Monday, 23 December 2013

Term One - SURVIVED!

It's Christmas eve eve and I've reached the end of term one!  The university gave us all an early Christmas present today, marks and feedback returned from our first assignment.  Luckily my Christmas is not spoiled- I passed at Masters level.  The assignment was to look into the theory behind one of a number of areas and then apply the theory to the schools that we're training in.  It's nothing like anything I've done before so it was hard, but it's over and done now, onwards to the next one!  The feedback the university gave was really useful and detailed too which I was really impressed with.

I've had my last week at my main school until February which was weird.  In January I'll be going to my contrasting placement, an all girls grammar school.  I'm only there for four weeks, but I'm looking forward to it.  The good thing about going to my second placement straight after Christmas is that it takes away some of the work load over the holiday, the school have piled me up with text books and they've let me know roughly where the classes are up to but until I've been there observing for a couple of days I'm not really going to be able to get on with any planning.  I'm using the time to get on top of paperwork and other such exciting things!

The scary thing about January being around the corner is that I will have to start looking out for jobs to apply for.  I've been told that jobs for September are posted in January so even though I've only been teaching for a term I have to start applying.  I'm mainly keeping my eye out for jobs near to where I live and in the area I'm training in but will look further afield too.  I've seen adverts for jobs at British Overseas Schools in places like the USA which really interest me, they're not an option for now but definitely something I'll keep an eye on in the future.

At the same time as the job applications and my second placement I have to be preparing for my Enhanced Studies placement.  The Enhanced placement is two weeks spent in a school researching an area of their school improvement plan before we write another 4000 word assignment on it.  I'm looking forward to doing something really different and to getting to see another school, but I know I'm going to find it difficult.  I've been in contact with a school that is happy to take me so that's the first item checked off of the list.

I cannot believe how fast this term has flown by, if time could slow down a little so I can appreciate my two weeks off that would be lovely!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

School Direct: the 10th week of teaching.

The last time I wrote a post I was embarking on my first half term holiday as a School Direct trainee.  It left as quickly as it had come and whilst I packed quite a lot in, I still didn't achieve as much as I wanted to in those days off.  Part of that has to come down to planning two lessons that I didn't need to teach as I had a training day that I'd forgotten about, that was...annoying.  I do feel that my planning is getting quicker though, I'm learning not to be too much of a perfectionist and not to try and cover all bases.  As much as I'd like to have great lessons every time I've learned that in reality that just doesn't happen, and I'll do myself no good in trying.

As well as wanting to have a life beyond planning, the other reason for speeding up the process is that I have an assignment to get written.  All through my undergrad I was always ahead of deadlines, it was never something I had an issue with, so not being able to be 110% on top of things has thrown me a bit.  I'd already come to the realisation that I'll never reach the end of a to-do list again so I'll just have to add this on top.  It's also a very different type of assignment from anything I'd done before.  The closest I can get to it was a piece of coursework I did for my minor in first year, Psychology in Education, but that was a long time ago!  I think we're all very used to being given a title and being told to get on with it, so having something as wide as this is a bit of a shock.  In theory it gives me a lot more freedom to do what I like, but at the moment it's just a bit nerve wracking as I'm not sure whether or not I'm doing the right thing.  Only time, or the university..., will tell I guess!

A while back I mentioned that I'd started using a tool called Class Dojo, so I thought it was about time to talk about how its been going for me.  At the end of half term I gave out reward points and a little medal (a flashing pumpkin for halloween, of course) for the students that had been using the target language the most.  I also gave out some notes to take home to say how well they'd been doing.  I did this with my year 7s who had been the classes I was testing Dojo with.  I was really pleased to see how happy they were to be getting these, especially the notes to take home and stick up on the fridge.  From the start of half term I have been keeping the points going on a running total, the students get to see how many points they have at the start and end of each lesson, and the change in their behaviour when they hear that points have been awarded is really noticeable.  I've started using it with year 8 too, so I'll be interested to see where that ends up by Christmas.  I'm still ironing out the issues, like making sure I'm fair and being able to give the points out quick enough to have the right effect but I'm definitely getting there.

Also before half term I put myself forward to be one of the student reps, which means I'll be sitting on a regular meeting with the staff that organise our course.  We had rather a long list of feedback to take this time, but most issues were easily ironed out and seeing as it's the first year of the course problems are to be expected.  Representation has been something I've always been interested in and I got involved a lot at Lancaster.  It's even something I looked into for full time work, co-ordinating academic representation in Students' Unions.  I think it will always be something I'm interested in, I guess later down the line it will come back in involvement with Student Voice/School Council or similar.

