Sunday, 29 May 2016

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (Word)
10 literary text extracts with questions

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and literature. Attitudes16 comes in both AQA and Pearson-friendly formats and could form your sole main resource, or be used to complement other resources.

Let's take a close look. So far Steve and Nathalie have completed the six units you'd need for the first year of a two year course or AS-level. The remaining six will follow later. I'm going to focus on one unit; La famille en voie de changement (AQA), which many schools will start with in September. You would find the Pearson material to be very similar.

This unit, along with all the others, is broken down into a number of sections: key vocabulary and grammar, facts and figures, a general introduction to the sub-theme including a recorded feuilleton (an original touch), listening and reading tasks, a section called séquences, an oral exam section, translation both ways and a final song.

Vocabulary and grammar

This consists of a number of worksheets: a vocabulary list linked to Textivate interactive tasks (Textivate, if you don't know it yet, allows students to do a wide range of text manipulation tasks) and five grammar worksheets, for example, a sheet with a combined matching and verb conjugation task based on the present tense and a verb agreement tasks based on reflexive verbs.

Facts and figures

This has a clear and ungimmicky five slide PowerPoint  which include outside links, useful phrases and some figures which would feed into to the AO4 category of cultural knowledge - remember that in the new specs students will need to show off what they know about the culture to obtain the highest marks). You could easily use it for oral exploitation and embed phrases like un tiers, un quart, la moitié and so on.

You then have a series of briquettes d'information - listening tasks with worksheets, which double as useful language tasks and a further source of background information. You get a transcription, gap-fill and a task which combines verb conjugation with answering questions in French. I like the way Steve combines exercises on form with meaning. Two birds with one stone.

Introduction to the theme

So, having done the "pre-theme" tasks, you get on the topic itself in more detail. The recorded feuilleton is accompanied by a range of worksheet tasks: multi-choice, ticking correct sentences, questions in french and gap-fill from a choice of words. These are all mainstream A-level tasks, the like of which you'll find on exam papers. the level is appropriate and content interesting.

You also get a transcription combined with a grammar analysis tasks and glossed vocabulary, as well as a set of 18 pictures and paragraphs, the purpose of which is "to give students a socio-cultural perspective of the topic to bring them up to speed with how we arrived at the current situation in France/French speaking countries". In addition there is a research section "designed to give ideas for the personal study part of the oral examination in the full A level".

Listening

This is really video listening, since Steve has linked to external YouTube videos and combined them with Textivate tasks. I like this approach - most courses rely on pure audio and any video material (where it exists) can be very artificial. The two videos here are about how to charm a young woman and how to find a partner. Should be motivational!

Students can do these tasks at home if YouTube is not accessible at school. Steve is going to try to source more video clips from the ina.fr site, the French national archive of video clips.

Reading

You get a number of tasks, including short paragraphs with exercises ("narrow reading", if you like) and extracts from Zola with glossed vocabulary in the margin and comprehension exercises.

Séquences

This includes linked videos with various oral and written tasks, for example questions in French, lexical analysis and translation. This is excellent supplementary material which might well be used in the second year of a two year course, when you need to revisit the lower sixth themes at a higher level.

Oral exam

Here you have photo card examples and what steve calls "Le grand défi idea generator". The boxes of language contain lots of ideas around key aspects of the topic although taken much further than in the initial listothèque activity referred to above.

Translations

The French to English translation in this unit would fit the second year of the course best and is harder than the exam board specimens you see at AS-level. the English to French is done interactively with Textivate and is at an easier level in this particular unit.

Songs

You get links to YouTube songs on the theme of family, together with words.

So there we have it. Lots of very good material, all skills covered, well pitched, interesting and perfectly appropriate to the exam board specification.

What makes this resource distinctive, of course, is that it is not a printed book. How does it work then?

Here is the pricing: AQA specification- 6 units - £30 per unit, £40 for a VLE version £150 for all six units inc CD (£5 extra for CD 1+ units). Teachers can share their password with students or take advantage of their VLE, such as Moodle or Firefly. Steve sends out CDs for teachers to be able to put recordings on the VLE.

You would need to weigh this up against the cost of individual textbooks for students (costing roughly £22 each, before discount in OUP's case). Photocopying has to be factored in, but you'd be doing some of this with a printed book. I assume that the VLE version would be needed for all student access.

Compared with the printed books I have reviewed from OUP and Hodder, Attitudes16 has certain advantages, among them the interactivity (for which you'd pay extra, using, for example the OUP Kerboodle package which is of mixed quality). In addition, the video listening material is more motivational, if less finely tuned to the student's level of comprehension. If you favour authenticity over fine-tuning, then this will suit you. It's worth noting that there will be transcripts available for all the videos - they can be viewed on Textivate.
I also find the grammatical content more detailed than in the course books, which need quite a bit of supplementing. This would too, but to a lesser extent.

Overall, then, an excellent package which you might want to inspect along with other courses before you make a final decision.

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Hodder AQA A-level French




This is an 'all-in-one', comprehensive AS and A-level book which, before discount, costs £29.99, making it relatively good value these days for a two year course. It has an unusually long list of authors: Casimir d’Angelo Jean-Claude Gilles Rod Hares Lauren Léchelle, with: Séverine Chevrier-Clarke Lisa Littlewood and Kirsty Thathapudi. You may know of Rod Hares - he wrote Tout Droit with David Mort and Compo.

