So proud

Today three groups of my students from Terminale STI2D came along to one of my training courses to present in English their final year projects to those present. I was truly astounded at how good tehy were and how well they did it. Even R, a student who doesn’t always want to go along with what is being done in class was a star. And quiet, retiring W was full of explanations in clear and comprehensible English. A was totally at ease, drawing us diagrams on the board and explaining at the same time. I was so proud of what they achieved today and I hope they realize how much I respect their attitude.

The aim of inviting them was to give a starting point to our training. All too often, we get bogged down in the theory and forget the kids who should be at the heart of everything. By starting off with the kids, we gave the afternoon a direction that it would have been hard to achieve without them. It also showed what I firmly believe – my students have a better level in English than we give them credit for. Give them a bit of leeway and off they will go – but in the most positive way possible, as they proved today.

The teachers said that they admired their ease, how comfortable they were with the language and how motivated they seemed by their projects. I would agree with that. Hats off to my colleagues who run the projects, who dream them up and who put it all in place. And hats off to the pupils in question. A second group next week – let’s hope they will do as good a job as those today.

hats off

Another goal to reach

As I am writing, the number of hits on this blog is 18,374. With three and a half weeks until the Easter holidays, my goal is to reach 20,000 hits before Easter. Can we do it ? Yes, we can !! I know we can. How do I know this ? Because I am confident in the knowledge that my pupils are working hard and using this blog to do so. I can see it on the stats as I follow who is doing what. I see it in their work in the classroom as they re-invest what they have been doing at home.

I know we can do it because I see also the countries that are following my blog too. I check my stats page every day to see which countries are there and I smile to myself as I realize that people around the world are checking out what I have to offer. It is very exciting being part of the blogosphere and to know I am being read around the world.

So, we’re on the road to 20,000 before April 19th. Let’s see how quickly we can get there, everyone.


Pronouns and Colouring-in

My students seem to find real difficulty with pronouns and this has become really evident in a piece of work they have handed in this week, in which they have to tell the tale of a relationship. Choosing a couple they know, they have had to tell me the love story. It has been absolutely fascinating to read and they have really gone to town. The work has revealed, however, some really basic confusions about the choice of pronouns.

He kissed her passionately.

He kissed him passionately.

It is definitely not the same storyline.

pronoun turtle

To provide some remedial help, I have put together a page of Pronoun Revision exercises, collated from the web. Students, if you are reading this, please have a go at them. It will improve the quality of your writing no end, if you can nail this one. 

For those of you who may remember my post on Googledocs recently, well, the deadline came and went and no one sent me a googledoc, so I thought we would give it a go, doing it the old way. The kids handed their essays in to me on the given date. All of them ? One student only didn’t hand his work in on time. One out of thirty-one is not a bad score.

So I am now marking it. But this is how I feel …

I CANNOT, I just cannot mark their work without getting them to correct it. Maybe others can, but I can’t. The hours that they have obviously put into this work merits more than a series of red scribblings, a few vb / md / gr / expr annotations and a mark / 20.

Two of my students came to Homework Club on Thursday lunchtime and they needed help understanding where they had gone wrong in an English test, done for another teacher in another class. These two motivated girls, who are doing well in my class, had obtained 6/20 and 8/20 respectively for a writing test. The subject ? They had watched a film in class and then had to write a follow-on of the film. Not surprisingly, they found it really hard and bang – the marks reflected that.

I was incensed, though I hid it from them out of professional loyalty. There’s a blogpost waiting to happen, I’d say !! To start with, it was a blatant case of mixed skills and seemed quite unfair to me, but there’s another blogpost too, for another day. Anyway …

These two girls, let’s call them Emma and Mary (not their real names !!), came to Homework Club to get feedback on where they went wrong and how they can improve. As it happens, they have also handed in a piece of work to me this week about love stories, so I was able to look at what they had done and compare.

Emma works incredibly hard, overdoses on the dictionary, it has to be said, and needs lots of practice. The pronouns pages are for her, amongst others. She has a tendency to translate her ideas directly from French which gives a pompous stilted style at times. Her 6/20 has half destoyed her and certainly has knocked her confidence. I am looking now at her love story essay.

By annotating it with colours – blue for verb problems, orange for vocab problems, green for a grammatical structure and purple for dictionary overload, I feel I have been able to show her precisely how she can improve on her work. When I return it to her on Monday morning, I know that she will go away and work on it, in an attempt to improve. She knows that for the moment it is worth about 13/20. Reassured by that, she will know that things can only get better. I know her work is going to improve enormously – and she will eventually upload onto her wikispace in her digital portfolio, a piece of work that is of good quality.

