Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Back-to-back-to-back Book

This minibook has popped up on Pinterest in a few different guises.  Basically, it's a number of identical, symmetrical shapes which are folded in half and then stuck back to back.  They fulfill the minibook criterion of fitting a lot of writing into a small space.

I made the one you can see in the picture to try it out.  Here's how I did it:

I made my symmetrical shapes using the AutoShapes function in MS Publisher.
You could also use PowerPoint.  I printed out 3 copies of this sheet.

I coloured in each shape.

and then added some writing.

Then I cut out the shapes and folded them in half.

Then I stuck the shapes back to back.

My 13 year old, bored on the first day of her 7 week summer holiday, made this one.

If you are considering making one of these with a class, my tips are:
  • make absolutely sure that your shape is symmetrical
  • try to make your shape easy to cut out, as neat cutting is important when it comes to fitting it all together.
  • Use your imagination!  Use a tree shape for the seasons, a cloud for weather, an apple for food....
These could be displayed on a flat surface or hung from the ceiling to really save on display space!

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The importance of looking outwards and forwards

My name is Clare.  I am a teacher.  I have been a teacher for 21 years.  I have been a teacher for 21 years in the City of Sunderland.  I have lived in the City of Sunderland for 22 years.  My husband and my two daughters were born in Sunderland.  I was not.  I was born in South London, and then grew up and went to school in Surrey.  I chose to live in Sunderland.  I guess that makes me an immigrant.  I have always done a job that could have been done by a local.  And the vast majority of teaching jobs in Sunderland, especially in primary schools, are done by locals.  It is unusual to hear an accent that is not Geordie or Mackem.  It is a little more common in secondary schools.  But it has never bothered the children I teach.  I think that is because they assume that I am French and/or Spanish, and that is why I talk differently to them.  My daughters get me to copy them saying things like "The giraffe laughed in the bath", but then they admit that I sound weird.

I think it's good for children to hear at school accents that are different to theirs.  It makes them realise that there is life and therefore possibility and opportunity outside of Wearside.  Because it is a very insular place, with comparatively little social or actual mobility.  It is this fact that has motivated me throughout my career as a teacher of languages.

In 1997 I volunteered to attend a meeting on behalf of my department at the secondary school where I worked at the time.  It was a meeting held by the local authority about something called Comenius European Education Projects, about which none of us knew anything, but which the blurb on the leaflet made look quite interesting.  This meeting was to change the course of my career.  Comenius projects have had various names since then, most recently coming under the Erasmus+ aegis, but they remain essentially the same: a group of European schools sets up a partnership together and receive funding from the European Union to enable them to do a collaborative project.  From the beginning in 1998 of the first project that I co-ordinated until the last project that I was part of in 2009, I worked with colleagues in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania.   I personally learned a great deal from all of them and was able to travel to places that I know I would never have seen otherwise.  The students also learned a huge amount from their European counterparts.  They found that there were some differences in their cultures and ways of life, but there were also many similarities.  These differences gave them cause to reflect upon their own culture and their own way of life.

I hope that this was enough to arouse sufficient curiosity in some of them to want to explore the "world outside", that it gave them the courage to look outwards and try something new.  Because on Thursday 23rd June, 61.3% of the 134,324 Sunderlanders who turned out to vote in the referendum (out of a possible 207,207 voters) ticked the box that said "Leave the European Union".  They chose to turn their backs on the millions of Euros that the EU has invested in the City over the years to help to regenerate the area after the closure of the mines.  They turned their backs on the efforts made by the City Council to forge links with and to open doors to communities in other countries.  They turned their backs on the efforts made by many of the City's schools to show children the wider world.  They turned their backs and decided that it is better to look inwards and backwards.

I wrote this rationale in 2001, but its words still ring just as true today:

"We are living in a rapidly changing, “shrinking” world.  Technological advances and economic and political changes have produced an increasingly global society of which we cannot fail to be aware.  Pupils of XXXXXXX  XXXXXXX are conscious that changes are taking place, but perhaps not of what these changes could mean for themselves and their lives, chiefly in their position as global citizens.  They remain traditionally insular in their attitudes, and have little access to, understanding of, or means of communication with the “world outside”.  Our pupils are, after all, the adults of the future, and should complete their education and enter the world of work fully cognisant of the opportunities that are open to them globally and equipped with the skills and attitudes that will enable them to live successfully alongside their international neighbours."

Our political landscape is currently changing by the hour, and uncertainty about the way forward following the Leave vote continues to increase.  I intend to go into my schools this week and continue to fight the good fight of the language teacher, to show the children that there is a world outside their window and that it is a colourful, interesting, friendly, welcoming and wonderful place.  We do not yet know if they will have access to the freedoms of movement and labour that we have enjoyed, or if schools will have the opportunity to access the funding streams that will enable them to participate in eye-opening projects with other schools in Europe.  But I have every confidence that we will find a way.  We have to find a way.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Primary Languages are marginalised, says Ofsted chief

Yesterday, May 19th, the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, published his latest monthly commentary.  In this commentary, he writes about "the study of science and foreign languages in primary schools".

This is the summary of the commentary:

Teachers of primary languages will agree with this.  Languages are often the first thing to "fall off the end" if there is insufficient time in the week or if there is a perceived need to do more English and maths.  And bravo to Sir Michael for pointing out that learning a language boosts literacy and numeracy skills.  There are still Headteachers (and teachers) who do not accept this.

Sir Michael goes on to say that current provision for Languages in KS2 is a cause for concern as this year's Year 7 will be required to take a GCSE Language when they reach Year 11 in 2020.  They will need the headstart that they are entitled to get at primary school to enable them to meet this challenge.

