Friday, 26 August 2011

Resources Review: Spanish for Preschoolers E-Guide, Ana Lomba

This e-guide aims to provide “everything you need to craft creative Spanish classes for toddlers, pre-schoolers, kindergarten and elementary school children”.

Ana Lomba is originally from Spain but she has been involved in languages education in the US since 1990 as a teacher, consultant, advocate, entrepreneur and mother. I was touched by the story of how she decided to take her business further to look after her youngest child-a little girl with complex special needs- at home. Ana’s approach to discussing her methods are always very personal and she clearly targets parents but there are many points made and examples in the e-guide that are of interest to ALL Spanish teachers.

Ana’s e-guide consists of 2 parts. Part one looks at ways to promote what you teach, considerations for different age groups, a range of language teaching approaches and Curriculum Planning. Part two presents more in detail Ana’s own immersion approach and how it helps structure her language curriculum, Ana’s favourite techniques with many examples and ideas to develop activities further as well as business opportunities using Ana’s immersion method. All language teachers will also find useful the two appendices, the 60 minute lesson plan and the Thematic Unit Template.

Although parents are clearly targeted, the e-guide introduction is actually addressed to teachers and encourage them to find their “own ways of doing things as well”

Ana’s belief is that “great teachers are first and foremost artists”, so there is a clear message for teachers to use the guide to find their own path to creativity in the classroom. The only point that would not find be totally transferable is the idea that you should not “waste your time thinking that you have to motivate your students to learn” but only concentrate on what the students are really interested in. I would say that developing activities that are intrinsically interesting for our students is essential but that sustaining their interest is certainly easier to do when your audience is willing to cooperate, which might not be the case of every student in a class of 30 in a school context… There are also many constraints imposed on the curriculum taught in schools, so I guess this is a call for teachers who are more independent to make the most of that independence.

Ana’s advice to teachers is to pay attention only to constructive criticism as “the pursuit of perfection leads to paralysis”. I would say this applies to any teachers-whoever criticises you, unless they can justify their criticisms against a set of criteria and suggest ways forwards that apply to your particular context, this is NOT constructive feedback. This is definitely worth reflecting upon…

Ana also encourages new teachers to join Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as they are a great way to get to know other teachers in similar situations and feel less isolated. I would however say that the use of these platforms for professional purposes for teachers needs to be linked with some specific training to ensure that all new teachers understand fully how they work and ensure that they are safe online. A teacher’s reputation takes time to build up and teachers new to using social media should understand fully what developing their online reputation entails.

I was very interested to read about how to develop partnerships with parents. Although some of the points did not apply to my secondary school context in the UK, they did make me think about different new ways to engage with parents.

I found the following points useful when I looked at reviewing communication with parents: (the headlines are Ana’s and the rest a mix of Ana’s and how I intend to implement these in my own context)

*Communicate: create an on-going dialogue, trying to make it as personal as possible and starting by introducing the course and what is expected in terms of personal studies at home.

*Educate: provide information about language learning and tips on how parents can help their children whatever their own command of the foreign language. As the parent of two bilingual little boys, I would say this is all the more important for younger learners, as some parents may expect “lessons” in a set format that is totally unsuitable for younger learners. There are also quite a few myths circulating about early language learning that need to be dispelled. Interestingly enough, these myths live on into secondary school and are often applied to EAL learners e.g. Children learning two languages are slower linguistically or academically.

*Provide a roadmap: Share your teaching philosophy and the goals for your students in your sessions and expectations for the parents. Ana also suggests mentioning your personal history-What made you want to teach young children a language, how you learnt the language yourself, what other languages you speak etc… Although I do think this is a good idea to mention these on a one-to-one basis, some teachers might find this could interfere with the professional distance they want to keep with their students and parents.

*Engage: document and share what you do in your classroom-this could be done electronically, for instance. Get parents involved in learning homework tasks. Ana suggests inviting parents to take part to classes-although this might be difficult in a formal school context, this could be considered for family learning and enrichment activities.

Ana gets us to look at the characteristics of different age groups within early learners and the type of activities that are more likely to be successful with each group.

I was pleased to read Ana’s words of warning about what she calls the “flashcard approach”. Learning a language and memorising words are two separate things. Although learning new words will help increasing the range of what can be expressed in the new language, it is how the new items of language are put together that will demonstrate linguistic skills and help getting messages across.

Like Ana, I feel that we underestimate what children can understand and if they are spoon-fed words only, they will not develop the skills to learn the language and get anxious when they do not know the meaning of every single word in a sentence. They will not be resilient learners, get impatient and ignore para-linguistic clues like gestures and other visual and contextual clues. They will behave this way, not because they cannot understand, but because of the messages we have given them by focusing on individual words only.

