Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday, 23 November 2012

SSAT Conference, "Innovation and progress in languages", 23rd November 2012

I had a great day at the SSAT National Language Conference 2012, "Innovation and progress in languages".
As promised, here is a copy of the slides and handout I used for my showcase, "Creating more effective learners at KS3 and KS4"


Monday, 5 November 2012

Somerset MFL Conference "Working Together to Lead The Way", 5th November 2012

I had a really productive day at St Duntan's School in Glastonbury, where the first Somerset cross-borough MFL Conference was held today.

As promised, please find below a copy of the slides for my keynote speech and materials and handout for my workshop on effective visuals for language learning. Many thanks to all the MFL teachers who organised the day for a really great day and for inviting me to contribute to the day.
Developing Student Independence in MFL Effective Visuals for Language Learning Visuals Sommerset Handout

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Language Show Live, Olympia, London, Saturday 20th October 2012

I had a great day today at The Language Show Live. My only regret is that I will not be able to attend tomorrow as there is a lot more to come...
I attended 3 great sessions I will blog about at a later date and, as always, the company was great too!
As promised, please find below the slides for my "Effective Visuals for Language Learning" presentation as well as the slides with the links I presented about infographics at The Show and Tell.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Yes You Can-Developing Confident Independent Language Learners, Secondary Regional Languages Conference, Judgemeadow Community College, Leicester, 20th September 2012

I had a very productive day today at the Secondary Regional Languages Conference in Leicester, sharing ideas about how to make our language learners more confident and independent. Here is a copy of the slides I used for my session. More about the sessions I attended coming soon...

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Language Show Live, Olympia, London, 19-21 October 2012

The Language Show Live is the UK’s largest event for those who offer products and services to language teachers, learners, translators, linguists, language professionals and businesses.
Running for over 23 years, Language Show Live 2012 returns from Friday 19th October to Sunday 21st October with seminars, more classes and exhibitors than ever before as well as great networking opportunities for all language enthusiasts.
The Language Show Live will take place at The National Hall, Olympia in London and it is free to attend provided that you register in advance for a ticket by following the registration links here.
Children under 16 are welcome to attend the show and do not need to register for a ticket, so you can take your whole family there for free if you wish!
The full programme including all seminars for all three days can be viewed here.
I am looking forward to speaking and meeting some of you at The Language Show on Saturday 20th October. If you are based near London, enjoy all three days if you can…

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Consultation: Making Primary Languages Compulsory at Key Stage 2

The deadline for the consultation is 28th September 2012 and all related documents can be downloaded here.

My own response is as follows…
...We are seeking to make provision under the 2002 Education Act to ensure that all maintained schools must teach a foreign language at Key Stage 2, from Year 3 to Year 6. This could be either a modern foreign language or an ancient language such as Latin or ancient Greek.

Q1 a) Do you agree with the Government's proposal that foreign languages should become compulsory at Key Stage 2 in maintained schools in England from September 2014?

Q1 b) Please explain the reasons for your answer:
Our world is multilingual and young children need exposure to other languages to be able to reflect more deeply about how their own language functions and strengthen their literacy skills. Research also shows that younger children are more willing to try languages than teenagers who are often even more self-conscious than adults. Last but not least, starting early is a way to promote languages as an important part of the curriculum and should encourage more pupils to carry on studying languages later in life. This, in turn, will have a positive impact on our country’s linguistic capacity and improve our ability to do business abroad.   .   

The Government is not minded to specify the language to be taught, but rather give full flexibility to schools in their choice of languages. We are therefore interested in finding out more about the language(s) that primary schools would be likely to provide.
Q2 a) If you are responding on behalf of a primary school, what language(s) would your school be likely to teach and why?
As a secondary teacher who goes to some of our feeder primary schools to teach languages, I often see a choice based on the strengths displayed by more than one member of staff.  I agree that the actual language does not matter as much as the ability to deliver quality provision with enthusiasm. French and Spanish are often taught by our feeder primary schools for that particular reason.

Q2 b) If you replied to the question above, would the language(s) your school teaches be likely to change over time and if so, why?
The only reason to change the language would be linked to change in staffing, hence the real need for all members of staff to get appropriate training rather than relying on one person to deliver the language in rotation to different classes. There is a real need for planning medium and long term for schools to develop their capacity to deliver modern languages effectively and fairly independently.

The proposal to make languages compulsory at Key Stage 2 should impact positively on all groups of pupils.

