Monday, 30 April 2012

New site

The new-look site is now up and running. Thanks to Harry Green for the redesign. I have left some of the resources free (Spanish, powerpoints, teacher guides and whiteboard notes and links). The main resources sections are accessible by subscription at £20 per year. Just go to the site if you wish to sign up. I have chosen a low cost annual subscription, hoping that lots of people will choose to continue using the resources. I shall be adding lots of new stuff. I hope you like the simple, easy to navigate design.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A-level reforms?

I read that the head of Ofqual Glenys Stacey is looking at wide-ranging reforms to A-levels and is now seriously concerned about grade inflation. She has also suggested that modules may need reforming and that they may be appropriate for some subjects but not others. The possibility is also raised that not all subjects require an AS-level.

I always thought it was a shame that when the Curriculum 2000 discussions took place we did not take advantage of the opportunity to seriously broaden A-levels. The "gold standard" people won the argument and we ended up with the "dog's breakfast" situation in England and Wales whereby students usually do four subjects at AS-level, then three at A-level. I would have preferred us to have broadened to five subjects studies over two years.

It is hard to see how one could do away with AS-levels for some subjects and not others. If a student studied a subject for one year, then dropped it, what qualification would they be awarded?

As for grade inflation, yes, it has occurred, as it does all over the world, though my feeling is that in modern languages it has had less effect at the top of the scale than lower down. An A grade is still hard to get (A* particularly so, but that's another issue), whereas the weaker student who, 30 years ago, may have failed, would now get a low pass grade. One obvious antidote to grade inflation is to only allow a certain percentage of students to pass at each grade. There are arguments against this, but given how hard it is to define what an A, C or E grade precisely represents, then I would understand a move in this direction.

Modules never suited modern languages, of course, so we end up with the costly process of large numbers of re-sits in the A2 year. Along with many colleagues I would not be unhappy to see the back of modular exams which can disrupt teaching and may have had a deleterious effect on a student's overall understanding of a subject. It is quite possible to test students' understanding during a course without resorting to the formal exam system.

Vested interests and tradition may mean we continue to work with our highly specialised post 16 curriculum. A greater involvement of universities in A-level exam setting will only reinforce the narrowness of our curriculum.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

50 speaking activities for the classroom

I thought I would compile a list of types of pupil speak in the classroom. Many games can be subsumed within the activity types below. I know you can think of more.
1. Whole group repetition or phonics activity (including whispering, shouting, singing)
2. Part group repetition (small groups, rows, pairs)
3. Reading aloud individually or as a group from text on the board (good for sound - spelling link)
4. Reading aloud from a worksheet, homework task or text book
5. Answering a question with hand up (e.g. from picture, picture sequence, structured question)
6. Answering a question without hand up
7. In pairs, taking turns to say a word, phrase or sentence until someone runs out of ideas
8. Playing a guessing game in pairs (e.g. guessing what your partner did last weekend, playing "battleships") 9. Doing an information gap task in pairs (e.g. completing a schedule or diary)
10. Making up true/false statements (in pairs or for whole class)
11. Making up false utterances to be corrected by partner or teacher
12. Lip reading in pairs
13. Speaking spontaneously to a time limit (or get partner to time you as far as you can go)
14. Speaking into a microphone/digital recorder and listening back
15. Giving a presentation to a partner or in front of the class
16. Chanting or singing verb conjugations or vocabulary themes
17. Correcting false sentences made up by the teacher
18. Oral gap filling (teacher reads aloud leaving gaps to be filled in)
19. Singing along with a target language song
20. Miming guessing games (e.g. "dumb customer")
21. Task oriented discussion activities (e.g. murder mystery or solving a complex problem)
22. Speed dating pairwork
23. Complex whole class games (e.g. Alibi)
24. Paired dictation, including running dictation
25. Pupils asking the teacher questions
26. Pupils acting as teacher in front of the class and running oral work
27. Making a simple request (May I go to the toilet? may I take off my jacket? Can you repeat please?)
28. Repeating or responding in a language lab
29. Reading out numbers (e.g. bingo or Countdown)
30. Chanting or singing the alphabet and numbers
31. Playing aural anagrams with a partner
32. Describing a simple picture for a partner to draw
33. Taking part in an oral assessment
34. Playing Chinese Whispers
35. Practising or rehearsing for an oral test
36. Formal debate
37. Presenting and videoing a news broadcast
38. Performing a sketch or playlet
39. Role playing (e.g. parent and child situations, crystal ball, agony aunt, palm reading)
40. Describing a picture and making up a story from it
41. Planning a visit in pairs or as a group
42. Spot the difference pictures discussion
43. Making up a story one word at a time
44. Word association
45. Fizz-buzz with numbers
46. Doing word sequences e.g. say a word beginning with the last letter of the previous word
47. Guessing games (e.g. guess the flashcard, Je pense à quelque chose)
48. Accumulation games (e.g. Je vais au marché et j'achète...)
49. Simple transformation drills (present to past, present to future)
50. Substitution drills (teacher gives a sentence, pupil changes one element)

