Posts Tagged ‘VLE’

After another lengthy hiatus  due to the summer term, cricket and laziness during the summer holidays, I’m getting back to blogging again. I have been fairly busy with work projects to be honest, as I’ve been occupied with populating my school’s Spanish department VLE. It is a source of pride and motivation to me that this should be a leader in the school, and the aims of it are as follows:

– to provide resources for independent study for pupils and suggestions for further study.

– to collate resources for the benefit of teachers

– to provide a framework for study for the department

– to enable the improvement of IT skills for pupils

As such, I am making use of many of the Web tools and Apps that I have blogged about (and will blog about in the future, hopefully!) and one of the web tools I am using a lot is Annotary. Annotary is a effectively a resource collection site, in which you can create ‘Collections’ for websites. This can be done on various other sites, but what I most like about Annotary is that you can download a tool for your internet browser’s toolbar that allows you to annotate texts that you have collected. This gives a lot of nice possibilities such as highlighting important vocabulary, key phrases, important parts or facts of the text, or to add questions to check understanding of the article. Pupils could also use it as a way of collating their resources towards project work (for instance IB extended essays, 6th form coursework or oral exams, other investigation work) and make notes as they go on. It is also possible to collaborate on projects, and to invite other users to these collections.

Here is a video made by Annotary to explain their product briefly.

Registering for Annotary is free. First go to the website and you will see the screen below.



Click on the ‘Sign up for Free’ button’ and fill in the relevant details. You can sign up with Facebook, though as a teacher, I do not use this option. As with most of these tools, I use a fairly formal username, though for Annotary I have created a Spanish Department account that all the teachers can use. The weekly newsletter comes to my email address, but the username is that of the departments. (Obviously, each member of the department has access to the password and usernam so they can add and annotate resources)

Having signed up you will need to download the toolbar app that eventually you can use most easily to add websites to your collections, though this can also be done without the tool, slightly less quickly, but still with few difficulties. You will then begin the process of creating collections and finding websites or articles to include in them. To create a collection, simply click ‘Create Collection’; then give the collection a title and if you want a short description of what the content will be, and then decide if you want to make it public or private. If you make it public then anyone can see it, if private then only people you can invite can see it, and the collection will not appear in the search function either.

Alongside my hard working Colombian speaking assistant, we have created folders for each topic within the AS and A2 syllabus (as well as the IB topics and subtopics), and our idea is to collate useful texts within each of these. These Annotary collections are linked to prominently on the relevant page on our department VLE, and hopefully they can be used by teachers and pupils alike. Teachers can quickly find a text they like, and pupils can read around the subjects and also use the texts for their preparation for their speaking lessons.

To add a webpage to a collection, find a useful page, and if you have not downloaded the toolbar app, then copy the URL address, go back to your Annotary page, click the green ‘Add Bookmark’ button, paste the URL into the relevant section, and then choose the folder to add the bookmark to. Finally click Add Bookmark again, and it will be in the folder. Alternatively, if you have downloaded the toolbar app, you will see a yellow ‘a’ in the toolbar, click on this and you will see a mini drop down menu of chain icon, a pen icon, an envelope icon, two little people icon and a home icon. To save the link click the chain button. The title will be there already but you can change it, add a note if you wish to, perhaps to be specific about what the text is about, and then choose the collection to add it to. It is worth noting that a new innovation enables you to use # hashtags and @ mentions for twitter.

You have to have saved a text before you can annotate it. To then annotate a saved text, click on the pen icon. Then highlight the area of the text you want to make notes on and a little sticky note will appear for you to type into. As mentioned earlier, various uses of this function suggest themselves such as :

– highlighting key vocabulary, such as topic words, useful phrases

– highlighting use of grammar, such as tenses (even proposing questions)

– asking questions to elicit understanding of the text

– suggest synonyms for words

– summarising key points

– highlighting most important info from the text.

When you are finished, click on the save button again. To share the text, click the envelope to send to pupils for instance or colleagues.

I hope this tool will be very useful this year with my students, and I intend to use it a great deal with my 6th form students in particular. I am very keen for them to read and listen to as much as they can to back up what is covered in class, and to facilitate that process.

Here are some other links about Annotary that may interest you.




Posted: October 21, 2012 in Writing
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It has been a while since I posted, probably the entirety of the first half term in fact, and it has been a busy one with getting embedded as HoD in my new school.  Having just got back from Language Show Live I thought I should get back into the blogging saddle again, having seen a number of new tools and gained a number of ideas from some of the seminars, particularly by Joe Dale and Chloe Druce and Rui da Silva.  So here we are again, and today I’m going to talk about Posterous, a  blogging site which I have been using a great deal over the term so far. I first became aware of this through Joe Dale’s INSET that I attended last year and decided to wait until the new school year to get it off and running.

Posterous is a really easy blogging tool that has a number of advantages and useful features. Here is a quick summary of some of these key points:

1. It is free

2. Not only can you use it on your computer but you can download an app for smartphones such as the iPhone.

3. You have a variety of options for posting, including sending emails that are converted automatically to blog posts.

4. It is really easy to include a variety of media and attachments such as jpgs, audio files, powerpoints, videos etc in your post with any fiddling around.

5. You can have a variety of different pages from just one account

6. It is easy to add extra contributors and followers to your blog, empowering pupils to contribute to the blog as well.

7. the appearance is attractive and the end result is clear and interesting.

8. You can link your Posterous account with Twitter and other blogs you might have or Facebook to share your posts and information with ease.

9. You can easily embed animations, recordings, cartoons, wordles etc with ease into your Posterous space

To use Posterous, go to the webpage ( and sign up for free by clicking on ‘Sign up’ in the top right hand corner of the page. When you have registered you will be asked to set up a page. The name of your page will be effectively the email address that you can send entries to, so probably pick something fairly short and snappy!

