Saturday, 30 July 2011

Yes: Fly From Here

 A teacher once said to me that the music you listen to when you are eighteen stays with you for life. For me, Yes were the band who brought together two things I enjoyed: rock and classical symphonies. Yes are the grandfathers of symphomic progressive rock music and they have just released their first album in ten years.

For this album Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitar), Alan White (drums) turned for help to their former collaborators Trevor Horn, the esteemed producer, and Geoff Downes (keys), who together formed the Buggles. Remember Video Killed the Radio Star? Horn and Downes had previously made the album Drama with Yes before moving on the other things. The singer is Benoit David whose high pitched tenor resembles that of Jon Anderson, the long standing leader of the band. He has been singing on tour with the band for a good while, having been the singer in a Canadian Yes tribute band.

This new album is seriously good! Trsut me! At around 48 minutes it clocks in fairly short and I did wonder whether in ten years they could have had more material in the bag, but that said, if this album had been released in the seventies it would have been considered a masterpiece of prog. Horn and Downes bring a pop sensibility to the band, so the album is littered with catchy tunes and hooks, but they have protected the symphonic prog credentials of the band by a reworking of an old Buggles tune We Can Fly From Here into a progressive suite, complete with overture, four "movements" and a reprise. As a suite it holds together less well than a prog "epic" like Close to the Edge, but the overture and reprise provide some needed structure. This song opens the album and after a few listens sticks stubbornly in the brain! Highlights are David's vocals and Steve Howe's guitar licks.

Track 7, The man You Always Wanted Me to Be, is penned by Chris squire who also sings. It's a pleasant, very singable pop song with one or two rhythmic twists. Track 8, Life on a Film Set, is pure Horn and Downes with catchy phrases, interesting meters and a touch of heaviness, somethign therwise fairly absent on the album.

Track 9, Hour of Need, is a beautiful Steve Howe song with that very fresh, clean, innocent sound that marked the band out in their earliest albums. Beautiful guitar playing here, along with a memorable melody and pleasing harmony vocals. When the boys sing together you hardly notice the absence of Jon Anderson.

Track 10, Solitaire, is a solo acoustic guitar piece, expertly played in the classical style and which reminds us of Howe's playing on the classic Mood for a Day. Good tunes again.

The closing track, Into The Storm, sees the whole band together again for the most rocking track, notable for some interesting time changes, wah wah bass from Chris Squire and, again, some great hooks.

So, I have to say that Yes, now largely into their sixties, have produced the goods and I am struggling to get the tunes out of my head. So, in the unlikely event that you used to like prog, or even more unlikely, that you still do, try this album!

Friday, 29 July 2011

End of an era

Got back last night from Normandy after six days with the Year 8s at the Château du Molay near Bayeux. Elspeth came with me this time, which was nice after all the stories I've told her about the place over the years. This was the last trip after 22 years of 2nd year trips, at least 17 of which have been at the château. It was a slight relief to get all the kids back safe and sound, our only hiccup this time being a broken down coach on the way back to Calais which added nearly three hours to the journey.

Once again we went to the Bayeux tapestry, Arromanches, the Mémorial in Caen, Omaha Beach American War cenetery and Memorial, the Mont St Michel, St Malo and Riva Bella beach in Ouistreham. Why change a winning formula?

The kids were brilliant: happy, well-behaved, interested and quite calm. No late night antics to speak of.

I shall miss the château, but hope to go back there to stay sometime in the future. If you don't know this part of Normandy I thoroughly recommend it. It even stayed dry (just about).

Le château du Molay, Molay Littry.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Et si la Wallonie devenait un département de la France?

Communiqué de Presse de Marine Le Pen, Présidente du Front National :
La crise politique que connaît la Belgique s’aggrave, ne trouve pas de solution et jette Wallons et Flamands dans une incertitude terrible. Personne ne se réjouit de cette situation et chacun en France partage l’inquiétude des Belges.
En cette veille de fête nationale belge, Il est néanmoins de la responsabilité de la France et des Français de tendre la main aux Wallons.
Si la Belgique venait à éclater, si la Flandre prenait son indépendance, hypothèse de plus en plus crédible, la République française s’honorerait d’accueillir en son sein la Wallonie. Les liens historiques et fraternels qui unissent nos deux peuples sont trop forts pour que la France abandonne la Wallonie.
Il va de soi que ces décisions importantes pour l’avenir de nos peuples ne pourraient être prises qu’après consultation par référendum des Français et des Wallons.

C'est un réel soulagement.

