Picking Up The Lingo: My Ghana Challenge

I simply could not resist.

As a teacher of languages, the opportunity to try my hand at a new language was irresistible. So, whilst in Ghana during February half-term, I made sure that I tried to get to grips with Twi, the lingua franca of the country (other than English of course).

When faced with this new linguistic challenge (and with a limited amount of time), and after the initial foray into basic greetings, I sought out the following:

1) Verbs, 2) Connectives, 3) Tenses and 4) Opinions

I bang on in class about Vital Verbs and Nowhere Nouns, but found it to be true when I found myself in the position of a ‘beginner language learner’ again. (My note book soon became awash with infinitives).

Not only this, but my fascination for the differences between languages was kindled once more. Similar to Mandarin (I think), the infinitive of the Twi verb also acts as each part of its conjugation. Very economical and very sensible, in my opinion.

‘Di’ is the verb to eat.

‘Me di’ is therefore ‘I eat’.

‘Me pe’ is like.

However, to say I like to eat, it’s ‘Me pe se me di’ (I like to I eat)

In five days, I was only going to get a short distance, but I was always keen to try out my few words on anyone who would listen. I was unconcerned about making mistakes – much more unconcerned than if I had been speaking languages that I supposedly speak with greater competence.

All in all then, a great experience. Mostly because, as a linguist, there is no more natural position to be in than that of a language learner.



Reflections on #ililc5: Baking mad

I count myself fortunate enough to have people such as BBC New York correspondent Nick Bryant (he went to my primary school) and Wendy Smith (member of the best pop group in the world, Prefab Sprout) among my followers. How I have not managed to lose them (and countless others) over the last 3 days is (frankly) beyond me, as my timeline has been swamped with my tweets from #ililc5 in Southampton, which must have most of the 26% of my followers who are not language teachers either scratching their heads or shaking them in despair (or both).

#ililc5 is the annual ICT Links Into Languages Conference which brings together all those who are passionate about languages and even more passionate about teaching our young people about them through the medium (when entirely appropriate, of course) of ICT.

This year’s extravaganza was eagerly anticipated and gave yet another opportunity for us all to renew or initiate real-world incarnations of virtual friendships, as most of us are connected via the #mfltwitterati on Twitter.

Without too much unnecessary detail, I wanted to share my thoughts on the weekend (which are just about settling in my head now, following 24 hours or more of swirling around)

Embedded image permalink

Keynote: Capturing The Zeitgeist- Joe Dale (@joedale) – the curator of all things #mfltwitterati provided another informative and thought-provoking journey through all that has been happening this year in the world of ICT and language-learning (unabridged Flipboard link). As someone particularly interested in the impact of on-line collaboration and PLNs, the research into the effect of the #mfltwitterati undertaken by Fernando Rosell-Aguilar (@FRosellAguilar) was fascinating. Joe also encouraged us to sketch – so I did … and the result is above!

Take-Away Homework: James Gardner (@Langnut) – the chance to find out more about this alternative take on a thorny issue. James was honest enough (thank you for this) to share the good, the outstanding and the disappointing results of an approach which gives the students more choice in the homework activities that they have. Can we ever reach the point where students WANT to do homework? I think we can, to a certain degree, if the right types of tasks are on offer. Take-away homework is one avenue that can help.

Get Crafty: Clare Seccombe (@valleseco) I firmly believe that there is an arty primary teacher in me that is trying to get out. That’s why I love Clare’s sessions. They are jam-packed to the rafters with ideas that can easily be transposed into the secondary classroom, like the mini-books idea which I took on board and used after #ililc4. This year, try door hangers, bookmarks, bunting and board games (just for starters), with templates and further fun ideas to be found at the LightBulb Languages web site.

Fabulous Formative Assessment: Rachel Smith (@lancslassrach) Considering the tech issues that we had at the start of this session (oh yes, it’s great when it all works, but a sod when it doesn’t), I was amazed by how much ground Rachel was able to cover in the time that we had, taking us through hands-on demonstrations of Kahoot, Answer Garden, Nearpod, Educanon and Plickers. I liked the immediacy and fun of Kahoot with the added bonus of being able to download the results for further analysis and subsequent reflection.

Talking Walls: Ceri Anwen James (@CeriAnwen) This was the most ‘magical’ session as we had the chance to try out and then create our own examples of Aurasma. This is an app which literally brings pictures to life (in pure Harry-Potter-esque fashion). Ceri showed us how she had used this in the context of her school in Cardiff and then let us loose on creating our own. Within a few minutes, my Arsene Wenger photo had a video of me mystically hovering over it, telling the pragmatic Frenchman that he should really go to Specsavers if he wants to see some of the incidents involving his players on the pitch which he claims to be unaware of.

