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Showing posts from December, 2014

Plans for frenchteacher 2015

Happy New Year to readers and frenchteacher subscribers. Thank you for using my resources and for the kind comments some of you send me.

I expect 2015 to be another busy year of writing new materials for Having developed a number of areas over the last year, notably primary/Y7 parallel reading comprehensions, video listening and adult student resources, what will 2015 have in store?

I am bound to be influenced by changes to British GCSE and A-level exams, which may involve my producing (reluctantly) more translation resources and reading resources with a more story-telling emphasis. I like my resources to be based on what I consider to be sound methodology, but I also have to bear in mind what my subscribers may need to help prepare pupils for public examinations.

As I shall be doing some work for AQA on the new A-level specifications, my frenchteacher work may reflect what I learn from that process. As I have written before, there is no certainty that the new A-lev…

Another look at Languages Online

The interactive web site we used far more than any other at Ripon Grammar School was Languages Online. It is free, full of content and pitched at a good level for the relatively more able student. It is the work of Andrew Balaam and his colleagues at Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, England.

The site makes extensive use of Hot Potatoes to produce a range of accurate interactive grammar and comprehension tasks for all levels. Material is most wide-ranging for French, but Spanish, German, Italian and Latin are well represented. Material includes simple games which can border on the gimmicky, but these are useful to give as a reward to students who finish tasks quickly. A useful feature of the activities is that they supply some feedback and give success scores - students are often motivated by this.

Hot Potatoes was designed before the advent of hand-held smart devices, so Andrew and his team have recently had their work cut out to adapt and recategorise the numerous exercises. For m…

Universities maintain their grip on A-level languages

The recently revised framework for A-level modern languages has seen the universities maintain their conservative influence on the curriculum. Since A-levels began, languages courses have been based on a watered-down version of an undergrad degree, with the inclusion of traditional essay, literature (later film, history and other areas) and, of course, translation.

The relatively heavy bias towards reading and writing has remained throughout and even if listening and speaking have gained some ground in the assessment regimes, they are not given the emphasis they need and students want.

There was a period from around the 1980s when schools reversed the trend and began to set the agenda for undergrad teaching. A-level style mixed skill lessons were taught with an emphasis on communication, but the most recent reform has seen a return to the traditional "top down" agenda setting. This was due to Michael Gove's decision to allow the Russell Group universities to largely dictat…

What makes a good language teacher?

This is a tricky post to write and one I have avoided in the past, perhaps because it seems arrogant to propose a model for others, but having read "What makes a great teacher?" from the headguruteacher blog byTom Sherrington I'm going to have a crack. I write this having taught for 34 years and observed a good few talented colleagues at work. The qualities and abilities I describe are in no particular order. Some are generic teacher qualities, some specific to language teachers because there is inevitably a large overlap. Statements may be hedged with words like "probably" because there is no one way to be an excellent language teacher.

Subject knowledge.

This comes in two forms in our subject area: linguistic skill (range, fluency, pronunciation) and "declarative" knowledge of vocabulary and grammar - namely, being able to explain to pupils how the language works. Most non-native speakers are better at the latter than the former. For me, the former i…

On vocab learning

I don't remember if I had to learn lists of words at school, but I have the feeling I didn't. My teachers used a target language, structured, oral approach (Cours Illustré de Français) where vocabulary was limited to frequently used words, systematically practised in context and regularly revised.

I sometimes think teachers learn a lot about methodology from the way they were taught themselves, so when I began teaching my gut instinct was that vocabulary was best picked up "naturally" and that vocab learning was boring - there were better things students could be doing in class and for homework.

I was also aware that because learning vocab was dull for most students, they would avoid doing it, or do it in a cursory fashion on the bus to school. Some children with poorer recall find it really hard. You had to really raise the stakes of the test to make sure it was done well.

I'm sure there are students who enjoy the rigour of vocab learning and whose proficiency is …

ALCAB's response to the A-level consultation

The very brief summary of the A-level consultation on new MFL A-levels and ALCAB's response is to be found here:

I have already blogged about the revised subject content here, but you may be interested, as I certainly was, by what emerged from the consultation.

Of the 74 individuals or bodies who responded to the question "is the draft content appropriate?" only 18 agreed.

Three recurring points to emerge from the consultation were:
The amount of assessment in English should be reduced to allow for a greater focus on teaching foreign language skills (39% of respondents)The themes suggested by ALCAB should be amended to make them more engaging and appealing for students at this level (24% of respondents) ALCAB should reconsider the compulsory study of literary works to broaden the appeal of the qualification (15% of respondents) They all …

How might an exam board work with the new A-level topic themes?