During the last two terms' inspections, Ofsted has reviewed "the quality and breadth of provision in science and foreign languages in primary schools".  106 schools had a Languages focus.  Their findings were:
HMI found that the majority of primary-age pupils enjoy studying science and having the chance to learn a foreign language. However, inspectors also found weaknesses in the provision of both subjects. In particular, in too many schools they found:
·         a lack of time allocated to the study of science and foreign languages
·         a lack of teaching expertise, particularly in respect of foreign languages
·         poor working arrangements with partner secondary schools that failed to ensure effective transition and progression

So Ofsted has discovered the three issues which have troubled so many teachers of KS2 Languages since they became compulsory in September 2014.  These three findings certainly come as no surprise.

In the schools visited, 2/3 of children spent less than an hour a week on Language learning.  Ofsted have never specified a time allocation, and indeed Julie Yarwood stated recently that Ofsted has no view about time allocation in KS2.  This might suggest, however, that an hour a week is what they might deem to be the ideal time allocation.

Teacher expertise is an issue, as we know, because the current generation of new teachers are those who did not have to study a language to GCSE.  This comment will be of great interest:
"The generation of teachers entering the profession in recent years was not, in the main, required to study a foreign language to GCSE. This has resulted in a shortage of language specialists at primary school level that can only be addressed through significant investment in the professional development of staff. "
It will be interesting to see if the DfE pick up on this.
His final message is of great importance to those schools facing inspection, and will also be of help to those Languages co-ordinators fighting for their subject to be acknowledged:
"Inspectors found that the best primary schools are capable of providing effective teaching in science, foreign languages and all other subjects, without undermining pupils’ progress in literacy and numeracy. It should not be an ‘either/or’ situation. The best primary schools recognise that providing excellent teaching in subjects like foreign languages and science promotes good literacy and numeracy skills. This complements, rather than detracts from, the focus on English and mathematics."
And finally a big thumbs-up to the creative force that are Primary Languages teachers:
"In my years of experience as a headteacher, I often found that good language and science teachers were among the best at engaging with children and instilling in them an abiding interest and curiosity in the subject. If children are ‘switched off’ by poor, unchallenging lessons, this is likely to have an impact on the future take-up of these subjects. We must therefore ensure that primary-age pupils are inspired by effective teaching of science and foreign languages, from properly trained and qualified staff, and that the pupils’ enquiring minds and natural curiosity are nurtured."
The commentary links to the Ofsted document Foreign languages and science provision in primary schools.  This document is based on the findings of the Ofsted questionnaires that were carried out at Christmas time.  We have been promised the results of the questionnaires for some time, and here is some brief information.
The teacher questionnaire received 276 responses and the parent one 215 responses.  In addition children responded to a languages question in their pupil questionnaires.  My own survey a year ago received 159 responses.
The main details in this document:
  • 2/5 of teachers said that time is the biggest barrier to language teaching
  • 1/4 of school leaders said that time constraints were the main challenge in delivering languages
  • over 1/2 of school leaders and teachers said that a lack of confidence, a lack of subject knowledge and a lack of training are the biggest challenges in improving the quality of language provision
  • In 28 of the 106 schools visited, children were "not well prepared for further study of foreign languages at the end of KS2".  We can perhaps assume that this means that "substantial progress" had not been made.
It will be interesting to see how much impact these words of Sir Michael's have. Will the fact that they are from Ofsted persuade some schools to pay more attention to their language teaching?  

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

QR codes

There was a lot of talk at #ililc6 about QR codes.  I recommend this presentation by Annalise Adam of which you can see my sketchnote here.

I had experimented before with the site QRCode Monkey, which allows you to add an image to the middle of your QR code.  That's what I used to make the two codes above.  I thought that adding an image could add an extra dimension to a QR activity.

I have designed a scavenger hunt, inspired by Annalise's weather activity in which we took part on Sunday, using QR codes with images embedded.  Please feel free to take a look and use it if you wish.  You can download it from here.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Ideas for Ultratext and PicPlayPost

Warning: this blogpost contains flashing images!

Over the weekend Joe Dale introduced me to Ultratext and its partner app, PicPlayPost.  I've been having a play with them and thought I'd show you some ideas for how you could use them in the languages classroom.

1.  Reading out loud and/or translating sentences:

2.  Reading sentences out loud, substituting words for pictures as necessary:

It's easy to colour code masculine and feminine words and other word classes.

3.  Practising numbers.  Say the numbers out loud as you see them.  You may miss some the first few times but will get better the more times you see it:

4.  Odd one out.  Which is the odd one out of these four Spanish articles?  There may be more than one possible answer, but as long as you can justify your answer grammatically you will be correct:

5.  Look at the pictures and say the correct words.  It will take a while to be able to say all the words:

6.  Import Ultratexts into PicPlayPost alongside a picture.  Which sentence describes the picture?  Alternatively there could be a scrolling sentence alongside 4 pictures.  PicPlayPost has lots of different frames.


7.  Import Ultratexts into PicPlayPost and ask children to answer questions.  You could number each square but I think it's more effective to do each group of words in one colour, as I have here, so that the children can give a colour for their answer:


a. Who likes milk?
b. Who likes cheese?
c.  Who likes fish?
d. Who likes pasta?
e. Who likes bread?

I hope these examples have given you some ideas that you can use with your classes.  Of course the children can use them to create language for you or for their classmates as well.  I'd be interested to hear what you have done with these apps.