Friday, 10 December 2010

Proper scrabble, piracy, sausage rolls, storytelling, hats and lolly sticks.

Last night I attended the latest TeachMeet North East.
The venue was the Tyneside Cinema, in Newcastle.

Once again it was thanks to Chris Harte (and his team) who put in a huge amount of effort organising and securing sponsorship so that the whole thing could take place.

Around fifty education professionals attended and were treated to some free wine, excellent sandwiches and some truly amazing presentations (and me doing a shortened version of the "lolly sticks" thing from MFLSAT)

All of the presenters were very good, but for me the highlights of the evening were:
  • Peter Dine's retelling of a recent Ofsted experience
  • Charlotte Bailey and David Gray's inside outside circles
  • Simon Finch's "sex and drugs and sausage rolls" (a serious learning conversation about e-safety and naked hindu dancers)
  • Amy Dickinson's use of De Bono's thinking hats in peer assessment (De Bono once claimed the solution to the Arab-Isaeli conflict was Marmite)
  • Darren Mead and Fergus Hegarty's metacognitive wrappers and proper piratical scrabble
  • Steve Bunce's twelve digital storytelling tools (including the Wagneriser)
You can find other accounts of the evening on Darren Mead's blog and Mark Clarkson's blog (and here) and Simon Finch has kindly published photos of the evening here.

It was a fantastic evening. I caught up with some old friends, met some new ones, and took away some excellent ideas which I can try out in my own teaching.

Huge thanks again to everyone involved - I loved it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Cold weather, controlled assessments and chaos.

Last week my year 11 students were supposed to sit a written piece of Controlled Assessment as a part of their GCSE French exam.
Unfortunately, my school had to be closed due to the inclement weather and so we had to postpone the assessment.
As a conscientious practitioner (I've never been called that before, not even by myself!) and the fact that I had been left in charge of the department for the week, I contacted Edexcel, the exam board to ask for official clarification as to whether we could "postpone" an assessment, or if we had to give the students a different title.

Here is the email I sent to them:

My year 11 students have prepared for a written controlled assessment which they were to complete at school tomorrow. The school has been closed due to the poor weather. Will we be able to complete the assessment when the school reopens next week, or will we have to do another piece of assessment?

I was impressed to receive a reply almost immediately but not sure what to make of the answer.

Thank you for getting in touch. As far as I am aware, this is a 'first' for the new controlled assessment, and is not a scenario which has been legislated for. My understanding is that Edexcel would take a lenient view in this situation because the circumstances are beyond your control. However, I will pass your question on to the Edexcel office and ask them to confirm with you if their understanding is any different.
I hope this is helpful.
All good wishes,
Richard Marsden
Chair of Examiners, GCSE French

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Links Manchester Conference

Last Saturday morning I found myself in the north west of England again. It's becoming a habit.
This time I attended a Links into Languages / i-languages conference at the Chancellors Hotel in Manchester. The speakers were Juliet Park and Wendy Adeniji.
Unfortunately I didn't get to hear Juliet speak as I had signed up for the sessions "Thinking through MFL" and "Free ICT Tools for MFL" both of which were led by Wendy.

The main aims of the sessions were to get teachers:
  • to motivate and encourage learners
  • to develop linguistic progression
  • to develop language skills
  • to use innovative ideas in their work
To improve our students' speaking and listening skills we were advised to use authentic songs (rather than the ones which come with the textbook) and shown where we might find them.
Here's one:

We were also shown an examples of Vokis and a speaking frame to improve students participation.

To improve pupils' speaking skills we were encouraged to think more about context. What do pupils want to talk about? What do they want to read about? Would a French person really ask them what is in their pencil case? To raise pupils' interest, Wendy suggested that we should take a look at MYLO, too.

Another idea was that we compare and contrast aspects of life over the years to increase Cultural Understanding. The example we were shown was two clips of fashion shows, one from 1960 and one from 2010.

Next, we were shown some ideas to improve memorisation skills of our students. We were pointed in the direction of ilanguages website and its free resources section.

The next part of the course was "Thinking through MFL". This included the purpose of thinking skill strategies, the shape of a thinking skills lesson, and some ideas for thinking skills activities. These include: odd one out exercises, categorisation, living graphs, mysteries, diamond nine (an example of which you can find here on, reading images(some good pictures here), and memory maps. All the information on thinking skills can be found here at Clare Seccombe's MFLSunderland website.

Then came the break. Coffee, biscuits and networking. Which is code for chatting about shopping with people you know while Dom sits in the sunshine, relaxing. A tip I've learned from my dogs. I managed to persuade a lady called Ros to sign up to twitter. At least, I thought I had, she hasn't signed up yet. D'oh.

The second session was my favourite - Free ICT Tools for MFL.

In this session we learned all about avatars. We can create these using voki and xtranormal. There is an example of a voki I created just on the right of this page. Wendy also showed us how to save them to publisher so that they can be put onto a VLE or school website.

Wordclouds came next. We were shown how to use wordle and tagxedo. Paticularly good with song lyrics. (I shall try this.)

We were shown how to use Audacity to record students work and how to edit and add effects to the recordings. We were also directed to places where we could buy inexpensive recording equipment: CPC and Easispeak are 2 examples. To record and send files online, we were shown vocaroo and mailvu (which I haven't yet had a chance to look at).

To develop students' writing we were shown glogster and storybird. For some terrific examples of MFL storybirds you really should go to Fiona Joyce's excellent storybird wiki.

The final thing we were shown zamzar is a usueful tool for any educator. It is mainly used by teachers to download and save youtube videos for use in schools where youtube is blocked. I've since found out that zamzar can be used to convert other types of files, too.

