Thursday, 31 December 2009


Thanks for visiting my blog and reading and commenting.
2009 has been a rollercoaster of a year for me.
I can't believe that I've only been doing this for 9 months (it seems like a maternity!)
I have learned so much since March and I hope to continue to learn even more over the next year.

I'd like to wish you all a happy and successful 2010.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Switching off.

Woohoo! It's the Christmas holidays.
School is finished.
There is nothing urgent I have to do.
Finally, I can relax.
Do nothing.
I can switch off.

Or can I?

If that were true, why do I keep doing work-type things?
In the last 2 days...
I've made storybirds.
I've updated my department's wiki with some students' work and an Xtranormal greeting for the homepage.
I've spent ages looking into how I can get KS4 to use their mobile telephones in class.
I've just taken a look at some homework my year 8 and year 9 students have emailed me and emailed my thanks and encouragement back.
I'm working on my yr13 Scheme of Work, reading Ripon Grammar School's MFL site (really excited about the new Year 10 & 11 listening exercises), having a look at Ashcombe School's MFL resources for some inspiration as I haven't visited for a while, and I've been reading all the updates on the blogs listed below.
And later this evening, I'm hoping to find some time to read a bit more of Geoff Petty's Evidence-Based Teaching.

Can a teacher ever switch off?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

MFL Storybird wiki

As you all know I am a huge fan of storybird and I have blogged about what a fantastic resource it is on a few occasions now.
If you have read my previous posts on this subject, and there is really no reason why you should, you will know that stories written in languages other than English are not yet made public.
The good news is that Fiona Joyce has started a wiki to which half a dozen or so MFL teachers, myself included, have added their storybirds in French, Spanish and German.
Please visit the wiki and read the excellent work which has been submitted. There is some excellent material there. Use the stories in your teaching, or read them for your own amusement, and share them with your colleagues, family and friends.
Then, why not make and add your own storybirds, and join us.
It's not a cult, honest!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Scope of Audacity.

If I had to name my top resources of all time, Audacity would have to be somewhere near the top.

For the uninitiated Audacity is free, open source software for recording and editing sound.

I have been aware of Audacity for a couple of years since I sent a colleague to a course run by Bernard Clark, the language college director at Durham Johnston School on how to convert cassettes to mp3 files.

She was unimpressed, but I was fascinated, so I took the CD of Bernard's materials and learned, to my great advantage, not just how to convert tapes (and clean up the crackly sound), but also to record students' GCSE presentations and model speaking questions and answers, and send them via bluetooth to their mobile phones and i-Pods.

I have also taught my students to use Audacity to record their voices and experiment with the voice-changing effects to make Crazytalk clips of French and German speaking celebrities. They really enjoy it.

This summer I accidentally discovered José Picardo's youtube video "podcasting in 5 easy steps", which does exactly what it says on the label, in 5 minutes and 13 seconds. From that I learned even more about Audacity, including adding effects such as changing voice pitch, adding backing tracks and fading sound in and out.

Then last week I attended a links into languages course at Sunderland's City Learning Centre in Washington (the original one in North East England) organised by Clare Seccombe and expertly led by Joe Dale, now of CILT.

The course was great in that, under expert guidance, I got to spend a few hours practising what I had picked up from Bernard's CD, José's youtube clip and my own experiments and got to put them all together to create an (almost) professional sounding podcast.

Unlike many of the courses I attend, this one was useful, fun and educational (funducational).

If podcasting sounds like something you'd like to do, click on all the links to the resources I used, set aside a couple of hours and teach yourself.

Better still, check out the links website and persuade your line manager to let you attend Joe's course next time he is in your Local Authority. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Teach Meet North East 09-2 - the sequel

With the possible exception of Mad Max 2, sequels have never lived up to the original.

However, last Wednesday I attended what was probably the best CPD evening ever : The return of TMNE09 - Same venue, more fun.

It was a great opportunity to catch up with some old friends and make some new ones, and even with the noticeable absence of Steve Bunce and Mark Clarkson and their amazing enthusiasm, the evening still managed to provide a cornucopia of ideas, advice, and some excellent presentations.

There were amazing 7 minute presentations from:

Gwyn ap Harri. He gave us an amazing presentation on sharing ideas and self assessment and after bamboozling us (or just me?) with lots of equations, came to the conclusion that we need a new education system.

Chris Harte. Chris showed us how we could use international collaboration to bring the outside world into our classrooms and to prove it, he skyped about quizlet with Emma Risby who, coincidentally, was on the other side of the planet in Australia, where kangaroos come from.

Helena Butterfield. Helena is one of my MFL heroes (she's blushing as she reads this), her presentation "top tools to get pupils talking" was fantastic and I've already decided to use some of her ideas to get my own students to improve their speaking skills.

Darren Mead. Darren retold the story of the 3 little pigs but with the emphasis on SOLO Taxonomy. There's more info about SOLO, small pigs and waooo on his blog.

Fergus Hegarty. Fergus made us work! He put us into groups with a set of Q and A matching cards to prove to us that what looked like a simple exercise could be a trigger to get students using thinking skills. It worked. I hope his students have as much fun as we did.

The 2 minute presentations came from:

Alasdair Douglas. Alasdair demonstrated how educators can use etherpad as a collaborative tool.

Lisa Keenlyside. Lisa showed us some excellent animation made by students in science lessons which were really amazing.

Ben Barton. Ben presented to us how short (and free) video clips could be used to get students thinking. An inspirational and very modest man, his blog is an amazing resource.

Archie Cameron. Archie's "Why I fear the blackboard" was fantastic. He reminded us that amazing equipment and technology do not make an excellent teacher, but the ability to motivate those around us and move students on to achieve their best.

Me. My presentation was based on an earlier blog post "effective feedback for students." The most notable thing about it was how I managed to make a powerpoint presentation look like a "wordle".

There were also many learning conversations, lots of informal networking and a lot of wine consumed. The evening was a great success. My thanks go out to all who sponsored, helped organise, took part, and listened and learned patiently.

I can't wait for the next one. I just hope Tina Turner doesn't turn up and spoil it...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Le petit Nicolas

Salut les gars,

Quand j'étais petit j'ai lu "les recrés du petit nicolas" de Goscinny. C'était fantastique.

Il y a le film de Laurent Tirard et la série animée aussi, et maintenant on peut acheter les DVDs.

