opinion – ¡Vámonos! The musings of Lisibo
 

Category: opinion

Seen on the cover of a notebook on Amazon

I was talking to someone this week that I’ve known since my late teens about ambitions that we had then and whether they’ve been realised. Whilst they had a long list of aspirations including to write a book, travel the world and win awards for their writing (all achieved), I really only had two ambitions that didn’t seem as exciting – to be a mum, and to be a teacher. Ambitions achieved? Well, yes. I am mum to two boys and I like to think they’re turning out OK, and I am a teacher.

But I didn’t want to be just any teacher. I wanted to be a teacher like Mrs Head, Mrs Corden and Señora Sánchez- Richardson; unforgettable teachers who are etched in my mind, who nurtured and encouraged my fascination with learning and with finding out about the world beyond our town and country, and who inspired me to be a teacher too. I literally followed in the footsteps of the latter as I took over from her as Head of Spanish when she retired, but have I ever managed to make such an impact on a child’s life as she made on mine?

I love my job and have done since I moved to primary but it hasn’t always been like that. At one point, realising my ambition to teach, and to teach Spanish, was destroying my life and that of my young children, and that’s when I left secondary teaching. [NB I am not saying that secondary is bad and primary blissful but I always wanted to be a middle school teacher who taught Spanish and was ‘forced’ into secondary teaching as the closest way forward.] I look back on those days and wonder if I managed to make a difference to any of my pupils as I was a walking stress factory. I know I did though as I’ve since met a pupil who remembered how she’d made my life a living nightmare when I first started as Head of Spanish and told me that she admired my determination to get her to succeed when she was throwing all my efforts back in my face. One of my pupils from those days contacted me (via a teaching friend) when he finished his GCSEs to tell me that he’d done well and to thank me for teaching him French. I’d only done it for a year in Y8, and only two lessons a week although I did love teaching his class. We’re still in contact, and when he wanted to start learning Spanish, he asked for my help.

What about since I moved to primary? I’ve loved it but that doesn’t equate to inspiring anyone. Perhaps I should just be glad that I like going to work, that I have fun and that I’m doing what I love to do. Does it matter if I’m making a specific difference to anyone’s life? Well it does to me. My overarching aim is to encourage children to explore languages, to enjoy learning them and to want to carry on when they leave. The vast majority move to secondary schools where they will learn French or German rather than Spanish (at least at first) so it’s important to me that they leave with the will to ‘start again’ but also the understanding – and belief – that those years of Spanish were not wasted.

So do I make a difference? Past pupils quite often say ¡hola! when they see me so I can’t have made a hugely negative impression on most of them! I love going to ‘prize giving’ evenings for my boys not just to celebrate their achievements but to ‘check up’ on old pupils, and I’m especially proud when they have won prizes for languages (happens quite often!) Former pupils send me messages with younger siblings or even turn up at school to tell me how they’ve doing with languages or have done at GCSE, and some proudly tell me that they’re continuing with language learning. A former pupil asking to do work experience at one school this year specified that she was particularly interested in languages (of course I jumped at the opportunity!) Another former pupil volunteered as a sixth former, first through his school scheme in Y12 and then in his free time, delivering Spanish in KS1, and is now a student teacher with a language specialism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that it’s all my influence that makes this happen; I know that these young people have had excellent language teachers at secondary level too, but I’d like to think that I started them on their way…

And it’s not just the ‘high fliers’ that I’d like to think have been influenced. A Y6 at my other school last year bought me a huge bunch of flowers and wrote me a note about how much he’d enjoyed Spanish and how he’d miss me – a child who is not a natural linguist but who listened and tried his best, always with a smile. I hope he remembers his experiences if languages are quite the same for him in the future.

I started by recalling a conversation I had with a friend. That was one of two reasons I started this post, the other catalyst being a message on LinkedIn from another former pupil who has now completed his engineering degree and is completing a Masters whilst spending a year in industry. During his internship he’s decided to take up Spanish again and wanted to ask my advice as Duolingo is great but he felt he lacked listening and speaking practice. He’d written the whole message in Spanish (and I don’t think he’d completely GoogleTranslated it either!) which touched me, but what he wrote in the second half of the message made me cry:

Translation – “Also, I have to say thank you. Your enthusiasm for learning and languages is very inspiring and has stayed with me through school, university and until now. I rediscovered the love of languages that you gave me during my internship this year and therefore I’d love your advice.”

