La Vuelta/La Rentrée

So, here we are, another year begins! On Tuesday I will be back at school after being on maternity leave for the last 6 months. I’m pleased to be heading back to work (although part of me has never been away-I’ve always had part of my head, literally, in the books as I’ve been exam marking and text book writing most evenings) but of course I’ll miss my little man and I will definitely want to make the most of my family time.

I will have two new starters in my department (welcome!) and we said goodbye to two valued colleagues in the summer, so there’s plenty of change to deal with, not withstanding the impending GCSE and A Level reforms, plus our own school-wide assessment and reporting changes.

Keeping all this in mind, it’s prudent to consider how to maintain a work-life balance. Unsurprisingly I am a very connected person, with my phone or iPad permanently by my side, so I find it easy to communicate quickly (for the most part), and I always try to deal with emails as soon as possible (or they’ll get lost in the ether of my inbox). 

I’ve always been pretty good at keeping a good work-life balance, and the key has been two things:1) doing work at work and 2)ensuring that I leave school with the following day completely planned. Inevitably things get in the way in the morning-my form members need me, I have to arrange cover work for a colleague, or simply a traffic jam, so knowing that I’m  good to go from the moment I walk in is very calming for me. 

I tend to stay at school as long as I need and rarely take work home. Typically I end up doing the odd bit of marking or HoD admin, and I always set aside time in the holidays to do school work, but for the most part I manage my time well. Lists are my best friend! I used to have post-it upon post-it of lists but last year I started to use an app instead (Wunderlist) which has been great as I can set reminders for tasks, and I always have agendas for meetings and set times for the end of meetings, particularly with colleagues. 

I’m feeling okay about returning to work, and I just want to wish all of my teacher colleagues good luck with the new term, and I want to give my top 5 list of advice for new starters:

  1. Plan, plan, plan – plan everything! Meetings, jobs to do at the end of the day, folders for each class, when you are going to do marking etc. 
  2. Set yourself time limits-for marking, planning, for dealing with admin etc.
  3. Don’t reinvent the wheel-being creative is important, but plenty of other people out there may have already done a lot of the leg work for you when it comes to planning so use what you can and tweak, tweak, tweak!
  4. Make time for yourself. Lots of teachers (including me at the beginning!) use evenings and weekends to sort themselves out. That’s ok (to start with), but as you get more adept at planning you’ll find it easier to leave the work at work and to ensure you get time for you. Regardless of how much work you may end up doing at home, ensure you build in time for you: treats, R&R, dog walks, a glass of wine, a film, a good book. You deserve it.
  5. Smile :) It can be a stressful time at the beginning of term. Try to smile at colleagues and students as it’s easy to forget! A smile can go a long way and it might even make you feel better.

Good luck everyone!

E-Bac news

Its been a while since I’ve written as my personal life has been a bit busy, but I just wanted to talk about the new government’s plans with the E-Bac.
If you don’t know, the E-Bac (English Baccalaureate) is a measurement of achievement in English, maths, science, geography or history and a modern foreign language.
According to the various websites, including the Guardian, the E-Bac suite of subjects will have a large impact on school’s grading and position in league tables. Many out there are up in arms over the inclusion of MFL in this group of subjects and I am a bit fed up of reading the same old arguments such as the E-Bac will marginalise creative subjects and not everyone is good at a language so why make them study one?
Personally, I would argue that a language is one of the most essential skills anyone can have- aside from literacy and numeracy. A foreign language can help you with the understanding of your own language, enhances your cultural awareness and gives you broader communication skills. Even students who have literacy issues can benefit from a foreign language (tailored to their unique learning needs) and I don’t hold with removing them from MFL lessons. 
A forward-thinking school would also not let the E-Bac marginalise any creative subject if timetables and option blocks are carefully thought through.
I grew up in the days of compulsory MFL and lots of students found a language hard (and did not gain higher than a C grade). Working in a school where no more than 35% of our cohort take a foreign language I can see the pitfalls with asking all of our students to take a foreign language, however, if it becomes compulsory, then surely students will begin to see the importance of language study? Just because a student finds maths or English difficult, doesn’t mean we let them stop taking it. They provide essential skills for the students’ future and I would argue that so do languages. For me, studying a language gave me the opportunity to experience worlds that I would never have known. Now imagine those same experiences available to our students? Living and working abroad? Meeting different people? Learning and living different cultures? It may even make future generations more tolerant citizens-something which is needed at the moment. We live in a globa community now and we must ensure our young people can access it just as well as those in the rest of Europe can-we’d be doing them an injustice if we didn’t!
I know that there will be challenges with introducing MFL for all. Lessons would need to be engaging, motivating and full of culture as well as the necessary building blocks of grammar and vocabulary, and we’d need more timetable time in which to do this – a difficult ask from most schools. Excellent teachers will also need to be recruited and retained and after the loss of languages teachers back in 2006 this may take a while to bring up to scratch.

What are your thoughts?
The government information is here.