The post CA era: what next?

So, the death knell has sounded for controlled assessments and it looks very likely that in the nearish future we shall see a return to terminal exams for GCSE. I have to say that as we approach our third and last year group doing CAs we have got used to them, students seem happy with the system and the marks they produce reflect their aptitude. My main reservation has concerned the importance of pure memorisation in the speaking tests. This was a step too far. The written CAs are very much like part of the old coursework format and allow all students to produce acceptable work.

Anyway, the wheel turns and there has been some discussion on the TES forum, mainly led by Martin Lapworth of Taskmagic fame, about what type of exam we should have for GCSE.

Here is my two penneth:

Firstly, tiering should be maintained to allow the examination to be a good test, but manageable by the relatively less able whom we are encouraging to keep languages going.

Secondly it should be fair but challenging test.

Thirdly, it should be as reliable as possible, marked externally.

Fourthly, the testing regime should resemble to a good degree the teaching regime.

And last, grading should be in line with other subjects, which will require some adjustment.

I would be happy enough to see a return to an equal balance of marks across the four skills. I would maintain separate tests for listening, reading, speaking and writing. There are good practical reasons for this: firstly, listening will still be carried out using a CD player or similar from the front and should take at least 30 minutes. If you add on a reading test of about 50 minutes this could make the exam too long.

I would not combine reading and writing for the same reason.


A mixture of conversation and announcements tested using test types such as matching, gap fill, multi-choice. I would allow greater use of English on the paper for Foundation Tier, but would favour avoiding English as far as possible at Higher Tier. The "backwash effect" is powerful and we would end up with course books filled with English and too little target language use in the classroom. Testing needs to resemble teaching.


A range of sources, some of them authentic or adapted from authentic sources. A range of test types including matching, multi-choice, gap fill etc. Again, I would discourage English on the paper at Higher Tier. The hardest questions could use multi-choice with good use of distractors. It makes sense to produce papers which can be marked quickly and cheaply, so multi-choice works well.


I would return to tiering. We need a balance of tasks which support the less able and stretch the most able. Role-play ensures a degree of spontaneity, traditional conversation allows for a good degree of prior learning (why not?) and a degree of improvisation if the guidelines are set correctly. I would not return to pre-learned presentations. Pictures for discussion are a possibility at Higher Tier. Foundation tier orals need not be shorter as less able candidates often speak more slowly and need more time, even if they have less to say. Orals would be recorded and marked externally.


Tiered again. This could be a one hour examination at Higher Tier, about 40 minutes at Foundation. The Foundation paper could include a simple grammar assessment (e.g. cloze) and a piece of connected writing based on English bullet points. A choice could be offered. The Higher paper could consist of a grammar task (e.g. cloze) and a piece of connected writing using English bullet points of increasing difficulty. Again, a choice of tasks could be offered. No dictionary (dictionaries vary so this they would make the grading less reliable).

You could argue that what I have laid out is unadventurous and traditional. Well, I could have gone more prehistoric by including picture essays, translation to and from the foreign language, more questions in English. I could have looked forward by suggesting a greater use of technology, such as video recordings for listening assessment or individual listening facilities as per A-level, but there are costs involved in this. I could have allowed for more creativity from students, but as soon as you allow students to produce coursework style pieces of writing, you are introducing an element of unreliability in the assessment because you cannot be sure how much other help has been received.

I hope OFQUAL and the exam boards are getting on to all this already so that whatever we get will have gone through a consultation with teachers. I hope they will look at models from other sources such as Asset Languages in the UK and overseas.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


Just picked up this link via Twitter:

The team say:

"At Memrise, we're integrating everything we know about the art and science of memory to help you learn faster. Memrise is based in Cambridge, MA and was founded by Greg Detre, a PhD neuroscientist from Princeton, and Ed Cooke, a Grandmaster of Memory. From the science of memory, Dr. Detre brings an acute understanding of how best to strengthen memories, by testing and reviewing them over time in the most efficient manner. From the art of memory, Grandmaster Cooke brings an understanding of how learning rejoices in anything that is pithy, colourful, humorous, fantastical, attractive, scary, important, unusual or vivid.
We think that learning can be a special kind of creative pleasure, and we're building impeccable learning products that will help you learn quicker and more creatively than you ever thought possible."

How is it meant to work?

 They say:

"The more your brain does to encode a word, the richer and more robust the memory that results. Memrise has been designed to help you form deep, vivid memories every time. We do this by providing you with mems at the point where you first encounter a new word. Mems are vivid images or nuggets of interesting and relevant information that help deepen the way your brain engages with what you're learning. They work best when they stimulate your senses, imagination and your emotions. Memories that result from such processing last longer, they stand out better and they are more enjoyable and satisfying to recall."