So I guess I’ve made a difference to those young people, however big or small. And they’re the ones I know about. As I said earlier, Señora Sánchez-Richardson knew I became a Spanish teacher but she doesn’t know about my career since 2000. Mrs Corden died whilst I was at secondary school but I went to her funeral and made sure that her children knew the influence she had on me. I last saw Mrs Head when I was 10 so she probably doesn’t know how much they influenced me, and she certainly knows nothing of my teaching career as I was Lisa Efford then.

The point of this post is not to say ‘look at me, I’m brilliant’ but to serve as a reminder of two things. Firstly, ambitions are great but who knows as teenager where life might lead you. I’ve done far more than I could ever imagine then including keynoting conferences, writing websites, radio series, magazine articles and textbook materials, running a marathon and completing triathlons and living in Switzerland. And secondly, we might not know the influence we have at the time, and we may never know, but it happens. Teaching can be a ‘thankless’ task, sometimes quite literally. I don’t get piles of presents at the end of the year as a class teacher might do, but it makes any thanks I do receive all the more special. And actually, as much as I love (dark) chocolate and smelly candles, I’d swap them all for a message like the one above.

I choose joy

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On Sunday I posted the following image on Twitter with the comment I choose joy.

I’ve  pondered this post all week and finally found time to write it. It’s provoked by an increasing trend to point out all that is bad in life, and more specifically, education.

Whilst I am quite aware that there are a myriad ways in which our world is broken, a multitude of things that drive me bananas about education and multiple aspects of my working life that I’d like to be different, I make a choice to not wallow like a hippo. I’m not ignoring the problems; they’re sometimes fairly important and need addressing. However, if I focus solely on them, my life is frankly miserable and unpleasant.

I make another choice, the choice to (try to) find solutions, and if not solutions, work arounds, compromises and ways to make difficulties less burdensome. I don’t have an answer to everything, in fact, I have answers to very few things but I do my best.

We follow a PSHE programme called SUMO at one of my schools, and one of the principles is not to be Doris Day (which is counterintuitive as I grew up wanting to be her so badly!) and claim “Que será, será.  Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours you see.” As a teacher I know that the near future is mine but the longer future belongs to my pupils (and to my children), and my role is to prepare and equip them for it. We teach our pupils to question and find solutions to their problems, to talk to one another, to celebrate successes and share and support one another in hard times. Surely if we model misery and moaning that sets the wrong example?

Don’t get me wrong, I have a whinge with the best of them from time to time, especially when I’m tired but all the time? I’ve written before about this in a post called Transformers and Reepsiepie added to my Optimist Prime/Negatron analogy by talking about Radiators and Drains; in every staffroom, workplace and social media site, there are those who drain all positivity and life. I want to sit next to the radiator! Increasingly I am choosing not to spend long periods of time on Twitter for just this reason, and likewise I have left groups on other social media platforms as their negativity was dragging me down.

I haven’t left Languages in Primary Schools though as, just like the marvellous Talkabout Primary MFL used to be, it is a place of celebrating all that is going well, sharing ideas, and helping out people with queries, worries and emergencies. The members are realistic about the task we face – and who couldn’t do with more time to teach their subject, less last minute changes of plan, decreased paperwork, 100% attention and more energy and time to do all we’d like to do – but it’s a place full of radiators who, when the going is tough, share their experience, and to continue the analogy, warmth with others. And isn’t that far better than pointing out all the things that the person did wrong, or adding to their woes with a list of your own?  I’d like to think that this website is a radiator too.

For me, life can sometimes be uphill struggle which may surprise some who only ever see a smiling bouncy Lisibo, but it’s true. Sometimes that bounce is an act of will and only happens because I’m working hard at it, like a swan madly swimming under the water. My decision to choose joy is a lifestyle, and lifesaving, choice.

I write a Grateful blog each day in which I write things for which I am grateful; last year it was things that made me smile. Sometimes I don’t get it written and published because I’m tired but the thought is still there. I’d encourage you to do the same.