The course rigorously covers all the sub-themes in the specification, includes work on all the prescribed texts and films and builds in a review of sub-themes covered in Year 1 into the year 2 programme. This is useful when you bear in mind the structure of the new A-level and the standalone AS-level.

In its early pages the book features maps of France and the francophone world and an explanation for students about how the A-level specification is structured. This introduction clearly lays out the exams to be taken and how the text book itself works. The clarity is notable. The back of the book has a detailed grammar section and verb tables.

It is not necessary to work through the book in order, since each 'spread' of work is pitched at a different level, but I imagine many teachers will use the book as a guide to their scheme of work. More on that below.

Each unit is prefaced with aims; theme, grammar and strategies, the latter following the current fashion (I wonder if this will be a passing fad). After this each unit begins with a activity called On s'échauffe, a kind of pre-reading/pre-listening task, to get students into the theme and its associated vocabulary.


Example of a Unit

Let's take Unit 2 as an example. This is the sub-theme of La cyber-société.

The warm-up tasks is a brief matching and oral activity to get students talking simply about favourite devices. No-nonsense and effective. There then follows a reading matching task based on short paragraphs, a true/false/not mentioned task, then a sentence level gap-fill grammar task on articles followed by translation into English of the sentences.

There is then a gap-fill and matching task based on a conversation, followed by a short translation into English based on the same topic and featuring the future tense. This material is all very much post-GCSE in standard. This is then followed by two useful group or pair-based communicative tasks and a written task. Here are the oral tasks:

a Par groupes de trois ou quatre,
Réfléchissez sur une liste exhaustive des différents usages de la technologie dans la vie de tous les jours.  
À tour de rôle, expliquez oralement à la classe les activités les plus importantes pour vous. 

b Échangez des points de vue sur les questions suivantes. 
Comment voyez-vous l’avenir des réseaux sociaux ? l Comment imaginez-vous les transports dans 25 ans ? 
Comment voyez-vous les progrès de l’électronique et de la robotique dans la maison ? 
Comment imaginez-vous la conquête de l’espace dans 50 ans ?

I like these. The level is beyond GCSE, allows for easy communication and invites a degree of reflective/imaginative response. The writing task is a write-up of the previous discussion. All very sensible.

The next semi-authentic reading source called Deux jeunes cybernautes français is preceded by a pre-reading task focused on vocabulary and word classes, and followed by two comprehension tasks in French 'find the equivalent in the text' and a matching task, then a slightly clumsy grammar drill focusing on verb tenses

 e.g. Est-ce que tu .......... souvent d’Internet ? (se servir, au présent)

Following a couple of listening tasks, there is then a strategies section on vocabulary learning, including sensible advice about learning words in context, mnemonics and visuals to aid memorisation.

After a short translation passage into French, there is a 'webquest'-style task involving some independent or group research, note-taking and feeding back.

The next section in this sub-theme is about cyber-crime and features, amongst other things, a longer text, a drill on adjective agreement, a re-ordering tasks based on a listening text, questions in French on the same text, translation into English and discussion activities.

There is then a good section on the boom in cyber-technology in francophone Africa (recall that in the new specifications the focus should be on the culture of the TL country). This section including strategies advice on checking and editing written work and an opportunity to do some semi-imaginative writing. here is the instruction:

Vous êtes arrivés dans un village reculé d’Afrique. Vous avez montré aux villageois tout ce qu’ils pouvaient faire avec leurs nouveaux téléphones portables. Décrivez dans un court rapport ce que certains d’entre eux ont réussi à faire pour la première fois, et comment cela leur a facilité les choses.

The unit ends with a vocabulary list for reference and learning.

Approfondissement

Following the 12 sub-theme units there is a section which revisits the first six sub-themes (the AS-level ones, if you like) with further activities and the higher level of difficulty (A-level, not AS-level). teachers would find this very useful towards the end of the two year course.

Literature and film

The middle of this 291 page book features 34 pages devoted to film and literature, covering, as I mentioned earlier, all the prescribed works. As an example, the section on Les 400 Coups by Truffaut features a plot summary text, a TL comprehension task with 'choose the correct sentences', a listening tasks besed on a conversation about the film, oral and writing tasks. I like the opportunity for students to be able to dip into a film or text in this way - it may even be useful for teachers with little or no experience of teaching film and literature.

These 'mini-units' can be used to reinforce language work irrespective of whether you are teaching the works. The text book does not, of course, supply extensive resources for teaching film and literature.

Grammar

If you were to follow the units in sequence the order of grammar covered would be as follows in the first year of a two year course (six sub-themes):


  1. Present tense, future, interrogatives.
  2. Articles, reflexive verbs, position and agreement of adjectives, perfect tense.
  3. Comparatives and superlatives, imperfect and pluperfect, direct and indirect pronouns.
  4. Irregular perfect tense forms, passives, infinitives, negatives.
  5. Imperatives, past historic, imperfect, present and past participles.
  6. Present subjunctive, conditional, adverbs.
Quality of reading material

Sourcing interesting reading at the right level is always a challenge, if a little less so at A-level. In this instance, the authors have written some good adapted-authentic texts of the right length and difficulty level. All are rooted in the target language culture and will not only develop language skill, but provide the knowledge students will need to do well in their speaking tests. (Recall that some marks are allocated for knowledge and understanding in the orals.)