Mary is a similar case. Her work is shorter than Emma’s and more stilted. OK, I can handle that, and she will have her purple annotations to make her think about how to improve. Pronouns are not a problem for Mary. She needs to work on her tense structures. She basically uses the present tense throughout, This creates confusions in terms of communication and she will be able to work on this once the blue “verb” pen has highlighted the use of tenses to her.

When these kids come to Homework Club with their test papers and want help, it is exactly that – a cry for help. As their teachers, we are not there to tell them constantly what they are doing wrong. I firmly believe that we are there to show them how they can improve to enable them to do things right.

So, I agreed to remove my googledoc obligations for this one time, but I have proved to myself that it needs to come back. This experiment with my L class has proved that I want to keep on working in this, giving the kids a chance to improve on their work and not just spend my weekends covering their work with red pen. Not only do they not understand any better at the end of the exercise, they take a bit of a moral beating and then repeat the same mistakes again the next time. And I find it totally depressing for me too.

So, conclusion to this blogpost, I am going to continue colouring in my students’ work and hoping that this method will gradually convince the ones who are still not convinced.


Fifty ways to recycle a plastic bottle

Alexandre 1

My fabulous 1STI2D1 students have really gone to town with their entries for my “Fifty ways to recycle a plastic bottle” project. Here are their entries, assembled in one picture by Alexandre (thanks to him and to Ghislain who did me some other photos). The idea was to find creative uses for the two plastic bottles that I gave to them over the Xmas holidays, photograph the entries and post them on a virtual wall with an explanation in English of how they went about making their creation.The language objective was to practice the past tense (I chose / I cut / I made / I wanted to etc etc).

The ideas were presented to a panel of six Technology teachers and entries have been nominated in different categories :

The most creative

The most innovative

The craziest idea

The most useful idea

The most stylish idea

The sustainable development prize

I then put together a team of non-Technoloy teacher to choose The Teachers’ Choice Prize.

Finally there will be The Overall Winner of the Fifty Ways to Recycle a Plastic Bottle Project 2014.

My Technology colleague, Claire Boucher, has made the trophies for the prize-giving ceremony which will take place on Thursday 30th January. We announced the nominated prizes in class on Wednesday and each student will be working on his acceptance speech, in the case of victory. And of course, the speech will be in English.

The objects will be displayed during our Open Day at school on March 22nd 2014.

I am truly delighted at how the students have entered into the spirit of this project. It came at the end of a long chapter on PLASTIC – making plastic bottles, the injection moulding process, recycling plastic and inventive uses for plastic bottles. We studied a project in Guatemala where plastic bottles, stuffed with trash, have been used as blocks to build a community school. This then led us to think about ways to use a plastic bottle for us and the project was born.

The Ceremony will take place on January 30th in the presence of Mr Fraboulet, our Headmaster, Mr Furst and Mme Renault-Chatton, our Deputy Heads and a selection of class teachers. The French teacher is going to work on writing an article for the school website and for the local rag with groups of the students.

It has been an absolute pleasure working on this project and seeing my boys develop their creativity and imagination. My conviction that students need to have a creative side has been strengthened by this project and their participation has shown me that I am right to believe in them and their talents. Up to me to dream up more challenges as they have set the bar very high with their offerings.

The winners will be announced here after Thursday’s ceremony.

UPDATE : We are proud to announce the winners of our 2014 Fifty Ways to Recycle a Plastic Bottle Competition.


The most creative : Bastien and his Sweets Cup and Bracelet

The most innovative : Léo and his Magazine Rack

The craziest idea : Antoine and his Millipede Sponge Support

The most useful idea : Valentin and his Bike Fender

The most stylish idea : Vincent and his Phone Dock / Dimitri with his Christmas Decoration

The sustainable development prize : Johnnathan with his Water Recycling system

The non-STI2D teachers’ prize : Ghislain and his Remote Control Holder / Mathieu and his Pirate Ship

And the overall winner of the Grand prize 2014 is Antoine and the Millipede, nominated in the most categories.

Congratulations once again to all particpants. Thanks to the lycée for organising a tea party for the awards ceremony, to Mr Fraboulet, the Head, for his presence at the ceremony and to Mr Paquet, our “Chef des Travaux” for the cinema ticket prizes for the winners. All participants received a souvenir keyring, made by Claire Boucher along the same lines as the trophies (thanks to her and to Eliane for the technical support) and a good time was had by all.

All that remains now is to organise our exhibition of the project for the Lycée Les Fontenelles Open Day on March 22nd 2014, where the creations will be on display with explanations in English, of course.

Amazing all the things you can do with a plastic bottle, isn’t it ?

