Sunday, 8 March 2015

#ililc5 Teaching my dog to whistle

This is the second of the 2 sessions I presented at #ililc5 at Southampton University last weekend.

Again, my posting the powerpoint wouldn't be much good without the spiel so I've decided to reproduce as best I can everything I talked about in that session.

Here goes...

Teaching my dog to whistle

Tips and ideas for giving feedback and promoting independence

The title for this session comes from a joke made by an Ofsted inspector, Geoff Hancock.

A child brags to a friend, 
"I just taught my dog to whistle."
"Wow!" says the other, "Let's hear!" 
"Oh, he can't whistle," replies the first. 
"Why not? I thought you said you taught him!" 
"I did! He just didn't learn it."

OK, I never said it was funny...

So then I asked a series of questions:

  • How can you really tell if students understand?
  • How can you tell they are ready to move on?
  • Is it worth persevering?
  • Do we need to stick to the Scheme of Work? 
  • Is it personal?*
* The Journal of Educational Psychology says "yes" in a recent article called:   Do converging student/teacher personality traits affect outcomes of teacher assessments?

Then I asked the attendees if I were to show them how to do something and give them simple instructions, should they be able to do it? 

They (without really thinking) said, "yes" and so I demonstrate juggling with three Creme Eggs.

I then gave them the following instructions on how to juggle:
Start with 2 eggs in one hand and one in the other. 
Throw one of the eggs in the hand with 2 eggs into the air in a kind of arc.
Then just before catching the egg with the other hand throw the egg currently in that hand into the air.
Before catching that egg in the other hand, throw the egg which is in that hand in the air.
Continue the process.

I now have two volunteers throwing Creme Eggs in all directions while the those assembled look on, laughing. Because that's what you should do when someone can't do something. Laugh at them.

Obviously, the point of the exercise was to show that this could probably have been achieved more successfully with time and practice but also that some people just can't juggle.

From this we moved on to progress over time and feedback.

The feedback sticker below is commercially available and is, in my opinion, totally useless.
It gives the student no feedback at all. 

Why was the work excellent? 
Other than the fact that there is a red tick in the Excellent box?
No, I have no idea either.

Then we come on to this stamp:
I have worked with people who swear by these.
"It shows that I've given oral feedback." 
No, it doesn't.
Why do we give feedback?
Who is it for? 
If you use one of these stamps students must be able to, and be given the opportunity to, respond to it. 
Other wise you may just as well use this stamp....
Next I shared Grant Wiggins' Seven keys to effective feedback.

Feedback must be:

1) Goal referenced
2) Tangible and transparent
3) Actionable
4) User friendly
5) Timely
6) Ongoing
7) Consistent 

Then I went through 11 different types of effective feedback which could have maximum impact and still save time on marking.
1) Traditional marking
This is the red pen, lots of crossing out, strange codes in the margin, type of feedback so favoured by teachers when I was at school (and still favoured by many School Managers!)
It confuses students and can demotivate them, too. (The ones who bother to read it, that is.) 
They can't see beyond the red ink.
Personally, I would avoid this like the plague.

2) The PEN method
PRAISE - the student's strengths
ERROR - point out areas to be developed
NEXT STEPS - suggest a way to improve

3) Highlighting
I love this one (and so does Chris Harte. Read his rainbow assessment blog post.) It involves highlighting where a child has achieved the set objectives and allows them to see clearly which are the good bits in their work, so they can use them again and again.

4) Medal and Mission
This is all a bit "Jim Phelps" for me. It involves identifying were objectives were met by giving "medals" in the form of stamps, stickers, etc and suggesting a "mission" to be accepted by the student to improve. Works well with demotivated boys, apparently.

5) Smile and a Star
Identical to medals and missions only for the less FBI-minded students. Smiles for achievement and a star to reach for.

6) PIE method
PRAISE where objectives are met
IMPROVEMENT suggestions
ENCOURAGE students to try new ideas

7) The Praise Sandwich
This is mainly used in industry during staff appraisals. It involves placing a development point between 2 slices of praise. (You need to be careful with this one and make sure that the layers of the sandwich are in equal proportion. I found a great article about this called "why the sandwich feedback technique is ineffective" but some of my colleagues love it.)