I would just add the caveat that the requirement to include a greater degree of knowledge of the culture does force the authors into writing pieces focusing on, for example, information and history. This inevitably limits what you can do in terms of imaginative exploitation of the texts. This was always going to be an issue following the remit handed don by ALCAB and the DfE. On the other hand, the literary texts do offer scope for more personal texts. 

However, examples of interesting texts include an innovative approach to stopping smoking in Belgium (in sub-theme 3 - bénévolat); an article about whether being a UNESCO heritage site is useful (in sub-theme 4 - patrimoine); a feuture about eh development of French cinema (in sub-theme 6 - cinéma); a piece about eh history of trade unions in France (in sub theme 11 - manifestations et grèves).

Listening

I haven't had access to listening files so cannot assess their suitability, but the exercise types look fine and there appears to be a decent quantity and range of material.

Essay writing

Writing about texts and films in exam conditions (which students used to do in previous incarnations of the A-level) will be a challenge, so the book tackles this with two brief chapters on essay planning and writing, one for AS-level, one for A-level. Resources include strategies and a list of useful expressions to use. This is a worthwhile inclusion, though some will find it brief. Sometimes there is just only so much you can squeeze into a book.


Sum-up

This is the best A-level text book I have seen for many years. It manages to provide what students need for the new A-levels whilst being inherently interesting and extremely usable. There are bound to be exercises which teachers do not like, but you could work through the book (probably in order) and not need a huge amount of back-up material. It is a bit thin on structured grammar practice, but this is hard to accommodate with a text book so this is not a complaint at all.

The book is very clearly laid out, colourful without being gimmicky and the resource material and exercises types are well chosen. There are choices to be made in terms of how you exploit the book. As I mentioned above, each unit is graded for difficulty, so do you just go through the whole unit or do you dip in and out, doing the easier material of a unit first, then coming back to the harder material later. This latter approach feels a bit clumsy to me, but it may depend on the ability and prior attainment of the students you are teaching.

You would also need to consider the order that the grammar is presented within and across units. The sequence above makes pretty good sense which might lead you to simply working through each unit and building your scheme of work around the structure of the text book.

Students with very weak skills post-GCSE will find the material a challenge so some teachers might want to do a rigorous grammar revision course at the start of Y12, or just strongly reinforce the grammar elements in each unit.

I am hoping to review the text book from OUP very soon; I hope it is just as good, but I do urge you to get hold of a copy of this Hodder book. It's excellent and so much better than the previous generation of A-level books.

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OUP AQA French





This course is written by Rob Pike, Colin Povey and Paul Shannon. Rather than produce an all-in-one book for the full A-level, Oxford have decided to publish two books, this first one being for either AS-level or the first year of a full A-level course. Either approach seems sound, but you might want to consider the financial implications of buying one big book compared with two slimmer volumes. The 2-year Hodder book is nearly £30 before discount, the two OUP books come to £44 before discount. That is a significant difference if you have quite a few students. This may be a good point to make when haggling with the rep!

AQA French (what happened to those snazzy old titles like Au Point, Tout Droit, Vécu and Objectif Bac?) looks like another very worthy contender for your capitation budget. The content is similar to the Hodder book and ticks all your new specification boxes: lots of texts awash with cultural information, translation both ways, appropriate listening and reading comprehension tasks, research tasks, summary tasks, oral activities and a grammatical progression (of sorts) and dedicated chapters about literature and film. Each unit (which the authors say can be done in any order) comes with a vocab list at the end, as well as lists of key expressions. I imagine most teachers will start from the beginning with the family sub-theme.

There really is a lot of reading material in this book, although it would be nice to see a bit more detailed exploitation of some of the texts. The format seems to be: text, comprehension exercise, "translate the first two paragraphs", then move on to listening, summary and translation into French. I'd like to see more thorough grammatical practice and lexical work, but space probably does not allow for it. Teachers will need to add this extra level of exploitation. I do like the inclusion of a résumé section at the end of each unit.

The texts are interesting and informative, but can present a bit of a challenge when it comes to using them for communicative work. (This is inherent in the subject content provided by the DfE - the new emphasis on cultural knowledge imposes certain limits on the amount of personalised discussion you might want students to engage in.) If I were still teaching I would build this into lessons anyway, whilst ensuring students have enough knowledge to use when it comes to exam time.

I have not heard the listening tracks so cannot vouch for their quality - there seems to be plenty of material, though, with familiar exercise types. The experience of the writers comes across in the well-chosen oral tasks and well-pitched translation sentences. I would say that the oral tasks are a bit on the general and demanding side.

Just a word about that grammatical progression. If you take the chapters in order, you get: imperfect, perfect, past historic, infinitive constructions, object pronouns, present tense, conditional, future, adjectives, the subjunctive, then re-visits of some of these. Some teachers might feel this is more haphazard than the approach taken with the Hodder book. Others teachers may not be overly concerned with that kind of traditional progression from easier to more complex.

The inclusion of a separate short chapter on essay writing is welcome, although I am not sure whether students need to be too worried about the traditional structure of intro/key points/conclusion since the new mark schemes give no marks for structure or cohesion.

The example material in the sections on film and literature come from what will no doubt be two popular choices from the prescribed lists: La Haine and L'Etranger.

