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Showing posts from September, 2011

The problem with essays

The essay is a venerable form of writing which goes back centuries to the Japanese and later the Europeans. One simple definition from Wikipedia reads: "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion". We all have a good idea of what an essay is. It is also one of the main ways we use to assess a student's understanding of a subject they are studying. In A-Level modern language specifications, both at AS and A2 level, for AQA at least, it is worth a significant chunk of the marks available on the listening, reading and writing papers. Is it the best way to assess writing skill?

When we changed exam boards a few years ago, moving from OCR to AQA, I had one slight concern, and that was that AQA have traditionally used the essay as a means of testing language competence. I now feel that concern was justified. This is why: at AS level we ask students to write a piece on a subject such as television, advertising, cannabis, new technologies. The exam board come up with…

Course Solex en Deux-Sèvres

Suivez le lien pour savoir un peu plus sur l'histoire du Solex, le petit vélomoteur pratique et super économique.

Pour un petit aperçu:


Just watched Claude Berri's Germinal with my A-level class and enjoyed it very much. One of two of my more squeamish students found certain scenes shocking, but I am sure their eyes were opened to a different world. Having seen the film some years ago, I was struck this time how powerfully it presented the cruelty of miners' lives, how heavy-handedly, yet effectively, it contrasted this life with the bourgeoisie who ran the mines and how honestly Berri was willing to depict the bestial behaviour of working people subject to this environment. He was only rendering faithfully Zola's novel, and I did read comments to the effect that Berri did not emphasise enough the political struggle of the miners, but I did not have that feeling.

The film is shocking in its naturalism, well acted, particularly by Depardieu, Miou Miou and Jean-Roger Milou who gives an outstandingly committed performance as the frightful Chaval. Judith Henry is frail and touching in her role as Catherine, th…


I've just come across the brilliant dictionary and translation/search engine site Linguee. This is a major addition to the tools available to teachers, students and translators. It comes from a team in Germany and could be serious competition for Wordreference. You can search individual words or whole phrases and idiomatic expressions and it will use its search engine to find the translations in real contexts, something Wordreference does not do. I would need to spend longer with it to see how useful it is in everyday use, but first impressions are very good.

They say:

Linguee is a unique translation tool combining an editorial dictionary and a search engine with which you can search through hundreds of millions of bilingual texts for words and expressions.

The Linguee search results are divided into two sections. On the left hand side you will see results from our reliable editorial dictionary. The results are displayed clearly and offer you a quick overv…

Un marteau de forgeron pour casser une noix

Pour la première fois un juge a condamné à une amende deux femmes vivant dans la banlieue de Paris. Il s'agit de Hind Ahmas, 32 ans, et Najate Nait Ali, 36 ans, qui ont reçu des amendes de 120 et 80 euros respectivement. les deux femmes ont été interpellées le 5 mai près de la mairie de Meaux, dont le maire est Jean-François Copé, l'architecte en quelque sorte de la nouvelle loi entrée en vigueur au moi d'avril.
Les deux femmes avaient apporté pour Monsieur Copé un gâteau d'anniversaire aux amandes ("amendes" - vous avez compris). Elles voulaient exposer l'absurdité de la loi et étaient soutenues par l'association Touche pas à Ma Constitution. Leur avocat dit vouloir faire appel à la Cour Suprème et éventuellement à la Cour Européenne des Droits de l'Homme.

Apparemment les Néerlandais vont eux aussi passer une loi contre la burqa. Cela existe déjà en Belgique. J'ai déj…

DSK chez Claire Chazal sur TF1

L'école est nue

Voici une manière d'attirer l'attention aux lacunes du système éducatif français:


Speaking the target language or playing the CD?

First, this talk by Patricia Kuhl about child language acquisition, the brain and picking up sounds, is both interesting and occasionally amusing. But about eight minutes in she describes experiments carried out with American babies in which they are exposed to Mandarin either by human talk with toys, a video with pictures of toys, or just audio with a picture of a toy. Only when the babies interacted with humans did they learn to discriminate certain phonemes.