I found very interesting the references to theories and initiatives from the US and other countries, like the reference to the ACTFL Foreign Language Standards, the “Backward Design” theory by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe and James A. Asher’s Total Physical Response (TPR).

It is always fascinating to see how these approaches overlap with our national context, what their limitations are and how they have been adapted. Ana warns against “laundry lists of language functions, vocabulary, cultural notions etc…” and encourages a more global view of planning with some of these resources being used as guidelines, insisting again on the teacher’s professional judgement being key in deciding the focus for developing their learners’ skills.

In addition to the many references provided throughout Ana’s e-book, many other links are given to online resources for parents to support their child’s learning.

Like me, Ana is a big fan of using music in the classroom and she introduces many ways music can support language learning. She also warns against translated songs that do not always “work” in the translated language or original songs that are too challenging linguistically for a young audience-although she also gives us tips on how to still make it work for our young learners.

Similar dilemma can happen with story-telling: young learners need stories they can identify with but we also need to teach them about the culture of the countries where the target language is spoken and avoid stereotyping by exposing them to a wide range of genres. I found the advice to NOT present stories in one tense at a time a very interesting one-it mirrors what happens in real life, where young children do not get “put off” by their parents mixing tenses when telling them stories and are able to decode and established what happened when without many problems.

The e-guide provides many examples of activities as well as more detailed lesson plans to show how particular activities could be developed.

Many approaches are considered and I liked the reassuring tone of the e-guide telling teachers that whatever method they use “the important thing is to keep learning, thinking and evolving in our profession”.

The “Curriculum Planning in a Nutshell” is a very useful chapter in the e-guide. It will support all teachers who need to plan in a more thematic way for younger learners and provide ideas of mini-projects to integrate all 4 skills (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing).

Ana’s no-nonsense rationale for the use of Target Language is also refreshing as it includes bilingual materials as a way to extend the interactions in the foreign language at home and it acknowledges that a grammar-led approach tends to hinder the use of the target language in the classroom.

Ana talks about Technology as “another fabulous platform for classroom and at-home learning” and recommend the Tech and Young Children ECETECH-L forum for informations on using iPods, iPads and other electronic gadgets. The forum is not specific to language learning but it provides great generic ideas that can be used in the languages classroom.

Ana discusses assessment of young learners and refer to examples of external assessments for young learners-SOPA and ELLOPA created by the Center for Applied Linguistics ( as well as the “Keys to Assessing Language Performance” book by Paul Sandrock-although the materials in this book are more suitable for older students.

I have found this e-guide a fantastic source of inspiration for all the language classes I teach for the younger and the older students. I will need a lot more time to explore all the pedagogic approaches and ideas discussed in the guide as well as the wealth of resources and other links mentioned.

Ana’s e-guide can be bought via her site by clicking here

Monday, 8 August 2011

Guest Blog Post: Language Learning in Online Classes, Lindsey Wright

Lindsey Wright is a keen linguist and she is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She blogs at about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning and the possible future of education. In this guest blog post, she considers the advantages and possible barriers to studying languages online.  

There are many benefits to speaking and understanding more than one language. Professionally, learning a second language may increase students' job prospects or enable them to attain a higher education. In other circumstances, a second language may present the opportunity to better understand a friend or relative. Moreover, when travelling to different regions, knowing the primary language of the area can help when communicating with merchants, drivers, and local residents. Additionally, learning another language often forces students to use skills and knowledge from their native language which may otherwise be forgotten, reinforcing past lessons and making the student more articulate and successful in reading and writing. Still, students who weren't afforded the opportunity to learn a second language during their formative years may feel their potential for success is limited. However, this conventional wisdom may be slightly flawed.

According to New Scientist, a magazine devoted to scientific discovery, adults may actually have a better grasp of the meaning of a language, beyond simply memorizing. In fact, the major issue preventing adult students from learning another language is a lack of defined time to do so. Individuals with family and professional obligations may be unable to schedule specific blocks of time during the day to devote strictly to learning another language. VLEs (virtual learning environments) are convenient and enable anyone with the desire to extend and consolidate language learning in their own time to do so, but VLEs or online classes aren't for everyone. Prospective students should consider all of the advantages and disadvantage to make the decision that is most suited to their individual needs and abilities.
According to research by the U.K. Department of Education, e-learning provides many positive factors in terms of participation, retention, and attainment. Web- and technologically-facilitated study creates a sense of engagement, excitement, and involvement; personalizes the learning interface to individual needs; and improves communication. Some of the other key advantages(and disadvantages) are listed below.


Many institutions offer language courses online that are more affordable than traditional campus-based education. Additionally, many of the most substantial costs (housing and living expenses, travel and transportation) are completely avoided. This potential savings allows many students to learn a language without going into debt.