I think I've covered everything that I learned and I hope you can find a use for some of the resources mentioned. It was a very well prepared and delivered course and if you get a chance to here either Juliet or Wendy speak, I recommend that you go and listen and learn.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

MFLSAT3 - Everything you need to know.

Saturday was the 3rd Modern Languages Show and Tell.

This time it was extra extra special as it was in my hometown, Oldham. That didn't stop me getting lost on the way there, though. My passengers really enjoyed the guided tour of Chadderton and they saw the blue plaque marking Terry Hall's birthplace three times. (Terry Hall the ventriloquist, not Terry Hall, the lead singer of the Specials)

The day was organised by the wonderful Isabelle Jones ably assisted by her department at Radclyffe School and was sponsored by Mary Glasgow Publications, Links into Languages and ALL.

The day was amazing and I learned a huge amount, not just from the speakers. The atmosphere was great and apart from being too short, the day could not have been better.

For those of you who missed it I shall give you a brief resumé of what happened:
(Wherever possible I've linked to the presenters' own blogs where you can see first hand what they have done)

First up was Marie-France Perkins.
She had some amazing ideas on how to find authentic resources on the internet.

Then came Marie O'Sullivan.
Marie had some great ideas including Rally Robin, Stand Up Hands Up Pair Up, and she introduced me to "The Hat". She has blogged about it here.

The third speaker, Chris Harte presented via skype. He showed us how to Understand Grammar using SOLO Taxonomy. A fascinating presentation which I now understand. His blog has more details.

Next we heard from Mary Cooch. She told us about her "No frontiers" moodle project with her school in Preston and a school in Spain. She blogs here and is an inspiration.

The next presenter was Esther Mercier who told us all about songsmith and gave us a practical demonstration by creating a song in minutes right before our eyes. She is also the brains behind atantot a fabulous website for language learners. (Fiona was so inspired by songsmith she went home and created her own alphabet rap)

After Esther came Kath Holton one of the most knowledgeable and modest practitioners I have had the pleasure to meet. She showed us how she uses her VLE to motivate her students to succeed by using tools such as edmodo, quizlet, voki, and zondle.

Next we heard all about Storybird from Fiona Joyce. We learned how to create class accounts to share storybirds with our students. Fiona is really passionate about Storybird and has compiled a wonderful wiki of them in different languages made by many fantastic teachers from around the world which is well worth a look.

Vanessa Parker, a languages teacher at the Radclyffe School then showed us some amazing ways to use powerpoint to motivate our students and to make lessons interesting, competitive and fun for them. she had some great ideas including a spotlight function. (The spotlight feature is explained here by Mark Purves, who was also at MFLSAT but sadly didn't present this time.)

The last presentation before lunch came from Helena Butterfield. She talked to us about the advantages of etwinning. There is a presentation on her blog all about etwinning type things.

First up after a very nice lunch was me. I presented on all things random. I showed how by writing students names on lolly sticks and picking them from the mug of misery we can keep students engaged, I showed the powerpoint download from fresherschools which can be adapted to become a random question picker and I used dice and virtual dice to show how to make students think more. (At least that's what I intended to do.)

Next came Joe Dale. He told us about how he had used and we could use wikis and widgets to work together. He told us about wallwisher, voicethread and coverit live to enhance learning and motivation in our classes. Joe's blog is amazing and I always find something new there each time I visit. It really is a gold mine of information.

After Joe we were treated to the shield and slippers of the amazing Alex Bellars. He showed us his duplo blocks to help with German word order, his voice recorder alarm clock Slabang from Ikea, and last, but not least, the grammar hammer. His blog can be found here.

Next was Clare Seccombe. Clare, internationally famous for her MFL Sunderland site showed us how she has taken the concept of the mini book one step further and used them in whole range of ways to motivate her primary pupils and get them to be creative with the language they are learning. She has already blogged about this here and you can find lots of things her pupils have done here.

The penultimate presentation was from Isabelle Jones. She gave us her top 7 iphone apps for MFL. Her presentation along with some other excellent posts and advice can be found on her blog here.

The final presentation was from Suzi Bewell. Suzi is an expert on all things to do with cultural understanding. Her presentation on global understanding with all the links she used can be found at her blog, here.

The day was absolutely amazing. I learned something new from each of the presenters. I would like to thank everyone who attended for making it so special and especially Isabelle and her team who put in so much hard work to make it happen.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


I've just discovered Zooburst.
It's a free tool which allows you to make pop up books.
It's another story telling tool with some useful features.
As I'm in the middle of a project to get my students to engage in spontaneous conversations in French, I thought I'd start with this. It's called "Que penses-tu?" and is supposed to get students talking:

Unfortunately some of the questions are not visible as I had to make the screen smaller to fit the blog.
To access the harder questions you have to click on "more".
Using zooburst is easy once you get used to it.
Unfortunately I accidentally deleted a lot of my earlier attempts.
Perhaps I should have read the instructions.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Talking flower.

Create your own Animation

Here is a talking flower from fodey. I shall definitely be using this with my students in the next few months.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Mobile phones in the classroom........again.

By now most of my friends and colleagues know my opinions on using mobile phones in the classroom. I've just read this article Cell phones in the Classroom. Bad idea, inevitable, or both? by Brad Moon.

It was tweeted to me by Clare and Alex and they got it from Peter.
(Sounds like a disease, I know.)

In the article, written in Canada, the writer tells us that the OSSTF is against allowing students to have mobile phones in school for the following reasons (the comments in italics are my childish attempts at humour):

1) they cause a distraction to students
(as do wasps and farts. Can we please ban those, too?)

2) there is a potential for student/teacher conflicts
(just like homework, shall we ban that, too?)

3) it may cause a socio-economic divide between students
(this has always existed. we can tell who are the rich kids and who are the poor kids without mobile phone inspections!)