Now, it has often occurred to me that in the modern language classroom, students seem to prefer, and seem to understand better, language spoken by me rather than the CD.  I had assumed this was because I slow down a touch and emphasize certain words. I think I also had a hunch that students naturally prefer to listen to another person rather than a recording. So I wonder whether the preference which babies unconsciously demonstrate in language acquisition persists in later life, despite the brain's inferior language acquisi…

Underperforming teachers

Here is something from the TES:

"Dealing with the bottom 10 per cent of the worst-performing teachers would improve our schools immeasurably, argues the Sutton Trust. But is it that simple?Last week, hundreds of thousands of men and women - some young, some old - took a deep breath (some perhaps even let out a quiet sigh) and stepped in front of class to begin another school year. For some, it will be their first time alone with a whiteboard and children; for others, that terrifying classroom debut will be just a distant memory. But whether these teachers have been doing their job for two minutes or 20 years, one in six is performing poorly.
At least that is the claim according to research on teacher quality published today by the Sutton Trust, which campaigns to improve social mobility through education.
The study suggests that some 64,000 teachers working in England’s schools are not performing as well as they should. If the figures are correct, you may be sitting …

Changing educational paradigms

This is an entertaining and thought-provoking animation based on a talk by Sir Ken Robinson. A colleague put me on to it. Not sure what you think, but a few thoughts occurred to me:
Some actual knowledge needs to be transmitted to children before they can think in usefully creative ways. In science you need the basics of Newtonian physics, chemical reactions and the like before you can move to higher levels. Some fields of learning, such as my own (second language learning) are about acquiring skills and knowledge and the most efficient ways may not necessarily be the most creative - aspects such behaviourist repetiton can go a long way.Economic necessities mean that what Sir Ken calls "batch" systems and the traditional classroom are difficult to avoid.I am not sure I agree with him when he says children do not believe that getting a degree will lead them to a good job. Many children but into the system and know how to make it work for their benefit.Ken makes an assumption …

Mondial du rugby: les emblèmes des équipes

Article intéressant sur les symboles des équipes participant à la coupe du monde de rugby. Parmi ces emblèmes:

La fougère argentée des All Blacks:

"Les forêts humides originelles de Nouvelle-Zélande comptent plusieurs centaines de variétés de fougères. L’une, la Cyathea dealbata, a le dessous des feuilles argenté, ce qui en fait la plus belle et la plus recherchée des touristes. La fougère est aussi présente dans de nombreuses légendes maories et sa jeune pousse en spirale, dite «koru», représente l’éveil, l’énergie et la croissance."

Le coq du quinze tricolore:

"A l’origine, les premières équipes de France portaient deux anneaux bleu et rouge enlacés. En 1911, cinq ans après le premier match des Bleus, le capitaine Marcel Communeau proposa d’imposer le coq gaulois comme emblème. Ce symbole est associé à (la France) depuis l’invasion romaine, puisqu’en latin, gallus se réfère aux habitants de la Gaule tout c…

Gestion rigoureuse, mais pas de rigueur...

 ... ou comment la politique économique de la France ne ressemble pas à celle du Royaume Uni. Qui a raison? Je n'ai vraiment aucune idée, mais mon instinct me dit que les Anglais, se trouvant au début d'un cycle électoral, suivent la bonne voie.

Le Monde:

"Nicolas Sarkozy s'est livré à une grande explication de la crise mondiale et de ses conséquences, mercredi 7 septembre, lors du déjeuner qui réunissait les députés UMP à l'Elysée.
Le chef de l'Etat, qui s'est efforcé de faire de la pédagogie – avec une pointe d'autosatisfaction – a d'abord souligné que "l'heure n'était pas à la campagne présidentielle". "Il y a des urgences et je suis au travail", a assuré le chef de l'Etat cité par des participants à ce déjeuner.

Ensuite, le président de la République a clarifié sa position sur un des débats actuels de la majorité : "On ne parle pas de rigueur, a dit M. Sarkozy à ses troup…

La rentrée

As we get back into the routine of lesson prep, marking, data analysis, development plans, class lists etc etc, I prefer to think of this....

A* grades

Glad to see that the issue of the lack of A* grades for A-Level modern languages has been picked up by the national press. Only 19% of the A*/A grades in French this year were A*. Only drama and media were tougher subjects to get an A* in. You'd be much better off doing maths (40%) or sciences (around 28%) if you need a top grade for the so-called top universities.

When you also take into account the fact that a small percentage of candidates will be native speakers, who tend to score very highly at A-level, it becomes even more difficult for able students to get an A*. Incidentally, the exam boards do not record the number of native speakers.

Ofqual's limp response is that subjects vary and cohorts vary. Curious, because the ability profile of A-level MFL students is high. They get a large number of A grades. Are they saying that because languages are hard there should be fe…