When you have got yourself up and running you will have a Homepage that looks a bit like this:


The Reader page is where you can have a look at any recent blog entries to Posterous sites that you might follow, or see your recent posts. As for the left hand side options,the Edit Profile will obviously allow you to change and edit your personal settings, the Manage Spaces section is where you can pick which of your pages to adapt or edit, or create a post from, and you can Find Friends with blogs by clicking that link.

If you click Manage Spaces you can then see your current Spaces or Pages, and edit them if needed. Here is what my current set up is:


This gives you a few stats about each of your pages, and if you click the cog wheel icon for the relevant Space then you can view posts, create new ones, edit the space settings, add new contributors or followers, create an autopost set up and customize the page.

There are a lot of blogs and pages that already deal with dealing Posterous and I’m going to link to these here before giving some ideas about how Posterous could be used, or how I use it anyway. Here are the links:

So how to make the most of Posterous and how can you get pupils reading your posts, using it themselves and improving as language learners?

I have a general department Space which I use as a publicity tool. This is the main space that I have posters off around the Department corridors and it is a public space. (ie anyone can read it). I use it to announce department events (such as the Día de Hispanidad events and the Spanish film night I have run this half term), show best examples of pupils work (there are some Year 10 fotobabble creations, Year 13 videos relating to Natural Disasters and shortly there will be some Domo Animate animations, again from the Year 10), and publish things of general interest, such as a Spanish Website of the Week (which I must get more regular about!).

I then have yeargroup blogs. I use it as a reference point first and foremost, for example posting links relating to things we are doing in class (this will include YouTube clips, sites to practise interactively vocabulary or grammar, or various other webpages related to the topic). The allows consolidation and extra reading opportunites. I also have run competitions through the site and got pupils commenting on school events such as House Competitions and news articles. Pupils contributing gain merits (our school has a lot of rewarding possibilities) which gives them even more reason to contribute regularly. Pupils are getting more regular in their contributions and comments and I hope some will start posting independently and ‘lead’ the blog to some extent. Given the ease of posting and the predominance of smartphones, I hope this will happen more as the year goes on once they realise how easy it is to use.

Pupils are enjoying seeing their own work and that of their companions and this means they put a little bit more extra effort into their work. Rewards for contributions are also helping and gradually the Space is gaining more and more hits. I will probably start setting Posterous homework soon, asking for a multimedia based entry, perhaps with a video, audio and other links based on an upcoming topic.

All in all, Posterous’ ease of use and accessibility makes it an excellent blog option for you, your department and your classes.


Posted: June 24, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I’m on the point of moving schools, and am needing to store the mountain of resources I have created over the last 12 years of teaching. I have got a portable hard drive which does the job nicely but another way of storing certain things that I need instantly wherever I am in the world is to use Dropbox.

Dropbox is an online store which you can also download to your computer and even as an App on the iPhone (I presume other platforms as well, but can’t confirm. It gives you a certain amount of space into which you can easily upload files from your computer or mobile phone, making it therefore much easier to access rather than having to rely on a memory stick or portable hard drive. To start with you have 2GB of space, but you can add to this by inviting other people to join Dropbox, by linking your account with Twitter and Facebook, and various other means. The maximum you can have is 50GB which you have to upgrade our account through paying!

To begin with go to and click on ‘Download Dropbox’. Follow the instructions on your screen to download the program onto your computer and in a short time you will have succesfully registered and you will have installed it onto your computer. You will have icons that you can click on to load dropbox, or you can open the website and sign in as well.

When you are on you will have a screen something like this below, with a list of folders in my case that you can add to that you have created, or that other teachers have shared with you. Here is a screenshot of my current dropbox contents:

Twitter users may be interested in the MFLTwitterati folders.These are dropbox folders set up and used by many wonderful MFL teachers across the world. Apart from the Spanish one that I am a member of, there are also French and German MFL Twitterati folders. To join these, you will need to be invited – I am more than happy to invite you to the MFL Twitterati and Twitterati Spanish folders (send me a direct message on twitter to @pedroelprofesor) but ask on twitter for the others using the #mfltwitterati hashtag and someone will oblige – you get extra mb space if you do so people will be keen! If you aren’t on twitter, send me a message via the comment facility on this blog. The folders contain a great deal of resources and ideas and are well worth joining and contributing to.

From your dropbox homepage you can easily create new folders, upload your documents and share files with others. Just have a look through the various icons at the top of the page (Upload, Create New Folder, Share Folder) or use the left hand left buttons (Sharing, Events, Links and Getting Started). It works much like your normal way of navigating through folders, so it should not be difficult to use successfully.

So how can Dropbox be used in the MFL classroom? For me it could be used as an alternative to a VLE. It could be an easier way to share files, exercises, websites, photos and resources with other teachers in the department plus with your classes as well. Giving pupils access to folders would allow them to access things at home, at school and on holiday which could make things easier for them, particularly for revision and due to illness. Edmodo offers a similar system to this with its library options, but Dropbox has the advantage in terms of how it can be used on smartphones and as a download as well, not just online. Similarly pupils could send preps to you in a similar way, and you can collate best efforts for others to learn from. I may well employ Dropbox for just this purpose in my new school, as it will save me a lot of time uploading files to a VLE when there is another alternative .

As a collaborative device, Dropbox has a lot of advantages, though you have to make sure you don’t exceed your memory quota. As a school or department, it could be worth while investing in premium accounts for teachers (though my new school declined my request for this having sent me the staff handbook via dropbox!) Please do ask to join the MFL twitterati dropbox folder as it is a very useful resource in itself.



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!