4) they could be used to cheat during tests
(now you're just being silly. Even the most myopic of invigilators would notice a student using a telephone in a test, surely. Plus I can't even get a signal in my classroom unless I stand on a desk with one leg and both arms in the air!)

On a more serious note, mobile phones, or as I shall now refer to them, Personal Learning Devices (PLDs) are not going to go away. As educators we should be using them to their full potential in our classrooms.

If students placed their PLDs on the desk in front of them with their other equipment and in full sight of the teacher, the opportunities for abusing them would be almost non-existent.

Allowing students to use PLDs in schools may have teething troubles at the start, but in my experience the students who use them have been very sensible.

One final point and this is a fact: More students come to my classroom with a mobile phone than a pen.


PS I've just received a link from Isabelle which takes me to this article written by Ian Yorston, who sums up what I've been trying to say for the last two years in one sentence. I'm sure he won't mind me quoting him:

Schools don't need ICT. It's coming through our doors every day. We just need to adopt and adapt a little bit.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Talking Tom.

I've just discovered Talking Tom. I have it on my android phone and it has been available for ipad and iphone,too, for a while.

It's free to download (via Android market or itunes) and there is a pro version with more features if you really want them.

All you have to do is talk into the phone and the cat repeats what you have said in a cartoon style voice.
The beauty of Talking Tom is that you can record the dialogue, save it, and either email it or post it to youtube.

It is similar to Voki and xtranormal and is quite like a cheap(er) version of crazytalk, too, and I'm a huge fan of all three of those.

I can see the kids I teach loving it. I just don't want to let them loose with my new phone.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

What's the most difficult language?

There are over 6000 languages spoken around the world but, according to my year 8 students, "English is the most difficult language to learn".

If that is the case, why do they find French and German so difficult?

They also think that all foreigners can speak fluent English, so it can't be that difficult, can it?

So what makes a language difficult?

I suppose it is all relative and depends on how you define "difficult".

If your first language was Ukrainian then learning Russian would be less of a trial than a mandarin speaker learning Russian.

Similarly, a native Swedish speaker would find learning Norwegian much easier than a native English speaker would.

As an English speaker and teacher of languages, I think the most difficult languages to learn would probably those which don't use "our" alphabet, have different grammatical rules and have few or no cognates. Examples of these would be Russian, Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic.

It also depends on how you define "learning".

Learning to write a language is much harder than learning to speak it.
I learned some Japanese a few years ago from a book and a CD. Even though I can remember a few basic phrases and numbers, I never learned to write it, except in Romaji.

Successful language learning can depend on how good your teacher is, too.

However, I've discovered that the most difficult language in the world has to be Sentinelese.

It really exists. It is spoken on North and South Sentinel Islands in the Bay of Bengal by about 200 people.

So why is it so difficult? Nobody knows.


Mainly because going to the islands is illegal and anyone attempting to visit is killed by the locals.

And we complain about severe grading...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Are dying languages worth saving?

The BBC news website featured this story today about a conference at Trinity College, Carmarthen at which ways of saving dying languages are to discussed. (Thanks to Clare for the link)

To be honest, I'm in two minds about this question.
Can we really stop languages from dying out?

A language is a living entity.
It evolves.
The English we speak today is not the English of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens or even Groucho.

Some languages become more popular, others less so.
Sometimes languages die.

Take latin. Nobody speaks latin anymore.
There are many great reasons to study latin but it must have died out for a reason.

It is a terrible shame when occasionally we hear that a language has died out but language is just a way of communicating.

Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?
I'd love to know what you think.

Quantum ille canis est in fenestra?

Monday, 30 August 2010

The English Baccalaureat.

Over the last few years I've occasionally ranted about schools' management teams getting their most able students to drop languages and take vocational qualifications in order to boost their school's ratings in the league tables.

Before this year's general election, the Conservative Party hinted that, if elected, "GCSE equivalent" courses would no longer be counted in the league tables.

Yesterday, the UK government announced plans for a "new" qualification, the English Baccalaureat. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education told Andrew Marr on his BBC television programme that he was worried by the decline in number of students taking GCSEs in Science and languages.

You can read about it here but the gist of it is that students who achieve good GCSE grades in English, Maths, a science, a modern language, and a humanity, will also be awarded the English Baccalaureat.

Will this stop our best students from dropping modern languages? Will school managers start to take languages seriously? Will British graduates once again be able to compete in the jobs market with their overseas counterparts?

I hope so.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Tattoo hand puppets.

This afternoon we went shopping in Durham. My wife wanted candles in Lakeland. So while she took lids of jars, sniffed and either smiled or wrinkled her nose, I wandered around the store looking at all the cool gadgets you never realised you needed.

I was thoroughly impressed by the stainless steel cafetiere but it was temporary tattoo hand puppets which caught my eye.

I'm a huge fan of puppets as you probably know, and I think these are a great idea.

I wished I'd bought them and as soon as we got home I checked Lakeland's website and they aren't on there.

I googled them and found out that they are available in the US from thinkgeek and and, after a search lasting what seemed like hours, found that they can be bought in the UK from and

Obviously, I couldn't use them with a whole class. It would be quite expensive but were I to do a small project or start a languages club they would be ideal.

Obviously, I'd need to do some research before I use them in school. How long do they last? Do they wash off? Would a child with allergies be able to use them? Are they messy? Etc, etc.

It seems like a really fun idea and if it gets pupils to take part in speaking in a different language then it will be worth it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Subliminal language learning.

In 1988 François Mitterrand was re-elected President of France.
So what? Well, for several days before the election a subliminal picture of him appeared in the title sequence of the news on one of the major French TV channels.

In a 1973 episode of Columbo "Double Exposure", the murderer, a research psychologist played by Robert Culp, uses subliminal messaging in a film to commit murder. Columbo uses the same technique to lure Culp's character to the scene of the murder and somehow (don't ask me, I was 4 years old) proves his guilt.