8) 2 Stars and a Wish
For this method, indicate 2 areas where learning objectives have been met, and use the wish to suggest an area for improvement. (Again, I don't like this, maybe because I don't feel it relevant to modern languages, or maybe it just seems a bit "too girly".)

9) A Bubble and a Box
This technique involves identifying and drawing a box around evidence of where objectives have been met and putting a recommendation for developments or improvements in a bubble.

10) Comment only marking
This involves writing comments based on success criteria having been met, and questions to consider for future improvements.

11) Using stickers
The stickers method is fairly new to me but it's the one I use most at the moment. My school is big on this. Instead of spending a long time writing comments we use these:

They are used school wide and the students know that they are required to respond to any teacher comments on how they can improve and that they are also required to give examples of how they can improve.

Student self and peer assessment came next.

Many teachers don't trust their students to mark their own, or their partner's work. 
I find this quite disturbing that, say a listening exercise which could be marked in 30 seconds becomes an hour long chore one evening when you could be doing something else. 
Like having a life. 
Watching the flowers grow. 
Walking the dog. 
Socialising. Meeting new people. Meeting old people. Meeting new, old people.
Drinking coffee. 
Just not doing school work.

I often get students to write down how they feel about an activitiy. 
A smiley drawn in the margin by a student can often help my planning more than 2 hours of marking.

For reading or listening tasks, I often get the students to estimate how many they'll get right.
Then I'll ask them:

Did you estimate correctly?


Why not?

What can you do to improve?

This builds confidence and is a perfect self assessment tool.

I'll also ask them:

Why are we doing this?

How do you know you're correct?

Summarise what you've learned.

Explain it to a friend.

Test a friend.

Feedback to your group.

I shared this quote:

The final part of my session was about promoting independence.

(Some of these points were also made by Rachel Smith in her Kicking the dependence habit session. So they must be good!)

Teach students to use a dictionary. Properly. Assume nothing.

Give them preparation homework. Expect them to know the vocab for next lesson rather than you teaching it.

Make resources available to students. If students are ready to move on, point them to the next topic on your VLE. Don't ever tell them "you can't say that....". Let them have a go.

Make your tasks thought provoking:
Give them the answers, get them to write the questions. 
Give them "marking" tasks. 

Well, that's pretty much everything I know about feedback and independence.

I hope some of it made some sense.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Standing out or outstanding? #ililc5

This is the first of 2 talks I gave at #ililc5.

I used a powerpoint presentation which I was going to post here, but it wouldn't make a lot of sense without my commentary.

So I've decided to reproduce it here.

If you were there it will act as a reminder, if you weren't there then I hope that it makes some sort of sense...

So, here we go...

Imagine a slightly hunched, bespectacled man in his mid-40s, who thinks he's cool but he's wearing a checked shirt, reading it to you....

Standing out or Outstanding
Tips, ideas, routines and tools.

The idea for this talk came from an old blog post of mine, outstanding lessons plans in which I questioned a trainee teacher's motives for wanting to be outstanding. This X-factor world in which we live seems to be full of people wanting to be the best without putting in the time, making the mistakes, or gaining the experience.

I shared Jackie Beere's Perfect Ofsted Lesson criteria.
It's an article about what Ofsted would want to see in a perfect lesson.
I agree with all of them except the one which says:

Delivering skills and content essential for passing exams

This one worries me. It's not the reason I became a teacher.

Then I talked about time management.
Not just planning lessons but planning planning, planning lessons, planning marking and planning your freetime. I put forward the point that if you're in a situation where you find yourself with seven sets of books to mark on a Sunday night, then you're in the wrong school, the wrong job, or both.

My next piece of advice was:

Get a friend. No, get 2 friends.
This is important. Everyone needs somebody to talk to.
No man is an island. (Unless he's in the bath. This joke belongs to a UK comic, Norman Lovett)
This is your first friend. The one who'll make you a coffee and remember your birthday.
The second friend is your critical friend. This is the friend who'll tell you that your schemes of work are rubbish and that your marking is terrible.

