Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Collegiality - the CLIL challenge

Collegiality between subject and English language teachers is the key element of any successful CLIL pathway. I'm sure we all agree on this point.
In a popular post of last summer, we dealt with the "subject teacher/language teacher" question. Now, while collecting papers for a presentation about team teaching, I ran across Dr Diana Hicks' guidelines for collaboration in the CLIL classroom. She suggests we should take into consideration some key elements for a successful cooperation with our colleagues:
  • Relationship: we are individuals, and let's face it, we don't get along with all of our colleagues. Before planning any collaboration, we should consider whether we are compatible or not. In my ten years' experience in the same school, I've met colleagues who've quickly become friends - and when you make friends, you immediately want to do something together: lessons, projects, experiences, school trips... Guess what? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's just like a love-story not meant to be: sorry, no sparkles. And then, of course, there are those people you don't want to work with because you don't trust them. So, think before you plan.
  • Rules of behaviour: ok, you believe in this relationship and you want to give it a try. Now you have to think about how to work together without ending up hating each other (with the obvious consequences on your students' learning process). You can work formally or informally together. Obviously, I would suggest working formally. And obviously, especially in eTwinning CLIL projects, we end up working informally 90% of the time. We all do this, and we all know it's wrong. Please, do yourself a favour, and at the beginning of the school year sit down with your colleagues, write down your working plan, and have it signed by your Principle/Headteacher/whoever it is that can recognize your efforts. Remember: informal won't last. Plus, you and your colleagues will feel more committed when working formally together.
  • Responsibilities: Dr Hicks was very clear on this: teachers have to mark their specialist territory (personal note: invading that of the others is the best way to spoil your CLIL project and make them hate you). As for individual responsibilities of the Language and Subject teacher, have a look at the chart and let me know what you think.
  • Organization: that's the when/what/how moment. We should discuss timetable (how many lessons? when? with the teachers being together in the classroom or not? how will they be paid? etc), resources and preparation time, and, above all, assessment. To be honest, in Dr Hicks' brilliant course, the assessment part was the weakest. It was more like a question than a solution: what would you do? I wish I knew. Anyway, in my experience I've often found it better to give two different marks to the students' products (Language/Content). But it's my personal - maybe wrong - opinion. No evidence, no expert's support here.
What do you think? What's your experience in CLIL courses?
Looking forward to getting to know more!


PS and as usual, don't forget you can find all of our materials and worksheets dealing with CLIL in The Next Generation TwinSpace, "useful materials" section.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

LOOKING FOR CONTRIBUTORS: High School/university students, young workers

Let's look at the other side of the coin...

We've been talking a lot about CLIL and cooperation programmes from the teachers' point of view.
We all agree Comenius, Grundtvig, eTwinning and all related actions are crucial for our professional development and we believe they motivate and engage our students with a positive impact on their competences. True. Or is it?
I mean, we want to think the effect is what we planned. But are we sure? How are these experiences seen (and lived) by the students? What do they think? What's the impact of these actions on their lives?

The best way to know is ask the main actors of cooperation projects: students.

That's why we are looking for "guest posts" written by High School students, University students and young workers who had the opportunity to live any kind of cooperation experience in the UE and beyond.

How to apply:
  • posts must be limited to 500/600 words (images welcome if not copyright protected) - all of EU languages are welcome
  • content of articles is at the discretion of the eContributor, as long as it deals with international work/study experiences
  • please forward your contribution along with a short resume about yourself (not a curriculum vitae, just few lines so that we know who you are!) to laura_maffei@yahoo.com or kiss.mnika76@gmail.com
  • you will be given access info to publish the article yourself
  • deadline for submission: February the 26th
So, if you are a student/just graduated/worker, we re looking for you!

And for all our fellow teachers... why don't you ask your students to share with us their experiences?

Looking forward to get to know more...

[to be continued...]

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Working for a better future

In the last three years I had many opportunities to travel and get to know more about the education systems and lifestyles of the different European countries. This happened because my school partecipates in programmes like Comenius and eTwinning.