When the July draft of the new MFL A-levels appeared I came up with one approach an awarding body (exam board) might interpret them in an actual specification.

I am going to have another go at this now, given that there are now only two, renamed themes, not three. This is largely a copy and paste job.

I can then envisage that the challenge would be to design a linear course with "easier" topics at the start, combined with easier lexis and grammar, with "harder" ones in the upper sixth year.

An alternative, probably less desirable, and one which would go against the grain of recent courses, would be to design the syllabus around grammar (easier to harder) with material in each unit coming from a range of all the themes.

It will be fascinating to see how the awarding bodies deal with this and how much variation there is between boards. Will they vie to be the most "academic" and "rigorous", or will they try to make the topics as approachable as po…

Final subject content for MFL A-levels published

I'd been awaiting this for a while. The DfE have published the final subject content for the new MFL GCE A-levels.

For reference and comparison, here is the July draft:

This follows a consultation period which ended in September. The new courses are due to be taught from September 2016 for first examination in Summer 2018. If there is a change of government in May we are told this will no longer be the case.

So what has changed as a result of the consultation?

The headline change is the abandonment of the essay in English on the novel or film. The essay will be written in the target language. This change is very welcome as the essay in English may well have encouraged poor classroom methodology, in particul…

To set or not to set?

The research is not terribly clear on the subject of how much outcomes are altered when you group children by ability. In general, it suggests there may be a slight advantage for those in the top group, but there is a disadvantage for those in middle and lower groups, so, if anything, the overall the effect may be slightly negative. I stress "may". For a clear summary of research done in the 1980s and 1990s on this:

When you look at more recent sources like John Hattie and Robert Coe the above conclusions apply across all subjects taken together, even though maths has tended to be a particular focus, perhaps because of its perceived importance and the relative ease with which you can measure outcomes.

In sum, the research tells us there are much better ways of increasing attainment than putting students into ability sets.

Up to now, however, I have never seen any research on this issue with specific regard to modern languages…

My five most viewed blog posts of 2014

I write a blog every two or three days. I keep wondering if I'll run out of things to go on about, but up to now I have not. Semi retirement gives you more time to reflect and offer free advice! Blogger conveniently supplies information on page hits, so I am able to note which of my posts gets read (or at least glanced at).

I am sometimes surprised which posts get more attention than others. It can be a more profound reflection on teaching methodology, an exam-related or simply a very simple idea for the classroom. Anyway, for the record these are the five most viewed posts this year, in order of popularity:


The clear winner, with 1496 page views. This was my take on the draft content of the proposed new MFL A-levels, the fruit of ALCAB's deliberations. We eagerly await the feedback from Ofqual on this. Rumour has it teachers were, like me, much less than impressed. I mean MUCH less.…

What does creativity mean in language learning?

The word "creative" is bandied about a good deal in teaching and creativity is generally thought to be a good thing. But what does it mean in language learning and teaching?

Maybe a dictionary definition is a reasonable place to start. Oxford Dictionaries online supplies this: "the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness".

That definition sits very naturally with subjects such as art, music and English. How relevant or useful is it to us linguists?

Firstly, for language teachers, creativity has to relate above all to what we would label "output" activities. I am referring here to speaking and writing tasks. By the literal definition of creativity we can envisage, for example, speaking or writing tasks which involve use of the imagination, such as dialogue or story writing, sketches or mini-plays. Technology, for example online programmes and apps, has created some appealing new outlets in this context, some more gimmicky t…

Deux assistantes parlent de Noël en France

I did a worksheet a while ago based on a good video made by two foreign language assistantes who were working at Nottingham High School. Here is the video with the exercises below. I recommend it for AS level or very good Y11s (high intermediate). Enjoy.

If your device does not display the video, the link is given below.

Christmas strip bingo

If you've played strip bingo with classes before you know the drill. If not, this is what you do. I've added a vocabulary list after the instructions. Apologies for any poor formatting.

Display the list of French Christmas vocabulary on the board.Hand out long strip of paper to each pupil (e.g. A4 cut/torn into three vertical strips)Tell pupils to write down 15 French Christmas words using the whole length of their strip of paper (make sure they spread them out quite evenly).Tell them that you will say Christmas words randomly. When they hear a word at either end of their strip they may tear it off (thus revealing a new word). You keep saying Christmas words. The first pupil to get rid of all their words is the winner. Remember to keep saying the same words over and over!Advent Calendar –un calendrier de l’Avent ​Present/gift –Un cadeauAngel – un ange    ​Reindeer - Un renneBells – les clochettes​    Chestnuts – les marrons​Robin – Un rouge-gorge​        Snowman – un bonhomme d…