Tag Archives: language

I remember my teachers #celebrateteachers #clmooc

I’m later than everyone else in responding to Kevin Hodgson’s invitation to #celebrateteachers which “Laura pitched as a game of tag” and so appropriate for #CLMOOC (the Making Learning Connected MOOC). (Thanks, Wendy, for blogging about this).That was a week ago. But the idea of remembering or celebrating teachers appealed to me so I thought better late than never.

I can remember some of the names of my teachers in primary school. Let’s see… nothing before grade 2 when I had Mrs Robinson. I remember odd bits and pieces about her. Her husband must have been called Neil because she often told us about what she did on the weekend with Neil. It took me a while to figure this out because I had been too busy wondering why she spent the weekend going places with the boy who sat in the front row (also Neil). I also remember that she sat next to me when we went to the movies to see Born Free (1966) and asked for half of my peanut butter sandwich (which I resentfully gave her). I don’t remember my grade 3 teacher’s name but I do remember that the first thing she did on our first day was write the word ‘honesty’ in big letters on the blackboard, and talk about how highly she valued honesty above everything else. Grade 4 – Mr Quilty. I don’t want to write what I remember about him so we’ll skip that.

In secondary school I remember quite a few teachers, especially my French teacher whose classes were so much fun through songs, poetry, film, discussions and conversations about everything French.

The teacher I want to celebrate is not someone who was all sweetness and smiles. In fact she gave me a lot of grief throughout the time she taught me – from early primary to late secondary. She was my Russian teacher both privately and at the Saturday school for Russian language and culture. Until I was 9 my cousin and I had private Russian lessons at her house, and she favoured him and criticised me. I was a scapegoat. My narrow handwriting was a sign of a mean character, I had no taste, my Russian was inferior, and so on. Returning from a trip to Russia, she brought presents, and I was to choose from two things. The one I chose clearly indicated my lack of good taste, and when I changed my mind and chose the other one, I had chosen the one she had wanted for herself. At about the age of 9 I’d had enough and had a meltdown, telling her that I hated her guts. When my mother came to pick me up both of us were crying, and my teacher was asking my mother what she could have possibly done to be on the receiving end of such an outburst. It was decided I would return to the Saturday school and be part of her class. I was relieved to take refuge in a group of students and no longer be the subject of so much attention.

People are complex. We all have good and bad in us. I also remember my Russian teacher speaking passionately about literature she loved with her whole being. She didn’t care about keeping to class time limits when she was trying to inspire us about literature, art, Russian culture. She spent countless hours preparing us for Russian concerts and plays, working with us privately to perfect pronunciation and tone, gesture and facial expression. She designed costumes, making sure they were historically correct, she painted sets, she drew large portraits of writers, poets, musicians to accompany her speeches at our annual days of Russian culture. She lived and breathed her work and her passion, her work and her identity were one.

As difficult as it was to forgive and try to forget the ways she treated me when I was younger, it was also difficult not to be impressed by her and be in awe of her during my secondary school years. She left a permanent impression on me. She was someone whose passion for literature and art played out her entire life.

In her later years I grew to love her, and she was fond of me. I visited her on and off when she had moved out of Melbourne and she asked to see me. She was still extremely passionate, relentless in her expectations of people, but had mellowed over the years. In her early 90s she was diagnosed with cancer and I visited her a couple of times. It was understood that I wasn’t to feel sorry for her and that life was just taking its course. I remember she made sure she kept up with world events, mapping them out on a hand drawn map of the world she pinned to her wall. She passed on to me books she treasured, art prints she had collected in a folder and other bits and pieces. Finally, with little time left to live, she asked to see me for the last time and said goodbye with a fairly steady voice. I remembered the times in my adolescence when she had read out aloud from literature, tears streaming down her face, and yet now she was almost completely composed.

People are complex. She taught me many things including an appreciation for the Russian language and its culture, but perhaps the most important thing was that none of us can really be easily or completely understood, and that we are not perfect.  As much as we might prefer to stick to the idea of people being nice and predictable, easily understood, most of us aren’t. By the time I had forgiven her, by the time I grew to love her and her eccentricities, her all-consuming passions, I had come a little closer to accepting the darker side of people in general, including myself.