Regardez! C'est chouette, hein? Ah zut, Le Bouillon arrive...

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Learning the alphabet in French

Three bird puppets reciting the alphabet in French. What could be more fun than that?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

A matter of trust.

Mobile telephones are banned in my school.
I understand why. They can get broken, stolen, be used for bullying, disrupting lessons, etc, and if a student doesn't have the "right phone" then that can be a basis for bullying, too.

Two weeks ago, I was teaching a Year 11 (Grade 10) GCSE French class when I noticed one of the students using a mobile 'phone.
I asked her what she was doing.
She replied, "I'm using "wordreference"to look up a word I can't find in the dictionary."
She showed me the screen and, sure enough, she was.

I was pleased. A student taking responsibility for her own learning is a rarity in my school and I praised her for using her initiative.
Some of the other students were amazed that I didn't confiscate it, like some of my colleagues would have.
Now, if they ask, "Can I use my 'phone to...?" even though it is against the rules, I usually find myself saying, "Yes."

Saturday, 21 November 2009

MFL Show and Tell 09

On Saturday 14th November I went to Foxford School, Coventry to attend MFL Show and Tell 09.
I'd been looking forward to this for a long time and was not disappointed. It was a chance, at last, to meet some twitter friends in the flesh, and some other colleagues who have since converted to twitter, and share ideas, resources and links which will help us to be the teachers we would all like to be.

The day was brilliantly organised by James Padvis and expertly led by Joe Dale.
During the day there were many opportunities to talk with colleagues and a number of presentations given by some very willing and extremely knowledgeable volunteers.

So what did I learn?

Well, I knew I would blog this so I took pages and pages of notes. Unfortunately, I can't read most of them, so if you gave a presentation and I missed you out, I'm sorry.
(I've just realized that JP could be James Padvis or José Picardo. D'oh!)

There was a discussion about sound recorders and microphones. An important topic particularly with the new spec GCSE speaking exams looming. (So, do I buy an iriver, a sanyo ICR, an olympus WS300 or just one of Tesco's foam microphones and just pretend?)

José Picardo had us fascinated by edmodo, xtranormal and some ways of "keeping control" (his words, not mine) of students and staff in his department! He also took some great photos of the day.

Joe Dale showed us how to moblog, and gave a practical session using songsmith.

Suzi Bewell instructed us on the use of jolly phonics in French and shared her experiences of working with a French school via skype.

Kath Holton helped us to motivate students using nings, studystack, and quizlet.

James Padvis showed us how his career has evolved since integrating better use of technology into his teaching.

Isabelle Jones gave a presentation about her favourite cpd tools including delicious and diigo.

Samantha Lunn showed us her bag of tricks (which included rubber eyes and ears, fly swats, a voice changing megaphone and a small lion!) and advised us on the best ways to wordle.

Finally, Clare Seccombe impressed us by showing how she has used Crazytalk in her teaching.

Overall it was an amazing day and I'm sure that everyone who attended went away either having learned something new, or at least a way of using something familiar in a totally different way. I'm looking forward to the next one in June 2010.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Effective feedback for students.

I am a member of my school's Raising Achievement Team. We are a group of teachers from different subjects with a common goal, namely raising achievement.

Over the last year we have been trialling different ways of feeding back to students, choosing the most effective ways for our departments and our students to improve and sharing our experiences. Successful feedback, naturally, depends on our objectives and our outcomes for the task set and not all ways are right for all activities or subject areas.

I planned to write this post about 4 months ago and forgot all about it until we did a work scrutiny and my line manager told me, "There isn't enough red ink in the kids' books. Sort it out."

Below I have listed 10 different ways of giving written feedback to students (with my own personal musings thrown in to keep you awake!).

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 most School Managers!)
It confuses students and can demotivate them, too. (The ones who bother to read it, that is) Personally, I would avoid this like the plague.

2) The PEN method
PRAISE - the student's strengths
ERROR - point out areas to be developped
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.

For any of these methods to be effective in improving your students' achievement, we need to consider 3 things:

Firstly, the students have to understand the system you are using, otherwise you may as well not even bother looking at their work.

Secondly, students have to be given the opportunity and the time to respond to your feedback. If you don't allow time for this, you are wasting your, and your students', time.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the teacher must realise that none of the above methods is a skive. It will take a very long time to mark a class set of books using any of these methods. Comments and suggestions need to be tailored to each student's individual needs. Ask yourself this, "Who are we marking for?"

It is a long process but, if done properly, definitely worth it in the end.
Now where did I put that red pen....?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

MFL Flashmeeting

Did you ever think that, because you know something, then everyone else must know it as well?


Well, it's not true.

We can only share knowledge by communicating effectively, and last night I was lucky enough to attend the 4th MFL Flashmeeting; a virtual meeting with fellow language teachers from all over the world in the comfort of my own kitchen, their living rooms, studies, dining rooms, and, in the case of Steve Collis, his school's staff room in Sydney, Australia.

As professional development goes, this is the best kind. It involves no travel, hardly any expense (OK, my webcam cost £4 on ebay), brings together like-minded professionals willing to share ideas and skills, and, best of all, nobody was there against their will. I learned so much.

I missed the first flashmeeting, hid in the background for the second (I'm very shy), took part in the 3rd by text, and bought a webcam especially for the 4th. You can watch them all by following the links here.

It was nice to meet so many selfless and helpful people, if not in the flesh, at least virtually and moving, (or singing and dancing in the case of Lisa Stevens and her amazing vaca lola) and it will be less awkward for me to meet them at MFL Show and Tell in Coventry on 14th November. Join the wiki and I'll see you there.

I'm also looking forward to the 5th MFL Flashmeeting on January 25th 2010 and hope to see many of you there. If you haven't seen a flashmeet you can catch up on last night's fun here and you can follow most of the participants on twitter, too.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Sharing an ICT suite?

My school has a limited number of computers, as do most schools. Some classes are too big to take into a computer suite but other groups (most notably, A level classes and SEN classes) are quite small and often when I use the computer suites some of the machines do not get used.

The powers that be (surely that should be "The powers which are"?) have decreed that from next half term when booking a computer room teachers book a number of computers rather than the room. To maximise the use of resources. So, if I have 20 students in a class and there are 30 PCs in the room, then someone else can bring (or perhaps, send?) 10 students to "fill the room".