Online courses enable students to determine their own class and study schedules. How long and how often to focus on the language is entirely at their discretion. This element of distance learning has long been the most popular attraction for many. Flexibility makes online learning more accessible than any other language learning method.


Opportunities to learn languages outside of a classroom have exploded over the past few years. Many accredited and reputable institutions now offer some form of foreign language program through a virtual learning environment.


In the online environment students retain a considerable level of anonymity. Factors such as age, status, physical appearance, race, gender, or disabilities are invisible. This unique aspect allows students and instructors to focus solely on the content of the material. Moreover, students who might feel self-conscious about their understanding of the language have the freedom to introduce their concerns without fear of ridicule or judgment.

Individual Attention

Learning a language online allows for a high level of dynamic interaction between instructor and student, as well as between the students themselves. By sharing ideas and resources in an open forum, students are free to learn from each other. The synergy of the virtual classroom is one of the distinctive traits often unmatched in a traditional classroom setting.


Lack of access can exclude otherwise eligible students from learning a language online. Especially in rural and socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, individuals may not have adequate systems or a reliable connection. On the other hand, some potential students who possess the technology may not have the proficiency necessary to succeed. Individuals lacking computer savvy may face significant challenges in researching and interacting over the Internet.

Finally, the school's own technology can prove to be problematic. Reliability and constant availability are key, and unfortunately even the most sophisticated servers and instructional technologies may have issues.

No Face Time

Students with a learning style dependent upon face-to-face encounters with teachers and peers may find a virtual learning environment isolating. Some web-based classes use video conferencing and allow classmates and their instructors to at least see each other remotely to some extent, but even in those cases a video feed is definitely not the same as direct interaction.

Time Management

Procrastinators or those who always need extrinsic motivation to stay on task and complete work will be more likely have difficulty in a flexible online learning environment. Online language learning requires students to monitor their own progress and determine how often and how long to focus on course materials. This is often considered the greatest challenge of any distance learning program, and keeping up with the diligent practice necessary for language study can make learning a language in an online environment doubly demanding. Students should devote at least 9 to 12 hours per week to distance education to maintain a steady pace and successfully retain what they study.

When comparing the pros and cons of learning a language in a virtual setting, it does seem that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. However, every individual is unique and should examine all options and their potential pitfalls. When considering online language learning, prospective students should evaluate their own situations and capabilities. There is no denying that learning a new language can be exciting and beneficial, but the avenue through which one chooses to pursue that study makes a tremendous difference.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Mindset-The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck

Mindset by Carol Dweck is probably one of the best book I have read this year. It relies on practical examples to support a very simple theory. The theory in itself is quite straightforward as it looks at two approaches or possible mindsets which can define personal and professional philosophy.

The growth mindset is all about reflection and self-improvement whereas the fixed mindset is about proving that you are smart. This is underpinned by strong belief sytems about what being smart is really all about. The book provides many examples of both mindsets, how they can affect different areas of our lives and how the mindsets can be altered.

There is a chapter of particular interest to parents, teachers and coaches. It is both enlightening and terrifying as it stresses how our every word and action send messages to children. “It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I am judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development”

This different way to look at our actions also leads us to reflect on the way we give feedback to children as parents or teachers and on the way we praise them. A brilliant example is as follows “You learnt that so quickly! You’re so smart… You got an A without even studying ”. Depending on the child’s mindset this can be translated as : “If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart….I’d better quit studying or they won’t think I’m brilliant.”

One of the strong messages is that praising for intelligence or talent rather than effort can switch children off difficult challenges. It can also make children lose their self-confidence as soon as anything is challenging or does not go the way they anticipated. However, I thought the examples of feedback felt slightly awkward e.g. “That homework was so long and involved. I really admire the way you concentrated and finished it” and it really made me think of strategies to provide effective growth feedback.

• Describe the effort and the process involved: strategies, effort or choices “you took on a challenging project” “you did research, you designed…, you wrote about” “you are going to learn so much from it”

• Give the idea that effort makes learning worthwhile: “Skills and achievement come through commitment and effort”

• Present tasks that are too easy as “a bit of a waste of time” and extension work as a way to provide real learning opportunities.

• Discuss how resilient and reflective learners get more out of their learning.

• Be tolerant of mistakes and do not aim to motivate children by sharing judgements about them “give them the respect and the coaching they need to develop”

• Provide constructive feedback focusing on specific aspect of the work that can be corrected

• Present topics in “growth framework”

• Be reflective and consider how you praise-working the “process praise” into our interactions is often NOT a natural reaction

I will be looking at our reward policy to ensure this is built into our practice as reading “Mindset” has made me realise how traditional praising sytems can really have the opposite effect to what is intended…

Monday, 1 August 2011

Language World 2011: Active Learning with Greg Horton

This session was so active that I found it very hard to make any notes!