A fresh look

I've decided to change the design template for the blog. Partly this is just for a change, but the new colour scheme and unfussy Blogger design fits better with the re-designed website, which should be up and running from May 1st. An A-level ICT student, Harry Green, has been working on this for a few months and we are close to "going live". As you probably know, I am making most of my site's resources available on a small subscription basis - £20 a year. You'll be able from 1st May to go to the site and sign up using PayPal or your debit/credit card. If that is awkward for any schools I can also process cheque payments.

This is to be my paid hobby in retirement, competing with spending more time with my wife Elspeth Jones reading, blogging, singing, drumming, travelling and exercising. I have no idea how many people will choose to subscribe, although I have had quite a few inquiries already.

I hope you like the new, simple look.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Ofqual - review of controlled assessment

I read the following on the Ofqual website:

We know from the research we've already commissioned that, although controlled assessment has some benefits over coursework, it presents problems for schools in managing the practical arrangements across subjects and there are concerns about its impact on teaching and learning.
Our research included the views of over 800 teachers. One of the findings was that the advice and guidance for teachers was inconsistent and confusing. We asked the GCSE awarding organisations to review their guidance and a revised version of the joint JCQ instructions for conducting controlled assessment will be issued for September.

We will now review the case for controlled assessment on a subject by subject basis. There are currently 35 different sets of controlled assessment regulations. We’ll be looking at whether there is a good case for all of those subjects to have controlled assessment when GCSEs are next revised for teaching in September 2015, following the review of the National Curriculum in England. It is important that assessment in each subject is valid and supports good teaching and learning.
We will report the outcome of this review in the autumn and we will be seeking the views of teachers and other stakeholders in that work.

We will also look carefully at what lessons we can learn from the current model. For example where subjects have controlled assessment now, it’s worth 25% or 60% of the overall assessment. There will need to be a sound rationale for how much of the assessment is done by controlled assessment, with clear benefits to the quality of the assessment, as well as to teaching and learning. And we’ll also be seeking the views of teachers and other stakeholders on this aspect of the work as well.
Our research on controlled assessment can be found at

I hope they take the opportunity to make some changes to the situation with modern languages. I have previously blogged about the unsatisfactory nature of CAs. For example, there is no evidence for the unrecorded oral mark so that teachers could, if they wished, make this up. Much has also been said about how CAs, both oral and written, become a test of memory and line-learning ability. Then there is the issue of general reliability - noone can guarantee what input goes into a controlled assessment - Google translate? A parent linguist? We have also heard from many teachers how CAs distort the conduct of lessons at the expense of effective MFL methodology. Not to mention the inconsistencies in the carrying out of CAs and formal examinations.

These factors indicate to me that we should abandon controlled assessment for MFL and find creative ways of producing a set of terminal tests accessible to a wide range of aptitude. This is entirely feasible. We also have the opportunity to alter the mark weightings for each skill, giving greater importance to listening and less to writing. The former 4 x 25% was reasonable, but I would argue for the following: L = 30%, Sp = 30%, R = 20%, Wr = 20%. We also have the opportunity to reinstate mixed skill tests.