Overall, then, you have another more than acceptable resource here for you and your students. The authors have done a super job. The bar has been raised a good deal with these latest books. The AQA A-level French from Hodder may have the edge (because of its grammatical progression, better value and slightly greater "wow" factor), but some teachers may prefer to get two separate books, especially if they have a significant number of students doing only a one-year course.

I would get copies of both courses and weigh up their relative merits very carefully with your department. In the recent past I would not have bought a textbook at all for A-level, but these new ones will perform a very good role indeed. They are both very usable, which is slightly bad news for frenchteacher.net. More work for me then!

Friday, 27 May 2016

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

"Even with over 30 years of experience it gave me some good ideas and food for thought." (Sian Haynes-Ryterski, UK Teacher)

I'm a secondary French teacher, and I've just finished reading this excellent book. It's jam-packed with creative ideas for the classroom, and it's really inspired me. The suggestions are very practical and require little preparation. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on speaking and listening activities, and on helpful technology/websites for language learning. I thoroughly recommend this book! (UK teacher, Amazon review)

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a treasure chest for every language teacher, whether new to the profession or not. The comprehensive 350-page volume is divided in 25 well-structured chapters where invaluable tips ans tricks are backed up by the latest research on all subjects and the extensive teaching experience of both authors Steve Smith and Dr. Gianfranco Conti. This self-published book is a must not only for trainee language teacher students but also a fantastic reference for inspiration, practical applications and implications in the classroom, exploring all types of learners and situations in an encouraging and clearly expressed language. Every teaching question and context seems to be covered with such depth of thought, detail, logic, attention to detail, empathy and clarity that I will dwell in this book's wisdom for many years to come." (UK teacher, Nadine, Amazon)


"Strongly recommend the book: a must-have." (UK teacher)


"Chapeau! Already on our trainee reading list." (UK teacher)


"Absolutely loving this! Inspirational, practical, so sensible and backed up by research. Well done, gentlemen, and thank you." (UK teacher)


"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon)



"Especially appreciate the overviews of the different methods and their strengths 
- this is a well-rounded book  packed with valuable info." (USA teacher, Amazon)

"Love this book! Not a quick read. Take in one section then figure out how to use it in my class. Can't wait to watch student engagement and success increase. Merci beaucoup!! " (Sue O'Hagen, Amazon Canada review)

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a book that addresses all of the challenges we 
must face and overcome in the classroom, in order to ensure that students are 
receiving quality world language instruction." (USA teacher, Amazon)

"Excellent, very accessible resource for teachers and trainees in the languages 
classroom. Practical and sensible, yet takes on board new methodology and 
ideas that can work. Backed up by research, teachers can have confidence in 
and refer to the Languages Teacher Toolkit to improve practice. A must-have 
for MFL-ers!"  (UK teacher, Amazon)

"For me, it contains just about everything I think I need to know. One big 
thing I've taken from it that sticks out is that I can now explain how I teach 
the way I teach, why I don't use the Grammar/Translation method too 
much, the book has given me an introduction to the theories of my pedagogical 
choices which I was none the wiser of beforehand." (UK teacher, Amazon)

"An excellent toolkit for all language teachers, whether new to the profession 
or very experienced." (UK teacher, Amazon)

"Clear explanations, sound rationale, packed with practical, effective ideas and 
written by two experienced teachers who know their stuff. Highly recommend it!" (UK teacher, Amazon)

"Insightful and practical. An excellent resource from two reflective and 
thought-provoking writers. Recommend." (UK teacher, Amazon)

"What makes The Language Teacher Toolkit so appealing is that by combining 
the findings of research with a wide variety of practical ideas which involve 
minimal preparation for the teacher and maximal effectiveness for pupils." 
(UK teacher, ISMLA newsletter review)

"I intend to keep my Language Teacher Toolkit in my classroom and refer to 
it for inspiration when planning lessons, writing schemes of work or assessments 
or planning trips in the future." (UK teacher, ISMLA newsletter review)

"...take time to read Smith and Conti’s book. It’s packed with lots 
of interesting and not too ‘wacky’ ideas." (Ernesto Macaro)

"Excellent, very accessible resource for teachers and trainees in the languages classroom. Practical and sensible, yet takes on board new methodology and ideas that can work. Backed up by research, teachers can have confidence in and refer to the Languages Teacher Toolkit to improve practice. A must-have for MFL-ers!" (Amazon UK purchaser)

"Recommended for all our PGCE trainees" (Nicola McEwan, University of Buckingham, England)

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Review of Panorama francophone 1 by Danièle Bourdais and Sue Finnie



Panorama francophone is a CUP course designed specifically for students preparing for the ab initio International Baccalaureate exam. With an international audience in mind, you won't find any English in the student and teacher books, nor in the accompanying cahier d'exercices. Another possible audience might be general studies students in England who wish to do beginners' French.

The course consists of 14 chapters, beginning with Je me présente, then working through Tu es comment?, la vie quotidienne, Bon appétit, En ville, Mon paradis sur terre, Temps libre, Projets de vacances, Au lycée, Faites la fête!, La santé pour tous, L'Evolution du shopping, Nous les jeunes and Le français dans le monde.

Each chapter covers a general topic, sub-topics within and one or more grammar points, beginning with articles and ending with negation and government of verbs (two verbs together). Tenses are covered in the sequence present, near future, perfect, future, conditional and imperfect. Each chapter ends with a revision page.

