Sunday, 30 January 2011


So, following my previous post, I'm putting my money where my mouth is.

Have a look at the Cinderella story and exercises I've done:

Because the story is familiar, vocab is not a great issue. I've simplified the story down to a very good Y9 level, or a weaker Y11 level. I reckon a bright Y8 class would cope. I must say I'm pleased with the "correct the false sentences bit". May raise a smile. The comprehension questions use "est-ce que" a lot to avoid having to deal with word order issues when moving from question to answer. Of course, they are not genuine comprehension questions, but a means to generate repetition and sppech/writing. I would do them orally and in writing. All in all there is material there for a 40-50 minute lesson, a homework task and a further lesson/homework doing the stroy from Cinders' perspective. Enjoy!

Just to add, I have used the story and exercises with three different classes (never waste a good resource!) . It worked best with my top set Y11s. We had quite a laugh with it talking about "baguettes magiques" - images of Harry Potter with a French stick. It was fine with the other classes (Y9 and Y10 lower sets, but they needed more feeding). It works well and my Y11s then worked in pairs making up their own fairy tales including a set of words I supplied them: un anneau magique, des haricots, un géant méchant, une belle princesse, un prince, une grenouille et une gentille grand-mère. They enjoyed it and produced some nice spoken language.


GCSE modern language specifications are rather boring, aren't they? It seems like the people who decide what kids should be learning at KS4 can't get beyond the paradigm of the last twenty years. At KS3 there has been a willingness to think outside the box a bit and to give teachers more freedom to do what they wish, not that that's been reflected hugely in the course books I see.

So why are our books dull? Well, we are generally working with a grammatical progression imposed on a series of worthy topics which are deemed to be of interest to our students. You know the sort of thing: holidays, town and country, health, hobbies, food and drink, friends, shopping etc. Every now again our books are spiced up with something more "relevant", so now it's all internet, emails, web sites and mobile phones. None of it is what you might call attention-grabbing. I've nothing against grammatical progression, but the topical contexts it is set in could be better.

One thing that's missing is stories. Back in the days of Mark Gilbert's Cours Illustré de Français, which I have discussed here before, it was nearly all stories. Every day family stories, stories about monkeys in trees, stories about Christmas truces during the war and so on. Many of them were mundane and dull, some were mildly amusing, but the reason they were used was to try and fire the imagination of youngsters and to provide a framework for productive oral and written work through question and answer. Stories lead to greater creativity of thought, along with a range of written and oral tasks.

let's say you were revising clothes and accessories in Y10. As well the fashion show or the pictures of people dressed up in the book, why not have a story, or cartoon story, about a murder at a fashion show, or about a French teacher who falls in love with a fashion model, or a story of jealousy between two fashion models? OK, so they aren't brilliant, but you get the point.

I haven't seen course book in years which tries to use stories effectively. They do appear sometimes. In the Tricolore series (Y8 book) we read about Inspector Louis Laloupe and I find those cartoon stories very usable for teaching purposes as well as a bit of fun for the kids. If I were publishing language books I would hire an imaginative children's writer to produce some simple stories which could be simplified in the target language. I'm not sure the current crop of linguists who produce courses are up to writing somrthing good enough. In any case, the latest exam board demands may stop them doing so. One could even start with simple versions of classic, familiar tales, written in the perfect tense.

So, if greater numbers of students are going to flock back to MFL at KS4, let's make sure that the lessons are not, as OFSTED recently put it, too dull.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Attention à votre syntaxe

J'ai trouvé cet article sur

NB: j'aime bien l'expression "une rencontre éclair" (speed dating?)