Ofqual and the boards should look around for the best examples of assessment both here and abroad.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Le Mont St Michel - "ça va être la galère!"

Photo : Veolia Transdev
Pendant près de 20 ans j'ai visité le Mont St Michel presque tous les ans en compagnie de mes élèves de cinquième et mes collègues. On y trouve des magasins de souvenirs (d'une qualité variable), de petits musées, des cafés, des restaurants sans parler de l'abbaye tranquille qui se trouve à son sommet. Depuis plusieurs années on parle d'interdire l'accès au site par des véhicules. (La digue dont ils se servent a un effet nuisible sur la baie, créant un ensablement excessif.) Alors à partir de samedi ce sera chose faite. Mais les touristes devront attendre le pont-passerelle qui est en construction et qui sera terminé en 2015. Pour l'instant on pourra prendre des bus électriques qui emprunteront la digue d'accès existante. Mais ça ne sera pas forcément facile......!B4BXUsXLN3vps/

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Target language

Below is part of an essay on lesson planning from the website. One thing I would add to it is that these days Ofsted inspectors like to see evidence of progress within a lesson. This is problematic in languages where we are gradually accumulating skills over a long period. If you neglect good models of target language I think it is inevitable that pupils' listening skills and general comprehension will be poorer in the long run. Therefore you should judge progress over months and years, not 60 minutes.

Here is what I have written. I hope it represents common sense for young teachers setting out on a language teaching career.

"Language teachers talk a lot about this and it is fair to say that opinions vary! I’ll put this as simply as I can: children need to hear lots of the target language (what is sometimes called in the jargon ”comprehensible input”) to allow their brains to exploit their natural language learning capability. But children also need to develop a relationship with you, the teacher, and they need to understand what they have to do in a lesson.

So, my rule would be use the target language most of the time, maybe in chunks of ten minutes or so, then “release tension” with some English. Try not to constantly “echo”, by which I mean use a bit of French then instantly translate it into English. Why should a child bother to listen to the French if they know you are going to translate it? Remember that we tend to over-estimate how much a child understands in the target language.

Why not occasionally check meaning with a Comment dit-on en anglais? Whatever you do, don’t lose the class by speaking too much of the target language for them. Students often report that that they lose interest when the teacher doesn’t use English enough. Match your use of target language to the needs of the class, but try to use as much target language as you can. Don’t get lazy about it.

Ultimately the amount of the target language used will depend on the quality of the lesson planning. A well-planned lesson with good visual support will allow you to use lots of the target language with nearly every class. Use mime, gesture, cognates, flashcards, pictures, powerpoint, written words on the board – whatever it takes."

Friday, 20 April 2012

Aural anagrams and jumbled sentences

Just to share a couple of language activities which worked well with my classes and which need nil preparation (always a good thing).

Aural anagrams

A simple plenary or starter activity to develop eye for detail and spelling. This works for all levels as long as the class can spell in French.

You just spell out words or phrases, mixing up the letters as you do so, as if you are spelling an anagram. The pupils may guess the word at any time and you can do the activity as a team game. You can penalise those who make random guesses too soon by taking off points from their team.

Aural jumbled sentences

Not dissimilar to the above, but this time you operate at the whole word level. I did this today with my Year 7 class who are learning the verb aller with prepositions and places about town

e.g.  Le cinéma est en face de la gare.
       Nous sommes derrière le musée près de la piscine.

You read out the words in the wrong order and the first to guess the whole sentence gets a point. I like this activity because it gets pupils to think at the syntactic level, making links between subjects, verbs and prepositions.

Pupils seem to like puzzle-like games of this sort and, although they do not resemble genuine communication, they do serve a useful linguistic purpose.


My A2 class made me laugh today. We are practising for the oral exam during which they'll be talking about the films of Claude Berri, including Jean de Florette and Manon des sources. They were wondering about how they might impress the visiting examiner and get an advantage. One suggested taking out a harmonica and playing the familiar theme tune, another suggested dressing as a hunchback, but my favourite was the normally very reserved young lady who thought it would be an idea to go in with a goat in tow.