In 1974, a report commissioned for the United Nations concluded that "the cultural implications of subliminal indoctrination is a major threat to human rights throughout the world".

So if it's possible to threaten people's human rights, become President of France and catch a murderer, the question you must be asking yourself is:

Is it possible to learn a language subliminally?

Most experts on this say "no". They would though, because if it were possible, most of us would be out of a job.

RW Schmidt in "The role of consciousness in second language learning" (1990) OUP concludes that "subliminal language learning is impossible".

He's probably right, but I've never been one to let facts and research get in the way of a good idea and I'm always up for a challenge.

This is why I have added to my Icelandic resources with "Learn Icelandic fast and easy subliminal CD" (sic) which was "developed by Medical doctors and Phds in psychiatry and psychology".

What could possibly go wrong?

I'll be fluent before you can say "Eyjafjallajokull".

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Talar þú íslensku?

A few weeks ago I was sent a link to this video by Hafdis Huld singing live in Reykjavik. I like her music. It's cool.

I watched the first 30 seconds or so. And then I watched them again. And again. And I realised I had no clue what she was saying.

So over the last few weeks I have been starting to learn Icelandic.

Some people I have told have been politely impressed, while others have given me the look which I translate as "Why?" I have even been asked when I am going to Iceland. The answer is, "I'm not, or at least I have no plans to go at the moment."

I'm learning Icelandic because I love a challenge. Especially one which involves learning a new language.

I bought the Talk Now Learn Icelandic beginners course to get me started. It's a lot of fun. It's a CD-Rom which contains enough phrases and basic words to get by and then lots of games to help to practise the new vocabulary.

Then I signed up to Icelandic Online. This is a free, online course from the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Iceland. It has online lessons, video clips and exercises, a dictionary and grammar glossary. The first part of the course takes around 45 hours and covers roughly 900 learning objectives.

Learning a new language is really tricky. I have been very busy. I've picked up quite a lot of essential vocabulary and if I ever find out what Hafdis Huld was talking about, I'll be sure to let you know.

Hafðu það gott. Bless.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Being creative with Year 7.

Today was my last lesson with my year 7 French groups. When they arrived, one of the children said, "All we've done today is watch DVDs. Can we do something different?"
We have been doing a mini project on endangered animals and we had been working on dialogues asking questions like "Que manges-tu?" "Où habites-tu?" and so on.

Their speaking work isn't brilliant and I've been trying to find ways of increasing their participation.

At MFL Show and Tell on Saturday, I was impressed with Lisa Stevens' ideas and energy and decided to use one of her ideas (I'll never match her energy).

Puppets, or more precisely, pencil puppets.

They practised their dialogues, pretending to be creatures and then we filmed them. Every single child in both classes took part in a dialogue, which I filmed on my fisher-price mobile phone and they loved it.
Big result!

Unfortunately, the sound quality of the clips is not good enough to post here, but here are pictures.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Piano stairs.

Yesterday was MFL Show and Tell at Nottingham High School. It was a great day of fantastic presentations, amazing learning discussions and excellent coffee. You can watch the presentations here. I met some wonderful, inspiring linguists and learned lots of new things (most notably that comedian Miles Jupp was Archie the inventor in Balamory).

I talked about getting colleagues to make better use of ICT in order to attract more students to opt to study languages. Language learning at KS4 could be drastically reduced unless we make it more interesting to students, especially when languages have to compete with other subjects which offer 2 or 4 GCSE equivalent qualifications in the same amount of teaching time.

During my presentation I showed this clip to try to show that it could be done.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Becoming more attractive.

Before you start to get worried, this post is not about my impending visit to the plastic surgeon, but rather some thoughts on improving the way in which students at my school view modern languages.

I've recently started a new job in a much nicer, bigger school. The staff are friendly enough and the students are mostly keen and well behaved. The department is well managed and the students achieve well, right through to A level.

I'm really enjoying it.

This week, though, I discovered something which worried me. I found out that languages is the most unpopular subject in the school among the current Key Stage 3 students (11-14 years old).

You don't look surprised to hear this, but I was genuinely shocked. After all, Key Stage 3 students are the Key Stage 4 students of tomorrow. Without Key Stage 4 there won't be a department.

So, I have made it my mission to improve the way in which students view the subject and I'm also going to continue to try to get my departmental colleagues to do the same.

Using ICT is a no-no because the school system isn't up to the job. We still have IE6 and we aren't even able to install Flash (or download anything) onto the computers.

Most web2.0 tools are blocked and mobile phones are banned.
(Yes, I know. I wasn't going to mention phones again, was I? Did I tell you about the BBC? Oh, I did. Sorry.)

I don't want to worry you but you might want to sit down for this next statement. Ready? OK, here goes....a modern languages lesson in ICT usually involves students using Powerpoint or Word to redraft work.

We can't go on like this.

I already have some ideas for next term (thanks to Joanna Pickering et al) and I hope to pick up some advice from MFL Show and Tell next week.

I'll share my improvements with you as and when.

Watch this space. We might both learn something.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Vuvuzelas, Fluch oder Segen?

Loathe them or hate them, the vuvuzelas (or lepatata as they are called in Tswana) have been a huge part of the world cup so far.

The press here in Britain has complained that they ruin the atmosphere of the game and I put this down to a severe case of sour grapes as the over-paid, under-talented prima donnas in England shirts have not had the best start to the competition.

But then I started to wonder what the press in other countries thought about them. So after an hour or two trawling the world's press, it seems that a lot of countries don't like them either.

The Germans have even invented a new word to describe the effect of the vuvuzela, "Trötinus" a word made from the German words for "Hooter" (Tröte) and "tinitus" (Tinitus).