The evening saw a more informal side to the #ililc5 gathering: the Show and Tell at the Highfield Hotel. A time for dancing and singing, eating and drinking …. but still (just about) maintaining a level of decorum appropriate to our profession (ahem)

There were many gems: Ceri Anwen James’s Song (Fliegerlied), Alex Bellars (@bellale, with a more than a little assistance from Mrs B – MrsBellacat) and ‘Le jeu de l’oie’ board game, Julie Prince (@PrinceLanguages) and The Porter Song (to the tune of the National Anthem!), Lisa Stevens’s (@lisibo) wonderful Chocolate Choco Choco Song, Daniel Cooper (@d_ewc – glad to see the Twitter handle is shorter now, Dan!) with the Great Spanish Grammar Off, Jo Rhys Jones (@jowinchester) with ‘Les Pouces En Avant’ and Rory Gallagher (@EddieKayshun) using YouTube to engage students and then exhibiting his own inimitable dancing to ‘crown’ the evening.

Sunday saw one or two late risers but we were back for more by 9am!

Keen and Connected: Vanessa Burns (@nessalovesshoes) This was part 2 of a 2-session series, but I was glad I joined for this one, because it re-united me with an old friend, namely Edmodo: the site where students and teachers can meet securely online to share resources, communicate and collaborate. I also re-visited the potential for QR codes through the use of QR code generator qrstuff.com. These quirky, dotty designs are so powerful and make vital sites and information accessible at any time. I can see the potential for using more of them in my room. Then there was the ‘Snipping Tool’ application in windows – one of those (for me, anyway) ‘insider’ secrets which comes as something of a ‘wow’ revelation when you discover it!

Google Apps for the Classroom: Jo Rhys Jones (@jowinchester) I’m only slowly discovering the potential for Google (and its myriad of components) for the classroom, so this session was particularly enlightening. I tried out Google Sites, Google Forms and Google Classroom for the first time with Aurelie Charles (@aurelagazel) as my buddy to help me when I got stuck. The way that Jo’s school has harnessed and then applied the Google resources is superb and the quality of work on show from her pupils is fantastic. My thought is that the key to success here is being a ‘Google’ school and approaching this with a whole-school perspective. Sure, you can use everything as an individual teacher, but only when the whole school is doing it the ‘Google’ way, will the full benefits be reaped, IMO.

Now There’s A Challenge: Eleanor Abrahams (@elvisrunner) – A real learning experience, this one. Eleanor crafted this session really well, putting us in the position of students, as we compared our own (rather amateur, speaking personally) solo efforts at drawing eyes to 5 different levelled examples of eye drawings, and then sought to improve our own version by learning from what we could see in these examples.

5 levelled examples

Embedded image permalink

My attempt before …

Embedded image permalink

and after looking at the examples …

Embedded image permalink

In short, students do not all need to be shown an A* example of work to inspire them. In fact, for most, this will be demotivating. They need examples of staged progression, so that they can find something that is just above their current level and aim for that, in the first instance. Eleanor then showed how differentiation works at her school, with different colours designating differing levels of ability. Activities are then similarly colour-coded, so that students can aim for achievement at an appropriate level, but equally could aspire to achieve more than this by going for an activity in a colour band above their own. She pointed to a new wave of differentiation, where ‘creativity is king’

Embedded image permalink

Full details of Eleanor’s workshop can be found in this entry on her blog

Kicking Dependence: Rachel Smith (@lancslassrach) Ever felt like a walking dictionary? (Yes). Then this session gave strategies to enable us to make students work harder and take more ownership of their learning rather than falling back on the ‘learned helplessness’ that many of them exhibit so readily (and, let’s be honest, we encourage). So, in short, be the guide. Don’t give students the answers, but provide them with all the support materials they need to be able to find the answers, whether it be dictionaries, wall (or window) displays or learning mats. Get your students to SNOT – go to Self, Neighbour, Other and ONLY THEN to the Teacher in search of assistance. Use QR codes to give students link to support. Give away all your teaching materials, making them available online for students to access. Set your classroom up in a way that encourages student collaboration. Again, lots of practical ideas.

Key note: Cooking On Gas – Lisa Stevens (@lisibo) Food, glorious food. Cupcakes, cracking cupcakes. A great finale to our time together saw Lisa ask us to think about what the ingredients are in our lessons. Do these ingredients always bring the same results? Are we star bakers, drawing out a show-stopping performance when required for an observation, or are we consistently good on a daily basis (which is my own personal definition of an outstanding teacher)?

Just as recipes sometimes go inexplicably wrong, so do lessons. If we try something once and it goes awry, that does not mean that we have put the whole thing in the bin. Persist. Re-group and try it again.

Who are your languages heroes? The ones who have inspired you to press on in your language-learning or language-teaching quest? Mike Sadler (Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield during my time there – 1980-86) was mine. Remember, each one of us is doing great work in our classrooms day in and day out. The right people may not walk in at the right time to see you in action, but they are not the important ones – the students are.