My classroom seats 30 students. For most of my classes there are some empty seats each lesson. How many of us, I wonder, would be happy if another teacher wandered into our classroom saw half a dozen empty seats and said, "Can these kids come in, sit at the back, and do their coursework?"?

To me an ICT suite is an extension of my classroom with the same rules. When I book a suite it is for the purpose of the Teaching and Learning of Modern Languages not babysitting some kids whose coursework wasn't good enough whilst checking my facebook page.

It's a terrible shame that my school has spent many thousands of pounds on PCs and software for most departments to use the equipment to type coursework using Microsoft Word. Couldn't they do coursework at home? Does coursework need to be word-processed?
Is this really maximising the use of resources?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

I can now embed my storybirds!

Yes, now we can all embed our stories into our blogs. Thanks, Storybird.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Storybird update

After yesterday's disappointment at not being able to publish my storybird for the whole world to see (modest, much! as Buffy would say), I contacted Mark Ury co-founder of and offered my services as a moderator.

This is his very quick and very nice reply:

Hi Dominic,
Thanks for the kind words (and your blog post—just saw that).
As for your offer—it comes at the right time. We're examining how we can bring on volunteer moderators to jumpstart other languages within Storybird. (Truthfully, we hadn't planned on non-English moderation for about 12 months. But with the worldwide embrace we've had in just five weeks of life, we've pushed language support up the feature roadmap.)
We won't be ready to externalize our moderator system just yet (or set up language zones in the Read area), so I'd like to hold onto your coordinates and get back in touch in a month or so. In the meanwhile, if there are other language teachers who you think would be interested, please let them know about this and we'll start to build a team list. (Spanish and German are our other big requests right now.) We'll write a blog post about the topic as well so we have something to point to as we get closer to our goal.
All aside, thanks for taking an interest in the issue, being generous with your skills, and spreading the word about Storybird. It's much appreciated.
Mark Ury
Cofounder, Storybird

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Six hours ago, I had never heard of storybird, now I'm hooked. I can see a wealth of uses for it in MFL for both teachers and pupils, especially as a teaching resource in primary classrooms.

It was through a tweet from Clare Seccombe (the genius behind MFL Sunderland website and the changing phase blog) this morning that I first heard of storybird.

Within 5 minutes I had signed up for an account and was on my way to creating my first story.

Another esteemed twitter colleague in my learning network, Lisa Stevens, has, today, also created a storybird here and blogged about it here.

Footnote: Since writing this blog post I have found out that at the moment does not publish stories written in languages other than English. Whilst I was quite annoyed at first, I have realised that it makes no difference to using stories in my classroom as it does allow me to save them in my account. Also, now I have calmed down I realise that it is to protect the general public from any unsuitable content, and that can only be a good thing.

Friday, 16 October 2009

I've known about for a long time now. It's the brainchild of Russel Tarr who also created the active history website.

If you haven't seen Classtools, it is a site of free, flash templates for games and activities (with instructions) which you can customise and embed into blogs and wikis or just save on the site.

I hadn't used it for a while and it was only this week when I was approached by a colleague from the maths department asking about the random name picker (which some of my year 11 students had recommended to him) that I remembered what a great resource it was.

I've been playing with it today and made a dustbin game to put on my department wiki for my year 11 students to revise the perfect tense.

If you don't know the site have a look at it. It is simple enough for my students to create games for each other so it can't be that difficult to use.

Here is my past tense dustbin game:

Click here for full screen version

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Languages options in KS4.

A senior colleague asked me this week what I was planning to do to attract Year 9 students to choose French as one of their option subjects in KS4 (14-16 years old).

I replied, "Nothing."

You might think that that was a very flippant answer. And, replaying the conversation back in my mind later, I realised that, you are right, and it's little wonder that one or two of my colleagues regard me as an arrogant jerk. (The others just plain don't like me.)

What I should have said was, "I try to make the language learning experience as positive and enjoyable as possible for all students, starting in year 7 and continuing through year 8 and 9, so that they will choose to study Languages of their own volition, without my colleagues and me resorting to some kind of embarrassing "all singing all dancing" display on Options Evening."

Admittedly, some of the other subjects on offer may seem more attractive. I can see the benefits of some students wanting to learn hairdressing or completing a course in catering, or ICT, or history, or drama, but they could do languages as well, couldn't they?

We can all do something about attracting students by offering a positive learning environment to all of them. Show them the value of language learning. It's never too late to improve their learning experiences or improve our own teaching. If they choose not to study French or Spanish or German, we can at least leave them with a set of very good, useful, transferable skills and a happy experience of their time in KS3.

Too many Modern Languages teachers complain that not enough students choose to study their subject.

Who's fault is that?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Reasons to learn a Foreign Language?

The first piece of homework I set for my Year 7 French classes was to design a poster, "Reasons to learn a Foreign Language."

I did this for 2 reasons:

1) I thought it would get them to think about other cultures, countries and lifestyles.

2) When they say in Year 9 "What's the point of languages?" I can dig out their posters and read them back to them.

Most of them produced some great looking posters. They were very creative, but it was so obvious that they had googled their answers rather than using their brains.

Most of their answers came from Angela Gallagher-Brett's "700 reasons for studying languages". Don't get me wrong, it's a great document. I've used it many times. But no eleven year old at any school would say "Plurilingualism enhances creativity" now, would they?

Some students, however, managed to come up with some amazing, imaginative and downright bizarre reasons why we should learn another language.

In reverse order, here are my favourites:

5) You can impress your neighbours.

4) You can talk about people in public places without them knowing.

3) In case all your family is French.

2) I may marry a Frenchman.

...and my favourite...

1) Someone French might be trapped down a well.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

September and time management.

So far this term has been a very busy one for me. As a teacher I always find September a nightmare.
As a departmental manager I find there are so many reports, documents, exams analyses, lesson observations, meetings, etc., that my feet don't usually touch the ground in September. (Well, at least I don't have to clean my shoes!)

I never know what the new year is going to throw at me, and, no matter how well I plan for la rentrée, there is always some induhvidual around to throw a spanner in the works and disrupt my best laid plans.

I think this year is going to be different. I am more relaxed, enjoying my work, have made some great contacts, and it's still September.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Crazy talking celebs!

Some time ago I started to play with crazy talk. This week, my students and I have been using it, with varying degrees of success. Here are some of their results:

Friday, 21 August 2009

Tricher ou pas tricher...

