Sunday, 16 November 2014

Responding to media and politicians: a reflection

I have just seen a flurry of messages in response to the BBC article of Bernice McCabe's speech about language learning.

Every now and then there are articles like this which provoke reactions, some of which can be helpful responses, but some of which can be unhelpful.

For what it's worth, here are a few reflections on this process.

1)      Reporting technique ….

Sadly, the reporter has chosen a  ‘headline ‘ that blames teaching and teachers.
How much more useful it would have been if the headline chosen had been ‘schools are put off from offering language qualifications because ….  top grades in languages are harder to obtain than in many other subjects". 

2)      Language / Assumptions

Be aware of giving credence to implicit 'assumptions' in 'catch phrases' and false logic (commonly used by politicians ...)
By the phrasing ‘Language teachers should aim beyond "functional phrasebook competence" and encourage self-expression in pupils…’  there is an implied but false inference which many people will draw that that is all that language teachers are doing at the  moment. 

Just repeating the precise phrase like ‘functional phrasebook competence’ - ’ Berlitz phrasebook approach’ … gives it credibility.

And therefore  we must positively be asserting the range and breadth of what happens on a regular basis in schools .. the rich variety and imagination that is happening day in, day out in our schools … and we must not even get into appearing to tackle the original phrase because of the risk of giving it credibility.  Politicians are very good at this kind of ‘false logic’ leading to their ‘quick solution’.

[Here’s another, this time ‘made-up’ example of a false negative / derogatory assumption ‘Teachers should be more than people in school from 9  to 3.30’ …. and so they should swear an oath to extra-curricular activities’ … Discuss!  (Actually, don’t discuss!!! It was just to make the point!!!)]

Please let’s not fall into the trap of a knee-jerk reactions e.g. to falling numbers / low grades…. Or the ‘we must do something .. therefore this something is the solution’ ….

3)      The importance of assessment / grading

I'm pleased that the Headteacher talks about grading although she is wrong to use the word ‘perception’ of difficulty of-course, as we now know it is a reality, backed up by an Ofqual report.

We  must address the grading and assessment situation otherwise we are operating effectively with ‘one hand tied behind our back’  We  need to have a level playing field with other subjects

In itself, this will not solve all problems, but it is an essential first step. We know that there are many factors which contribute to pupils’ achievement and desire to continue a subject.  But the nature of the assessment and the way grade boundaries are set are key.  I really hope that with the changes to assessment and grade descriptors someone sensible will make the conditions appropriate for pupils to experience success in a fair system.

 4)      The assumption about teaching

I am concerned about some of the assumptions being made about teaching and the  nature of language teaching in this article. 

At the ALL Language World 2012 and 2013, it was heartening to hear such positive comments about teaching from Elaine Taylor, who was then the lead Ofsted inspector for languages.  This was based on the Ofsted report 'Modern languages: achievement and challenge 2007-2010'.  See in particular Pages 28 – 31 which reports on Teaching and learning. [Read it all.. don’t dwell on the negative – note that 2/3 of schools visited were good or outstanding,  and 1/9 were outstanding … only 1/90 was unsatisfactory].  I went up to her afterwards and thanked her for being so positive and encouraging, and I told her that too often I feel teachers are over self-critical.

There is such a danger of us beating ourselves up about the situation .. believing what the press reports.  Of-course there will sometimes be teachers who do not have such high standards, just as in any subject area but official reports do not highlight teacher competence as a particular problem for language teaching

 5)      Conclusion

Advice to myself! …. (but may help others!)
  • Don’t react to the headline – look at the whole article
  • Avoid giving credence to politicians' phrases by repeating them - even if it is to disagree with them
  • Accept that there are many factors which contribute to an issue
  • Keep stressing the need for reform of assessment and grade boundaries as an essential ‘first step’
  • Enlighten people about what actually happens in language lessons (where possible giving official evidence.. not only personal anecdote or gut-feeling)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Show and Tell ideas if needed!

Physical French Phonics

Physical French Phonics
I cannot recommend highly enough ‘Physical French Phonics’ by Sue Cave and Jean Haig. I bought while browsing the stalls at the ISMLA conference last February.

The book and DVD give you everything you need to present a method which appeals to all ages for learning the perfect pronunciation for all French sounds…. Visuals, audio and video files, reference sheets, games, and guidance. 