Thank you Lisa – and thank you for the cupcakes – the ginger ones were great.

So, what will I take away from this weekend?

Well, a whole headful of ideas are bursting for priority to get out. However, experience (this is only my 2nd ililc) has taught me that you have to start small, so my aims are:

1) Use Today’s Word in my classroom (from Eleanor’s session)

Embedded image permalink

2) Re-boot my Edmodo profile with one class

3) Try Kahoot

4) Look back to this blog when I have tried numbers 1-3 for more great ideas

Thanks to all those who made the weekend possible notably Zena Hilton.

Until #ililc6 …

Live Long And Prosper


Embedded image permalink

#nurture1415 – Looking back and forward

There is a symbol widely seen in Ghanaian culture – that of the Sankofa bird. It is a long-necked bird that is reaching backwards and taking told of an egg in its beak.


I have a bird like this one sat on my desk at school.

The message is simple. Learn from the past by taking only the good things and using them to help you shape the future.

There have been many highights this year for me, notably the opportunities to meet MFL colleagues at events like #ililc4 in Southampton in February and then at Languages Show Live in London in October. We all need chances like these to meet with others, share our enthusiasm as educators and re-energise for our time in the classroom. The sharing of ideas is vital, but the chance to make connections with others in the same position as myself is just as vital in my opinion.

School is an ever-changing landscape. Staff move on and in our case we are undergoing change on a big scale as our principal leaves and his replacement arrives in April. I am currently Head of Languages and Head of Faculty, which means much plate-spinning, but makes me all the more grateful for the supportive staff that I have around me.

2015 offers many opportunities:
February – a visit to Ghana to meet up with our partner school, new head teacher there and re-invigorate our partnership with fresh projects.
February / March – #ililc5 in Southampton (much to look forward to there!)
September / October – Spanish exchange

In all of these (and others) I hope to expand my own (and therein also) my student’s horizons. There are opportunities out there to learn every day and I intend to be seeking them out.

All the best for the New Year! 2015? Bring it on!

Languages Show Live – Where Languages Live

Well, if Radio 5 Live is where football lives, then following Saturday’s trip to Olympia, I am pleased to report the passion for languages is most certainly alive and kicking at the Languages Show Live.
I enjoyed meandering around the different stalls for an hour or so, stopping at Flashsticks for a quick chat with VeeJay and the team. Early on there were freebies from the EU stand (Europe maps, door hangers etc). I particularly liked the ‘Passports to the European Union’ and especially the ‘Languages Take You Further’ publications.
I called in at Better Chinese to check out resources for our upcoming G&T Mandarin lessons. I also spent time with Tony at Pro-Verbs as I am always fascinated by how different languages view the same proverbial situation with a different turn of phrase.
Went to the AQA seminar to hear about the iGCSE qualification and was impressed by what I heard, particularly bearing in mind how much classroom time is currently lost in CA preparation. Grades achieved seemed to be higher on the whole. Worth considering. Any thoughts?
Who can resist stickers? Well, not many of us language nuts, judging by how many of us were crowding the SuperStickers stand like bees around a honeypot!

I went to 2 seminars and the MFL Show and Tell:
1) Wendy Adeniji (@wendyadeniji)- How can your teaching be consistently good or outstanding?
This was an exhausting, but quite exhilarating ride. I tried to tweet and keep up, but it was hard to do effectively as there were so many excellent points made and practical examples given.
The main points for me were:
1) Knowing your class: Where they are, what they can do, what their targets are, where to seat them, what interventions they need.
2) Assessment and response: Feedback is VITAL. Showing students how to progress over time. Giving them the signposts but then ensuring that they respond to the guidance provided. I particularly liked the empty highlighted box drawn in the exercise book, which then has to be filled by the student (during DIRT – Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) in response to the feedback given by the teacher. Any boxes (whether empty or completed) immediately have attention drawn to them and they act as clear evidence of student engagement and response (or lack of them). Time was given over to the use of transition matrices and flightpaths to visually represent progress.
Verbal feedback can also be recorded. Staff at Wendy’s school have a stamp for this now ‘Verbal Feedback given’ which can be put into the student’s book on delivery of verbal feedback. The student then has to write about what this feedback entailed and any future implications this might have for their learning.
3) Questioning: This must be effective, probing and differentiated according to the pre-established knowledge of the group. Invite students to respond to another student’s response. Do they agree? Can they extend or improve the answer already given? Promote active listening in the classroom. Students should be engaged in the discussion going on in the classroom and ready to participate. Classroom routines for use of target language (as part of this) should be embedded. Classes need to be trained in their understanding of target language so that it is not just brought out for lesson observations to quizzical looks between students and the embarrassment of the teacher.
4) Classroom activities: There were too many ideas here to go through each in detail. However, Kagan activities were mentioned as well as ‘Fan ‘N’ Pick’ and ‘Quiz Quiz Trade’. The key element of each was high-challenge engagement. The use of mini-whiteboards was touched on (remember to pick up on those whose answers are incorrect) as an effective classroom tool. I liked the idea of ‘Talking Counters’ where students are given (say) 3 tiddlywinks each and when they say a sentence as part of a group discussion, they place one of their counters in the middle of the table. This shows at a glance who has been speaking, who has not and also stops the chatterboxes in their tracks at the end of 3 contributions! Differentiation in these activities can be shown through interaction with students and does not necessarily have to involve the creation of a raft of different worksheets.