Favourite line from Manon des sources - Ugolin: C'est pas moi qui pleure, c'est mes yeux.

I do like my A-level classes.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Why the MFL GCSE exam is not fit for purpose

Why are many language teachers unhappy with the current GCSE MFL exams and are they right to be so?

Firstly, the assessment does not meet the key requirement of an exam. It is unreliable. 60% of the marks are based on four controlled assessments, two of them oral, two written. Stage One of the CA process involves teacher input and this will vary greatly. Some teachers will direct pupils more closely than others to the task itself. Some will provide templates, some will give pupils more freedom. Some will correct work at Stage One, others may not. During Stage Two (when pupils prepare their task) the teacher cannot be certain what input has fed into the task. Did the student get help from someone else? Did the student use an internet translator? Did the student copy another essay from the internet?

As far as the oral tasks are concerned, only one has to be recorded. The exam board requests a sample of these for moderation. The second set of marks cannot be verified by the exam board and the teacher could simply make them up. In saying this, I am not claiming that teachers do abuse the system, but I am saying that the system should not allow for such abuse. I would be surprised if some teachers did not bend the rules, especially given the pressure on us to achieve the best grades in this era of what is known as "high stakes accountability".

The actual taking of the oral is also open to abuse, since there is nothing to stop a teacher allowing a candidate to read out from a script. Depending on the teacher's good will is inadequate. Furthermore, the setting of tasks is inconsistent, as the exam board acknowledge in their advice to centres. Some teachers set tasks which are too challenging, some not challenging enough. And what about the optional planning sheet? Candidates may choose to use a planning sheet for controlled assessments (with no conjugated verbs), but there is nothing to stop a teacher then disposing of an inappropriate planning sheet.

As far as the written assessments are concerned, once again it would be hard to prove if a candidate had received unfair assistance. Signing a form to say he or she has not done so is meaningless. Dubious cases never "go to court". "Controlled conditions" is not the same as exam conditions. Why do exam boards take such pains to keep teachers out of examination halls, yet allow them to supervise examined essays in a classroom where candidates cannot be sat apart properly? The system is again open to abuse and totally inconsistent.

Controlled assessments are in any case deeply flawed as a means of assessing students. In the case of the oral, they rely on memory learning and regurgitation. The exam boards advise teachers to avoid such practice and to allow for spontaneity, claiming this produces better performances.I do not believe this for one moment. The highest marks go to candidates who speak at great length, having memorised almost every word. The pupils themselves recognise how flawed the system but are prepared to play the game.

The written essays are not dissimilar. Once again the most successful students will have pre-learned an essay and copied it out in class. What's more, the allocation of marks for each skill is inappropriate. 30% for speaking is justifiable, 30% for writing is not. The key skill of listening is downgraded because MFL has to fit in the same straitjacket as other subjects. This has a backwash effect, distorting teaching and leading to too much spoon-feeding.

The current regime of discrete skill testing also has a harmful effect on pedagogy. Why do we use so much English in listening and reading comprehension papers at GCSE, but avoid doing so for A-level? Teachers in England will always teach to the test. It is in our DNA. So if an exam uses English questions, the teachers will follow. We rejected this type of testing over a decade ago and have no embraced it again. The results can be latest text books.

Lastly, the June 2011 experience demonstrated a good deal of inconsistency in the application of the mark scheme (this was partly addressed in June 2012), especially for the written assessments. Teachers do not feel they can trust the boards to get the marks right. This is owing to inexperience with a new specification and the lack of face to face standardisation and rigorous moderation.

All in all, MFL teachers are right to criticise the current assessment regime. We need something more consistent, just, accurate and robust which will test knowledge and skills acquired, the ability to think on the spot and improvise, not just set language to memory. We need it to be appropriate for a wide range of abilities and work of the classroom.

Friday, 13 April 2012

MYLO Track List challenge

I am planning to use this MYLO challenge with a very good Year 9 class quite soon. The interactive challenge is called Track List. You can go straight to the link and ignore the rest of this post if you wish. For a quick description, read on...