You also need to avoid negative people: The dinosaurs in the staffroom who complain about anything and everything, or perhaps the new teacher who continually drones on about how good their previous school was. (Why didn't you stay there then?!!?!)

Next: start networking.
You've no idea of the talent and ideas out there on the net unless you get involved.
Share your work and ideas and others will reciprocate.
Join Facebook, twitter and the ALL.
Join Tinder!
OK, don't join Tinder, but the other 3 are essential for any teacher of MFL.

My next tips:

  • Make it interesting.
  • Make it relevant.
  • Make it fun. This doesn't mean playing games. 

Then I talked about planning:
Use your schemes of work. If you don't use it, it's not a scheme of work. Change them, adapt them, but use them.
Share your objectives and outcomes with the students.
(There is nothing worse than being given a task and not knowing why you're doing it!)
Ask your students: Why are we doing this?  Why do you think we're doing this?

I warned against reinventing the wheel.
There are plenty of good websites dedicated to MFL crammed to the brim with excellent and free resources.
eg. Lightbulb languages, languages resources, etc. etc.

Don't be scared to go off piste! Sometimes, if the kids don't get it, don't force it. Try a different way or try something completely different. As long as they know something new or can do something they couldn't do before, your lesson was not a failure... Stop being so hard on yourself!

Now it's time for: Routines

Plan your marking!
Concentrate on one skill per week.
Get the students to self and peer mark.
Trust them!

Plan for your AGT and SEND students.
Use differentiation ideas from my #ililc4 presentation.
Have a look at Chris Fuller's and Jon Meier's slideshare presentations.

Next I talked about Target Language
I plugged Steve Smith's blog about TL.
I ranted about use of TL:
It should be the students using TL, not you!
(We know you can speak French/German/Spanish, if you can't you shouldn't be teaching!)

I then mentioned using a carousel of activities.
This is small groups doing different activities for 10 minutes at a time.
It gives the teacher to spend time with students who need it and it can be invisible differentiation.
It saves on photocopying, too.

Next I mentioned Lego, poetry, pronunciation games and thunks.

The tools I talked about were:

Duolingo for schools
Wie geht's? app
Garry Mills' guide to Zondle
memorize now
fun with languages
yakit kids

And that was pretty much it.

It seemed to go down quite well.

If you have any questions or comments please post them below.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Time management

I used to spend most of my weekends preparing and planning.

Many teachers do this.

To quote Tom Jones, "It's not unusual".

My New Year's Resolution for 2015 is not to do any school work at the weekend.

A month in and  I'm still sticking to it.

Am I lazy?


Is there a huge pile of planning and marking waiting for me on Monday morning?


Am I a terrible teacher?


Just kidding.


Every teacher knows that it is impossible to do the job properly if you're only prepared to work from 9 until 3:30 each school day but so far I've made a concerted effort to get all of my work done during the week so that I can relax at the weekend.

So, what have I been doing?

  • Working most nights until after 10pm is the honest answer but I've been doing other things, too.

  • I've been trying to be positive. 
Surrounding yourself with real life, or virtual, "Moaning Minnies" won't make you a positive person. Seek out the company of positive people or listen to the radio.

  • I've been working through my lunch breaks. 
I'm not suggesting that everyone does this. I'm merely putting forward the point that 45 minutes is usually more than enough time to eat, enjoy a coffee and mark a set of vocab tests, or enter assessment data, or do some planning or photocopying.

  • I've been getting the students to peer and self assess more. Under my watchful eye, of course.
  • I've been using marking stickers...
These were produced in house and each department uses them.

They say: "Since I last marked your work on _________________ you have made little/some/good/excellent progress with_____________________. To improve you must now____________________________.

The students then respond to the feedback, write what they are going to do improve and give examples.

  • I've been using highlighters to identify all the good things in the students' work. (See my post on effective feedback)  

  • I've been planning ahead.
I don't just plan my lessons, I plan my marking, too. I look at the calendar so I can plan my lessons and my marking weeks in advance. It amazes me when colleagues are surprised to find that it is assessment week or that there is a Parents' Evening that week (or even that day!)

