Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Celebrating Our Languages: a Toolkit

I have just received the Our Language Toolkit published by CILT and I am very impressed by what it has to offer to all schools, whether multicultural or not.
The toolkit is a free support document to encourage the setting-up of more formal partnerships between mainstream, voluntary and complementary schools. Although such partnerships might seem easier in multicultural schools, it is important that some degree of partnership is established in all schools to equip their students with the understanding needed to work and live in our 21st century multicultural environments.

There is also considerable evidence indicating that there are great cognitive benefits derived from developing pupils’ confidence and competence in their mother tongue.
The toolkit also includes a section highlighting accreditations in different languages like the Asset Languages certificates as well as opportunities provided for family learning and routes available for native speakers to become teachers and gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

In addition, the Our Languages project has made freely available a comprehensive range of resources to support the teaching and learning of different community languages including Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Mandarin Chinese, Panjabi, Polish, Somali, Tamil and Urdu.

The resources cover KS2 as well as KS3-4 and there are also many case studies and videos to support them and give a student’s perspective of the projects.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools(TDA) is now developing a strategy to improve the teaching and learning of world languages. The strategy will include support of teaching and non-teaching staff, qualification framework and you can now contribute by completing the World Languages survey on the TDA website.

I would also say that using the term “World languages” for the survey rather than “Community Languages” is already a positive step-it is a very inclusive way to describe all languages rather than go back to the old foreign/ community languages divide ...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Guest Blogging: More Opportunities To Share

As we are approaching the end of the year, I have been thinking quite a lot about all the benefits I have derived from guest blogging this year.
OK, I am not a prolific guest blogger but contributing to The Educators’ Royal Treatment and the latest MFL & Technology series on Jose Picardo’s Box of Trick has been both enjoyable and profitable from the point of view of my own personal development.

First, it is great for confidence and developing a stronger blogging voice. It helps you to express all those thoughts, mixing the personal and the professional.
And apparently... It shows! I am no longer hiding behind my avatar and very willing to discuss my blog posts and change my mind if I want to... I feel I have definitely moved on from sharing information to sharing ideas and opinions about the information I share.

Second, it makes you reflect on what you are doing. You get to understand better how to got there, why and what the way forward could be.

Third, it gives you an opportunity to read other people’s blog posts and get tempted to comment more than you would normally admit to have the time to do (excuses excuses)

Fourth, it strengthens your relationships with the different members of your PLN, making subsequent exchanges and conversation even more meaningful. Twitter is also such a wonderful tool to support this.

Fifth, it makes you open up to different approaches and ways of “doing things” in different countries and educational sectors. This is the ultimate Let’s-Think-out-of-the-box toolkit!
So, Languages teachers, get inspired and also check out some of my favourite posts on The Educators’ Royal Treatment whether you teach languages or not...

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Playing with Pixetell: Giving Students Feedback

Thanks to Ken Royal from the Educator’s Royal Treatment who offered me the opportunity to trial it, I have been playing with Pixetell,

What is Pixetell?
It is an “on-demand software that enables you to quickly add voice, screen recordings and video to email and other electronic documents”. The twist is that Pixetell supports visual communication but also allows collaboration through sharing multimedia messages-called pixetells-and allowing discussions to take place around them.

Although the product focuses more on business, it has undeniable potential for Education and both Ken Royal and Adora Svitak have already both blogged about it and suggested ways it could be used in Education.

My vision of how it could be used relies on the need for teachers to develop a more structured approach to verbal feedback to students and links directly with Assessment For Learning. So, I decided to test it out giving feedback to a first year student-11 years old-on a powerpoint she had produced to learn basic animal words in Spanish. After trying out different microphones, it seems that a headset produced the best result.

What struck me the most was how uncomfortable I felt at first giving feedback that way. We always respond to other people’s body language and look out for paralinguistic clues when we are giving feedback in order to assess its impact. In many respects, feedback given through a Pixtetell can be seen as fairer but I suspect some training would be needed in order to ensure that it still feels personal. Saying the student’s name, using different turns of phrases for praising and offering positive and constructive criticism are all essential.

