Know knows and unknown knowns


I have always wondered if it’s possible for students to teach themselves a modern foreign language.  My concern has always been that it would be so tricky for students to find their way around the complexities of language learning without becoming frustrated or despondent.  Moreover, I always wondered how they would cope with trying to pronounce words that they had never come across before. With all this in mind,  I set about a little experiment.  I have 2 Y8 (students aged 12-13) classes.  I decided I would allow one class to teach themselves with guidance from me for one lesson and the other class would be taught by me.  It was hardly the most scientific of experiments but I was keen to see what would happen.

Prior to the lesson:

Each class had revised how to form regular -er verbs.  I felt that had they not had this grammar knowledge the task could have become overbearing for those that were ‘teaching themselves’

The lesson:

Objective: to be able to say where members of your family work and what job they do.

The class that were not having the traditional language teacher imput were given specific things to find out.

How to say he works/ she works as

How to say she is/ he is

How to say he works/she works in

How to say 10 places of work

The class could use whatever materials they needed.  I left them to it.

My classroom is set up with tables in groups of 4.  The class soon got to work looking for ways to discover the words required for the task.  Many used iPads but others rather more cannily selected text books and in a large number of cases traditional French dictionaries were used.  Inevitably some students declared the task to be easy and went straight to Google Translate.

After 5 – 10 minutes I started to discuss each group’s findings with them.  Most groups struggled with the tasks that included a verb (note to self, more verb work needed) but the discussion that ensued was really fruitful.  How do we work out each element of a regular verb?  What do we need first?  Where will we find the infinitive? All of this reinforcing work that we had previously done in class  and all very valuable.

When it came to the nouns questions arose about gender and how to find out if a word was a noun in the first place (further note to self more dictionary work required!) Some groups looked words up using an online dictionary and then double checked using a paper dictionary.  This gave them confidence that the words they had found were correct.  Google translate user largely found (mainly because I told them) that what they had written was nonsense.  Google translate was soon sidelined by most groups – this was a good lesson to learn!!

Pronunciation was the tricky bit, as predicted, for all groups.  The French word to work is travailler and is reasonably hard to pronounce. Most students tried to rely on their knowledge of French to get them through this element of the task some students used the accessibility feature voice on the iPad that enables text to be read out to the user.  Text to voice has come a long way and although the French accent isn’t perfect it’s pretty good. Try it out for yourself. In my view, students would need much more time with this tool in order to perfect the pronunciation.  In fact, activities would be required to help students achieve the pronunciation required and one asks oneself whether it would be worth giving up the required time to achieve this when it could be achieved in more efficient ways.


Is it possible for students to ‘teach themselves’ French? Yes it is.  I say this with the caveat that pronunciation undoubtedly suffers.  The class that I taught in the traditional way have a better grasp of the pronunciation than the independent learner group.  Both groups of students retained the information well but I think the independent learners have shown better recall overall of all elements of the task especially the grammar aspects.  As a teacher, I enjoyed having the time to have the conversation with students and being able to push them in certain directions without giving them the answers, I think some really strong learning took place at these points in the lesson and I need to find more ways to ensure that this happens more regularly in class. The independent learners worked at a much slower pace and there’s nothing wrong with this, in fact I applaud this but the curriculum is packed an we have to get through ‘stuff’ in order that students can sit tests, exams and all the other usual education nonsense.

Would I switch to this method of working from now on? No, not all the time but it clearly does have value and I will continue to incorporate it into my planning from time to time. I enjoyed the discussions with students and they enjoyed the discovery element of the task but the poor pronunciation from the independent learners concerned me a little.  One thing this has made me consider more strongly is the idea of flipping my classroom which will enable the discussions but should cut out some of my concerns about pronunciation so, watch this space.




Failing but not a failure

Holidays are all about rejuvenation and prepping yourself mentally and physically for the next undoubtedly hectic term. The Easter holidays normally sees me in France relaxing with lovely family but this Easter was a totally different ball game, I was entering the toughest kayak marathon in the world. The Devizes to Westminster – 125 miles. It’s tough and I knew that going into it but the reality was something else!


