Tom Bennett letting go #pgce #mfltwitterati

An awesome post by Tom Bennett talking about how a shocking night of street violence helped him find better equilibrium as a teacher. But the bit that really jumped out at me was at the beginning:

When I began to teach, I went home every night feeling like weeping, and spent lonely weeks racked with self-doubt and dismay. Children wouldn’t do the tasks I asked, and what kind of man was I? It was one of the lowest points of my life.

By my second year I wasn’t drowning any more, but I was barely breaking the surface. I fell into a familiar vortex of fail: my classes were all hard; they barely seemed to work when I asked; as time passed I did less and less about the behaviour because nothing seemed to make a difference, and I couldn’t cope with the effort of doing anything about it. As things got worse and worse, I circled the drain, hating myself, despairing for my ability as a teacher, and my ability to help children many of whom, seemed not to want to be helped. In many ways, I took their behaviour home with me every night, and it burned.

Oh boy, that sounds awfully familiar – and I’ve barely finished teaching practice and have had relatively little time swirling around the vortex of fail. Even Tom Bennett felt like that? *The* Tom Bennett? And it took several years to deal with it? And it was a street beating that helped him fix his classroom practice?

Why does anyone do this job?!


Tips on behaviour

Since I registered with the TES Online for job ads and free resources, they’ve been sending me regular emails with links to forum discussions, resources, daily job alerts, and links to blog posts from their wide panel of experts, in my topic and more widely.

I couldn’t possibly follow all the links. Who has time? But I do sample, and I have found some of the information patchy. Sometimes I’m too cynical – sounds like a good idea, but I could never make that work in my classroom. Sometimes it sounds too hard and I dismiss it.

But two links today in an email have been utterly fantastic and had me cheering as I read them.

Firstly Tom Bennett’s tips for new and inexperienced teachers and those who work with us – OMG, awesome! Read through, do! I don’t like everything Tom says elsewhere and haven’t always agreed with everything he suggests, but this article is amazeballs. At the start of teaching practice in particular I was concerned at his “always have a seating plan” instruction – now I’m increasingly sold.

Secondly, Phil Beadle’s specific advice on seating plans and room layouts. Have your tables in groups if at all possible, preferably groups of six. One of the rooms I teach in is in groups, and it is the home to some of the worst behaviour when I am teaching, at least partly because most of the students are not looking at me but at other students and it is really easy to start conversations. But I am increasingly of the view that a group layout is best for MFL if not other subjects, because whenever I plan those lessons I am always thinking more about group and pair work than the other room layouts, because they are already in groups of four.

My experience hosting a supperclub

(File this one under “things I should have blogged months ago!”)

In November last year, just over a year after I opened our doors for CDWM, we hosted a supper club in our house.

We weren’t cooking, we were hosting for my vegan chef friend who used to blog here but is presently on hiatus.

I think it was a good evening. We had an interesting blend of people, who enjoyed our chef’s food. Our guests were a mix of vegans and not. For an evening, we had a house full of people who had never been here before.

In order to get the house ready we had spent about a week tidying clutter away, and I spent the Saturday hoovering, dusting and laying tables. Our guests didn’t seem disgusted by the state of our house, but then, as we learned on Come Dine With Me, they don’t usually express their disgust to your face! (And they weren’t allowed in as many rooms as the CDWM guys!)

Some things I learned:

* if I borrow a table and six chairs, I can easily seat 16 people for dinner in our house.

* We already have enough cutlery, crockery, glassware, candles, table linen without borrowing any more (!)

* in November, we need to run the heating all day to get the house tolerably warm

* if you deadbolt the kitchen door and put a camping table up against it you can get an extra prep surface. But it will be uncomfortably low down.

Some things that were hiccoughs along the way:

Boiling enough water to feed gnocchi to 16 people takes a looong time. They had to be cooked in separate batches because some of them were gluten free, so we needed two pans of boiling water. The gnocchi had been made ahead and frozen and needed to be plunged into large pans of boiling water. Getting 20l of water to the boil in a domestic kitchen is a time consuming challenge.

The second thing that held us up was plate warming. This is all the more important in our house because our kitchen is unheated and the cupboards fix directly to the walls. In winter, some of our cupboards are colder than our fridge. Our plates are often icy. There’s no point getting the food good and warm if you then By the time we needed warm plates, the oven was very hot cooking puff pastry, and the sink was full of used pots and pans. We actually warmed plates in the end by wetting them and microwaving them, all the while worrying this might break them.

