Vacation… CHOON!

I have to confess to not spending enough of my vacation time doing formation waterskiing in a pink rara dress.

This one of several songs that crops up on “Step to the Beat”, an indoor walking game for the Wii that helps me get my step count up on days. It’s very catchy and I really like the up tempo numbers as they let you march quickly through the steps you need to complete the next challenge. Definitely something I have found myself humming in the classroom.

As too is Jesse Armstrong’s “Missing you crazy” – an incredibly catchy song, but one that really bothers me in a spousal abuse sort of way. SHE’S JUST NOT INTO YOU! AT ALL!!

Teaching tip – write on the desks!

The student desks in my classroom are fully sealed plastic units with a smooth surface.

Which means you can write on them with a dry wipe marker – a board pen in other words – and it rubs right off.

In fact, doing so makes less of a mess than a whole class activity with the mini whiteboards.

So when a class is settled on a writing activity and they ask for spellings, or “how do you say this in French?”, where before I’d grasp around for a spare pen, or a mini whiteboard from the cupboard, or a piece of paper, or even return to the whiteboard at the front of the room to make a cluttered confusing resource still worse… now, since I am almost always clutching a boardmarker when I am on walkabout anyway, I just write the answer to their question directly on their desk.

The first few times I did it were met with horror, and a bit of pointing and whispering. OMG, sir is writing on the tables. Then it improved engagement – more students asked questions if they thought the answer would get written on their desks.

We have posters in school that say “Stop! What are the rules about this?” and so a common reaction from students is “Sir, are you allowed to do that?” And the next question is “Sir… are WE allowed to do that…?” So you do have to be fairly clear that yes, I can do it, but no, you can’t do it, unless you have permission and you are using the correct type of pen.

I don’t always write an answer. If the question is something I think they should know (differentiated by who they are of course) or something we have laboured recently, I will signpost. Dictionary. Board. Check your book. Here, let me check your book. There. And sometimes it’s bloomin’ obvious – in a glossary on the sheet they are using, for example.

The idea came to me from this article about an English teacher removing barriers to writing and I discussed it further with colleagues this week at an inspiring school literacy training event chock full of ideas. Talk turned to mounting a mini-whiteboard on the classroom door on which to write a hook to catch students’ imaginations on their way in. I wondered whether maybe chalk pens might be the answer – write directly on the door?

Now wondering about writing up some of the common irregular verbs on my classroom windows. Crayola 5 Window Crayons FTW!

Speedy mini-plenaries and AFL

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On the amazing, but busy, mfl-resources mailing list, someone asked for ideas about how to do assessment for learning (AFL) whilst keeping a lesson pacey. Here were some ideas I gave in an answer. The point of AFL is to check that ALL learners are making the appropriate level of progress, and to test progress against learning objectives. These things should help you to do that.


“Turn to the back of your book. Write the numbers 1-5. Write the French for dog, cat, fish, mouse, tortoise. You should have le chien, le chat, la souris, la tortue. Mark your own work. Show me on the fingers of one hand what you got.”

(even quicker if you have the test and the answers on slides, which you can quickly type up during another activity or have ready before. Ofsted don’t need a lesson plan, just evidence the lesson is planned. Having mini-plenary tests up your sleeve is a clear sign you knew where the lesson was going in advance)

Whole class multiple choice activities

Teach your class the sign language for A B C D – you can do this pretty quickly the first time you do it, and subsequent times they will know it already and only need a little reinforcement. Then you can run through multiple choice questions on the board very fast and see instant feedback whether they are getting it right.

You can generate multiple choice questions on a set of vocab using Task Magic and then use them as a whole class activity this way.

I have seen class sets of coloured laminated cards with A B C D on, held together by treasury tags, which is also a good way to do it, but I still prefer mine with the sign language (it’s also “citizenship”)

Get feedback from routine tasks

For listening exercises out of eg 20, you can get a “numeracy across the curriculum” tick on your observation with “Take your score. Halve it and round up. Halve it and round down. Show me on the fingers of one hand what you got.” (this takes a lot of practice before most of them can do it and an awful lot of niggly questions about basic maths)

How are you feeling?

My PGCE tutor in almost every university session we had would do something along the lines of “show me how you feel – thumbs down if you are not getting it. Thumbs sideways if you are starting to understand, thumbs up if you think it’s time to move on to the next thing. Everyone show me altogether now!

You can also give the thumbs a numerical score: thumb up if you got 15-20, sideways 7-14, down if under 7.

What do the walls think?

I’ve started to do pointing at walls – left wall if you think the food item I mention is gesund, right wall if it is ungesund.

Similarly, a series of sentences on the projector: “Many of these sentences have a fundamental mistake. Read the sentence quickly then work out the error. When I say so, altogether, point at the left wall if the mistake is word order. Point at the right wall if the mistake is to do with the verb and point at the ceiling if the verb and time phrase do not match properly. Fold your arms if the sentence is correct.”

(the altogether is key otherwise the weaker ones take their lead from the stronger ones)

(copy where to point onto every slide so they have no excuse for misremembering which wall is which)

(a friend invested in a clicker with a laser pointer so she can do activities like this from the back of the classroom facing in the same direction as the kids for the avoidance of left/right issues.)

