teacher-or should I say a “credible” one. Whether we are talking about qualifications on entry or whether a teaching MOT is a good idea, the consensus is that teachers

must have a secure knowledge of what they teach and be provided with regular opportunities to upgrade their knowledge. However, it is well known that you can be very knowledgeable and still unable to teach effectively and, conversely, that a good teacher with maybe less depth of knowledge will be able to take his/ her students a lot further.

A secondary school curriculum and staffing survey published by the NFER in 2007 showed how 23% of French teachers in England did not have a post -A level qualification in it. If you think it does not sound too good, this is better than German (28%) and a lot better than Spanish (40%), which shows how some teachers qualified to teach other subjects are asked to teach Spanish-although they will often be languages teachers qualified to teach other languages such as French. To put it into context, the figures were 25% and 21% respectively for Maths and English.

The University of Buckingham's Good Teacher Training Guide 2009 found a link between low entry qualifications and failure to find a teaching job.
However, what the research does not show is the percentage of teachers who have experiences demonstrating that their depth of knowledge is more developed than a teacher with just an A Level. In languages, it could be somebody who has lived and worked in the target language country for an extended period of time, it could be somebody who has had to build onto their GCSE skills in order to use the language while working in industry, it could be a dual heritage person who decided to use their languages only at a later stage of their studies... The possibilities are endless.

So what kind of teacher would you rather have? One with the current mix of skills, levelled out by the ability to meet Q standards? Or should the teachers without post A Levels qualifications be denied access? Is this sustainable, particularly for shortage subjects?

I know what kind of teacher I would rather have: a lifelong learner with a passion for their subject-that’s the easy bit- as well as someone who knows how to make each student feel special ...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Twitter Talkback: What Makes a Quality Tweet?

That was the title of a blog post by Soren Gordhamer on retweeed by @spanishsam. Research indicates that "40% of Tweets are Pointless Babble"

So what are "Quality Tweets"? Accordig to the post, "Quality Tweets" are...

1. informative, help us learn something
2. humorous
3. personal, they say something about us as a person
4. inspiring quotes that can increase the quality of our lives

I would definitely agree with the first one. If I have not learnt anything reading a Tweet, I would definitely dismiss it as “Pointless Babble”, but the learning does not have to be just finding out about facts. It could be finding out something about somebody’s background that explains their position on certain issues or it could be sharing a picture that we have found useful to talk about a specific subject.

I do not agree with the second one as humour is such a culturally-biased thing. It is as likely to offend as it is to make people smile. As far as I am concerned, humour is definitely DM territory...

I would agree that a quality tweet must have a personal touch but that is not to say that I enjoy tweets about the details of people’s lives. It is sometimes good to see we are not alone in having to pick up the kids at school and tidy up the house but reading about this all the time is definitely not uplifting.

I am not that keen on sharing quotes although I don’t mind reading them. For them to be meaningful, they need to connect with some aspects of your life-personal or professional- at that particular time and that just happens so rarely...

The post has generated lots of comments that are just as interesting as the main post, but my own views on "Quality Tweets" is that:

1. They teach you something: you learn new facts, you share inspiring ideas and resources, you find out about people who interest you.
2. They make you think and challenge your own perceptions.
3. They keep you up-to-date with your area of work.
4. They provide you with professional emotional support: you are not alone in trying to do what you are trying to do.
5. They support you in your job in a practical way by pointing you out to useful resources

Any more?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Summer Reading: Guy Claxton-What’s The Point of School?

Atlas, it's time for your bath

Guy Claxton is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at Bristol in the Graduate School of Education and the Institute of Advanced Studies. I first found out about his work nearly 2 years ago and I have found it a source of inspiration ever since. Although "What's the Point of School? looks at the UK Educational system, there are many universal themes including how a heavy testing regime can stifle creativity and be detrimental to “real” learning. There are so many thought-provoking points in his book that I will only focus on those that are meaningful to me now. This is definitely a book to pick up every so often to find inspiration on how to deal with new issues...

Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power programme is defined by a series of small achievable steps building towards deeper change in learning habits. It is not the main theme of the book but it is mentioned as an example of how to encourage the development of “real” learning in school, in opposition to just ensuring students are ready for exams.

BLP has four aims:
· To raise standards of achievement
· To increase levels of student engagement
· To make teaching more satisfying
· To prepare young people to deal with out-of-school challenges by expanding their capacity and appetite for real-life learning.

