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Curiouser and Curiouser
November 10, 2017

I was at child protection training today. It is never the most enjoyable of training experiences but clearly, it is essential we do it. The presenter urged us to be ‘professionally curious’. To wonder why a child is presenting to us in the way that they are.

I have also been busy recently finding out about digital citizenship and how to take the next steps with this within my school setting. As part of my information gathering, I watched the very inspiring Devorah Heitner talk about how, if we really want to find out about what children are doing online, we need to get curious about what makes them tick and what motivates their online behaviour.

Curiosity is perhaps our greatest tool as teachers. Harnessing the power of ‘I wonder why’ opens a vast array of doors into learning, emotional behaviour, adverse childhood experiences. And where it doesn’t throw open a door, it might just unlock a window, provide a tiny chink of knowledge, only gleaned about a child and his or her life through being curious and asking why. For instance:

Why does he take three pieces of bread with his lunch every day?

Why does she hide her phone when adults walk past?

Why does he kick off every Tuesday afternoon right before PE?

Why is she so focused on getting full marks on this test?

And the biggest and most powerful why of all:

Why is his head down today?

Find out the answer to that and you will find out everything you need to know to help that child.

To be good at what we do, we have to wonder why.

But you know what? It’s actually not enough. It is not enough to be curious just about the young people you work with. Because curiosity begins at home. We need to turn the spotlight on ourselves and our practice and get really curious, asking:

I wonder why I reacted like that…

I wonder what would happen if I changed this….

I wonder what it would be like to….

I wonder if it’s time to do less…

I wonder if it’s time to do more…

I wonder how I could make that work for…

These questions are highly flammable; they ignite learning. If you want to be good at what you do, you need to keep these questions in your back pocket and use them like lighter fluid; spray liberally in amongst the orderly and carefully stacked dry wood of your usual routine and then strike a match. Throw a question in and watch it light up your practice.

And then be ready to kindle the flames. Because there’s no point in letting your curiosity be a flash in the pan. If you’re going to go to the effort of asking the hard questions, you need to be ready to stoke the learning and keep it burning. And that means spreading the good word. Put another way, you need to make your curiosity contagious and infect everyone you work with.

Make the flammable questions part of everybody’s daily business and you build a fire so big and so bright it becomes unstoppably brilliant.

There are lots of ways you can get going. Ask a flammable question in the staffroom. Write a blog post or start keeping a little journal of your wonderings- it doesn’t matter what your why is, it just matters that you ask it.

Get to or organise a TeachMeet and surround yourself with curious people just like you.

You might even be heading to the glorious Pedagoo Muckle this weekend. This will be a proper solid tinderbox of an event, stuffed full of curious and inquiring people and questions who together will burn bright and kindle others as they go.

So if you are Muckle-bound this weekend (and even if you are not), remember:

Curiosity begins at home.

Ask the flammable questions.

Kindle others when you get back to school.

And always remember it is our job to push back the dark.

They need subtitles, don’t they? A PedagooMuckle learning conversation
October 16, 2016

Short films are brilliant contributions to literacy-rich classrooms. Combining storytelling, culture, creativity and tech all in one fabulous package, a short film is a carefully constructed text that can engage learners in the most unexpected ways.

And some aren’t even in English!

In this conversation we shared experiences and ideas for watching and making short films in languages other than English.

So no, they don’t need subtitles … well, not all the time.

N.B. This post contains far more than was covered in the learning conversation itself precisely because of all the chat on the day.


There’s a clue in the name, the beauty of short films is that they’re short and as such they can be watched more than once.

In terms of film literacy, there are six important features. The 3Cs – character, colour, camera – and the 3Ss – sound, setting and story. Particular films, whether short or feature length, will merit exploration of different Cs or Ss.

World cinema is a culturally and linguistically rich source of texts for our classrooms. In the workshop I shared three ways of engaging learners with short films by film-makers from other countries or about other cultures.

1. Cheat a little bit

No dialogue, no need for subtitles! Take the fear out of watching ‘foreign’ films by watching ones which don’t have any spoken dialogue at all but which have a healthy dollop of cultural interest.

In the workshop we did a ‘sound on, vision off’ exercise to start using the first two minutes of El Caminante (Glow login required). We listened to the soundtrack of the film, without the seeing the images, then afterwards we shared what we had heard, what we thought was going on and where we thought it might have been taking place. Then we watched the same two minutes of the film and discussed the extent to which our initial thoughts had been borne out. In the event, it’s the discussion that matters more than the ‘accuracy’ of the original predictions.

Bring in some target language by expressing straightforward opinions about the film, characters or the story or creating a poster for a cinema screening of the film.

Alternatively, challenge confident language learners in your class with a ‘vision on, sound off’ activity. Watch the images with the audio muted and afterwards discuss what the characters might say and what sound effects they would expect to hear. Watch the film again with the sound on to hear the soundtrack of sound effects and/or music. Discuss the effect/impact of the soundtrack on the audience. Does it add anything to the images?

Pupils could then prepare spoken dialogue for the characters in the target language and perform it as the film plays on screen.

Intrigue your learners, focus on culture and location rather language to begin with.

2. Pave the way.

Preparation, preparation, preparation! Before watching a film, it’s helpful to give learners opportunities to explore the characters, colours, setting or story in advance so that their curiosity is piqued. Before long, they are desperate to watch the film and are unphased by the subtitles because they have a pretty good idea of what’s coming.