I was nervous because my partner and I hadn’t had a great deal of practice in our double kayak. There is very little flat water on the Isle of Man, no flat rivers or canals so you have to practice on the sea and we hadn’t had enough.  I had trained hard on the rowing machine and had been out running. I was fit enough. Our race started at 1pm there is 16 miles of kayaking before you hit the first lock on the canal – there are 77 in total and you have to carry boat around them all and this,let me tell you, is bloody hard work especially with our boat which was a sea kayak and not a super light K2.  I was struck by how tough it was to paddle the canal, there is no feedback from the water, no tide, no flow just resistance it was really unnerving for a sea kayaker.  Once you hit the locks they are relentless, at times one every 200m. You have to haul yourself and your boat out of the water walk it round the lock, get back in and pick up the pace (4mph in case you are interested)

We had to make Newbury 36 miles into the race in 10 hours. An 1hour and a half out I knew we were pushing our luck but I was determined to get there and push my partner as hard as I could. Mentally tough – hell yes but I knew I could do this! We drove as hard as we could for the last 10 miles down the canal as the light faded.  Paddling the canal at night in the moonlight was awesome as were getting the drunken cheers from revellers in the pubs on the canalside in Newbury!  We didn’t make the cut. We missed it by 20 mins.  We were allowed to continue to the next time check 20 miles and 20 locks down the river but we knew we weren’t going to make it. Time to call it a day.  Devastated, gutted, sad but we had to make that decision.

As with all experiences, where does it leave me?  I learnt a lot. I discovered that I have way more drive and mental strength than I ever thought possible.  I hit the wall at about 11pm and still kept pushing and only let myself accept this when I knew we weren’t carrying on, then I had a bit of a girly cry! I have lots to tell my students about my endeavours.   All of these experiences make you a better teacher  especially if you share them with your students.  They see the real you and connecting with them is so very important. It’s also important to let them know you failed at something but that it hasn’t broken you. I failed but I am not a failure, what’s the quote? in 20 years time you will only regret the things that you didn’t do.  I have no regrets, I have come out of this experience, humbled yet stronger, tougher and ready to seek out the next challenge… I

Murderous Learning With iPads in Y7

Murder in Y7

You forget how much work you have to put in with your students in order to get them working well on the iPads.  In my classroom we use them pretty much every lesson.  In the first half term I just get the students used to workflow.  Accessing content from iTunes U or My Big Campus, uploading work to cloud storage etc.  However, after that I like to get my students involved in a bigger project using the iPads so that they can hone their tech skills and their language skills. 

Those of you who have read other posts on this blog will be aware that I am not a huge fan of the text book instead I prefer to create projects and themes to get my students stuck into their learning.  This half term Y7 have been learning all about describing people in French and I decided to exploit this learning by staging a fake murder in the classroom. The aim was that students would practice the 4 language skills of reading, listening, speaking and writing as well as having to decipher texts and pick out the salient/most important pieces of information whilst at the same time honing their skills in the use of tech.

To begin the project students were greeted with the news that the previous evening there had been a murder in our very own classroom, the police had asked for our help.  Students accessed content via iTunes U. In their “lesson” they found 4 witness statements. The students’ job was to find out how many suspects there were and what they looked like.  Obviously, each witness saw a slightly different thing so the students had to not only understand the texts but compare one to another in order to establish how many suspects there were, what they wore and what they looked like.  The students actually struggled with this and needed lots of support, which really surprised me. Many thought there were 4 suspects because they had 4 witness statements.  If you want to try this in your classroom I would suggest you so the same as this element of the task provided real stretch and challenge.



Once students had established how many suspects they had and what they looked like they then had to use the Face it lite app (free) to create a “photo fit” picture of each of the suspects.  This was then saved to camera roll and then imported into the app Pic Collage (free)


I like Pic Collage for younger students it’s pretty straight forward to use and gives a nice final result. I digress; in this app students had to create a wanted poster for the suspects in   French stating what they looked like and what they were wearing.  Many students tried to simply copy and paste information from the witness statements however, this didn’t work as the witness statements were written in the imperfect tense and the wanted poster had to be written in the present tense.  Once again this provided stretch and challenge and it resulted in many students having to rewrite their work – working on the maxim if it ‘aint perfect it ‘aint done!

Our next task was to create a newsreel – students needed support with this so I provided key phrases for them. I also gave them these phrases spelt phonetically in order to help them with pronunciation.  Students worked in pairs to video each other.  Once the videos were done they then imported them into the Newsbooth App (free) this gave their videos a professional news room look which the students liked.

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Our final task was to introduce some awe and wonder into the task by using Aurasma to bring the videos and the posters together into a magic talking picture @ipadwells has a great help sheet here which tells you exactly how to produce an Aura as they are known.  I  used it with my classes and it worked perfectly.

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What did my classes get out of this project?

