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Showing posts from March, 2012

Writing good multiple choice questions

Multi-choice seems to have come back into fashion somewhat in the UK. I gather it has long been used extensively in the USA as a means of practising and assessing skills and knowledge. Writing good multi-choice tasks is an interesting challenge and I was happy to learn something about it a few years ago when I wrote some assessment tasks for Asset Languages in Cambridge.

Firstly, three options are, it seems, as statistically adequate as four, although you often see four choices given on exam papers.

Secondly, it is important that all options be "in play". That is, they must be reasonably tempting to the learner.

Thirdly, a good multi-choice question should have the aim of allowing about 70% or 80% of learners to get the answer right. A good balance of outcomes would be around 70% get the right option, with the other two options getting about 15% each. A question which attracts equal responses for each option is a poor one. Similarly, if one option gets no ticks, it is a poor…

Remember this?

In 2002 the Department for Education and Skills produced a document entitled:  Languages for All; Languages for Life - a Strategy for England. Here were the three over-arching objectives which were laid out in that document:

1. To improve teaching and learning of languages, including delivering an entitlement to language learning for pupils at Key Stage 2, making the most of e-learning and ensuring that opportunity to learn languages has a key place in the transformed secondary school of the future

2. To introduce a recognition system to complement existing qualification frameworks and give people credit for their language skills

3. To increase the number of people studying languages in further and higher education and in work-based training by stimulating demand for language learning, developing Virtual Language Communities and encouraging employers to play their part in supporting language learning

Now, I cannot support what I am going to say with detailed facts and figures, but the es…

What we know about second language acquisition

Education researcher and trainer Dylan Wiliam tweeted this abstract today. The study concerned has analysed 71 peer-reviewed studies in order to find out the optimal conditions for learning a second language. Here is the relevant part for teachers of French in the UK, or teachers of English in France:

(1)... L2 learners with little L2 exposure require explicit instruction to master grammar; 
(2) L2 learners with strong L2 aptitude, motivation, and first language (L1) skills are more successful; (3) Effective L2 teachers demonstrate sufficient L2 proficiency, strong instructional skills, and proficiency in their students’ L1; 
(4) L2 learners require 3-7 years to reach L2 proficiency, with younger learners typically taking longer but more likely to achieve close-to-native results.

I am reminded of Sybil Fawlty's specialist subject on Mastermind (&quo…

An MFL professional development consortium

I am posting a an email message I received via the Linguanet forum. It may be of interest to MFL teachers in the south east of England in particular. It looks interesting.

"A new project between the universities of Reading and Oxford has seen the establishment of a Professional Development Consortium in MFL. The consortium involves leading MFL classroom teachers and researchers who are working to establish a closer relationship between research-based principles of effective language teaching and learning, and current practice within the MFL curriculum. We want to invite all language teachers to join the consortium by attending one of our six workshops which will take place this summer. The workshops will exemplify how eight research-based language learning principles can be implemented in MFL classrooms with the aim of raising attainment among students. The subsequent dialogue between researchers and teachers of modern languages will continue, as the consortium seeks to …

Ofqual report on AQA French

Ofqual has just published monitoring reports on three new GCSEs, including AQA French. I wonder why they chose this examination. Was it connected with all the complaints they may have picked up from teachers, particularly about the marking of controlled assessments?

You can read the pdf document here:

It isn't terribly long and there are some quite specific recommendations on how AQA could improve its examinations and advice to centres on controlled assessments. Here is an example of a comment on speaking CAs:

"Also for AQA French speaking, AQA’s requirement for candidates to cover a series of bullet points was judged to have constrained opportunities for natural conversations to take place for all candidates."

Er... yes. But then the format of the exam rewards candidates who pre-learn everything in detail, so what sensible teacher would encourage "natural conversations". Ofqual would have been better advis…

The environmental cost of ICT

Have you ever stopped to compare the costs, both to budgets and the environment, of using technology in the classroom with pen, paper and books? Calculations are hard to do in this field because there are so many variables, but....

If you were to equip a class of 30 students with iPads, you would be looking at an investment of at least £10 000, assuming some kind of discount on a set of cheapest non 3G iPads. If you then added the cost of re-charging and factored in the carbon footprint of manufacturing, shipping and energy use, it is easy to see why old tech might be considered, in actual cost, but especially in environmental terms, an attractive option.

A set of text books with a similar life to the iPads would cost around £350. A set of repromasters might set you back about £70. If you assume photocopying at about 5p a copy, then do a calculation based on, say, 120 copies a week over 36 weeks, you get an additional cost of about £45. There is the energy cost of photocopying, a smal…

Miming games in MFL

Children enjoy playing games which use mime and good learning can result from them. Children who are a bit shy in the MFL classroom may also be more confident when miming.

With my Year 7 near beginners today we practised regular -er verbs in French by a simple miming activity where partner A mimed a simple activity from a list of verbs on the board which partner B had to respond to using the tu form of the verb. Verbs included chanter, dessiner, regarder, aimer, adorer, détester, entrer, sauter, travailler, voyager and manger. Then I mimed selected verbs and the students had to respond using the vous form of the verb. This was useful since studenst rarely get to practise the 2nd person plural.

