Podcast: Blogs and Podcasts, the learner is the resource, or, Initial Teacher Education and why engagement starts there
I've been speaking today at ESCalate, St Martin's College, Lancaster, to/with a group of teachers of teachers. My talk is based around 10 factors of change, factors which have been brought to light in my teaching this year, the experiences of others on and offline and in listening to podcasts, reading books and meeting Marc Prensky for the first time last month. The points are, in the words of one teacher trainer, 'controversial', but I figure that people want to think when they come to conferences. I aim to please ;-) In any case, I reckon in my humble opinion that it's just good teaching that I am describing.
If there is one group of people who can make a long-term difference to the way that the profession works, it's teachers' teachers. I hope that after today they will do what they hoped to do at the end of the talk, and act!
Here is the audio from a similar presentation given last month at Language World in Manchester which covers the same ground and where I was not so tired after travelling down from Edinburgh the same day. It will be released on the MFLE in due course with nicer graphics and better quality sound, but this is a sneak preview for my faithful listeners and readers.
If you want to read the transcript of the talk (briefer version) then you can use the one taken at the Royal Society of Edinburgh event where the talk caused some stirs in the room and in the press. Viva la revolucion! The text is available in the extension of this post, below.
As ever, comments and discussion appreciated.
So, thank you very much for inviting me along to speak today. And the one thing I’ve noticed is that in my job this year I’m trying to provide support for teachers in doing things with their teaching practice they might not have done before. And quite a lot of the time it involves technology. It seems to be the one thing teachers see makes a different in teaching kids, but find difficult to get to grips with, even though teaching itself has so many other things that are far more complicated than connecting a computer to a projector. And the technology can frighten the teachers, and we’re talking about confident individuals, and I think one of the points to make in the next nine minutes is that teachers themselves perhaps need to be more confident individuals themselves. But technology excites students, and this isn’t just a modern languages thing, in schools, not enough use is being made of the kind of technologies that really excite students. So if modern languages can get in there, we’ll be there first, and we’ll have the hook that no one else does. So, “tomorrow’s teaching is today” and not yesterday or in a paper that was produced in 1996 or something like that. Here are ten points about looking forward and trying to use technology partly, but also changing the way perhaps that we teach modern languages to entice more kids in.
The first one has been touched on already, the pantomime joker, what happens when something’s wrong? “It’s behind you” cry the audience. Teachers look behind them all the time, looking to the past to old technologies to use in their modern foreign languages class, and seem surprised when kids don’t respond to 40 minutes of PowerPoint. They seem surprised when the worksheet they’ve beautifully produced in word, which took them twice longer than it would have done to hand write, is finished to two minutes, how could that be? The trick perhaps is not looking behind us but looking forward to new technology. I’m going to ask this question, I’ve asked this quite a lot recently, how many of you know what Bebo is? Hands up? Wow, I’m impressed. Bebo, Myspace? MSN Spaces? How many of you have your own home page on one of those services? You do? Fantastic. I ask 12 year olds this and the answer is 100% and I think 80% have two or three personal websites that they run. Modern languages is all about communication, but we’re not allowing them to communicate in a foreign language in a medium they understand. So one of the first things perhaps is to link modern languages to their real world, not our adult real world, using on-line meeting spaces and virtual communities, getting them to set up their own language learning logs on a weblog so that everyone can see it, so you can share ideas, that’s speaking on their terms, it’s something they understand, even if you at the moment don’t.
Number two, the second point, and this if you’re a teacher will sound very familiar indeed, “My dad’s got one of them and it’s better than yours”. This can be about the computer that you’ve just spent a fortune of your departmental budget on, it could be on your mobile phone – I always make sure I’ve got one of the best ones so the kids can never say that, or it might be the fact that I have an ipod. Do any of you own one of these? This is a really old one, and the kids take the mick out of me because it’s black and white. The technology that we use in schools, that we purchase, is second rate often to what kids have in their own pockets. That mobile phone is probably more powerful than the PC laptop being used to do the presentations this morning. And instead of encouraging the kids to use their mobile phones to make recordings, instead of encouraging them to listen to authentic radio shows on their mobile phones, what are we doing? We’re banning it all from the schools. So we could use some of the technology and excite them even more. If modern languages could do it, we’d be the first. And also like I say most of this is about communicating which is what languages is all about.
The third point, again this is something that languages teachers will moan at, is what they kids moan to us. There’s often a lack of purpose in learning a language in the 45 minute or 50 minute period. And the kind of purpose you can involve is in involving kids in making a product. Every one of the speakers that have spoken so far makes stuff, or works for someone who makes stuff. The reason they work is they make stuff. We’ve even got someone who makes stuff nobody knows they want, apparently. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make kids see that they really do want to speak a foreign language even if perhaps they don’t? Producing a film, making a radio show, these are things I loved to do when I was young. You record on a cassette machine and have a record player and make a radio show. Please tell me someone else did that when they were younger. So I do that with kids now. I go out once a week to a school, any school that’ll have me, to make radio shows with the kids in a foreign language. And they will work for hours, miss their break and their lunch, to record a radio show in a foreign language. And Mark’s going to talk to you in four minutes about some others that do that as well. Audience is really important, making all these creative products is no good if they stick on the classroom wall, or if they end up on a CD in the headmaster’s office.