Although produced with a primary market in mind and  particularly helpful for teachers who may feel less qualified to teach French, as an experienced French teacher in the secondary sector, pretty confident about correct pronunciation, I have found it invaluable with my classes  at all levels… all ages and all abilities.  Some of the most able struggle with pronunciation, and some of the least able excel in pronunciation.  In my experience, none deny the importance of pronunciation, and all ‘have a go’.  In fact, it is an area where the least able can sometimes excel.  It is  such a pleasure to be able to say to someone totally genuinely.." wow…. that could have been a real French speaker saying that!!!"
The book gives a superb guide to using the resources and I have adapted the ideas according to the level and experience of my pupils. 
For a rather ‘cut down’ version which I use with some of my more advanced classes at secondary level who are already familiar with the words used, read on!

Here is a typical sequence in my class.
·         make sure you know the actions and symbols which go with each sound.

·         Download all of the resources onto your laptop;  this then means that associated audio and video files open more quickly when clicked.

·         Photocopy the charts for pupils to stick in their books and for wall display
Why make the effort to get a good pronunciation?... Well, you tell me ….!

1.       The way you pronounce a word is very important in French.  Even if you know the words really well, even if you have a good memory, if you do not pronounce the well, French people will struggle to understand you or you may get what you do not expect e.g. ‘poison' is quite a  different thing from 'poisson'.

2.       It is a lovely feeling to know you can pronounce French… it sounds lovely and people really appreciate your effort.

3.       It is difficult to get top marks at GCSE and A level if you have a poor pronunciation.

Here is a method which I can guarantee is going to transform your pronunciation by the end of the lesson and is going to help us a great deal in lessons to come.
In four lessons, we are going to know how to say all the sounds in French simply by knowing our colours, animals, months, days and numbers.

‘Let’s start with colours.’.
‘Here are all the sounds we are going to use….’

‘Each sound has an action and a picture which represents that action….’
Click picture, watch video of native doing the action and saying the sound. Repeat.
Repeat as often as you need to!
Optional.. reinforce with a variety of games supplied in the pack

Now let’s put them together to form the words….

Click.. watch native speaker put them together.
Class repeat / record themselves and compare

Reinforce, practise as much as you like, but I strongly recommend that you do it as a whole class to ensure accurate pronunciation and avoid confusion.
Thereafter, whenever a pupil mispronounces a word, do the associated action to see if they can self correct… or invite another pupil to do the action!  The one I use most is pointing at my throat to remind them that an 'r' resembles someone gargling! in front of the mirror.
Thanks for a great resource, Sue & Jean!!

Sunday, 5 October 2014


I have just returned from a stimulating weekend in Ireland where I gave a talk to about 200 committed French teachers who had gathered together for their annual conference.

I promised that I would upload my talk and references this evening.  Here is a link to a DRAFT of what will be eventually available on the FITA site when it has been checked and tidied up!

Many thanks to all for the warm welcome .. I really enjoyed the day!  I will write more when I am more fully awake!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Improvements to be made to A level foreign languages

Happy European Day of Languages!

And the day has been made happier for me by the good news that Ofqual have responded to concerns expressed by ALL and other language and Headteacher organisations about the assessment of AL ML and the relative under-awarding of A* grades. For a long time we have been drawing attention to this, (see links on ALL London website here and comments made at the end of the TES article here) and finally action is going to be taken!
Most importantly, Ofqual are requiring exam boards to take action for the Summer 2015 exams, as well as making recommendations for the new linear A-levels.  To reassure us, they stress that there will not be any change in what we have to teach or how we prepare the students for exams.  The exams will just be more fairly assessed. I really hope that this will give schools more confidence in encouraging students to take languages at A level.  We could not have afforded to wait until the launch of a new specification. 
There is also a press release on the HMC website issued jointly by all the headteachers unions, as it has been important that independent and state schools have been acting jointly. 
The story is featured in this week’s TES

Further links to press coverage:

The Independent
The Guardian
Times Ed
The Telegraph

Over the weekend I'll put together a fuller analysis which will be issued through ALL in a special 'ALLnet on Monday.

Monday, 18 August 2014

EuroCALL 2014

I am very much looking forward to meeting fellow language and ICT enthusiasts at EuroCALL 2014 which is taking place in Groningen, The Netherlands,

The programme is here.