Here are a few tips I picked up…

Teaching Connectives: Read the text and students do an action when the connective is said.

Valentine’s lesson: Present as “How to chat up somebody in Spanish”-you say something and the other person repeats it using “you” and swapping verb forms.

Human Word Chain: Children say the missing word, race to fill in the gap correctly, identify separate words e.g. Which word is … Jenny?, “adjectives please sit down”

Writing can be improved by developing a picture of word sequences in students’ heads. This can be done through speaking and can be more “boy-friendly” too.

Get students to build a storyline around the room: can be done in speaking or writing.

Find pictures to support narratives for students to consolidate their knowledge of structures.

Design a child as a “word guardian” in charge of remembering the class of a specific structure

Associate specific gestures with subject pronouns to help students learn verb paradigms. E.g. curtsey for formal “you”

Get students to make their own videos to demonstrate how different verbs work.

The clock times ballet: students to model the time using their left arm for the hours and their right arm for the minutes. The “Blue Danube” is used as a musical background to get students to focus on the time at some specific point.

Language World 2011-Snow, Chocolate Cake and Model Aeroplanes, Kate Shepheard-Walwyn & Vincent Everett

 I really enjoyed Vincent and Kate’s session, which was full of practical and motivating ideas to use in the classroom. All the ideas are also generously shared on Northgate High School blog.
The title of the session, particularly the reference to snow and chocolate cake, was explained by the departmental use of various metaphors.

The Chocolate Cake Rule: “In Technology, if they give you flour, egg, sugar, butter, milk and chocolate powder… do NOT try to make a bird table. Make a chocolate cake. In French, if we teach you to give opinions, justify them, link your ideas, talk about the past and future, put in direct speech to bring it to life…then those are the ingredients you will be using. Use them to create a nice tasty paragraph. Don’t write French you don’t know-you don’t know it!”

The Snow Rule: “Some pupils let their French all melt. You have to get yourself a snowball of French. Make it yours, have some fun with it. And your snowball won’t melt. Roll it around and it will get bigger and bigger.”

For the Cake and Snow posters, see here.

The idea of tangible outcomes, like model aeroplanes, is a really interesting one. It is a bit like the learning cycle associated with subjects like Design and Technology: project launch => creation => delivery => celebration.

The department has an approach of “Progression in Creativity” with a programme of activities for Year 7-Year 9.

Y7 Francovision song contest: each group learns and videos a French pop song, with the aim to practise memorisation, pronunciation, communication and culture.

Y7 French staff café: pupils act as waiters and waitresses.

Y7 Gressenhall Farm Stamper trail: create a French version of the Farm Stamper trail.

Y8 Flat Stanley project: cut out and post Flat Stanley to France with a letter.

Collapsed curriculum days-Y8 greenscreen filming: Use the French you know and technology to do something and be creative.

Y9 Norwich Castle story-telling: create a resource for the museum based on different artefacts on display, with students using their knowledge of language to write creatively.

Y9 Children’s book: create a book in French for younger learners like the “Spot” books.

Each activity aims for students to be more and more independent linguistically, has a tangible outcome and a real audience: whole school, staff and visitors, pen friends, teach tube, museum website, primary pupils…

Other projects include BBC jingles, supported by work done in Media lessons, as well as weather news/ traffic jingles

To celebrate the project the department gets judges and other people involved like parents, local paper, technicians to publish on the school website etc…

In addition, all staff use a common working kit:

Being Ben: The idea is that “it’s not the French that is hard, it’s thinking up what to say and pitching it right. “Ben” tells the others what to say. They spontaneously build up long sentences and if they can’t say them, it is Ben’s fault for not pitching it right.

Fridge sheet: core grammar for a unit. At the bottom of the sheets examples of what can be produced are supplied.

Speed dating: the purpose is to do away with the suppor sheet for the person doing Spanish. The sheet gives students the confidence to get started.

Scribble Talk: Scribble while your partner talks and pause if they pause. They have to talk until you fill up the scribble box.

The Booklets page will have more materials on different topics in French.

Connective Dice: Use the dice to keep students talking or to do silly sentences.

Ski Slope: build sentences following gradient

Tree: Branching off sentences

Pimp my French: Take a simplistic text and use your tool box to improve it. The toolkit includes key phrases like je vais, je veux, je suis allé etc…

Megamutantpenguinskideath: Draw a penguin and write a secret word on the back. Target the kind of word pupils need to add to their repertoire. Pupils talk on the subject until they say the secret word. The penguin skis into a tree.

For examples of pupils work click here. If you are looking for ideas for practical projects and strategies to engage and motivate students, look no further!