I've not talked too much in these posts about my actual training and what I'm working on, I guess that's because I was getting to grips with the basics and getting used to being in the classroom.  My main targets at the moment are working on using the target language in the classroom (with my target language prompt sheets and Class Dojo) and student independence.  I'm trying to talk less and get them doing more, both through more active tasks and encouraging them to be more independent in what they do.  I've been using 3Bs before me (brain, book, buddy) for a while now, but I've added a 4th B.  I wanted to try out something I've read about, a 'help desk' which could include different things each lesson, a dictionary, a conjugated verb, a grammar rule, anything.  Students then visit the desk when they feel they need it.  Making this into a 4th B was a little tenuous, and not the best language I know! Spanish has become "el boletín" (noticeboard rather than desk) and le bureau des renseignements.  I'm not sure how this is going to work out but I'm giving it a go this week and will report back!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Languages show live, parents evening and the end of the first half term.

This weekend marked the end of my first half term in school and 10 weeks on the School Direct programme if we include the two weeks worth of summer school.  In many ways it has been a long half term, and in others the last 8 weeks have just flown by.  Until now I have been teaching four hours a week on my own and observing and helping out in 6 others.  I've been taking bits and pieces of starters, plenaries and half lessons in years 7, 8, 9 and 10, some French and some Spanish.

A week or so ago now another MFL trainee and I went to the Languages Show Live at Olympia.  It meant losing the usual weekend lie in and getting on the train nice and early in the morning and making our way across to Olympia, with the usual barriers that Transport for London like to throw in for good measure!  There were loads of stalls and so as well as attending talks on using the target language in the classroom and the new national curriculum for 2014 we managed to spend quite a lot of money...!  We justified it by saying that we're investing in our future by helping ourselves to do better this year, at least that's what we've convinced ourselves of anyway!

As I've been teaching year 7 on my own for a few weeks now they are my classes and so I took the lead in talking to the parents on parents evening this week.  Although I went to year 11 parents evening a few weeks ago I didn't really participate other than to add a couple of comments so this was quite a big step up.  At first it was quite scary sitting on the other side of the table and telling parents how their children were getting on in my lessons but by the end of the evening I realised I was actually quite enjoying it.  It was really interesting to get to meet the parents and hopefully I'll be able to see the effects of some of the things we talked about when we're back in the classroom after half term.

Unfortunately this half term break is not going to be that relaxing.  I've had a weekend off but work starts tomorrow as I not only have 6 hours of lessons to plan for the first week back but a 4000 word assignment for the PGCE and I'd really like to get at least a first draft done.  I might even have to pop into school at some point to help plan the primary link we are starting in November.  Hopefully I'll get it all done, but it'll be nice to not have to get up quite so early every day in any case.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Busy, busy, busy!

Since my last blog post around three weeks ago a lot has been going on and it's all gone past in a blur!  I've taken my first whole lessons with my two year seven classes, taken starters and plenaries with year ten, helped out with year eight, nine and eleven and been assigned a tutor group to help out with.  The anonymous buddy system we have at school is making things better though - we've been assigned someone that we can leave notes and buy little gifts for.  My buddy has bought me chocolate and biscuits so far - I think they've got me sussed - and they've left me notes like 'eat away the stress' and 'share these and make everyone love you'.  Just the sort of thing you want to see at the end of a busy week.

Reality is finally beginning to set in as I arrive at school at 7.45 and leave for my 45 minute journey home at 17.30/18.00.  I'm forcing myself to take time for myself at the moment as I'm more than aware that if I don't set aside this time now when my workload is comparatively light, there is no way I'll be able to do it later in the year.  I'm doing something I really enjoy and going to the adult music school at my old secondary school once a week and something I enjoy considerably less - exercising at the gym. My ex-headteacher used to tell me that she played in the band as her 'Wednesday night music therapy' and I can see why she did it now (and still does), it's something that I have to keep up/

I've been getting involved as much as I can at school at the moment, especially whilst my timetable is light enough to allow me to.  This meant that last week I went to year eleven parents evening and shadowed my mentor.  She only has one year eleven class and I'm in with them once a week as well as their GCSE speaking interventions after school so I've got to know them a little bit which was useful.  A couple of weeks ago we all spent the day off timetable for what was called 'Shaping the Future Day'.  Each form was competing in a variety of tasks as part of their college (the school is spilt into 3 colleges [houses]) for a trophy.  These tasks were intended to represent the school values of commitment, respect, self-belief, excellence and strength.  The school also has a system of rewarding these values for points for each college and prizes for students.  This has only just relaunched so I'm yet to see quite how well this works, but I like the look of it.  There was also a presentation for each college where all year sevens and new members of staff in the college were called up to the stage to be welcomed into the Academy.  I must admit that I was sceptical to begin with but it was actually quite a nice session.  I spent Shaping the Future day with the form of one of the MFL teachers but I've now been assigned to another form which is really nice as I'm getting to know another group of students and learning about the role the form tutor plays.

