TeachMeet WM Languages: Lessons learnt

Turning on others to something transformative is a great feeling, and one of those perks of teaching that it is easy to take for granted. This year I have seen my colleague Simone Haughey enthusiastically jump into my world of twitter and TeachMeets, so when she approached me with the idea of running one at our school I was delighted to get involved.

Simone is passionate about languages, and after attending a languages TeachMeet in Southampton, she wanted to theme ours similarly. Such events that I have attended have either been quite general in their remit and often, given the tools with which they are marketed, very technology focused. I was worried that a languages focus might be too niche, and not attract the numbers Simone imagined.

I am happy to admit I was wrong, and the event itself was truly buzzing. This is in no small part down to the great connections Simone has made with passionate language teachers. There were some really fantastic presentations, which can be viewed again on the archive of the live stream below. Language teaching is not my specialism, but I found a great range of both fun ideas I could take back to the classroom, and inspired reflections on the nature of language teaching and why it is important, despite its variable history as a compulsory part of the English primary curriculum.

We tried to do a few things differently to TeachMeets I had attended before, and I thought I would share these, as they may be helpful to organisers of future events. Firstly, due to my above mentioned concerns, I was not confident that the standard means of promoting such events through the TeachMeet wiki and twitter would garner the level of support we wanted. Therefore I decided to do some more direct marketing of the event.

Initially I contacted the Education departments of all of the Universities in our general area, asking it they would highlight the event to their students as a professional development opportunity. I am not honestly sure how much of an effect this had, but it got my synapses firing and I remembered how during my PGCE the main communication tool our cohort used was Facebook. Despite being provided an University online environment, the Facebook group I created to organise an initial social event became much more of hub for communication. I decided to have a search for similar groups for our local ITT courses, and found that this was the case for many current courses. Therefore, I decided to pitch the event to the ‘owners’ of those groups and ask them if they would mind informing their peers.

I was conscious that the traditional wiki for the event with it’s ‘jump in and edit’ vibe can be a bit intimidating to the less technically confident, so I created a Facebook event for the TeachMeet. Almost everyone is familiar with this medium, and I think there is something to be said for trying to leverage this to spread events beyond the sphere of twitter, which can become a bit of an echo chamber, particularly in terms of use of technology in schools.

I wish I had collected information on how people found out about the event, as it is hard to judge the impact of each of these strategies. However, what I do know is that we had a packed event, with many attendees who were new to the TeachMeet format.

Another thing we did differently to other events I have attended was to start with an ‘Ice breaker’ activity. We went for a really simple ‘Fine someone who’ activity, where everyone was given a list of activities and had to find someone who had done them. This worked really well to get people mixing and having conversations about who they were and why they were at the event. When the time came to move on to the presentations I really felt that people could have gone on much longer, and this certainly fed into the interactions that happened between presentations and in the refreshment break. Personally, in future I would try to design in more of this participation, perhaps replacing some of the presentations with table discussions as people seemed to find this interaction very valuable.

I really enjoyed watching the live stream of the TeachMeet at the NAACE conference a while back, in no small part due to the excellent compering in between presentations by Ollie Bray. I think this really tied the event together, and so it was something I tried to replicate at ours. One thing that did make this a challenge was doing this whilst dealing with the technical aspects of people’s laptops and memory sticks- and next time I would ask someone else to be dedicated to fielding this.

What impressed me most about the event was the enthusiasm and commitment of the attendees to the learning of languages, and the wealth of pedagogical knowledge that was shared with us. I have to thanks all the truly inspiring presenters, enthusastic attendees.

 

As Jane Medwell, of the University of Warwick, asserted in her rousing presentation- Primary Languages may no longer be compulsory, but it is not going away any time soon.

 

 

Watch the live stream of the event:

(You may wish to skip through the introduction and footage of the ice breaker activity and get straight to the presentations)

Keynote at the University of Plymouth #onandup
Collaborative assessment with Google Docs

4 thoughts on “TeachMeet WM Languages: Lessons learnt”

  1. Getting new people to engage and turn up to new events, like teachmeets (I know they aren’t new to most people that read this blog, but they are to a great many teachers) is a real challenge so thanks for sharing these ideas about the steps you took for the languages TM. Using facebook is a great idea and I wonder if this is an approach that would work for other events/ TMs too? Did you get a list of participants? It might not be too late to send round a quick one question google form to find out how people heard about the event? It would be very interesting to find out! Perhaps a good idea to do this at TMM11 in May?

  2. Pingback: TeachMeet, meet Facebook

  3. Great post, thanks.
    I am using our PGCE Facebook page to promote all sorts of (generally free) CPD events to my trainee MFL cohort and this seems to be working very well. I have an idea that at the end of the year, when the trainees have blossomed and grown massively in confidence, that we (this year’s cohort) may run a TM to pass on some of the ideas they have experimented with and tried out successfully on placement. This, I feel, will help them to fully appreciate the power of collaborative efforts and how we can all learn from each other whether a starting out teacher or someone with years of experience. I would be interested to know what you think, Oli.

    Suzi Bewell
    PGCE CA Leader, University of York

    1. Sounds like a great idea Suzi! Our students organised a TeachMeet themselves last week, which I wrote about here https://www.oliverquinlan.com/blog/2011/10/28/teachmeet-plymouth-buzzing-about-behaviour/.

      I would say encourage them to get started as soon as possible, they don’t have to have masses of experience, just some interesting ideas. As that event showed, sometimes debate can be as good as experienced people presenting things. After all, what’s normal to you is inspirational to someone else.

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