Start by looking at stills from the film and talking about what you can see. Discuss who and what you can see and where and when you think it might be set.

For example: La queue de la souris based on a traditional French tale by de la Fontaine.

First give pairs of pupils a selection of still images from this French language short. Discuss the characters and setting, try and sequence the stills to tell a story.

Then pupils match English captions to the images.

Lastly, pupils match the French captions.

A whole class discussion about the various elements of the film and also the skills and techniques used to match the French captions will reveal the extent to which learning in literacy and languages is being applied.  Consider reasons why Benjamin Renner, the animator might have chosen to use only four colours in the film – black, white, red and green.

Finally, watch the film with or without English subtitles. Afterwards, discuss the effect of the colour choices – black (lion, bad), white (all other animals, innocent), red (danger, environment around the lion) and green (among the trees, away from the lion) and the impact of the instrumental soundtrack – Why string instruments? Why sometimes plucked and sometimes bowed?

By accessing this film through www.languagesonscreen.org (Glow login required) you have the choice to stream or download it with or without subtitles. You could watch it without subtitles the first time and then with subtitles on a second viewing.

3. Create and be comfortable.

Intuitive tech and local creatives can make film making easy – regardless of language.

Live action movies are easy to edit with move maker software and for animations, free iPad apps such as Sock Puppets, Yakit kids, My Talking Avatar, Chatterpix Kids, Tellagami and Voki Ed are very simple to use. Depending on the app, you can create an animated background and character(s) then record your character(s) taking for anything from 10-30 seconds. To make a longer film, save several clips to your camera roll then stitch them together to make a longer film using iMovie or equivalent.

Another option is to involve local creative companies. Last session children at Elderbank PS in Irvine and St Anthony’s PS in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire worked with animators from Halo Digital Arts. P3 and P6 pupils at Elderbank produced The Portal Loo a film in French, English and British Sign Language, while P7 pupils at St Anthony’s made ¡Go, go Globo! a film in Spanish and English (Glow login required to view both on North Ayrshire 1+2 Primary Languages Video Channel). In both cases the children did the script, artwork, music and voices while Halo staff supported the technical side of things. In both cases it is clear that the level of language in French/Spanish was appropriate to the children involved. Rather than the alternative of developing a script in English and translating it into French/Spanish which would have reflected their proficiency in English and the use of Google translate, the children developed stories which enabled them to use vocabulary, phrases and songs that they were familiar and comfortable with, but still within a highly creative context.

With a bit of understanding about the 3Cs and 3Ss, children and young people will be well informed when it comes to making their own films.

Finding short films to use in class

Looking for films to use in class? Look no further than:

    • Screening Shorts, Languages in Screen and Scotland on Screen websites have all recently had a makeover and are still free to access for Scottish teachers via Glow. Screening Shorts has some of my favourite films without dialogue. Languages on Screen features shorts in French, German, Italian and Spanish. My favourite experience of using Scotland on Screen so far was P6s adding a mechanised French voiceover to the Daleks in Glasgow clip! All three sites have lesson guides and video tutorials.
    • Film G: the home of an annual Gaelic film making competition for schools, community groups and professional film makers.
    • Literacy Shed: a wide ranging and regularly updated collection of short films in a range of languages and with accompanying teaching ideas.
    • My ‘Shorts’ board on Pinterest currently has more than 260 short films in a wide variety of countries and in a range of langauges, or indeed none at all.
    • Into Film has teaching resources related to lots of feature films in many different langauges – Love Languages Spanish being one of the newest.


This is a abbreviated version of a post originally posted on the PedagooMuckle wiki.

They need subtitles, don’t they? is the Prezi that accompanied the learning conversation.

Unleashing Learners & Educational Leaders #PedagooMuckle

I was lucky enough to be involved in the fantastic #PedagooMuckle yesterday…what a day! It was great to meet so many new folk and I’m very excited to see what happens next…

At SCEL we are really proud to have supported this event and we’re looking forward to seeing what other teacher-led professional learning events we can support in the future also.

I thought I ought to share two of the presentations I gave on the day on here in case anyone was wanting them. I started off in the morning talking a bit about what educational leaders look like. You can see my slides from this here.

The point I was making here was primarily that we need to dissociate the word ‘leadership’ from the word ‘promotion’, which relates a lot to my work in supporting the development of teacher leadership. However, I was trying to go a bit further here by suggesting that perhaps a key element of effective pedagogical leadership is the power of collaboration…which relates strongly to the vision of the Pedagoo movement. I concluded with the #scelfie above and argued that this collective group of teachers is what educational leadership looks like.

If you would like to know more about SCEL’s teacher leadership work you can download our recent report or you can take your own professional learning forward as a teacher leader through our Framework for Educational Leadership. You should also check out our upcoming series of Enquire Connect Engage events!


I then also led a learning conversation based on my work as a teacher to find ways of involving pupils in planning learning. You can view the presentation I used for this here.

I’ve written much more about this approach here, and you can also download this excellent book which relates to this approach for free!

If anyone wants to get in touch regarding either of my presentations yesterday, or anything else related to teacher leadership, please feel free to do so. My contact details can be found here.

Hopefully see you at another Pedagoo event or TeachMeet, perhaps even one organised by you, very soon…

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