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Showing posts from January, 2015

Derniers baisers

Feeling a bit glum at this cold end of January? Here is a song to get you thinking about summer holidays and romance! A good one for your lower sixth, as a one-off or as part of a holiday theme. It's video listening from frenchteacher.net:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKzXsP3MoHE


Ba Ba Dum

Ba Ba Dum is from two Polish educational book writers, husband and wife Aleksandra and Daniel Mizieliński. It's a vocabulary game which shows sets of four pictures and invites the viewer to match one of them with words. It can be used in 11 different languages, including French. There are five varieties of the game:

1.  You are given four pictures and a word in the middle in French to match with one of the pictures. the word is read out aloud to you. You choose a picture.

2.  You are given one picture and a choice of four words. When you select a word it is pronounced.

3. You are given four pictures but hear just a sound file. You choose a picture.

4.  You are given a picture and a word to complete beneath. You select from a list of letters to correctly spell the word. If you spell it wrong the programme immediately corrects it for you.

5. This one mixes up the above options; first question might just be an audio file, second a choice of four words etc.

You can sign in to create …

How would we change our teaching if there were no exams?

This title occurred to me as I was reflecting on the value of translation in language teaching.

When I taught A-level French, in the second (A2) year I would devote quite a lot of time, especially in the run-up to exams, to translating sentences from English into French. Students usually enjoyed it and felt they were improving their grammatical understanding and accuracy in the process. It also had the advantage of requiring no preparation, not an insignificant point for busy teachers. For me it was quite enjoyable too, all the more so since, with years of experience, I was on top of the material and could deal with almost any question.

But you know, if there had not been an exam to prepare for, I doubt very much if I would have done it. Maybe as a very occasional alternative activity? Maybe. I would rather have used the time for interesting communication in French.

At GCSE we spent a suitable amount of time preparing for controlled assessments, oral and written. Although we did our best…

Listening is the key

If we assume that second language learning has at least something in common with first language acquisition, it is fair to assume that listening plays a major role in learning. We should therefore build in as much listening as possible to lessons. This is why the use of target language is so valued.

It is a shame that public exam markschemes do not value highly enough this skill in their assessment objective weightings. Indeed, the Edexcel exam board do not assess it at all at A2 level, whilst the current GCSE in England and Wales has only given it 20% of the marks, compared with 30% for writing. This is bizarre.

I have become more and more convinced of the centrality of listening. So what types of structured activity can we do alongside the listening we do whilst teaching and practising new material, playing games and so on? Here is a selection:

1. Fill gaps in a transcript (gaps may be letters, parts of words, whole words or longer utterances.

2. Answer comprehension questions in En…

Teaching in the target language

I wrote this lengthy blog to go alongside the webinar I did on Sunday 25th January at 4.00 (GMT) for ALL (Association for Language Learning) London branch. If you want to see webinar it is on the ALL site here:

http://www.all-london.org.uk/webinars.htm

Why this topic?

Firstly, language teachers on social media sometimes comment that this remains an issue of uncertainty. Will I lose control of the class if they do not understand? Will it stop me building up a rapport? Should I feel guilty if i use English? Should I write comments in exercise books in the target language? Are my skills good enough? Should I be using 100% TL; if not, what percentage? Is it the best approach anyway?

Secondly, Ofsted, who have an enormous database of observations, have always pointed out that use of target language remains a concern. Essentially, too many teachers fail to use enough high quality target language. In their report Modern Languages: Achievement and challenge 2007-2010

.. the report ... highlight…

Grammar handouts

This is just to let you know that I have begun to post some French grammar handouts to various pages on frenchteacher.net. These are just reference notes, not practice worksheets (of which there are already many on the site, designed for oral and written work). So far, I have done a handout on the subjunctive and passive for the A-level page, handouts on the perfect tense, irregular present tense verbs, immediate future and direct object pronouns for the Y8 page, handouts on the imperfect and future tenses for the Y9 page and various handouts for Y10-11  - negatives, adverbs, adverbial pronouns, future perfect, pluperfect and using pour, depuis and pendant.

Expect to see more.

The idea is that they could be handed out to students to reinforce classroom practice. Students could stick them in their exercise books or place them in their files. They could be used for display, but don't forget here are already quite a lot of free whiteboard notes on the site. These were written for dis…

Some basic principles of language learning and teaching

A bit of theory. Stating the obvious maybe?