Last term, one of my more challenging students got full marks for the first time in a vocabulary test. When I congratulated him, he said, "I cheated." I asked him, "How?" He replied, in all sincerity, "I memorised the words before the test." "I wish my GCSE students would do that," I said.
You may have read this story recently, where 3 modern languages teachers were suspended over allegations of cheating in GCSE exams. This school is not alone; there are other schools under investigation at the time of writing this.

To be accused of cheating in a public exam is, obviously, a very serious allegation and I hope that, for their sake, when the investigation is over, the teachers involved will be found to have done nothing wrong.

So, what is cheating? My student was convinced he had acted in a devious, underhand way, but he had done nothing wrong at all.

We have all heard (and probably told!) anecdotal stories of teachers "bending the rules" or "misinterpreting the rules" and giving their students a little too much help with coursework and there may be a case for many more schools, acting in a similar way, to be accused of cheating.

Is "bending the rules" cheating? Well, nowadays, I suppose it all depends who you are and whether you get caught.

If it was a sporting situation, perhaps they would be guilty of "gamesmanship": "Pushing the rules to the limit without getting caught, using whatever dubious methods possible to achieve the desired end." (Lumpkin, Stoll and Beller, 1994)

Gamesmanship is rife in sport. We have all seen it. There is a certain tennis player, who has such a terrible cough (just before an opponent's serve), I feel should be at home in bed rather than on the court. But is it cheating? I think so.

Back to learning languages. Obviously, giving the students the questions in advance of a test is cheating. Is preparing students thoroughly for an exam cheating? Is going through past exam papers cheating? Is doing a mock exam cheating?

AQA, an exam board I have used for more than 10 years, publishes past exam papers and sample questions along with mark shemes and examiners' reports on their website. They even publish model questions for the speaking test. The same types of questions come up year after year. I use these with my students as a means of revision and practising exam technique, as I'm sure most teachers do. This is not cheating and having all these resources means that you shouldn't need to cheat.

What makes a professional cross the line and feel that he or she has to cheat? Pressure from a departmental head? Pressure from schools to achieve targets and move up the league tables? Performance management targets? Performance related pay? Attracting more students to study a language and thereby saving jobs? The ability to say to your colleagues in other subjects, "Our results are better than yours"?

What I find sad about these teachers who are caught cheating is that they have probably been doing it, and getting away with it, for years.

What kind of example does it set to our students?

A wise man once said, "There are no bad students, only bad teachers."
Okay, it was Mr Miyagi in "The Karate Kid", but he does have a point.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Some authentic links for AQA A2 French

I decided to put together a list of web sites, pages and articles for my Year 13 students to look at and use as authentic background reading, so I thought I'd share it with the world.

I may even make some resources to go with them. Watch this space.

You may want to use the articles as a way of starting class discussions. After all, students will be expected to express, justify and defend a point of view in the exam.

I've tried my best to put an explanation with each one and I must stress the opinions given in these links are not my own personal views.

The Environment - French site giving information about pollution, the ozone layer, deforestation., etc. It has maps and statistics, too. - As it says in the title there are 100 questions about the environment with comprehensive answers. Could be a very useful research tool and good practice for the speaking exam. - Mainly science based website, but with some excellent information about the environment, fossil fuels and alternatives, global warming, etc. - French government glossary of terms used in the nuclear industry with explanations for the likes of you and me. - The French Greenpeace site contains lots of information about their activities and general information about how we can protect the planet.

Immigration - Everything you could ever need to know about immigration in France - An article from 2002 looking at some of the causes of racism in France - Pressure group against racism containing a lot of useful information - Another pressure group against racism. The site has a teacher's section with resources

Poverty & Unemployment - An article about poverty in France, laying the blame at the door of the French government. Quelle surprise. - Quite a long article from UNESCO about poverty with lots of statistics. - An interesting website with lots of information about homelessness in France, the reasons why people end up homeless and what we can do to help - An article from a French newspaper about the unemployment explosion in 2009 in France - An article from February 2009 (originally in Le Figaro) which considers the rise in unemployment in France and compares it to similar countries and has a video report with it. - A company which deals with producers in developing countries a bit like Fairtrade in th UK

Crime - An article about the increasing threat of phishing to French "internautes" - An article about Youtube's decision to ban uploaded videos which contain violence. - An article about the problems of illegal downloads. - A project from the French Socialist Party with comments from the public (the kind of public who would be aware of the socialist party website, that is.) - More politics, this time from the democratic movement

New technology - A very political website on the absolute brilliance of all things genetically modified - As above, but on how terrible genetic modification is - An article in which the horrors and dangers of using Facebook are expressed - An article about assisted suicide. An ideal start for a discussion - Another article about euthanasia. This one claims you can buy a DIY kit in Switzerland - An interesting article about the ban on embryonic stem cell research in France, comparing it to the USA where Obama has allowed such research to go ahead. Contains some great vocabulary!

If you use any of these, or can recommend any other links please comment below.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Teaching my dog to whistle.

A small child brags to a friend, "I 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."
Geoff Hancock - Ofsted inspector


I'm going to be honest with you.
Tricky, for a bloke, I know.

But here goes, ahem, I am really struggling, trying to get my GCSE students to learn and retain vocabulary.

Teaching new vocabulary, is not a problem. I use many different techniques. I've even tried making it fun! I test them regularly; they get good results.

So, where's the problem?

Well, they don't know it the week after the test.

It is as if they never learned it in the first place.

And they didn't.

Not properly.

I've been reading up on this and the internet is full of excellent pages, sites, resources and ideas on how best to learn vocabulary.

Some of them are amazing:
David Bolton's website
Ripon grammar school's MFL site
Estrellas from MFL Sunderland
Task Magic 2 - Newcastle United 0 (Well, that's what my students call it!)
I could go on and on (and I often do!)

I've learned all about power glide (not gym equipment, the Transformer, or the automatic clutch system developed by General motors) and diglot weave (not a hairpiece for bilingual slapheads!). They aren't nearly as interesting as they sound!

But all these sites require a certain something and my students are missing that one key ingredient.

The student has to want to learn.

And mine don't.

Short of hypnosis, bribery, blackmail, and ill-thought-out threats I am running out of ideas.

Help me Obi-Wan're my only hope...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

No, I can't believe it either!