"Vous rêvez d'un couple stable et durable? Faites attention aux mots que vous utilisez: ils pourraient avoir un rôle à jouer dans la longévité de votre relation amoureuse, met en garde le Guardian.
C'est en tout cas ce que révèle une étude américaine publiée sur Psychological Science.
«Nous savons que les personnes tendent à  être attirées, à fréquenter, et à se marier avec ceux qui leur ressemblent en termes de personnalité, valeurs, et aspect physique, lit-on dans la présentation de l'étude. Tout de même, ces caractéristiques ne montrent que la surface de ce qui fait fonctionner une relation. La façon dont les gens parlent est aussi importante. Cette nouvelle étude montre que les personnes qui se ressemblent dans leur façon de parler sont plus compatibles.»
L'étude ne s'est pas penchée sur les noms ou les verbes, mais sur les mots fonctionnels, c'est-à-dire les articles, les pronoms, et certains adverbes.

D'après le professeur James Pennebaker, de l'université du Texas, qui a codirigé l'étude, ce sont ces mots qui constituent notre façon d'écrire et de parler. Les couples qui les emploient de la même façon ont des relations meilleurs et plus longues. Les chercheurs se sont demandé si le style écrit et parlé qu'on adopte permet de déterminer le comportement qu'on aura avec notre futur partenaire, ainsi que la durée de cette relation. Pour ce faire, ils ont conduit deux expériences avec l'aide d'un programme informatique qui permet de comparer le style de langage des partenaires.
Dans la première expérience, les chercheurs ont organisé des rencontres éclair de 4 minutes entre deux étudiants, et ont enregistré leurs conversations. Presque tous les potentiels couples ont eu les mêmes sujets de conversation: leurs études, d'où ils viennent, et s'ils aiment l'université.
«Toutes les conversations se ressemblaient, mais l'analyse du texte a permis de détecter de véritables différences dans la synchronie du langage, explique James Pennebaker. Les couples dont le style de langage se ressemblait le plus avaient quatre fois plus de chances de vouloir se revoir que les autres.»
La deuxième expérience confirme l'importance du langage dans le couple. Les chercheurs ont analysé pendant 10 jours des conversations par chat entre des couples. Près de 80% des couples ayant le même style d'écriture étaient toujours ensemble 3 mois après l'étude, alors que ce n'était le cas que de 54% pour ceux dont le style divergeait.
«Ce que les gens se disent est important, mais la façon dont ils le disent est peut-être encore plus révélatrice», explique le professeur Pennebaker. Qui conclut:
«Ce qui est formidable c'est que ce n'est pas notre choix, ça sort juste de notre bouche. Les gens n'ont pas conscience de synchroniser leurs discours.»"

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Should modern languages be made compulsory again at Key Stage 4?

Michael Gove stated that in the current review of the national curriculum consideration would be given to making a modern language compulsory, as it was a for a number of years up to 2004.

In reality, of course, not all pupils by any means studied a language up to 16 during that period. Thousands were "disapplied", which meant that they did not do a course, or else they did a very watered down language- related course of some kind.

Mr Gove would be wrong to reintroduce compulsion. This is why: firstly, there are very good pragmatic reasons for allowing children to drop languages at 14. Learning a language is hard, very hard. Many find it extremely unmotivating. Classes with unmotivated and less able children were (and would be again) difficult and fruitless. Teachers are not good enough to be able masses of unmotivated language learners. Discipline in schools would potentially decline and truancy may increase. (It is said that Estelle Morris, the minister who oversaw the change of policy in 2004, at least in part, decided to make languages optional at KS4 to reduce absenteeism.)

But there are also good curriculum reasons for keeping languages optional. Despite the pleas from language teachers and apologists for the learning of languages, the status of French, German and Spanish is not the same as the status of English in other countries. Many pupils do not see the value of learning a language and are unlikely to use it in later life to any significant extent. Arguments about broadening horizons and opening the mind will not wash with. Such pupils are likely to derive more benefit and enjoyment from studying other things.

By the way, I do not accept the argument that by making a subject compulsory, and by raising its status, you get students to do better at it.

Some argue that languages are becoming the preserve of the middle classes and that some pupils are being deprived of opportunities. There is some truth in this, but as long as languages remain an "entitlement" in schools, then brighter, motivated students will still able to profit from language learning. In addition, language teachers need to be better trained and to perform better in the classroom.