I have had so many experiences… I saw beautiful countries, met great people and we prepared interesting activities together. But what I like best – I think, if we can visit a partner school, we can get to know more about real life in a country.

Sometimes it happened that I was surprised at the richness of materials that a school and teachers could have for free in their everyday job. For example in France in a primary school I found a lot of paints, tinted papers, pasteboards and didactic games. Maybe in your schools there are all of these things, but for me it was a miracle.
Another school in England had a great place for free activities, and a theatre room. Fantastic!

But sometimes I met very difficult situations as well. The deepest poverty I have ever seen was in a desert, near Syria. We visited one of our partner schools in Turkey, and then we went to visit the Ancient City of Harran.

While we were having a walk around the town, I heard that a child was crying. I tried to look around, but I couldn't see the child. Later, I found where he could be.. he was a little boy, in a barrow. I didn’t see him, only his foot. He was covered by some clouts. I didn’t meet his mom, he had only his two brothers next to the barrow. I was really sad, and I wished I could help.

The guide talked about life in a desert, and about people who five years ago lived in caves... in that moment I felt that what I consider a difficult situation in my life, in fact it is not so difficult compared to that. I have food to eat, a family, friends, a job I like - and actually I live in a house.

Now we live a crisis, and unfortunately I feel this school year many families have a really difficult situation in Hungary as well. Parents loose their job, don’t have enough time or patience to be with their daughters and sons. I see some of my pupils who can’t study because they are hungry or sleepy, and who don’t have such a simple and normal thing at school as a ruler. This week one of my pupils went to live in another town because of economic problems in her family.

What kind of future can they have? I am worried about it. The school and school foundation help. For example a little girl was given a new winter coat, other pupils can come with us in a theatre for free, etc. But because of social issues it is more and more difficult to study, to attend a good high school, or university.

European programmes help us give our pupils more opportunities. It is great to see how our pupils and parents are happy when we could visit our partners abroad or when our partners come to visit us and we are together or we prepare our new activities.
I would like to give the same opportunities to many many pupils, and help them feel that it is important to study, to speak a foreign language, make friends with someone different from us.

We often talk about it – we would like to build a better future. Yes, it is true. But we need help to do it.
I hope the EU, through „Erasmus for All” and other programmes, will help us reach what we would like to do so much.

Friday, 20 January 2012

bye bye Comenius - introducing Erasmus for All

Erasmus for All is the new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport proposed by the European Commission on 23 November 2011.

Let's say bye bye to Comenius, Grundtvig, Leonardo da Vinci and all of these actions: the European Commission decided to stop using the different existing names of mobility programmes and gather all of them under the widely recognised  "brand" of Erasmus - a name strongly associated with learning abroad and European cooperation. It's obviously considered to be a name that markets itself and could work as a sort of advertisement for the whole programme.

You can read more about this new action, including FAQs, key figures, and a short video presentation, at the European Commission - Education and Training website.

But - naming apart - what changes will be introduced by this new programme?
Difficult to say. Let's listen to the European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, who presented Erasmus for All and Creative Europe programmes, during a press conference in Brussels at the end of November.

Of course, we're just at the beginning of this new European journey and we can't judge something that is not even born. And please remember, this is just my very personal opinion. Anyway, I'm not sure that "financial austerity which all member states face" can be considered enough to describe what we are living now in Italy, Greece, and lots of European countries. And it's not enough to explain the crisis of the EU as a whole, the progressive lack of confidence and trust of common people, students and teachers and workers, European citizens - lack of trust in their national governments first, and then in the EU as an ideal, as a common cause.
I'm happy to know the EU is still willing to invest on the future - on learning, on youth - and I'm happy to know despite the crisis there will be a larger amount of money to support mobilities. People traveling, studying, working and having experiences abroad will help raise awareness about the importance of a strong, consistent, European Union.
But unfortunately, in my opinion, this is not enough. The educational world cannot fight on its own to keep Europe together, when European politicians fight each other every day to keep their countries apart.
Who knows, maybe next programme should be called "Less Selfishness for All"...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

CLIL: cooperation, cognition, context... and eTwinning!