My presentation is on Thursday afternoon 1615-1645 in room A901 chaired by Jeroen van Engen.  It is a 'reflective practice' session entitled  Real Learners - Real Schools - Virtual Worlds

Here is a link to my presentation on Google drive, viewable for anyone who has a link.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A weekend in North Yorkshire
Click the picture to see a Flickr album of 137 photos!
What a privilege to be invited by Liz Black to attend the launch of a North East Yorkshire ALL group which she hosted over May Bank Holiday weekend in her absolutely beautiful home  -a converted Methodist Chapel in the National Park.  She told me that one of the delegates thanked her afterwards and said ‘it was like Christmas’ and this really did sum it up for me!
We were all there to enjoy each other’s company and to share our enthusiasm for languages… and the focus of this day was particularly to celebrate German.


Liz introduced the day, the aim being ‘to save German and to establish a network up north’’  She was especially pleased to see 'the young ones’ .. and indeed this was one of the things which made it seem like Christmas.. a family spreading all ages but with common background and commitment to a culture. As she said ‘We all love Germany and its culture’.   I found it particularly moving when Liz told us about her personal background, pointing to a big photo  of her German mum, who seemed to be looking over her daughter and approving of what she was doing and the way she was generously sharing her home in order to promote her passion.
I tried to catch everyone’s names, but couldn’t quite … here are some notes I typed  - perhaps you can make sense of them!: Alison .. Fr Gn uni, Kirsty . Fr Gn studied Russ Gn 3 years, Jim McElwee, , Julie King Gn Fr, Carol Gn AL Sp Fr, Yvonne, Whitby.. KS3school, Ian, Whitby Gn, Helena Butterfield St Michael’s school, Fiona Richmond school in charge Gn, Alison .. journalist.. NQT year, Hayley PGCE student Gn Sp, Shelly PGCE student , Maja Halifax Gn Sp, Martin Healey PGCE , Rosemary Billingham Fr Gn specialist., Carol Hughes Southend.. girls' grammar,  Christchurch Uni , William Strange.. Gn Sp, Nicky B PGCSE Gn Sp IT, Emily Gn Fr… lived in Gn .. PGCE 3 years ago, Rene Koglbauer Gn Sp Maths, Nottingham.. PGCE …,North Leadership centre..
Although a discussion was scheduled for later, we just couldn't help sharing ideas and frustrations there and then about the need to support German and now to do it ..
·         Need to enlighten Headteachers about the need for German
·         Note that experience of primary does not necessarily mean that students will be better at it and take it up later… much experience shared of individuals
·         Some languages just ‘click’
·         Any language gives grist to the mill
·         Personal experiences shared .. even though German introduced later, they preferred it and performed better in it
·         Rene stated that local businesses need German, but Headteachers say they do not work with businesses.

Steven Fawkes

What better way to start a Saturday than with the legendary and talented Steven Fawkes whose love for language shines through the ideas he shares and the playful way he shares them!  He involved us in an activity which combined learning about real German songs and using language for real, as we listened to short excerpts of songs [YouTube link), made a personal rating for each song, then discussed with our countries which ones should be awarded points, thereby being aware of what type of language was needed for this activity, practising it and enjoying ourselves.  (Ticking all the boxes for an outstanding lesson in my view!)
For what it’s worth, here are some of the words I randomly typed while listening …Glasperlenspiel Maxim Frida Gold 7 beat good… 4 3 SportfreundeStiller 10.. rock.. drums great…slow Kavier 6 repetitive … Elif  Dramatic woman. Tattoo 6  2 Beatrice 4 very Eurovision  83 Seed 10 love the rhythm…  2 fettes Brot Rhythmic… 8
Some notes from Stephen said….
Language needed..
·         Deciding how to decide
·         Opinions
·         Suggestions
So give language needed beforehand
·         Circle of adjectives to describe music
·         Also words for describing the video
Homework.. song research
Then came  the bit I always enjoy especially with Stephen . a sing a long!
Interactive song… actions.. mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken….
Built up gradually with questions on a ppt about the words which will be used .. is that your hat?  His hat? No, it is my hat (replacing nouns with other items as necessary!)
·         Interaction has questions….
·         Build in negatives
·         Praise
·         Bodysnatcher…
·         Sequence..
·         Listen before you say it….
·         Listen to teacher and respond
·         Listen to different voice
·         Join on with key words
·         And what next..
·         Number
·         Gender
·         Ideas for next…
·         He/ she has….
·         Animals and insects…. Monster…
·         Alien lineout…
·         Simon says
·         Mein / dein
·         Gapfill.. label
·         Draw a monster
·         Do a show
·         Getting ready to perform
·         Memorising,
·         Practising
·         Refining
·         Evaulating
·         Making mistakes, improving
·         Building confidence
·         Words, spelling
·         Pronunciation, flow
·         Adding deas etc.
·         Favourites…
·         Words they have learnt….
·         Groups, singers, celebrities
·         Was ist dein Lieblingsings…..
·         Wer ist dein Lieblings…
·          Directions.. ideas for how to exploit
And then I discovered something I had never known … Stephen wrote the words to the songs for the BBC programme ‘Hallo aus Berlin’! 
As a special treat fro all those who were there, we had a USB stick to take away with us,  with all the resources needed.  Vielen Dank!