Second language learning can take place in a variety of ways depending on a range of variables: the teacher (we are all different and need to believe in our approach), the class (age, motivation), the school context(e.g. testing regime), timetable (how many lessons, length of lessons) and so on. It is wise for the teacher, therefore, to exploit a variety of teaching approaches, but within certain parameters. I would not argue for a laissez faire attitude, but for eclecticism within the framework of what we know for sure about language learning. In 1966 J.B. Carroll in "The Contributions of Psychological Theory and Educational Research to the Teaching of Foreign Languages" listed what he called the "facts of verbal learning":

1.  In learning a skill it is often the case that conscious attention to its critical features and understanding of them will facilitate learning.

2.  The more meaningful the material to be learned, th…

#Je SuisCharlie procession

We were showing friends around St Martin en Ré, that picturesque little port on the Ile de Ré, yesterday, when we encountered an impressive procession of several hundred people walking through the streets from the harbour to the main square. We chose to join in and ended up in front of the town hall, where some sang the Marseillaise. It was a calm, dignified march and gathering, with many holding pencils, carrying Je Suis Charlie posters or wearing Je Suis Charlie stickers. The procession was led by local dignitaries wearing tricolor sashes.

A few thoughts went through my head.

Not surprisingly for this part of France, the crowd was almost entirely white French, older than average and, I would estimate, predominantly middle class.That's the Ile de Ré for you.

The association of freedom of expression with national identity was prominent. Quiet good humour was the order of the day. I had a feeling of history being made.

The presence of flags and the singing of the national anthem ma…

Latest updates from frenchteacher

Just to keep users of the site and others up to date with the latest resources added to frenchteacher. The emphasis over the last month has been on advanced level material. As always, bags of material for teachers who like their "comprehensible input".

Grammar handout: this is new departure for the site. I produced a set of notes on the subjunctive, coverering formation and use. It is designed as a handout for reference and can be used alongside the practice worksheets on the subjunctive. Y12 (Low advanced)

Video listening. Worksheet linked to 1jour1actu video on freedom of expression, in the light of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Basic video introduction of the basic principles of freedom of expression in a democracy, with an opportunity for discussion. Gap fill and discussion questions in French. Good for upper sixth or good lower sixth (low advanced/advanced). Y12-13 (Advanced)

Video listening. This is a Euronews report soon after the terrorist attack on the satirical paper Ch…

When to do past practice papers

With the stakes so high in the English and Welsh exam system teachers obviously want students to be as well prepared as possible. With this in mind I would assume that all teachers use past exam papers to help their students succeed. But when and how should they be used?

If students have to do a "mock" or trial exam in December or January, what the French call an "examen blanc", it makes sense to use a past paper and possibly one before the paper for practice. I say "possibly" mainly because past papers take away time for more interesting, communicative work, but students like to have the reassurance of having seen the exam format.

It is possible to concoct an exam paper similar in style to a past paper, but made easier to reflect the students' stage of progress. However, there is a lot to be said for letting students have a sight of the final goal, both for motivation and to make sure they are realistic about where they stand. It can provide a needed …

Charlie Hebdo

Nolwenn Burkey, a colleague from the MFLResources Yahoo Group, kindly sent me this presentation depicting reactions to the terrible attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. I also created an A-level listening resource based on a Euronews report of the events. It is a free resource on frenchteacher.net (see the Samples page).



Research access for language teachers

The ResearchEd conferences organised by teacher, TES columnist and "behaviour guru" Tom Bennett and attended by prominent teachers, journalists and academics, notably from the Twitter community, have attempted to raise the status of research in teaching. "What works?" is the question. How do teachers get beyond what they perceive as Ofsted expectations or fashionable classroom approaches?

There has been considerable debate about the value of research. It is well known that empirical research in the social sciences is problematic. In terms of classroom research, the variables involved make research difficult: teacher, school, students, social factors - all of these make it hard to pin down scientifically which classroom approaches work best. Long term ("longitudinal") studies comparing different approaches are particularly hard to carry out.

In short "what works" in one context may not in another.

In our subject area research has failed to demonstra…

Crosswords on frenchteacher

I have a considerable number of crosswords on frenchteacher.net, most of them based on translating individual words. The ones I like most, however, are gapfill-based crosswords since they require greater comprehension skill and place words in context. Students get greater input in this fashion which should lead to more acquisition. Crosswords can also develop grammatical skill, of course, like the example one below which you are welcome to use. It is from the Y10-11 section of the website and would suit reasonably able students between Y10 and Y12 (intermediate to high intermediate).

I make my crosswords using the excellent and free AmoredePenguin site. You can store crosswords on the site for a certain period or download them for unlimited use, including commercial. Very generous.

It is easy to adapt crosswords for less able students by writing in some missing letters, or even writing the answers as a list on a separate sheet from which students can choose. Teachers could also ask st…