If you choose Option 2 on the linked page you can get straight into the activities. Students will need a computer and headphones. The theme of the whole challenge is setting up a list of music tracks for training. the main vocabulary areas are music and sport. Grammar includes adjective agreement and tense usage.

The first activities are Get Warmed Up and Let's Talk Music. These establish some key vocab and are worth doing. You'll soon see that it is an advantage to be familiar with the perfect and future tenses. That's one reason I would suggest doing this task late in Y9 or after.

The next task is called Motivating Music and is essentially for reading comprehension and vocab building. I'll give you some detail on this one. Pupils should use the pop-up dictionary when they need it, as they will straight away! The text is quite vocab heavy. They do an interactive vocab matching task first. They can click on the French words to hear them pronounced. I would encourage them to do this, as kids tend to rush online interactive tasks. There follows a brief "find the French" task - pupils type out the words.Accented characters are offered. This is handy and will avoid time spent explaining ALT codes etc. If you make small errors you get feedback, but you have to attempt an answer to carry on. The task ends with some well pitched multi-choice questions in English. You get Kudos points based on your performance on the task. (If you sign up you can compare your scores with others.) This first activity should take at least ten minutes.

The fourth task is called Speaking of Sport. This begins with a good listening task. Pupils click on play then drop words into a "mentioned" or "not mentioned" box. There then follows two matching tasks and two ordering tasks based on the same material (which is very clear and quite authentic). The level of these tasks is challenging enough for very good Y9s, or even older pupils. All in all, a good set of tasks which should take at least 10 minutes.

Activity 5 is called French New Wave. We start with a true/false reading task. nest up is a gap fill with three options for each gap. The options aren't too subtle, but effective enough. They are like the Kerboodle gap fills you get with the AQA French AS course. The next task is a gap fill with the focus on adjective agreements. Then there is a brief drag and drop grammar/comprehension task followed by a matching task with a grammar/comprehension focus. That's the end of that activity. Again, about 10 minutes would be enough, I would guess.

The next activity is called Radio Rhythms. This is about writing accurately and depends on the student having taken on board th language of the previous tasks. There are five questions. Students type in answers and there is a feedback page at the end. More demanding, this, but good stuff.

Then there is a game called On Your Marks. Actually, it isn't really a game, it's just some recap exercises done against the clock. I think this will motivate students, though. If they fail first time, they will want to repeat the task. I failed first time through.

So overall, what do I think of this challenge? It's only very loosely related to the Olympics, but the exercises are well-conceived, it all works well and the instructions are clear. I think pupils will enjoy the tasks, be challenged and learn some good new language from them. All skills bar speaking are practised. I shall book two 40 minute sessions in the computer room. It would be easy to set some follow-up homework afterwards too. They could, for instance, make their own track lists and justify their choices.

Well done, you MYLO people.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

"One size fits all" policies

I'd like to offer you three examples of where "one size fits all" education policies have a deleterious effect on the practice of modern language teaching.

The first is school timetables.

There was a time when most schools designed their timetable around periods of about 40 minutes, using double periods for practical subjects and games/PE. Later many state schools moved to a 25 period week with each period lasting one hour. This was in part, I feel sure, because of the popularity of the three part lesson (now largely discredited). In an attempt to raise levels in literacy and mathematics it was felt by the educational establishment that teachers should teach lessons based on a starter, main course and plenary. Model lessons were designed for primary teachers to ensure that even inexperienced or less effective teachers would be able to deliver a successful lesson.

Secondary schools latched on to this, and for this reason and others, many schools opted for one hour lessons. This did language teaching a great deal of harm, as it is generally well attested that the "little and often" principle works well in modern language teaching. In many secondary schools these days students get only two contacts a week for MFL, sometimes less, and this makes it hard for pupils of all abilities to retain language and to build up a momentum.

My second example is the system of controlled assessments designed for GCSE in England and Wales.

When it was decided that all subjects should have a 60% component of controlled assessment, MFL was pretty well obliged to allocate 60% of marks to speaking and writing, at the expense of listening and reading. Now, there are all sorts of issues with controlled assessments involving rote learning and reliability of the assessment, but more than this, we have had to downgrade what is arguably the most important skill in language acquisition, listening, and give greater weight to the least important, writing. This has undoubtedly distorted teaching.

