Friday, 31 January 2014

Des abus sur Twitter

Des abus sur le réseau social Twitter L’ancien footballeur de l’équipe nationale d’Angleterre, devenu commentateur, Stan Collymore a accusé le réseau social Twitter en janvier 2014 de ne pas faire assez pour lutter contre la violence illégale sur le réseau, après avoir été soumis à des commentaires offensants sur le site.

Collymore a été victime d'une série de tweets abusifs après qu’il avait accusé Luis Suarez, l’attaquant de Liverpool, d’avoir plongé pour gagner un penalty contre Aston Villa en Premier League . La gymnaste olympique Beth Tweddle a été également ciblée par les trolls d'Internet mardi pendant une séance de questions-réponses sur Twitter, destinée à promouvoir le rôle des femmes dans le sport et discuter des questions liées à sa carrière.

Collymore a parlé à la radio et à la télévision pour exprimer sa frustration, affirmant que la police a été, elle aussi, déçue par le manque de réaction de Twitter qui n’avait rien fait pour stopper ces abus. La police a confirmé mardi soir qu'ils enquêtaient sur une série de messages adressés à l'ancien international anglais.

Collymore, 43 ans, a affirmé: « Dans les dernières 24 heures , j'ai été à plusieurs reprises menacé d’assassinat, abusé de manière raciste, et beaucoup de ces comptes restent toujours actifs. Pourquoi ? J'accuse Twitter de ne pas faire assez pour lutter contre les messages racistes, homophobes et sexistes, qui sont tous illégaux au Royaume-Uni. »

Mercredi Tweddle, qui a remporté le bronze à Londres en 2012 aux barres asymétriques, s’est exprimée sur Twitter: « Merci pour tous les messages positifs que j’ai reçus. J'ai été réconfortée de voir la réaction des utilisateurs responsables de Twitter. » Elle a ajouté : « J'espère que tout le monde continue à réagir de la même façon en signalant des abus, qui qu’en soit la victime. »

Collymore a également déclaré : « Je suis pour la liberté d’expression, mais si quelqu’un me disait des choses comme ça dans la rue, il serait arrêté par la police. »

 Vocabulaire

 to fight - ________​to be subject to - ____ _______ _ offensive - ____________​to dive - ________ to target - ________​session - ________ to promote - ______________​related to - ____ _ disappointed - _______​lack - ________ to investigate - _____________​account - ________ to take (i.e. win) - _____________​to comfort - ________________ to react - ________​whoever - ___ ___ ____ 

Questions à discuter avec le professeur ou un partenaire

1.​Pourquoi Stan Collymore était-il en colère ?
2.​Qu’est-ce qui avait provoqué les abus sur twitter ?
3.​Pourquoi parle-t-on de Beth Tweddle dans cet article ?
4.​Collymore veut que Twitter fasse quoi ?
5.​Pourquoi est-il difficile de poursuivre en justice une personne qui écrit des commentaires offensants sur un réseau social comme Twitter ?
6.​On parle de quel genre de commentaire dans cet article ?
7.​Qu’est-ce que Beth Tweddle recommande aux victimes d’abus de faire ?
8.​Etes-vous pour la liberté d’expression totale ? Quelles en devraient être les limites ?
9.​Que pensez-vous des réseaux sociaux et de Twitter en particulier ?
10.​Connaissez-vous quelqu’un qui a été victime d’abus sur un réseau social ?
11.​A votre avis, qu’est-ce que Twitter devrait faire pour empêcher ce genre d’abus grave ?
12.​Pensez-vous qu’on devrait pouvoir garder l’anonymat sur Internet ? Pourquoi ?

 • Avec un partenaire. Une personne donne une opinion en anglais sur la question, l’autre essaie de traduire en français. Faites 5 phrases chacun

 • Ensuite essayez de parler pendant au moins une minute sur la question de la liberté d’expression sur Internet.

Complétez ce texte à trous sans regarder le texte original. Faites attention aux ACCORDS.

