The following is the transcript of a talk I gave at the ISMLA Conference Feb 2018. The talk was titled “Blogging for Languages”. It is a long read.
Blogging for Languages
I was invited by John Wilson of the ISMLA to talk this morning about “Blogging for Languages”. My plan is to go through 5 things. Firstly, who am I. Why blog? What have I gained? Can you do it? What’s next?
Question 1: Who are you?
My name is Dave. I teach MFL in a secondary school in Devon. I have taught German, Spanish and a little bit of French since starting in late 2011. In that time I have served as Second in Department and also in a pastoral role. I didn’t ever plan to be a language teacher. I went to university to study English and German. My first English lecture convinced me that I needed to be doing something else. A number of friends I had made in my halls were studying Spanish ab initio, so I joined them and it carried on. This led to a year abroad spent in a mixture of München, Bolivia and Marburg. I completed my PGCE with South West Teacher Training, and got a job teaching languages. I’m now just an everyday MFL teacher.
Question 2: Why blog?
I came across the idea of blogging sometime into my third or fourth year of teaching. I had started looking at a couple of websites called Classteaching, a blog by a teacher called Chris Hildrew (who is now a Headteacher and occasionally blogs) and Frenchteacher.net. They were all great for ideas and I wondered if I could do the same, so I did. Everydaymfl started life as North DevonMFL. It was a place to store activities and teaching ideas. It attracted a few visitors each week. I was quite proud of my 20 or so readers. Aside from a blog called Dom’s MFL blog and the aforementioned Frenchteacher.net there was not much giving practical ideas for teaching topics, grammar and ideas to use inside the classroom. I wanted somewhere to store ideas that was not going to get lost, disappear and was easily accessible.
After the first few months, I changed the name to reflect the nature of the blog and also because I had started looking around for jobs elsewhere. If I were no longer in North Devon, I didn’t think I could really retain the name. Over time the blog has grown from 1000 views in 2015 to 10,000 unique visitors in 2017. The United Kingdom leads the way with an overwhelming majority of views. The top ten does include the USA, Ireland, UAE, Spain, Austrailia, France, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia and Italy. I’m still awaiting visitors from Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Iran and Cuba.
The vision behind the blog was practical ideas that teachers can use every day. On Everdaymfl you can find ideas for teaching a variety of topics, how to help pupil-premium students, feedback and marking, questioning and some thoughts regarding approaching a visit from “they-who-shall-not-be named”.
Question 3: What have you gained?
I have gained a lot from doing this. Composing a blogpost makes me reflect on what works, allows me to imagine ideal situations and helps with retaining ideas I may have had and filtering out the ideas that didn’t work. I have also found it hugely helpful in working out what I believe about language teaching.
Regarding what works, there are plenty of posts on ideas that I have tried in lessons. I have written a series of posts titled “5 things to try tomorrow”. If you really want clicks on a website then it needs that kind of title! I have refrained from the clickbait titles you see on some websites such as: “I did this activity with my students and you wouldn’t believe what happened next” or “the reaction from students to this lesson broke the internet”. If we’re honest, what happened next was probably SLT on a learning walk, or that the bell went!
In terms of ideal situations, I have written about options, Parents Evening (is currently in the works) and keeping year 9 going after options . Some of the ideas in the blog are things that I would like to do but thought of weeks after a meeting where a decision was taken; others are things that we have done in the past that still have merit but perhaps we no longer do. Sometimes the ideas might not work in our context, or might be rejected in favour of something else. That does not mean that it will not work for someone else.
When it comes to retaining ideas, I now have a post on charity and volunteering to help me remember how to teach it the next time around, along with social media and the internet. The most recent one was a post on the environment. It is a tough enough topic to make engaging anyway but hopefully will spark my thoughts and imagination in future years. Posts can jog my memory and makes me remember the activities, along with the lesson, which can often provoke further memories.
From reading other peoples’ blogs I have gained a huge amount in terms of knowledge about second language acquisition and schools of thought regarding it. It has helped me to develop my ideas and principles about language teaching. At some point I will put these to paper but have not got around to that one. It has encouraged me to reflect on what I was taught and how MFL teaching was modelled in my PGCE. This has then led to me ditching certain types of activity because they don’t promote learning enough or don’t encourage students to use the language enough. It has led to me trying out new activities on a weekly basis and even in the past few days such as the Card Stealing activity seen on the Global Innovative Language Teachers Facebook Group.