I'm starting to get used to school policies and the way things are done.  For example I know that I need to wrack my brains for a good word before staff briefing on a Friday as we have a toy dog that gets thrown around to decide the word of the week.  We've had things like punctuality and confidence so far, but my mind goes blank every time!  Another policy I'm getting to grips with is the marking policy... I won't go into it, but lets just say it's time consuming for me at the moment!

In terms of my training I am still going to other schools every week for Professional Studies days, the most useful one that we've had before was on behaviour management and inclusion.  Three students with different Special Educational Needs came to speak to us, we were all very impressed with how brave they were to come along and speak to 26 trainee teachers!  There was one blind boy, a girl with dyslexia and a boy on the autistic spectrum.  They told us about how they find school, how their teachers help them and most importantly what LSAs do for them.  All three of them told us that they couldn't get on in school without the LSAs that help them.  It was really good for us to hear from the students themselves rather than the theory of it all the time.

My focus at the moment with one class is classroom management and with another is the use of the target language.  I'm using Class Dojo to help with both of these things.  Class Dojo assigns each student a little avatar and then you can reward certain behaviours and give red marks against others.  I'm using it to keep track of when students spontaneously use the target language.  I've helped them along with this by providing target language prompt sheets with questions like 'est-ce que je peux enlever ma veste?' and 'puedo abrir la ventana?", just the sorts of questions that they would ask during the lesson but that they can easily say in French/Spanish.  I'm also using it to reward hard work, team work and listening to instructions as well as warnings for talking out of turn and not being on task.  I've only used it for one lesson with each class so far but I'll be keeping an eye on how it goes.

So now it's Saturday and I'm sat in front of the X Factor writing this blog at the first opportunity I've had.  I know everyone told me I'd have no social life this year and I knew it was going to be hard work but reality has hit now.  How long until half term?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

School Direct: Reflecting on every breath, or so it seems!

The key to teacher training, or so I am lead to believe so far, is reflection.  In fact, it would seem like I have to reflect on every waking breath!  For anyone that doesn't know, these reflections are used as evidence that I have met 8 standards to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).  In the past there used to be something like 32 of these, each requiring a folder full of evidence.  Some training routes still require a folder per standard, which can be confusing when trainees within one school are on different programmes.  As I'm doing a PGCE I will just need one folder at the end of the year, this includes my weekly journal, a reflection on each of the standards and yet more paperwork and forms.  As well as this I will complete 3 assignments over the course of the year, they are Professional Investigations: Professional Studies, Enhanced Studies and Curriculum Studies.  I only really know anything about the first one at the moment and that the Enhanced Studies will be researched whilst I am on a two week non-teaching placement at another school.  I'll also be doing a teaching placement for four weeks at another school, this has to be a contrasting school to my main placement so I presume it will be a grammar school.

Over and above my training requirements I'm trying to get involved in other things going on around the school.  So far these have centred around my own department, I've gone along to after school sessions, marked some primary transition work and even been out to a primary school to talk about how the school can work with them on some MFL sessions in year 6.  This week I get the chance to be involved outside of my department when the students are off timetable for the day, working on activities in their form groups and colleges (or houses).  As far as I know this event is to start off some competition between the colleges for the rest of the year and to encourage what has been described as a family feeling.  I'm really looking forward to it and think this has to be one of the main advantages of School Direct as it is allowing me to be part of the school from day one and really get involved just as any other member of staff.

In terms of the school/PGCE balance things are going fine so far, but I can already see that changing as I start to take over starters and parts of classes bit by bit from this week.  I'm conscious that there is going to be so much to do and so little time to do it in, but I knew that when I applied for this programme so it's just something I'll have to deal with.

On a less personal note, the ITT figures for this year have been released recently.  They show that whilst there were many many more applications for School Direct than places available there were many places left empty, I think it was around 45% or something similar.  It seems that this comes down to the schools involved in the process.  As schools have a much bigger say in the selection of trainees than they would with PGCE placements they are applying the standards that they would in selecting their own staff.  Unfortunately, this seems to mean that there are many unfilled places for teacher training this year, as less PGCE places were available.  Although the quality of School Direct training is high, there won't be enough Newly Qualified Teachers around at the end of it.  What worries me is that the mistakes made this year are going to tar what could've been a very successful programme in the future.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Three days in and not a student in sight.