To take one chapter as an example (Chapter 5, En ville): the opening page features a sign showing the entrance to Marseilles with a list of its twinned cities. This is the basis for some simple oral questions, which include revision of knowledge of la francophonie, covered at the start of the course. There follows some simple vocabulary building based on five pictures of French-speaking cities around the world. This is followed on the next page by a reading task to match short paragraphs with the correct city. There is then a grid to complete to show reading comprehension and a listening task (with audio coming from an accompanying CD).

Simple speaking and writing tasks are followed by further vocabulary building with the aid of authentic pictures and a game of vocabulary bingo. A matching reading task follows, putting simple definitions with places around town. At this point simple prepositions are introduced and practised by means of a memory game about describing part of a town centre. A street map of Vannes is the basis for a listening gap-fill, learning how to give and understand directions and use imperatives.  More listening and pair work follows.

The final double spread begins with factual information about Terre-de-Haut and Marrakech. This is used for a reading matching task and simple oral exploitation. information about the town of Clermont is then used to get students to eventually speak and write about their own town or village. Students are then asked to choose a twin town for their own and justify their choice. The revision page features information about Dakar with comprehension and writing task.

If this material feels a little immature, be reassured that later in Book 1 students are reading about vegetarianism, technology, online shopping, rights and duties of young people, bullying, friendship and voting at 16. No doubt Book 2 moves into more challenging territory.

The comprehensive teacher's book includes transcripts, solutions to exercises, ways to exploit the material and further information for teachers, including, for example, a description of how the imperative works.

I should mention the cahier d'exercices too. This is a separate booklet for students, in black and white, with a wide of exercises, some of them illustrated. You get gap-fill, word-searches, matching, odd-one-out, sentence construction from grids, multi-choice, crosswords, questions in French and more.


When I look at a book my first questions tend to be: is it interesting? Is it usable?How much would you not want to use? Does it need supplementing?

In this case, if you were working with IB students, this could be your sole resource and would provide ample material for classroom exploitation and homework. Inevitably, the easier material would be somewhat below the maturity level of 16-17 year-olds, but I'd assume they would be happy to play the game and recognise that basics need to be covered. Generally the content is interesting and informative, clearly aimed at an international audience, while the large format pages are clearly laid out, colourful without being gimmicky, with pictures serving a useful purpose. Where they are needed for specific teaching points they are clear.

The methodology is traditional topic-based supported by a grammatical progression with the main emphasis on vocabulary acquisition and comprehension. By the end of the book students are reading full pages of text. Teachers would need to decide how much time they would need to spend on the written tasks. If you know more about the IB than I do, you'll know where to lay the stress.Exercise types are all familiar, mainstream stuff by very experienced writers. Pretty much everything looks "do-able". This comes through in the teacher's book too.

In sum, this course looks very useful indeed for teachers and students doing ab initio IB and I would recommend it unreservedly.


Review of Attitudes16 for A-level French



An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and literature. Attitudes16 comes in both AQA and Pearson-friendly formats and could form your sole main resource, or be used to complement other resources.

Let's take a close look. So far Steve and Nathalie have completed the six units you'd need for the first year of a two year course or AS-level. The remaining six will follow later. I'm going to focus on one unit; La famille en voie de changement (AQA), which many schools will start with in September. You would find the Pearson material to be very similar.

This unit, along with all the others, is broken down into a number of sections: key vocabulary and grammar, facts and figures, a general introduction to the sub-theme including a recorded feuilleton (an original touch), listening and reading tasks, a section called séquences, an oral exam section, translation both ways and a final song.

Vocabulary and grammar

This consists of a number of worksheets: a vocabulary list linked to Textivate interactive tasks (Textivate, if you don't know it yet, allows students to do a wide range of text manipulation tasks) and five grammar worksheets, for example, a sheet with a combined matching and verb conjugation task based on the present tense and a verb agreement tasks based on reflexive verbs.

Facts and figures

This has a clear and ungimmicky five slide PowerPoint  which include outside links, useful phrases and some figures which would feed into to the AO4 category of cultural knowledge - remember that in the new specs students will need to show off what they know about the culture to obtain the highest marks). You could easily use it for oral exploitation and embed phrases like un tiers, un quart, la moitié and so on.

You then have a series of briquettes d'information - listening tasks with worksheets, which double as useful language tasks and a further source of background information. You get a transcription, gap-fill and a task which combines verb conjugation with answering questions in French. I like the way Steve combines exercises on form with meaning. Two birds with one stone.

Introduction to the theme

So, having done the "pre-theme" tasks, you get on the topic itself in more detail. The recorded feuilleton is accompanied by a range of worksheet tasks: multi-choice, ticking correct sentences, questions in french and gap-fill from a choice of words. These are all mainstream A-level tasks, the like of which you'll find on exam papers. the level is appropriate and content interesting.

You also get a transcription combined with a grammar analysis tasks and glossed vocabulary, as well as a set of 18 pictures and paragraphs, the purpose of which is "to give students a socio-cultural perspective of the topic to bring them up to speed with how we arrived at the current situation in France/French speaking countries". In addition there is a research section "designed to give ideas for the personal study part of the oral examination in the full A level".

Listening

This is really video listening, since Steve has linked to external YouTube videos and combined them with Textivate tasks. I like this approach - most courses rely on pure audio and any video material (where it exists) can be very artificial. The two videos here are about how to charm a young woman and how to find a partner. Should be motivational!