Mini whiteboard – les ardoises

Mini whiteboards, obviously, so long as you don’t spend longer distributing resources than you do using them. “I know we haven’t done family members since Y7 so some of you will have forgotten this, but I want you write the French for ‘my dad’ on the mini whiteboards and hold them up. Yours is wrong. Yours is completely wrong. Yours is just missing one teeny tiny accent. Yes, perfect” – for correct answers take a board off a kid and show it to the others.

Le and La on different sides of the mini-whiteboard, then students can just flip them – chat is it le or la, souris is it le or la? Ditto mon and ma. This can also be done with walls.

(you have to be careful with “le on one side, la on the other” or they write the words on different halves of the same side. I now model what I want with an overly dramatic flip of the board.)

Groups or rows in your classroom?

Two colleagues have decided to move from rows to groups this year, mainly because it makes resources easier to deal with. Each group table can have a pile / basket with glue, MWBs and pens, dictionaries. One friend even has a stock of cheap biros with her name stuck onto them so that kids who come without pens don’t even need to tell her, they can just get on with it. Phil Beadle things that if sitting in groups, plan to have higher ability boys paired with slightly less able girls – high girls with low boys will mean the girls do all the work and the boys nick it, the other way around the machismo will mean the boys work and then help the girls.

Do please comment if you find these posts useful. I find it strange to hear that people are sharing my ideas with their departments, when I rarely get any feedback myself.

Control your heating from your phone!

Apparently, Finland, home of the Nokia, has long been the place where home automation and mobile phones are linked. It’s possible, if not common, I remember reading somewhere, to send a message from your phone that tells your house to turn on your sauna, just as you get into the car to begin your commute home. By the time you pull into your drive, your sweatlodge has heated up to the right temperature.

I’d really like to have more of my house automated and connected to the technology that’s already there. Sure, yes, we have a bunch of lights and the fish tank on timers, but that’s not the same. How hard would it be to have car-style keyfob remote locking for the entire house? Preferably with a gizmo that automatically shuts all the windows when you press a button.

This week, my brother sent me a link to a type of thermostat that fixes to your central heating and can be controlled by your mobile phone. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. Next time I’ve got over £100 spare, plus the yen to poke at my existing thermostat with a screwdriver I’m totes giving that a whirl. If nothing else, it would be so much easier to set program times from a website than from the poor UX of a tiny LCD screen and only 3 buttons.

Then there’s Belkin WeMo – things that sit in sockets and can be turned on by your iPhone. At the minute, it’s Apple only and pretty expensive. But it can also be controlled by IFTTT which at least gives you more options. (Not sure if you still need Apple in the loop there somewhere too.)

I’ve also wondered for a while about a series of temperature dataloggers scattered about the house just to get some data about how the heating actually works. You know, just because it’s interesting. All the loggers I have been able to find on the internet after not really looking that hard were either very expensive or required the sort of programming or soldering skills I do not have.

But right at the bottom of the page for the Android thermostat guys was a link to a new service called My Joulo. It’s a university project that wants to gather hard data about people’s heating systems. So they post you a datalogger of their own design and ask you to use it for a week then post it back. In return they crunch your data and make basic suggestions about how to save money on your heating bill. Basically, just some fancy graphs that say “turn down your ‘stat and stop fiddling with it” I imagine. Anyway, it’s free, and data-ry and nerdy and to do with heating, so I have signed away the little form and eagerly awaiting the USB logger to arrive in the post.

Annesley Hall obsession

My commute to work initially took me up the M1 from J26, but the A610 is so congested and slow every morning adjusted my route to go through Hucknall and Annesley and join the motorway at J27.

There is a superb stretch of the A611 when the road splits into separate carriageways and it takes you through fields and woodlands, and I look forward to it every morning. It was utterly beautiful in the snow, and at the moment, I am just getting used to seeing the leafless, skeletal trees breaking through the dawn. It’s a much needed little lift to the spirits every time I drive through.

But at the far side of one of the fields was a large, double bay house which looked rather special. As the snow fell and I looked out for it every morning, I came to realise it was deserted. There was never a light in the windows, the snow didn’t move, no sign or heating. I started little fantasies about moving in and doing it up, having my own Grand Design.

Annesley Hall

As you turn the corner, the road travels quite close to the building, and there are clearly public info boards next to it, as well as some completely derelict buildings with the roof falling in. Further along, still from the road, you can see what I assumed to be a walled garden.

A few weeks of thoughts like this and I took to Google Maps to find out what exactly the place was, and it turns out that it is Annesley Hall. The modest two bays you can see from the A611 are in fact the building end-on and it is huge – six bays in the other direction – along with a mass of ancillary buildings like stables, lodges and a ruined 11th century church.

Annesley Hall

Given that there are info boards, and small places to park, I decided to visit last weekend, when the weather warmed up a little and the sun came out.

It’s all rather lovely. Huge stables, massive house, large parts of it derelict with the roof caved in.

It needs millions of pounds worth of restoration, and as a listed building that wouldn’t be straightforward.

It was initially down on my “if I won the lottery” list, but I think now my putative lottery win would be better spent elsewhere. My next thoughts were Landmark Trust, of Holiday Property Bond but its location is now hugely overlooked from various busy main roads, and it is right next door to a huge business park. It doesn’t have the seclusion needed for a luxury holiday location.

It’s also one of the most haunted buildings in England. Tough sell as a health spa.

Annesley Hall – Wikipedia / Ashfield District Council planning pages / Most Haunted Youtube

Annesley Hall

Annesley Hall