Sunday, 3 May 2015

Royal baby: links and clips

So, it would seem that there is a new person 4th in line to the British throne.

I feel sorry for Andrew. He'd be a great king....

I digress.

Here are some links you might like about the royal baby, or as I prefer to call her Beyoncé.

I specifically chose interesting articles, some with videos clips in the TL.

Most are simple enough to show to your students.

They'll probably be surprised to see the rest of the world obsessed with our Royals, too.

I love the fact that lots of countries have translated the Royals names, too. I'd forgotten they did that.


le Monde

Huffington Post

From Boursorama  I love the headline: La presse britannique gaga du bébé royal

Le Parisien

France TV info  Includes a lovely clip of "Typical British people" celebrating in the street and people saying what the poor kid should be called.

Europe1 seems more interested in the betting odds for the name.

and finally, Le Parisien has a diaporama of the baby they've named "Royal Baby 2"


Focus Online The baby is referred to as a "Fashion-Ikone"

Franfurter Neue Presse 

Augsburger Allgemeine is obsessed with the name

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Swiss German)

Die Welt wants to know why they've already gone home


El Pais

NTN24 with video clip

Cadenaser   (uses the translated names: Catalina and Guillermo)

BBCMundo (has a family tree with all names translated)

euronews  (with video clip)


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Revision....and this time, it's personal.

Season's Greetings Everyone!!!

Ah yes, the season is upon us at last....

*Clears throat and sings*

Deck the hall with chairs and tables
Fah la la la la la la la laa
As and Bs for the most able
Fah la la la la la la la laaaaa!

OK, I know my singing is appalling and it's not Christmas, but the exam season.

My Yr 11 class are about to sit their GCSE in German.

They are stressed and panicking.

Some of them.

Everyone is telling them to revise!

So, what's the best way to revise?

If you google "German GCSE revision" there are a million (slight exaggeration, there are only 964,000) webpages which claim they can help you.

But can they?


Ah, but can they?

Well, yes.

Obviously, but how relevant are they to the needs of your students?

I like to think that I know my students quite well.

I tried to personalise their revision by  producing a chart of what they are good at based on the past exam questions they'd taken.

I produced this:

For each Reading and Listening exam paper they'd taken so far I made a sheet for each student based on their achievement for each question.

If they got full marks, they highlighted it in green.

If they got more than half marks it was orange.

If they got half marks, or fewer, it was pink.  

So each student now knows which topics they know well and which ones they need to work harder at.

Rocket science it ain't.

How do I use it?  

Well my bell activity might be: "Write 10 key words from one of your red topics"
or a main activity might be: "Create a mindmap for one of your red or orange topics"
They could even find a partner who has a green topic which is one of their red/orange topics and test each other.

So far they're responding well to it.

Only time will tell...

Friday, 10 April 2015

It's the holidays

Put down that red pen... 

Close that book...

Just walk away...

Don't look back...

Just keep walking....

It's the school holidays!

For me, they're almost over but some UK teachers still have another week.

Holidays are for relaxing, recharging the batteries, fiddling with old Volkswagens, spending quality time with loved ones (or your family!), mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, getting a haircut, watching television, and, if you are a male teacher, not wearing a tie.

Holidays are not for working.

Of course, most teachers never switch off.

Every time I go to the supermarket I see things which make me think, "Ooh, I could use that in my beginners' Spanish class." or "I could use that clothes line, Lego, ball of twine, coloured paper, squeaky ball thing with ears, etc. with my Y10 French group.

Teaching is the only profession where people steal stuff from home and take it to work.


I spent lots of time last week working on a new classroom game show format, reading a lot of teaching blogs and having a look at some new resources.

I even stuck some homework sheets into some sets of books but I haven't been marking.

There is no point marking in the holidays.

Why do we mark students' work?

I'm quite sure that it's so that the students can be guided as to how they can improve their learning and that teachers can improve their planning.

Most students (and many teachers) won't remember what they did 3 weeks ago so giving them feedback on "old work" is pointless.

I plan to get all my marking done before the holiday begins.

"Ticking and flicking" is also pointless as it serves no purpose whatsoever.

It is merely a waste of ink and probably will indirectly increase global warming.

You don't want that on your conscience as well, do you?

There is nothing which will ruin your break more than knowing the last weekend will be spent getting yourself stressed about work.


It's the holidays.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Google translate is your friend...

Je ai une scarabée.*

* I have a beetle. 

"If google translate was any good, I'd be working at Starbucks." - Me. Last week to Year 10.

Always start with a couple of good quotes.

Right let's go....

In my experience, there are 2 types of student who use google translate:

Bad ones and good ones.

The former use it because they are lazy and think they are being clever and that you won't notice that they are using the imperfect subjunctive in year 7 after 15 lessons.

Or they write "Je suis appelé Jordanie" despite having been taught "Je m'appelle Jordan" and you can feel your blood pressure rising, a throbbing in your temples and smoke starts coming out of your ears.

The latter because they don't have the language skills or vocabulary to be able to convey their thoughts and opinions in the foreign language. (BTW, this isn't going to be another "pencil case" rant.)
Think of writing descriptions of people. They want to include much more detail than colour of eyes and length of hair. So they head for the translator...

They do it to please their teacher.

They aren't cheats.

They want to learn and have nowhere else to turn!

There are lots of resources available made by teachers designed to show the pitfalls of using online translators.

The TES has some here, here, and here.

They are good and I've even used a couple of them with my students.

There is even a thread on the forum dating back to 2009 dedicated to getting students not to use the dreaded translator.

However, I like google translate.

It helps me when I mark my students' work.

I know what they are trying to say and I change my planning accordingly.

It has also stopped me from buying one of these:

although I'm seriously considering investing in one of these:

Perhaps banning students from using online translators is not the way to go.

I know that if someone tells me I can't do something it makes me want to do it even more.

I'm a rebel.

Deal with it.

Perhaps, then, we should design tasks which prevent them from using translators at all.

I've already cut down on getting students to do written homework. Most homework set now is reading, listening or learning but even with reading homework the translator sometimes gets involved and starts to confuse the tenses:

I read the book - J'ai lu le livre or Je lis le livre ?

It's not a losing battle.

In fact in some ways, it's the teacher's fault for not preparing the students properly.

We need to teach them how to research properly: teach them the skills they need to progress, not lists of vocabulary.

Like many things, the online translator can be summed up like this:

Just because it's dangerous in the wrong hands doesn't mean we should ban it for everyone.

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...