Students can do these tasks at home if YouTube is not accessible at school. Steve is going to try to source more video clips from the ina.fr site, the French national archive of video clips.

Reading

You get a number of tasks, including short paragraphs with exercises ("narrow reading", if you like) and extracts from Zola with glossed vocabulary in the margin and comprehension exercises.

Séquences

This includes linked videos with various oral and written tasks, for example questions in French, lexical analysis and translation. This is excellent supplementary material which might well be used in the second year of a two year course, when you need to revisit the lower sixth themes at a higher level.

Oral exam

Here you have photo card examples and what steve calls "Le grand défi idea generator". The boxes of language contain lots of ideas around key aspects of the topic although taken much further than in the initial listothèque activity referred to above.

Translations

The French to English translation in this unit would fit the second year of the course best and is harder than the exam board specimens you see at AS-level. the English to French is done interactively with Textivate and is at an easier level in this particular unit.

Songs

You get links to YouTube songs on the theme of family, together with words.

So there we have it. Lots of very good material, all skills covered, well pitched, interesting and perfectly appropriate to the exam board specification.

What makes this resource distinctive, of course, is that it is not a printed book. How does it work then?

Here is the pricing: AQA specification- 6 units - £30 per unit, £40 for a VLE version £150 for all six units inc CD (£5 extra for CD 1+ units). Teachers can share their password with students or take advantage of their VLE, such as Moodle or Firefly. Steve sends out CDs for teachers to be able to put recordings on the VLE.

You would need to weigh this up against the cost of individual textbooks for students (costing roughly £22 each, before discount in OUP's case). Photocopying has to be factored in, but you'd be doing some of this with a printed book. I assume that the VLE version would be needed for all student access.

Compared with the printed books I have reviewed from OUP and Hodder, Attitudes16 has certain advantages, among them the interactivity (for which you'd pay extra, using, for example the OUP Kerboodle package which is of mixed quality). In addition, the video listening material is more motivational, if less finely tuned to the student's level of comprehension. If you favour authenticity over fine-tuning, then this will suit you. It's worth noting that there will be transcripts available for all the videos - they can be viewed on Textivate.
I also find the grammatical content more detailed than in the course books, which need quite a bit of supplementing. This would too, but to a lesser extent.

Overall, then, an excellent package which you might want to inspect along with other courses before you make a final decision.





Friday, 20 May 2016

Learning strategies (5)

Here is the fifth and final post in the series about learning strategies. We look at a few revision strategies and make some general concluding remarks.


Helping students revise 

In languages, as for other subjects, revision before tests and examinations is a key ingredient of success. In many subjects students have a clear idea of what revision means, but in languages students often ask “How do I revise?” Unfortunately, from some students’ point of view, because of the cumulative nature of language learning, it is hard to improve one’s skills overnight, but there are some useful general strategies you can model for students which should improve their performance:

  Make use of practice test papers, often called ‘past papers’. Experience and research indicate that when students get used to doing similar types of test, they get better at them. This is partly because they get used to particular question types, but also because they encounter repeated examples of similar language items.
 Encourage the rote learning of vocabulary in themed clusters; we look at this in more detail in our chapter on vocabulary learning and teaching in The Language Teacher Toolkit. Some students benefit from using vocabulary learning apps.
 Many students make effective use of card filing systems in which they might record vocabulary or verb forms, for example.
 Encourage any independent listening and reading; you can recommend specific websites where students can access language at the right level. You can advise advanced level students to watch films, read online articles and listen to the radio using, for example, apps such as TuneIn Radio.
  Encourage students to use interactive grammar and text manipulation websites or apps such as languagesonline.org.uk or language-gym.com.
 Get students to write practice compositions and essays, firstly with help from the dictionary and model essays, subsequently with no support and to a time limit.
 Students preparing for oral assessment need to rehearse copiously with friends, adults, a language assistant or the teacher; they can record their voice too.
 Students of all ages benefit from testing each other on vocabulary in pairs.

Concluding remarks 

To recap, Ernesto Macaro (2006), in a review of the literature, reports the following claims about learning strategies based on evidence-based scholarship:

 Strategy use appears to correlate with various aspects of language learning success although there is a lack of consensus about whether the range, frequency and/or the nature of strategy use/strategies is the determinant factor.
 There are group differences and individual differences in strategy use.
 Strategy instruction/training appears to be effective in promoting successful learning if it is carried out over lengthy periods of time and if it includes a focus on meta-cognition, i.e. learning about learning.

One further point: it's a good idea to not only teach students the language, but also teach them about how languages are learned. Our view is that if you engage students in thinking about the process of language learning, they are more likely to see the point of any activities they do and engage in them more positively. In this sense, it is not too fanciful to claim that you are not viewing students as mere recipients of your teaching, but as active participants in the learning process. Encouraging students to get into your way of thinking about language learning can raise their interest in the process and their general motivation. If you are have a clear idea of how students learn most effectively and can model this to them successfully, they will be more likely see a structure and point to their tasks.

References

Macaro, E. (2001). Learning Strategies in Foreign and Second Language Classrooms. London: Continuum.

Macaro, E. (2007). Language learner strategies: Adhering to a theoretical framework. Language Learning Journal, 35, 239–243.



Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Review of AQA French for A-level from OUP


I recently wrote a pretty glowing review of Hodder's offering for the AQA French A-level and now OUP have been kind enough to send me a copy of their new book, also approved by AQA, and written by Rob Pike, Colin Povey and Paul Shannon. Rather than produce an all-in-one book for the full A-level, Oxford have decided to publish two books, this first one being for either AS-level or the first year of a full A-level course. Either approach seems sound, but you might want to consider the financial implications of buying one big book compared with two slimmer volumes. The 2-year Hodder book is nearly £30 before discount, the two OUP books come to £44 before discount. That is a significant difference if you have quite a few students. This may be a good point to make when haggling with the rep!

AQA French (what happened to those snazzy old titles like Au Point, Tout Droit, Vécu and Objectif Bac?) looks like another very worthy contender for your capitation budget. The content is similar to the Hodder book and ticks all your new specification boxes: lots of texts awash with cultural information, translation both ways, appropriate listening and reading comprehension tasks, research tasks, summary tasks, oral activities and a grammatical progression (of sorts) and dedicated chapters about literature and film. Each unit (which the authors say can be done in any order) comes with a vocab list at the end, as well as lists of key expressions. I imagine most teachers will start from the beginning with the family sub-theme.

There really is a lot of reading material in this book, although it would be nice to see a bit more detailed exploitation of some of the texts. The format seems to be: text, comprehension exercise, "translate the first two paragraphs", then move on to listening, summary and translation into French. I'd like to see more thorough grammatical practice and lexical work, but space probably does not allow for it. Teachers will need to add this extra level of exploitation. I do like the inclusion of a résumé section at the end of each unit.

The texts are interesting and informative, but can present a bit of a challenge when it comes to using them for communicative work. (This is inherent in the subject content provided by the DfE - the new emphasis on cultural knowledge imposes certain limits on the amount of personalised discussion you might want students to engage in.) If I were still teaching I would build this into lessons anyway, whilst ensuring students have enough knowledge to use when it comes to exam time.

I have not heard the listening tracks so cannot vouch for their quality - there seems to be plenty of material, though, with familiar exercise types. The experience of the writers comes across in the well-chosen oral tasks and well-pitched translation sentences. I would say that the oral tasks are a bit on the general and demanding side.

Just a word about that grammatical progression. If you take the chapters in order, you get: imperfect, perfect, past historic, infinitive constructions, object pronouns, present tense, conditional, future, adjectives, the subjunctive, then re-visits of some of these. Some teachers might feel this is more haphazard than the approach taken with the Hodder book. Others teachers may not be overly concerned with that kind of traditional progression from easier to more complex.

The inclusion of a separate short chapter on essay writing is welcome, although I am not sure whether students need to be too worried about the traditional structure of intro/key points/conclusion since the new mark schemes give no marks for structure or cohesion.

The example material in the sections on film and literature come from what will no doubt be two popular choices from the prescribed lists: La Haine and L'Etranger.

Overall, then, you have another more than acceptable resource here for you and your students. The authors have done a super job. The bar has been raised a good deal with these latest books. The AQA A-level French from Hodder may have the edge (because of its grammatical progression, better value and slightly greater "wow" factor), but some teachers may prefer to get two separate books, especially if they have a significant number of students doing only a one-year course.

I would get copies of both courses and weigh up their relative merits very carefully with your department. In the recent past I would not have bought a textbook at all for A-level, but these new ones will perform a very good role indeed. They are both very usable, which is slightly bad news for frenchteacher.net. More work for me then!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Learning strategies (4)

This is the fourth in the mini-series about learning strategies. This was material which didn't find its way into The Language Teacher Toolkit. So far we have looked at the rationale behind learning startegies, how they may be categorised and how they may be used to support the teaching of listening and reading. This blog looks at speaking and writing. As always, if any of this seems obvious to you, remember that it might not be to the less experienced teacher.

Strategies for speaking 

The ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages), in their 2012 guidelines, choose to divide the skill of speaking into two categories: presentational speaking (giving talks) and interpersonal speaking (conversation). This distinction is not referred to explicitly in the UK context.

Presentational speaking

Students can make use of some of the strategies mentioned in the previous blogs, such as planning and organising, monitoring their work as they go along, checking their work with others, redrafting and refining. They can use information sources to help, such as dictionaries, word lists, grammar summaries and model presentations to act as templates, record their work using mobile devices or a computer or use ‘text-to-speech’ programmes to hear any written material read aloud.

They can also make sure they thoroughly rehearse any presentations with partners, adults or the teacher. Students will also need reminding about other non-linguistic elements of a good presentation, e.g. eye contact, clear delivery and tone of voice. As a teacher, you need to ‘model aloud’ all these strategies with your class to ensure they are all exploiting them; you cannot assume students will use them of their own accord. Recall that we have advocated the use of incorporating the use of strategies within the teaching sequence, not doing separate lessons on them. 'Thinking aloud' or 'modelling aloud' for students is a useful approach. "This is what I would do to get the best result."

Interpersonal speaking 

The site nclrc.org has a good number of strategies students can use to help with conversational speaking and which you can model for them. These include:

  Using substitute words or paraphrases when students get stuck, e.g. instead of turkey, say the bird you eat at Christmas.
Working together to keep the conversation going. You can suggest: “When you try to think of a word, let your partner suggest vocabulary you can use. If your partner has trouble, help by offering what you know how to say. Helping each other learn will make the process more fun.”
 Think of L1 words which may be cognates and take a guess at the L2 word.
Accessing sources of information, such as verb or word lists posted around the classroom.
Using hesitation words to fill gaps when students get stuck. Give students examples and demonstrate them.