2) Rachel Hawkes (@RachelHawkes60) Making creative use of authentic resources at KS3
The presentation in full can be found here
Again, there were so many ideas here and (as someone outside said, in an unintentionally overheard conversation) they all make you go ‘Well, why didn’t I think of that?’ True, but often we need a bit of inspiration and Rachel provided it.
The introduction looked at the NC documentation and that ‘authentic’ only occurs once in the whole thing and it is mentioned regarding MFL. For us, we should be providing opportunities for our students to learn about the cultures and traditions of the country / countries where the language that they are studying is / are spoken. Authentic resources (in all their varying forms) provide ‘a window into this new culture’ as Rachel indicated, with many already in use at KS2.
These resources, whether paintings, poems, songs or adverts, can all provide opportunities for a response, either with an opinion or creatively. They show the language and culture of the country for what they are and they are not ‘airbrushed’ to remove any tricky language. They are the original and genuine article.
Poems provide ample opportunities for gap-fills, but will rely on students falling back on their knowledge of phonics to work out the answers. To appreciate the poem itself however, requires a transfer of skills from English lessons. It is from this base that a creative response in the target language (with assistance provided as required) can arise. From here on, the possibilities are endless.
Never underestimate the power of committing a poem to memory. It can stay with you for a lifetime, as Gabriella O’Neill (@yogaone1) later testified to with Chanson d’automne More mundanely, they can assist with the reinforcement of grammar rules (Rachel referred to the use of articles in Spanish).
Songs can live long in the memory too and be the source of much classroom enjoyment and mirth. Add gestures and the reinforcement can go to another level.
Adverts (of all types) can open up more opportunities. Give the transcription and students have to work out what the product being advertised could be.
Authentic materials can help students to engage with many of the big ideas of the world (global hunger, the environment) in a way that page 67 of the text book may not.

3) MFL Show and Tell (apologies – I did not get all the names and activities mentioned)
This was compered and curated wonderfully by the ever-enthusiastic Helen Myers (@HelenMyers) with Joe Dale (@joedale) more than ably assisting with all things tech.
Joe pointed us towards a directory of authentic resorces
Sandrine Pac-Kenny(@sandrinepk) pointed us towards Kahoot and then gave us a demonstration. It got a bit competitive.
Then we were treated to the Foux Du Fafa Song and the Italian Hand Gestures Rap
The wonderful Prim (@chapeluser) extolled the professional virtues of Twitter to all MFL teachers and particularly recommended the worldwide MFL family which is the #mfltwitterati, before suggesting the bringing of teddy bears to class can promote the use of the 3rd person singular in questions and answers.
I think it was the team from Ashcombe that brought us the Post-it activity. 2 teams, 2 sets of different-coloured post-its (each team member has a different number on their post-it) and 2 boards to go to. The teacher calls a number and that member of each group runs to their board and has to write a nominated sentence with the other team members shouting assistance. Sounds like a recipe for equal amounts of fun and mayhem to me!
Zondle was recommended as a source of much student addiction as they complete MFL games in attempts to gain ‘zollars’ to trade in for prizes.
My recommendation was the ‘Finished? Try these’ activity stations around the room, originally designed by Kerry Tait (@misstait_85) and adapted for use in the MFL classroom for those early finishers. Students are trained to go to a different station when they have finished their written work and complete an activity which helps them to reflect on their learning from that lesson (compose a Tweet / text / crossword clue etc) The MFL templates can be obtained from me (@trekkiep) via a DM with your email. I will look to upload it for easier access too and let you know where I put it!
So, come 6 o’clock it was time to retire to the local hostelry for a chance to mix and mingle with many MFL colleagues over a glass of our favourite tipple and a language-based pub quiz. A great day, made all the greater thanks to sharing it with (amongst others) @lauraannesimons, @FatimaDuerden, @SylvieBRawlings, @sghani, @HelenMyers, @joedale, @chapeluser and @dawson_serena

Until the next time.

And remember (as Rachel Hawkes shared so wonderfully):
Let’s not make 58 resources and share none. Let’s make a different one each and share it 58 times.
Share, save time and make friends.

You know it makes sense.