Educational Clocks

senclock 1I don’t usually write blog posts recommending products, but I’m making an exception for this educational clock: not because it’s my brother and sister-in-law who make it, but because it’s so versatile I really believe it’s useful to teachers and carers.

Richard and Theresa are children’s nurses and they have a lot of experience working with children with special needs, and this was originally designed as a SEN clock, but I think it could also be used by EFL and MFL teachers.

It has a tickless mechanism, making it suitable for anyone who is susceptible to auditory overload, including those on the autistic spectrum. The background is clutter-free, and because they’re customisable you can choose how much or how little information goes on there, depending on what the child can cope with. They recommend having the hour hand only as that is the most distraction-free, but if you really want the minute and second hands as well, you have the option to have them in a different colour to the hour hand so that they blend into background.

senclock 2The magnetic pictures make a great visual timetable for anyone who needs structure to the day. I think they work better than a traditional visual timetable, which usually consists of pictures blu-tacked along the bottom of the white board, because the clock shows at a glance whether it is a long or short time to the next event – especially useful for people with a poor concept of time.

You can choose between pictures only, or pictures and numbers, depending on the individual it’s for. The write-on wipe-off surface makes it ideal for teachers, TAs and carers to write additional notes on there, such as required doses of medicines.

The versatility of this clock would also make it ideal for the EYFS setting.

The fact that the pictures have words written under them made me realise that this clock would also be really useful to EAL children. It’s bewildering to be somewhere where you don’t understand the language, and this clock could help introduce structure and reduce anxiety levels for children who have only recently arrived in the country. The pictures would indicate what lesson was next and the words would reinforce the English word for that subject. Because the pictures are magnetic, it’s easy to swap them around for days when lessons happen in a different order.

Thinking about the benefits to EAL children led me to thinking about MFL teachers – most things do because I am one! Because the clocks are custom-made, there is no reason why you can’t have one made with the subject labels in whatever language your class is learning. Most primary school learn one language all the way through KS2, but if your school alternates there is no need to buy a whole new clock when you change languages – you can just order a new set of magnetic pictures.

These clocks are also ideal for children who are learning to tell the time in any language. The pictures can easily be replaced with magnetic words (y cinco, zehn nach, et quart, twenty past) or numbers. You could easily put just the o’clocks first and then add the half and quarter hours and the five minutes as you learn them.

If you have an idea in your head of what a fully customised clock like this is going to cost, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For more info visit Trip Clocks.

Why MFL is good for children with SEN

A few days ago I read something that made me really angry. It was an article written by a parent about how the education system is letting her children down. At first I was sympathetic, and found myself nodding along with what she was saying. I agree that the education system isn’t perfect. I agree that sometimes, some children slip through the net and don’t get the help they need. But then she used the words that are guaranteed to infuriate me: “What’s the point in making them study French when they can’t even read and write English?”

It’s not the first time I’ve come across this attitude, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it makes me cross and it makes me sad. I’m an MFL specialist so maybe I’m biased, but I can see plenty of reasons not to withdraw children from MFL lessons – including and especially those with learning difficulties. Let me explain….

What do French, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch have in common? That’s right…they are all languages. So is English, so already we have identified something that English and whatever foreign language the child is studying have in common!

As languages, French, Spanish, German etc use grammar – just like English. And so here is my first reason for not withdrawing a child from their MFL lessons: in MFL we talk about grammar. We use words such as noun, verb, adjective, definite article, preposition….all the words the child is being taught in their English lessons are being reinforced in their MFL lesson. If they didn’t understand it first time, here is a golden opportunity to go over it again, in a different context. In MFL lessons we talk about the fact that verbs change their endings depending on who is doing them, and compare this to English “I look, you look” but “he looks”, so again there is more reinforcement of grammar. We talk about the different tenses and when to use them, and we look at how to structure a sentence and guess what…..we compare all this to English too. We look at similes and alliteration. We practise dictionary skills. In MFL, more than in probably any other lesson, we reinforce what they are learning in their English lessons.

It’s not just grammar that MFL helps with; it’s spelling too. In MFL lessons we look at spelling patterns and we talk about which ones are similar to English and which ones are completely different. More importantly, we think about how to remember the spellings of the words, and these techniques can be transferred to their English lessons.

It’s not just their English that benefits. When we learn how to count in a different language, or how to tell the time, we’re reinforcing their maths. When we look at countries where that language is spoken we are reinforcing their geography. The children study the culture of those countries (PSHE and RE), investigate the rhythm of language (music) and perform role plays (drama).