Q3) How might the proposals affect different groups of pupils?
Pupils from underprivileged background who may not have had any opportunities to go abroad will have a better exposure to foreign languages and cultures.
Pupils with low literacy levels will benefit from learning foreign languages as it provide them with an opportunity to revisit key literacy skills through the foreign language.
Bilingual pupils will see their linguistic skills valued and special needs pupils will be given a chance to start something new and feel on an equal footing with the other pupils.
High ability pupils will be stretched by the challenge posed by the study of a foreign language and will benefit from the opportunity to deepen their thoughts about language in general and broaden their horizons.

We will consider the challenges that requiring primary schools to teach a foreign language will pose and how schools might best meet them.

Q4) How might the proposal affect different types of schools? Please consider in particular small and large schools, rural and urban schools, those that already teach languages at Key Stage 2 and those that do not.
The proposal will affect schools differently depending on the way languages have been prioritised in their curriculum. If the schools have continued to embed the foreign language over the past few years through developing the skills of their own teachers rather than relying on visiting teachers only, the provision is likely to be good. However, schools that have been unable to do this until now will require substantial support in order to develop their teachers’ expertise and ability to develop quality in-house language provision. If schools rely on external providers only, the language provision will be more likely to be unsuccessful, with pupils making limited progress. 

Q5 a) If the proposals go ahead, what do you think the priorities will be for training and professional development of teachers?
Links with secondary schools must be strengthened by allowing secondary teachers to support primary colleagues’ training at their request and share their good practice through face-to-face meetings, online platforms and video-conferencing.
Primary colleagues must be made aware of where to find good quality resources, particularly to enhance their pupils’ pronunciation of the foreign language, an area which is often a challenge for non-specialists.
Adequate funding and time must be allocated for primary teachers to go to the target-language country to gain a better understanding of the foreign language and/or learn it for a formal qualification.

Q5 b) Do you have any suggestions for how schools and other stakeholders could work together to meet these needs?
The creation of MFL Primary/Secondary clusters would be useful to develop secondary teachers’ understanding of how to build on successful primary literacy practice and primary teachers’ knowledge of foreign language pedagogy.
Primary schools should also join forces to share the cost and expertise needed to develop appropriate schemes of work for KS2.

Q6) Please let us know if you have any further comments you would like to make about the proposals in this consultation document.
The allocation of time and resources is key to making Primary Languages a success especially for the schools that are lagging behind in terms of developing their own capacity to deliver languages.
The issue of assessment also needs to be tackled as well as some guidelines provided regarding expected content to ensure a smoother transition to secondary school.

Please share you views by uploading the questionnaire here.
If you are a member of ALL, the Association for Language Learning, you can  email them your views so that they can be shared through your subject association.
Not yet a member of ALL? Time to join! J

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Support Community Languages-Every Language is an Asset
OCR, the UK examination board running the Asset languages scheme is planning to reduce its accreditions to French, Spanish, German, Italian and Mandarin from a selection of 25 languages previously offered.

This is a step backwards in the move to recognise achievement in a wider range of languages and will have a strong impact for the communities who speak these languages. This is also a move that will reduce further the country's linguistic capacity.

Speak to the Future, the campaign for languages, have started an e-petition to get OCR to reconsider their position. 
Thank you for supporting community languages by completing the petition online.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Translation Frustration-EAL Good Practice is Just Good Practice

In a recent article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), I share a few ideas to support non-native English speakers in languages lessons.
When considering how best to support learners who speak English as an additional language (EAL), it is essential to remember that they are not a homogeneous group. They can include new arrivals, children who have been educated in a different country and pupils with no literacy skills in their home language, as well as UK-born students who can speak their home language but not write it.
Many white British pupils also have specific linguistic needs, especially if they routinely use non-standard English or come from non-reading homes. Good EAL practice should support and enrich all students, not just EAL learners.
Instructions will be more easily understood by all if they are supported by practical examples and visuals. Keep explanations to a minimum, show examples and ask students to paraphrase, as their choice of words is likely to be better understood by their peers. It is best to avoid set phrases, expressions and metaphors that are likely to cause confusion if taken literally.
Peer support is helpful for EAL learners at first, but they must be encouraged to develop their own language skills and independence. For those further along the EAL continuum, classroom-based strategies such as videos, mime, audio with visual support and the use of visuals to support new language and instructions will be most effective.
Native speakers being taught their own language in MFL lessons will face other issues. Their written skills may be considerably weaker than their speaking skills and their overall performance at GCSE will depend on their command of English, as exam instructions will not be in the target language.
Whenever possible, talk to children to develop your awareness of linguistic overlaps - for example, formal/polite forms of address in other languages, gender and changes in verb forms. EAL pupils often find it easy to accurately reproduce the sounds of a new language as they have been exposed to a wider range of sounds between English and their mother tongue. Their linguistic capability needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.
Stimulate the class by inviting guest speakers, organising multilingual displays and assemblies, and holding special days and activities. EAL pupils are often successful language learners because their skills are likely to be more developed, but this needs to be reinforced at a whole-school level as MFL is sometimes the only subject that views their experience positively.
More generic strategies to support EAL learners can be accessed here via the TES website.