Yes, life is challenging and teaching is hard for a variety of reasons, but there are so many joys too. I could focus on the fact that yesterday I was on break duty, I didn’t get my lunch eaten and Y6 took advantage of my good nature, there was staff meeting, I didn’t get to teach the classes I was supposed to and I got an impatient email asking me to do something that I’d already said I’d do which isn’t due until next week anyway. I’d rather list my joys: I spent lunchtime yesterday dancing around the dining hall with pupils as they ate their Christmas lunch, singing at the top of my lungs and getting very hot. In the afternoon, we watched Y1 and 2 perform their play. We opened Christmas cards from partner schools in Finland, Spain and Poland, and borrowed a Polish pupil from his class to read us the latter. He glowed with pride! A whole stream of Reception children (who I have never taught) walked past me as I was photocopying and smiled, and quite a few responded to my ¡Buenos días! with a cheerful ¡Hola! A colleague helped me find my mislaid iPad case; a volunteer student stayed inside with a child at playtime so I could go to the toilet and get a cup of tea. At some point, a child stuck a sticker to my jumper – no idea who did it but it made me smile. A child saw two others about to have a fight and intervened before it escalated, sending someone to fetch me in case. I was met with groans of disappointment when I said there was no Spanish next week. I sang in the staff meeting.  We hatched a plan for the teachers to sing a song in the end of term concert.

And that’s just one day.

You may also like this post on a similar theme:

Ser optimista

IMG_3849

Thanks for the drawing, @catairf 🙂

I was rather gobsmacked when Zena asked me to do the closing keynote at #ililc5. An offer I couldn’t refuse but daunting nonetheless. Especially as there was no ‘theme’ this year so I could talk about ‘anything’ according to my instructions!

As Christmas came and passed and I still hadn’t really been inspired, I grew more concerned. It wasn’t until mid January that a seed of an idea formed in my head. I’d been prepared to talk about Cupcakes and Smiles at TeachMeet BETT, a short presentation on education being about ‘feeding’ minds but also celebrating and rewarding learning, and that we did it for those ‘smiles’ that happen when the lightbulb goes on, when the unexpected happens, when you’re speechless at something a child has said and so on. There was no time for my presentation then – although I still shared my cakes. I was a bit annoyed as lugging a few dozen cupcakes from Birmingham and around London on the train and Tube is no fun and nor is being told off for daring to ice them in the presence of Sir Ken Robinson but that’s the way it works. Still, I liked the idea of cupcakes and when there were queries as to why I made cupcakes for TeachMeetBETT but not ILILC, the idea began to germinate.
Over the next few weeks I still wasn’t entirely sure what I’d say but a thought here and there occurred to me. Stupidly I didn’t write them down and I’m sure some ‘got away’. However, with help from my husband John (who must be fed up of my food/language analogies!) who told me to get a grip (and a notepad), Cooking on gas (other fuels are available) grew.

Ready to start?

On the day, armed with new shoes and an assortment of cupcakes, I shared my thoughts about language teaching and learning with the remnant that had managed to survive to the (not so bitter) end. And it was recorded! (I’d forgotten about that part until I was standing there.) You can watch it here.
As my presentation was in Keynote and delivered from my own MBP, the slides don’t show up in the recording but are all synced and appear alongside (thank you to the lovely Matt for doing that!) I’ve added the videos that you can’t see but can hear at the bottom of this post; I know that the Intermarché one about Les fruits et légumes moches has already proved helpful to more than one person!
I summarised some of the main messages right at the end (go to 45 minutes) if you don’t have time for the whole thing, and I’ve also added a Storify of the tweeting that was going on during the presentation; I certainly found it interesting to see what people had taken from my words and thoughts. And I was gobsmacked by the sketch notes too. Thank you Clare, Simone, Jane, Rachel and Catrin, and Alex, Jonathan and Ceri who had a cupcake in their ILILC5 summary sketch notes too. (If I’ve missed any, apologies and please tell me; I’ve been in a bit of stupor all week!)
It’s very different when you’re sharing your personal thoughts, reflections and passions; it made me feel very vulnerable so I’m really glad that people picked up on and identified with the key messages I wanted to share.

Start at 1.10 until 1.30 for the key bit:

PS At 23 minutes, I start talking about my language hero, and whilst I think I communicated that she was special, I didn’t share all that I might have done as time was pressing and I was getting choked up. So in my next post, I’ll tell you all about Luz Sánchez-Richardson, my language hero!

ALL Presidential team

Cynthia Martin – Past president

Karl Pfeiffer – President

Bernadette Holmes – President elect – absent so we had a ‘supply president’ in the form of Steven Fawkes

Looking back to look forward

Whilst KS2 entitlement still stands, it’s uncertain and as yet there are no clear messages from the coalition about whether they will or won’t be statutory. We’re also in the middle of a huge curriculum review of both secondary and primary education. But change can provide us with opportunities to reassess and reflect.

Change often happens simultaneously, sometimes across sectors too.

Many issues that arose with Nuffield are seen replicated now – developing languages vertically down from KS3 but also horizontally across ability range at time when languages were elitist. At the same time, comprehensive education began.