We were in excellent company .. next up was René Koglbauer who showed us the Goethe institute site with GCSE resources .. an absolute treasure chest for German teachers!

·         The Site has 7 themes
·         Authentic resources from German speaking countries
·         Standard and differentiated version
·         Interviews with / without subtitles…. Highlighting words as they are spoken
·         Audio contents… accompanying reading texts… transcripts available
He also talked about their resources .. and if anyone can shed light on why I wrote the first bullet point, I’d love to hear from you!
·         Power woman really likes horror films loves handbags believes in ??!!??
·         Austrian resources.. on pdf usb stick
·         Great resources from Newcastle Tyneside on films, free, written by Rene Koglbauer

Helen Myers

 I gave a session to talk about two ways which can be used by teachers for professional development in an international context. (talking about teaching, improving their personal language skills) and with older students
Second Life is a free to download piece of software which gives you access to an elaborate 3D world which you can navigate in the form of an avatar.  I have used it to attend international conferences for teachers, meet real native speakers, attend Italian and German classes and teach English pronunciation.  I projected my screen and used a high quality microphone to introduce everyone to Heike Philp in her avatar form and she took us to German-speaking  places which she uses for her teaching and socialising.  A particularly fascinating place is Berlin in the 20s where people carry out a ‘role play’.. a bit like a live soap opera.  I use it to introduce native speakers to my classes during the lessons and I have a safe ‘island’ where pupils can meet and carry out projects together.  If interested, please contact me!
I then demonstrated Adobe Connect Pro .. a sort of elaborate ‘Skype’ which you can use to set up a private or public online meeting.  We talked with Heike, we saw her video, and she saw us, and we could type text to each other.  This is ideal for people to meet up without having to travel further than the comfort of their own armchair!  Again, ALL members, please let me know if you want to try it out for your own meetings, and please come and join us for the sessions we have planned for the future.

Show and Tell

Ideas from Liz on games to play.. Tabu
Julie shared some wonderful ideas for reading… and I shall use them straight away!
·         Proforma to collect ideas… facts, guesses, questions – could be group work
·         Then give questions and the task can be differentiated in the following ways…
·         …. Underline answers (s they know where to look but do not know necessarily which underlined answer matches which question)
·         …add numbers to the answers to show where they are
Steven talked about the ALL project on literature….
·         Guide to adapting text..
·         Make more playful, approaches
·         Example… a Heime poem
·         Sounds…..
·         Guided reading…..
·         Prepare to perform…
·         Recite….
·         Questions about literature on the classroom
·         See Goethe website for texts
·         Edeka store commercial. Supergeil… John Connor????
·         Adjectives…
All on the usb stick.. proforma
Another colleague enthused about using Skype in the classroom ..  I promised to give a link to a project for this to make it easier to find partners .. here it is: Utterly motivational…
·         See other German pupils in the classroom…  e.g. presentation about bee keeping…
Jim McElwee… comparing life now and life in the 50s
Goethe Institute KS2 German project - excellent, and has puppets!
Vocab Express…. including Speak to the future 1000 words challenge
They can set up a wall with a vocab challenge…
Discussion…. About how to promote German esp with Senior managment teams
·         Be aware that there canba ‘knee-jerk’ reaction if people believe ‘rumours that fewer people are doing German ‘ for example, when it is not the case
·         Need for Compulsion for languages
·         Map of which schools in the area teach German.. convince them it will be well received.. data, spreadsheet
·         Put across message that German is ‘picking up’
·         Raise problem of EBacc
·         Languages should be on an equal footing
·         Need to build on primary
·         Tell Heads about needs of business
·         German economy is strong.. should push
·         Promote with lower ability pupils… Siemens.. apprenticeship
·         Support primaries….
·         Primary teachers… do not have much French….
·         Whitby.. involve pupils and parents…
·         Taster…
·         Rene… article about Economist about usefulness of German. Y9 info sheet
·         Lobby….
·         Educate SLT about need to have languages from different families
·         Language awareness project from Peter Downes
·         Carol Hughes.. language and business…finds she can’t get businesses to talk…
·         Business language champions scheme no longer works
·         Steven… in some Las they still jave Business education partnerships…
·         Governors….
·         Primary special interest group.. Andrea.. contact governor associations… on website.. how you do it
·         CfBT.. research properly link between target language and your literacy skills….
·         ALL list businesses who need tuition .. Siemens..
Karl Pfeiffer ideas….
·         Find out what is happening…. Problem if message goes out that it is reducing
·         Contact primary schools.. easy free resources
·         HT conference in the northeast…. Businesses are interested in doing this….
·         Tell Karl about good ones… others.. get them together.. involve parents…
My Ideas…
·         Challenge profession on how realistic it is to have ‘ continuity’ in one language (it is not in the majority of cases)
·         ASCL support for multilingual approach
·         Acknowledge HT concern about grading.. hope new grading may help….
·         Aim for an Award from Goethe… 'Smart Choice'
We were extremely well fed all day, took breaks in the glorious National Park, and I enjoyed the bonus of going for a meal in the evening and for a lovely walk the next day.
We spoke about the possibility of doing 'virtual' meetings, but, meiner Meinung nach, nothing beats a 'face to face' like this weekend.
VIELEN DANK Liz, and especially VIELEN DANK to Colin who put up with us all!!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