The other important thing about language – all languages – is that they are a means of communication. It isn’t just about reading and writing. Communication also involves speaking and listening, and we do plenty of that in MFL lessons. Just because a child struggles to spell, or to hold a pencil, doesn’t mean that they can’t excel at speaking, and just because a child finds speaking and listening difficult doesn’t mean they can’t do well with reading and writing. Last year I taught Spanish to a child who had several learning disabilities including dyslexia. He found writing difficult, but he really got the concept of adjective agreement and was able to show his understanding with the way he pronounced words when speaking, and he was really proud of his achievement. I’ve taught French to Deaf children because the school believed that they should have the same opportunities as hearing children. Some of them found it difficult, but some of them did really, really well with it. What a shame it would have been for those children if they’d been pulled out of language lessons because somebody decided it would be too hard for them.

My dream is for more people to take this attitude. To stop saying “What’s the point?” and to start saying “Why not?” Because maybe, just maybe, MFL could be the one subject the child excels at.

Addition 17-08-16
I came across this article recently, which gives a few more reasons: Why foreign languages have a place in autism education

VCOP display

Every classroom in my school has to have a VCOP display. In fact as a supply teacher I’ve been in a lot of classrooms, and every single one of them has had a VCOP display, so I’m assuming it’s something on Ofsted’s ticklist.

Now don’t get me wrong – I like VCOP. I know it has a lot of opponents, but I find it a very useful teaching tool, and like every tool its success depends on how you use it. I’m not a big fan of taking it out of context and treating it as four separate elements that children have to shoehorn into their writing, and to me a VCOP display does that.

My sentence displayThis display is my solution. My children are Deaf and for many of them BSL is their first language. They find English sentence structure difficult, so I have put up this display to demonstrate the structure of a standard English sentence. It would work equally well for EAL and EFL students, and I’m sure it could also be adapted for the MFL classroom, although I haven’t tried that yet.

adjective and subjectI have my Openers at the beginning of the sentence, where they belong, and my Punctuation at the end, also where it belongs. Connectives are underneath punctuation, to show that they are used to join two sentences together. Vocabulary is spread over four panels – Nouns (subject and object), Verbs and Adjectives.

Like everything with teaching, once you’ve done it, you think of a better way to do it, and next time I’ll move the adjective panel to just before the object instead of just before the subject. I think adjectives are probably used more to describe the subject than object, and it means that I could also have a S V A structure (The rose is pink) in the middle of the longer structure. It’s still a work in progress and I do plan to split the subject panel into nouns and pronouns, and the white panel needs an “or number” halfway down. Other than that, I’m quite happy with it so far.

In addition to providing them with a standard structure sentence, it is exposing them to grammatical terms, and already one of the boys in the class has asked what the word “article” means and what it’s for.

So there you have it. Nobody can accuse me of not having a VCOP display in my classroom, but I’ve managed to turn it into something more useful.

Languages, Dyslexia and Free CPD!

On the first day of my summer holidays I headed off to Shropshire for a Dyslang event, having decided that anything that combines my two big interests – languages and dyslexia – had to be worth giving up a day of my holidays for.

It was about the problems faced with teaching multi-lingual individuals who have dyslexia. Difficulties in even diagnosing dyslexia can arise because of the influences of the individual’s first language (for example they may use a different script, their language may be read from right to left, there may be sounds in English that don’t exist in their first language). I don’t want to write a whole post about Dyslang because they have a website which will tell you all you want to know about they do – you’ll find it at www.dyslang.eu.

Dysland e-learning modulesWhat I do want to do is to tell people that there are 12 e-learning modules on their website which are completely free – all you have to do is register. Free CPD – what more could you ask for?

The other thing I want to do in this post is to share a fascinating nugget of information that I discovered on the course:

Our brains function differently depending on our first language and culture! The brains of people whose first language is English have a phoneme-grapheme correspondence function, but because not all of our words are phonetic their brains also have a word recognition function. The brains of people whose first language is a phonetic one, such as Italian or Spanish, have only the phoneme-grapheme recognition – because they don’t have any non-phonetic words, they don’t need to recognise words that don’t follow the pattern, so the word recognition function just doesn’t exist. Amazing!

Getting Children Speaking in the MFL Classroom

Book - KS3 French Speaking ActivitiesHow do you get your class speaking more of a language? I came across these great books recently which are packed with interesting ideas.

There is a KS2 and a KS3 version of the book, but the blurb on them recommends getting just one or the other as the content is very similar. I’ve been using the KS3 book with upper KS2 with no problems. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to use many of them yet, but I’m itching to get a chance.

My Year 6 French beginners really enjoyed the survey where they had to find the name and age of everyone in the class. Obviously they already knew the real names and ages of their classmates, so I gave each of them a card with a French name, an age between 1 and 12 (as those were the only numbers we’d learnt) and a symbol to show how they were feeling.

You do need to monitor this activity quite closely, as some of the children will try to take the easy way out and copy answers over other pupil’s shoulders, but on the whole I found that the children had fun with it, and I heard lots of good French spoken in the classroom,

What activities or resources do you use to increase the amount of language spoken in your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.