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Showing posts from April, 2012

New site

The new-look site is now up and running. Thanks to Harry Green for the redesign. I have left some of the resources free (Spanish, powerpoints, teacher guides and whiteboard notes and links). The main resources sections are accessible by subscription at £20 per year. Just go to the site if you wish to sign up. I have chosen a low cost annual subscription, hoping that lots of people will choose to continue using the resources. I shall be adding lots of new stuff. I hope you like the simple, easy to navigate design.

A-level reforms?

I read that the head of Ofqual Glenys Stacey is looking at wide-ranging reforms to A-levels and is now seriously concerned about grade inflation. She has also suggested that modules may need reforming and that they may be appropriate for some subjects but not others. The possibility is also raised that not all subjects require an AS-level.

I always thought it was a shame that when the Curriculum 2000 discussions took place we did not take advantage of the opportunity to seriously broaden A-levels. The "gold standard" people won the argument and we ended up with the "dog's breakfast" situation in England and Wales whereby students usually do four subjects at AS-level, then three at A-level. I would have preferred us to have broadened to five subjects studies over two years.

It is hard to see how one could do away with AS-levels for some subjects and not others. If a s…

50 speaking activities for the classroom

I thought I would compile a list of types of pupil speak in the classroom. Many games can be subsumed within the activity types below. I know you can think of more.
1. Whole group repetition or phonics activity (including whispering, shouting, singing)
2. Part group repetition (small groups, rows, pairs)
3. Reading aloud individually or as a group from text on the board (good for sound - spelling link)
4. Reading aloud from a worksheet, homework task or text book
5. Answering a question with hand up (e.g. from picture, picture sequence, structured question)
6. Answering a question without hand up
7. In pairs, taking turns to say a word, phrase or sentence until someone runs out of ideas
8. Playing a guessing game in pairs (e.g. guessing what your partner did last weekend, playing "battleships") 9. Doing an information gap task in pairs (e.g. completing a schedule or diary)
10. Making up true/false statements (in pairs or for whole class)
11. Making up false utteranc…

A fresh look

I've decided to change the design template for the blog. Partly this is just for a change, but the new colour scheme and unfussy Blogger design fits better with the re-designed website, which should be up and running from May 1st. An A-level ICT student, Harry Green, has been working on this for a few months and we are close to "going live". As you probably know, I am making most of my site's resources available on a small subscription basis - £20 a year. You'll be able from 1st May to go to the site and sign up using PayPal or your debit/credit card. If that is awkward for any schools I can also process cheque payments.

This is to be my paid hobby in retirement, competing with spending more time with my wife Elspeth Jones reading, blogging, singing, drumming, travelling and exercising. I have no idea how many people will choose to subscribe, although I have had quite a few inquiries already.

I hope you like the new, simple look.

Ofqual - review of controlled assessment

I read the following on the Ofqual website:

We know from the research we've already commissioned that, although controlled assessment has some benefits over coursework, it presents problems for schools in managing the practical arrangements across subjects and there are concerns about its impact on teaching and learning.
Our research included the views of over 800 teachers. One of the findings was that the advice and guidance for teachers was inconsistent and confusing. We asked the GCSE awarding organisations to review their guidance and a revised version of the joint JCQ instructions for conducting controlled assessment will be issued for September.

We will now review the case for controlled assessment on a subject by subject basis. There are currently 35 different sets of controlled assessment regulations. We’ll be looking at whether there is a good case for all of those subjects to have controlled assessment when GCSEs are next revised for teaching in September 201…

Le Mont St Michel - "ça va être la galère!"

Pendant près de 20 ans j'ai visité le Mont St Michel presque tous les ans en compagnie de mes élèves de cinquième et mes collègues. On y trouve des magasins de souvenirs (d'une qualité variable), de petits musées, des cafés, des restaurants sans parler de l'abbaye tranquille qui se trouve à son sommet. Depuis plusieurs années on parle d'interdire l'accès au site par des véhicules. (La digue dont ils se servent a un effet nuisible sur la baie, créant un ensablement excessif.) Alors à partir de samedi ce sera chose faite. Mais les touristes devront attendre le pont-passerelle qui est en construction et qui sera terminé en 2015. Pour l'instant on pourra prendre des bus électriques qui emprunteront la digue d'accès existante. Mais ça ne sera pas forcément facile......!B4BXUsXLN3vps/

Target language

Below is part of an essay on lesson planning from the website. One thing I would add to it is that these days Ofsted inspectors like to see evidence of progress within a lesson. This is problematic in languages where we are gradually accumulating skills over a long period. If you neglect good models of target language I think it is inevitable that pupils' listening skills and general comprehension will be poorer in the long run. Therefore you should judge progress over months and years, not 60 minutes.

