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Showing posts from May, 2015

Comprehensible input on frenchteacher

I'm one of those teachers, like most I would think, who place a high value on providing what Stephen Krashen christened "comprehensible input". That's why I always wanted to teach primarily through the target language with a strong emphasis on listening and reading for meaning. As a child taught in the 1960s and 70s I also value the "skill-building" approach and as a teacher was happy to do lots of target language structured practice, occasional translation and some explanation.

My website reflects both of those strands, with numerous grammar practice sheets and some grammar explanation handouts, but in fact the bulk of the resources are there to provide meaningful language through texts and listening. The staple resources are articles with exercises and video listening from authentic sources.

With comprehensible input and reading for interest in mind I began last year putting together a set of parallel reading resources for beginners and near beginners whi…

Why do girls do better than boys at language learning?

At my school over the years the top set was usually predominantly male and the lower sets were predominantly male. Boys often did very well, some superbly well. Some went to Oxford and Cambridge. But girls did better overall and you would find that pattern repeated not only across the UK, but in other parts of the world as well.

Why is this? Current fashion would have it down to societal and motivational factors, but my hunch is that the girls tend naturally to just be a bit better at learning languages. My first thought is: baby girls pick up languages more quickly than boys and tend to be stronger at communication when older so this must be down to their brains. Venus and Mars. Too simple?

What does the research suggest? Unsurprisingly it is not conclusive about reasons for the difference in attainment, but I did come across this useful summary of general findings based on a large body of research from various countries.

The source is here. I'm quoting directly.

1. Although there…

Frenchteacher updates

I've added quite a few new resources at various levels over the last month. Here they are:

Worksheet on finir. Re-ordering, translation, then make up some more. Good for Y8 (near beginner)

A text and exercises about superheroes from Greek mythology to the present day. Article, vocabulary to complete, true/false/not mentioned in French and gap fill in French. This would work with good Y10 up to Y12.

A short reading comprehension with questions in English. This is based on a forum post from momes.net. Good for low intermediate (Y9). Pupils could then write their own.

Five worksheets for using aller, faire, jouer, regarderand manger. Re-ordering and translation + making up more sentences. Good for Y7.

Advanced level text and exercises on the decline of traditional marriage in France. Text, vocabulary to complete, true/false/not mentioned, questions, lexical work, gap fill. All in target language. Good for AS level or even A2.

10 short dictations which could be used as part of a planned seq…

Les gestes qui comptent

Some of my blog posts are sparked off my a Twitter reference or chat with other teachers. This is one such post. File it under practical classroom tips.

How do you use your body to help pupils with understanding?

When dictating you can use arms and even your leg for humorous effect to help pupils with written accuracy. Acute, circumflex and grave in French can be done holding your arms at the right angle above your head. Two forward fingers for umlauts or trémas. You can even cock your leg to indicate a c cedilla (ç). (Pupils can also use their own arms to show accents if you give them words.)

Arms are useful for indicating subject pronouns during practice drills. Point to yourself for first person singular, point to left or right for third person singular, point forward with one arm for second singular and two hands for second plural. Use two hands pointing to yourself for first person plural.

Various verbs are easy to demonstrated by use of limbs and body: to dance, to sing, to ride…

Where did all the A-level linguists go?

All the figures below are from http://www.bstubbs.co.uk/a-lev.htm . Brian gets his figures from JCQ.

In 1993 29886 students did A-level French. In 2014 the figure was 10433.
In 1993 10857 students did A-level German. In 2014 the figure was 4187.
In 1993 4850 students did A-level Spanish. In 2014 the figure was 7601.

Taken together we have witnessed an enormous fall in the number of young people studying languages at A-level.

What happened?

In recent times there has been a focus on a number of factors, notably the relative difficulty of obtaining a high grade and the fall in the number of GCSE students following the decision to make languages optional at GCSE from 2004. ALCAB, in their input into the new A-levels, focussed more on what they saw as the unstimulating nature of A-level courses. Others have mentioned the influence of communicative language teaching methods over the years.