Lastly, let me mention modules at AS and A2 level. These were designed with certain subjects in mind and there is no doubt that maths and science results have risen over the last few years partly because of the modular system. Modules have come under fire even in these subjects since it is claimed that they produce students with less overall understanding of the subjects. In MFL they make no sense, since a student's competence gradually build up over time and the sensible moment to assess is at the end of the course. The result of the policy is that a good deal of time and money is wasted on students re-taking AS modules in the upper sixth year.

What can we learn from this? "One size fits all" appeals to our sense of order. There is elegance in simplicity. But elegance does not equal efficacy. Modern language students and teachers have been ill served by reforms designed for higher status subjects. Future reforms should anticipate more skilfully the consequences ensuing from them. Timetabling and assessment need to be more flexible and cater for the needs of all subject areas.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Supermarkets and social class

As we were going to Sainsburys this morning  I was having a chat with our French guest Christine about supermarkets. I asked her whether she agreed with my hunch that your preferred supermarket says a good deal about your social class in Britain, whereas in France supermarkets are rather class neutral. We all know that there is a class pecking order in Britain which begins with Waitrose/M and S at the top, and descends via Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrissons and Asda, down to Lidl and Aldi. The same phenomenon does not exist in France. Carrefour, Leclerc, U, Auchan and even Leader Price are as likely to be frequented by the wealthier as by those of modest income.

A quick google finds this from The Guardian in 2004:

"Verdict Research, for instance, has found that Waitrose has the highest proportion of shoppers from the professional social classes A and B (47%), followed by Sainsbury's (34%), Marks & Spencer (22%), Tesco (21%) and Safeway (17%). At the bottom of the market, 72% of Netto's shoppers are blue-collar Ds or Es, with Kwik Save (66%), Lidl (54%) and Somerfield (50%) close behind."

In the same article Jonathan Meades (he of the dark glasses and dark suits from the excellent Jonathan Meades on France recently broadcast on BBC4) claims:

"If you take a labourer in Marseilles and a CEO in Marseilles, they will eat approximately the same food," says Meades. "In this country there is no link between what a guy who is working in a building site in Southampton eats and the guy who runs that site - they eat completely different things."

A slight exaggeration? Maybe, but the point is clear. In the food domain at least, even if there has been a democratisation of eating habits, in Britain, you are where you shop.

Of course, this leads to some clever marketing in the UK. The posher supermarkets charge more for the same products and make more profit as a result. When they sense their market share is falling, they make a play for customers who wish to pay less by means of economy branding. Price differentials between the major chains in France, however, are less noticeable, except when you go to the stack-'em-high-sell-'em-cheap stores such as Netto and Lidl.

So would it be too much of an exaggeration to say that supermarkets are a reflection of the country?  A more egalitarian France (not immune from social class, of course) has the supermarkets it wants. Or maybe French supermarket chains have yet to learn how to market themselves more effectively to maximise their profits.

Friday, 6 April 2012

La Renault Zoé

Renault vient de lancer sa petite voiture électrique, la Zoé. Ce qui rend cette nouvelle née plus attractive que les autres électriques, c'est le prix: £13650 (plus £70 par mois pour les batteries avec service de dépannage en cas de batterie morte). La Nissan Leaf par exemple coûte le double.

Selon les magazines de l'automobile c'est une voiture performante, bien équipée, mais qui a une autonomie limitée de 220 km (ou bien moins par temps froid ou en ville). Il faut entre 30 minutes et 9 heures pour recharger les batteries. Les avantages pour l'environnement sont évidentes. Les émissions de CO2 varient d'un pays à l'autre suivant l'origine de l'électricité. Avec la forte part de nucléaire, elles sont de 12g/km de CO2 en France. En Angleterre ce chiffre pourrait être vers les 60g/km, mais tout dépend du type de trajet effectué.

Pour celui ou celle qui ne fait que des petits trajets quotidiens et qui veut faire réduire ses émissions de CO2, la Zoé semble être une solution idéale. Renault espère en vendre plusieurs dizaines de milliers d'exemplaires chaque année. La Zoé sera disponible en Angleterre à partir de l'automne.