L’ancien footballeur de l’équipe _________ d’Angleterre, devenu commentateur, Stan Collymore a ________ le réseau social Twitter en janvier 2014 de ne pas faire assez pour _______ contre la violence illégale sur le réseau, après avoir été ________ à des commentaires __________ sur le site. Collymore a été victime d'une série de tweets _________ après qu’il avait accusé Luis Suarez, l’attaquant de Liverpool, d’avoir _________ pour gagner un penalty contre Aston Villa en Premier League . La gymnaste olympique Beth Tweddle a été également _________ par les trolls d'Internet mardi lors pendant une _________ de questions-réponses sur Twitter, destinée à __________ le rôle des femmes dans le sport et discuter des questions _________ à sa carrière. Collymore a parlé à la radio et à la télévision pour __________ sa frustration, affirmant que la police a été, elle aussi, _________ par le manque de réaction de Twitter qui n’avait rien fait pour __________ ces abus.

Traduire en français 

A well known English footballer accused a social network of not doing enough to fight against abusive comments. He was victim of a series of offensive comments, some of a racist nature. However Twitter did nothing to close the accounts of those who made these comments. He believes that freedom of expression is important, but that homophobic, racist and sexist remarks are not acceptable in modern society.

Teacher’s model translation

Un footballeur anglais bien connu (célèbre) a accusé un réseau social de ne pas faire assez pour lutter contre des/les commentaires abusifs. Il a été (better than était – fixed within a defined time limit) victim d’une série de commentaires offensants (offensif is meant to relate to sport or military offence), certains de (d’une) nature raciste. Mais (cependant) twitter n’a rien fait pour fermer les comptes de ceux qui avaient fait ces commentaires. Il croit (estime/considère/pense) que la liberté d’expression est importante, mais que les remarques (commentaires) homophobes, racistes et sexistes ne sont pas acceptables dans la société moderne (contemporaine)

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Do we need "pass" and "fail"?

When GCSEs replaced O-levels and CSEs in about 1987 the grading system did not include, if I recall correctly, a fail threshold between grades C and D. The idea was that pupils would be rewarded for their achievement at whatever level. However, although the GCSE was designed to be a qualification for students of almost all abilities, it was always going to be the case that many would get below a grade C.

Once the tradition became quickly established that anything below a C was deemed (not necessarily by name) a "fail" students and schools would soon begin to doubt the value of their study. This contributed to the fall in MFL exam entries once the subject was made optional. In addition, with the growing importance of high stakes accountability measures schools, to a greater and greater extent, focused on the C/D borderline students, which inevitably had an effect on classroom practice.

The DfE has been aware of this side-effect of A-C accountability measures and is hoping to address it with the new eight subject progress measure.

So what if we could do away with the notion of pass and fail? Would the absence of a pass threshold discourage students from working hard to achieve it? Would it free up teachers to be less focused on the C/D borderline?

I doubt if students, on average, would work less hard in the absence of a pass grade. If some did, their number might well be counterbalanced by those who work hard to achieve any grade they can. Currently a C is valued much more highly than a D, whereas the psychological difference between a D and E is minimal. If we have to maintain our treasured tradition of grades, would it not be preferable if students strove to reach the best grade they could, whatever it may be? Maybe with new number grades we can avoid having a particular number as some kind of pass threshold.

With the prospect of a new 1-9 grading system for GCSE and the advent of this new "P8" measure, we have the opportunity to reconsider whether we need passes and fails. If students and schools were judged for their progress across eight subjects without the fear of "failing" any, it might encourage more students to take a language whilst teachers and pupils could take some pride in their achievement whatever the grade achieved.

It is of note that only at GCSE level do we allow large numbers of students to "fail". At A-level U grades are rare, whilst National Curriculum tests have no notion of pass and fail.

I would be all for doing away with the punitive notion of failure and recognising any level of success.Even better would be if we did away with GCSE completely and broaden our post 16 curriculum, bringing us in line with most nations. But that's another matter!