As students are being coached in how to be usefully reflective about their own learning journeys, they are also developing collaboration skills and developing a richer meta-language in which to talk, not just about the content of their learning, but bout its process as well.
“What’s the point of school” does consider what learning in schools should look like in the 21st century but its focus is more on the faults of our UK educational system as it stands and how a shift of priorities is needed to improve the current system.

So, what is a confident learner according to Guy Claxton?
· A curious individual-up for new challenges and ready to investigate them;
· Somebody who is resilient;
· Somebody who can balance imagination and logic in order to think “with a mix of creativity and clarity”;
· Somebody who is confident enough to ask for help when needed and receive feedback without getting upset;
· Somebody who can slow down to think things through.

This vision of a confident learner shows how important it is to manage emotions in order to teach effectively. The argument throughout the book is that all children are naturally curious and eager to find out about completely new things. Although I would not dispute the fact all children were born that way, I am not convinced that this appetite is still fully intact by the time our students reach us as teenagers-a time in their lives when their emotions are even more problematic to manage not just for the adults around them but for the teenagers themselves.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the more untouched the area of learning, the more enthusiasm for learning it is likely to generate-hence the need for world languages to introduce content in a wide variety of ways and find compelling contexts to do so and avoid the deja vu feeling of replicating activities done in the mother tongue . An element of choice also gives students the feeling that they are more in control of their learning. However, for languages this choice will have to be more limited at the beginning of the language-learning process as learners are more dependent on resources like dictionaries (or teacher!).

From a “Confident” Learner, Guy Claxton moves on to a “Powerful Learner”.
Curiosity, the confidence to say “I don’t know”, investigation skills, imagination are still there, but other attributes are also mentioned like:
· “The ability to think carefully, rigorously and methodically”
· Sociability, being “ good at sharing ideas, suggestions and resources”
· The ability to “step back and take stock of progress”
· Self-awareness

I was really interested by the list of “subjects” suggested by teachers to be part of an ideal curriculum aiming to prepare young people for the complexities and uncertainties of their future:
· Human rights
· Statistics and probabilities
· Empathy
· Risk-management
· Negotiation/ Mediation
· Ecology
· How to think
· Epistemology
· Collaboration
· Literacy
· Global awareness
· Ethics
· Healthy scepticism
· Body awareness
· Neuroscience
· Resilience
· Creativity
· Will power
· Giving and taking feedback
· Relaxation

My first reaction was-how useful, but how do you teach this? My second reaction, however, was to see how easily they could all be taught through my subject, languages. For instance...
Human rights? teach them about schools and corporal punishment or differences in school rules between countries
Statistics and probabilities? Do/study surveys on favourite leisure pursuits or holiday destinations
Empathy? How can you tell this person is happy, worried, tired etc.. by listening to their voice or watching a short video clip
Risk-management? Create safe environment for students to practise the language, reward those who are willing to model good language for others.

Although no direct reference was made to the specific situation of languages in the UK, Guy Claxton did mention languages when pointing out to how unreliable published school performance data can be. “If young people are encouraged into easier subjects-by letting them drop say, Physics or French-results can look better”, with the added opinion that “The more important you make the achievement of measurable targets, the more people will find a way of massaging the figures”. Nothing new there...

I would agree that there is far too much emphasis on measurable targets, but what’s the point of a target you can’t measure? I can see that a lot of targets should rely far more on qualitative data rather than raw exam results but it seems to me that as the whole system is caught up in a data tangle, individual schools cannot take it upon them to disentangle themselves on their own. The system must include safeguards for underachievement, but apart from that, why is laissez-faire only ever good enough just for the economy? Challenging thought, I know...

I also loved the words from Joseph Payne, dating back to 1856, against continual testing and likening it to “continually pulling up the plants to see the conditions of the roots, the consequence of which was that all good natural growth was stopped”. I suppose it is a bit like constantly opening the oven door when a cake is baking: what looked at first quite promising could end up completely deflated and ruined.

As far as the power of ICT to "save" Education is concerned, I agree with Guy Claxton that the focus should be on “helping them to develop the kind of reflective awareness that builds discernment and transfer” rather than “doing ... tedious busywork”. This is where networking is so useful: You never know what technology can do for you until you start experimenting with it. The more experimentation, the more idea on how to creatively use ICT to encourage "real" learning...