On se demande combien il va falloir augmenter la production future de l'électricité pour faire fonctionner toutes ces voitures électriques.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Google Art Project

Je viens de tomber sur ce site remarquable qui permet à l'internaute de regarder des oeuvres d'art de partout dans le monde. On peut sélectionner les tableaux selon l'artiste ou le musée. La plupart des collections semblent être américaines, mais l'Orangerie et le Musée d'Orsay figurent parmi les dernières arrivées. Il suffit de faire une recherche alphabétique par artiste pour voir l'énormité de la collection.

On peut sauvegarder ses collections favorites ou même créer et partager ses propres collections (à condition d'avoir un compte Google - on y détecte un certain intérêt économique). On peut également visionner des diaporamas, mais on ne peut pas télécharger les images à moins qu'on ne s'inscrive au site.

Ce qui rend le site encore plus exceptionnel c'est qu'on peut faire des visites virtuelles de certains musées en utilisant la technologie Street View.

Le site est facile à naviguer et la qualité des images est excellente.

On a un choix de langues pour naviguer, y compris le français. Le professeur de français y trouvera sans doute de quoi provoquer des discussions. Ceux qui font un artiste pour leur "cultural topic" pourront y passer pas mal de temps aussi.


Il est des moments où on se rend vraiment compte de la valeur d'internet.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Michael Gove's plan for A-levels

Michael Gove has proposed that universities, or rather a selected group of 24 universities, the Russell Group, have a much greater say in the content of A-levels. This is principally a reaction to a perception in universities that A-level students are insufficiently prepared for degree courses. The belief has also been expressed that A-levels have become too easy or predictable, that too many students re-take modules and that there has been significant grade inflation over the years, making the exam seem less of a "gold standard". The plan is to initially review the content of maths, science and English courses. If these are toughened up, the process could then work back down to GCSE and to primary level. In this way standards will rise, so the argument goes, and we shall rise up the esteemed PISA tables once more.

As far as modern languages goes, the history is interesting. Back in the 1950s, when A-levels were introduced, they were effectively a means of preparing a relatively small elite of students for university. A-level French papers in that era, and into the sixties and seventies, consisted of material which would have been very familiar on undergraduate courses - translations to and from French, essays on literary set texts (you studied four novels or similar over two years) and general essays. Listening comprehension was paid lip service to and became a serious option when the technology allowed it. There was also a set-piece oral exam, at least by the early seventies.

In effect, A-level content was led by universities and, one might argue, it stifled teaching in sixth forms. It was too biased towards literature and translation and did not encourage communication. It was a throwback to the teaching of Latin. In the 1970s the trend began to reverse. Modern methods stemming from behaviourism and audio-lingualism, encouraging greater oral communication (exemplified by the widely used course Actualités Françaises), led teachers down a different path. Some universities were influenced by these new trends in language teaching and adapted their own courses to bring them up to date. Forward-looking institutions moved away from the intensive study of literature and history and included far more language-based, more culturally diverse courses.

At this stage it looked like schools were setting the agenda as traditional universities were stuck in their ways.

What about now? Students taking languages these days are not so different from those of the past. They tend to be more academic than most, especially as languages are seen as a tough option, but they also want to study other things beyond literature. Most will not go on to do French degrees, though quite a few will study a language alongside other disciplines. A-level has to take into account this variety of needs. A-levels are not just a preparation for university, they are valuable stand alone courses. It is not certain that the needs of Russell Group universities are the same as those of A-levels students.

For languages, my guess is that we won't see any revolutionary changes. Our students are already trained in writing essays and generally have good communication skills (they are usually girls).  Politicians are far more interested in tinkering with subjects like maths, science, English and history (maybe because they think they know something about them).