So here are some links to articles in various languages which you could use with your students and get them to discuss the attitudes in different countries.


Personally, I quite like the vuvuzela and thanks to those nice people at Marca in Spain for this vuvzela instruction manual.


Friday, 11 June 2010

The MFL Twitterati World Cup Sweepstake

As usual, someone had a great idea and I stole it.
This time it was the MFL Twitterati World Cup Sweepstake.
Clare's idea, hijacked by me.
Welcome to my world. I did apologise.

Apparently no-one in the world understands the concept of a sweepstake except the Brits so here is a quick run down of the rules:

Each player is drawn at random via random name picker, then a team is picked randomly by the same method and assigned to that player.

The player who's team wins the world cup gets a MFL related prize which I shall buy in France next week.

Everyone else is a loser.

Here goes:
@javiera1974 gets ITALY
@gorsey gets AUSTRALIA
@simonhowells gets NETHERLANDS
@valleseco gets NEW ZEALAND
@jjpadvis gets URUGUAY
@mme_henderson gets PARAGUAY
@PreKlanguages gets PORTUGAL
@victoria35 gets CHILE
@joedale gets GHANA
@jowinchester gets SPAIN
@dominic_mcg gets HONDURAS
@wizenedcrone gets NORTH KOREA
@sghani gets ALGERIA
@bootleian gets SLOVENIA
@josepicardo gets DENMARK
@atantot gets SWITZERLAND
@Langwitch gets IVORY COAST
@ChrisFullerisms gets SOUTH KOREA
@zaragozalass gets ARGENTINA
@suzibewell gets FRANCE
@lisibo gets SERBIA
@amandasalt gets GREECE
@MissAmoros gets NIGERIA
@simcloughlin gets ENGLAND
@smaguire777 gets USA
@moodlefairy gets SOUTH AFRICA
@mrshampson gets SLOVAKIA
@spanishsam gets GERMANY
@blagona gets CAMEROON
@hicksie58 gets MEXICO
@Kath52 gets JAPAN
@lynnehorn gets BRAZIL

Good luck everyone.
I shall update the post on a regular basis.
If your team is on the left of the screen you are still in the competition.
If your team is on the right of the screen, you have been eliminated from the contest.
All comments will be moderated.
Thank you.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

MFL Show and Tell 2010

It's now almost 2 years since I dived into the world of twitter, blogging, flashmeets and becoming a wannabe-geek.
I still can't understand why my colleagues have a "why would I want to do that?" approach to the use of ICT for both personal and professional reasons, but the answer is, of course, that I'm turning into a geek and they are "normal".

Twitter is amazing for finding out about new stuff and sharing new ideas, advice, applications, and software you may come across but there is nothing like meeting people in the flesh and putting faces to the names you've been impressed by for the last 15 months or so.

That is why MFL Show and Tell is such a great idea. It is an opportunity for teachers of foreign languages (Primary and Secondary) to get together in the real world, chat and find out what is going on in the hectic, helter-skelter world of MFL education, to discover what other people are doing and to realise that, actually, you're doing OK yourself.

Following the success of last year's Show and Tell (thanks to James Padvis and Joe Dale) this year's event is being organised by José Picardo, and is kindly sponsored by Nottingham High School and Links into Languages East Midlands, so it will cost you nothing to attend and you might even learn something. If you can't attend you can follow all the shenanigans on twitter, here #mflsat

If you want to attend you must sign up to the wiki and turn up on the day.

How difficult could that be?

I hope to see many of you there and I promise I'll be on my best behaviour.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Truancy and Modern Languages.

In February last year, former Education Secretary Estelle Morris admitted to the BBC that the scrapping of compulsory Modern Foreign Language (she calls it "French") was part of a plan to crackdown on truancy problems in English schools. Scrap MFL and children will want to go to school.

Did it work?

Well, no, of course it didn't.

Recent news reports tell us that truancy has got worse and has hit record levels.

According to teen issues website, students truant from school for the following reasons:

  • To escape bullying at school.
  • Because lessons are hard and it is easier to play truant.
  • Because the truant has no interest in school.
  • Exclusions.
  • Taking holidays.
  • Visiting health professionals.
  • Running errands.
  • Bad relationships with teachers or other instructors

  • No mention of languages lessons at all.
    Funny, that.

    Tuesday, 1 June 2010

    Misreading the question.

    A few summers ago I remember reading in a Sunday supplement a special feature about Jack Douglas playing in a golf tournament in Mallorca. I thought it strange that the absurd star of the Carry On films should warrant 6 pages in an OK magazine style feature, he must be in his 80s if he's still alive* I thought, but carried on anyway thinking nothing more of it.
    It was only when I came to the line about "his lovely wife, Catherine Zeta Jones", that I realised something was wrong. On carefully rereading the article, I learned that Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas were playing golf in Mallorca. D'oh!

    "Get to the point" I hear you cry.
    I've just finished marking my Year 7 students' exams and some of them have done really well. However, some of them would have done even better had they read the questions properly.
    I'm not talking about the students who have trouble reading English, but the more able students who write ridiculous answers to very simple questions.

    e.g. When does he play volleyball?

    The answers I got were: Tennis, A laptop, because he likes it, it's his favourite sport, his sister, at the beach, etc....

    The correct answer was "Saturday".

    Can we teach students not to misread questions?
    If so, how do we do it?

    Here are some ideas to try:
    • read the questions slowly and, if it isn't an exam, read it out loud.
    • write down the question before answering it.
    • circle or highlight question words. (who, what, why, where, when, how?)
    • teach time management, misreading questions can be a sign of rushing.
    • teach students always to read comprehension texts before attempting the questions.
    • teach students to read through the questions and their answers at the end.
    *Jack Douglas was still alive but passed away in December 2008 aged 81.