Phoney Flipping aka Phlipping

Today I had a class that I was a bit too scared to flip with! I just knew that no matter what sanctions I applied, very few of them would do the home learning and watch the video on the Conditional Tense that I had created, which would then scupper the plans I would have for the rest of the lesson. The lack of technology available to me would mean that I could not have had all of the ‘red’ pathway students watching the video in lesson and then carrying on with the remaining tasks – it would have just been too much – and too many students would have no idea what we were doing.

So, I decided to use one of the techniques that I discussed with some primary colleagues – watching the video together in lesson. I produced a worksheet for them to fill in as they watched, which detailed the rules of the conditional tense and irregular verbs, which then put them in a good position to apply the rules for themselves and move towards applying the rule to our own context (which, in the case, is all about ideal holidays).

Most children seemed to engage quite well with the video (they were certainly a lot more silent than if I were standing at the front of the room attempting to explain it!) and most of them quickly became used to using the notes that they had made to check verb endings and irregular stems, so all in all I think it was a success.


Not quite flipping, I know, but more of a phoney flip or phlip!

SAMR ideas and tasks

Last night I received an email from a colleague asking for some advice and suggestions on how to develop her colleagues’ understanding of the SAMR model. She has cleverly divided her CPD groups into those that are more and those that are less confident with technology and she wants to take the next step and push the ‘higher’ group to come up with tasks that fit the Modification and Redefinition element of the SAMR model (Puentadura).

This lead me to thinking about what tasks in MFL can fit under these headings, and then I realised that these types of tasks are completely content free and can be done by any subject area. I asked on twitter, and the lovely #mfltwitterati came up with a few ideas as well (thanks to @joedale and @lancslassrach).

The main types of activities that I think fit well into this model are ones which allow students to use technology to enable the students to create something which represents the learning that has taken place (this could be an audio file, a presentation, a video or a poster) . Up until this point you could argue that technology has just augmented an activity that could previously have been carried out on paper or orally. However, by creating it digitally, pupils can share this work with the teacher and/or the class and this immediately moves us into the world of modification (where the tech allows for significant task redesign), as different medias could also be woven together. For example, imagine the poster creating site Glogster was used. In Glogster students can use a variety of audiovisual materials to create an interesting and worthwhile piece of work. However, in order to move to the Redefinition level of SAMR this task could be displayed online for all students to see and pupils can comment on each other’s work, collating the feedback in one place. A powerful tool, and reaching the upper limits of SAMR at the same time, creating a real purpose to using technology.

The discussion on twitter centered around the idea of App Smashing as a further way of modifying or redefining the use of technology. For those of you who are new to this term , App Smashing is when you merge content from a variety of apps. @lancslassrach has written about some things that she has done over on her blog and she mentions @ipadwells‘ video which you can watch here. I am yet to try this, but think it could be a very exciting way forwards!

In addition, I would argue the if you chose to flip your classroom, then you are modifying and redefining how technology is used within this context. The idea of flipped learning is not necessarily new, as previously, students have been encouraged to read chapters of a book or to research something before their lesson, but the development of technology has allowed us not only to create more engaging material, but to assess what students know before they even walk in the room – an amazingly useful tool that has certainly redefined what I do in a lesson that starts with a flip.

Flipped Learning CPD session & Primary ideas

Thank you to those of you who attended the Flipped Learning CPD at my school today, on behalf of the CLC in Blackpool.

Below is a copy of my powerpoint.

It was great to be talking about Flipping with primary educators, as currently I have just been looking at it in my own secondary context. It looks as there there are definitely some legs for flipping in primary school, with tweaks to make the different techniques work for younger students.

Some of the major concerns were over access to the online resources, as YouTube etc might not seem appropriate and how to disseminate information as not all younger students have a school email address. However, this could be overcome by watching the video together in class, and then assessing them straight after watching. Alternatively lots of our primary schools have a blogging platform, so students could access the video on there.

It was decided that the idea of the RAG lesson plan was probably too much for younger learners to take in, but a red group could just receive the red lesson plan and the green just the green lesson plan, and change the language to more KS1/2 friendly language.

I’m hoping that some of the teachers who attended today are going to try flipping and will let me know how they have got on! More to follow soon…

Another flipped attempt

Today I had my year 9s do the same flipped lesson that my year 9’s did last year on the past tense, with a few tweaks.

Firstly, I removed the amber pathway as I felt that with grammar students either ‘got it’ or didn’t, and so there was either a green pathway for those that scored 75% or higher in the Google Form test, and the red pathway just had three students who had completed the homework tasks but just not well enough to get 75%+, and the rest were pupils who had not completed the homework at all. This worked quite nicely as those that had completed the task were able to take the lead a little bit more with those who hadn’t done anything and by the end of the lesson I was confident that most of the students really understood how the past tense worked.

The basic structure of the lesson followed SOLO a lot more, and had students work through a series of grammar questions and a domino activity, leading to writing their own sentences without any support. The homelearning task is a formative task (to meet our school’s marking policy) but should really show me that pupils can use the past tense accurately. I will find out when I take their books in next lesson!

Pupils gave me some WWW/EBI feedback and for the most part pupils seemed to enjoy it, which is always nice, but pupils said they would like more variety of activities (so not just grammar questions!).