National Readaloud Day or ‘Whoops, there goes a bronze whaler!”

Well, today was National Readaloud Day.

With my year 7 English students, we decided upon the theme of sharks and never did I spend a more gory 15 minutes than the one at the beginning of our lesson today – battling against the odds, staring death in the cold, fishy eye, coursing adrenalin and determined calm.

We are in the process of completing a descriptive writing unit, so finished the lesson by planning and either recording or writing our own stories for our class book (about Sharks, of course!), coming soon to a blog near you ….

Exam Literacy? Learning the Vocabulary of Exams

Being able to understand the requirements of the question is of crucial importance to our students as they prepare themselves for their VCE Examinations in Year 12. What follows is not an original ideas, but one shared with me by Fern.

I’ve read through all of the 2010, and most of the 2011, VCE Examination Papers for all areas of the curriculum that we cover in our school and the following twelve high frequency ‘calls to action’ emerged:


Students in years 10 and 11 have an incomplete idea of what these words ask them to do. In addition, the ‘call to action’ that these words deliver is different depending upon the subject being examined. We need to address this if students are to have the best possible chance of success.

One of the ways in which we are going to raise student outcomes is by:

1. Developing a shared definition of the examination keywords (a definition agreed by staff and students)
2. Explicitly teaching this vocabulary in our classes and using it in our assessment tasks across all year levels.
3. In faculty groups of 3-4, write an agreed definition of the 12 words. We’ll collate responses and email around a final version for the agreement of all staff and students.
4. I’ll take the final agreed definitions and make them into signs and posters that we can put in classrooms and general study areas. We can start to use this language in our classrooms.
5. At the same time, we can collect any favourite techniques for learning vocabulary in our classes. It’ll be a great opportunity to share and may give us an opportunity to try out something new, something outside our comfort zone for the benefit of our students.

6. The next stage? Identifying subject specific vocabulary at each year level and working with students in order that they may actively learn them.

Anyone have any great ideas for teaching vocabulary, including the language of exams, at their school?

Passion Project 2012

Last Friday, during Period 4, while hurtling towards the weekend, my year 8 students started to get cracking on their Passion Projects!

This is a new class that I have taught only a few times this year so far and we have spent only a little time preparing our project proposals.

Each member of the class has written a brief outline of their project and made a contribution to the success criteria. I have been working closely with groups of students to help them identify essential questions and avoid regurgitating facts.

With my current year 8 class, a number of them have thought of fantastically complicated projects and are already questioning their peers about essential questions that they would need to answer in order for their projects to be a success.

This represents a step forward in terms of what students expect of themselves and has me really excited about the projects themselves! I was most struck by the way that the classroom felt more relaxed and more purposeful when the students were engaged upon a project in which they seemed to feel they had so much invested. A great reminder of the importance of linking learning to life beyond the classroom and giving students a real choice in terms of what they learn as well as how and when they learn it.

In search of the perfect post!

When I started my blog, I had many different objectives, including:

1. Improving my practice by reflecting on my professional experiences
2. Collating all the websites, resources, ideas and articles with which Twitter provides me
3. Housing some of the work that I have completed for my Masters
4. Reminding me to strive to improve

… I’m sure there were many others.

However, unexpectedly, I frequently struggle to reconcile the post that I’d like to make with the post that I’ve managed to put together and often end up posting nothing.

The positive side of this is that it has brought me to a greater understanding of the experiences of my students – fear of judgement hampering creativity. The negative side of this is that I worry about actually hampering the reflective process.

Then I came across this list from Corbett Barr. Having challenged himself to write a post each day for 30 days, Corbett reflected upon his, sometimes surprising but always thoughtful learnings.

Number 6 was the one that resonated the most with me. He writes:

“By publishing more frequently, I found myself writing more for me, instead of writing for what other people think. I’m not sure why this is, but I ended up caring more about the work than the response it solicited.”

Now, I have never had a comment on my blog and in my head I think this has turned into the following dialogue:

“Ahh, no one has commented. That means no-one is reading what you write.”
“I don’t mind. I’m writing for myself, to reflect, to grow.”
“Well, maybe people are reading what you write but it’s too meaningless or obvious for them to comment on”

This, of course, makes posting increasingly difficult. So, to silence the mean little voice, I am reminding myself of my reasons for writing and planning to do the 30 day challenge myself for the month of March. Each day, I’m inspired by my students, my colleagues or something I read and I want to remember that these learnings, these inspirations are worth recognising and sharing. Isn’t that the perfect post?