Teachers can make a difference in our lives beyond what they try to teach us.


2 Year 9 classes, a teacher, a teacher librarian, a couple of Australian YA authors and lots of blogs

This is a progress report for our blogging Year 9s (2 classes). Let me first say that I am loving, loving the learning that’s happening with this cohort. Following Michael Gerard Bauer‘s guest post, ‘I blog therefore I am‘, Nick and I were wondering how to respond and which direction to take. We loved the fact that Michael had tuned into what the boys were writing about. Michael has been generous to my students before – several years ago at my previous school. He has a brilliant way of speaking directly to the students in an informal way, combining humour with a serious message. Nick and I wanted the students to respond to his post, and to develop a theme in a post of their own. We decided to pull out Michael’s final message to the students:

So I encourage you to keep up the writing boys. Words are powerful, amazing and life changing things. Don’t pass up this opportunity to find your own and share them.

I like the idea of teachers modeling what they want their students to do, and happy that Nick agreed to both of us writing our own posts about the power of words. In doing this we lift the barrier between teacher and student, and we also let the students see a little of ourselves. I was also toying with the idea of introducing hyperlinked writing to the boys. I’ve written about the importance of hyperlinked writing before, and since then I’ve read an excellent post by Silvia Tolisano about it. Jenny Luca has referred to Silvia’s post in her own recently.  I believe it’s something we should take seriously – it’s the way we read online so all the more reason to incorporate hyperlinked writing in our set of literacies. Modeling is a good way to make a start. And so Nick and I both wrote posts using hyperlinked writing.

Nick’s post was entitled ‘Find the right words’, linking back to the earlier theme of ‘you are what you know’ and highlighting the idea of learning not just for school but ‘for the person you want to be’.

At school, we are constantly engaged in the getting and using of knowledge, and the main thing that makes this possible (even more so than an iPad!) is language.

Nick talked about poetry and revealed that he looked to

‘poets to reveal to me the ideas about life I sense in my gut, but don’t always have the words for myself.’

In his final paragraph Nick asked the students to

respond to Michael Gerard Bauer’s clarion call to embrace the power of language. Reflect on what this means to you. Perhaps think of a time when choosing just the right words was important.

The students were asked to read my response to the theme of the power of words, and to comment on three other posts, and see what kinds of ideas their classmates came up with.

More than anything else, I love the way we are all entwined in ideas which have been shared and developed – 2 year 9 classes, a teacher, a teacher librarian, a couple of Australian authors and the 2 classes of student blogs housed in the teacher’s blog. It really does become a form of diary, but not that of a solitary person, on the contrary, a shared document which traces the collaboration of ideas and dialogue as they develop over time.

It’s words, and it’s also so much more than words.

Please read some of our students’ posts (their blogs are linked on the right hand side of the main blog. We would love to hear your comments and ideas.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/13768695 w=400&h=225]

WORDS from Everynone on Vimeo.

What do you know about vodka and Matryosha dolls?


The origin of words and the culture and history behind them are fascinating. Jenny Luca sent me to the Words of the World website today and I’ve been having fun learning about my Russian cultural background.

From Nazi to Chocolate, words play a vital role in our lives.

And each word has its own story.

But where do they come from? What do they mean? How do they change?

The University of Nottingham School of Languages and Cultures does a brilliant job of unpacking words in a very engaging way. It’s difficult not to go through all the videos in one sitting when the experts present their knowledge in such an accessible way. It makes me want to study at Nottingham University. So much more interesting for students to learn in video form, I think, and learning from experts in this way would be something which could entice reluctant learners or just bring knowledge through a face and voice, whetting the appetite for more.

Check out the YouTube channel, join the Facebook group, follow @wordsnottingham on Twitter, or follow the blog of the creator, film-maker Brady Haran.

My question is – will the word bank increase? I hope so because this learning site is very addictive.

Ever wondered about the history of Russian nesting dolls?


You might also like to have a look at The University of Nottingham’s YouTube channel.

The new language – it’s more than just smiley faces

I was just reading Silvia Tolisano’s post on her Langwitches blog about 21st century writing.