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Does homework matter?

Every now and again I read teachers arguing that homework has little value, indeed that it can be harmful.

There have been a range of studies over the years on the value of homework. I dealt with this issue in a previous blog in 2011 entitled How useful is homework? I would like to return to the issue, mainly because I fear that if word gets around that homework is not useful, some teachers may actually start to believe it! You can find studies which make the case for and against homework and it is, of course, a difficult area on which to produce reliable data. This important meta-study from 2006 by Cooper, Robinson and Patall based on papers written between 1987 and 2003 concludes "... both within and across design types, there was generally consistent evidence for a positive influence of homework on achievement".

In a more recent meta-study John Hattie looked at 5 meta-studies covering 161 separate studies found a very positive effect overall for homework at secondary level. (It is worth noting that, for those of who who understand statistics, Hattie found an effect size for secondary students of d=0.64, which is, I gather, quite impressive.) But the detail is more subtle of course.

I shall quote from headteacher Tom Sherrington's blog What does the Hattie research actually say?

At secondary level he (Hattie) suggests there is no evidence that prescribing homework develops time management skills and that the highest effects in secondary are associated with rote learning, practice or rehearsal of subject matter; more task-orientated homework has higher effects than deep learning and problem solving.  Overall, the more complex, open-ended and unstructured tasks are, the lower the effect sizes.  Short, frequent homework closely monitored by teachers has more impact that their converse forms and effects are higher for higher ability students than lower ability students, higher for older rather than younger students.  Finally, the evidence is that teacher involvement in homework is key to its success.

 In the same blog I would echo what Tom says:

...all my instincts as a teacher (and a parent) tell me that homework is a vital element in the learning process; reinforcing the interaction between teacher and student; between home and school and paving the way to students being independent autonomous learners.

Setting good homework is the key. In languages, where we wish to use our very limited classroom time as far as possible for oral and aural work, homework provides the opportunity to reinforce class work in writing. In short, to practise. We all know what practice makes.

I used to tell my classes that missing a homework was equivalent to bunking off from a lesson. Neither I nor my colleagues, or the school as a whole, tolerated it. I am 100% certain that the two homeworks I set classes each week over five years contributed to my students' growing competence. Do not let let anyone tell you that it is not valuable, at the very least for secondary students.



Sunday, 19 January 2014

Input versus output

At one extreme, teachers who implicitly accept the Stephen Krashen style comprehension hypothesis try to make their lessons as full as possible with target language, whether it be in listening or reading form. They work under the assumption that by hearing and seeing lots of the foreign language, nature will take its course in time and comprehension, along with fluency, will develop. The emphasis is strongly on input.

At the other extreme, there are teachers who favour analysis of form and accuracy, conscious memorisation techniques, comparison with he native language, along with controlled speaking and writing practice. The focus is thus on output.

Most teachers, of course, fall somewhere in the middle and I have blogged previously here and here about how fluency and accuracy, grammar and comprehension, are not enemies.

I have to say, however, that my leaning, with the quite able students I taught, was more towards input i.e. supplying lots of target language in any form. I made the assumption (and it is little more than that) that natural acquisition would take place principally because of this, not because we had explained grammar, applied rules and memorised words. I was particularly keen to place the stress on natural acquisition the more advanced students became.

Now, having said that, on the whole, I was pretty much a pragmatist, but below I am going to list some activities which favour either INPUT or OUTPUT. All the activities have their value, but I would argue that the input activities will produce faster acquisition in the medium and long term.