They had to work together to decipher texts this is aided by my seating plan in my classroom where students sit in groups of 4

They got practice the vocabulary to describe people.

They had to read in the imperfect tense but write and speak in the present which provided challenge

They got to hone their tech skills

They had to stick at this project, it would be fair to say that not all students found it a walk in the park which is good.  They got annoyed that they had to redo work or that they actually had to figure something out for themselves which frankly was a revelation. 

They are very proud of their work and loved it when our new Headteacher came into our classroom to see the fruits of their labour.

This project took much longer than I expected 5 – 6 lessons, which is a lot of time. Was it worth it? Of course it was, it achieved the aims and much more besides.

Developing Student Independence Though The Use Of iPads


I find myself in an unusual and yet a privileged position. I currently work in 2 schools 3 days in my own school and 2 days on supply in another. This has allowed me to have a new perspective on my own practice and it has highlighted some surprising things.18months ago our department were lucky enough to acquire 20 iPads. To be honest our first year with this new technology was not without its struggles. Work flow had to be organised, new routines had to be established and as staff, we had to get used to the new technology that we had been gifted.

Without doubt the use of iPads has 100% supported the work that we do. We have seen increased engagement in class, we have been hugely creative in our lessons and our confidence in the use of technology has soared. We have also had our down times, not connecting to the network, lack of Internet and lessons we thought would work that have just simply bombed.

Until now I have not noticed how independent the use of iPads has made our students but they most certainly have. For many a year I have felt, as I am sure many MFL teachers do, like a walking dictionary; “Miss how do you say…?” Even before the advent of our iPads I had tried to encourage independence amongst our students by using the acronym SNOT; self, neighbour, other teacher. I created some snotty looking posters and readily displayed them around my classroom. The phrase “have you snotted?” became a familiar one in our classroom and yet I never felt that students were really moving towards independence. iPads arrived and the SNOT phrase still rang out in my room. I really felt that we were making no headway with this independence thing at all and yet unbeknown to me we were.

Last week it was independent learning week at my other school where students were asked to get into groups and research life in a new country. This was all well and good but they just couldn’t do it. In spite of the fact that they were sat at a computer on the internet I was still subjected to such questions as “is the Ivory Coast in Africa?” “Is the currency of Japan the Yen?” To be fair, I had a bit of an annoyed teacher rant that they had all the information at their fingertips and that they really didn’t need me, but to no avail.   The lesson was a bit like swimming in porridge to be honest but we gallantly ploughed on. This got me thinking, this wouldn’t have happened at my school I simply knew that it wouldn’t but why?

At the beginning of our iPad adventure I set up some simple classroom routines based around getting the iPads out, logging into the network and doing it without fuss or bother. I taught the students simple finger gestures so that they could efficiently and effectively use the technology. I then placed some posters of QR codes on the classroom walls, these linked to basic language tools like an online dictionary and an online verb table.


Throughout our 1st year with iPads we experimented with a variety of apps with differing degrees of success. Nearpod was very effective and the students enjoyed working through the online tasks that I set them. As we only have 20 iPads students often shared but this still worked  well  as they discussed their learning with each other. Apps such as bookcreator and 30hands helped to promote both writing and speaking in the target language. As we grew more confident, we began to try some simple and then some more complicated app smashes these can be reasonably tricky and require some serious thinking, collaborating and creating from the students. What’s more, once given a task they just get on with it whilst I act as their guide.


More recently I have been using the excellent iTunesU App to help promote independent learning. The courses are incredibly easy to set up. You will need an iTunes account to be able to create and manager your courses. You simply need to log into iTunesU manager and then it is just a case of finding all the materials you are going to use in your topic and dragging and dropping them into your iTunesU course. Courses can be made public or private, mine are private at the moment, students need either a link, maybe via QR code or an enrol code in order to enrol in your course. Once in, they can access all the materials in there. By giving students access to all of my materials it has helped them hugely when preparing for controlled assessments as they can easily refer back to previous lessons or they can check online grammar lessons that are also uploaded to the course. Students can work at their own pace, as once they finish a piece of work they can easily move onto the next in the course without fuss, bother or paper! Listening tasks can also be uploaded to the course which enables students to control how often they listen to at ask and which parts of that task they listen to again. It has taken some time but students are getting used to the idea that the classroom is not focussed on me or the whiteboard. It’s about them, their peers, collaboration and independence.

