Monthly Archives: December 2010

‘Wonder wheel’ – searching through mind-maps.



When looking for ways of improving the ways my students search for information I came across ‘Wonder wheel’ which is part of Google search facilities.


 Described as a way of simplifying and arranging search results, when selected, it creates something with the look of a mind-map as it  links related searches.  To the right of the screen, the list of web pages reflect the current selection.


I found it useful when exploring possible approaches to topics, and it sometimes threw up interesting avenues to investigate.

Find it to the bottom left of the Google page under ‘More Research Tools’.



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Great interactive BBC resource on writing OOV (out of vision) scripts for television news


This is a particularly good interactive resource would be ideal for anyone teaching non-fiction writing or media. After watching videos of what makes a good OOV (Out of Vision) script which can be found on the left frame, students can have a go themselves.

I’ve had a go at the option to ‘click to launch the tv version’. The scenario is about a mid-air collision between an RAF fighter and a light aircraft. Instructions are clear and the resources include the images to be broadcast, a police report and a statement from the RAF Commander.

Writers have only ten minutes which adds considerably to the challenge. There is a model answer against which students may compare their efforts. The email facility also adds the possibility of getting students to submit their copy before a deadline. This could even be done directly to Posterous or a VLE to bring the whole thing to life.

Well done, BBC’ as they say on ‘Points of View’.


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Spezify your Search

This is an example of Spezify search on poet ‘Simon Armitage’



I keep looking at how my students go about searching for information. I had a class the other day who needed some illustrations to go with a review of Robert Swindell’s brilliant novel ‘Stone Cold’, and was surprised to see  the same two images appear on no less than six screens. With seemingly limitless resources available, that seemed pretty disheartening.


Perhaps I need to teach my students how to search; I’ll return to this in a later post. For now though, I’m interested in how a different search engine might liberate my students. Spezify seems to fit the bill – particularly for those first tentative explorations of a new topic.

Its non-hierarchical visual listings of images, texts, chat and music presents the user with a searchable mosaic of links.


Well worth a look!


Useful hints:

Click Space bar to get an overview and then return.

You can filter by types from the icons at the top right.

Clicking on the star icon on the bottom left of resources puts them into a Favourites folder. This is useful in class as it allows some prior selection by the teacher and is a great way of introducing Spezify to group.


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Writing BBC English : an outstanding resource for non-fiction and media study



I’m not even sure how I stumbled across this site, but I know I will be back. This vast resource will be of great interest to those with aspirations towards Journalism, but there is material here of benefit to a wide range of students. This is certainly one for every English teacher to bookmark.


The Skills section could be of interest to KS3/4/5 students and beyond and includes The English Course with advice on  spelling and punctuation.


There is also an excellent section on ‘Writing and wordswhich includes advice on troublesome words and champions the cause of clarity.


Here is not the place to go in to the issue of whether it is part of the BBC’s remit to be creating sites like this: let’s just be thankful they have.






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Hitting the headlines – UK front pages from 10 December 2010

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The Sky news website has a resource very useful to the busy English teacher: a collection of the day’s front pages from the British press. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dashed around before school trying to get hold of one of each newspaper (and invariably been embarrassed to ask for a copy of The Sun) and here is a much more convenient approach.


Today’s front pages tell you all you ever need to know about the Daily Star.


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dialogic talking aloud



An initial response to ‘Talking, learning and formative assessment’ – a CPD session presented on 3rd Dec 2010 by Dr Phil Scott of Leeds University.



Dr Phil Scott appealed to us to reconsider our use of talk in the classroom to move away from the teacher and towards the students by using talk ‘as a basis for thought’.


The initiation-response- evaluation model is the most commonly used sequence of exchange as teachers chase the answers they require. Dr Phil Scott argues that we should consider moving towards a ‘dialogic’ or ‘communicative approach’ to increases motivation, understanding and learning.


He offered the following model which he using during lesson observations with student undergoing Initial Teacher Training:





Authoritative view

(Accepted learning)

e.g. Q+A , Presentation, Initiation-Response-Evaluation

e.g. Presentation ‘Lecture’

(Open to different points of view)

Dialogic view

e.g. Discussing



Review: reflect, think aloud?, discuss, inner-voice, summarising


ie ‘interactive’ indicates talk between teacher and student

    ‘non-interactive’ implies speech is significantly between students (although it might be mediated by the teacher).


Perhaps what needed expansion were the authoritative (closed) dialogic (open) categories. In many ways, I could think of these as a continuum, and I’d wonder if the selection they might be thought of as reflecting the degree of ‘certainty’ in the answer sought? There are bodies of knowledge that are closed, accepted, factual which can be efficiently searched out using IRE techniques for purposes of both formative and summative assessment. However, when moving onto opinionated, tentative, interpretational or analytical learning, then a ‘dialogic view’ might be more effective in promoting deep learning. It would be interesting also to think about this dimension in terms of Bloom’s taxonomy too: are the higher order skills more likely to be gained by the dialogic approach?


My view is that we should perhaps move towards this communicative, non-interactive form when it is the most effective way to promote learning, but the example used in the presentation (a discussion on ordering a series of numbers of one and two decimal places) seemed to me to be one in which there was a low level of uncertainty: there is a ‘correct’ answer. Surely this is a case when, having seen students making errors (and there is no ‘nearly right’ here, by the way) the teacher has a formative  or ‘assessment for learning’ opportunity which says the students don’t understand. Here is a case when the most efficient method would be to explain place value again.


The assertion that the dialogic discussion contained in the transcript was ‘deeper learning’ is not entirely convincing either. The claim that it was motivating and powerful might be questioned because it is only an impression and also because it does not take note of the learning of those not speaking. Have other students followed the tentative progress towards the correct answer, or have they simply turned off? Talk in the classroom is difficult to evaluate because study will tend to focus on the participants rather than the ‘observers’.


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