The 18th March 2009 was an historic day for me. It was the day of my first blog post.

I'd been toying with the idea of blogging since December, but never actually got round to it until March.

I had a lot of encouragement, (mainly from my long suffering, patient and gorgeous wife) and, in the last 4 months, I have learned so much about teaching MFL, ICT, Twitter, Webtools and, more importantly, me.

Since starting the blog I have met (virtually and physically) some excellent, friendly and helpful people, for whom nothing is too much trouble, from all over the world, except South America. I won't embarrass them, they know who they are, and, I hope, how grateful I am!

So, why this blog post?

Well, today I clocked up my 1000th visitor and I am very pleased. Obviously, some people (mainly my mother!) have visited more than once, but I never imagined I would make double figures. When I started this, I didn't imagine for one minute that anyone would read it, or be interested in anything I had to say.

Thanks for reading and, you never know, if you keep coming back, one day there might even be something here worth reading.

Thanks for your time. Enjoy the summer and may you be half an hour in heaven before the devil knows you're dead!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Using short film in the MFL Classroom

On 6th July I had the pleasure of attending "Using short film in the MFL Classroom" at St Aidan's School in Sunderland.

The course was arranged by Links into Languages and was presented by our old friends Holli McGuire and Mike Tait from Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle. (You'll remember them from TMNE09?)

The session was in 2 parts:

1) Introduction to film grammar and using micro-short film

This included technical terms some of which I already knew e.g. close-up and costume and mise en scene to others about which I am still confused: diegesis? graphic matching? and POV?

We were shown some short films (less than 5 minutes long) and given exercises to complete whilst watching them.

These included tasks such as:

  • answering observational questions (like Michael Rodd used to do on "Screentest")

  • identifying aspects of life within the film

  • putting events into chronological order in the film

  • creating identities for the characters in the films

2) Short films in target languages and to use them to support grammar and curriculum themes.

This time the tasks were more MFL based. We were split into groups, Spanish, German, and French specialists. (As a jack of all trades and master of none, I joined the French group.)

We were shown short films (Yohann Gloaguen's "Comme un Air" and Philippe Orreindy's "J'attendrai le suivant") and asked to consider how, or if, we would exploit them with students of different ages and abilities.

The ideas we came up with were:
  • summarising the plot in the TL
  • stopping the film at certain points and asking, "What happens next?"
  • writing a story board and labelling it in the target language.
  • identifying and discussing the social and/or cultural implications of the film
  • creating, producing and editing a sequel or prequel
  • describing the characters in TL

If this is the kind of thing which interests you and you would love to get involved, the course will be run again at the Tyneside Cinema on October 13th 2009 from 5-7:30pm for a very reasonable £20.

If you are not in the North East of England, or cannot attend the course, the following films were used and I have hyperlkinked the sites for you:

One minute guide to planet earth (2007)

Comme un Air

J'attendrai le suivant

Lovefield (2008)


Le cheval 2.1

Thursday, 2 July 2009

European Day of Languages 2009 (EDL09)

Since it started in 2001, European Day of Languages, (EDL) has become more and more popular and celebrated in schools and educational establishments all over Europe.

In fact, after "Talk Like a Pirate Day", EDL is probably the most important day in the language learning calendar.

The first EDL was jointly organised by the Council of Europe and the European Union,the day they chose September 26th, and its aims were:

  • to alert the general public to the importance of language learning

  • to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and increase intercultural understanding

  • to encourage lifelong learning

There are over 200 European languages (How many can you name?) and many other non-European languages spoken throughout Europe and EDL is the perfect opportunity to celebrate all of them.

The sharper ones among you will have realised that this year the 26th September falls on a Saturday. This was pointed out to me by a colleague who said, "We don't have to do languages day this year do we?"

"Don't panic." I said, "If we can't do something on the 26th, then why not the 25th? or the 28th?"

Anyway, you have no excuse for not celebrating this year because, as usual, I have done the ground work for you.

I have set up a wiki EDLideas2009 where you can find links to resources, websites, and videos all related to EDL09.

Because it is a wiki you can apply to join and add your own ideas and resources or just take a look and use some of the ideas. That is what they are there for.

I must say a big thank you to all those who have joined and added ideas and resources already...

...thank you, danke, merci, tak, gracias, ευχαριστώ, köszönöm mercé, obrigado, tapadh leat, sagolun, mulţumesc is much appreciated.

Monday, 22 June 2009

A sad loss

Bernard Grogan died last week at the age of 81. I was fortunate enough to have been taught French by him at school. Had it not been for him, I don't think I would be doing this job now. He was inspiring, amusing and scary as hell if you annoyed him. He will be missed.

Friday, 19 June 2009

TMNE09 (Teach Meet North East)

Do you remember me blogging about Teach Meet a few weeks ago?

Well, last night I attended the first TMNE09. It was organised by Chris Harte et al, and took place at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle.

It was extremely well attended and there were excellent presentations by some amazing teachers. I've listed those who gave presentations and those who led conversations below, and I would like to thank not just them, but all those who attended, and worked behind the scenes, for making it such a successful and funducational evening.

There were presentations on many varied and excellent topics by:

Chris Harte, Darren Mead, Ian Hardy, Fergus Hegarty, Helena Butterfield, Régine Schneider, Steve Bunce, Holli & Mike (from Tyneside Cinema Education), Mark Clarkson (who has already blogged his thoughts here), and some bloke called Dominic McGladdery.

The Learning Conversations were led by: Mark Simpson, Doug Belshaw, Sue Balmer, and Chris Harte.

If you were unable to attend, and wished you had, you can see most of the presentations here thanks to the magic of Flashmeeting.

As a teacher of MFL and a wannabe ICT expert, I learned so many things including: using Anderson's taxonomy, how to use glogster, how to start successful e-twinning links, and, thanks to Steve Bunce how I might go about trying to play "pong" with my eyebrows!

I also learned new ways of using some web2.0 applications which I knew a little about already.
(You can see my attempts at goanimate, wordle, and crazytalk scattered around this blog.)

It was a great venue, I met some cyber-friends in the flesh and my brain was chock full of good ideas when I left.

If you ever get the chance to attend a Teachmeet, do so. You won't regret it!

Monday, 15 June 2009

A talking VW

For those of you who don't speak German, a talking VW. This one is from Mexico, which is why she speaks Spanish.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Leo, the CrazyTalking pup.

