In the first half of this year I worked with Alas Media, the collective of former students of Marco Torres in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, to produce a year-long podcast series to excite, entertain and educate learners of Spanish. We wanted to explore what it means to be a Latino in modern America, something most textbooks this side of the pond tend to ignore.
Learning and Teaching Scotland have recently started to release the weekly podcast in the iTunes storethrough RSS, as well as on the LTS site. These are some of the best video materials produced for any educational institution or department that I have ever seen, from a point of view of content, context and quality of storytelling.
The result is a series of 17 short movies, beautifully produced by Rosa, Miguel, Eli and Ernesto, which describe the struggles of migrating over two countries on foot to find the American dream, the subsequent problems of trying to integrate while maintaining one's culture, what it means to Hispanic in the States in the first decade of the millennium, what it's like to manage those relationships with your traditionalist family while trying to be an American teen.
The episodes see some progression throughout the year, and are designed for learners with some competence already, from intermediate through to advanced levels.
Have a look at one or two of them, or subscribe so that you never miss an episode. You might be a learner of Spanish or you might be keen to see how these digital stories are being told. Or, like me, you might just be fascinated by these personal stories of joy, sadness, struggle, identity and love
It was tonight as our dear Spanish entrant to The X Factor gave her thanks to "the British pubic" that was reminded of a) the importance of getting your phonemes right (how I tried to get that point across while teaching it in France) and c) my second favourite Taylor Mali poem, after this one. Enjoy.
I've been down in Oxford University today at Language World sharing some of the principles that help us get students more engaged in writing, speaking and working together in a foreign language, using computer games as a stimulus for creative reading, writing and, ultimately, speaking.
It's been based on the work I've already done in the area (the "Thinking Out Of The (X)Box" post is freshly updated), from the study of fairy tales for my MA (the best option by far at the time!), getting students new to French to come up with their own authentic fairy tales, having read some Petit Chaperon Rouge from Perrault, and finally using some of their medium, computer games, to enhance the experience. It's been even more enticing, I hope, with some updates courtesy of m'colleague Derek whose Nintendogs projects could provide some nice fodder for foreign language and enterprise work.
Pic: Bodlein Library ceiling, which reminds me of some of those Myst caverns.
This week our Learning and Teaching Scotland Chief Executive and the Education Minister launched the Confucius Classrooms online hub for teachers of Chinese, in China. For the past two months I've been leading the development of content for the new site, bringing together expertise and material in Chinese teaching and learning from our colleagues around the country.
The site is designed for use by teachers of Chinese in Scotland who may be seeking out resources, but also as a mechanism for Chinese teachers in China to think about their pedagogy and linking with schools in Scotland through a new lens. We're hoping it meets with the same success as its partner site, the Modern Foreign Languages Environment.
The Confucius Classrooms are also an actual set of physical spaces around Scotland, in schools, where children can learn the Chinese language and culture. They are jointly funded by the school, Local Authorities and the Chinese Hanban, after an agreement was reached by Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Chinese authorities.
The site is an excellent achievement in a very short period of time, and I am indebted to my colleague Annelie Carmichael for getting this out and ready, on the same day she left us for pastures new. As always, feedback is welcome.
Those long-awaited outcomes for Literacy in Scotland's new Curriculum for Excellence are released today by Learning and Teaching Scotland for consultation. At first glance you may be disappointed with what appears to be a rather narrow definition of literacy: no mention of 'new literacies', a phrase that emanates nearly exclusively from my US blog feeds, and no distinct mention of t'Internet or television in the outcomes themselves.
However, it's all there: sense of audience, distinction between information sources, information gathering, information presentation and purpose of writing, seeking regular reading for pleasure of a certain calibre. The real beef comes in the 'Cover Paper', and its definition of 'texts':
novels, short stories, plays, poems, reference texts, the spoken word, charts, maps, graphs and timetables, advertisements, promotional leaflets, comics, newspapers and magazines, CVs, letters and e-mails, films, games and TV programmes, labels, signs and posters, recipes, manuals and instructions, reports and reviews, text messages, blogs and social networking sites, web pages, catalogues and directories.
I don't know any other curriculum (though I'd love to be corrected) that states in black and white that teachers must help their students understand how to read Social Networks, blogs, games, comics - the whole panoply of literature young 21st Century citizens read. It's a great lead for Scotland.
The problems, if there are to be any, will lie in any potential narrow interpretation by teachers, those who feel that they can 'get away with' not looking at how we 'read' SNSs and blogs. Should that happen, then we will be stuck in the 19th Century. Disastrous, potentially. I don't think that will happen, though, having been heartened by the Schools and Skills Minister's statement this morning:
"We teach children how to understand, analyse and communicate using words on paper and rightly so. We're not going to stop that - indeed we want people to be properly equipped with better literacy skills.