Two of our guests were the hosts of North Nott’s Clarkies Supperclub (last few spaces remaining at their April event!). We had been worried they might be hostile to competition, but that wasn’t the case at all. It seems there is plenty of market share available for another supper club in the Nottingham neck of the woods – in fact there doesn’t appear to be any other one currently running anywhere in the East Midlands. The Clarkies have said they are keen for others to set up just so they have an opportunity to go and eat out instead of hosting for a change.

They had suggestions for the platewarming problem – buy a hostess trolley. They’re pricey new, but there does seem to be a steady supply of really cheap ones on eBay.

Which leads me to my conclusion. Would I do this again? Is it worth buying a hostess trolley off eBay? So far, I only have experience of hosting and not cooking. At our last event, our chef partner did all the cooking, devised the menu, and did all the publicity, mostly through the very obliging Nottingham Vegan website. I’m not sure I could cook as well as our chef, nor present the food as well, nor work out such an interesting menu.

Certainly working as a teacher I could not run an event in term time, as the prep and publicity would take too long. Do I want to spend half terms hosting a restaurant in my house?

If you do it regularly, it does seem to take over your house a little. In her book, Kerstin Rodgers confesses she’s had to move her entire life into the bedroom of her flat as her sitting room is dominated now by tables and chairs. In conversation with the Clarkies, it seems they have had to give over a spare bedroom to holding the folding chairs, tables, extra dinner services and linen they need.

Do you ever make any money from it? We were on a profit share basis with our chef partner and at the end of the evening divvied up the takings. And we got a nice handful of tenners in return for our efforts. We had incurred some cost – heating, and professional help in cleaning up ready for our guests – so we comfortably broke even. But the temptation to buy ever more things to make the evening go better – cooking kit, serving kit, must mean if you do it regularly, you incur costs. Would it ever get to the point where you made money? I doubt it. I guess most people who do it, do it for the love of food and the interesting times you end up with.

Will we do it again? I have not ruled it out forever, but I am sure as heck going to try and get teaching a bit more sorted out before I have another go myself. So certainly ruling it out for PGCE year and (hopefully) NQT year to summer 2013.

Apostates for Evensong

Some interesting things have been happening on the Facebook group for fans of Choral Evensong in the last few days.

Firstly, people from some fairly major cathedrals have been highlighting when they have spare days for visiting choirs – and there has even been some suggestion of setting up a Facebook Scratch Choir. Which would be hugely fun, even if only to get some po-faced precentor to thank the Facebook Singers at the end of evensong.

Secondly, there was this rather good article from an Australian atheist called Apostates for Evensong that ticks rather a lot of boxes for things I have been pondering lately.

I’m fairly ambivalent about things Godly these days, but I maintain pretty strong links with the church through bellringing. Somehow I’m more into that than now than I have been for years and even my Sunday morning attendance – for ringing if not for services – is now hugely more than it has been for years.

How do you square a fairly strong agnostic position on the whole God front and still turn up week after week to ring the bells? I think bellringing and choral singing, especially evensong, are huge parts of the English cultural heritage. It may be that the church has the monopoly on all the equipment and costumes, but it’s culturally important that evensong and bellringing continue, whether or not it’s to do it just because it’s beautiful or to the glory of God. If God is there and listening, then it’s an expression of human worship. But there’s a purely humanist dimension as well. Hearing the bells and the choirs as an expression of human skill and talent, with no spiritual dimension, is just as uplifting.

I spend a week every year singing choral evensong with a touring choir, and every year think to myself I should a) sing routinely and not just in August and b) I should make a greater effort to go and hear other choirs singing evensong. Heck, on at least two nights a month I ring for evensong in St Peters but never stay for the service. St Peters and St Marys in Nottingham both have strong choirs and it’s not that far from Southwell Minster, which has a choral foundation. And yet in almost every year since I started singing over the summer, thirteen years this year, I don’t think I’ve been to evensong for the rest of the year more than once or twice. (I do remember one particular year taking P to evensong at St Mary’s, only to get lumbered with a Surprise Eucharist, and overly keen meeters and greeters on the door who wouldn’t let us leave afterwards…)

My day at Languages World #lw2012 #mfltwitterati

Yesterday I spent a day at Manchester University for the Association of Language Learners‘ annual conference, Languages World.

It felt a strange day, and, at the end of a tough term, I wasn’t as fully awake as I could be. But there was plenty of useful and enjoyable information I picked up.

