Hello again. I'm on a roll with my review of text books from the past! Actualités Françaises (1971) by Nott and Trickey was the book I learned French with at A-level and with which I began my teaching career at Tiffin School, Kingston upon Thames. Nott and Trickey were grammar school teachers in Manchester and Stockport and it is clear that they were weary of Whitmarsh-style A-level textbooks. They wanted to produce a course which engaged pupils with contemporary issues, rather than just literature, and one which moved beyond grammar-translation.
They succeeded very well indeed. Actualités Françaises, whilst not perfect, is probably the best ever A-level French course written up to the present day. Its approach was a combination of the old and new. The old bit was detailed granmmar explanations after each article, along with sentences to translate into French.
The new bit was the copious use of oral grammar drills in French (the influence of the audio-lingual method is powerful here), the encouragement of discussion through question-answer and essay writing and, perhaps above all, the use of texts about issues of contemporary interest. Subjects covered in Book 1 include: education, young people, leisure and sport, transport, housing, industry and women at work. Sound familiar?
Teaching would be conducted largely in the target language and the underlying assumption was that a combination of direct method supported by grammar analysis and some translation would yield good results. Lessons would still be largely teacher-led, but with room for variations by an enlightened practitioner. The use of drills meant that you could practise grammar rigorously whilst staying in French, so both the conscious learning and natural acquisition dimensions were exploited simultaneously. The writers inherited this notion from Gilbert and the Longman writers. The popular course Le Français d'Aujourd'hui (1975 onwards) by Downes and Griffith, a staple in grammar and independent schools, would use a similar methodological approach.
Where were the book's shortcomings? The texts were long, the subject matter a bit dry at times and not closely related enough to pupils' own experience. There was so much material in Book 1 that Book 2 was used far less and would now look better suited to university level. The book was still aimed at pupils of higher ability and, interestingly, would be considered too hard today. Because the communicative approach from EFL was not yet being felt, there was a lack of task-related group or pair work, no information gap tasks, no games.
But make no mistake, this course was a major break from the past and set a trend. It would also help lead to the end of that era where universities dictated what teachers did at A-level. If anything, the reverse would become true and university courses would gradually be taught the way A-level teachers wanted!