The current discussion of the curriculum is healthy. Why do we not take it further and be more radical? We worship at the temple of maths, just as we used to with Latin, when the vast majority of us use little beyond simple arithemtic, fractions and percentages. Why is maths compulsory to age 16? Religious education continues to be a compulsory lesson. This is an absurd anachronism, as is the "compulsory" daily act of worship. Let's be honest about that one and acknowledge we live in a secular society.

So, just for fun, here is my national curriculum:

KS3 (11-14). Compulsory English, maths, PE, geography, history, science, design and technology, art,  music, a modern language (just one), ICT, PSHCE (within which religions, citizenship and ethics could be taught)

KS4 (14-16) Compulsory English, history, geography, science, PE, PSHCE.
                     Optional: maths, modern languages, design and technology, art, music, media, business, RE,
                     classics, ICT, drama + others

I would then broaden the curriculum post 16. I'm doubtful about the use of GCSEs.

We should raise the status of PSHCE. It needs more periods and it needs to be examined seriously. You will see that, like Mr Gove, I believe we should raise the status of humanities, though I am doubtful about including RE as an Ebac subject. We should question the value we place on mathematics.

Did I miss anything?

The government has a detailed online consultation form about curriculum reform which can be found here.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


En cours de terminale (A2) nous sommes en train lire L'Etranger de Camus. J'ai l'habitude de lire La Peste avec mes élèves de terminale car j'y trouve plus de sujets à discuter, mais L'Etranger est habituellement considéré comme le chef d'oeuvre de Camus. On comprend bien pourquoi. Le style est à la fois original expérimental. Le fond représente une des plus célèbres contestations de la foi chrétienne. C'est un livre qui associe une simplicité de style à une profondeur de sujet.

Mais, cette fois, en lisant les premiers chapitres, nous y trouvons beaucoup d'humour aussi. Les réactions impassibles de Meursault peuvent choquer certains, mais nous y trouvons de quoi rire. Nous venons de lire l'épisode où le vieux Salamano a perdu son chien, celui qu'il traite de "Salaud, charogne" et qu'il châtie sans pitié. En fait, Salamano adore son chien et il est complètement désemparé par sa disparition. Le lecteur est ému par la tristesse de Salamano, mais, son histoire racontée, au début du paragraphe suivant Meursault bâille! Meursault est un homme qui sait écouter, mais ne sait pas écouter. Il entend, mais il ne juge jamais et il ne comprend que vaguement le vrai sens des événements. Il voit le monde du petit bout de la lorgnette, comme on dit.

On peut facilement trouver du plaisir à la façon dont il répond à la demande de mariage de sa petite amie, Marie. Meursault ne peut pas dire qu'il l'aime, mais il veut bien l'épouser, si elle le veut. Quand elle lui demande s'il l'aime, il répond qu'il ne comprend pas la question, mais sûrement pas! C'est Mr Spock ou Mr Data de Star Trek, et ces personnages font rire grâce à leur froideur.

Bref, les élèves semblent bien apprécier le texte, mais le plus difficile viendra dans la deuxième partie.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

La bière Duff débarque en France

Alors qu'elle apparaît depuis 20 ans à la télévision, la Duff, célèbre bière des Simpson, n'avait encore jamais été commercialisée. C'est désormais chose faite depuis qu'une brasserie allemande a déposé le nom. Elle s'apprête même à la commercialiser en France.
Pour tous les fans des Simpson, le mot Duff n'est pas inconnu. Marque de bière préférée de Homer Simpson depuis 20 ans, elle n'existait cependant pas dans la réalité. En effet, elle était inspirée de la célèbre bière américaine Budweiser, dont le nom est régulièrement abrégé pour devenir Bud. La marque et le logo n'avaient donc jamais été déposés... jusqu'à ce qu'une brasserie allemande s'en aperçoive.
Après avoir déposé la marque sortie de l'imagination de Matt Groening, créateur des Simpson, cette dernière a donc commencé la production de la mythique Duff. Celle-ci fonctionne tellement bien en Allemagne que la société l'a rapidement exporté en Belgique. Et pour les fans français qui ont un jour rêvé de faire comme Homer, elle s'apprête aujourd'hui à développer la marque en France. En effet, un importateur français basé à Cholet permet aujourd'hui la vente en gros pour les restaurants, les bars, les discothèques, et les épiceries.
Toutefois, pour ne pas s'attirer les foudres des producteurs des Simpson, la brasserie a demandé leur accord sur la commercialisation de la bière et l'utilisation du logo. Ces derniers ont simplement posé deux conditions : que les personnages de la série ne soient pas utilisés à des fins promotionnelles, et que la Duff ne soit pas distribuée aux États-Unis.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