  • I've not been setting writing homework at KS3
I'm not going to spend hours trying to work out what an internet translator was trying to say. I set grammar exercises, learning homework, reading comprehensions, etc. They are just as relevant and take a fraction of the time to mark, too. Written work is done in class where it can be planned and structured, not googled.

Obviously, I'm not saying that everyone should do this and I know for a fact that there are teachers who love spending their lives doing school work at home.

In the long term, if I'm honest with myself, I know that I'm just kidding myself and that at some point I will have to do some school work at the weekend.

But this is going to be the exception, not the rule.

And if I ever do find myself in a situation where I have six sets of books to mark which are all due in the next day, then that's the day I shall give up my job and start looking for my life...

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Christmas resources and links

Here is my list of (free) Christmas links and resources:




Saturday, 15 November 2014

150000 hits.

This week my blog had its 150000th visit.

That's about 149550 more than I ever expected.

Thanks to all of you who've visited, read and commented over the last four and a half years.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

#nalasat2 Show and Tell

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd MFL Show and Tell event organised by Marie O'Sullivan of NALA  and sponsored by those nice people at Sanako.

The event took place in Manchester at the Instituto Cervantes.

During the day we saw 15 presentations and ate our way through dozens of sandwiches, biscuits and Haribos.

The first presenter was Joaquin Bustamente, a primary Spanish teacher in York.
He showed us the Tricky Phonics he does with year 1 and year 2 Spanish.
The pupils have particular trouble with the "R" and "J" sounds and he showed us some actions he does with the students to get them to get the pronunciation correct. He made us join in with the actions and said the best way to get pupils to learn is "don't explain it - just do it."

Next came Suzanne Bryant who showed us a task she has based on the TV game show Perfection.
In the TV version contestants are given 6 sentences and they have to decide whether they are true or false. In Suzanne's version students are given 6 verbs, vocab, or grammar and they have to decide if they are correct or wrong. Her groups work in teams and have to discuss which are the correct ones.


Tom Kelly showed us his code grids.
This is a 5 by 4 grid with bits of sentences on them. Each grid is also numbered. Students are given a series of numbers and have to build that sentence. Similarly, they can be given a sentence and then they have to write the corresponding code. Students can also show progress by adapting the sentences from the grids and adding to them.


After Tom, we heard from Maria Minguez who teaches primary maths in Spanish.
Maria showed us some of the songs and video clips she uses with her students and explained the ways in which she uses youtube videos to explain ordinal numbers to her students.


Jo Hilton teaches primary Italian and showed us how she had adapted English songs into Italian to get the children to learn Spanish sounds.
Shew also showed us "keyhole" cards. These are cards with a keyhole shape cut into them with a picture behind them. Pupils have to guess the object hidden through the keyhole, in the target language.
Jo also shared how she uses cooperative learning structures, in particular the Quiz Quiz Trade activity.


Barbara Cheded then showed us how she uses real and virtual dice in her classroom. 
She uses low tech customisable foam dice and make dice lite an ipad app which lets you customise virtual dice. 

Marie O'Sullivan was the next presenter.
She gave us lots of links to, and ideas how to use, authentic literary texts.
These included: 

Leicht Lesen

Marie also told us that following European sports stars on twitter would also be a good thing as they often tweet in English and their own language.


I did the final presentation of the morning session.

An updated version of "Skinny jeans, baked potatoes and petechial haemorrages", to show where students and teachers can keep up to date with the most current language usage.


The afternoon session started with Soraya Borja and her presentation, érase una vez...
She explained how she used stories to introduce vocabulary and cross curricular themes to improve students' Spanish. She also uses dice activities to get students to add extra details to the stories or even changing them completely by introducing characters from other stories.


Next came Alison Lindsay who showed us some primary games to get students speaking in the target language. These included: qui a la clé?, le facteur and le balai. 
Alison also uses jigsaw puzzles to help practise vocabulary.
Alison's final idea was a cultural & food based exercise. Students are given a map of the French départements and some food packaging. The aim of the activity is to get students to read the packaging and identify which département the food comes from. The students then have an idea as to what the area is like based on the kind of food which is produced there.