Thanks, Corbett, for your help!

Work/Life Balance?

My first job after graduation was in media sales for a business publishing company. The job itself – mostly telesales – was pretty boring, but the people, outrageous, eccentric and gregarious, together with the location, slap bang in the middle of London’s Soho, and the generally party atmosphere meant that going to work was a part of my social life.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on work/life balance and I came across this article by Seth Godin. It made me think back to my media sales years, to a time when work and home did not feel like separate domains, and I realized that my then employers knew that bridging the gap, by whatever means possible, between home and work, keeps people motivated, engaged and, of course, making money.

In Seth’s opinion:

“Work/life balance is a silly question, just as work/food balance or work/breathing balance is. It’s not really up to you after a point. Instead of sneaking around the edges, it might pay to cut your hours in half but take the intellectual risks and do the emotional labor you’re capable of.”

Lightbulb moment: Balance cannot be looked at in work/life terms, but rather we need to ensure that we bring the passions, joys and interests that colour our lives into the work that we do. We fuse the different domains of our lives together with our passion.

Aren’t we all looking for ways to follow our passions? How can I help my students to do this? How can I work with them to harness their passions to build a true bridge between school and home? Last year, our ‘Passion Project’ began the process. This year, with entirely new groups of students, the journey continues … and begins again!

How do you help your students to bridge the gap between school and home?

My current top 10 apps for language learning!

My current top 10 Apps for Language Learning

1. Puppet Pals and Sock Puppets
We can have fun creating and recording dialogues, with many opportunities for practising and perfecting pronunciation. Many students have a ‘Eureka’ moment using this app, upon realizing what they need to do to their voice to make themselves sound more French! These apps work well as a starter or as a plenary as well as the main creative content of our lesson.

2. Anispy – Animal I-Spy
Brilliant for studying animals in French. We can learn and practice gender, spelling and pronunciation of the names of some common animals. Great for homework!

3. Moodboard/Corkulous/Moxier Collage
We create boards containing words and pictures and we love using these for brainstorming. Our favourite project with these was creating digital ‘posters’ containing reasons to learn a foreign language.

4. Make a Monster/Pocoyize/Make a Martian/Picturizr
These visually appealing apps enable us to create characters (monsters or cartoon characters), which can be used when learning the words for parts of the body and clothes respectively. Great fun!

5. Songify
We create ‘songs’ by saying the words that we need to learn and Songify adds a funky backing track. You need to listen carefully to hear the words, which helps the learning process.

6. Voice Recorder/Quick Voice
We can record episodes of a lesson to take home. We love recording the songs that we sing in class (quite often raps using Songify) and use them at home to revisit and revise elements of the lesson. We can also help those who have been absent by giving them the recording

7. Photocard and Photocard Lite
This app lets you import an image, as well as write, record and address a postcard. We have used them for plenaries, where we use a screenshot of our work as the image and write down 3 key things that we learnt. We have also written postcards about imaginary holidays, created direct mail, written down what we know before we study a topic … Students like sending them to one another, so it is a great way to introduce peer assessment.

8. Strip Design
We can create a storyboard around a situation (meeting someone for the first time), a theme (colours or classroom instructions) or a location (in my schoolbag). Great for sequencing ideas too.

9. Keynote
Exactly like Keynote on a laptop! We’ve used keynote to showcase our learnings, display projects, reinforce vocabulary and create peer teaching episodes. Traditional, yes, but still a great favourite.

10. Idea Sketch/i-Brainstorm/Mindmap
As well as brainstorming, we’ve used these apps for plenaries, pre-assessment and drawing Family Trees. A fun way to present ideas in a non-linear format.

Many of these apps help us to create work that looks professional and helps us to use our talents in visual literacy as well as practice our language skills! Enjoy!

Inspiration – The Black Line Mystery

black line mystery

For some time now, I’ve been reading with awe about the ‘Black Line Mystery’ (more details here: and and from @jessmcculloch and @ajep).

This visionary project develops an Alternate Reality Game for young language learners, enabling them to practise and build on their language skills in an exciting and interactive way.

I’m just beginning to think about how I can introduce the principles to my year 10 French classroom next year and the thinking process alone has been enlightening. Of course, putting student outcomes before course content is not a new idea, but it is exciting and challenging to try to re-imagine our course and re-invigorate it in this way. In trying to create a quest for my students, I’ve reawakened my enthusiasm for the possibilities of the course.