So let’s give kids an audience. Teachers love talking, too much perhaps. Why don’t we let the kids talk, but talk to the world? They’re communicating with what at the moment, a tape recorded, maybe with someone else in their class who speaks English? They don’t have to speak a foreign language. I’m speaking to you in English, I could speak to you in French if I wanted to or in German, some of you would understand, most of you probably would, but there’s no point, we all speak English and I’m happy with that. Giving the kids a real audience, a worldwide audience, means there’s a very good chance someone who doesn’t speak English will be listening in and will leave a little comment to say how much they’ve enjoyed their guide to Edinburgh city in Spanish.
Point number 5, a couple of boys from the media in today, I’d love to ask them why they wanted to get in to it. Media’s great fun when you’re a kid, wandering round with cameras, interviewing people, last weekend on Saturday we had a team from Partners in Excellence who were our official Scottish CILT National ICT Conference media team. We didn’t want any adults doing it, the kids did it better. They were going around interviewing. Media’s one of these soft subjects though, as they’re called, that are steeling students away from modern languages. Why not just bring the media into modern languages? A communication subject that fits in perfectly well. There are very few other areas introducing media into their subjects. English will do it very soon, if modern languages can get in their first, then kids will associate the coolness, the product producing side of things, with French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, German, whatever language, but not with taking a media subject specifically.
The sixth point I’d like to make is that our students are experts in this already. And we can harness those student experts. “I collect stick insects” comes from show and tell that was in my English class when I was about 12, someone showed off their stick insects, it was the most fascinating talk I have ever heard, apart from the ones I’ve heard this morning. It was highly enjoyable, but what I realised was that my mate John really was an expert in stick insects. Now in your class you’ve got experts on all kinds of things who would love to find a French speaking expert in stick insects as well, to share their passion, because goodness knows none of their class mates are interested. By giving them an audience then you’re enabling them to take part in their passions in a foreign languages, something that most of us probably did in pubs, when we were abroad, being ski bums and doing all that kind of thing.
Step 7, the world is built on, and this is where business people can correct me or nod their heads as they see fit, automation. If I want something done quickly my computer can do it for me quicker than I can. Abundance, if I want something I can find it for a very cheap price. I just bought a new camera, which high street shops are selling for £900, but I got it for more than half the price by looking on line for it. And Asia, if I want an accountant, I will go to India to get an accountant, because it costs five times less, but they understand the Scottish, UK accountancy system, and they’ll do it for me and they’ll e-mail it back to me on time. If I ask a Scottish accountant I’ll get it late, it’ll cost five times more and I won’t understand anything they’ve told me. These three factors mean that speaking a foreign language is great but that there’s something else that’s got to be added, the creative edge is what has to be added. Producing linguists with nothing to say isn’t going to do any good for anybody. Introducing a bit of creativity into the classroom is not colouring in. Introducing real creativity in the class room is in the form of making a radio show, making a video, making an animation, producing a product, doing some creative writing, why don’t you write a book and then you can publish a book for $4, hard back, printed edition, delivered to your door. Why don’t you get kids to write French, German fairytales and then get their book published and then sent back for $4 a book? Introducing that creativity will produce the kind of multilingual folk that I’m sure companies such as Harrisons, would love to employ. Here are some quotes, I’m not going to read them, pick one and read it, that’s how long it’ll be up. These were quotes from last Tuesday when I was doing some podcasting, that’s on-line radio show, with kids in St Thomas of Aquin’s, all of these are 14 year old boys. And they worked for two and a half hours non-stop in Spanish, they didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak Spanish. So what we had was a real creative experience, and it was difficult and they loved. I’ll take you back to that last quote “the most difficult thing was the recording, the funnest bit was the recording”. You can tell they’re kids passionate about what they’ve done.
Second but last, students need skills that they can use. Being a teacher, I mean I am a teacher, but I’ve had already four different career paths including an attempt to be an Army officer. And a career lasting three years is optimistic, most of our kids are going to be in careers for two years before they change tack. Knowing a language, and I did European Union studies as well, I too was unemployed at the end of it. All the boys on that course became teachers. Unless you have skills that can go with those languages, they’re going to be lost when you try to change career.
And the final point, “change or die”. Sounds very dramatic. I typed it in to google this morning though, and 191,000 other people also thing that if you don’t change you’re going to die. Interestingly enough, go to the fourth one down, what sector is that? It’s education, it’s language education. If we don’t change, languages in Scotland will die, or they certainly will get very poorly and bedridden. If you want to go on to the MFLE, you’ll see examples of all the kinds of things seen, if you want to change the way that you teach or work before you die, you’ll find things here, emergency help there. But above all I think you’ll have seen as well that the Curriculum for Excellence themes, the “confident individuals”, is as much for teachers as it is for students, and the “effective contributors” means contributing in a real world context, not in a 50 minute period in a four walled classroom.