Firstly a session on teaching languages to children with special educational needs. Started off with some theories of teaching and second language acquisition which were similar to what we have encountered on our course, specifically Vygotsky and ZPD and Krashen’s comprehensible input. Moved onto some ways of using flashcards with lower ability students: constrain vocab. Use cognates. Ensure understanding before continuing to further vocab. Play games. Allow students not to speak if they do not want to. Use visuals. Make bar charts out of Duplo. Consider extra ways of being physical with learning – eg don’t write on a worksheet to learn parts of the body, stick post-its onto an inflatable alien. Use inflatable hammer to teach “my X hurts.” The session ended with lots of laugh as we watched Joey from Friends learning French.

Secondly, a session on “Blagging Blogging” which extolled the virtues of intensive computer use in teaching languages. Have a departmental blog, have a password protected blog for every class. Set and receive homework online. Get students to use their school email to send in their work and set homework which gets students to peer assess other people’s homework. It was suggested that Posterous was the best free host for schools because it’s the main one that lets you have lots of different blogs off one email address.

There were also endorsements for Prezi (better than powerpoint for presentations), Quizlet (a flashcard creating vocab learning site), Zondle (a series of vocab games that produced participating stats for your class, and so could be set for homework, and also that allows (eg) girls and boys to practice the same vocab playing radically different sorts of games)

Our session leader blogs at MsMFL and tweets here. Her resources and handout are on her blog.

I found this session most inspiring and this is the Big Thing that I most want to try when/if I get my own classes in the autumn.

Then we lunched, and exhibitioned, so I got a bagfull of stuff, of which notable highlights for good quality stuff were the Goethe Institute and the European Commission, both of whom had books for free and the offer of lots more help. I thanked the Goethe Institute for helping me with my own A-Levels, which the nice lady said was good to hear.

After lunch was a slightly damp-squibby “Secondary Show and Tell” session, which I had chosen because it was broader than the ICT Show and Tell or the German Show and Tell, but in truth, maybe three simultaneous Show and Tells was too many? No-one in the Secondary one had actually arrived prepared to show anything, and so those who presented did so on a rather more ad-hoc basis. It was an enormous lecture theatre with barely 20 people in it; and we heard from a) a lady from the north east teaching in a school which could not afford text books for French and who had therefore created her own scheme of work which looked pretty fine, from what we saw of it. b) a chap of some experience who showed a text manipulating game, as an activity that does not need much prep: start with a paragraph of text and remove either 1, 2 or 3 words from it. If 2 or 3, words must be adjacent. The remaining text must make grammatical sense, but you can change the meaning. c) me, talking about my magic tricks lesson. Should have taken the hankies with me! d) another student teacher talking about a lesson learning how to use Prezi – took 15 mins to teach and then in the following 45 mins, the students created good presentations about monuments in Berlin.

Then, almost entirely just because I wanted to change rooms, rather than for any more serious reason, I went up to a small room on a higher floor to hear a Spanish guy talk about bilingual education. There were some nuggety gems (eg bilingual education has beneficial effects on preventing/postponing Alzheimers [citation needed]), but partly because it was a postprandial graveyard slot and partly because the talk was greatly more theoretical than practical, I think the presenter lost most of his audience and got only a fraction of the way through his slides before his time was up.

Back down to the large lecture hall for the final panel discussion which included Joe Dale by Skype from the middle of the night in Australia, a guy from NAACE and a lady who uses Second Life in her classroom… Some of the fun bits included – a recap from what was being said about ICT and MFL in 1992 (eg “OMG! Wordprocessors!”) – a fab bit of awful machine translation about Madonna in Hungary that was debunked by a twitter person in the hall almost immediately – a challenge – do you think ICT will completely have revolutionised your classroom by 2022? (only two people present did, most people thought we’d still be mostly doing some sort of chalk and talk)

Worth a paragraph of its own if not a whole separate blog post – Joe Dale challenged people there to do the “10 minute mfltwitterati challenge” – spend 10 minutes a day for a week reading the twitter feed of the “mfltwitterati” – and see if, by the end of the week, you have found it worthwhile. All you have to do is go to this address and read for a few minutes. If you do that, you will get lots of support and lots of ideas. And, of course, the sense that the mfltwitterati are both teachers and ordinary people with a diverse set of interests. When I tried my first daysworth of looking at their messages for 10 minutes, I just got a huge wodge of posts about Saturday night TV. In my second attempt just now, I’ve found broadly off topic stuff, but also Miss T Dunne, who has just written a comprehensive review of everything she did at Languages World – and she was taking notes and can remember everything!

Some choice quotes from the day: “It has been clinically proven that boys cannot learn languages without dismantling a biro” (ahahahahahahahah!!!!!)

“Talk to the phone, the tourist isn’t listening” (about iPhone based speech translators)