Am I too demanding ?

Today I almost had a revolution in my classroom. Some of my studes were seriously cross with me and my methods. I am not questioning the methods as such, because I have thought about them long and hard for a number of years and I believe in what I am doing. What I find unsettling is the students’ reactions. Let me explain.

One of my classes, I call it my laboratory class because I am able to experiment new ideas and techniques with them, well, this class is full of well-meaning yet unstructured language learners. Some are beginning to show real signs of progress and that is really encouraging. Others are stagnating and I find that frustrating. To try to take stock of how to move forwards in a meaningful way, I took in their exercise books to look at. Blimey, I wondered if some of them had actually been in the same class as me !! Bits and bobs all over the place, poorly copied, papers not stuck in … basically a bit of a mess. I decided to put together a “mark scheme” to give the kids in question some feedback as to what I felt was not right with their books. At this point, I should remind you, dear reader, that the kids in question are16 year olds. My feedback system gave points for papers being stuck in correctly, in the right order, correct copying with no mistakes and all the work being done.

papers being stuck in correctly 5pts

in the right order 5pts

correct copying with no mistakes 5pts

all the work being done 5pts

This gave a mark out of 20. Hey, this is France, after all !!

The results ranged from 3/20 to 20/20. I must specifiy this was not a surprise. The kids were warned over a week in advance that I was planning to do it. I returned the books in class this morning and wow, the brown stuff hit the fan.

Of course, Philippe did not complain – he was the one with 20/20. Nor did Jean, a boy who is gaining confidence slowly and who works methodically in his attempts to progress and so got 16/20.

The revolutionaries were the ones with disappointing marks and they really let loose. Apparently I am treating them like babies, they had been told they were grown up now and so I had no right, yes I repeat, no right to check their books like this, it was patronising, it was abusing my power … Of course, the old chestnut of “it will wreck my termly average and that will ruin my life forever more” was there too.

Now, of course, when I tot up the famous “moyenne” at the end of the term, this mark for their books will have little if any weighting overall and if my aim was to shake them up, it worked. But my aims went further than that. I had hoped to show them that keeping on top of their books is a way of keeping on top of their work and as they work from their exercise books, then these objects are the very basis of everything else and if there is chaos in their books, how can they expect to achieve at their best levels.

I failed miserably at that aim with a large number of kids. Not all of them. I am happy to say that some get it – but unfortunately others don’t. And miserably, I conclude that the ones that don’t “get it” seem to be the ones that are cruising along below where they should be. And that concerns me.

Am I too demanding ? Should I just accept that average or slightly above or below average is OK ? Am I unreasonable to expect legible handwriting ? A date ? A title ? One young man said to me “I haven’t written a date in my exercise book for several years, Madame”. I find his remark scary and it shows how much banging of my head against a wall I am going to have to do. I also remember this lad has been in my class for five months and has got away with it til now !! Is it too late ? Should I just accept the obvious ?

What would you do ?

If you scroll down, you can read what I intend to do about it.


I am not going to give up !! I told this group of young men on the first day of the school year that I was going to be their “Maman Pédagogique” for the year and just as a mother wouldn’t give up on her child, I am not going to give up on my class. I am going to insist on correct presentation and handwriting. If it is not done properly, it will be done again. There is a parents’ evening coming up soon. I can collect the books in again just before and I am sure the parents would find it illuminating to check out their offsprings’ books. After all, how many of us take a peek at our teenagers’ homework books on a regular basis ? I am the first to own up to not doing so with my kids.

I am going to keep bashing away at this one. This class has been so pleasurable in so many ways so far that I am not going to let this happen. So, my sleeves are rolled up. Guys, if you think this is babyish and patronising, then I am sorry for that but one day, I hope, you will see what I am trying to do. And let us not forget that for every Daniel and Victor who are moaning about the injustice of it all, there are Philippes and Jeans who are finding their way after years in an English wilderness. For them, I will continue to be a right Royal pain in the a*** because I owe it to them. If I take this class on into next year, then it will be an investment for the future. If I don’t, well at least they will have seen one way of doing things before having to adpat to a new way with someone else.

Strap yourselves in and hold on to your hats, boys, the journey has only just begun. This could get rocky !!

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.


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.