Here is what I have written. I hope it represents common sense for young teachers setting out on a language teaching career.

"Language teachers talk a lot about this and it is fair to say that opinions vary! I’ll put this as simply as I can: children need to hear lots of the target language (what is sometimes called in the jargon ”comprehensible input”) to allow their brains to exploit their natural language learning capability. But children also need to d…

Aural anagrams and jumbled sentences

Just to share a couple of language activities which worked well with my classes and which need nil preparation (always a good thing).

Aural anagrams

A simple plenary or starter activity to develop eye for detail and spelling. This works for all levels as long as the class can spell in French.

You just spell out words or phrases, mixing up the letters as you do so, as if you are spelling an anagram. The pupils may guess the word at any time and you can do the activity as a team game. You can penalise those who make random guesses too soon by taking off points from their team.

Aural jumbled sentences

Not dissimilar to the above, but this time you operate at the whole word level. I did this today with my Year 7 class who are learning the verb aller with prepositions and places about town

e.g.  Le cinéma est en face de la gare.
Nous sommes derrière le musée près de la piscine.

You read out the words in the wrong order and the first to guess the whole sentence gets a point. I like this activ…

Why the MFL GCSE exam is not fit for purpose

Why are many language teachers unhappy with the current GCSE MFL exams and are they right to be so?

Firstly, the assessment does not meet the key requirement of an exam. It is unreliable. 60% of the marks are based on four controlled assessments, two of them oral, two written. Stage One of the CA process involves teacher input and this will vary greatly. Some teachers will direct pupils more closely than others to the task itself. Some will provide templates, some will give pupils more freedom. Some will correct work at Stage One, others may not. During Stage Two (when pupils prepare their task) the teacher cannot be certain what input has fed into the task. Did the student get help from someone else? Did the student use an internet translator? Did the student copy another essay from the internet?

As far as the oral tasks are concerned, only one has to be recorded. The exam board requests a sample of these for moderation. The second set of marks cannot be verified by the exam board an…

MYLO Track List challenge

I am planning to use this MYLO challenge with a very good Year 9 class quite soon. The interactive challenge is called Track List. You can go straight to the link and ignore the rest of this post if you wish. For a quick description, read on...

If you choose Option 2 on the linked page you can get straight into the activities. Students will need a computer and headphones. The theme of the whole challenge is setting up a list of music tracks for training. the main vocabulary areas are music and sport. Grammar includes adjective agreement and tense usage.

The first activities are Get Warmed Up and Let's Talk Music. These establish some key vocab and are worth doing. You'll soon see that it is an advantage to be familiar with the perfect and future tenses. That's one reason I would suggest doing this task late in Y9 or after.

The next task is called Motivating Music and is essentially for reading comprehension and vocab build…

"One size fits all" policies

I'd like to offer you three examples of where "one size fits all" education policies have a deleterious effect on the practice of modern language teaching.

The first is school timetables.

There was a time when most schools designed their timetable around periods of about 40 minutes, using double periods for practical subjects and games/PE. Later many state schools moved to a 25 period week with each period lasting one hour. This was in part, I feel sure, because of the popularity of the three part lesson (now largely discredited). In an attempt to raise levels in literacy and mathematics it was felt by the educational establishment that teachers should teach lessons based on a starter, main course and plenary. Model lessons were designed for primary teachers to ensure that even inexperienced or less effective teachers would be able to deliver a successful lesson.

Secondary schools latched on to this, and for this reason and others, many schools opted for one hour lessons…

Supermarkets and social class

As we were going to Sainsburys this morning  I was having a chat with our French guest Christine about supermarkets. I asked her whether she agreed with my hunch that your preferred supermarket says a good deal about your social class in Britain, whereas in France supermarkets are rather class neutral. We all know that there is a class pecking order in Britain which begins with Waitrose/M and S at the top, and descends via Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrissons and Asda, down to Lidl and Aldi. The same phenomenon does not exist in France. Carrefour, Leclerc, U, Auchan and even Leader Price are as likely to be frequented by the wealthier as by those of modest income.