Input tasks

Listening to recordings and doing comprehension tasks
Listening to the teacher while doing question-answer or drill style work
Watching and listening to a video
Reading an article or story and doing oral or written comprehension on it
Doing extensive reading
Using a picture for oral discussion led by the teacher
Doing a question-answer sequence when introducing new grammar or vocabulary
Doing a cloze task with the focus on meaning
Playing bingo
Doing a crossword from TL to English or with the focus on sentences in the TL

Output tasks

Doing a grammar-translation task (e.g. translating from English to French)
Writing a composition "cold", with little help from a source text
Memorising a talk or essay for a controlled assessment
Doing a cloze exercise with the focus on grammatical accuracy
Memorising a vocabulary list for a test
Playing hangman
Solving anagrams
Doing a crossword from English to TL
Practising learned conversations with a partner
Creating a grammar presentation 
Designing a poster

Neutral tasks?

Doing an information gap pair work task (focus on both listening and output)
General unscripted conversation
Teacher-led oral drills with a focus on accurate form (these also supply some input)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Grammar Evolution


 http://www.grammarevolution.com/

Grammar Evolution is an online interactive teaching resource in beta form with a range of exercises under the categories grammar, vocabulary, dictation and reading. It contains abundant material in French and Spanish.Teachers can sign on for a six week trial. It is the creation of British languages teacher Rob Darby who writes:

Grammar Evolution's aim is to allow users to now practise their grammar in a competitive arena which is supported by an innovative league structure. Learners are rewarded for "giving it a go" but are also encouraged to focus on speed and accuracy to win games. The games suit language learners from beginner through to advanced levels, with the principle focus on the MFL curriculum in UK secondary schools. However, the grammar principles and vocabulary are applicable to anyone wishing to improve their grammar.

I've been having a look at the site to see what it's all about.

When you sign on as a teacher you can set assignments to be used on the interactive board or by students on their own computer. Pupils can also sign on to do tasks on their own. The teacher is able to generate passwords for their class and can keep an archive of assignments set for future reference.

Assignments are set via a menu of options including language, level, and exercise type (grammar, vocabulary, dictation and reading). You are also asked to set a date range for the task to be completed. It is possible to communicate via email with parents to let them know about tasks set.

Once you have chosen your assignment, for example, a grammar task on the perfect tense with regular -er verbs, the system generates a range of tasks. I would hesitate to call them games as such - the fun element derives primarily from the competitive aspect. There are target scores and students can compete with others. In the grammar category task types are exercises at the word or phrase level which usually involve translation. There are in-built "grammar tabs" which allow pupils to look up grammar explanations as they go along.

To give you an idea of the range of tasks, in the Vocabulary category exercises are called: Word Snake, 2 of a Kind, Stairway to Freedom, Code Lock, Make Your Own Lock, Pressure Point, Split Decision, Reconfiguration, Ordered Mayhem and Free Type. The titles give you a clue as to the nature of the tasks.

In the Dictation category students can work at three levels and can hear phrases read aloud. At the highest of the three levels students have to submit their written answers. The quality and clarity of the spoken French is excellent.

The Reading category has yet to be developed.

In its beta form I found the tasks worked well on my PC, but only some open on iPad. I understand from Rob that this will soon be sorted out.

This kind of interactive tool is not in its current form designed for self-authoring, but Rob says this aspect may be developed. There are already a good number of ready-made tasks to which may more will be added. The interface is clear and colourful and the games will appeal to teachers and students who value working at the word and phrase level, often using translation. The emphasis is on analysis, patterns, written accuracy and word recognition. The Reading section, once developed, may offer greater opportunity for more meaningful communication at the paragraph level.

Although navigation is intuitive enough, it would be useful for novices to have a basic teacher guide on the site. Rob does, however, provide some Youtube guides of the site in action: e.g.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk3LgSF49lw&feature=c4-overview&list=UUZu_L4GeAK06Z8yeQH53l7w

Students may enjoy the competitive element, the time limits and clarity of the tasks. Differentiation by level is clearly built in. Compared with a programme such as Taskmagic the extra game-playing, visual, fun element is lacking, but this package may well appeal to pupils of  average ability or above who thrive on patterns and analysis.

Teachers should sign on for a free six week trial to see what they think. There are a number of packages available. For a one language whole secondary school package you pay £250 for 12 months. Rob tells me that they are offering a 75% discount for first year subscribers while the site is in beta format. He also intends to offer a simpler "log in and play" version at a lower price and to give teachers some more control of the subject matter - a degree of self-authoring.