Friday, 3 August 2012

What is Your Favourite Source of Pictures, Photos and Other Visuals for Your Lessons?

Powered by
I am currently reviewing the best sources of pictures, photos and other visuals for languages lessons. Please feel free to contribute to the poll and view the results.
As of today, Google Images was used by 50% of the teachers who took part. Interestingly, the second place is shared by Flickr and many other sources including:
  • own pictures
  • (Flickr creative commons)
  • #ELTPics on Flickr

  • Pinterest and Microsoft Clipart were also mentioned.
    A word of waring was given about Google Images and Pinterest as images can be copyright and you can be sued for using them illegally.

    Thank you for adding to the survey!


    Friday, 27 July 2012

    Training to become a Secondary Languages Teacher –What You Need to Know

    This year I have been invited by one of my local universities to help out recruiting PGCE candidates for Modern Languages. The process has been really interesting to reflect on the reputation of teaching as a career in general and of language teachers in particular.
    Throughout the process, I have been amazed at the range of backgrounds prospective candidates can come from. From native speakers straight from college to mature students and “career switchers” and every possible other set of personal and professional circumstances in between.
    So, the first thing you would need to show is your personal motivation to train as a language teacher. There is really nothing surprising here but the challenge is to address both sides of the role-the teacher bit AND the language specialist bit.
    Everybody has got an opinion about what a good teacher should be like, but the teaching role seen through the eyes of a student-or ex-student-can be really far from the truth. The only point of reference any non-teacher has is always their own experience of education, which will be either seen through rose-tinted glasses or at best-gasp-outdated. Even if you left school only 6 years ago as a student in the UK, I am sorry to say, but the vast majority of your experience as a student might be obsolete already. Yes, really.   
    Whether you were educated or not in the UK, you will have to show that you have done your homework and you do know what the current situation is. Please do not mention motivational problems due to compulsory language learning at KS4 as this would now affect only a very small minority of schools.
    So, what makes a good MFL lesson? Your only way to find out is really to see one so ask your local school if you can come in to observe. A bit of reading might help too and there are plenty of pointers available online on the Times Educational Supplement and Guardian websites as well as many resources for language lessons. So, how would you teach a Y9 class about transport in France? Just have a look at what practising teachers did. You just need to register to have free access to the site and be able to download any resources from it. Who knows, if you do get onto that PGCE course, you should be able to return the favour too…
    What else would you need to keep in mind? Showing an awareness  of the qualities needed to teach children and the wider demands of the role is useful too.
    You also need to show that you have thought about specific challenges like dealing with parents, teaching children with a wide range of needs and backgrounds as well as considered some strategies to deal with classroom management issues. No, you will not be expected to know it all but if you are aware of possible issues, you will be able to develop strategies more effectively to cope with them.  
    Then, there are specific issues linked with native speakers. As a native speaker myself, my best advice would be to be honest and humble.   Yes, being a native speaker can be an advantage but you will also have to show that you can adapt to a different educational context and that you can empathise with your students and provide them with the appropriate support non-native speakers need to develop their own linguistic skills. I wrote about this back in 1997 at the beginning of my teaching career and many of the points I made then on p54, I would still make now…

    Outstanding Teaching-Be the Best You can Be
    Everybody wants to be outstanding, these days. The problem is that outstanding is, by definition, supposed to apply to a minority. This does not mean that we need to lower our sights. As we are human beings with fluctuating emotions and energy levels, the challenge of consistently being the best we can be should be the first step to get there. 

    Considering key qualities to develop, I would aim to show:
    *Enthusiasm-If we are not enthusiastic, who else is going to be?
    *Expertise-As in "knows what they are talking about" but certainly not as in "fount of all knowledge". I believe that experts are people who are aware of the limits as well as the depth of their knowledge. As learning is never-ending, experts are only credible to me if they display some humility.
    *Empathy-Understanding students and relating to them, being able to reach out for them-not making excuses for them.
    *Ability to make students think for themselves and develop their independence-My aim is to enable students to be lifelong learners of languages and many other things...
    *Ability to take risks and encourage students to take risks with their learning by creating an environment where making mistakes is something we all learn from.