    Saturday, 22 May 2010

    A level French and

    In 4 weeks, or thereabouts, my A2 students will be sitting their final exams before going off to study for their degrees in Child Psychology and 3rd World Crop Rotation, or Camel Husbandry and Brass Bandsmanship at the University of Chadderton.

    So, we have 4 weeks left to revise and try to get them the best grades possible.
    I recently rediscovered this site If you don't know ados, it's a French site for young people which contains all elements of youth culture including news, music, books, films, celebrities and a forum for discussions.

    The discussion which caught my eye this morning was "le port de la Burqa". This is one of the subtopics we studied for A2 French (under the role of women in society) and a hot topic of debate in France at the moment.

    I liked it for a few reasons:
    • it's a genuine resource and not contrived, made up or cobbled together by a writer of textbooks.
    • it's portrays the real (sometimes extreme) views of real French people.
    • and most importantly, it contains some of the best French phrases for expressing views and opinions, which our students are expected to know for the exam.
    Ados is a very useful site for finding authentic articles on many subjects. Its very nature means that it is constantly updated, unlike text books, and I'd recommend it to anyone planning for, or teaching, AS and A2 French.

    Sunday, 16 May 2010

    The importance of learning the gender of nouns.

    This week I gave one of my classes their first French vocabulary test. (Don't gasp, I've only taught them for 3 lessons.)
    One child asked me, "Do we have to get the "le" and "la" right?"
    "Of course," I replied.
    "That's not fair," said the crest-fallen child.
    "Fair, schmair," I said, turning away, ending the conversation in the most mature and adult way I know.

    But learning the gender of nouns is very important for students of foreign languages.
    One reason for this is that French, Spanish and German have words whose meanings vary depending on their gender.

    Here are some examples:

    le souris (archaic) = smile, la souris = mouse
    le livre = book, la livre = pound
    le tour = tour, la tour = tower

    el mañana = future, la mañana = morning
    el papa = pope, la papa = potato
    el moral = blackberry bush, la moral = morality

    der Elf = elf, die Elf = team
    der Leiter = manager, die Leiter = ladder
    das Tor = gate, der Tor = fool

    So, when that beautiful foreign stranger you've been practising your language skills on has a large mouse on her face as you explain why you don't agree with the potato's views on blackberry bushes, you're going to look a complete gate and you'll really wish you had learned the genders as well as the nouns.

    Saturday, 8 May 2010

    What to do with Year 9...

    At this time of year UK based language teachers face a huge problem.

    What do I do with my year 9? Most of them are not going to continue with languages next year and they have already decided that they are not going to do any more work.

    One solution, particularly popular with boys, is to do a World Cup 2010 project. Clare Seccombe has produced a cornucopia of ideas, presentations, and, even better, resources, here.

    But what do you do with students who are not interested in football?

    How about teaching them to text in the Foreign Language.

    Most English students will already be "textperts" in English, so why not teach them the basics in Spanish, German, or French? (Click the language for a list of abbreviations from

    Give your students a list of the text abbreviations, put a message on the board and get them to come up with a creative response. When I did it last year it worked really well.

    What do you make of this?

    TOQP ?
    Je vé au 6né V1 avec moi
    a tt

    Sunday, 18 April 2010

    Punishing the whole class for the stupidity of a few?

    Thursday evening was TMNE10 and like the 2 previous meets it was a great success and I learned a lot. It was nice to meet some "old faces" and finally meet some of my "virtual friends" most notably Chris Fuller and Fiona Joyce who I've been threatening to meet for a while now and who both impressed me with their knowledge, enthusiasm and their presentations.
    Chris Harte has done a very detailed, comprehensive and excellent report on TMNE10 on his blog with links about the meet here so I'm going to write about something else.

    On the day I gave my presentation extolling the virtues, and giving examples, of using mobile phones in my classroom, including an interactive text poll, a teaching union, the NASUWT, called for a crackdown on mobile phones in schools after it claimed that mobile technology was, in part, responsible for an incident in which a teacher was charged with the attempted murder of a student. (You can read the whole story here)

    This type of nonsense makes my blood boil. I can understand that with some classes allowing students to have a mobile phone in class is not a good idea. By the same token, for some of the more challenging and unruly students I have met over the years, giving them a ruler or even a pencil is not a good idea.

    I think the point I'm trying to make is that banning something because of a few isolated incidents has a negative, knock-on effect on the learning and enjoyment of the more cooperative and trustworthy students. Why should everyone suffer for the poor behaviour of a minority?

    Anyway, here's my presentation:

    Monday, 12 April 2010


    It's back.
    TeachMeetNE10 will take place on 29th April 2010 at the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, Newcastle, at 7pm.

    There will be the chance to hear and give 7 minute micropresentations, 2 minute nanopresentations, take part in learning conversations, or just chat.

    This is an excellent opportunity for educators from all types of schools, and other educational establishments to meet and share ideas and experiences in a relaxed atmosphere.

    I have attended the previous TeachMeetNE meetings last year, met lots of interesting and amazing practitioners and can thoroughly recommend the experience.

    For more information or to sign up, present, or lurk, click here.

    Wednesday, 7 April 2010

    Fun with Imagechef

    I've been a fan of Imagechef for a while now.
    It's a great way to motivate students into being creative and having fun with language.

    We've used it to describe food,

    to make word mosaics,

    and to make greetings cards

    I like this application because there are so many different uses for it, it is so easy to use and I encourage everyone to have a look and try it out.

    Unfortunately, I showed my wife how to use it, yesterday, and she appears to have gone over to the darkside, using it for her own entertainment rather than work.

    Sunday, 4 April 2010

    The end of an era (Part 2)

    Last week I left my school for the last time. I'd been there exactly 11 years and, for my own personal sanity, I needed to leave before I was considered a "lifer".