The same principle applies to sports vocabulary. In this case, having taught sports via flashcard or powerpoint, you can get a student up to mime sports which the rest of the class have to identify. There are two advantages to getting a student to come to the front: firstly it can be funny, seco…

CfBT survey on Language Trends

This is the major annual report on trends on modern language teaching in England. The executive summary and conclusion may be worth reading if you don't have time to read all the data.

A number of things struck me:
Ebacc is having a notable effect on take-up, as predictedA-level still on the slide because of harsh grading and lure of STEM subjectsSevere grading at GCSE and A-level still an issue, including difficulty of reaching A* at A-levelLack of curriculum time at KS3 and KS4. Not enough "little and often" to embed learningControlled assessments come under fire - too much time to prepare and too much memory learningGCSE too dull Continued dominance of independent sector in MFL - it's a subject area for posh kidsGerman still suffering badly, Spanish less soContinuity with primary MFL proving a challengeThe "expert panel" on the national curriculum recommends that MFL become compul…

What is this man on?

I had a good time with my Y9 class today using this video tweeted by Sylvia Duckworth. Good for teaching imperatives. It's to the tune: if you're happy and you know it clap your hands.We watched, did the actions, sang, then I got the class to make up their own silly instructions.

e.g. Si tu aimes parler français..... pose une bombe/saute dans l'air/ne fais rien etc. It was quite productive and encouraged, dare I say it, creativity.

Interesting that a video like this, which looks more suited to primary, may work better with older pupils as the language is arguably too demanding for the youngest students. I just played it to a Y11 class who joined in with the actions and found it amusing.

Reminds me of Borat for some reason. Here he is:

English by Yourself

Voici une superbe intitiative pour les apprentis d'anglais, proposée par le CNED (Centre national d'enseignement à distance). Selon le site:

"English by Yourself a été conçu pour vous permettre, quel que soit votre âge, d’améliorer votre pratique de l’anglais (écrit et oral) en mettant à portée de clics un ensemble de ressources anglophones soigneusement sélectionnées par une équipe pédagogique pour correspondre à vos attentes et, si vous souhaitez aller plus loin, un ensemble de propositions pour construire un parcours de formation en adéquation avec vos besoins repérés.

Les ressources en ligne sélectionnées par nos experts sont des articles de presse, des animations, des podcasts, des mini-jeux, des vidéos, des jeux éducatifs, des jeux sérieux, des applications, des émissions de radio ainsi que des modules de formation.

Toutes ces ressources vous sont proposées sous la forme de billets qui vous permettent de découvri… updates

There have been some recent additions to the site: a couple of simple Y7 sheets on -er verbs, a help sheet for students preparing for the AQA A2 stimulus card, plus new oral/writing drills on the tenses in the Y8 and Y9 sections.

I have also been checking for dead links and have discovered a few. I try to keep up to date, but with with such a large number of links I don't keep up with everything. What surprises me slightly is how few new, free resources become available online. The well-established sites like Languagesonline, MFL Sunderland, TES and others continue to be the main sources of reliable material. There are, of course, a growing number of subscription sites with a good reputation, such as Linguascope and Atantôt, but I have to say that I am not "blown away" by much of what I come across, and certainly not the resources coming out from the big publishers. I fond the Kerboodle resources from Nelson underwhelming. Maybe I need to look harder!

Meanwhile, the new…

GCSE French revision links

AS French revision links

Comparatif des programmes éducation de Sarkozy et de Hollande.

Le Monde a publié un comparatif des programmes éducation des candidats à la présidence. Ce qui frappe au premier abord c'est la proposition de Sarkozy d'offrir aux enseignants la possibilité de travailler plus d'heures pour un salaire plus élevé. François Hollande par contre propose de scolariser les enfants dès 2 ans et de revoir les rythmes scolaires en allongeant l'année pour alléger les journées de travail. Selon Le Monde:

"M. Hollande compte également arrêter le "un sur deux" dans l'éducation et embaucher 60 000 professionnels de l'enseignement – sans pour autant augmenter le nombre global de fonctionnaires. Il propose de revaloriser leur salaire et de restaurer l'année de formation pratique."

Il serait bien temps de modifier l'année scolaire pour les enfants et les profs. La journée scolaire est trop longue, les vacance…

Beware -ation words

Blair's mantra was education, education, education - a worthy if not very original soundbite. As we witness the seemingly inexorable fragmentation, marketisation, corporisation, americanisation, privatisation of health services, education and even, it seems, the police, here is an amusing sketch in which Fry and Laurie foresaw the future. Unfortunately it isn't really a laughing matter. Enjoy anyway.

Code-breaking games

We've been using code-breaking vocab games for quite a while, especially with younger students at Key Stage 3. I have mixed feelings about them, since they are all about spelling detail and little to do with communication in the foreign language, but students enjoy doing them and it's revealing to see how they approach the task. First, here's an example based on the topic "en ville" (Year 7):

19, 22 1,22,2,14,11,24,1,11,20,14 = LE RESTAURANT

19, 11 6, 11, 1, 22 ___________________

19, 11 21, 10, 2, 18, 10, 20, 22 ___________________

19, 22 8, 11, 1, 18, 16, 22 ___________________

19 ‘ 23,7,7,10,18,22 5,22 14,23,24,1,10,2,8,22 ______________________

19, 22 21, 23, 1, 14 ___________________

19, 22 18, 10, 20, 22, 8, 11 ___________________

19, 22 21, 11, 1, 18 …