All in all, Grammar Evolution has the potential to be a very useful resource for teachers and students, not just in the UK, who like to get their teeth into grammar, vocabulary and written accuracy.




Monday, 13 January 2014

Global Teacher Status Index

https://www.varkeygemsfoundation.org/sites/default/files/documents/2013GlobalTeacherStatusIndex.pdf

I just stumbled upon this report by the Varkey Gems Foundation about the status of teachers around the world. You might find it interesting and surprising in parts.

The headline bar chart is to be found on page 12 of the document, which reveals that the countries where teachers seem to be held in highest esteem are, in descending order,  China, Greece, Turkey, South Korea and New Zealand. The UK is in the middle of this particular pack of countries, just above France and below the USA. Countries where teachers seem to be held in lowest esteem are Israel, Brazil, the Czech Republic and Japan.

One thing that surprised me - given what we have been told about the Finnish education system, its highly qualified teachers and the esteem in which its profession is held - is that, according to this survey, Finnish teachers have lower status than their British counterparts. For example, in a separate table (p.17) only 20% of people would "probably encourage" their children to become teachers. the figure for the UK is 27% and for France 22%. In China the figure is almost 50%. Parents in Israel, Portugal, Brazil and Japan are least likely to encourage their children to become teachers.

Other key findings:

In the UK, when asked to what other professions teaching could be compared, the favourite answers were social worker or nurse. (The range of options was narrow on this question, however.)

In the US, Brazil, France and Turkey people thought teachers were most similar to librarians. 
In Japan people think teachers are most similar to local government managers.

It is only in China that people think of teachers as being most closely compared to doctors. In the UK, by contrast, fewer than 5% of respondents thought teachers had an equivalent status to doctors. 
On the question "do pupils respect teachers", in the UK just over one in five either agree or strongly agree. This seems a low figure, but is, very broadly, about average (see p.20). On the question "do you trust teachers to deliver a good education" the UK is above average. 
One final point: is the status of teaching in a country related to salary? As far as I can see, the report does not draw any conclusions about this, although it does give some figures on average salary. From what I can glean, there is no obvious correlation between salary and status.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Video listening updates

I have recently been scouring the internet for easy video listening material for the site. The advanced level pages are now well stocked with worksheets linking to videos on Youtube and elsewhere (always check links work before using a worksheet). Remember that these sheets can be used by pupils themselves in front of a computer or tablet, or by the teacher from the front. If it were me, I would tend to favour playing from the front, certainly for younger learners - that may be down to your taste and how reliable your students are.

Okay, so for post beginner and low intermediate learners I have found the odd useful resource. Here are some recent additions to the site:

  • La famille Berrow. Beginner worksheet linked to a BBC video. This may only work for British users (BBC copyright).
  • Trotro joue à cache-cache. Trotro cartoon with French subtitles. Good for home vocabulary, rooms and prepositions. (FYI Trotro is a cartoon donkey.) 
  • Easy video slideshow listening, reading and writing on topic of school. Would suit Y8 or excellent Y7s. Students read and listen to the presentation, answer questions in English and French.
  • On décrit un film. Easy description of a film by two cartoon characters. Pupils tick off the correct sentences and complete simple vocabulary list.
  • A Peppa Cochon video with worksheet for intermediate level (Y10-11). This one is called Une chasse au trésor. Gap fill and sentence reordering. I like the clarity of the language in these videos.
  • Two other Peppa Cochon videos.

Do let me know if you have good sources of easy French video listening material.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Very good "fait divers" for A-level


The fait divers is a staple of language teaching. They can be totally authentic or adapted texts, can be quirky (insolite) and, because of their story telling nature, allow for a wide range of language activities: from the usual language play with words (finding synonyms, antonyms, rephrasing, gap-filling etc to changing narrative perspective, dialogue creating, changing narrative tense, creating alternative endings and so on.