    Both the school and I benefited from the experience (me being there, not leaving) and I'm quite sure that it was a positive experience for the majority of students I have taught over that time (apart from not being able to spell "monsieur", obviously).

    Over the last eleven years I have evolved from "chalk'n'talk" teaching to being the most, or quite possibly that be only, web2.0 proficient teacher in the school.

    It's a shame that the pupils who have been using Xtranormal, wordle, goanimate, imagechef, smspoll, storybird, crazytalk, etc, etc. probably won't get the opportunity again.

    On the plus side, I can't wait to start at my new school and try out these applications, and more, with some new students. Watch this space, I shall report back.

    Tuesday, 30 March 2010

    MFL Flashmeet 6

    Tonight was the 6th MFL Flashmeet. It took place via the internet in my kitchen and other people's houses, hotels and, in one case, a bathroom.

    The flashmeet experience is amazing. As I've said before it is the best kind of CPD and everyone takes part, or lurks, because they want to. It was great to see some twitter friends and put names and voices to faces (and avatars).

    As with previous Flashmeets, interested MFL tech heads from weird and wonderful far away places such as Texas and Philadelphia,USA, Australia, New Zealand and Hartlepool all got together to discuss and share their ideas, links and experiences.

    The agenda contained 6 main items:
    1. Ideas to help with the last few lessons before pupils go on study leave for their exams
    2. Ideas to keep Y9 on task after Options have been decided: small projects, resources that could be used etc... (World Cup project?)
    3. Reflections on MYLO ambassadors meeting and subsequent blog posts
    4. What were your highlights of Language World 2010? Were you there or did you follow virtually?
    5. Thoughts about the José Picardo's eBook A Practitioners' Perspective - Should we make an audiobook version? (We agreed that we should)
    6. So who's coming to MFL Show and Tell 2010 at Nottingham High School?

    and was chaired by Helena Butterfield, who did an excellent job, particularly, when speakers went off at tangents and started to talk about other things. The other things being, alternative qualifications, what's the best kind of microphone and me recounting my recent input with the BBC. (Yes, I know, I won't mention it again!)

    The meeting itself has been recorded and can be watched by clicking here.

    The next one, will hopefully be on June 29th at 20:30BST when I'm looking forward to discussing plans for MFL Show and Tell 2010 at Nottingham High School. I hope to see you all there.

    Saturday, 27 March 2010

    The end of an era. (Part 1)

    Yesterday my year 11 GCSE students did their speaking exam in French.
    It was the last time I'll probably speak to some of them as I'm starting a new job after the Easter break.
    It was also the last time I'll use cassette tapes to record speaking exams.
    In fact, it was probably the last time I'll use cassette tapes, ever.
    I realised when I was setting up for the exam that the last time I had used the tape recorder was for last year's speaking exams.
    What are we going to do with all those Coombers?

    Saturday, 20 March 2010

    An interesting week.

    This week has been a very good one.

    On Monday I had a phone call from a BBC producer. They are making a documentary for BBC2 and wanted to talk to me about some teaching and learning techniques I have used, particularly my use of mobile phones.

    Monday was also the day my blog received its 5000th visit. Woohoo!

    On Thursday I helped out Clare Seccombe by giving a 15 minute presentation at an event she ran at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, after one of the speakers let her down. The event was called: Making the Most of the World Cup. Her stuff was great.
    My stuff, "The World Cup in my Classroom", was hastily prepared, but well received and involved a guest appearance by a virtual, bouncing kangaroo called Roo (see below).

    Thursday was also very special because it was my blog's first birthday. It certainly doesn't seem like a year since I started and I'm really surprised that I've kept it going for so long.
    I still can't believe that anyone reads it. Thanks for reading, by the way.

    Thursday, 11 March 2010


    Recently, at my school, there was an incident of cyber-bullying. As far as I'm aware it happened out of school hours and involved 2 young ladies, one sending unpleasant messages to the other.
    However, it turns out that some students have been allowed to use Facebook and other social networking sites in school by some staff.

    Because of this the people at the top have decided that all students will have no access to the internet for the foreseeable future. All sites, including the school's own website are blocked.

    This means that my yr 7 students can't use wordle to create wordclouds to help them learn and revise the vocabulary for describing people.

    My yr8 students can't use xtranormal to create movies based on some conversations they have been devising.

    My yr9 students had to use Word to redraft their descriptions of their home-town rather than goanimate or toondoo.

    Year 11 couldn't download the xtranormals they made to help learn their presentations or use Ashcombe School, MFLSunderland, wordreference or my own wiki to help with their revision and my yr13 class can't use google to look for information to help with their choice of cultural topics for the A2 French exam.

    But there is some good news. The two girls are friends again.

    Monday, 8 March 2010

    CSI: The Experience Web Adventure

    As one of 15,000 daily readers of Richard Byrne's Free Technology For Teachers blog, I often find out about some excellent applications. Not all of Richard's recommendations are relevant to Modern Languages but every couple of days there is something there which catches my eye.
    One such eye-catching application was the CSI: The Experience Web Adventures game from Rice University's forensics department which is really interesting and which I recommended to a colleague who teaches science.
    It's an online forensic science game designed for children which gives an insight into how an investigator would process a crime scene. There are 3 levels from beginner to expert.
    Anybody can play the game online as a guest but you would need to register with the site if you want to be able to save your progress in the game.
    On closer inspection I found that it can also be played in German and in Spanish.
    If you are planning a cross-curricular science-MFL project, this could be ideal for improving students' motivation. If not, it may be worth showing it to your students as a bit of extra-curricular languages fun.

    Saturday, 6 March 2010

    The light at the end of the tunnel...