Yes !!!

A great big YES moment this morning, so a blog post is called for to celebrate it !! Here we go, altogether now, yes

I have been battling since September with a very large class of reluctant students. When I say “reluctant”, I mean a group who are OK about doing the odd grammar exercise here and there, but anything more exotic than that, well, you’re having a laugh, right ? I have trundled on with my e-portfolios, my eyejot recordings and my google documents. Some have followed me willingly, some have been dragged kicking and screaming and some, well, they must have very sore heels, so far dug in, they were !!

Today, I asked for an essay to be handed in to me on Feburary 10th. That is 3 weeks from now. I asked for it to be word-processed, following a presentation protocole but that was all. No other instructions.

It was not that I had given up on my all my technological input, particularly essay-writing using Googledocs. I am as convinced as ever that this is the way to progress, but I wanted to see if “their way” would turn out better. After all, a kid who scribbles a few lines the night before and who can’t see what is wrong with that, is it worth getting myself all lathered up about it ?

So, I gave out the instructions this morning for the essay. Fine, no problem. At the end of the lesson, two girls came to me and asked if it would be OK, would I mind terribly if they did their essays on Googledocs because they are used to working that way now and they like being able to progress in that way and bladebladebla … and I thought in my mind : yes

It has not all been a waste of time and energy. Those kids that have understood what I am trying to do with them, they are the ones who will work on Googledocs and they are the ones who will progress. The others will continue to scribble out their few measly lines the night before and will make no progress at all … I will now wait to see how many send me a Googledoc and take this personal initiative.  It was a splendiferous moment and one that has truly made my day. So thanks to CV and AB, if you are reading this far. I hope you will recognize yourselves.

Let’s ban tippex now !!

I HATE, LOATHE and ABHOR tippex, or whitener or blanco, whatever you like to call it. This stuff here : tippex liquidtippex mousetippex penWhy do I dislike it so much ? Well, it isn’t the stuff itself. I have no personal problem with having neat work and actually use it myself, BUT when put in the hands of my untrained students at school, this turns into a weapon of mass-destruction !! Why do kids feel they have to erase their mistakes ??? Why ??? How can you learn from something if you just zap it from existence ?

One girl, I shall call her Rachel (not her real name, as they say in the magazine stories !!), was working on an individual listening comrpehension activity in class a while ago for me. She completed the answers and came back to the group for correction. We started sharing answers and correcting the work when it came to Rachel’s turn to give her answer to one of the questions. “Oh Madame, I can’t,” she said to me. When I asked her why not (for heaven’s sakes), it turned out that she had rubbed out all her answers ready to fill in the correct answers that she assumed I was going to give. To say I was furious would be gross understatement of the year. I think “apopleptic” would be nearer to the truth (even if I am not sure how to spell it).

It revealed to me a really serious underlying problem, or even a  series of problems. Rachel obviously thought her work and effort was not worthy of keeping. She also seemed to think that I would consider her work in the same way, which actually upset me quite deeply. She also seemed to believe that only perfection will do and finally, she seems to equate “copying down the right answers” with “getting things right” – two totally different things and in my experience, the ones who simply copy down the right answers are rarely the ones who get it right.


What is wrong with making mistakes ? Is it so shameful ? My students seem to have a seriously warped relationship with their mistakes. A boy recently mistook the word “candle” for “condom” and so we had a great presentation of condoms on his Christmas table and condoms flickering on the mantlepiece. Apart from being absolutely hilarious, it was a superb example of how the boy speaking, Alex, and the rest of the class, have all learned from this mistake and be assured, no one makes that mistake any more. We have all learned from it. No one got hurt, no one died, a kid made a mistake and now he won’t make it any more – get over it !!!!

By banning tippex in any shape of form in my classroom, I encourage the students to make mistakes and not to hide them. You do not need to feel ashamed of your mistakes. If, as a school pupil, you never make any mistakes then one of two things are true : a) you are not normal or b) you no longer need to be in my class. I want my pupils to take responsibility for their mistakes and in doing so, to understand why they have made them and most importantly, see how they can learn from them to avoid making the same ones in the future. That is why I love mistakes and I hate anything that serves purely to erase those mistakes.



The #Nurture1314  project was born on Twitter,as far as I know and it involves teachers writing about 13 highlights of 2013 and 14 hopes for 2014. The writings are blogged via teacher websites and are, as far as I can see, full of ideas, enthusiasm and optimism for the year ahead. In times when education is taking quite a bashing, it is refreshing to read positives from teachers who are still vibrant and dynamic in their work. I, too, have joined in the game and you can read my #Nurture1314 contribution HERE.