Un de mes élèves a trouvé des pages intéressantes sur le site On recherche un prénom, puis on affiche une graphique qui montre la popularité du prénom au fil des années.

Voici un exemple. J'ai choisi au hasard le nom William:

Pas mal, non? En cours nous avons recherché les prénoms Christophe et Christopher. On constate que depuis un certain temps le nom Christopher a plus ou moins remplacé le nom Christophe. Allez regarder le site et amusez-vous.

Battlestar Galactica


Elspeth and I arrived late to this series, but we really liking going through the box set. It looks great, is well acted and takes on some serious issues (religion, identity, politics, war, terrorism, torture) in a sci fi setting. Less cerebral than Star Trek TNG, but more expensive, unremittingly grimmer and less cosy. Unlike Lost, it also knew when to stop. Recommended, if not reaching the heights of The West Wing, our favourite. I read that there is a good spin-off/prequel called Caprica from the same executive producer, Ronald D. Moore, Star Trek TNG alumnus. It's The Wire next.

Enjoying Tony Blair's autobiography, A Journey. He writes in an informal style, but I find it very readable. Don't let the reports of his night of lust with Cherie put you off. He comes across as even more driven that I had imagined.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Or is it Ebacc? Jury still out. Sounds like an advanced qualification for a Yorkshireman, but the "English baccalaureate" league tables were published today. Mr Gove, the man in a hurry, wants more pupils to learn history, geography and languages, inlcluding Latin and Greek (just how many pupils will learn Latin, but not a modern language??).

Warwick Mansell writes a very clear piece in The Guardian today:

I liked this in particular from Brian Lightman, general secretary of the ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders):

"The white paper says that tweaking things around the edges is not an option. And yet, here we are, with a curriculum review about to start and with no detailed overarching philosophy having been set out, tweaking things in performance tables. Schools are already changing their curriculums and taking reactive decisions, because of league table pressures rather than through a holistic view of their needs.
"This feels rushed. It's not the way to implement curricular change."
Munson says he is confused as to whether the government wants to force pupils to take certain subjects or not, while he also believes the selection of subjects for the English bac is backward-looking.
He says: "If the government believes modern languages should be compulsory, it should make them compulsory, instead of trying to introduce change by the back door like this.
"And, under the English baccalaureate, someone doing subjects such as Latin and ancient history is going to get recognition for it, while another doing ICT and engineering will not. That's a fine example of a modern, forward-thinking government, isn't it?"

This is rushed. It is also unfair to publish league tables based on something we knew nothing about before September 2010. Some school leaders will metaphorically raise two fingers to the system and allow their pupils to keep studying subjects appropriate to them. Others will be running around like Corporal Jones transforming their Key Stage 4 curriculum.

Now, maybe more children should be studying languages, geography and history. But the government needs to make a reasoned case for this rather than coming up with this wizard wheeze of using league tables to twist people's arms. What if we just didn't have league tables?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

OFSTED survey of MFL teaching

By Hannah Richardson - BBC web site, 11 January

"Language lessons are "weak" in too many secondary schools in England, Ofsted has said.
Pupils were not given enough chances to use the language they were learning in class, often because teachers were not prepared to do so, it added.
In some schools, reading was not taught beyond exercises in course books or previous exam papers.
But primary schools were found to be doing well in developing the teaching of modern languages.
Reporting on developments in language teaching since 2008, Ofsted drew on evidence of visits to 92 primary schools, 90 secondary schools and one special school.
Since languages were made non-statutory in 2004, the proportion of students taking language GCSEs has fallen from 61% in 2005 to 44% in 2010.
But the previous government had required all primary schools to offer languages to older pupils (Key Stage 2) by 2010.