After all this time I can finally say I have started School Direct and am officially a trainee teacher!

My first two days in school were INSET days, or Professional Learning as the academy I'm at calls them.  I've been to all the same sessions as the usual staff as well as some specific sessions for new staff members and trainees/NQTs.  I have a feeling that I'm going to be swimming in paperwork this year, and next for that matter.  I have journals, assignments and reviews to complete for my university, but at the same time I have reflective logs, records and more reviews to complete from the academy.  It's going to feel like a lot but hopefully it should make it all easier for me at the end of the year.  For those that don't know, there are 8 teachers standards that all trainees must meet in order to be awarded Qualified Teacher Status and these have to be evidenced in a portfolio at the end of the year.  At the end of the day it's all about ticking boxes but if I don't collect all the information and evidence as I go along it will be a total nightmare.  I'm not quite sure how I'm going to go about managing all this yet but I'm sure I'll get used to it once I'm settled into school.

I guess I'd never really considered how much has to be done in those couple of days before school starts.  As well as attending all the training sessions the staff were sorting out timetables, seating plans, books and boxes.  As a new member of staff I had to get my laptop sorted, get an ID badge, class keys and access to the car park, not to mention sorting out somewhere to keep all my stuff in the day.  All seems straightforward enough but it takes a while to deal with.

Today was the first day of term at my school but unfortunately Wednesdays are my training day out of school and so I missed it.  It was good to see all the other trainees today, there's been so much going on that it feels like ages since we last saw each other, in reality it was only Friday but we had plenty to catch up on.  It's at this stage that we realise the variations from school to school.  We have all been assigned different amounts of hours on our timetable, different expectations for when we will take over the class and access to different resources in school.  I think this is part of the draw of the programme, in theory it can all be tailored to our needs, although at the outset it does seem a little inconsistent.  We still don't have a concrete schedule for our training, and there is still some confusion on where we will be, when we'll be there and who we'll be with but I'm sure it'll get there soon enough.  What I do now know is that I will be spending the first half term in January in two other schools, 4 weeks in a school contrasting to my own and 2 weeks researching in another school before returning to my main school.

There is just so much to take in that I'm trying to take as many opportunities as I can to write my thoughts down and get things straight in my head!  I'm observing classes tomorrow and Friday before the weekend so I'll be able to get a sense of things and start with that in mind next week.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

It's been a long time coming...

I acknowledge that this blog has been a long time coming, I've not written in more than a month and then every time I intended to write this week and last I drew blanks.  It's not that I've got nothing to say, more that there has been so much going on that I'm still trying to make sense of it all myself!  Since last Monday I have been on a summer school before I start at school next week.  As anyone who has been reading these blogs from the outset will know it's been very much a step into the unknown for all of us on School Direct.  To be totally honest there is still much to be found out, the more we find out the more we realise we don't know.  But that goes for many things, doesn't it?

Our University partnership is the only one in the country to be running things this way with a summer school, and we're one of the biggest too.  The partnership is made up of the university, two sets of students from academy chains and a consortium schools from my local area.  As well as providing an interesting variety of people from different backgrounds this has caused some confusion at times.  We're all working towards different goals, some with a full PGCE and QTS with 60 Masters level credits and some QTS with 40 Masters level credits, and that's just our partnership, countrywide there is even more variation.  As well as this, the students from the academy chains seem to be expected to do a lot more from day one, regardless of whether they are salaried or non salaried, they will be teaching their own classes from the beginning.  One thing this week has made me realise is the role our schools will be playing in our training, a lot of the responsibility is in their hands as opposed to the university or even the lead school.  I guess maybe I could've deduced that from the name though, couldn't I?

Being one of those people that likes to be in the know and in control I'm pleased to have the details of my first assignment, the deadlines of all assessments and a rough idea of what I'm aiming for at the end of the year.  The content of the sessions has been elements of Professional Studies and Curriculum Studies to prepare us for the classroom, much as with the usual PGCE I believe.  This has been a good kick start to get our brains into gear, but I need a context to put it in and try it out before I'll really learn it's value.

I have to say that one of the most valuable parts of the summer school has been getting to know the other trainees.  There are 26 of us in our consortium from a range of subjects and across nine or ten schools.  This has been really good as we've all got to know different people and attended different subject sessions but we've had sessions together as well.  During the year we'll be meeting weekly for our Professional Studies sessions so it's important we get on, and luckily we have.  I've read enough articles, blogs, forums etc now to know that we're going to need each other to keep ourselves sane this year!

I'm starting in school on Monday with two INSET days, looking at the timetable from school it looks like it'll be pretty intense but I'm looking forward to getting to know the other staff and getting settled at school.  Unfortunately Wednesday is our first training day so I won't actually be at my own school for the first day of term.  I'm still unsure of how much observation I'll be doing before I start teaching, hopefully this will become clear on Monday.

For now I can only apologise, my brain is frazzled and I've just written my thoughts as they come out of my head.  I've not left myself time to read it through so I imagine the spelling and grammar is appalling but I'd rather post something than nothing.

Wish me luck, I'll blog again at the end of week one if I'm still in one piece that is!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

School Direct: Criticisms and variety, don't tar everyone with the same brush.

About a month ago I wrote this post about School Direct and the unknown aspects and misconceptions.  Since then there have been many more articles that only seem to further these misunderstandings.  The coverage of School Direct in the news is overwhelmingly negative and I believe that a lot of this is due to misunderstanding as opposed to criticism of the facts.  I am going to use this opportunity to give my views on some of the criticisms I've seen around:

1) Trainees will not see the same variety of schools that they would via a university-based PGCE route.

As much as this may be true to some extent all School Direct trainees will be expected to spend time in more than one school as required for obtaining QTS.  In fact, some school consortiums are able to provide their trainees with experience in a greater variety of schools.

2) Trainees won't get the important reflection time away from school that they would if they were following a university based training route.

I don't know how this will work for those trainees not gaining a PGCE, but I know that one day a week I will be training in curriculum and professional studies away from my school with other student teachers.  This will give me the opportunity to meet with other students, like I would do had I been at a university, and discuss issues and share experiences with them.

3) There won't be a strong enough focus on theory and academic study.

Again, although I don't know quite how this will work for non-PGCE trainees (presumably in a similar way to the non-PGCE GTP route) but so far I am under the impression that there is still a strong academic focus to my course.  I will be attending university for 2 weeks next month with full days of curriculum and professional studies.  I will still be required to complete academic assignments in order to gain my PGCE and I am still expected to study the same texts as the university based PGCE courses.

As far as I can tell so far, many of these criticisms of School Direct would also apply to Teach First, SCITT or the previous GTP.  

I understand the concerns related to applications and the knock-on effect this is having for university providers and this is certainly an issue that can't be ignored.  That said, in the cases where the School Direct training route also leads to the award of a PGCE I don't see the downside or the risk to teacher quality.

The variety of provision for School Direct across the schools and universities involved is yet to be seen, some with PGCE, some without, some with a wider variety of experience than others.  I guess what I'm saying is when making judgements about School Direct this variety must be kept in mind and we mustn't tar all of the training providers with the same brush.

Monday, 15 July 2013

An enjoyable week and a good experience, but Primary isn't for me thanks!

Keeping track of the reading list. So far so good...
Since getting back home from Lancaster I have been finishing off my preparations for School Direct to get some bits and pieces out of the way before the end of the academic year.  I spent a few days in the MFL department of my old Secondary school and I also went and met all the other trainees studying via the same university and training with the same lead school.  It was really good to finally get to meet people and gives me some faces to look out for at the summer school in August.  It also started to paint a slightly clearer picture of how the year is going to work.  It seems that one day a week will be spent training at one of the schools in the consortium and 6 of these days might be a little further afield depending on our subjects. Looking forward to the summer school now as hopefully we'll get information about how it's all going to work in terms of assignments and second placements.  My few days in Secondary were good too as I got to see all years, except for 11 and 13 of course, and saw a variety of lessons which gave me ideas for September.

As part of the preparations set out by my university I had to spend a week in a Primary school. Unfortunately the last few weeks of the Summer term are not the best for getting into classrooms and seeing lessons going on.  Due to the timing with the end of term I only spent one day with year 6 but two days with year 1 and year 3.  Despite the fact that curriculum teaching has pretty much ended in year 6 I was able to spend a day with them and spent some time asking the teachers about some of the questions I needed to answer including covering the transition to Secondary school.  As part of these investigations we were supposed to focus on our specialist subjects but I soon realised I wouldn't be getting the opportunity to see any languages teaching.  The school I visited used to have a specialist but they don't any longer and now they use a piece of computer software to teach French.  I enjoyed my week in a Primary school but I couldn't do it all the time.  The kids were great and it was a lot of fun but I think that was helped by the knowledge that I'd be done at the end of the week and not coming back!  All the Primary teachers said to me that they wouldn't be able to do Secondary though so I guess it just comes down to personal preference.

Now that everything has calmed down I've got to get on with my reading, I was hoping to have the bulk done before going to Canterbury but I'm not convinced that is going to happen now!  I'm back up to Lancaster later in the week for my Graduation ceremony and then thats it, I'm no longer a Lancaster undergraduate student!

Monday, 1 July 2013

New Staff Day - the picture starts to get a little clearer.

Being a School Direct trainee, I was very surprised to be invited to the New Staff Day at my school.  I guess it's not that surprising really, but I didn't expect the school to treat me as 'one of their own' so to speak.  My first impressions of the school are really good, and today has made me all the more excited for what is to come.  As it was a New Staff Day I was there with a total mix of people, other trainees, NQTs, teachers, subject leaders and cover supervisors.  What I was really pleased about was that we were all treated equally and as trainees we were just as valid a part of the group as anyone else and the same provisions had been made for us.  I'd been a bit worried that I might be a bit of an outsider as a trainee but today proved me wrong.

In terms of support and other training I think I've been very lucky with the school I'm going to be training at.  As a new member of staff each person has been allocated a buddy and those of us that are trainees, NQTs or in their first three years of teaching have also got a mentor.  We got the chance to meet them today and spend a little time in our departments to have a look at things and a bit of a chat.  In terms of other training, there are the usual non-pupil days each term as well as weekly sessions on various topics so it seems that there will be plenty going on that can only work positively for me during my PGCE.  If nothing else, the one thing I will have taken away from today is that I will be training in a very supportive school where everyone is willing to help you, and if this year is anything like I've been told it will be then I'm going to need it!

Later this week I have a social event organised by my lead school, meeting up with other trainees, getting all the important questions answered and getting the all important DBS check out of the way with (I just hope the effort I went to getting the Belgian and Spanish ones sorted is worth it...).  I've finally heard from the University about the Summer School, it'll be nine days at the end of August, residential at the University and no charge - food and room are covered in our tuition fees they say.  It looks like it will be 9-5 curriculum studies one week and professional studies the other.  If all my questions about the structure and assessment etc aren't answered this week then I'd hope that by the end of the summer holiday I'll know it all.  Especially as I start at school the following Monday!  My teaching hours and what days will be spent training are still a grey area, but it's getting there now, slowly but surely!  At least I finally have my degree result, that's something!

Friday, 21 June 2013

School Direct : Preparing for the unknown.

Recently I've come to realise how much misinformation is out there about School Direct and so I wanted to start this blog with a bit about that.  When telling people that I'll be doing School Direct at least one person, a teacher I might add, said to me 'oh yes, because they've got rid of the PGCE haven't they?',  I've also seen newspaper and internet articles that make all sorts of claims about the School Direct scheme that are either untrue or taken out of context.  For anyone reading this that doesn't know about School Direct I'll tell you a little bit more.  School Direct allows schools to pick their own trainees and train them along with a local provider.  Some of these programmes will just lead to Qualified Teacher Status but many of them will also lead to a PGCE, some with credits towards a Masters course.  Trainees on the School Direct scheme will be subject to the same standards as those training via a PGCE and therefore will have to spend time in more than one school and meet all the Teaching Standards before being recommended for QTS.  I think in general the confusion is occurring due to the variety of options available depending on the lead school providing the training, including the fact that some trainees will be salaried and others won't.  The School Direct isn't the only route though, PGCEs are continuing to be run as usual, this is just another route, much in the same way as the GTP was an alternative option.  Personally I much prefer the idea of School Direct as I'll be in school from day one, getting involved in school life but still gaining the PGCE qualification preferred by some schools and often required for teaching abroad.  I understand that taking part in School Direct this year is taking a big step into the unknown, for example my provider is yet to 100% finalise the structure of the course, but I find this exciting.

Taking this step into the unknown means that preparation is difficult.  I've got myself a stack of books and am reading my way through them.  I'm also trying to follow as many blogs and reading other articles on education as I'm realising how fast things are changing and the importance of keeping ahead of the times.  I've also started some observation and spent two days in an all boys grammar school this week which was really interesting as it was different to anything I've been in before.  I've got a week lined up in a Primary school which is compulsory before beginning my PGCE and I've arranged to spend a week in an MFL department back home.  Other than that preparations are generally all paperwork- I've had application forms to fill in from my school, a DBS check to pay for and a bit more reading!

Anyone else stepping into the School Direct unknown?  Join the TES Community forum here.   Get in touch with me on Twitter @BexNobes or via the group.  Really looking forward to talking to more trainees-to-be!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Why study languages? Three minutes to convince 6th formers to study MFL. #3mins2MFL

This week I've got myself involved in a Speedy Networking event where some students from my university are going to a local high school to 'sell' their course speed-dating style.  I don't know a huge amount about the event, at the moment I'm not sure if it will be going ahead as there hasn't been that much interest from students wanting to get involved.  I hope it does go ahead as it sounds like a good event but clearly will only be successful with a good selection of courses represented.  Anyway, this has got me thinking about how to 'sell' the study of languages in only three minutes.

I've mentioned how useful Twitter has been for me before and so it was my first port of call for inspiration.  Firstly I really appreciate tweeters like @speak2future @thirdyearabroad @TESNewTeachers and @MFLSunderland retweeting my request as it helped me get a few more responses.  I asked Twitter users:

Here are just a selection of the reasons I was given.
Employability and job prospects:

I went through these with the other languages students that are going to be coming to the event, trying to work out how we could use them our in three minutes.  All being final year students we were particularly interested in the tweets to do with employability and were really interested to see that language graduates were something like the 7th most employable.  Of the three of us, two are going into teaching in the UK and one to teach English in France and from our experience of the job market outside of Education we've found that as much as languages are sought after, these are in combination with other things.  For example, marketing graduates with knowledge of French or economics graduates with knowledge of German.  One of the three of us has joint honours with Maths and we agreed that maybe in hindsight taking joint honours with something outside of the languages department may have placed us in a better position.  That said it really depends on what university you go to and what you're intending on doing afterwards as some universities place a lot of focus on language and translation, as opposed to our course which has a greater emphasis on 'culture', politics, literature, history etc.  Just recently the British Chamber of Commerce highlighted the need for more linguists in the UK, here.  In terms of what we take from this for our #3mins2MFL we decided that we need to highlight that there are a range of opportunities out there for brits that speak another language, and not just for those that want to go and live abroad as some students might expect.  An example I like to use is that last summer I worked at a London airport and spoke Spanish every single shift.

Experience and opportunity:

We were unanimous that the year abroad is a vital part of a languages degree and is a great reason to study languages.  The experience of the year abroad is different for everyone, especially due to the variety of things that you can do for the year, but we all agreed that we got something from it.  The year abroad is something quite unique to the languages degree in the UK, students from other disciplines can take sandwich years or study abroad but their options are not as wide as language students who don't have the same linguistic barriers.  Year abroad students studying languages can study at a university, teach English or even find a work placement, there are plenty of opportunities out there.  There is a lot more about this on Third Year Abroad, especially their Graduate Case Studies.


 This tweet comes from someone that I've studied with for the last 4 years, she has already headed off into the 'real world' and started work in a job that isn't directly related to her degree subject.  I'm sure she won't mind that I'm using her has a great example of the transferable skills that you gain from a languages degree as she highlights herself in the tweet.  Communication is just one of those skills, recently when re-doing my CV I identified some more which are understanding of other ways of working, independence and self-motivation.


I've briefly touched on this one already, learning a language allows you to see things from another perspective, learning about other cultures, different approaches and new ideas.

Of all the tweets I received we particularly liked this one:

In the end we've decided to take a minute each looking at what you study in a languages degree and the host of other courses you can combine with it, the year abroad and finally where your languages can take you.  If it goes ahead maybe I'll blog on it again after the event.

What do you think are the main reasons to learn a language? Tweet @BexNobes with the hashtag #3mins2MFL and let me know.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

What happens now?

If my experimenting with the tools on this blog have gone to plan then when you read this my undergraduate exams will be over! At 11.30am 5/6/2013, I finished my degree!  Now that my life isn't full of revision I think I'm going to feel a little lost.  Fear not- I won't be sat around twiddling my thumbs for long, preparation for September is top of the list.

I've bought all the books that I've been told I need, problem is they're all lined up looking pretty on a shelf in Essex... and I won't be joining them until the end of the month.  Being the busy person I am I've had to line up some bits and pieces to fill my time.  Admittedly I don't really know what I've got myself in for with a couple of the things yet!  One is working with year 6 pupils for an afternoon teaching them French and Spanish.  I think the activities etc have been planned already and I'll just be involved in the delivery but it should be fun all the same.  The other activity is working with Secondary students who are coming onto campus to hear about university life and the courses on offer to them.  I'm looking forward to talking to them about studying languages, even if they all say 'oh but everyone speaks English so learning languages is pointless' that'll be something for me to think about in time for September.

The university that will be awarding my PGCE requires me to spend a week in a Primary school and a bit more time in a Secondary school.  I've got a week in a Primary organised back in Essex and I have a booklet full of questions that I need to complete before my 2 week course at the university in August.  As for Secondary, I'm due to spend a couple of days in a grammar up here and a few more back at my old school nearer the end of term.  I was hoping to fit one more school in there, but I just don't think I'll have time!  I've not been given anything to observe in the Secondary classes though, so any suggestions, especially MFL specific ones, are really appreciated!

Whilst I'm on the subject of school experience, I understand why the majority PGCE courses require a certain amount of experience pre-application, but I think that they could be missing out on good applicants.  I've done plenty in the past, from running a French club with another student, leading the lower school band and being an associate form tutor to a year 8/9 form group whilst I was in sixth form, but none of it was recent enough for the requirements of some institutions.   Whilst I've been at university I've worked with Secondary students as a Student Ambassador, running activity days to encourage them to consider Higher Education, but I didn't do this for very long before the closure of the department I was working in.  Other than this I've not had any experience with school students, especially not in the classroom.  I believe that my other experience, with my part time work, helping to run a student society and being an elected representative of the Students' Union is what helped me get onto the School Direct scheme, and helped me prove that I would be capable of teaching.  I understand the reasons behind the requirements but I can't help but think that this means losing out on those that haven't always wanted to teach.

One final thing, for any other School Direct 2013 participants, having seen the lack of a forum covering this area on the new TES Community pages I decided to start one up, you can find the page here: so please come along and join us.  We're hoping that the forum will be a good support network to share problems and ideas come September.

I tweet with the username @BexNobes and I'd love to hear from you if you're reading the blog.

Monday, 20 May 2013

When things start to get real...

Applying to School Direct back in January seems a distant, distant memory now, it all moved so fast!  To bring you up to speed on it all if you don't know, School Direct is the new version of the GTP which is teacher training based at a school as opposed to a university.

With School Direct you apply directly to a school which is the Lead School for a group in the same area.  I heard back from my first school very quickly and headed back home to go to the interview, travelling from Lancaster to Chelmsford comes at a cost may I add!  The first stage was over 2 days, a presentation followed by some literacy and numeracy testing on one day and an interview with the training provider the next.  Having passed this stage I was then asked to teach part of a lesson the following week, another trip up and down the country!  It was all worth it though, because despite being told that I wouldn't find out until the schools had all met up in a fortnights time after the half term break I was emailed just a few hours later to say that I had got the place!  I went from first hearing about the scheme to being accepted onto it within just a few weeks!

The next thing to do were the QTS skills tests, I had 6 weeks from the date of the offer to pass them so the pressure was on.  Previously trainees have done these tests during their training year rather than beforehand and so have a few more months to get ready for them.  That said, they're not that difficult, it just means dusting off the skills from GCSE Maths and putting a few commas in the right places.  Luckily the uni right near where I live in Lancaster is a test centre so it wasn't too much fuss and I got them both out of the way with on the same day.

I've also got myself onto a Subject Knowledge Enhancement course run by the uni that will be awarding my PGCE (Note: Not all School Direct schemes lead to a PGCE, they're all different in what they offer) which means I have an online French tutorial once a week and I'll get a bursary that I wasn't expecting at the end of it, not bad!

I've been trying to get myself as prepared as I can, so as well as buying all the books they say I'm going to need, hunting down Criminal Records checks from Spain and Belgium (One being significantly easier than the other...), paying a small fortune for a doctor I've never met to sign a form to say I'm fit to teach and getting myself a week in a Primary school and a few days in a Secondary...(pause for breath!)....I've also been trying to build up a set of contacts and a load of resources that I hope are going to help me hit the ground running, I hope it's worth the effort I'm putting in!

I'd never thought that Twitter could be so useful, but I've been following the hashtag #mfltwitterati which is used by a group of languages teachers and trainee teachers to talk about issues and share resources and articles etc and it's really good!  I've discovered some real gems on Twitter recently when it comes to education related stuff, just goes to show you find things where you least expect them!

Here we are now in May and just as I was starting to think I might have dreamt it all up I've had a letter from my school inviting me to the New Staff Day in July.  I was surprised to get it as I'm not technically their staff, but I'm really looking forward to it!  I don't know much about the way it's all going to work yet though in terms of days in school / at uni and all that sort of stuff, I have to spend 2 weeks in Canterbury in August though so hopefully I'll find it all out then!

As I'm nearing the end of my time at Lancaster things are getting real with what is coming next!  Scary yet really exciting!