But let's look more carefully at what happened to the French numbers over recent years:

2014  10433      A…

Challenges of new MFL A-levels

Until the election result we did not know for sure if the new A-levels, with their decoupled AS level, would become a reality. Now we know. We should see draft specifications from July. What challenges do the new specs pose for departments?

To remind you, teaching for the new exams begins in September 2016. Readers may feel this is two years too soon, what with the new GCSE, upon which the new A-level is claimed to be predicated, starting at the same time.

What's new? I would sum up the key changes as follows:

- Teachers must work with a prescribed list of texts and films (no history, no art, no region etc). No free choice. WJEC users are used to this.
- AS level is "decoupled" but may be co-taught with A-level. Exam boards are expecting take-up to be low.
- Topics will be more tightly focused on the culture of the target language country or countries. They may seem more serious.
- There will be an individual research project element for students.

What will departments have to …

How much teacher talk?

I recommend to you Barry Smith's blog about language teaching. Barry is a full-on, skill-building, cognitive code, teach-em-from-the-front, give-em-lots-of-written-word French teacher from the Michaela Community School, a new free school in London led by Katharine Birbalsingh.

In Barry's latest blog he refers to a young PGCE trainee from Cambridge who says they were advised that a lesson should be 10% teacher talk, 90% pupil talk. Barry clearly thinks this is duff advice and I agree.

It is certainly the case that over the last few years Ofsted clearly communicated the notion that a good lesson should not feature lots of teacher talk. Even in my fairly traditional grammar school we would make sure we planned our inspection lessons with plenty of pair work and a less than average amount of teacher talk. (To be fair, we did not have to alter our normal practice that much.)

It is also the case that teacher-led lessons, if poorly done, can switch off pupils and produce poor results…

Gojimo

Gojimo is an education app for Apple and Android devices. It offers some language learning material for French, German and Spanish. So far it has some exercises for GCSE level, categorised by the areas vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing. Exercises are also broken down by exam board and by a few topic areas.

The app, like others, gives you right/wrong feedback with some explanation. It also keeps your score and progress. Navigation is clear, presentation sober - a bit dull, to be honest.

The vocabulary tasks are simple one word translations, grammar consists of conjugation/translation at a verb only level. Writing involves sentence level translation both ways. You don't type out any answers, just choose from a list. All of these tasks are pretty dull and similar to ones found on other apps of this type.

The reading tasks are better. Each one has a short, accurate passage followed by a series of multi-choice questions in English. The textual content is uninteresting, but at leas…

Standby activities

Things can sometimes go wrong at school. The computer doesn't work, you have to teach a lesson you weren't expecting, you didn't get time to plan that lesson you intended to, the photocopier broke down so you couldn't print those worksheets, you're covering for a colleague and no work was set, the ICT room was double booked. I'm sure you can identify with some or all of those!

That's when you need fall-back or standby activities you can call upon, lessons which you know will work and can be adapted to various levels. So here are ten I would recommend which you could include in your toolbox (oops, I used an "in" word there).


1.  Jacques a dit

This is Simon Says and it is a hit at all levels. You can use it to teach body parts from scratch or to revise them at any time. You can adjust the pace to suit the class, it encourages careful listening and it's good fun.

2.  Bingo games

Here some variations you can use:

Mental arithmetic bingo
With this one, i…

So what about that Conservative Ebacc commitment?

Update 14.6.15 - now looks like Ebacc will be introduced in full, including GCSE MFL for all, but with first teaching from September 2018.

*******************************************************************************

We will require secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography, with Ofsted unable to award its highest ratings to schools that refuse to teach these core subjects.

Conservative manifesto



Given that education barely featured in the election campaign, it's not surprising, perhaps, that this pledge went somewhat under the radar. Needless to say, it has huge ramifications for languages and for school accountability as a whole.

First question: should the government be able to tell Ofsted on what basis they can award grades? It would appear to seriously compromise Ofsted's independence.