Earlier this week, Joe Dale blogged about some students using CrazyTalk in their Languages work. I was fascinated and so decided to try it out for myself. The software is not expensive and I can see lots of value in it as an educational tool and as a great source of mischief.

In less than an hour from downloading the program, I managed to come up with this. One of my dogs, chatting.


Thursday, 4 June 2009

GCSE MFL a University requirement?

The BBC news website reported today that the British Academy is recommending that a GCSE in modern foreign languages should be a requirement for entry to University in the UK.

They have produced a report "Language Matters" in which they voice concerns that the future of the UK’s world class research base might be threatened by the decline in modern language learning and call for a series of measures by Universities and Government bodies to address this danger.

The report is quite short and to the point. It identifies reasons for language learning as "citizenship; communication; economic, social and political dimensions; democracy; diversity; employability; environmental sustainability; equal opportunities; globalisation; identity; intercultural competence; international dimension; key skills; language awareness; mobility; multilingualism; personal and social development of the individual; and values."

It recommends that "DIUS and DCSF should review language teaching and learning across all sectors to ensure a coherent system in which language learning begun at primary school has a natural progression for every student through HE and life-long language learning. The review should consider the syllabus, teaching methods and teacher supply as well as other ways of promoting language learning, such as careers advice".

This "natural progression" doesn't seem to have been taken into account by the DCSF. You can read about this in my previous posts about the New NC Attainment Targets below. (Although I now see where Attainment Target 3 came from!)

So, will it become a reality?

Well, UCL has already stated here that it will require a Languages GCSE from 2012 from all applicants and although the Russell Group Universities have no concrete plans to follow suit en masse, I believe that it will be just a matter of time, particularly because the British Academy recommends that students accepted to study at university without a Languages GCSE qualification should have to study a language as part of their degree course.

The universities will not want to employ extra staff and resources to teach beginners languages courses when almost every school in the UK has a languages department, will they?

The simple thing would be to make modern languages a requirement. It makes sense, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Wordling - Meine Schuluniform

It finally happened. It has taken almost 5 weeks but I finally got some students to use wordle successfully in my class.

This is my year 7 set 4 class (low ability 12 years old) and this term they have been studying the topic "meine Schule". Their spelling is not amazing, but their wordling is really good.

Here are some examples of their work.
Wordle: traumuniform

Wordle: traumuniform

Wordle: schuluniform

Wordle: Schuluniform

Wordle: uniform

Well, I'm impressed, anyway!

Monday, 1 June 2009

New MFL KS3 NC level descriptors. Part 2

I've just had another thought about this and now I'm both annoyed and confused. (It's called multi-tasking!)

Initially, some of my colleagues thought that this was a great idea because the 3rd attainment target will improve the students' final KS3 assessments and they will want to choose MFL as an option in KS4. Great! I'm all for increasing uptake at KS4 and beyond. But for the right reasons.

That's all very well, but because of this many of these students will have an overinflated KS4 target grade.

I have studied (and blogged) the new specs for GCSE here and nowhere can I find a section on "intercultural understanding" in there. We, obviously, teach some cultural understanding as part of GCSE but it is not a separate section of the course.

Does this mean that in 2014 the GCSE will change again? I think it probably does.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

New NC level descriptors for MFL

The Government has decided, in its wisdom, to get the QCA to manage a public consultation on changes to the National Curriculum.

The consultation will run from 30th April until 24th July, although parents are only to be consulted fron the beginning of June! Why?

I only just found out about this and I'm sure most of you didn't have a clue either. If you did, thanks for the "heads up".

Most subjects will have changes to their NC level descriptors, but I'm more interested in MFL than in the others. By clicking here you can read the proposals for MFL.

If I have understood correctly, there will be 3 attainment targets:

1) Listening and Speaking
2) Reading and Writing
3) Intercultural understanding

The third one is, of course, brand new, and it's a tricky one.

As far as I can make out, you could get a level 8, or even Exceptional Performance without actually knowing a single world of a foreign language. (My results should improve then!)

For more information or to get involved go to the ALL website and follow the links.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

TeachMeetNE 2009 Newcastle 18th June 2009

Thursday 18th June 2009 7.00pm - 10.30pm

Tyneside Bar, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne

The opportunity for teachers to meet other teachers, chat, network, share resources and ideas, and put faces to the names you see on Twitter.

Click here for more information.

If you are interested, add yourself to the wiki and I hope to see you there.

If you can't make this, there are other teachmeets going on around the country. Go to the TeachmeetNE page and follow the links.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Tools for educators

I have to thank mpc for this one. mpc is a regular poster on TES MFL forum and recommended this excellent site. It is called Tools for educators and allows the user to create all manner of resources for use in the classroom.

It allows the user to create:
board games
bingo cards
and a cornucopia of other types of resources which lend themselves rather well to teaching languages.
tools for educators is an affiliate site of mighty education systems

Friday, 22 May 2009

le cheval qui murmurait.

I just found this on youtube. I think it is hilarious. Enjoy.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Cyber Summit on 21st Century Skills

Not just for languages, but everything. If you are based in the USA you can take part in this online conference. Have your say and be a part of advancing education on a global scale. Help turn our students into responsible global citizens.

You can register your interest here: Cyber summit or, if you are not sure what it is all about, watch the amusing clip first.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

New GCSE spec MFL assessment materials

As we all know, or should know, the GCSE is changing, or has changed. I recently attended some excellent CPD organised by Comenius on this in the wonderful city of Durham led by Gill Beckett (MFL expert, google her, she is amazing, a human dynamo!).

If you teach languages and are still not sure which board to choose, you need to get a move on. If you haven't read Helen Myers' excellent document on the new specs (shame on you! she spent ages on it!) you can do this here.

I'm blogging this because of a post today on the TES MFL Forum asking if anyone had any specimen papers yet. So, to save you all more work, and I know you are all very busy, (what with speaking exams and the like!) here is the definitive list of already published specimen materials on the web:

AQA French (from page 65 onwards it's the same examples for each language)

CCEA French, German, Spanish

WJEC French, German, Spanish

OCR French, German, Spanish

Edexcel French, German, Spanish

As the Yorkie says: Amusez-vous bien!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

23 Ways to wordle?

Following on from my last post I have made a huge discovery. I discovered wordle last week but I have been trumped on a massive scale. While I was doing the "teacher thing" of reinventing the wheel, fellow international edublogger Samantha Lunn has created the wordle equivalent of inter-galactic time travel. (I feel like the bloke who invented the telephone the day after Alexander Graham Bell!) Her 23 ways to use wordle in the classroom is fantastic. Fortunately for us all Samantha is one of those true professionals who is more than happy to share her hard work with us all.
If you haven't seen it, you really should take a look. For those who don't know her work yet, here is her wordled CV:
Wordle: CV

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Wordling in the classroom.