Inspectors said progress towards providing this entitlement was good and that achievement was good or outstanding in six out of 10 primary schools visited.
They also said pupils' enjoyment of language learning in primaries was "clear".
"They were usually very enthusiastic, looked forward to lessons, understood why it was important to learn another language and were developing a good awareness of other cultures," the report said.
However, Ofsted added: "Secondary schools were not always building effectively on the progress made by children at primary schools."
It recommended that secondary schools think urgently how they could best build on the advances in primary school language teaching and learning.
Although inspectors found progress was good or outstanding in more than half of the 470 lessons observed, they said there "weaknesses" in too many lessons - particularly in speaking, listening and reading.

They also highlighted the lack of opportunities for students to use the languages they were learning.
The report said: "Too often, students were not taught how to respond to everyday requests and thus routine work in the target language and opportunities to use it spontaneously were too few."
Inspectors also criticised the way reading was taught in some schools.
They said that in these schools: "Reading was not taught beyond exercises in course books or previous examination papers and teachers made insufficient use of the wealth of authentic material that is available to develop students' speaking, listening, writing, knowledge about language, language learning strategies and intercultural awareness."
Nonetheless, most secondary students were found to have positive attitudes to learning languages despite low take-up at GCSE. But inspectors warned that GCSE teaching focused on achieving good exam results and that this did not always prepare pupils for study at a more advanced level.
English Baccalaureate Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said young people could gain tremendously from learning an additional language.
"However, too many students are failing to reach their potential, and do not choose to undertake more advanced study beyond 16, because of the way they are taught languages in many secondary schools."
A Department for Education spokesman said it would be encouraging more secondary pupils to take modern foreign language GCSEs through its introduction of the English Baccalaureate.
This is not a new qualification in itself, but a way of measuring how many pupils in a school pass GCSEs in a science, language and history or geography, as well as English and maths.
Ministers have said they will give it prominence in school performance league tables.
The spokesman added: "Ofsted has cited good progress in the teaching of languages in primary schools which is something the government wants to promote further so that pupils start secondary education with a good grounding in a modern foreign language."
Head of the Association of School and College Leaders Brian Lightman said: "With the inclusion of languages in the English Baccalaureate it is vitally important that the government sets out detailed plans and allocates resources in order to ensure that this is possible.
"In doing so it will need to take early action to safeguard the future of university modern languages departments."
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "Languages have long been among the subjects most severely affected by piecemeal changes to the secondary curriculum, especially the mistaken decision to make modern foreign languages optional.
"It is vital that the efforts made by schools to develop language learning are supported by funding and resources, including ensuring that children have access to lessons taught by qualified specialist language teachers."

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Lack of time

"The bleak picture was compounded by the publication last month of an OECD survey that showed that secondary school pupils in the UK spend less time studying languages than their counterparts anywhere else in the developed world. Only 7 per cent of the lesson time of 12 to 14 year-olds is allocated to languages, which is half the amount that they spend on sciences. This puts England joint bottom of a table of 39 countries, alongside Ireland and Estonia and behind Indonesia and Mexico."
Baroness Coussins (speaking in the House of Lords)
(Did she mean England or the UK?)

The new English Bacc will definitely give a boost to modern languages. This Wednesday the government will produce its first league table based on numbers of pupils achieving a good pass in maths, English, a science, a humanity and a modern language. It's pretty unfair, actually, producing such a "retrospective" league table (the English bacc was only made public last September so schools are being judged on criteria they had no idea about just weeks ago). Using league tables to get schools to alter their curriculum seems an odd way of going about things and I worry that schools in disadvantaged areas will look poorer because their pupils may not be best suited for learning traditional subjects. Does anyone else see the irony of a secretary of state for education claiming he wants heads and teachers to run the show, then setting up a league table system which strongly urges them in the direction of traditionalism? So much for localism. This is a classic example of top-downism.