National curriculum – Languages for all September 1992 with all children 11-16 studying languages led to questions about approaches to teaching all abilities. This had an impact on dual linguists as FL2 got squashed out (although people studying language and …business / development etc increased)

National Language Strategy brought some coherence to languages in England – many success stories especially in primary phase, widening of choice post-14 etc.

KS2 Framework has been a key document in bringing coherence to primary provision. In 2009 92% primaries offering language in KS2 and 70%+ offered throughout the school.

MFL KS3 Framework arrived with an emphasis on understanding pattern, structure and grammar, but lessened target language in the classroom.

 

Building for the future – what do we need?

  • contact time – more needed across the board – not adding at one end and taking away at the other
  • coherent language learning experience – a continuum across KS2 – KS4 and beyond
  • consistency of teaching approach, again across the phases
  • content – creativity – cognitive challenge even in years 5 and 6
  • continuing professional development
  • cultural dimension
  • NSC/CLIL4Ts/LinkedUp
  • collaboration at local regional and national level –  cutbacks but still the need for support

 

 

Resetting the foundations

A policy for the future

“Languages are vital for the personal professional and economic growth of all UK citizens”

“Language learning and teaching must take their rightful place in Britain as educational and social priorities”

“All British pupils must have full open and equal access to language learning to ensure a level playing with their peers abroad”

“The professional status of language teachers must be of equal standing compared to teachers of other subjects.”

We believe that language learning and teaching are an essential part of rounded education for all UK citizens.

“languages are not about labels, they’re about people” ECML Graz

We believe that all learners should have the opportunity to learn their first language and at least one other language, including English, if this is not their first language.

Our education system should provide:

  • access to the range of languages existing in the UK including recognition for the languages of new communities
  • coherent learning programmes from primary to secondary

We believe that languages teachers should have access to high quality initial teacher training and continuing professional development.

Policy makers should ensure that

  • languages have a settled curriculum with a favourable time allocation in comparison to other successful jurisdictions
  • decisions relating to how children are taught should remain as close to the point of learning as possible

We advocate statutory status for languages from 7-16.

Opportunities through the Curriculum Review

  • the position of languages at primary needs urgent clarification
  • there should be continued language training for primary class teachers
  • adequate time allocation should be provided  in the curriculum to allow pupils to elarn to a similar standard to their peers in other major jurisdictions.

(At this point my RSA Typing1 couldn’t keep up with the note taking so I took pictures instead)

Why do we need language skills? 

 

Languages employability and entrepreneurship

Tolerance and challenge

Changing hearts and minds

  • All human beings can enjoy a language learning experience
  • All pupils should learn languages
  • Language learning has significant educational benefits
  • Language learning brings invaluable personal benefits
  • ALL pupils from KS2-4 should have the right to learn languages in the school curriculum
  • All citizens should have access to lifelong language learning

Languages:Reboot

Chris Harte, Cramlington Learning Village

Chris’ presentation is on his website so I’m not going to recap blow by blow – just some notes! Needless to say, he was brilliant and will be missed when he goes Down Under.
3 preconditions to learning

  • Ganas – WIIFM
  • Belief – I can’t do it yet….
  • “Do something differently – if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

Jeff Petty – Evidence based teaching  – recommended reading

Learning is …

  • social
  • about making connections]
  • a lifelong process

Chris has a number plate to encourage independent learning – C3B4ME – try 3 other sources of info before me

 

Do we want our pupils to be engaged?

Yes, but you can be engaged without being challenged.

 

Harry Potter clips – OWLs – watch this clip from about 2 minutes and substitute the word ‘spells’ / ‘magic’ for languages. Sound familiar?

A failed GCSE is a lost life chance so we want them to pass but how soul destroying to feel you have to stick to learning chunks of language to satisfy an examiner who wants to test what you CAN’T do.

A textbook exclusively endorsed by an exam board means that I will follow it slavishly because I want my pupils to pass. Where’s the room for creativity?

 

Testing what you don’t know is not fair.

 

Look at www.hooked-on-thinking.com to investigate SOLO taxonomy – and also  Chris’ post on SOLO taxonomy http://chrisharte.typepad.com/learner_evolution_chris_h/2011/04/solo-im-ridin-solo.html

10 words at word level is not enough in a lesson for our talented linguists

If you want learners to make connections between language, you need to provide them with something with which to make the connections, so we need to give them texta not just words.

Having taught KS3 with films, murder mystery etc, why should we have to go back at KS4 to teaching pencil sharpener!