I have discovered another excellent resource.
It is the brain child of Jonathan Feinberg and is a "toy" for generating word clouds.
My students love it (my school hasn't blocked it yet!) and we hope it will be a great way to learn key vocabulary and be creative. I'm hoping that using word clouds will improve my students' vocab retention.
It is a little early to comment yet, but time will tell. If anyone has any evidence to this, please let me know. Below is an example of a word cloud "Meine Schuluniform" using key vocabulary from the year 7 scheme of work.
Wordle: Meine Schuluniform
The next task is to get the students to create "Meine Traumuniform". Hopefully, I will post some next week.

Friday, 8 May 2009

CPD for everyone for free

Each of us needs to keep up with developments and good practice, even if we are not looking to further our careers.

So what do you do if your school is reluctant, or can’t afford, to allow you out to complete CPD courses?

The answer is: Take responsibility for your own professional development.

There are many MFL CPD opportunities online which few teachers are aware of, most of which are free. These can be done in departments or by individual teachers.

The National Strategies site is an excellent place to start.
There is a wealth of invaluable information specifically related to the teaching of MFL.
There are video resources, case studies and practical online exercises to undertake.
The learning units include:
Using the MFL Framework
Planning Lessons
Using the Target Language
Developing how you question students
Effective starters
and plenaries
Using Assessment for Learning

Each unit contains “nuggets” which are intended to help MFL teachers improve. Most of us will have some extra time this term to do this now that year 11 and 13 students are about to leave us. So, use your time profitably this summer. This website will soon be closing, but I have it on good authority that the resources will be moved to the new site:

Here is an example of one of the nugget clips:

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Comedy, the international language.

Not very educational, but funny and in German. My year 7 pupils love it. Who would have thought that people would still be laughing at this 80 or so years later?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Swine 'flu?

Every single one of my Year 11 students can recite verbatim the government's information on the symptoms of swine flu, how it is transferred, what you should do in order not to get it, and the incubation period of all influenza-type diseases.

So how come they can't remember the present tense of the verb, "sein"?

They should spend less time here: and more time here:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A quick quiz on web 2.0 applications.

A quick quiz for you!

What do the following web applications all have in common?


Well, they are all excellent web applications which could be invaluable tools in teaching.

Yes, they permit students to use the internet for real purposes and motivate them to achieve well.

And, yes, they are free and easy to use.

And, yes, most importantly, my school has blocked them all!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Mobile phones in the classroom? You've got to be joking!

You’re probably not aware of this but as long ago as 2001 the government issued a circular to all schools (not parents!) in England discouraging “non-essential” use of mobile phones among students under the age of 15. It was feared that children could get all kinds of cancers, brain diseases and other horrible, health problems.

If you live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, you can use your mobile as much as you like. You're immune, apparently!

This came from the Stewart Inquiry which the government hoped would set guidelines on a minimum age for mobile phone users, but didn't.

It seems that schools have been banning mobiles for years and now primary schools are starting to ban them, too. According to a recent survey, the average age at which a child gets a mobile phone is 8. I didn't even possess a pair of long trousers when I was 8.

In the course of my research on this I found lots of differing views.

Fiona Philips, she of GMTV fame and PETA’s "sexiest female vegetarian 2007" (could you name another? No, nor could I!), ranted in her Daily Mirror column last summer “mobile phones in the classroom, you’ve got to be joking” whereas Doug Belshaw, a very well respected teacher (what would he know?), blogged 20 ideas to get students to use their mobiles as learning tools in 2006.

Who would you side with? Yeah, me too!

The irony is, his school had also banned the use of mobiles!

It's amazing to think that in the pocket of almost every secondary school pupil is a piece of technology which has so much educational potential, but which many schools have outlawed.

I can understand why. A phone is an expensive piece of kit and schools do not want to be responsible for any loss or damage to them. Twenty years ago, TV companies would have killed to get video equipment as good as the average 12 year old now carries around in his bag.

Also, there can be lots of mayhem caused with a camera phone and some naughty children. But couldn't those same children cause just as much mayhem with a pencil, a schoolbag, or a plastic spoon.

Last term, I wanted to get some students to film each other with their phones, and use the footage to discuss with their peers ways to improve their pronunciation in French.

Sorry, not allowed.

So, how do you get around this? You can borrow a couple of digital cameras (booking them a week in advance), sign them out, charge the batteries (and learn how to insert them correctly), be trained how to use them, and then train the students how to use them, and sign them back in again. Something which should take 10 minutes to film becomes a 2 hour nightmare, so you just forget about the whole project.

Last year, I broke the rules. I sent some GCSE speaking and listening revision files to some of my Year 11 students' phones by bluetooth. They used them to revise and they achieved excellent results.

Was it really such a bad thing?

Well, yes, it was. I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Jigsaws or Lego?

As my regular reader already knows, over the last few months I have been immersing myself in the world of technology. I have gone from technological Neanderthal to, not quite homo sapien (more like Australopithecus) in this time.

Example: I used to think Facebook was good but now I know better and am a dedicated twitterite.

With the help of lots of other teachers, most of them very helpful internet strangers, I have created my own PLN and I am really getting into all this technology stuff in a big way. I’m not yet at the “look what I am doing with my students and all this technology” stage, but I am not far off.

Last week I read “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms” by Will Richardson. I’ve been following him on twitter and reading his blog for a while and, basically, living in awe of the man, thinking he was a genius. And so he is. The book is amazing and explains in layman’s terms how to do everything mentioned on the cover.

Then, via Joe Dale's excellent blog, I read José Picardo’s Box of Tricks pages, in particular the “podcasting in 5 easy steps”. His 5 minute tutorial was brilliant. I even skipped some of it because I already know how to use Audacity (I taught myself years ago– it is that easy!). It was the desktop to podcast advice which I found extremely constructive. Muchas gracias!
I am now fiddling about with this and hope to have something out in the ether quite soon. Watch this space.