That said, Baroness Coussins's reminder about curriculum time allocated to languages is important. It comes down to this: school leaders generally value languages a good way below maths, science and English. I could present a case (as did Simon Jenkins recently in The Guardian) about how we hugely overrate the importance of maths and science, as we used to with Latin, but at least they could allocate a reasonable amount of time to allow average pupils a chance of making serious progress. The common format of one hour lessons does nothing to help, since it reduces the number of contacts per week, but pupils, even bright ones, cannot make enough progress on one or two time slots per week.

At my school we offer four or five slots of 40 minutes a week for French. This is one reason, in my view, why our pupils do well. Little and often....

Thanks to Clare Seccombe for reminding us of Baroness Coussins's remarks.">

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Les routes en France deviennent moins dangereuses

Reuters: 6 janvier 2011

Le nombre de tués sur les routes de France est tombé pour la première fois sous le seuil de 4.000 en 2010, a annoncé jeudi le ministre de l'Intérieur, Brice Hortefeux.

"En effet, 3.994 personnes ont perdu la vie sur les routes, soit une baisse de la mortalité routière de 6,5% en 2010", précise-t-il dans un communiqué. Ce recul, le neuvième consécutif, correspond à près de 300 vies sauvées par rapport à 2009. Le nombre de blessés a parallèlement diminué de 13,1%, revenant à 79.056. Le bilan provisoire du seul mois de décembre, avec 294 morts, est en baisse de près de 4% par rapport au même mois de l'année précédente, ajoute le communiqué. Brice Hortefeux met aussi en avant une diminution de 20% du nombre d'usagers de deux-roues motorisés tués l'an dernier, ramené de 1.144 à 941.

"Je suis déterminé à poursuivre et amplifier ces bons résultats", déclare le ministre.
"L'orientation que je donnerai à ma politique de sécurité routière en 2011 est donc claire: défense absolue de la vie, tolérance zéro pour les délinquants de la route."

Les chiffres sont encourageants, mais un pays où on risque moins de mourir en voiture, c'est le Royaume-Uni.

Pourquoi? Nos routes sont plus saturées, alors nous sommes obligés de rouler plus doucement. On a vu ces dernières années une prolifération de rond-points sur les routes françaises ce qui a sans doute ralenti les automobilistes. Peut-être avons-nous mis en place davantage de mesures de sécurité sur nos routes les plus périlleuses. Peut-être aussi que nous sommes plus prudents au volant ou que nous buvons moins.

Quand je roule en France j'y trouve moins d'agressivité qu'il y a vingt ans, mais sur les autoroutes beaucoup d'automobiliste ont la mauvaise tendance de s'approcher trop près de vous avant de doubler. Cela se fait moins en Angleterre, je trouve.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Nouvel an

On a passé une semaine agréable à Puyravault. Pour fêter le nouvel an on a mangé avec Jacques et Catherine. Mes panais étaient un peu trop cuits, je dois l'avouer et le dessert d'Elspeth n'a pas marché comme il faut, mais ce n'était pas grave. Voici une photo de Jacques et moi:

Nous portons chacun un morceau de charbon et du sel, selon la tradition écossaise du "first footing". On sort de la maison juste avant minuit, puis on rentre avec le charbon (qui symbolise la chaleur) et le sel (qui symbolise la richesse).

Le premier janvier on a fait une petite promenade à La Rochelle qui était remarquablement calme.

Enfin, une petite publicité pour un restaurant végétarien qui se trouve près du centre de St Jean d'Angely. Il s'agit de "Carottes et Gingembre", tenu par Chantal Zerbib qui crée des plats inédits et délicieux. (Images en haut.)