ALL London June Event: 14th June 2014

Please read and share!


ALL London has organised an event with some great speakers for Saturday June 14th 2014 and I am writing to give people links and a bit more information.  It has been in the diary for many months, but we now have more precise details.

You can  see the invitation online here:
You can register online here:

I really hope that as many as possible can come along.  The speakers really are excellent, there is something for absolutely everyone and the venue is big enough to take lots of people!  SOAS is a great central place to get to, and the Brunei suite is really lovely!


To be honest, most people usually apply at the last minute and that puts a great deal of stress on me because we have to guess at catering needs, and I worry about that a lot (people need their coffee!!!) .. so this time we have tried to give you an incentive to tell us by the previous Sunday if possible and pay a bit more if you don’t.  So please apply by midnight on Sunday 8th June if you can!!  Of-course there is no problem if you come on the day, but the extra you pay would go towards the fact that I will probably over-order! (if that makes any sense at all!)  We’re all volunteers – this is not a money-making venture, but we don’t want to lose money!


I heard Tim Crapper with his colleague 2 years ago at the SSAT conference and asked him straight away if he would speak for us.  What is so nice is that he is so modest in about what the department has done, and he makes you feel as though what they do is replicable.  Whether or not you care about being ‘outstanding’ for Ofsted, you will definitely get some ideas and encouragement from this talk I think!
Colin Christie now works at the Institute of London and kindly allows us to introduce ALL to London-based students in October.  I have heard him several times, and he has some great ideas for using target language in the classroom in a sustainable way.  I was so pleased when he agreed to come and give us a talk.
Liz Fotheringham is on our committee.  I have already seen the slides she has prepared for her talk.  Although her session is particularly to try to draw in teachers of lesser-taught languages into the fold of ALL London, I would recommend the session for any languages.  She will present a lovely collection of ideas, including how she has applied Rachel Hawkes’ and Greg Horton’s ideas to her lessons.
I booked René Koglbauer some time ago, well before we knew that he was going to be ALL President next year, so we are especially lucky to have him .. I have tried for some time to get him to talk for us, but the dates have often not been possible for him.
And finally, Teresa Tinsley has arranged for a session from the British Academy about how you can bid for money to promote languages (14 awards of £4000 each).  The deadline for that is tight, (June 30th)  so you may want to have a look at the site before coming along for some extra ideas / tips.

Stéphane Derône has organised an exhibition, so you will have a chance to browse through resource at the same time as catching up with everyone and making new friends.  If you have anything particular to share/ ask about, you can shout it out /advertise during the ’marketplace’ slot! (I haven’t quite worked out how we will do that yet .. any ideas?!)

Please come, and please tell people on this forum and elsewhere if you are coming!
See you soon I hope!  (I come back from a week in Normandy with 3 coachloads at 9pm the previous night – will try to be awake!!!!)
Helen Myers
ALL London Chair