I was given the guidelines for CLIL activities I'm going to share with you today, during two different training courses I was able to attend in the past. And this time I've not only to thank Dr Diana Hicks, but also Mrs Cathy Pickles: she was my teacher in Cork, Ireland, in a brilliant CLIL course that was a turning point in my life as a (CLIL) teacher.

When talking about CLIL activities, we usually wonder what kind of tasks we should give our students.
Dr Diana Hicks started by introducing to us Jim Cummins' theories, then gave us examples of how to apply them in the everyday lesson.

In a task, we should pay attention to context (embedded/reduced) and cognition (demanding/undemanding). Now, if we look at the different combinations, a task can be:
  1. context embedded (students have some support - map, picture, chart, etc) + cognitively undemanding (not much thinkink needed). An example of this can be matching tasks (matching words and pictures for instance)
  2. context reduced (no support for students) + cognitively undemanding. Examples of this can be listing tasks (list the causes of global warming/the causes of a war... list the different sources of energy you know... etc)
  3. context reduced + cognitively demanding (it needs a strong effort of thinking on the students' part). The typical task here is writing essays.
  4. context embedded + cognitively demanding: Dr Diana Hicks called this "the Holy Grail". This is the perfect kind of CLIL activities. Those ones where the students are given a context and asked to work on it by thinking. Examples of this are transfer of information/genre. Students have to use what they learnt in a different context.
Do have a look at Dr Hicks video (of course she's much better than me at explaining)! (thanks a lot to the teacher who recorded this and shared it on youtube, and to my colleague Frederique Cayrier who found it on the web!)

Dr Diana Hicks said that the ideal CLIL activity should include cognition, context and cooperation. In the simple and direct way that is typical of her, Mrs Cathy Pickles said that students need scaffolding. What I learnt there (and I always try to keep it in mind, in the activities I make up for my classes - and later share with you) is that we cannot build on air. CLIL activities are more complex than monolingual ones, that's why our students need more support than ever (read: context embedded tasks).
That's where eTwinning comes, providing us with that element of "reality" (it's a real-life context) and cooperation (the do-it-together factor) that can help our students feel involved - and enjoy their learning. 

No holy Grail for me to be honest. Still, I think we're moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


I often think one of the most difficult point of being teacher is a correct assessment. Now, at the end of the first semester, this is a real problem to me.

In my career as a teacher I went through two different assessment systems:
1) having to write reports of evaluation and 2) having to give marks.
It’s funny to change from one day to the other, but it’s the leaders of the education sector who decide.

What happened?

Many pedagogical books I read say writing reports could be much better, because reports are more personal, and help our pupils’ learning process. A report could be a summary about the development of the learners' competences and it helps raising self-confidence and motivation.

But in the practice? The National Core Curriculum defines the common content requirements and development tasks of public education.
As a primary school teacher, skills like reading, writing or numeracy are of vital importance in terms of evaluation. As there are different levels, there are different descriptions of skills.
We had pre-written descriptions (sentences) and we, teachers, had the opportunity to choose from different sentences to find the most appropriate evaluation for our pupils.
I often found that these phrases were not correct enough. Maybe the first part was good, but the following was not appropriate for my pupil. Sometimes I’d like to mix the phrases that could be found in the report card.
After I gave the evaluations to my pupils, parents came and asked me: ‘Great, but what does it mean? What mark would that be?’ It often happened that the evaluation of competences and skills were not obvious or easy to understand for parents.

Now we are in a period when we give marks again. We have marks from 1 to 5.
On the one side it’s true, now parents know what a mark means.
But there are differences...
I have pupils with special needs. If I give them a 3, it means – „fair, average”. But, for me it doesn’t mean the same: she/he did sometimes more than another child with the same mark in my class.
Numbers are very strict, don’t you agree? And.. what can we evaluate?
Take, for instance, test results. Sometimes it happens that when I correct the mistakes in a test, I know one of my pupils was just stressed or anxious, and even if he/she didn’t write the correct answer, if I could ask him/her again, I would hear the correct one.
So, of course I use more strategies, not only tests during the semester, and I try to give more than one single opportunity to them.