My children (16, 18, 20) are writing more and more. Their friends do too… Probably not in the way some of you can imagine… nor think of as writing…but nonetheless they are writing. They are texting… 8000 texts (per month) sent and received… Can you imagine probably 5-10 words on average per text…40,000 -80,000 words per month: A collaborative monthly story of their lives in WRITING!

Silvia quotes the US National Council of Teachers of English:

Good writing may be the quintessential 21st century skill.

Just as the nature of and expectation for literacy has changed in the past century and a half, so has the nature of writing. Today people write as never before—texting, on blogs, with video cameras and cell phones, and, yes, even with traditional pen and paper.  People write at home, at work, inside and out of school.

How has this impacted on the ways that we teach writing in our classrooms? From what I’ve seen in my parts in Australia, not at all. Seriously. We still focus solidly on textual responses and evaluations. As important as these are to critical thinking and understanding of contemporary issues and literary texts, writing has taken off in a life of its own mainly outside of school. Have we considered this kind of writing at all? Are we only concerned that adolescent texting will result in the complete disintegration of language? Well, why aren’t we talking about it?

Last night I read about Jenny Luca’s  talented young daughter in her post A story about longing, loving and coming to a realisation.

I am one very proud mother tonight. This is the work of my beautiful daughter; it’s her multimodal creative response for an English assignment based around the theme of ‘Romance and Relationships’. It’s all her own work, inspired by thepoet Rives and his ‘Story of mixed emoticons‘ that we used as stimulus material in our English classes.

I just love Jenny’s daughter’s modern take on a love story where she uses emoticons so creatively while developing an engaging storyline. I just wanted to share this because I think it shows that ingenuity and ideas can be expressed through any kind of language. If you’re sceptical you may be imagining the Bible written in emoticons, but that’s not what I’m suggesting. I’m suggesting that we open up our classroom tasks to include a richer variety of options so that young people can find a medium they can relate to.

Without further ado, here’s Jenny’s daughter’s story


And here is Rives’ TED talk which inspired this piece.


Spreading the word to stop the word

Twitter informed me that Jenny Luca was spreading the word to stop the word. In her post, Jenny joins the push for awareness to stop the inappropriate and discriminative use of the word ‘retard-ed’. The post is a response to the incredible Laura Stockman’s blog carnival. Laura is donating a flip video camera to the cause.

Here are the rules for the carnival:

  • To be entered you MUST have at least one blog POST that focuses ending the use of the r-word.
  • Your post MUST be on how the r-word makes you feel, how you will help Spread the Word to End the Word, or have to do with the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.
  • Your post MUST be entered on 3.31.09.
  • Once your post is up, please leave a comment here so that I know you are entered. It would be great if you could leave your name or the name of your class/school and a link to the post. I will create a new post on my blog that day with a list of all of the bloggers who have spread the word!
  • Everyone who posts and leaves their link here will be entered into a random drawing to win the Flip Video Camera! I will draw the name of the winner on April 1st!

Like Jenny, I remember the ‘r’ word being used freely at school, not just primary school, and I still hear it now. I’m ashamed to say that I often don’t bat an eyelid when I hear it because it’s used so flippantly that it doesn’t even arouse offence. Clearly, this is not acceptable, and we must think about the implications of this attitude, and then do something about it. This goes for all words that discriminate against and offend people, whether they discriminate against disability, race, religion, gender or any other group that stands out as different.

Why don’t we have a class collection tin for charity and create awareness by penalising students for using the ‘r’ word or name-calling in general? We might be surprised to discover how often we use inappropriate language.

There’s no nice way to use the word ‘retard’. As John McGinley says in the video, using the word ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ is an act of cowardice because you’re discriminating against a group of people who can’t defend themselves.



Betsy says it so well in her post.

There is no shame in having a developmental delay or a disability of any kind. Trust me, some of the greatest human beings you will ever meet are ones that you may have just walked right by without even noticing or acknowledging. Do them and yourself a favor and see others as fully living and loving human beings, no matter what the differences.

Please stop using the R word – replace it with respect.