If you want to see Chris in action presenting on the same theme a few months ago, check him out here and here.

 

On Saturday I attended the Purpos/ed Summit for Instigators in Sheffield, meeting with others to debate the purpose of education and discuss how we might ‘kickstart’ a wider debate on the subject.

Part of the time was given over to 3×3 presentations by attendees – 3 slides in 3 minutes on the question of the education. The random fruit machine from Classtools didn’t pick me so I decided to rcord what i might have said.

Without adrenaline and anyone to tell me to be quiet, it went on for a bit longer than 3 minutes, but here it is.

I challenge you – what do you think the purpose of education is?

Find out more and join the debate here.

Transformers…

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optimist prime

Image from gcouros on Flickr

This really struck a chord with me – I am definitely a glass half full type of person. I know that there have been times when I’ve stayed out of the staffroom, or have avoided certain members of staff as their negativity has dragged me down. And I can identify my worst periods in teaching as when I’ve sunk into negative thinking and lost all hope about my abilities, or those of my pupils. It certainly did my teaching no good and made my life rather miserable too.

So, now I’ve been reminded, I’m going to do my best to be Optimist Prime and encourage others to think positively. Tell me off if I don’t!


What are your hopes for Primary Languages in 2011 and onwards?

Would you like to make your voice heard by ‘important people’?  By that I mean people who make policy and decide what the really important people ie the pupils get to experience at school.

In response to the White Paper released last week which more or less fails to mention Primary Languages, a number of people started a discussion about how we should respond to the invitation to comment.  One of those people was Catherine Cheater who sent a list of her hopes for the future of Primary Languages.  So well did she express the views that many held, she was urged to make an ecard that we could send to Michael Gove et al.

Here’s her message to us –

Dear colleague,
If you feel that our children in the UK deserve access to language and cultural learning during their primary school years, you might wish to send a message to:
•    Michael Gove (see www.michaelgove.com/contact)
•    Nick Gibb, Schools Minister (see www.parliament.uk/biographies/nick-gibb/25544)
•    your local MP (see www.parliament.uk/about/contacting/mp/)

Please write a message from your heart.
Please say in the message why this is important to you.
Please say how you contribute to this already (e.g. teacher, trainee, LTA, parent, publisher, LA adviser, organisation).

You may wish to include the following link in your message:

http://www.4d-studios.co.uk/primary_languages/card.html

Best wishes,
Catherine Cheater.
(With thanks to Richard Tallaron for designing the e-card)

So if you want to add your voice, the ecard link is above.

ALL Together

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I received this message today from Linda Parker, Director of ALL (Association for Language Learning)

ALL together – let’s speak out about languages!

20-26 September 2010

The Association for Language Learning  would like to know about the issues which particularly concern you about the teaching and learning of languages and suggestions of things that should be done to tackle these.

At a time of change in the UK Government, ongoing political pressure from European sources, and internal pressures within our education system, it is relevant that ALL, the UK’s major association for language teachers, consult you, its members, about the matters that are most of concern and in need of attention.

Next week, beginning on Monday 20 September, ALL is asking members and language teachers everywhere to meet up anywhere, anytime – in the staff room, in your department, at home or in the pub – to think about ways in which language teaching and learning could be improved and promoted. And if you can’t find time to meet with others,  don’t let that stop you sending us your own views.

If the Government is serious about the Big Society, then we think it should be ready to hear what teachers have to say!

The consultation week will culminate on Saturday 25th September at the Annual General Meeting of the Association (Goethe Institut, London 10.30 – 12.30, see www.all-languages.org.uk for further details) where we will pull together the ideas that you’ve sent to us during the week and where we hope members within reach of London will join us to take the discussion further.

Here are a few ideas about the kinds of things you might like to talk about
Within the context of your own work and locality:
1. What is the achievement you would most like the media / public / decision-makers to know about?
2. What is your response to media statements such as “language teaching puts most people off learning a language” or “Languages considered least important subjects for children to learn at school” ?
3 What are the issues that worry you most?

4. How can we ensure that decision makers in education value language learning?

We’ll be adding more ideas to our website over the next week – see www.all-languages.org.uk

We’d like to hear from you in the week beginning Monday 20 September – every day we’ll update the website with views as they come in. There are a number of ways you can send us your thoughts:

We’ll make a final public statement, bringing together all your views, on the European Day of Languages, to be celebrated this year on Monday 27 September.

Let’s work together to make the voice of language teachers heard!

So, here I am passing the message on!

I’ll be tweeting no doubt!

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