It is only, I didn’t find the best solution.

Marks or writing reports? Or something else?

What do you think?

Monday, 9 January 2012

CLIL lesson - History

This is a CLIL activity I made up on my own for one of my classes. It's simple, funny, and easy to customize for different subjects (I will post a Geography version later on). It turned out to be motivating and successful, so I would rank it second in my CLIL experience, just after Dante's CLIL.

Note: this lesson-plan fits any situation when you want to revise a range of topics you've already studied with your pupils. In my opinion, it won't work for introducing a new subject.
As for us, we had been studying the fall of the Roman Empire, dealing with different populations: the Romans, the Huns, the Byzantines and the Lombards (Langobards).


about 20 students - 12/13 years old

subjects: History/Languages

Pupils working in teams (4 teams, since we had studied 4 different populations)

About 2 hours needed

Instructions given in English - pupils can answer and discuss, when needed, both in English and in mother tongue.


- for the first part (role play) 20 pieces of paper with one sentence each (English)
 I had 20 students, so I had prepared 20 pieces of paper with 1 different sentence on each. The sentences dealt (often in a funny way) with the populations we had studied, who they were, how they lived, what they did.
Example: "I speak latin, I've been conquering the world and I call the Mediterraneum Mare nostrum. Unfortunately, at the moment I'm having problems with a bunch of dirty barbarians..." (the student had to understand he was a Roman)
"I am a nomad, I live on raids, and I spend most of my life on horses. I know there are lots of treasures in Italy and I'm heading there" (Hun)
" I took part in the invasion of the Po Valley in 568. My people conquered Italy defeating those snobbish Byzantines and we chose Pavia as our capital." (Lombard)
"I consider myself a descendant of the Ancient Roman State, but I prefer Greek culture and I speak Greek rather than Latin. My capital is Constantinople. I despize the ugly and filthy barbarians." (Byzantine)
Of the 4 sentences identifying each population, one referred to the king (or leader) of that people.

- for the secon part (betting game): I had prepared a ppt presentation with 20 multiple/choice questions (English). Most of them were just a revision of what had been studied, some of them were about funny facts dealing with the culture of those populations, and a few were about historical events we had not studied yet (but they could guess by discussing in their group and reflecting on what they already knew).


1) Pick a piece of paper, read it and discover who you are. Now, go make groups. Students have to move in the classroom, read their papers and those of the others and try to understand how to make groups. I didn't give them any explanation first, but it took just 5 minutes for them to realize they had to find their people.

2) Are you in your groups? Now, who is the king? The king will be the team leader. Starting with group 1, can the team leader please tell me: who are you? The student says for instance "I am Attila and they are my people, the Huns". And so on, for the 4 groups.

3) Starting with group 1, can each member of the team please read their sentence? This is just to be sure that all of the students are in the right place. If one or more of them aren't in the correct group, they will hopefully realize it by reading (or their partners will). Let them move to the correct group.

4) Now, can the team leader tell me something about his people, culture, actions? Which people in this room are your allies? Which people are enemies?

5) Sit in your groups. We will have now our "war" between these populations: a betting game. Who will be the winner? Let's see whether things will go as they did in history or not.
Each group starts with a treasure of 100 gold pieces.
You will be asked 20 multiple choice questions. The group has to bet on the right answer. You can bet from a minimum of 10 gold pieces up to all the gold you have. But be careful in your bet: for if you are right, you'll win the gold you bet. But if you are wrong, you'll lose it.
This is a very simple activity. All of the students know "who wants to be a millionaire" so you won't have much to explain. Just be sure to keep the correct score!

6) At the end of the activity, if you have time, you can have some more fun seeing who the winner is and playing "what if..." (what if they had actually won in history? What would be Europe like today?).

7) I usually close the activity asking: Is there anything else you would like to know about these populations? Be prepared: you'll be asked the weirdest questions about everyday life and culture (clothing, underwear, fashion, make up, weddings, gods, weapons, even toilets!). And as always when speaking of questions, the rule is: the more the better. There are no stupid questions. All of them are useful someway.