Publicising the blog on Twitter and various Facebook groups have put me in contact with other professionals. They also have helped to massively bump up the visitor numbers. The Global Innovative Language Teachers Facebook group caused a massive spike in views when one of my posts was shared there by someone else. The post concerned marking and feedback. Forty something comments afterwards; it had proved slightly divisive but provoked a debate. The blog has also put me in contact with some extremely helpful people such as Laura Simons who runs the Secondary MFL in Wales Facebook group, and also Steve Smith (author of Frenchteacher.net) who kindly reviewed the blog. I felt some trepidation when I discovered the next post on Frenchteacher was a review of my site! He was very complimentary so I will return the favour by suggesting you have a look at his books on Amazon.
Question 4: Can I do it?
The answer is simply yes. If you are happy using a computer, can search for images and are willing to read a little bit about hyperlinks and sign up to Twitter then you can. There are a variety of sites out there that will help you compose a website and get it up and running. The main ones seem to be WordPress, Blogger and Wix. I went with WordPress having seen other people use them.
The next question you need to ask is do you have the time? I have managed less blogs this year than previous years due to a variety of new demands on my time. If you have time then you need to consider subject matter. What are you going to focus on? Taking the blogs out there you have Jess Lund’s blog which elaborates on what happens at Michaela School. Gianfranco Conti writes a lot about research on second language learning and how it impacts upon his classroom practice, which is well worth a read. Steve Smith writes about issues facing language teachers and shares lots of good ideas for lessons. Helen Myers has a blog with useful information concerning Ofqual, the new GCSEs, the Association for Language Learning and various other bodies. John Bald mixes language and literacy in his blog. Chris Fuller used to write about some crazy ideas and different ways of teaching the same old topics.
If you have a subject then you need to consider frequency. At the moment I am averaging one post a month and would like to do more. Having said that, one of the great things about a WordPress blog is that you can set the blog to upload at any time of your choosing. This means you could write a few and then let them upload at different points in the month. It will then share it across your social media platforms if you let it.
As for how to get started, Teacher Toolkit is a great place to go if starting to write a blog. It used to be a member of SLT in a UK school writing about his practice. It has since grown quite considerably, but somewhere in there the original posts about having a blog should be available. My main gains from Teacher-Toolkit were to have a Twitter handle and use it for publicising and use of the website compfight.com to provide copyright free photos. If you do not own the rights to the photo then you shouldn’t be using it. You also need to make sure the photo is properly accredited. It has been very useful, although google have now also introduced this as a search feature. I have also had to be very careful about where the ideas come from. Most of the time they are easy to attribute: “this came from …’s website” or my PGCE mentor was a big fan of this activity. Credit is sometimes very hard to give as with social media things can move very fast. One person shares an activity on a Facebook group and then suddenly every teacher is doing it. I’m still completely unaware as to who developed the idea of Spanish revision balloon towers or the more recent “one pen one dice” activity. It is then hard to give credit to the people who deserve it.
Lastly I feel I should mention a little bit on safeguarding. Initially, I chose to leave my name off Everydaymfl, as I didn’t want my students finding me. Whilst some of my writing may come from experiences involving students you will find no names on my site. What you will find are replacement names borrowed from TV series and films. Joey and Chandler, Sheldon and Penny etc.
Question 5: What next?
The first aim is to blog more in 2018 than 2017. I have no idea yet what the topics will be but have a few in the pipeline including one on parents’ evenings that needs finishing along with another “5 things to try tomorrow”.
The second is to possibly offer one or two guest posts to maintain the momentum from this year. It also might allow someone to share their take on something or ideas they have had. If you are keen then please drop me an email via the “about” page I currently do not teach A-level and there is definitely a space there for sharing effective practice and favourite activities, particularly as there have been changes to A-level and I’m sure teachers out there would appreciate some practical ideas.
The final aim is to keep writing, keep reading, keep learning, keep reflecting and developing as a teacher. Ultimately we all want to be at our best in the classroom, achieve the best results for our students and give them a really good experience of languages and hopefully I have helped the MFL community in doing that.
The second “what’s next?” is for you the reader. What kind of blog could you create? It could be personal, departmental, whole school, or even for your students? I am aware that St Bernadettes’ School in Bristol posts their CPD on their blog. I have heard of teachers start a blog listing resources for students (this may be more appropriate at A-level). You could create an online portfolio of excellent work. With schools using Google then you could create a google-site. This would be accessible only by those who have the link. The aim could be personal, educational or professional or a mixture of the three. What really counts is what we do inside the classroom, trying to be the best and deliver the best for our students every day. I know blogging has helped me improve my practice. If Everydaymfl has helped colleagues around the country in delivering the best for their students then I would say that’s a very pleasing outcome.