Next, with regard to languages, this represents a volte face for the Conservatives. Since languages became optional under Labour, …

Froggyspeak

I've just come across this interesting and free little site which has scripted situations and a story read aloud at slow and normal speed. It's called Froggyspeak. The strap line is "Learn French at Your Speed". The authors do invite donations, however small, to help run the site.

Each situational dialogue or story chapter is broken down into sections which are read aloud slowly. You can then listen to the whole dialogue read at normal speed. Here are the situations:

Le Cycliste 
Le Chanteur 
La Belle Conductrice 
L'Agent Immobilier 
Le Café du Port L'Hôtel 
Le Médecin Généraliste 
Vacances Relaxantes 
La Route pour Rouen 
Les Nouvelles Lunettes 
Les Ouvriers Invisibles 

In addition, there is a story in episodes called Les Aventures d'Albert.

The writing is accessible and witty.

Here is a short extract from one chapter of the Albert story:

"Nous avons un problème. Les Parisiens ont commencé à acheter des animaux exotiques comme animaux de compagnie et, parfois, …

Two implications of the election result for MFL

So the nation has voted and totally confounded the pollsters. Like many teachers I am bitterly disappointed and can foresee some messy political times ahead for Cameron over Scotland and Europe, not to mention how this result might affect the lives of the poorest in society. It is easy to predict some serious blood-letting within the Tory party over the EU referendum in 2017. That will be little consolation to Labour and the Lib Dems.

For our field of languages there are two implications which occur to me.

The A-level reforms, involving decoupling of AS levels and the production of new, ALCAB-based, specifications will proceed as planned. Tristram Hunt would have put them on hold. This is very bad news. We can expect AS level numbers to fall significantly and the decline in the take-up of languages at A-level to continue. This may be exacerbated by austerity cuts to come in schools which will mean A-level courses in minority subjects will be squeezed even more. The exam boards will ha…

Survey feedback

Roughly every six months I do a Surveymonkey subscriber survey to find out which resources are being used by teachers. I have a generally good idea about how teachers use frenchteacher.net, but am interested to know how well newer resources are going down and whether it is worth adding more of that type. In every survey I also invite users to make any comments or suggestions.

Here is a summary of the results this time (based on 77 replies):

Parallel texts for Y7 and primary

24% said they have used these. I would also use these in Y7, or even Y8. They are good stand-alone resources which add variety to a course and hopefully make for interesting reading.

Video listening tasks Y9-11

58% said they had used these. I must say I am quite pleased with the use these worksheets linked to online videos are getting. If I were still teaching I would be using them in class and for homework. They are great stand-bys too.

Video listening tasks for adults and A-level

67% have used these.

Resources being …

Goodbye MYLO

Minor rant alert.

What an awful shame! I see from the MYLO site that RM will no longer be hosting the site and that is is closing down at the end of July. I presume some government money has run out. Does anyone know?

I have heard that it cost £5 million to set up MYLO, which seems an awful lot of money, but at least that investment produced a quality product which has been widely used and is still fresh and very useful.

It is unusual to find a free to use languages site which combines listening, reading and writing so effectively. I have previously written about it with enthusiasm  here and here.

Is there nobody who can pick up the hosting and maintenance fees for the site? The site is all written, has a good shelf life, works effectively and benefits lots of learners. To throw it away now seems such a terrible waste.

It's not the only useful resource to have got the chop in the last five years. I would also mention the Teacher Resource Exchange, CILT and Teachers' TV. Keepin…

Second language learning and acquisition

This is a long, referenced blog which combines all the posts in my earlier series entitled Conscious and Unconscious Language Learning. If you have already read those posts, you should look away now.

Part 1

Throughout the history of the study of language learning and teaching reference has been made to two distinct types of language learning. The first could be characterised as "picking up" a language and normally involves the apparently unconscious acquisition of a language in an informal or natural setting. One thinks of the child who learns their native tongue, or the immigrant who learns the new language without recourse to formal study.

The second type of language learning involves the practice of a language in a formal, systematic way, often in a classroom setting. This has frequently been termed conscious learning.

Such a clear distinction may be controversial and you may already be thinking, quite reasonably, that both types of learning have a role. However, when you rea…