    In four weeks I shall be leaving my current teaching post to start another in a much larger school. I'll be sad to leave after 11 years but I am really looking forward to a challenge of a very different type in my new school.

    My colleagues think that I should be winding down and having an easy time, but unfortunately I still have a mountain of work to do. The most pressing task of all is speaking exams.
    Usually, I would wait until May before conducting GCSE speaking exams but this year will have to do them before the end of March.

    Due to the organisation of school events this term I have only one more lesson with my GCSE students before the exam and have spent the last few lessons desperately trying to prepare them so that they can get the best possible results.

    Since the beginning of term I have been tearing my hair out in desperation at my students' lack of motivation and effort and at the very laid back and often arrogant attitude they have to homework and revision.

    That is until yesterday. Yesterday reality kicked in. Yesterday they started to work.
    They wanted to answer questions. They started to ask questions. "Would it be better to say this?" "Can I say this in French?" "Is this wrong because..."

    It was unbelievable. I felt my efforts were being rewarded at last.

    Finally, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel....

    ...and I don't think it's a train.

    Sunday, 28 February 2010

    Wordle #savewordle

    Wordle is one of my favourite web 2.0 resources.

    Wordle is one of my students' favourite resources.

    They love it. It helps them learn, it motivates, and it lets them be creative. From the least able beginners in languages to the experts in my 6th form class, all of them have used it with a degree of success.

    You can find some of their work on this blog and if you were to visit my classroom you would see one wall dedicated to students' Wordles comprising vocab lists, notes for presentations, grammar points, irregular verbs...I could go on all day.

    And it is free to use.

    And it isn't just my students who love it. It is students from all over the world in all subjects.

    If you google "wordle" you'll find hundreds of thousands of pages singing the praises of the application, its uses in education, and its creator Jonathan Feinberg.

    So imagine my sadness when I checked my tweets this morning to find that the site is no longer live and that when I went to check, I found this message left by Jonathan Feinberg: is Down Until Further Notice

    I am seeking pro bono legal advice, to evaluate
    a trademark claim against my use of the word "Wordle" for this
    web site. If you're an intellectual property lawyer, with expertise
    in trademark law, and you wish to offer professional
    advice on this matter, please contact me.

    So if you know such a lawyer, or are one yourself, please get in touch with Mr Feinberg at your earliest convenience.

    Oh, and one final thought, if the educators on twitter spent as much time trying to help Mr Feinberg as they did trying to find another, similar (but obviously not quite as good) tool they can use for free with their students, the problem would be solved in no time at all.

    I really hope that it is.

    Saturday, 20 February 2010

    Options Evening - or - What's your subject worth?

    This Wednesday is Options Evening.
    Options Evening is the time of year when non-compulsory subjects in school compete with each other to try to get the Year 9 (14 year old) students (and their parents) to choose to study their subject for the next two years. This also has massive implications on departmental budgets and, quite possibly, staffing levels.

    Over the last few years attracting students has become harder for the Languages Department due to the way options groups are set up and the increasing popularity of non-exam subjects which, it is claimed, are "worth" 2 or even 4 GCSEs.

    So, what is a qualification in a modern foreign language worth?

    Well, imagine you are a 14 year old boy.....(Horrible, isn't it?)

    You can choose to study French, for which you will have to learn vocabulary and grammar, do homework regularly, revise and then sit exams and at the end of the course, if you have worked hard over 2 years, you will get a good GCSE grade.


    You can choose to study a subject for which you must produce a portfolio of work and at the end of the course you get the equivalent of 4 GCSEs. If you haven't achieved the required grade you can go away do it again and keep resubmitting until you achieve your target.

    Which would you choose? (If you say "French" you are not 14, you are lying, or you are French.)

    When will schools and parents realise that it isn't the number of qualifications but the quality of education the students receive which matters?

    Saturday, 16 January 2010

    SMS in the MFL classroom (or MfL in MFL)

    I have written 2 posts recently about using mobile telephones in the classroom. One on this blog and one for José Picardo's box of tricks site.

    In the boxoftricks post I outlined my plans for using mobiles in different ways this term.
    This week I finally took the plunge and planned an activity to which my Year 11 students (16years old) could text their answers.

    The lesson I chose to do this was also observed by the LA MFL inspector. So, no pressure there, then.

    I planned a range of activities which the students could complete using their mobile phones.

    Firstly, they wrote and practised dialogues in French, which they then filmed (although the more self-conscious students used their voice recorders instead. The cowards!)

    Secondly, they sent their work to my laptop by bluetooth which we played back in order to do some peer assessment.

    Thirdly, I created an exercise using to which the students sent their answers via SMS. When I was setting up the exercise I chose the option allowing students only one vote per telephone. Their answers then appeared in a graph on my interactive whiteboard.

    You can see the results here:
    Was it successful? I hear you cry.

    Well, yes, of course it was. In some ways. (The correct answer was 1783, chosen by only 20% of the students. They were so keen to send off their texts, they didn't read the questions properly!)
    The inspector was impressed by my use of technology: "Mobiles for Learning" he called it. Perhaps that is what MFL really stands for?

    The students loved it and asked if they could do it every lesson.

    I like smspoll it's good, but not perfect.

    Obviously, the brains behind smspoll didn't intend for it to be an MFL classroom application but with a few tweaks it could be.

    Firstly, you can only offer multiple choice questions.

    Secondly, as far as I can make out, it will not allow you to use foreign language accents and characters. It was quite difficult for me to find answers for the task which didn't have "é" in them. It does let you enter them, but they appear as a blank space in the results.

    Thirdly, the students are charged each time they send a text, unless (like all students in this particular class!) they have a contract which gives them unlimited texts.

    Having said that, I shall definitely use it again.
    And while I'm in a technological mood, I think I'll take a look at polleverywhere, too.
    Watch this space.