    My 2 main priorities would be:
    to promote active engagement, where student co-operation supports the development of their learning skills and subject content knowledge, rather than just focus on student enjoyment that can be passive and just linked to content rather than skills.

    to decrease my amount of "teacher talk"-start with 60/40 and aim for 80/20. Although students need to develop good listening skills, they can be doing that listening to other people than me. I feel this is very challenging for languages teachers as over-reliance on teacher talk and "over-modelling" is a traditional teaching default mode. So, how can we share lingustic input with our students in a different way?

    For Listening and Speaking, developing students' knowledge of phonic patterns is essential. This needs to be taught systematically and in context, especially for more phonetically irregular languages like Enlish or French. It works quicker for more regular languages like Spanish or Italian and can make students feel a real sense of achievement as they can try to pronounce new words independently without entirely relying on the teacher. Using transcripts, making students compare what they hear to what is in front of them e.g. differences between audio and transcript, silent letters etc... also really helps students linking what they hear to the written word.

    For Reading and Writing, training students to make effective use of resources such as dictionaries, verb tables and textbooks is key. Getting them to work in pairs or small groups can also help them to develop resilience as well as more general reading and writing strategies.

    As regards developing student use of the Target Language, my view is that this can only be linked to speaking for a real purpose and I am planning to give students more opportunities to do this in class in a structured way. I feel these speaking activities are more likely to be successful if students are already starting to develop their independence as linguists. Students will then be able to manipulate better the language they know and make better use of resources at their disposal to find out independently the language they need to say what they want to say.

    And what about being able to discuss and demonstrate progress in students' learning?

    Many key elements to consider are linked with Assessment  for Learning:
    *Effective learning objectives/ success criteria
    *Effective questioning
    *Peer and self assessment
    *Reflection and self evaluation with students settig their own targets
    *Verbal and written feedback from teacher and other students

    Some tools like visualisers, flip cameras and mini whiteboards can help, but it is all about embedding their use in our classroom routines to make it more effective.

    If traffic lights are used for mini-plenaries, rather than just focusing on whether students are red, amber or green on a specific objective, asking them why they think they are red, amber or green might reveal more about what they learnt in the lesson.

    Likewise, comments from teachers and peers in students' books need to be refined and thought through in terms of impact on students' learning. Are the comments understood? What actions have been taken by the students to show they understood and acted upon the comments?
    And more importantly... When have the students been given the time to respond to the comments? 

    The more I think about it, the more obvious it seems to me that outstanding teaching is a journey rather than a destination. If we want students to grow as learners, it is only fair we tried to do the same through our practice.      

    Saturday, 14 July 2012

    Oldham Network Event, Friday 13th July: Developing Students’ Independent Learning Skills in Languages

    Please find here the resources I used, although I did not have the time to show everything as I was so busy listening to everybody else’s ideas!
    Although the event had the central theme of developing independent learning in Languages, more ideas and tips were shared after we discussed the importance of “going back to basics”.
    Books and other equipment:
    Students need to be made responsible for using their books as a reference in  class. They can be encouraged to look after their books by writing page numbers, therefore preventing the temptation to tear pages and/ or write contents page at the back of their books referring to key grammar worksheets.
    A small vocabulary book, stuck inside a main exercise book or carried with the main exercise book in a folder can help too.
    Promoting the aims of learning languages:
    Students need to be clear about the aim of language learning so that they do not consider perfect fluency as the expected outcome-hence the importance of realistic objectives presented to students. I also often like to challenge students with the “Why are we learning this” question, so that they cannot ask it later!  
    Faculties shared what they do to promote language-learning in general, which included bringing back ex students who have developed a career using languages to talk to current students, inviting high profile local personalities like footballers who are fluent in several languages as well as take part in national competitions like Linguatrivia, LanguagePerfect or The Spelling Bee.
    Even though students are currently not allowed to use dictionaries at GCSE apart from  in the stage 3 writing controlled assessment, it is an essential tool for linguistic development. We also discussed how important it was to show the difference between a dictionary and an on-line translator. Trials could be made using the translator to translate a nursery rhyme in Spanish, for instance, and then back to English to show how inaccurate the translations can be. There is also a strong need to develop students’ “meta language” and use of grammatical terminology. This will also help developing their literacy in their mother tongue.  
    We all agreed that whenever possible, should be encouraged to buy their own dictionaries for class use, but unfortunately this is often something language teachers cannot rely on
    Verb tables:
    Once students know what a verb is, they need to be able to understand the concept of “infinitive” and realise that verbs in French, Spanish and German behave in a very different way compared with verbs in English. Being able to use a verb table in these languages is therefore definitely a step closer to linguistic independence.
    Other resources:
    The use of other resources such as learning mats was discussed. Learning mats can be laminated or just printed to encourage students to annotate them and add to them. I was also very interested to find out about the use of mini whiteboard to encourage students to produce a short piece of writing. Students do not respond to correcting in the same way when it is on a mini whiteboard as it is easier to erase and improve sentences. Pictures could also be taken of different pieces of work for students to reflect on/ correct/ improve/ assess the following lesson.
    Collaborative writing exercises where students take it in turn to  “grow me a sentence” or write a story can also be supported by the use of dictionaries and learning mats
    We all agreed that it was often better for teachers to keep the book that students use to record class work. This can create problems for homework but there are many ways to encourage good independent learning habits from home through homework booklets, homework projects, VLEs and language websites. Homework can also be supported at home by mobile technology,encouraging students to use mobiles to record themselves and practise their language skills using a range of apps.
    We had a very long discussion about different ways to encourage student involvement in lessons using assessment for learning techniques and shared many documents on the wiki set up for the Oldham network.  
    Self-assessment sheets can be used to support the  teacher’s professional judgement of the students’ progress. Students also need to be involved in the marking of their work by having to act upon comments and practise correct phrases and having time allocated in lessons to do this (MAD time-Make A Difference).
    Comments can be made in different colours in students’ books to signal whether the work has been self-assessed, peer-assessed or teacher-assessed (sa/pa/ta)
    Working with and from students’ mistakes as a starter or “connect” activity is also a good way to get students to reflect on their learning.  
     AVOCADOS posters are also an effective tool to get students to focus on success criteria for a specific piece of work:

    A djectives
    V erbs

    O pinions
    C onnectives

    A dverbs

    D etail

    O ther tenses

    S ubordinate clauses

    Thank you very much to all participants for a very productive day. Looking forward to sharing more via our wiki or … twitter J

    Friday, 13 July 2012

    By the Book: Don't bin textbooks they can complement innovation

    In this week's Times Educational Supplement, I look at how textbooks can support innovation.

    When the revised key stage 3 programme of study for modern foreign languages was launched in 2008, it did not seem too different from its previous version. But it contained no defined list of linguistic content or topics to cover. Many departments decided to update their schemes of work, and the lack of defined topics at KS3, seen as an opportunity by some, was seen as a threat by others, who felt under pressure to design new modules from scratch and throw out the textbooks.

    But instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, why not use textbooks to complement innovative new work? The textbook will provide the overall structure, while opportunities for consolidation and extension will be given to pupils by dipping into new contexts.
    Many pupils start secondary school having learned some language at primary, so it’s important to check that the topics in the textbook are not repeated in exactly the same way. For instance, colours and adjectival agreement in French could be revisited by describing Impressionist paintings, rather than in a traditional “learn 10 colours” textbook-based lesson.

    All textbook-based schemes of work usually cover topics such as food, parts of the body, festivals or the environment and can be greatly enhanced by cross-curricular links with practical subjects like art, music, dance, drama and food technology. In some secondary schools, these links will lead to developing Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) lessons to enable pupils to be taught another subject through the medium of a foreign language.

    With a lot of teaching time taken up by controlled assessment at KS4, it is important to use and extend at KS3 all the opportunities provided by textbooks to find out about the culture of countries where the target language is spoken. The use of authentic materials, websites and objects brought back from holidays can engage pupils and encourage them to reflect on their cultural identity.

    Whenever possible, links with the real world will also complement the traditional “let’s write a letter to a pen pal” textbook scenario, either through a real pen-pal scheme or through Skype links with schools abroad. This will also consolidate the understanding of key words and structures taught via the textbook.
    Now we are free from content, it is time to learn how to fly.
    Find all links and resources here.

    Sunday, 8 July 2012

    Summer Reading: Modern Languages inside the black box, Jane Jones and Dylan Wiliam