These days and without me even noticing, I rarely get “miss how do you say…?” In fact I very rarely to say “have you used SNOT?” The reason for this is the effective use of technology in the classroom. Students now know that if they want to look up a spelling or gender they simply scan the relevant QR code and bingo they have their answer. They are used to working together to create and overcome challenges that they have come across through our app smashes or through the use of apps such as nearpod. I have never explicitly taught these skills although I have always tried to foster them and yet my students are becoming more and more independent and confident in their handling of the language. This shows itself in their written and spoken work whereby they are writing phrases, sentences and indeed whole paragraphs off their own backs, not simply vocabulary that I fed them but stuff that they have found, created and worked on. So when other teachers ask me have iPads had an impact in my classroom?I can categorically say yes they have but the move towards independent learning is often shadowy, it creeps up on you and suddenly you have that moment when you have your eyes opened for you and it’s there for all to see – independence in all it’s glory!

Technology As A Tool In The MFL Classroom

What does a lesson with iPads look like in the Modern Foreign Language classroom?


We all know that every lesson is different and yes, in my classroom we do creative app smashing things and hugely creative things with our iPads but a normal, for want of a better word, lesson with iPads as a tool looks a bit like this…

Y10 French GCSE preparing for written controlled assessment about holidays.

O9:10 – Students enter the room collect an iPad from the trolley, log onto the Internet filter and scan a QR code displayed on the interactive white board. This is all perfectly routine and the students just get on with it. The code links to a pre prepared Google form containing questions about the verb aller. Whilst all this is happening I take the register.

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09:15 All the answers have appeared in my answers spreadsheet on Google docs. I quickly pass the Google add on, Flubaroo over the form and it marks it for me. From here I can see which students have a good knowledge of the verb Aller and which don’t. I share the lesson objectives with the class – we will be working on forming the future tense in French.

09:20 I share the results of the Google form quiz with the class and we discuss why we may need the verb Alber to form the future tense. I leave all questions unanswered and ask students to go to


09:25 Students connect to a “bulb” that I have created for them in Educanon is a Web 2.0 tool that allows you to add questions to a video, the video pauses as students answer the questions. Y10 watch a YouTube clip about forming the near future tense in French and answer questions regarding the clip. I meanwhile, can monitor their answers on my laptop.

09:35 All students have finished the video exercise and we come together as a class to discuss what we have watched. I can see from the educanon feedback form that 90% of students have a good understanding of the grammar point.

09:40 Students are asked to create a short screecast using the Showme app explaining how to form and use the near perfect tense in French. They all log on to the same account but they could all log on individually and email you the results. Whilst the students are working on this I head over to the students who appear to not yet have fully grasped the concept for a quick chat to try and clarify things.

09:55 Students finish off their screencasts and email themselves a copy for their files. We have discussion about what we have learnt today. They plug their iPads into charge and are on their way at 10am

I now have some real tangible evidence, in the form of a screencast, as to how much the students have understood about the lesson. I spend an hour that evening watching them all and noting down misconceptions ready for discussion in the follow up lesson the next day.

We don’t always use iPads in my classroom, sometimes a pen and paper works just fine however, the beauty of the iPad or any other mobile device for that matter is the ability to be able to “observe” the actions of the students and feedback instantaneously, allowing us as teachers to correct mistakes and misconceptions quickly and easily. It also allows us to direct our help to the students that most need it and most importantly, the results can bring about some hugely interesting classroom discussions.
iPads are simply another classroom tool but used effectively and wisely they can have a huge affect on lesson outcomes and thereby learning in the classroom.

Tools of the trade


Photo credit

It was one of those days where everything just seems to point you in one direction, the kids were quiet well,occupied, I’d hurt my achilles so a run was out of the question, it was windy so kayaking was out too, it wasn’t sunny so even sitting in the garden was out and so it was that I decided to mark my Y10 homework.  This week we have been focussing on the perfect tense in class.  To my mind, this is not a difficult aspect of grammar it is merely a pattern or for want of a better phrase a formula.  I accept that students find the agreement of verbs using être as their auxiliary tricky to get their head round but other than that this is just a formula and I teach it as such. For the perfect tense with avoir it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3  where 1 is the pronoun 2 is the correct bit of avoir and 3 is the past participle.  For the perfect tense with être it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4 where 1 is the pronoun 2 is the correct bit of être, 3 is the past participle and 4 is the agreement if required. Yet my class still write je joué or better still je devoi which after having seen this 10 times I was beginning to think I’d really messed up my week in the classroom.  This got me thinking we really need to get our students used to using the tools of the trade as soon as humanly possible in this way they can begin to help themselves.