Here is one I used several times with lower sixth groups (low advanced level). It comes under the category of insolite and is a pretty amazing tale. It is a worksheet from frenchteacher.net.


Les pêcheurs miraculés en bonne santé   Source :www.dhnet.be



Des pieds enflés et une certaine maigreur étaient les seuls problèmes apparents dont ils souffrent après leur odyssée.



MAJURO (ILES MARSHALL) Les trois pêcheurs mexicains arrivés mardi aux îles Marshall après plus de neuf mois de dérive dans l'océan Pacifique ont été déclarés mercredi en bonne santé après avoir passé leur examen médical, malgré un régime alimentaire exclusivement constitué de mouettes et de poissons crus.  "Ils sont OK", a déclaré Neijon Edwards, du ministère des Affaires étrangères des Marshall. "Leur examen médical est bon et ils ont même passé avec succès un examen psychologique", a-t-il ajouté.



Salvador Ordonez, 37 ans, Jesus Vidana Lopez et Lucio Rendon, tous deux âgés de 27 ans, sont arrivés aux îles Marshall mardi après avoir dérivé sur huit mille km. Ils avaient été récupérés le 9 août par un thonier taïwanais.



Les trois hommes doivent quitter la capitale des Marshall, Majuro, vers 09H30 HB pour Hawaï avant de rejoindre le Mexique vendredi, a-t-on précisé de sources officielles.  Des pieds enflés et une certaine maigreur étaient les seuls problèmes apparents dont ils souffrent après leur odyssée, entamée le 28 octobre 2005 quand leur bateau de pêche au requin est tombé en panne.  "Nous leur avons acheté des chaussures mais ils ne peuvent pas les porter car leurs pieds sont enflés", a précisé M. Edwards.



Dans un entretien à l'AFP, mardi, les rescapés ont raconté comment ils ont survécu, passant "la plupart du temps à lire la Bible" et à chasser les mouettes qui se posaient sur leur bateau de moins de neuf mètres de long.  Deux autres marins, qui avaient commencé le voyage avec eux, sont morts au bout de deux mois.



"Ils ne pouvaient pas manger d'oiseaux et de poissons crus. Ils n'arrêtaient pas de vomir et ils ont fini par cracher du sang", a raconté M. Ordonez. Les deux pêcheurs décédés ont dû être jetés par dessus bord.  Les miraculés ont démenti des spéculations de la presse mexicaine selon lesquelles ils s'étaient livrés au cannibalisme.



Un porte-parole du président mexicain Vicente Fox avait indiqué mardi qu'une enquête serait ouverte sur la disparition des deux pêcheurs. "Il faudra sans aucun doute mener une enquête. Ce dossier mérite une enquête... Il faut expliquer une série de circonstances sur la manière dont deux des pêcheurs qui se trouvaient sur le bateau ont disparu", a déclaré Rubén Aguilar.



Un responsable mexicain à Majuro a précisé que le bateau de pêche serait retournée au Mexique en vue de cette enquête.



Vocabulaire



swollen – e_____    thinness – m________  drifting – d______ despite – m______   diet – r_______ ___________  seagulls – m________   raw – c___  to pick up – r__________  tuna boat – t_______  shark – r_______   to spit – c_______  blood – s____  to throw overboard – j____ ___ _______ _____   to deny – d________  spokesman – p____-_________investigation – e_______  case – d_______



 Questions


1.            De quoi s’agit-il dans ce reportage?

2.            Combien de pêcheurs ont été retrouvés?

3.            Comment est leur état de santé?

4.            Pendant combien de temps ont-ild dérivé?

5.            Où est-ce qu’ils avaient commencé leur voyage?

6.            Où est-ce qu’ils ont été récupérés?

7.            Qu’est-ce qu’ils ont mangé pendant leur voyage?

8.            Qui a retrouvé les trois pêcheurs?

9.            Pourquoi est-ce que leur bateau a commencé à dériver?

10.          Pourquoi est-ce que deux autres pêcheurs n’ont pas survécu?

11.          Expliquez les “spéculations de la presse mexicaine”.

12.          Pourquoi est-ce que le gouvernement mexicain va mener une enquête?



Lexique



Trouvez dans l’article des synonymes:



1.            leur voyage                           5.       commencée

2.            ils vont bien                           6.       une interview

3.            ils avaient été retrouvés.         7.       après

4.            retourner au Mexique            8.       morts



Travail oral ou écrit



1.   Racontez ce qui s’est passé du point de vue d’un des pêcheurs.
2.   Imaginez une interview entre un journaliste et un des pêcheurs sauvés.

Monday, 6 January 2014

A word about "phonics"

Synthetic phonics (known as blended phonics in the USA) is the approach recommended (enforced upon, actually) by the DfE to English primary teachers for the teaching of early reading. It is a method of teaching reading which firsts teaches the letter sounds then builds up to blending these sounds to make words.

The opposing approach is sometimes called the "whole word" or "whole language" approach which does not aim to analyse individual letters or phonemes. By this approach children become good readers by recognising whole words and by reading a lot.

A brief look around the internet reveals that the empirical evidence for the success of synthetic phonics is mixed. Stephen Krashen argues that studies supporting it really show that it may only lead to improvement in reading of single words or made up words. He claims that it is extensive reading which makes children better readers. Give children access to interesting books and they will improve.

We don't know for sure, but it is a reasonable hypothesis that children vary and respond to methods in different ways.

Some MFL teachers like to work systematically on what they sometimes call "phonics". By phonics I think they just mean what I would call phonology - how to pronounce sounds correctly. I doubt that it a systematic approach to blending sounds to form words. In this case the aim is less to do with teaching reading, more about pronouncing and spelling accurately. I have to say this was not an approach which particularly appealed to me.

Firstly, it has to be said that German and Spanish may lend themselves more to a phonics style approach since it is easy to predict from spelling how a word will be pronounced. In French, as in English, the sound-spellng relationship is often unpredictable.

But having said that, although playing with sounds can be fun and I, along with most French teachers, would find ways to work on awkward sounds such as the uvular "r", nasal vowels and vowels in generals, I never really considered doing it in a structured way. I rarely did "phonics lessons". This is why: I liked to keep the focus on meaning and communication as much as possible. To construct lesson plans around the pronunciation of sounds seems to focus on analysis at the expense of meaning.

Sure, practising sounds is fun. Classes almost always enjoy it. But I would sooner that it were done "organically", working it into lessons which focus on meaningful exchanges of language. Following this approach I found that students usually developed sound, often very good, pronunciation habits. Systematically divorcing sound from meaning seems to me to be unnecessary.

However, if you don't take this view - for example, you might argue that phonics is more necessary with students of lower aptitude - here are some links provided by Rachel Hawkes:

http://www.rachelhawkes.com/Resources/Phonics/PhonicsWeblinksDowload.pdf

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Back to basics - good routines

Although most of us would like to keep our lessons varied, with a small dose of the unexpected, we also value the fact that children need and want clear routines.

Here are a few which worked for me and my colleagues:
  • Have any equipment ready and materials for the lesson laid out before the class enters the room.
  • Make sure the class is lined up appropriately and not making too much noise.
  • Greet the class at the door as they come. Have a cheerful word with a few as they file in. Rigorously check uniform at this point. (I was never a uniform fan, but I rarely left sloppy appearance unchecked.)
  • With younger ones have them sing a song as they walk in (e.g. books have to be out by the time they get to the end of the song).
  • If the class is excessively noisy as they stand behind their tables, make them go out and start again. Classes need training until they get things right.
  • Check seating plan is in order. We found boy-girl pairs worked well in Y7 and Y8.
  • Have a choral greeting routine as they stand at their tables. Ensure eye contact.
  • Use a countdown in French to ensure any books are removed promptly from bags .
  • Have a couple of volunteers had out marked books - or leave this until later if you want a brisk start.
  • Have clear signs for lesson transitions (e.g. a clap, raised arm, countdown, small bell, tap on wooden frog).
  • Have a goodbye routine as students stand behind their tables.
  • Make classes leave in selected groups (row by row, boys/girls, by first letter of name etc) to avoid crowding at the door.
  • Use this time for discrete one-to-ones with chosen pupils.
Let me know if you have any other tips about routines.