Then, today, I was re-reading the new National Curriculum for KS3 (I’m not hyperlinking it, you wouldn’t enjoy it!). Words like MOTIVATION and CREATIVITY stand out from the pages like a City scarf in the Stretford End.

It seems that, over time, most teachers, including myself, are going to have to make some subtle changes to a lot of what we do. I'm not saying that my colleagues and I are dinosaurs, far from it. We haven’t done anything wrong, we are just not using the correct tools.

We are giving our students jigsaws when they need Lego!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Fail to prepare - prepare to fail.

For those of you who study languages, I salute you. You are my kind of person.

Most of you will be studying for a qualification. Which is great: employers love people who have studied a language. You are special. You are a linguist and, quite soon, you will have a piece of paper to prove it. But, there is no getting away from it, if you want to succeed in your exams, you are going to have to do some revision.

“Fail to prepare - Prepare to fail” as my old teacher used to say.
He was right. I didn’t and I did. Regularly.

So, where do you start?

You obviously have access to a computer or a really cool mobile telephone, so let’s start there. There are 71 million language learning websites, some of them good, some of them awful.

Do a google search and type “revision” as your search. No, don’t bother, I’ve already done it for you. You’ll get 17,800,000 results give or take. If you narrow your search by adding “French” you get 4.2 million results, add “German” and you get 2.1 million results and for “Spanish” 211,000 results.

Add “GCSE” to your search and you will have narrowed it down to only 38,000 results. Not helpful, is it?

Amazon (and hundreds of other online book stores) will sell you any one of 49 GCSE language revision guides (some of them have a CDRom, too!), your school will probably sell (or give) you a revision guide, and your gran will probably find you one from that book club at work which rescues books which are about to be pulped and sells them to office workers who have far too many relatives to buy proper birthday presents for.

Are they any good? Probably, but how would you know?

What you need is a revision plan.

If you go about your life in a haphazard way, you’ll end up like me. (You don’t think I did the green background on purpose, did you?) If you don’t yet have a revision plan you can get some ideas by clicking here * .

Now the important bit.
Find out what you know well and what you don’t know well enough. Get hold of your exam board's syllabus and make a list of everything you don't feel so confident about. Ask your teacher for advice on this if you aren't sure.

What kind of revision should you do?

You will have probably done all the past papers in existence, but if you haven't, ask your teacher for them and work through them. You can find mark schemes on the exam board websites and mark these yourself. Ask your teacher about exam technique, too.

If you have a friend, a sibling, a parrot, or a sock puppet, practise speaking with them. Ask and answer the type of questions you know will be in the exam. Read through your grammar notes and start to relearn vocabulary.

Are you still reading this? Oh, OK. If you have it in your mind that using the net will help you revise, I can point you in a few directions.

Where to start...

Ashcombe school (Everything you could possibly need)

BBC Bitesize French German Spanish (Lots of listening and reading)

Langwitch (Excellent speaking stuff)

MFL Sunderland Estrellas French Games Spanish Games

For light relief, you could do worse than go to goanimate and watch, or even create some target language cartoons, or even have a look at the videos made by and for students on youtube

Just remember: You can't revise stuff you have never learnt and the internet cannot learn vocabulary for you.

That's it. Good-bye and good luck!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

What's the worst that could happen?

“Pupils to study Twitter and blogs in primary schools shake-up!”
This recent article in the Guardian seems to have opened a huge can of worms in educational circles. Many are horrified! Even radio 4's PM program reported on it.

Teachers of Modern Foreign Languages, it seems to me, have always been the ones to embrace new technology. In the 1970s when the majority of lessons were chalk and talk my school’s MFL department had reel to reel tapes in its language lab.

We had slides from Longman’s Audio Visual French projected on the screen. Students greeted each other at break with the phrase “Écoutez et répétez beep beep”. The resulting shenanigans usually involved renaming friends Jean-Yves and Bruno.
It was, in the words of Virgil Tracy, “FAB”; Then came cassettes: a brave new world!

Nowadays we are so lucky. We have a whole host of technology at our disposal and I don’t just mean Powerpoint. I don’t know where I would be without DVDs, interactive whiteboards, mp3, mp4, email, Audacity, Twitter, the list is endless, or, at least, quite long.

There are those who suggest that all new technology is the work of the devil and that some evil conspiracy is at work. It seems to them that such places as Twitter and Facebook will bring about the end of society as we know it and that books will eventually disappear.

Teachers are horrified that students’ literacy skills will diminish or even disappear. Many of my colleagues frown upon the computer and think that using ICT is an excuse for a free lesson and a skive for the teacher involved.

This, of course is completely untrue. If you have read any of my previous stuff, you will know that I have already listed a number of great sites to find excellent resources.

Now I’m giving you a new commandment: If you have the skills to download resources, then you probably have the skills to create them, too. If you found my blog, you’re half way there.

I have seen examples of excellent work completed by MFL teachers and students using technology and the internet and have listed some below:
Joe Dale’s “integrating ICT into the MFL classroom” ,
Helena Butterfield’s Langwitch site and
Adam Sutcliffe’s “So Much to Learn…So Little Time” are just 3 excellent places to start.
It was from reading these that I started to blog and they have also inspired me to do my own thing. More of this anon.

Getting back to the furore created by the article in the Guardian, I know that using blogs, websites, wikis and networking sites can be a great motivator for students learning languages, and that there are teachers out there, who can’t be bothered or who are terrified of using any new technology.

For those who are terrified, I have a message: “YOU CAN’T BREAK THE INTERNET! GIVE IT A GO! WHAT IS THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

Some teachers have, rightly in my opinion, complained that their school does not allow access to networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo, Twitter, etc. but this is not a reason to give up. There are other sites which you may be able to access. or even (thanks, sam!) are all European based networking/blogging sites and in Target Language.(I would obviously check out the content of these before letting your students loose!)

What about the schools where computer access is limited or inadequate (like mine!)? You ask. Well, you don’t even need internet access to make good use of technology. Get students to film each other speaking in the Target Language and use movie maker to edit their work. Get them to record themselves interviewing other students or friends on their mobile phones or mp3 players.

There is so much good practice out there. I’ve told you where to look and what to do. Spend ten minutes of your life having a look.

What’s the worst that could happen?