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 www.storybird.com 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 storybird.com 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 classtools.net 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.