Friday, 3 January 2014

No need to diss worksheets!

I sometimes pick up from articles and blogs that the word worksheet has a negative connotation. I think I understand why. If a worksheet is a grammar or vocabulary exercise handed out with little context; if it does not involve communicating in the target language; if it is used to keep a class quiet; if it is based on dubious methodology - well, these are all good reasons to be wary of the worksheet.

Good worksheets, on the other hand, are an excellent starting point for multi-skill work involving speaking in pairs or groups, information gap tasks, reading, listening, writing, grammar analysis and vocabulary building - in short, communicating. A worksheet is one resource among many which, if used skilfully, is a vital part of a language teacher's armoury.

I have blogged previously about how to exploit grammar worksheets to maximum effect.

Worksheets with texts and exercises are a super starting point for developing comprehension, practising reading aloud, question-answer, pair work, grammar practice, building vocabulary and general conversation. True, a text displayed on the interactive board is useful in that the teacher can work with it interactively (e.g. using iris and curtain tools, blurring, hiding, highlighting and so on). It is also good for making sure students are all focused to the front and so can be an aid to classroom control. However, a written worksheet allows the students to make their own notes, highlight, underline etc. It may also be clearer to students whose eyesight is not perfect.

A combination of both displayed text/exercise and personal worksheet is a useful combination and is easy to produce in the modern classroom.

My typical approach to a text + exercises sheet was as follows:

1.  Where possible arouse the interest of students for the task with simple questioning, a brief oral presentation in English or French, or showing a short Youtube video.

2.  Read aloud the text (good for listening comprehension input, sound-spelling relation ships, controls the pace of student reading - they shouldn't skim through too fast). With some, less focussed, classes get them to follow the text with their finger. (With weaker classes I would sometimes an instant translation of the entire text into English for their benefit, the aim being to maximise their understanding and maintain their interest for later.)

3.  Get individual students to read aloud (it is noteworthy that the ones who read aloud are often the best at answering questions about the text later). Weaker groups can read short chunks of text, faster classes can read at greater length. Even better get pairs of students to read aloud to each other, possibly assessing each other's performance - a great AfL task.

4.  Exploit the whole panoply of whole class questioning techniques (true/false, QA, giving false answers, aural gap fill, defining words in TL, "Comment dit-on en français" and so on). Use hands up and some no hands up. Differentiate questioning. Use quick students as models.

5.  Get the class to turn over the text and, as a whole class activity, fill gaps orally from memory. The teacher can adapt this to the speed and memory of the class. Students like this sort of instant memory test.

6.  Do written exercises of various types - matching, true/false/not mentioned, questions, gap fill, jigsaw tasks, giving definitions, simple composition, translation. These may be better left for homework so as to maximise time in class devoted to oral and aural practice.


You will note from the list above that the focus is largely, though not exclusively, on comprehension and target language. I rather like the notion that we should aim for about 90% target language.

A further reason worksheets are popular with teachers is that, although they are are costly in terms of photocopying, they can be adapted closely to the needs of the class and can match the teacher's preferred pedagogy. A text book source often fails in this regard. A former colleague of mine used to hand write all his worksheets to follow on closely from his oral lessons; they were personalised, amusing and pedagogically very sound.

Collections of handouts, in booklet form, "workbooks", are popular with students. They can be personalised, written on and students get a sense of achievement when they work through them.

So let's not vilify worksheets. When well written and used effectively they are an excellent source for target language teaching.