    Although dating back to 2008, this little booklet published GL Assessment and widely available online, is still key reading material for anybody looking at sharpening their Assessment for Learning (AFL) practice in the modern languages classroom. Some points may have been made some time ago, but the reason why they were made may have been forgotten as specific aspects of good practice were being pushed into schools.
    According to the authors, it is essential to demystify language learning by sharing learning objectives and success criteria with the learners.  The ultimate goal will then be to enable students to develop the capacity to own and monitor their own progress as independent language users. This task will need to be supported across the school through developing students’ “meta-language”   in English and possibly even in the target language.
    I have always been reticent to use the target language to present grammatical points as I have always felt that it was something many of my students would consider as one hurdle too many. However, I have always supported the idea that modern languages are a very good vehicle to develop students’ literacy in English.
    I do feel that once the concepts have been presented and are understood, there is no harm in referring to them in the target language especially if they are cognate in the foreign language, which is often the case for the two languages I teach-French and Spanish.
    Good language teaching is underpinned by effective questioning and it is crucial to enable all students to take part in the lesson, whatever their personalities and degrees of confidence.
    The “ No hands up except to ask a question” is an effective strategy to allow you to do just that although it cannot be used all the time-particularly if you want a different answer to one given by a particular student. This change can be supported by a display like a “Hands up OK/No hands up clock” 
    If we find it difficult to choose students at random , we can use a range of strategies including lollipop sticks and cards-provided we put them back in straight away or students might feel they are off the hook for the rest of the lesson. For students who are stuck, phone a friend,  Ask the audience or  50/50 can help them cope with the situation better and develop their resilience.
    If a student says “I don’t know”, say “OK I ll come back to you”-and make sure you do or “yes, but if you did know, what would you say?”, insisting that all students must participate. Although that strategy works for most, what we need to consider is what to do when carry on telling you that they don’t   after their second chance (and some students will!!). Write it on a post-it and put it on a “stuck board”? Give the student a chance to find out about the answer and report back to the class at the beginning of the following lesson?
    The “Question basketball” technique also aims to increase students’ involvement. The teacher asks a question to a random student, then chooses another for an evaluation of the answer, then another to provide an explanation of why the answer is correct or incorrect. By bringing different students into the discussion, the teacher  will develop individual reflection and student autonomy.
    Rich questions move away from students just recalling the information to reflecting on the information at different levels-this is when references to Bloom’s taxonomy can be useful. For example “Is the verb avoir regular?” is a question requiring low order thinking whereas a question like “How can you tell a verb is irregular?” involves students into higher order thinking.
    Rich questioning should also aim to provide opportunities for students to link current with previous learning. Indeed, it is especially important to teach students how the vocabulary taught in one context can be used in another.
    “Waiting time” is an effective strategy to encourage learners to reflect on the quality of their answers. Examples of prompts include… “What can we add to  X ‘s answer?”, “Do you agree with X’s answer”. The teacher needs to plan for increasingly more linguistically challenging questions which cannot be answered with just “reproduced” language and do involve some degree of language manipulation.
    All-students response systems can help involving all students and assessing their progress in the lesson. E.g. asking if a word/ phrase is correct and asking students to respond with thumbs up or down. This can create what Dylan and Jones call a “teachable moment”, when the teacher ask a student “You thought this was correct/ incorrect-can you tell me why?”. This technique can also be used with multiple choice answers and cards, mini whiteboards or an electronic voting system.
    “The only effective feedback is that which is used”. This seems to state the obvious, but we all know how difficult it is to encourage students to act upon feedback. One simple technique is to tell them that there are errors and provide them with the time in class to put them right. The errors could be classified in spelling, grammar-for verb endings-, missing words etc…
    The students could also be given a piece back with some errors underlined and encouraged to classify the errors into different categories. This exercise would then feed into students setting their own targets and working with peers who have complementary difficulties.
    When the teacher sets target as a way to give feedback, if the feedback is intended to improve future work, the targets may need to be more general. This feedback can also be given following the “two stars and wish” format where students or teacher give 2 positive points and a wish for improvement on the work discussed.
    The formative use of summative assessment is best done in groups of four or five to produce the best collaborative response as they can.  The other groups will then have to evaluate the response following set criteria.
    For self-and peer-assessment, traffic lights can be an effective way to assess role-play work provided it is preceded by sharing clear success criteria and followed by deep questioning to ensure all students know how to reach the highest achievement they can.  If not, this will only lead to lower order thinking and not change students’ learning habits.

    Monday, 25 June 2012

    Translating Idioms-A Real Linguist's Challenge

    Guest Post by Carmen Marra

    Anybody with an understanding of the translation field and of what the translating process implies, is well aware of the difficulties which are to be faced when trying to translate idioms. Translating means not only reading and understanding the literal meaning of the words of the source language, but also trying to convey a meaningful message. Behind every national language and every single country, there is a different culture and that is the reason why most of the times it is impossible to translate word by word, especially when it comes to idioms.