A quick google finds this from The Guardian in 2004:

"Verdict Research, for instance, has found that Waitrose has the highest proportion of shoppers from the professional social classes A and B (47%), followed by Sainsbury's (34%), Marks & Spencer (22%), Tesco (21%) and Safeway (17%). At the bottom of the market, 72…

La Renault Zoé

Renault vient de lancer sa petite voiture électrique, la Zoé. Ce qui rend cette nouvelle née plus attractive que les autres électriques, c'est le prix: £13650 (plus £70 par mois pour les batteries avec service de dépannage en cas de batterie morte). La Nissan Leaf par exemple coûte le double.

Selon les magazines de l'automobile c'est une voiture performante, bien équipée, mais qui a une autonomie limitée de 220 km (ou bien moins par temps froid ou en ville). Il faut entre 30 minutes et 9 heures pour recharger les batteries. Les avantages pour l'environnement sont évidentes. Les émissions de CO2 varient d'un pays à l'autre suivant l'origine de l'électricité. Avec la forte part de nucléaire, elles sont de 12g/km de CO2 en France. En Angleterre ce chiffre pourrait être vers les 60g/km, mais tout dépend du type de trajet effectué.

Pour celui ou celle qui ne fait que des petits trajets quotidiens et qui veut faire réduire ses émissions de CO2, la Zoé semble…

Google Art Project

Je viens de tomber sur ce site remarquable qui permet à l'internaute de regarder des oeuvres d'art de partout dans le monde. On peut sélectionner les tableaux selon l'artiste ou le musée. La plupart des collections semblent être américaines, mais l'Orangerie et le Musée d'Orsay figurent parmi les dernières arrivées. Il suffit de faire une recherche alphabétique par artiste pour voir l'énormité de la collection.

On peut sauvegarder ses collections favorites ou même créer et partager ses propres collections (à condition d'avoir un compte Google - on y détecte un certain intérêt économique). On peut également visionner des diaporamas, mais on ne peut pas télécharger les images à moins qu'on ne s'inscrive au site.

Ce qui rend le site encore plus exceptionnel c'est qu'on peut faire des visites virtuelles de certains musées en utilisant la technologie Street View.

Le site est facile à naviguer et la qualité des imag…

Michael Gove's plan for A-levels

Michael Gove has proposed that universities, or rather a selected group of 24 universities, the Russell Group, have a much greater say in the content of A-levels. This is principally a reaction to a perception in universities that A-level students are insufficiently prepared for degree courses. The belief has also been expressed that A-levels have become too easy or predictable, that too many students re-take modules and that there has been significant grade inflation over the years, making the exam seem less of a "gold standard". The plan is to initially review the content of maths, science and English courses. If these are toughened up, the process could then work back down to GCSE and to primary level. In this way standards will rise, so the argument goes, and we shall rise up the esteemed PISA tables once more.

As far as modern languages goes, the history is interesting. Back in the 1950s, when A-levels were introduced, they were effectively a means of preparing a relati…

Pénurie de candidats à l'enseignement

Mathieu Perisse raconte sur que le nombre de candidats aux concours de l'enseignement est en chute libre. A priori cela pourrait étonner, vu la conjoncture économique actuelle et le manque d'emplois dans le secteur privé. L'enseignement devrait offrir aux jeunes licenciés un refuge: des postes quasiment garantis dans certaines matières, de longues vacances et une retraite solide. L'évolution démographique actuelle produira de plus en plus d'élèves ayant besoin d'un prof. Mais non, les jeunes ont peur de suivre une carrière dans la salle de classe. Pourquoi?

Tout d'abord certains candidats potentiels ont l'impression qu'ils auront une formation inadéquate avec trop peu de suivi. D'autres dénoncent la difficulté du CAPES (malgré le fait que le taux de réussite est en hausse).

Un étudiant raconte:

«On nous demande d'être pratiquement bilingue dans une langue vivante, de maîtriser l'…

Lolly sticks etc

If you are into lolly sticks for random questioning in class and own an iPhone or iPad, you might find the above app useful. In our school a few teachers have opted for lolly sticks and seem happy to use them. We have not yet done so in MFL lessons, although we have embraced the intermittent use of no hands up. If you are not familiar with lolly sticks you have a mug of them with pupils' names on and choose them at random when doing questioning.

Other approaches to random questioning include electronic name generators and allocating pupils numbers when they enter the room and calling numbers for answers.

I have to say that I am not a big fan of totally random questioning for language lessons. I understand the theory that we should have the same expectation of all students and that students need to be challenged and ready to respond at any time, but I also believe that as teachers we should be using our skill and knowledge …