The structure of the feedback is roughly as follows:
· description of good points/ criteria for assessment
· praise
· suggestions for improvement
· next steps (target-setting)

Used at the end of a short project, Pixetell would be a way to ensure that due praise is given to all the students that have put in the effort. I also feel that the impact on the student's self-image as a learner would also be stronger than a well done note on paper. In addition, the students who feel that they are “too cool to be praised” could still get their pat on the back in private.

For the specific purpose of teaching languages, the benefit of including audio in teacher feedback is obvious. Students then have a model that they can use and replicate if needed. It is not an impersonal sound file that they have to listen to in its entirety before they reach the bit that applies to them, but it supports a personalised answer to their own work. Very powerful!

If used for feedback, Pixetell would work great with private student/ teacher platforms like Edmodo for responses to individual projects, but used tactfully, example of students’ work could also be presented on a class wiki/ VLE page with oral comments included. Examples of coursework at different grades from real or imaginary students could also be included for discussion.

Have a look at my example here
You do not need Pixetell or to download any other software in order to access a pixetell.
The standard version allows for 5 minutes worth of recording but there is no limit on the more expensive pro version. There are other tools like Jing , GoView or Camtasia who offer some of the features of Pixetell, so a very useful comparison chart help the potential user assessing whether this is the right tool for them as well as find free alternatives for specific features. I have also found the tutorial page very helpful.

Now waiting for an Education version...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

New Secondary Curriculum for Languages: Challenges and Opportunities

Painting the Sky
Originally uploaded by Stuck in Customs

Although I have been doing a lot of ed-tech work lately, I have not been able to blog about it much. I am currently proof reading some excellent materials that Language specialists Wendy Adeniji , Liz Black and Juliette Park have developed to support teachers wanting to move away from purely topic-based language teaching.

Wendy Adeniji is an experienced Language Consultant, Juliet Park is a Lead Practitioner for the SSAT and Director of Languages at Yewlands School, Sheffield and Liz Black is an AST, consultant for North Yorkshire LA and Head of Languages at Stokesley School.

It would indeed appear that although the New Secondary Curriculum has freed the UK languages teachers from the old topic-based "Areas of Experience", the general feeling is that topic-based teaching, with its prime focus on word level learning, is sticking around.

Well, has GCSE changed that much? As it is still felt that extensive vocabulary is a pre-requisite to a good GCSE grade, this approach feeds into KS3 and can be justified-students will not learn all the vocabulary they need in 2 years or less in the case of fast-tracked groups.

There are undoubtedly training issues here. There is a lot of willingness but also a lot of anxiety in front of what really is a mammoth task. We are free from content? OK, so what do we teach now? If you have been trained to teach in a certain way, moving away from topic-based learning and teaching may feel like diluting the quality of learning and its outcome.

So what's new?

I love the idea of "Teaching the usual in an unusual way" to quote a phrase used by Wendy Adeniji in her training sessions but really teaching skills explicitly is much more than just teaching the usual. And that is exatly what is encouraged through the new materials by using interesting cultural contexts.

When I was studying English in France, the focus was always on written accuracy, grammar and reading comprehension. The materials used were always aiming to represent the culture of a variety of English-speaking countries, rather than provide us with opportunities to use day-to-day language.

In England-granted, a fair few years later-the focus was on vocabulary and topics that were deemed of interest to teenagers-with not many opportunities to find out about the culture of French-speaking countries through these topics.

I see the New secondary Curriculum as a great opportunity to redress the balance and give students opportunties to open up to the world rather than use foreign words to talk about their own world.

The challenges?

Time and vision! The vast majority of Language Faculties are now small and do not have the time and manpower to design brand new materials to teach the whole of KS3. Many have started but this is a lengthy process that will take more time to get established. Collaborative curriculum planning and the development of more innovative commercially-produced resources is the only way to build on what is already in place...