In education circles on the Isle of Man we refer to the 6 R’s;  readiness, reflectiveness, resilience, resourcefulness, remembering and relationships.  These are skills we try to instil in our students right from the beginning of primary school and there it is staring us right in the face, resourcefulness. To my mind we should be ensuring that our students know where to go so that they can find an answer or check an answer.  I don’t know about you, but I always use a bi-lingual dictionary to double check spellings and gender and I model this behaviour in class.  “Miss how do you say hang gliding?”  “I’m not sure let’s look it up in the dictionary”  I can’t imagine not having one to hand.  I know that there is a cost implication to having sets of dictionaries but many students now have smart phones, that being the case, I point my students in the direction of the online dictionary  This is a well and good I can hear you say but it didn’t do your Y10 class any favours and you would be right.  I did point my class in the direction of the online verb table but I don’t think I was explicit enough about it.  In fact, it was clear that some students had used it because they had got irregular past participles correct however many I feel rushed their work, never looked back in their books or at reference material in order to self check their work.  This is what we will be working on in class next week.  It’s not cheating and it’s not a short cut but it is a skill that I feel we should encourage with in our students.

I have been working on this for a number of years now and I feel that those students that I have taught over time are more resourceful. (I have never taught any of my current Y10 class before) I even organise my classroom around it.  My students sit in groups of 4 in this way they can help each other if required.  All over my classroom I have posters. USE SNOT  where snot stands for Self, Neighbour, Other, Teacher.  I know of others that use 3 before me or similar.  It is simply a way of encouraging self reliance.  In Y8 we are currently using adjectives. On Friday I gave them a list of adjectives in English and asked them to rearrange them into alphabetical order and then find the French.  Some of my class were outraged “we can’t do this Miss!” to which I replied “Yes you can. What tools can you use?”  within seconds they have come up with a long list of tools.  Learning mats, dictionaries, vocabulary booklets etc etc.  It is possible to teach the use of tools of the trade and I think it’s vital that we do and before you all tweet me I am by no means advocating the use of reference material over learning, remembering after all is one of the 6 R’s.  Learning grammar patterns is the key to unlocking the magic of language and as Steve Smith said to me on twitter on Saturday you can’t refer to a verb table or a dictionary in a conversation but I’ll leave the production over acquisition post for another time!

Thinking outside the box – App smashing with Thing Link

6250513028_b874eef6f1 Before I begin I must state that this is by no means my idea, I have to thank @ipadwells for this and  you can see his explanation of various apps smashes here.  It was whilst watching this fabulous presentation that I began to think that I could apply some of the ideas to my own classroom.

We have had 19 iPads since September in the department and my Y8 class have become quite proficient at using them and I thought they would be up for an app smash challenge.  We have been studying vocabulary and phrases in Spanish about places around town and directions.  Although this is a year 8 class they have only had about 8 months of Spanish teaching in this time as we rota around with French lessons every half term.  We had got to a stage where we were saying what there was and wasn’t in a town as well as giving some basic descriptions.

In order to make this unit a little more Spanish in feel we have been studying the town of Granada.  Our first app smash got the students to give directions around Granada details of which can be seen here, so it was natural to use Granada as our “base” again.

To begin with students had to use the comics head lite app to create a comic stating what there was and wasn’t in Granada.  They chose pictures of the places they were describing from the internet and set them as the back ground on the comic, they then had a character staying what was in Granada e.g. En mi ciudad hay un palacio.  Once they had finished their comic they took a screen shot and saved it in their camera roll.

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The next step was to use the tellagami app to create short videos for each section of cartoon that they had previously made, they made the background on their tellagami to be the same as the background of the appropriate bit of cartoon that they were talking about. All of their tellagamis where saved into their camera roll.

The final step was to put it all together into the Thing link app.  They used their screenshot of their cartoon as the main picture in thing link.  The cool thing about this app is that it allows you to create “hotspots” on the picture which link to either text or video which makes it perfect for using in app smashing. My students imported their videos onto the relevant bit of their cartoon picture and then added some text to describe the places in Granada. The results were great and the students were very proud of their work.  The next thing for them to do is to present their work and do some peer marking using 2 stars and a wish.

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The students really enjoyed this task and were very focused an involved when creating it, they are really beginning to see the creative possibilities of the iPads now and I know for this class in particular when it comes to using mobile tech in the classroom the sky’s the limit. If you would like to see some of their interactive images please scan the QR codes below.

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