Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Passé composé

I came across this brilliant little film thanks to @mjosfle (Madame José) on Twitter. It has nothing much to do with grammar, by the way. You may find it touching. I did a worksheet for it on frenchteacher.net. It would work very well with a class of A2 (Upper Sixth) students or perhaps an adult class. See what you think. This is the first time I have embedded a Vimeo video, so I do not know if it will display on an iPad.



Passé composé - court-métrage de Ted Hardy-Carnac from Ted Hardy-Carnac on Vimeo.

Here is the link to the Vimeo page: http://vimeo.com/90130521

Monday, 29 September 2014

Ofqual report: changes to A-level marking and grading

http://ofqual.gov.uk/news/improvements-made-level-foreign-languages/

Scroll down for links to a summary and the technical report carried out by Ofqual.

Ofqual have been looking into grading for A-level modern languages, partly in response to concern expressed by subject associations and teachers about the apparent lack of A* grades compared to other subjects. In essence, although MFL gets a reasonable share of A*/A grades (although still tougher than most subjects), of these only a relatively small percentage are A* grades.

As a teacher I was certainly aware of this issue and it is one factor behind the reluctance of students to take up MFL at A-level. When one also bears in mind that a small percentage of candidates are native speakers with, in many cases, a great advantage over their peers, getting an A* has been really tough in MFL.

So what did Ofqual find? Well, firstly they have to be commended for carrying out a very detailed technical report which gets right into the nitty gritty of question setting and mark schemes. Teachers would not believe how complex and technical this whole area is. I got a first insight into this at a recent AQA training meeting. Each exam board was looked at by Ofqual, exam papers, markschemes, marking and awarding were analysed, and specific recommendations have been made for each board, as well general instructions given in relation to summer 2015 and the future.

One example picked up by Ofqual relates to the mark scheme for the AQA essays at AS and A2 level. AQA is the most popular board and teachers have often complained about inconsistent and strict marking of essays. How do you get a really high mark? The issue here is that the level based assessment scheme puts a cap on marks for range/complexity and accuracy, depending on the content of the essay. This means that very able candidates with exceptional language skills are not being rewarded as highly as they should be because the content mark limits their overall mark. Teachers have often grumbled about this, as well as the fact that it is not clear what students have to do to achieve a very high content mark in the first place. Are students better advised to make lots of points relatively superficially or develop a smaller number of points more fully?

I think the original justification for this "limiting by content" approach was that it would stop candidates producing ready-made and totally irrelevant essays. Firstly, I doubt this happens very much, and secondly you can still mark irrelevance down in the content box, whilst still rewarding high quality language.

Ofqual also picks up the fact that exam boards are not thorough enough in how they produce a range of questions of varying challenge. For example, one board is criticised for making the listening questions generally too easy, so that candidates who are very good at listening and weaker at writing are insufficiently rewarded for listening compared with other candidates. In other words, the assessment fails, to some extent, to reward skills equally, marks may become compressed in the middle and rank order of candidates is less reliable than it should be.

As I say these are quite technical issues which exam boards may have been insufficiently hot on in the past and which Ofqual are now picking up. One has to ask the question: why was this not got right back around 2000 when the new specifications and their mark schemes were established? One answer to this may be that Ofqual is now more professional than its equivalent was in 2000 and that perhaps research is teaching us more about the fine detail of producing exams which are both reliable and valid.

I have only touched the surface of the issues involved here (because I only understand some of them!). Ofqual have a good deal to say about oral assessment, generally finding it too generous and unable to distinguish the very good from the exceptional student. Suffice it to say, that exam boards have been instructed to make changes to mark schemes and question setting which will allow for a fairer rank order and potential access to the higher grades. Ofqual state explicitly that changes may lead to more A*s. Some key changes must be made for this year's exams (notably mark scheme changes which will allow for more A*s), others must be kept in mind for new exams to come.

Ofqual are at pains to stress that this should mean no changes in teaching, but no doubt teachers will be keen to share any new essay mark schemes with students as soon as possible.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

ALL London branch webinars

http://www.all-london.org.uk/webinars.htm#ForthcomingWebinars

If you are outside the UK, the ALL is the Association for Language Learning, an English modern language teaching association.

Helen Myers, from the London branch, has very generously organised and hosted a number of webinars presented by teachers around England. I did my first webinar recently on teaching texts and found it an enjoyable experience. I hope other people did.

This morning I watched John Connor's webinar entitled "It's a guy thing" in which he attempts to look in some detail at what motivates boys in the languages classroom. He begins with some general points about the psychology of boys and girls, before going into detail about why language lessons are a particular challenge to many boys and how we might help make language learning more palatable for them. It's an excellent presentation, full of relevant points based on long experience, a small dose of theory, along with some amusing anecdote. Younger teachers would do well to spend an hour or so watching it.

As I write, Suzi Bewell from York University is doing her webinar entitled "Literature for languages". Other recorded webinars which you can view at your leisure are by Dominic McGladdery ("Talking Tools"), Joe Dale ("Using Ipads to promote speaking and listening skills") and another presentation by John Connor entitled "Using song". All the links to webinars are here.

If any teachers are interested in doing a presentation I am sure Helen Myers would be interested to hear from you. You can contact her via Twitter @HelenMyers.

I would personally be interested to learn more about TPRS and AIMLANG, both approaches having many followers in North America and elsewhere.

The webinar is a super way for teachers to connect with each other and learn. There is considerable interactivity as attendees can leave comments and ask questions which the presenter can pick up along the way. Presenters can also show powerpoints as they speak or provide visible web links.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Results of the Ofqual GCSE MFL consultation

Ofqual have recently published the results of the consultation they carried out on MFL GCSE. The main finding can be succinctly summarised as follows:
  • Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing will be equally weighted at 25%
  • reading, writing and listening will be externally assessed exams
  • speaking assessments will continue to contribute towards the overall student grade
  • speaking will be assessed by non-exam assessment with further details to follow
  • the specifications will be tiered but the requirement to enter all skills at the same tier is new. 
It is worth noting that speaking tests are not classed as exams. They are officially non-exam assessment. That's a technical definition. An exam has to be a paper sat by a group of students at the same time in strict exam conditions.

Nothing has changed in terms of future content of specifications, so we can still expect to see some translation in papers. Oh joy! I have to comment, as I have done before, that although translation both ways can be a useful exercise, if you out it int he exam teachers will end up doing too much of it in class. This is a classic case of the "backwash" effect whereby the test format affects pedagogical practice in the classroom. In this case the result will be less target language use. It's a pretty awful and retrograde decision, one taken in the name of grammatical rigour. We could have had the latter without recourse to 1950s methods.

The main bone of contention among teachers will be the fact that students will have to opt for either Higher or Foundation tier, without the ability to "mix and match", as has been the case for years. Ofqual are clear in their report that teachers favoured a "mixed tier" approach. Teachers are right. We have all known plenty of students who are stronger in some skills than others. It is quite common for a student to be weaker at writing than the other skills, or for a student to be stronger at "passive" skills (reading and listening) than "active" skills (speaking and writing).

So why have Ofqual ruled that mixed tiering will not be allowed?

The precise references can be found in the consultation results which you can find here. (Scroll down for the link.)

AQA argued that mixed tiering would mean having to use a UMS system (as we do now). This means: "marks may have a different value in different parts on the range and compensation between the various components may be distorted. AQA argued that the aggregation of raw marks avoids distortion and is more transparent to both centres and students." This comes across as a rather technical defence of avoiding UMS, which, despite any statistical anomalies, does seem to have worked over a good few years.

Pearson (Edexcel) claimed that mixed tier entry may have an adverse effect of student achievement if candidates were encouraged to enter easier components. Thery also noted that only 10% of its entry were entered for mixed tiers. (This seems a reasonably large number to me.) One might argue that lack of mixed tiering may have an adverse effect on aspiration if schools play safe and enter large numbers of candidates for Foundation to play safe.

OCR felt mixed tiering was not needed if the overlap between Foundation and Higher Tier was great enough.

Overall, I am left thinking that the individual needs of students have been sacrificed for statistical, technical reasons and that teachers will have to make some tougher decisions on tier entry in the future. After doing mock exams, compromises will have to be made and, no doubt, many students will end up doing papers which are either too hard or too easy for them. Typically, middle ability candidates will end up doing Higher Writing when they are not really able to cope with it. The current system is more finely tuned to individual student need and aptitude.

Much may depend on how the overlap element works and whether this will provide a sufficient enough buffer in the case where students are inappropriately entered.

So.... new MFL GCSEs? Any good?

  • For subject content we shall have to wait and see what the specs throw up. 
  • Translation will be a step backwards. Pity. 
  • Literary content will need to be very carefully chosen. 
  • The end of CAs is, on balance, to be welcomed - less memory learning, less disruption of normal teaching, more spontaneity. 
  • Grading may be more robust, but the linear writing test will be a big challenge to many candidates who can currently put together an acceptable piece of rote learned written language. 
  • The new Speaking test will have to tread the fine line between encouraging spontaneous speech (for the most able) and pre-prepared language (to support the less able). 
  • Teachers' views were not taken into consideration nearly enough.
  • Tiering is good, but lack of mixed teiring could end up, paradoxically, offering less challenge
  • It could have been better and it may not age well.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Teaching "literary" texts

For secondary teachers, a significant new focus in the KS2-4 curriculum on "literary texts" - meaning stories, letters, poems and song. (Thankfully Michael Gove's original desire to see "great literature" in the curriculum was ditched.) Expect to see more "literary" material text books and examinations.

Now, I have to say that I have for a long time felt there was a lack of narrative texts in course books. Too many dry articles relating to the GCSE topics, not enough story-telling, not enough human interest. So, in general, I would welcome a better balance of texts. However, the key thing will be how stimulating texts will be. Any target language input is good provided it is meaningful and interesting, or "compelling" as Stephen Krashen would put it. You can have boring literary texts and boring non-literary ones. What we need is material which is meaningful, interesting and suitable for exploitation in the classroom.

I spend a lot of time seeking out good texts for frenchteacher.net and there are two key criteria for texts: are they interesting and do they lend themselves to classroom exploitation? What can you actually do with them? Is the level finely tuned enough to the learners' needs to make them usable? Some pieces look great, but when you then think how you might use them, you run into a brick wall. Other texts can be mundane, but open themselves up to all kinds of linguistic activity. I did a trawl recently for "literary" material and found it very difficult to locate appropriate resources. I ended up falling back on the tired and tested Déjeuner du matin (no typo there, by the way).

The best texts achieve both of the above goals. "Literary" or narrative texts can be particularly good because, at the level of meaning, they often involve personal human experience and can stimulate the imagination, whilst, pedagogically speaking, they can be exploited in various ways. For a detailed list of means of exploiting texts see here. Tasks which fit particularly well with narrative or literary texts include: detailed question-answer techniques using past tenses, creative writing (e.g. writing summaries, changing the narrative point of view, writing alternative endings) and dialogue creation based on the text. Simple poems open up the possibility for enjoyable creative tasks such as designing calligrams (though, in general, poems, by their syntactic nature, are not the best source of input). Songs are probably the best source by far in that they lend themselves to pleasurable close listening (gap fill, retranslation, matching etc). All of these tasks contribute to building up a student's internalised syntactic competence.

But we need to be careful here. We are in baby and bathwater territory. We do not want a return to O-level style texts which neglected practical, transactional language. I was browsing an old Whitmarsh book the other day and what struck me most was how deadly dull it was! How could anyone have taught with that?

We had good reasons for moving away from an over-emphasis on literary narrative. We do need to provide enough material to develop the ability to cope in everyday situations. We do still require plenty of input relating to intercultural understanding and everyday situational tasks. So what teachers should hope for is a sensible evolution in text books, not a revolution. Let us also hope for courses with an impressive array of creative teaching ideas, not the recent, rushed out exam board sponsored efforts which unimaginatively resemble GCSE assessments.

Lastly, I would hope that colleagues do not teach "literature" to younger pupils (up to age 16) just because they have been told they should. Teachers should reject material which is not easy to exploit, think for themselves, apply the criteria I referred to above and trust exam boards to use common sense in any adapted source material they come up with.

Note added January 2015

The ALL have been running the "ALL Literature Project" whose aim is to provide practical recommendations to address the challenge of teaching literary texts. The wiki hosts contributions from teachers in this area.

One thing I have noticed ever since we first saw references to "literature" and even "great literature" in the DfE documents is that the concept has become watered down, rather like the way "authentic texts" has. Thus I read in the ALL Languages Today magazine that literature can include: "songs, verses, homemade texts, tongue-twisters, poems, songs, articles, plays and letters. Just about anything written down then!

I would repeat my suggestion that teachers should not be running round looking for literature. They should use whatever texts promote good language learning: interesting, fun, graded and, above all, explpoitable.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

How to translate common fish in French

Do you ever get confused at the fish market, supermarket or restaurant when it comes to the names of fish? Here is a quick vocabulary list which may help.

Anglais                      Français


Anchovy                    anchois (m)
Bream                        brème (f)
Carp                          carpe (f)
Catfish                       barbote (f) mâchoiron (m)
Chub                          spirlin (m)
Cod                            cabillaud (m), morue (dried and salted) (f)
Coley/ pollock           lieu (m)/ colin (m)
Eel                              anguille (f)
Grayling                     poisson ombre (m)
Grey mullet                mulet (m)
Gurnard                     grondin (m)
Haddock                    églefin/aiglefin (m)
Hake                          merlu (m)
Halibut                       flétan (m)
Herring                      hareng (m)
Ling, sea burbot         julienne (f)
Ling                           lingue (f)
Mackerel                   maquereau (m)
Monkfish                   lotte (f)
Perch                          perche (f)
Pike                          brochet (m)
Pilchard                     pilchard (m)
Red mullet                  rouget (m)
Red sea bream           pageot (m)
Salmon                      saumon (m)
Sardine                      sardine (f)
Sea bass                    bar (m)
Sea bream                 daurade (f) sar (m)
Shark                        requin (m)
Skate                        raie (f)
Smoked haddock      haddock (m)
Snapper                    vivaneau (m)
Sole                          sole (f)
Sturgeon                   esturgeon (m)
Swordfish                  espadon (m)
Trout                         truite (f)
Tuna                         thon (m)
Turbot                       turbot (m)
Whitebait                  petite friture (f)
Whiting                     merlan (m)

Pourquoi les Français mangent si peu d'églefin?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

On giving grammar notes to students

I was not a huge fan of spending lesson time on writing up or displaying grammar notes for students to read and copy, but I did it nevertheless. Why?

If you've read my blog before, you'll know that I am a fan of target language teaching, a structured direct method approach. You might even call it an adapted comprehensible input approach. In the school context I worked in, with the type of pupils I taught (generally quite able), I preferred a syllabus based essentially on a grammatical framework taught through the medium of large amounts of oral, aural, reading and writing practice.

I much preferred actually using and practising the language than talking about it. My feeling was that students would gradually internalise the rules of morphology and syntax through structured, controlled and less structured practice and that formal instruction in grammar was just an added extra which allowed students to have a conscious grasp of the rules. In Stephen Krashen's terms, this conscious knowledge is the "monitor". It helps learners edit their language, fine-tune it for accuracy, if you wish. he argues it does not contribute to acquisition, but we cannot be sure about that.

So why even teach rules at all? Why give notes?

Around 1980 there was an influential movement called "graded objectives", led by Brian Page, which aimed to provide students with discrete, attainable goals, thus giving them a greater sense of achievement. It was the result of dissatisfaction with O-level and part of the inspiration for GCSE. It would later be taken up again with the "languages ladder" (Asset Languages) - now sadly defunct. Page and others realised how important it was to give students a sense of achievement along the way.

There are various ways of doing this. You can adopt a situational or functional approach. This may work in some contexts, but in school it ends up neglecting grammar and failing to provide the more rounded, long term syntactic mastery some students need. You could do a purely grammatical syllabus, with a focus on grammatical and written accuracy. This was the grammar-translation approach. But this ends up producing accurate pupils whose oral and aural skills are limited.

What we have now should be a reasonable combination of functions, ideas and situations imposed upon an essentially grammatical framework. But to make the framework function, students benefit, I believe, from a conscious grasp of the rules.

I think pupils do like to understand how the patterns work. In mastering the rules they have a sense of immediate achievement, even if this is not the key aspect of long term acquisition. Without that sense of mastering a point students may lose their way, may be dispirited by only being focused on a very vague long term goal - becoming proficient in a new language. In maths and science you learn a concept, practise it, master it and move on. In language learning there are no neat steps in progress (one reason national curriculum levels are hard to concoct). So we try to impose a sense of order by talking about the, explaining it, rather than just using it.

In the end, I think my main objection to explaining grammar, displaying notes and having them copied, was that it was dull. It was time spent which could have been used for more enjoyable target language practice. You can explain grammar without note-taking, but I think you can make the case that in note-taking or copying it gives students time to think through the rules. In addition, they have their own record to revise from later. If the text book has clear and easy explanations, that may be enough, as long as you go through them. But giving notes is an easy activity to justify and teachers should have no qualms about doing it, as long as it is not a major focus.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Decoupling AS level

When it comes to the decoupling of AS level from A-level the press and blogosphere have focused mainly on the reaction of universities to the policy. They have come out against it, arguing that the information they get from AS level results makes it easier for them to select students accurately. This has led, by the way, to some discussion as to whether AS results or GCSEs are a better guide to future university achievement.

But as a former French teacher I am more concerned with the how the new AS level, as currently proposed by Ofqual/DfE, will affect the numbers ready to carry on with modern languages into the sixth form.

As a result of the current structure of AS and A2 level, considerable numbers of students choose to continue with a language for one year. They are often the type of able student who drops a language at the end of AS level to continue with maths and science. They frequently choose a language because they enjoy it and see the value of keeping a practical skill going for a year.

The new AS level, a standalone qualification, equal in difficulty to A-level, but with less content will, unfortunately, discourage such students from continuing with a language for that extra.

Firstly, the current AS level is a bridge between GCSE and A2 level. Although some students still find it a serious jump from GCSE, the specification is designed to contain overlap with GCSE, and it is approachable by the large majority of students with at least a B grade at GCSE. Indeed, the mark scheme, certainly for the oral component, is on the generous side. This means that students can be attracted to the subject for that extra year and some of these, realising how much they like it, change their minds and continue with a language even though that had not been their original intention. This phenomenon occurs for all subjects to an extent, but particularly in languages.

Secondly, whereas it is now standard practice for students to do four subjects at AS level, decoupling AS level while making it harder may well discourage schools from even offering AS levels. They may advise students to focus their efforts on doing well in just three (harder than before) A-levels. My hunch would be that AS MFL would become an option for a tiny minority of students who feel able to do it and whose schools could afford to lay it on. As it is, a significant number of students find they cannot do a language because there are not enough students in their school to make it financially viable. This situation will be exacerbated.

Its is easy to foresee, then, that the numbers doing AS level languages, and therefore languages as a whole, will fall even more from their currently perilous level.

If you have read my previous blogs on A-level reform, or studied the Ofqual and ALCAB documents, you will know just what a leap in difficulty the new AS level (and full A-level) will be for that large number of less than brilliant linguists who nevertheless enjoy their language lessons. Students may be going from rote learned controlled assessments about their school to studying the Algerian war or the Franco regime in the target language.

The ALCAB panel argued, in a hopelessly optimistic fashion, that the revised GCSE will produce students better capable of coping with the new decoupled AS and A-levels. What do you think?

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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Circling

I sometimes come across teachers online who struggle with how to keep lessons in the target language. Circling is an important way of making this happen without losing the class.

I came across the term "circling" with reference to questioning technique some time ago when reading about TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) , the north American language teaching approach closely associated with naturalistic or comprehensible input style teaching. In fact, what they call circling is nothing new. It was used in its most elaborate form in the Marc Gilbert books Cours Illustré de Français back in the 1960s. Circlng is, however, a convenient term to describe that form of artificial questioning language teachers use when practising new structures or vocabulary with classes.

Most of you will know what I mean. If you were teaching prepositions to near beginners it would go something like this:

Is the book on the table?
Is the book on the table or under the table?
The book is on the table. True or false?
Is the book on the chair?
Where is the book?

If you were introducing -er verbs in French to beginners you might have a pair of pupils David and Chris up to the front to draw simple animals on the board. David draws a cat. Chris draws an elephant.

David dessine un chat ou un éléphant? (Il dessine..)
Est-ce que David dessine un chat? (Non, il dessine...)
David, tu dessines un chat? (Oui, je dessine...)
Chris tu dessines un éléphant, oui ou non? (Oui)
Chris tu dessines un chat ou un éléphant? (Je dessine...)
David, qu'est-ce que tu dessines? (Je dessine...)

Tout le monde, David dessine un lion? (Non, il dessine...)
Chris dessine un tigre ou un éléphant? (Il dessine...)
Qu'est-ce qu'ils dessinent? (gesture both of them) Ils dessinent...

(Teacher draws a cat)
Nous dessinons un chat.
David, tu dessines un chat. Moi, je dessine un chat? Nous dessionons un éléphant? (Non, nous dessinons...)

etc etc

Some teachers may dislike the artificiality of such dialogue. I understand that. The whole class knows the book is on the table, why on earth ask about it?! But it is one of the prime ways we stick to the target language whilst maintaining comprehension (pictures and gesture help a lot), thus developing listening skill, vocabulary knowledge, oral proficiency and grammatical accuracy. Some would claim that the very repetition of structures helps students "internalise" or "fix" them, so they become part of their tacit knowledge. Good "circling" covers so many bases that it would be foolish to avoid it, I believe.

The artificiality of circling can, in fact, be played around with by using an exaggerated tone of voice or disbelieving facial expression. Students will happily play along with this, realising it's a bit of a game.

Even with more advanced learners you can use quite artificial dialogue. More advanced learners will feel patronised if you ask obvious questions. But this sort of activity works well:

e.g. "I am going to give you a deliberately false and stupid statement, correct it for me."
      "I am going to give you an answer; what was the question?"
      "I am going to give you two/three different statements. Which is the right one?"

As teachers my belief is that we should not avoid these types of artificial communication in the classroom. If the long term goal of producing proficient linguists is achieved in this way, let the ends justify the means.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Fine tuning the input

I sometimes come across listening material online, for example extracts of French language films or TV which look initially appealing for their content or humour, but which for me, fail the classroom test because they are just to fast or hard to understand.

I am happy to go along, for the sake of this argument, with Stephen Krashen's notion that acquisition will occur if students are presented with language they understand. In practice, what we get students to listen to and read has to include some unknown language for them to make progress, so the skill lies in selecting authentic material, or in designing new material, which follows the knowledge + 1 principle.

This means we present language containing a suitable balance of known and new language, at a pace students can reasonably follow (usually with repetitions as far as listening is concerned). This is what you might call fine-tuning of comprehensible input. (In passing, it is sometimes argued that traditional "lock-step" graded teaching is too fine-tuned so makes the source material too artificial - just think of some of those old textbooks.)

So this poses a real problem with authentic resources which are often too fast and too rich in unknown language. They may seem like fun, they may even have a motivational spin-off, but they are not necessarily a good source of teaching input. At the very least they might be made acceptable with the use of sub-titles, an equivalent to the principle of parallel reading.

One argument put forward for these more challenging and authentic resources is that they present students with the type of target language they will actually get to hear and read in the target language country. We should not be shielding learners from the reality of naturally paced language, rich in tricky vocabulary and syntax, the argument goes.

I would argue in response that the classroom is an artificial learning environment. We will endeavour to use displays and realia to disguise the fact. We will make much use of target language, use native speakers, do role plays and the like, but the fact remains that the classroom is a place where we need to provide the input and practice to produce, in the long run, skilled linguists. This requires fine-tuning of input for acquisition to take place. If our input is badly tuned students will have an even harder time in the end when they have to cope in real situations.

Now, if you show a film or clip with language way beyond the skill levels of students this may have some limited value. It will present cultural content and it will reveal to students just how hard and fast authentic language is. It may even play some role in tuning students' ears to pronunciation and intonation. However, it is far from perfect as input for learning.

Just to mention that it is obviously the case that the younger the students are, the more finely tuned input needs to be. With skilled advanced learners, the degree of tuning/adaptation may be relatively small.

I liked the way that a former MA tutor of mine, Alan Hornsey, from the Institution of Education put it. He said that the source material need not be authentic, but it should be "plausible". Alas, we see so little of such professionally produced material.

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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Frenchteacher updates

After a summer when I spent as much time blogging - largely about the proposed new MFL A-levels - as writing resources, I have got back into the swing recently. Incidentally I am going to be doing some work on resources for AQA with the new specifications in mind, so it will be interesting to see how they grapple with the challenges presented by the new Ofqual GCSE content (slightly anachronistic) and A-level (off the wall anachronistic). Once I start work with them I'll probably be under an oath of silence.

As far as new resources are concerned, I have added some more video listening worksheets, two with a scientific slant (the International Space Station and air pollution) and two songs by Yannick Noah. The latter are easy to understand and catchy. I did look at doing some Stromae songs, but to be honest, it's not my cup of tea and lyrically I was not sure it was the best source of language.

With the new national curriculum in mind and its greater emphasis on "literature", I have started doing some searching and thinking. It's not easy. Most material usually considered as literature, even short extracts such as letters, are too hard for KS3 and even KS4, so teachers and textbook writers will need to do some smart selection a d adaptation to make sources suitable for teaching. I have fallen back on an old favourite, Prévert's Déjeuner du matin, and produced a worksheet which could be done by good KS4 students. There is a good Youtube short film which supports the poem and I had the idea of students working in threes, with one student reading the poem whilst the other two act out the scene. That could work.

Other recent resources include an AS level reading task on cinema, a Y9-11 text with exercises entitles Ma meilleure copine, an AS level text with exercises on e-cigarettes and, lastly, a detailed lesson plan for teaching school subjects to near beginners.

I continue to seek easy listening material, literary style material and interesting easy texts for parallel reading. I would love to hear from anyone who has made use or who intends to make use of the beginner parallel reading resources.

Have a great year! I've been retired over two years now and still miss the classroom, but running frenchteacher.net and blogging allows me to keep my hand in. I'm also looking forward to doing another session with the PGCE students at York University in October.




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Monday, 1 September 2014

Cheating

In teacher blogs one subject I have never come across is cheating by pupils. You may want to file this one under grandmothers and egg-sucking, but here we go. It is an important aspect of classroom management.

Just as some pupils lie (just ask any head of year how brazenly they do so), some cheat. If they are not tackled about it they will cheat often. Given the chance some will cheat in class if their partner's work is in view. They will also cheat by copying homework wholesale from friends. Some are smart enough to try and disguise their cheating by deliberately leaving some differences between their work and that of the person from whom they have copied. Others cheat by using Google Translate.

My experience was that, in nearly all cases, once the pupil had been tackled quite aggressively over the issue, they did not cheat again. Nice Mr Smith became nasty and abrupt Mr Smith. Furthermore, a firm lecture on the issue to the whole class would largely deal with the issue. My pitch to pupils and classes was that I was personally offended by cheating because it was fundamentally dishonest. They were handing in something to me under false pretences and I disliked being hoodwinked.

As well as a good talking-to, I would set extra work so that the student knew cheating would end up costing them more time. A blind eye was never turned.

Google Translate has aggravated the issue, but it is nearly always easy to spot, as all cheating is. Our policy was that if evidence of computer translation was found it would be punished by detention. We put a notice to this effect on classroom walls. It only rarely occurred.

What about the cheatee - one who offered their work for copying? I would not normally not punish them. It is possible that they were coerced. I would make it clear that giving your work to someone else was not acceptable.

And how about that situation where pupils have worked collaboratively on homework during a weekend get-together? In my view this is no better. The pupils concerned are still handing in work as if it were their own. They may (just) think that working together is alright. They need to know that, in most situations, it is not.

So you can see that we had a pretty zero tolerance approach on cheating and i believe that is how it should be. It is one of the fundamental reasons for marking pupils' work and we need to set high moral standards as far as honesty is concerned.




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"Bribing" schools to do GCSE MFL

I read that the Conservatives intend to get Ofsted to only award Good and Outstanding grades to schools where all pupils do EBacc subjects to GCSE. This is part of their agenda for all students, whatever their interests and abilities, to have access to an academic curriculum. It has been calculated that only two schools in England would currently get a Good or Outstanding on this basis!

Firstly, there is an issue regarding the independence of Ofsted who are supposed to be immune from political interference, but I shall put that to one side.

Secondly, there is the major issue regarding whether all students should be doing a very similar curriculum up to 16. I understand the argument being made. All students, it is claimed, should have access to what middle class students study and we should not be offering some kind of easier, second class curriculum to some students. It's the old sheep and goats/education versus training argument which has been debated for years.

I happen to lean towards a curriculum design which suits each pupil's needs and which does not necessarily value traditional subjects over others, but that is not really my point here either.

What I find strange is the notion that the inspection and accountability systems are being used to lean on schools to favour some subjects over others. When Gove introduced the EBacc measure as a means to get more students doing languages, science and humanities, I thought, at the time, that it was a crafty move. (We have since learned from Sam Freedman, adviser to Gove at the time, that the policy was fairly off the cuff and the name decided upon at the last minute in time for an interview on the Andrew Marr show.) Indeed, numbers taking languages have risen a little, even if only temporarily. I now think it was a wrong-headed decision which stemmed from an ideological belief in school autonomy.

If the government thinks all children should do MFL to 16, they should just say so and make it compulsory. That would be the honest approach.

Their policy reveals an underlying uncertainty about this issue. It seems that they want more children doing languages, but not all, and are using the accountability system to twist the arms of heads, effectively bribe them, to get more pupils following the traditional academic route.

For the record, I have serious doubts about a languages for all policy in the UK, but if we were to go down that route we should do it honestly and design courses that cater for the needs of all students.





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