I've had a little go on the site, which is free, and it looks like quite a fun way for committed linguists to broaden their vocabulary. You can compete with others and it links with Facebook. There is a leadership boatrd and you have your own dashboard with your stats. Not sure how it works financially for the Memrise team yet as there are not any ads and there is no subsciption.

It all comes from Cambridge, Mass, USA.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

"Resources panic"

My colleagues in the department have recently commented on what they call 
"resources panic". I know what they mean. We seem to have such a huge range of 
resources: powerpoints, web sites, worksheets, songs, text 
book exercises, CDs and games, that you sometimes feel snowed under. "Back in 
the day" had a text book to work with, cassette, repromasters, worksheets you produced 
and, if you tried hard, the occasional recording from French long wave radio! 
The problem now is not where to find stuff, but choosing from the plethora of 
resources available.

Our approach to the scheme of work (or is it a "scheme of learning" now?) is to 
have a thick ring-binder for each year group with most of our sheets and 
references to other materials all in one place. The SoW is not one in which 
every lesson is mapped out hour by hour. Because we see pupils four or even 
five times a week for 40 minutes at a time, it makes more sense to plan some 
lessons ahead, but to adapt as you go along. I also like the idea of allowing 
my colleagues some scope for creativity. I'd hate to think we all did the same 
thing all the time. If we just had two sessions of one hour or 70 minutes a 
week, I would be tempted to be more prescriptive.
I pick up loads of good ideas from people's blogs, twitter links, emails etc,
but I only end up using a small minority of them, partly because, like many
teachers, I have a limited repertoire of practices which I know work well,
and partly because I am stuck in my ways!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Schools push students into Ebacc subjects

I guess this is no surprise and of course it was the whole point! Michael Gove's Ebacc scheme is having the effect he had hoped for as schools get pupils, at short notice it seems, to switch to languages and humanities. There is a tricky balance here, isn't there? On the one hand most language teachers applauded the notion of an Ebacc scheme which would bring back more pupils to modern languages; on the other hand, some fear, as do I, that non- Ebacc subjects will be devalued and some pupils may end up doing subjects which they find too hard, too dull or too irrelevant.

We know that schools have been smart in raising their league table level by allowing students to do subjects they find easier or just more relevant to them. We also know that there are not enough pupils learning languages, history and geography. Headteachers will need to set up curriculum models which allow students to do subjects which are both good for them and which they enjoy. Perhaps it is right that these decisions should be taken at a local level, as circumstances vary from area to area and "one size fits all" is not the way to go.

As the French move haltingly towards more accountability they need to learn from some of the lessons from outre Manche. League tables and value added scores can have some unexpected and nefarious effects!

Sunday, 10 July 2011


Just come across this very good file and worksheet sharing site. The quality of the worksheets looks generally very good (look out for some surprising errors though) and some would be a very useful addition to a French teacher's resources.

You can search the site via level, skill type, student type (e.g. adult, primary, secondary) and activity type (e.g. game, exam revision, lesson plan, worksheet).

The webmasters say:

"Nous sommes une communauté d'enseignants de langues des quatre coins du globe et nous partageons nos fiches pédagogiques sur cette tribune libre d'utilisation.  Ce site s'adresse à tous les enseignants de langues, que vous soyez en milieu scolaire ou que vous donniez des cours privés.  Ensemble, collaborons pour simplifer notre planification de cours et rendre notre enseignement plus enrichissant!"

Definitely worth a coup d'oeil.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

De quel candidat êtes-vous le plus proche?

Ok, c'est un de ces tests un peu bêtes, mais je ne pouvais pas y résister. Je me suis retrouvé proche de François Bayrou. Curieux, ce n'était pas forcément la solution que j'attendais!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Têtes de séries

 Je suis fana d'un certain nombre de séries sur DVD (en ce moment c'est Boston Legal, notre plaisir coupable), donc je jette un petit coup d'oeil sur le blog de Pierre Langlais. Chose peu surprenante, on y trouve des anglicismes comme remake (m), brainstorming (m) , playlist (f) et geek (m), mais j'ai été quelque peu surpris de trouver le verbe forwarder dans la phrase:

"Comme leur voix trouvait un échos particulier dans la presse internationale (voir ce solide argumentaire forwardé par un de ces collègues, Guillaume Regourd), j’ai décidé de faire un “pour / contre Treme.” 

