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. http://www.skyrock.com/blog/ http://fr.myspace.com/ http://www.myblog.fr/creer.html or even http://www.studivz.net/ (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?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Languages Online from Australia

Well, hello there! Welcome back to my kitchen and my, now internationally famous, blog. It's true - check out my clustrmap below. Almost 15 people have now read this!

But let's get on to the serious stuff. Today I want to draw your attention to Languages Online.


Another invaluable tool for language teachers and learners provided by State of Victoria (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development) in Australia. It is full of free resources in French, German, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese and Italian. It contains over 220 interactive games and users can print out almost 200 worksheets.

If you teach primary there is a section which contains songs in mp3 format in French, German, Indonesian, and Italian with pdf files containing the lyrics. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/languagesonline/audio.htm#1

Here is a link to one of the lyrics pages in German:


It is very pupil friendly and the songs have simple tunes and are of a good quality.

But I like the downloadable programs for creating interactive games the best. You can use the programs to create text matching games, picture matching games, tetris games, sentence games, comprehension tasks, and once you get expert, there is a portal maker for you to organise your games and files to create links and sequences.

Here is a screenshot from one of the games:

As you can see all very nice and pupil-friendly and all the voices are native speakers.
Please give the site a few minutes of your time - you may save yourself a few hours of planning. It is completely idiot-proof - and I would know...

One final thing, let me know if you use any of these resources and thank the people at Languages Online, too.

I recommend it. I use it. I love it and, more importantly, my students love it. What more can I say? Fill your boots!