Ok, try this one and let me know. And if you have other CLIL activities, examples, scaffolding or lesson-plans you'd like to share, remember: they'll be more than welcome!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Introducing YouTube for Schools

...educational heaven for the digital natives?

Beginning a new year with good news. Lots of us are already taking advantage of YouTube and its almost unlimited video-treasures in our lessons. But we are often scared when it comes to letting the students free in this environment - let's say, not all you can find in YouTube could exactly be considered from an educational point of view. And guess what kind of videos will catch our pupils' eye? Those videos of course (the latest pop icon's or cute puppy's video, if you're lucky... something more inappropriate if you're not). I've actually had partners in different Comenius projects whose schools restricted access to YouTube to avoid this problem. At the same time, however, they were preventing their teachers and students to take advantage of huge learning opportunities (not to mention the appeal of videos on young learners).

Now, YouTube is launching a brand new tool to suit the needs of the educational world:
YouTube for Schools” is a portal offering free education materials and videos, while limiting access to other YouTube content that could be inappropriate, offensive or simply distracting.

I still know very little about this new opportunity, but it looks like it could be another interesting network setting as well. In fact, schools will be able to access only educational materials on YouTube EDU: which will both keep a safe environment for the learners and connect teachers and students through posts, comments, etc.

Now a funny question of my own: how did they label videos as "educational" or not?
I read YouTube worked with teachers, experts and organizations to select the available content. Because of course, if a video isn’t on YouTube EDU, it won’t show up in YouTube for Schools.
But who can say: 'this is educational, this is not'? I think a video can be an educational tool or just a simple entertainment depending on the aims and creativity of the teacher. Some of my most successful lessons (in terms of students' participation, involvement... and later assessment) took advantage of silly video commercials. And I'm quite sure they won't be on YouTube Edu.

I believe it's up to teachers to choose materials and tools for their lesson. And they'll manage someway to keep a safe environment for their students. That said, I think YouTube for Schools is a great opportunity. What's more, YouTube is trying to make the site an open conversation, welcoming teachers' suggestions of new playlists, comments and requests.

As usual, I've more ideas than I can deal with :) and I can picture in my mind lots of eTwinning/Comenius/EU related pathways and activities we could enrich or carry out with this new opportunity.

What do you think? Will this be another tool for a more motivating, efficient and rewarding everyday lesson?

Monday, 2 January 2012

CLIL, eTwinning and more: most popular posts of 2011

2011 has been a very busy and surprising year in my life as a teacher. I've had lots of "surprising problems" and lots of "surprising rewards" as well (not meaning the big awards here - though they were more than welcome of course! - but the tiny everyday success stories, half smiles of my students, little exciting "I can" moments, and so on).

This blog is definitely one of the surprising rewards. The people I met here, the support I got (and I'm getting right now), the ideas that were born here through sharing.
Yes, 2011 was a great year for LifelongLearningTeachers.

And I'd like to welcome the new year by having a look at the posts that were most viewed, commented on and discussed in 2011. Now, let's see what all the buzz was about!

1) eTwinning Conference "Leading 21st century education" part 1, part 2, and conclusion
the before during and after of a challenging event...with most etwinners being rather skeptical I'm afraid (but maybe we'll be surprised, who knows?)

2) structure of a (CLIL) lesson - start with the pupils
the basic structure of a (CLIL) lesson as presented by Dr Diana Hicks

3) CLIL: language teacher or subject teacher?
still the burning question...

4) my best CLIL lesson of 2011 and CLIL lesson for Science/Geography
practical tips for the everyday lesson: I'm glad you liked this, and I'm planning to share more!

5)  how do you fight boredom in the classroom?
well, it looks like we all have a common problem to deal with!

I'm closing this post, wishing you all a very happy and successful 2012, with the most viewed post of all times. It's a post about traditions, celebrating and children (and adults) having fun: Gigantes y Cabezudos ! Thank you Elena!

And I'd  like to thank here all of the great teachers who lived with us the LLT adventure from the very beginning. Thank you everybody.

Have a great new year!