    Idioms are very complex expressions and this makes them especially difficult to translate into another language as they do not necessarily have an equivalent. Like metaphors, idioms are phrases which have cultural meaning independent of the words that make them up. There is nothing in the words per se that conveys the meaning, but instead it is based on a certain cultural knowledge shared by some people. As idioms are culture-bound, they are specific to a particular culture and background and their meaning is always more metaphorical than literal.  You therefore need to understand what idea the idiom carries in order to find the closest equivalent in the target language.
    So, how do you translate idioms?
    Unfortunately there is not a universal rule, but using a good dictionary, doing some research on internet or even better asking a native speaker could be helpful. I am an Italian translator who specialises in Italian Translations and I am going to provide you with some examples in both English and Italian.
    Let’s take into consideration the English idiom “once in a blue moon”.  It describes the idea of something which happens very rarely.  Before taking into the account the possible Italian equivalent, let me explain shortly the origin of this expression. After conducting some research on Internet, I found that the “blue moon” expression with the ‘very rarely’ expression is old and it dates back to medieval England.
    Actually, very occasionally the moon appears to be blue and this happens after a volcanic eruption, when the dust particles diffract the red light, making the moon appear bluish. If I translated the expression literally into Italian, people would probably look at me as if I was crazy. The closest Italian idiom to the English one with the same meaning is “ad ogni morte di papa” which makes reference to the death of the Pope. As Popes usually stay in power for a long time, their death is an event which occurs rarely.
    Here are few more examples of English idioms and their closest equivalents in Italian. I will also provide a literal translation, just to show the differences as they are often amusing.

    ENG:    To knock on woods                 Literal Translation         Bussare sul legno

    IT:         Toccare ferro                           Literal Translation         To touch iron

    ENG:    To drink like a fish                   Literal Translation         Bere come un pesce

    IT:         Bere come una spugna          Literal translation          To Drink like a sponge

    ENG:    To sleep like a log                    Literal Translation         Dormire come un tronco

    IT:         Dormire come un ghiro         Literal translation          To sleep like a dormouse

    As a conclusion, I would say that it is impossible to translate idioms accurately without a good knowledge of the cultural background they are linked to. It takes more than just to know words to be a real linguist…

    Saturday, 23 June 2012

    Cultural Awareness and The Olympics: Explore the Possibilities...

    In this week’s Times Educational Supplement (TES),  I look at how traditional topics can link in with developing cultural awareness and the current Olympic theme.
    The resources mentioned in the article can be accessed here with more links provided in my recent Olympic blog post 
    Nobody really thinks too hard about their own culture until they find another to compare it to. A lot of my pupils think that everywhere is exactly the same - just like home.
    Cultural awareness is often presented as an add-on to language classes. But you do not need to choose between culture and grammar. There are many opportunities to combine both. And with the Olympics approaching, what better time to explore different countries and their cultures?
    A mixture of English and the target language can be used to teach the key facts as well as specific words related to a particular competitor, their sport or country. As English and French are the official languages of the Olympics, the official bilingual website will help pupils to do research by accessing authentic documents in French. Interviews with famous Olympians such as David Douillet, France's judo champion, or German tennis star Steffi Graf can then be written up and performed by pupils.
    Use the topics you teach to show similarities and differences. Focusing on the similarities will help pupils to avoid stereotypes and consider the differences from a more equal footing.
    The routine of school offers a fantastic opportunity to develop cultural awareness. Why not look at the different training regimes of French, Spanish or German athletes? You can go on to discuss children's school routines in those different countries.
    Photographs can help to highlight similarities - and differences - and can make topics like clothes and uniforms more engaging. The opening and closing ceremonies of past Games feature many examples of national fashion and costumes that can be described by pupils.
    A lesson on greetings in a foreign language can be transformed by using videos, pictures and websites. For instance, pupils can learn how people in France exchange kisses on each cheek to say hello and goodbye. In Spanish class, they could compare different styles of housing with homes in the UK.
    I like to challenge stereotypes by showing videos of world music artists. In preparation for the Olympics, matching national anthems to the correct countries is also a good way to revise the names of the countries and reflect on national identity.
    Last but not least, make best use of your native speakers. Whether they are foreign language assistants, link schools abroad, parents, visitors or native language teachers, they are living proof that people and cultures are not all the same.

    Wednesday, 20 June 2012

    Olympic Values: Promoting Languages through the Olympics

    With London 2012 nearly upon us, the Olympics provide a fantastic opportunity to reflect on what makes Britain what it is through exploring cultural ‘otherness’. Being confronted with ‘otherness’ forces us to look at who we are and focus on our similarities with others just as much as we consider our differences.

    Many language activities inspired by Olympic values will also naturally develop SEAL skills, as there are clear overlaps between the two. The Olympic and Paralympic values mentioned in all Olympic literature including The Olympic Charter are: Respect, Excellence, Friendship, Inspiration, Determination, Equality and Courage. From a linguistic point of view, these values will be easy to identify in teaching materials, as most of them are cognates in French. In order to understand Olympic-related texts, it is also useful to know the three levels described in the Olympic Charter as the steps to the Olympic Ideal, ‘a philosophy of Life which places sport at the service of humankind’.
    The first level aims at encouraging effort (striving for excellence), preserving human dignity (demonstrating respect) and developing harmony (celebrating friendship), whereas the second level focuses on the education of young people through sport and the promotion of Olympic values. Finally, the third level articulates the vision of the Olympic Ideal as a ‘contribution to building a better world through sport’.