N'existe-t-il pas d'autre verbe pour exprimer cette idée?

réexpédier? transférer? faire parvenir?

OK, si vous insistez, voici mon top-ten des séries américaines:

1.  The West Wing - remarquable du début à la fin
2.  The Wire - idem
3.  Star Trek TNG
4.  Seinfeld
5.  The Sopranos
6.  Battlestar Galactica (deuxième version)
7.  Lost (la première saison surtout)
8.  (Dr) House
9.  Boston Legal
10. Mad Men

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Huffington Post

Je ne savais pas que le Huffington Post, célèbre journal en ligne, très apprécié par des démocrates aux Etats-Unis, avait une version british. Qui plus est, celle-ci contient des pages sur l'actualité en France.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Should we put grades on pupils' work?

For a number of years there have been calls from some quarters for teachers to stop putting grades on pupils' work. A seminal article in this context seems to be "Inside the black box" by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam written in 2001. They cite research in a passionate argument against grades. The argument is familiar: kids only look at the grade and not the comment, the bright ones become complacent and the less brilliant are deflated. Allocating national curriculum levels has the same effect, they would argue.

Donald Clark summarises "why marking sucks" in his entertaining blog:

So why is it that I have resisted a policy of no marks on work? Well, we have spoken to pupils about this and we have discussed it more than once in the department. It has to be said also that our pupils are in the 11-18 age range and are nearly all are of above average aptitude. Black and Wiliam's study, as I recall, found that the effects of "no marks" were greatest for pupils of lower ability.

Our pupils say they would be frustrated not to have a grade. They say they want to see their letter grade (we also give an effort grade). Some say that they are motivated by the fact that they keep getting A grades and do not want less. To state the obvious, a grade is also an efficient, short-hand way of describing the quality of the work. It is the case that many, though not all, MFL homework tasks are routine, repetitive tasks where the focus is on grammatical accuracy and correct spelling. They are often reinforcing a pattern practised in the classroom. There is often little to add to the mark, bar something to the effect: well done, keep it up, you are making good progress, try to remember the endings next time. This contrasts with the type of marking you might see in English, history, geography or art.

I acknowledge that pupils often look at the grade and need to be prompted to look at corrections. I should get them to do corrections more often, just as I should just underline more errors, rather than writing in the correct version. (I think I neglect to get the kids to do corrections because I sense it is a dull task for them.)

We have a system where A= "very accurate, with a good range, among the best we would see at RGS"; B = "good work, but with some error and a narrower range"; C = "quite a few errors, evidence of some misunderstanding"; D = "weak - misunderstood, inaccurate" (I have simplified our descriptors somewhat). We do not routinely use national curriculum levels when marking work.

A primary school colleague recently observed to me that written marking is not very useful and that the most powerful way of motivating a child through assessment is to speak to the child. This makes sense. That little chat you have at the end of the lesson, be it encouraging or otherwise, is often much more powerful than a grade or a très bien.

So my conclusion: try not to mark too much, but do enough so that the kids know you care and are making sure they are getting the work done, resist the temptation to write in corrections when children can often see the error themselves, give marks most of the time because children like them and they motivate, and lastly, write in motivational and useful comments (e.g. how to get better) when you have the time. Oh, and use any colour you like, provided it is visible.

Comments welcomed!

Saturday, 2 July 2011


You have to wonder about their motives, but heck, why not applaud an excellent initiative from O2? They have done their own version of Teachertube. I'm not sure the latter has ever really caught on now that Youtube is widely available to teachers in schools, but o2learn is an upload site which aims to help students with their studies and exam revision. Teachers record and upload five minute "micro lessons". The site specifically targets students aged 13-18, so that may be an advantage over Teachertube. It is moderated for taste, though not necessarily total accuracy, as their FAQs page points out. Even so, they claim to have subject specialists from an external agency who do the checking. A ratings system may deal with that to some extent.

All videos are viewed before appearance on the site and it is supported by a wide range of respected educational organisations. It's in beta form, but a few teachers have already uploaded short teaching videos. I looked at a couple of French ones and discovered local Knaresborough teacher Paul Keogh (MonsieurDerrière) doing his "spelling with your bum". I also watched a sober but effective presentation of compound verbs for AS students.

The site loaded quickly on my ipad, looks good and was easy to navigate, with a separate category for French. They are attracting teachers and schools with monetary prizes for the most watched and highest rated videos too. Worth a look and could be recommended to students. Catchy and clever title too.