"At the same time, of course, we get our news and information more from TV and the internet than from the newspaper. We communicate through email and text messaging and social networking more than writing letters."
I'm proud to have been part of the small but persistent team within Learning and Teaching Scotland who, for the past three years, has been pecking away at the definition of Literacy. But I'm also proud of a burgeoning section of the profession here in Scotland who have taken to the blogosphere and made sure their voice is heard by those writing the curriculum, and that whatever definition of Literacy we come to, that it is one which will stand the test of time.
On that point, these guidelines might fall over in five years' time, when perhaps something even more seductive will have taken the place of SNSs and blogs as we know them. But then, we should be revisiting this curriculum well before then.
Pic: La Loca...
I'm just about to leave early morning to head down to Pine Crest School, which hosts the South Eastern and Mid-Atlantic Language Technology conference this week.
I'm even more keen now to get there since hearing that one of my TV idols, Kelsey Grammar, went to school there. One story to emerge so far is, in order to conform with the dress code, he had to bunch up his lengthy curls and hide them under a wig. Some kind of teen! I'll be experimenting again with my walk to work collection on Flickr, too, as well as getting preparations finalised for this week's language conference.
I am currently 35,000 feet up with Mrs. and Ms. Edublogger*, trying to thrash through some documentation that needs reading before the inflight entertainment starts up.
Thanks to the kind invitation and generosity of the International Association of Language Learning Technology and Pine Crest School la famille is spending a long weekend on the beach at Fort Lauderdale before the conference proper begins mid-week. Rather than my traditional January 25th Burns' Supper singing silly songs with friends, I'll be brushing my brow of some midwinter heat and sunshine in Fort Lauderdale, near Miami, Florida. (Maybe, though, we'll use the Learning and Teaching Scotland Burns' resources to get us started).
Next week, I'll be keynoting and running a few workshops on the emerging pedagogies our emerging technologies can bring, showing off the fantastic resource that exists throughout the LTS Online Service, in particular the Modern Foreign Languages Environment. I'll also be using the time difference to do some teleworking of the kind that I loved ;-) in New Zealand.
Attending and presenting at this conference has already allowed me to start doing a few things:
I'd be lying if I didn't say that a week of 25 degree sunshine and evening strolls across the beach don't make all those tasks slightly easier to stomach, too. Do I regret not being able to have my haggis and eat it...? Only a wee bit.
* This is a time-delayed post. I don't do them often, but needs must...
Disclosure: IALLT have funded my flight, Pine Crest School providing accommodation. I have funded my family's flights and subsistence.
In Japan, some of the biggest selling novels this year have been created and then read on... mobile phones. Cameron at The Podcast Network has begun a wonderfully creative way of getting many people to write collaboratively on one story: get them to send their part of the story in a pre-defined sequence through their mobile phone.
First, 140 people have registered themselves by adding their name to the project wiki website. Then, using Twitter, which takes your mobile phone message and sends it out to the world, Cameron is able to add each person's 140 character-limit section of the story to those which precede it. As your turn comes up you receive a Twitter message on your mobile. You text your addition (having read your fellow writers' submissions to date) and so it goes on, until a 140 person, 140 characters each story is complete.
The first story is well underway, but there is plenty of room for people to register their interest for a bit of creative writing on the as yet untitled second story:
Twittory #1, "The Darkness Inside", will commence as soon as we have
140 people signed up below and will conclude, no matter where the story is up to, when we have the full 140 entries. 140 x 140 is... a story
with a maximum of 19600 characters.
If schools can get over themselves a bit in relation to the use of mobile phones for learning, this would be a great way to get some creative writing underway during the Christmas holidays, or simply as an ongoing 'starter-for-ten' exercise to get students tuned into their writing. You could do it for Modern Foreign Languages, too, especially as a 'fun' alternative to some of the drier work in advanced language courses.
We've had a bit of a marathon day here in Glasgow, today, with teachers and Head Teachers from Turkey, Poland, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Spain, Catalonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Bulgaria, Austria and Germany, taking a peek at how LTS supports teachers and learners.
This afternoon we played, discovered and looked at what kind of collaborative languages projects could come out of gaming, image sharing, interactive game-making on Flickr and sharing practice on a blog, like this. What follows are the five points of positive action from each group, ways that they hope to go back to their country and effect change, even in the smallest of ways:
Share all the Scottish experiences with teachers in our area, face to face and online.
Using our own blogs more to share
Get students to create their own blogs with the purpose of developing communication and writing
Organise a course for those teachers who don't know how to blog yet
We won't be the only ones with this gap between 'our world' and the things we saw today
Expertise in using ICT needs improving:
The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side: change of mentality needs changing by... (help!)
Sharing our experiences through talks, workshops, time to reflect
Introduction of intranet: we're technically able, so we need to learn from each other's mistakes
We need to look at the 'Toxic Childhood' issue: how do we encourage responsible use?
We're going to play!
Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.
Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.
School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.