What we have now may not be perfect, but A-level French is challenging enough and allows some freedom for teachers to adapt their work to their classes. We do a sensible balance of linguistic and cultural elements. I hope we don't return to prescribed Racine, Balzac and Maupassant. If we make the exams harder than they already are we will just put off even more potential linguists.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Pénurie de candidats à l'enseignement

Mathieu Perisse raconte sur que le nombre de candidats aux concours de l'enseignement est en chute libre. A priori cela pourrait étonner, vu la conjoncture économique actuelle et le manque d'emplois dans le secteur privé. L'enseignement devrait offrir aux jeunes licenciés un refuge: des postes quasiment garantis dans certaines matières, de longues vacances et une retraite solide. L'évolution démographique actuelle produira de plus en plus d'élèves ayant besoin d'un prof. Mais non, les jeunes ont peur de suivre une carrière dans la salle de classe. Pourquoi?

Tout d'abord certains candidats potentiels ont l'impression qu'ils auront une formation inadéquate avec trop peu de suivi. D'autres dénoncent la difficulté du CAPES (malgré le fait que le taux de réussite est en hausse).

Un étudiant raconte:

«On nous demande d'être pratiquement bilingue dans une langue vivante, de maîtriser l'informatique, de faire deux stages, tout en préparant le concours et en rédigeant un mémoire de recherche.»

On pourrait également critiquer la nature trop "académique" du CAPES qui privilégie les connaissances dans la discipline au détriment de la pédagogie et de la personnalité du candidat.

Autre facteur, le nouveau "mastérisation" a produit une formation plus longue et le stage de formation rémunére a été supprimé.

Mais la situation en France n'est pas unique. Au niveau européen, selon Patrick Demougin, qui prépare une étude pour la Commission européenne sur le sujet.

«Le métier manque de reconnaissance, il est souvent sous-payé et souffre souvent d’une véritable méfiance sociale à son égard.»

Nicolas Sarkozy a proposé une augmentation des heures de travail accompagnée d'un salaire plus élevé. Ce n'est pas de quoi attirer de nouveaux candidats qui auraient déjà peur du nombre d'heures passées à préparer des cours et à corriger des copies.

Que faire alors?

Selon différents acteurs dans l'enseignement il faut une hausse des rémunérations, la création de postes et plus d'autonomie des établissements. Il faut recruter plus tôt, mieux former et encadrer les jeunes professeurs. Selon Mathieu Perisse: une chose est certaine: ce n’est qu’au prix d’une refonte profonde que l’Education nationale pourra faire à nouveau rêver les jeunes générations.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Lolly sticks etc

If you are into lolly sticks for random questioning in class and own an iPhone or iPad, you might find the above app useful. In our school a few teachers have opted for lolly sticks and seem happy to use them. We have not yet done so in MFL lessons, although we have embraced the intermittent use of no hands up. If you are not familiar with lolly sticks you have a mug of them with pupils' names on and choose them at random when doing questioning.

Other approaches to random questioning include electronic name generators and allocating pupils numbers when they enter the room and calling numbers for answers.

I have to say that I am not a big fan of totally random questioning for language lessons. I understand the theory that we should have the same expectation of all students and that students need to be challenged and ready to respond at any time, but I also believe that as teachers we should be using our skill and knowledge of our students to pitch questions at an appropriate level. This is sensible differentiation. Each student can be challenged at their own level and we know all too well how great the variability is in language learning aptitude.

Furthermore, language learning is a challenging and even threatening task for some pupils and part of our job is to make students feel comfortable about the process. No hands up may add to the discomfort.

In addition, we have found that random questioning can slow down the pace of lessons.

We have therefore maintained a balance of hands up, which keeps up pace and encourages the keenest and most able, while also using no hands up at times for differentiation and to keep students on their toes.

As for other AfL fashions, well, we like mini whiteboards for all the obvious reasons, but we have, as yet, not been tempted by traffic light systems such as coloured cups, though one or two other departments at our school have.

If you have not come across the traffic light system, this is a way of knowing at any stage whether pupils are understanding the work. They have three cups (red, amber and green) and place the appropriate cup at the top of their pile depending on how well they are following. Green = understanding fully, amber = partially understanding, red = not understanding.

Other traffic light systems are available.

I reckon that if we used those coloured beakers during question-answer work we would be potentially facing a class of second rate Tommy Coopers.