I don’t have much to offer yet in terms of sharing my journey down this particular road, just wanted to share the fact that have been inspired to start!

Hooray for passion!

I was greeted at the door of my classroom by 2 very eager students who were just bursting with excitement! They had spent the weekend finishing their first passion project and were keen to share!

Their big reveal:

Passion Project

Passion Project

The written part of their project was research into three French chefs and 4 French dishes, written in their own words and fully referenced.

Their product was:
1. Marzipan handmade and crafted into their dishes (salade aux tomates, quiche lorraine, vin chaud and mousse au chocolat).
2. A Menu for their imaginary restaurant.
3. A receipt for an imaginary customer to their restaurant.
4. A radio advertisement for their restaurant, written by themselves and created on their iPads.

The presentation was beautiful and their enthusiasm captivating. When they played their podcast, the whole class stopped in their tracks, discuss what had been achieved and began reevaluating their own projects in the light of the efforts of their peers. Now the girls and I are negotiating ways to expand their project to include more of a French language component – keeping engagement high and building on their passion for French.

I’m excited that the students shared and discussed ideas at home, working with their families to make it happen.

Passion Project ….. the lightbulb moment!

So, my eager class of year 7 students is fully engaged with their projects, emails fly in evening and weekend, proof that these students are taking their learning out of the classroom. Suddenly it hit’s me. the big flaw.

I teach 2 year 7 groups and one group, the group that I chose for the passion project, let’s call them group A, is more engaged with my subject. The other, let’s call them group B, is not so engaged and together, we have not covered as much ground. That is why I initially chose group A. Let me make myself clear – I chose group A for the Passion Project, which aims to increase engagement, BECAUSE THEY ARE MORE ENGAGED!

See what I did there?

Anyway, group B have now started working on their passion projects with joy and enthusiasm! More of a test for increasing engagement! It was so much fun introducing the project with this second group. They couldn’t believe the parameters of the project initially (“what, anything? Can we make something?”, “Can I make a model of the Eiffel Tower out of chocolate? I can make it to scale?”, “Do we decide how long we spend on it?”) Spending 20% of the lesson working on personalised projects which are designed and individually negotiated to move learning forward has started to have a positive effect upon what we are able to accomplish together and is bringing a really positive energy to our classroom environment.

Our journey continues…

Passion Project

Following on from my discovery of Google’s 80:20 and from all the fantastic posts about passion projects that I have read over recent months, my year 7 French class and I have put together a passion project which we will be working on over the next 5 weeks.

Students are working in groups of 2 or as individuals in a area that inspires and excites them. Together we have negotiated the success criteria for the task which is also linked to one of the curriculum outcomes, required by VCAA (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority), which related to knowledge of a cultural aspect of France.

Together, we decided that the students would create:

1. A proposal for their project which answers these questions: What is the subject of your project? What will your product be?. In the proposal, each group/student can submit their contribution to the success criteria of the task.

2. A written project with a word count that has been negotiated by the whole class. They can use project books, iPads or computers to create this written aspect of the task. Many of them will be publishing their written work on the class wiki.

3. A product – something original that they have created which they could not have done before completing the written aspect of the project. When we discussed this, students came up with many ideas: trailers, movies, posters, models, leaflets, interviews, podcasts, even a dance.

So far, we have spent two lesson creating, and approving, proposals and beginning our research. We will be spending 15 minutes, approximately 20%, of each lesson over the coming 5 weeks on our projects. The students can also spend as much time working on the project outside of school as they wish.

So far, subjects have been incredibly diverse, including movies set in occupied France, Rugby, Animals, Restaurants and regional specialities, Actors, Composers, Films, Architecture, Tour de France 2012 ……

Students are really excited about their project and have completed an unprecedented amount of work. Discussion about what constitutes a ‘product’ is greatly enhancing our understanding of the purpose of research. Discussion about where to start is improving our knowledge of time and resource management. Negotiating with peers over who will completing the different elements of the task has helped develop a shared understanding of what constitutes effective group work.

Two students told me today that they “could work on the project all day” and were really proud to show the work that they had completed.

My hope is that 80% of our lesson will be infected with the passion that 20% will be driven by. We’re also going to be reinforcing the link between home and school. I have no student work to post at the moment, but the minute that I do …

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