    There are considerable overlaps between these aims and the mission statements and core purpose of schools. The Olympics can therefore be used quite naturally by teachers to raise the profile of school values through discussing Olympic values in different lessons.

    Pierre de Coubertin said: ‘The most important thing […] is not to win but to take part […] in the same way that in life the most important thing is not to triumph but to put up a good fight’. One of the strongest Olympic messages is therefore that the endeavour can be more important than the final result, encouraging resilience and what Carol Dweck would call a ‘growth mindset’- a focus on self-improvement rather than on unfocused talent as a badge of honour.

    The students will need to reflect on the Olympic values and develop their vocabulary in English to be able to discuss them. Once students are confident about this vocabulary, they should be able to transfer it easily into foreign languages such as French or Spanish.

    A key element in making good use of these opportunities is the need for a creative approach. There are many symbols linked with the Olympics and depending on how creative and open-ended the activities are, the student outcomes will range from illustrating to analysing and integrating Olympic values. For instance, looking at the Olympic rings can be used as an introduction to teaching about countries as well as looking at continents and colours. Flags can then be used as a resource to discuss the people and history of the countries, with students finally looking at Olympic symbolism to design their own flag or badge.

    The Olympic motto ‘plus vite, plus haut, plus fort’ is a fantastic opportunity to look at adjectives and comparatives, while the many Olympic mascots provide a real-life context to apply dates, word order, adjectival agreement and to revise parts of the body. Describing and analysing official posters also makes students reflect on the image conveyed by high-profile sporting events such as the Olympics and on Olympic values such as friendship or excellence. Olympic values can also be promoted by looking at the topic of daily routine and exploring issues like fair trade linked with the actual goods produced for the Olympic games.
    As regards overall planning, Olympic values can be promoted through themed activities or activities embedded in the existing curriculum. A mix of both approaches with a one-off event to make it memorable will probably be the most effective. A series of lessons on the Olympic theme is likely to provide a motivating new context for the introduction or the consolidation of numbers, countries, colours, foods and healthy living routines. In addition, the Olympic values will need to be embedded in the schemes of work and highlighted to students on a regular basis for them to be able to make the link.

    Respect is a value that is being promoted in all schools, whether it be self-respect, respect for others or respect for our environment. The respect agenda in school has been tied in very closely with the quest for improving students’ behaviour and academic standards in general, as highlighted in schemes like the Rights Respecting Schools programme  supported by UNICEF.

    The Olympics can also be used as a way to present respect as a means of combating racism. Respecting differences is key for students to derive maximum benefit from the language curriculum and it is also essential for them not to feel that differences are a threat to their own identity.

    Throughout the year, a number of opportunities can be provided by looking at differences in names, style of handwriting, food, clothes, houses, school curriculum and rules, music and traditions in general. When looking at differences similarities will need to be highlighted in order to encourage students to be positive about differences and not to dismiss them as strange idiosyncrasies.

    Names are a great resource  for developing students’ cultural awareness. They are linked with geography and religion, and looking at the most popular names  from different countries  can provide clues about their history and culture. Students can look at names of athletes from different countries as well as focus on trends from specific countries like French or Spanish-speaking countries.

    This can be reinforced through music. For instance, the song by the French singer Zazie, Tout le monde il est beau, presents a wide range of names of people all linked by their French nationality. A simple activity is to get students to match up the names with their country of origin.

     The topic of Food can be approached in different ways, such as looking at the typical diet of an athlete or considering the foods and food habits of different countries. The idea is for students to challenge their own ideas about what ‘foreign’ food is like and to accept differences without being judgmental. They can be given pictures and names of foods to research or be asked to search for items of food on the internet with the aim of finding the ingredients contained in the different dishes.

    Similar activities can be done using national costumes, together with an understanding of when these costumes are actually worn. This free iphoneapp is great resource for this.

    Whether with food or clothes, there is great potential for students to practise extended writing skills in the foreign language by describing what the items are and what they have learnt about the different items. There are also opportunities for students to discuss the work produced as well as evaluate their learning and the development of their SEAL skills through the activities.

    In conclusion, I would encourage all colleagues to consider the whole range of educational opportunities provided by the Olympics and make a true effort towards embracing the Olympic Ideal as a philosophy of life.