21st century jargon

An article in The Telegraph voted the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ as the most despised business jargon. Some of these cliches really get on my nerves. For example: Touch base (2), Pushing the envelope (18), In the loop (20). Others I haven’t heard of: Blue sky thinking (6), Singing from the same hymn sheet (10), thought shower (13).

The BBC News Magazine published an article entitled ’50 office-speak phrases you love to hate’. Tim from Durban, won my vote with a mixed-metaphor phrase from his boss –

‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, so you have to step up to the plate and face the music’. 

That’s not entirely ridiculous if you mean a dessert plate, but then you wouldn’t step up to it, would you?

What is it about language, that it can express something so well that it becomes popular usage, but that its  popularity leads to its demise? Or is it that we are too lazy to define our own meaning so we borrow phrases and use them to death?

What about ‘Web 2.0′, ’21st century skills’, ‘social networking’? Are these bandied about so much that they start to annoy? Are they loved by some, and hated by others? Sometimes I feel as if I should avoid talking about blogs, wikis, Twitter in front of people who don’t use them, because the very sound of these words are enough to turn people off. How should we speak about these things to people who haven’t embraced them?

Which phrases do you love to hate?

A different language

I’m still thinking in an expansive way about different ways of seeing, learning, living. I found this on Twitter thanks to @ggrosseck


Sometimes I feel my vision of people and the way things work is so tunnel-narrow. I really need to open up my understanding. It’s frightening to admit that foreigness can cause such a defensive reaction.

Here is the blog of this passionate autistic woman. This is how she describes herself and the purpose of her blog: 

This is a blog by a self-advocate who has participated in several aspects of the disability rights movement including autistic liberation, psychiatric survivor, mainstream disability rights, and developmental disability self-advocacy.

What do you think of the video or the blog?

Dictionary evangelist – redefining the dictionary

Erin McKean does more than redefine the dictionary in her TED talk; she redefines our concept of language. She says that our idea of what a dictionary is hasn’t changed since Queen Victoria’s times – we have the idea that a dictionary contains the ‘good’ words (the ‘real’ ones) and keeps out the bad words (‘not real words’). That’s what she finds frustrating about her perceived role as lexicographer – that she is seen as a traffic cop, whereas she’d rather be a fisherman (yes, she used ‘man’). 

But, I hear you say, dictonaries have changed, they’ve come online, they are well connected; they have hyperlinks. Well, according to Erin, an online dictionary has essentially remained unchanged – it’s just a Victorian design with a modern propulsion.

What Erin challenges the audience to do is to rethink ‘good word’/’bad word’. She says when people find a word that isn’t in the dictionary, they think it’s because it’s a ‘bad word’ (think Scrabble), but actually, it’s not in there because the dictionary is too small. The book is not the best shape for the dictionary.

Erin challenges us to look past the artificial constraints of the book-form dictionary; we should study ALL the words. So how do we know that a word is ‘real’? She says, if you love a word, use it. Using it makes it real. It’s less about control and more about description. New words are everywhere, and Boing Boing is an example of the use of ‘undictionaried’ words. Erin suggests we look at the English dictionary as a map of the English language. An antiquated map of the world only contained what we ‘knew’ at that time, but there was much more to discover. As Erin says, when we left out countries in the old maps, we didn’t even know they were missing. So too with words.

And so Erin McKean is in the business of collecting words. She says that words need to be collected with all their background information – a word is ‘like an archaeological artefact’, and ‘a word without a source is like a cut flower – it dies fast’.

Well, I’m swept up by the evangelistic fervour of this New Age lexicographer, but do I dare embrace the new lexicographical freedom and risk chaos? Can we open up the business of word making to the masses when it has traditionally been the hallowed role of unseen word geeks? But then again, Wikipedia has opened up the font of knowledge, and the world hasn’t collapsed yet.

And I recommend Erin’s blog, Dictionary evangelist if you want to discover the unchartered seas of 21st century language. Here, instead of talking about a word’s etymology, Erin delights in its ‘roots, bones, innards, pips, and secret parts’. Or read about the acceptance of new words like ‘chillax’ in Erin’s article in the Boston Globe.

And let’s have some fun with words. To quote Erin, ‘if it works like a word, just use it’.