Alberto Nunez Garcia showed us some examples of the CLIL he uses in Liverpool to teach history and geography in Spanish. He uses pictures of Anglosaxon Britain and compares it with modern Britain and the paces where the students live. For example: comparing "pueblo" with "cuidad".


Barbara Gleave teaches preschool languages and shared with us a song, "J'aime les éléphants" (to the tune of the cancan). She made us all sing. It was extremely good fun. I can't find a link to the song but if I ever do I'll post it here.


Ana Castillo was up next. She shared a few ideas with us. 
Firstly, a Y7 Scheme of work based on "El Quijote" which included a "Facebook" page and a time line.

Secondly, Ana shared some ideas where students design their own learning mats, exercises using writing frames and she also recommended memrise to help with remembering texts.


The penultimate speaker was Nikki Perry. Nikki shared PRET with us.
PRET stand for Practise, Recall, Extend and Think. 
It is used in her school for homework tasks.
Here is an example:

She also showed us the 1 jour 1 question videos on


The final presentation was by Natalio Ormeno.
Natalio shared with us his experience of living in New Mexico and in particular Christmas in New Mexico. His idea was to get students to research, and present, the customs, traditions, songs and food of a particular Spanish speaking country or area. 

He also shared with us a spanglish version of the Night Before Christmas poem:

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa, not a creature was stirring - ¡Caramba! ¿Qué pasa?   Los niños were tucked away in their camas, some in long underwear, some in pijamas, while hanging the stockings with mucho cuidado, in hopes that old Santa would feelobligado, to bring all children, both buenos and malos, a nice batch ofdulces and other regalos. Outside in the yard there arose un gran grito, and I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito. I ran to the window and looked out afuera, and who in the world do you think that he era? Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero, came dashing along like aloco bombero. And pulling his sleigh instead of venados, were eight littleburros approaching volando. I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre, was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre: ''Ay Pancho, ay Pepe, ay Cuco, ay Beto, ay Chato, ay Chopo, Maruco, y Nieto!'' Then standing erect with his hands on his pecho, he flew to the top of our very own techo, with his round little belly like a bowl of jalea, he struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea. Then huffing and puffing at last in our sala, with soot smeared all over his suit de gala, he filled all the stockings with lively regalos, none for the ninos that had been very malos. Then chuckling aloud, seeming very contento, he turned like a flash and was gone como el viento,  and I heard him exclaim, y ¡esto es verdad!  Merry Christmas to all, ¡y Feliz Navidad!


I really enjoyed this Show and Tell and I'm already looking forward to next year's.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Many teachers, parents and students can see no educational value in wordsearch puzzles.

As a teacher of languages I often find that they can be quite useful.

I use them:
  • as a bell activity to remind students of the key words from last lesson. 
  • for translation purposes (find the French for the following words).
  • to engage students who struggle to read.
  • for competitions.
  • to improve spelling.
  • to help students to learn to cooperate with each other.
I was recently made aware of this site, teachers-direct which has a great wordsearch creator tool.

It's ideal for languages as it allows you to include characters with accents.

The word list is always given in alphabetical order but I sometimes don't give the students the words to find.

I'll say for example 9 of the 10 words we learned last lesson can be found in the grid, which one is missing? 

The site is full of ready made puzzles but I usually prefer to make my own.

They can be printed or made into interactive whiteboard versions.

Personally, I'm not that keen on the interactive whiteboard wordsearch. It means that many of the students can't see, some won't be watching or working at all and the poor kid trying to do the interactive version is prevented from doing so by his or her own shadow.

You can make wordsearch grids of different sizes from 5 x 5 to 25 x 25 (ideal for differentiation) and you can make a traditional basic puzzle or a puzzle with a cloze passage. 

The cloze passages can be copied and pasted from an existing text of up to 100 words. This could then be the basis of some follow up comprehension questions.

Here is one I made earlier: