What should your department website have?

Posted: June 9, 2012 in Uncategorized
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After the first school inspection I was involved in at my current school, one of the recommendations that came out of it clearest was the need for pupils to take more responsability for their own learning and to be more independent with their learning, or at least have more opportunity for this. I had been told that a lot of our pupils did expect to be ‘spoon fed’ to some extent, and this is a habit I have been very intent on changing. Ironically though, you have to ‘teach’ your pupils how to become more independent learners!

My answer to the need to develop independent learning was to set up an all encompassing department website or VLE, something that required a hell of a lot of work, but certainly was a pioneering resource in my current school and was in fact used as a model for what VLEs could or should be for other teachers and departments. The idea was it for to be  place where pupils could find resources quickly at whatever stage of their language learning they were at, and for pupils to be able to catch up on things they had missed without any problems. I saw the purpose of the VLE being a resource bank for teachers and pupils, as well as being a jumpstation towards other sites on the web.

Being a self-confessed ‘completionist’ I wanted to put absolutely everything I could on there, and perhaps our VLE has become a rather sprawling monster with far more resources than even the most dedicated of pupils will ever use. There is something for every pupil from the absolute beginner to the potential Oxbridge candidate, and are I say it, the university student as well. I am very proud of it, and hope that it will remain useful as I leave my current school. I also hope it will be udpated but frankly it has really been 99.9% my own project as few of the other Spanish teachers’ resources have been uploaded by them. I know that my new school has a limited VLE that apparently is rarely used and so I can already see what my first major job will be – to bring this up to date and make it the pinnacle of department websites straight away. There will be a daunting amount of material to upload and to organise but perversely I am actually looking forward to it.

Before starting your VLE, it is critical to organise its layout and plan where everything will be. You need to ask yourself questions such as ‘What is the purpose of the VLE?’, ‘What do pupils really need?’, ‘How can it be used most effectively?’, ‘How complete do I want this VLE to be?’, and ‘Do I really need the reinvent the wheel, or what is already out there that I can use without creating things myself?’ Is your VLE going to be something your pupils can add to, is it something that should be constantly being updated, is it mostly an information service or resource bank, or is it something that can be used actively to practise the language.

My homepage serves as a jumpstation to essential resources. I have a an information box at the top that to be honest is not used as much as it should be (I had ideas for this to be a homework area, but it mainly serves to advise pupils of upcoming Spanish society events). Below is an essential links section for each yeargroup, containing links to the best practise sites on the web and then a general links section. This is where I will be putting links to webtools that I have blogged about here eventually. I also have a couple of widgets, such as a verb conjugator and a word of the day widget. I suspect these are rarely looked at though! I also have a link to my blog, which I think should run alongside the VLE.

As my menu bar I have a link to every yeargroup as well as a grammar and vocabulary section, an audio and video section, a Spanish society section and a cultural interest section for links to Spanish speaking countries, authors, film directors and so on. In each yeargroup menu bar I have submenus for each chapter of the textbook we use. These pages contain all the audio recordings from the textbook, worksheets produced for lessons, a brief scheme of work for what will be taught in each unit, powerpoint presentations, links, podcasts and in some cases exercises that I have created on ‘Hot Potatoes’. There is an exam section for these yeargroups needing it with past papers, markschemes, audio recordings etc and an essential document section with tips, helpsheets, and revision notes.

The grammar section is for all yeargroups, containing publisher documents for verb tenses and other grammar point, links to websites where pupils can practise or read more about them, and also podcasts and links to Youtube clips. In the Audio and Video, there are various Authentik resources, including recordings from the CDS that come with the magazines, and practise paper type exercises. There isn’t much video as for a long time YouTube and so on was banned on our school servers and we can embed videos or animations, something I would now really want to have the facility to do.

One thing that I will be looking to adapt is having a page that pupils can add to. It may not be possible to allow this facility on the VLE, as you would need to give editorial access, something which would be highly risky, but this is possibly where using posterous could come in. Alternatively, a blog allowing embedding could be more useful and relevant, perhaps having a blog for each yeargroup might be good.

This all took a lot of time to set up. Uploading recordings, linking everything and so on will take weeks, not the odd evening here and there, so it is worth bearing this in mind before embarking on such an ambitious undertaking. Given the scant amount of things to do in Norfolk  I considered it worthwhile and had the time! It has been a vital resource, and has hopefully given a lot of Spanish pupils the extra help they need in their language learning and practise, as well as exa revision. I know my Upper 6th have been accessing it regularly over the last 2 weeks!

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