Animate your language lessons

This is a nifty little application I can imagine would make language learning fun.

Joe Dale (October 11) put me onto the Animate application for language learning on Jose Picardo’s blog

In the About section of his blog, Box of Tricks, Jose Picardo explains the role of technology in student learning:

Technology has been demonstrated to be a powerful motivator, helping to increase confidence and thereby encourage learning. Technology catalyses pupils’ interest, helping to establish an atmosphere conducive to learning and achieving.

Knowing how to make the most of the available technology is an essential skill for teachers to acquire in an age where pupils’ learning expectations are changing radically. Technology ensures that education remains relevant in our students’ increasingly digital lives.

Box of Tricks is full of great ideas for language teachers. Apart from ‘Animate your homework’ some of the many ideas include:

Using Animoto to promote speaking;
Podcasting in 5 easy steps;
Assessing with video: giving students control;
Edmodo: microblogging for the classroom;
Seeqpod: the easy way to take music to your classroom or blog;
Top 5 tips for creating resources for the interactive whiteboard;
Top 10 tips for using technology in your classroom;
Using Voki and a blog in a sequence of 3 lessons;
Wordle: using word clouds in a lesson;
Free comicstrip-creating website …. and much more!

Another great blog for language teachers is Nik Peachy’s Learning technology teacher development blog. Just have a look at his topics in the right-hand navigation. You’ll find exactly what you need for enjoyable and engaging language learning lessons, whether it’s a 5 minute fix or a new application you can add to your repertoire.

If you’re a language teacher and you think that you can’t use much technology in your lessons, think again!

Back to Wordle

Further to my previous posts about Wordle (here, here, and here), I discovered in Box of Tricks excellent uses of Wordle by different teachers. One teacher used Wordle for a pre-reading strategy, and made two wordles from two different newspaper articles on the theme they were studying. Each student, armed with dictionaries, had to guess the gist of one of the two, then explain to the other student what they thought the article was about. The teacher supplemented this with further vocabulary discussion, displaying the Wordle on the interactive whiteboard. Finally, students looked at the full-text articles. The teacher saw the value of Wordle, ‘not only as a text analysis tool, but also as a tool to elicit speaking and creative writing’.

A class of 5-7 year olds used Wordle as a visual voting tool. They brainstormed a list of words following an excursion, then voted on the ones they felt were most significant. The size of the most popular words was very obvious in the Wordle.

Wordle has been discovered to be useful in different areas of the curriculum, eg. Visual art, Maths (representing data), English (vocabulary and spelling), brainstorming a topic or theme as an introduction or reflection tool, and eLearning/ICT (presenting information).

Some excellent pedagogical reasons for using Wordle were raised:
– Wordle’s visual attractiveness can make a dull text analysis task more attractive, motivating students to complete the task;
– By capturing the gist of a text, it helps pupils focus on the vocabulary, register and grammar in a simple and engaging way;
– its electronic form enables it to be adapted to different media, eg. paper, blogs, interactive whiteboards, etc.

Nick Peachey, on his blog, outlined how Wordle is useful for language teachers:
Revision of texts: students could look at the Wordle and try to remember and reconstruct the text;
Students can make predictions based on the Wordle of the text they are about to study; they could check the meaning of vocabulary before reading the text;
a Wordle could be a prompt for reconstruction of a dialogue;
Students could examine a Wordle made from a short poem, and write a poem of their own from the Wordle, then compare their poem with the original;
A Wordle could be made from different text genres, and students could guess the genre and give reasons for their decision;
Wordles could be made from different poems, and students could guess the poet from the Wordle;
Students could make Wordles from a text they write introducing themselves to the class; these could be displayed, and students could try to guess the person from the Wordle; or they could exchange Wordles and use them to introduce each other;
A research topic could be introduced by a Wordle, and students’ pre-knowledge could be tested by asking how they think the word is related to the topic; after further research is carried out, the Wordle could be used as a prompt for an oral presentation;
Wordles based on topics to be studied could be displayed at home for revision of vocabulary;

Above all, most teachers really appreciated the simplicity and versatility of Wordle. I’m amazed at the number of pedagogical uses people have discovered for this simple, attractive tool.