Strategies for writing 

When students are drafting pieces of writing, whether it be sentences, paragraphs, compositions, translations or essay there are a number of strategies you can help to develop.

  Students should be taught to check their work in a systematic way, looking for particular error types, especially the relationship between subject pronouns and verbs, adjectival agreements, verb tenses and inflections, gender and word order.
 The use of suitable information sources should be encouraged and advice given, as we have previously pointed out, on dictionary use; specific exercises are advised.
Structuring of longer form written work needs to be taught, with good models presented.
 Students need guidance on matching their work to the demands of rubrics and mark schemes.
 It may seem like stating the obvious, but students need to be encouraged to go slowly when doing most written tasks, not take too many risks and check if in doubt; many students rush their work and make errors and omit content as a result. An exception may be when doing a written task to a time limit, such as writing using social media messaging. In this case quick reactions need to be developed.
 One vital strategy for weaker students especially is to encourage students to ‘use what they know’ and not translate willy-nilly from L1. Students need to know that they have to make compromises by simplifying what they want to write down. Again, you can model this for them. For example, if a student wants to write: “Last night we really enjoyed ourselves bowling. I got three strikes in a row”, you might recommend they write: “Last night I went bowling with my friends. It was fun and I played well.” If they do not have the means to render their preferred version clearly, they are better off writing something simpler. Although accuracy is not the most important element of communication, students like to get things right and see success. Simplifying is an important skill to develop in language learning.

In the final blog we shall look at revision and make some concluding remarks.

Monday, 16 May 2016

OCR to stop offering French, German and Spanish exams from 2017

It came as a major surprise to teachers on Monday that the OCR awarding body will no longer be offering GCSEs and A-levels in French, German and Spanish. This has followed their announcement in April that they would no longer be offering qualifications in lesser-taught languages "for strategic reasons".

First of all, it's very sad for the staff who work in those areas and who, in due course, will have to find employment elsewhere. It's dispiriting too for writers who have been working on resources specifically for OCR. It means, quite obviously, that schools and colleges who have worked with OCR over the years will have to shop elsewhere.

One can only speculate why this has happened.

One aspect may be the simple economic realities of offering exams to dwindling A-level cohorts. OCR is a relatively small player in the field and they may simply not have the capacity to deliver exams to such a small A-level customer base. At GCSE, on the other hand, there is the prospect of rising GCSE entries in the future, if schools follow the government line on the Ebacc suite of qualifications (about 90% doing MFL by 2020?). OCR is, however, far behind AQA in terms of customers and, once again, as exam boards come under greater financial pressure, providing papers for that clientele may not be worthwhile.

I do wonder whether, if OCR had been able to get its draft specifications accredited sooner, they would have continued to offer exams as in the past. But as far as I could make out, their initial A-level drafts were a good distance away from what the DfE and Ofqual were looking for. If this were also the case at GCSE, perhaps they simply failed to fully grasp what was required and fail to take on board what Ofqual wanted at each stage of the accreditation process. AQA and Pearson appear to have been much fleeter of foot in this regard. Pure speculation on my part. Teachers would only have been willing to wait so long for OCR to provide a specification.

Underlying this is the fact that all the awarding bodies are having to cut their cloth at the moment and that schools themselves will be watching their exam entry budgets with a beady eye. AS-level entries will nose-dive next year.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Using literary extracts for GCSE MFL

I am using this PowerPoint presentation on Wednesday 18th May at the Adelante! teacher workshop in Wakefield. The topic is teaching literary texts at GCSE. The embedded Slideshare below does not exactly resemble the PowerPoint. Embedded Youtube videos may be a little out of place.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.


Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research suggests that for strategies to work they need to be applied repeatedly and teachers need to keep re-modelling them to students who may otherwise quickly forget to use them. Here is one approach to explaining strategies to students:
1. Explain what the strategy is.
2. Explain why it should be learned and applied.
3. Explain how to use the strategy. Here, you break down the strategy, or model it in use for students.
4. Explain when the strategy should be used.
5. Explain how to evaluate use of the strategy. Next, we’ll look at how this would work in practice.

Strategies for listening and reading

In our chapters in The Language Teacher Toolkit on listening and reading, we examine in some detail top-down and bottom-up processing skills. In our chapter on teaching and learning vocabulary we considered various strategies to acquire new words. Here we summarise some more general strategies which can be taught and regularly revised with students. These are taken from the Pachler et al (2014) book:

Listening

 Work out the type of text (conversation, news, etc.).
 Work out the level of formality.
 Work out the general topic (gist).
 Pay attention to background clues (background noises, background scene if video).
 Think about the tone of voice.
 Make use of facial and body language (if video).
 Seek out familiar words and phrases.
 Seek out cognates.

Students could also raise their hands when they hear a word they recognise, try to focus on the breaks between words and listen for clues from tense word order (e.g. in German). You can model all these strategies by talking them through during an activity, using language such as: “I would listen through once to get the gist, not get hung up on individual words. Don’t worry if it seems hard at first; that’s normal. Then second time through you can listen out for individual words and understand a bit more,” etc.

You can subsequently review strategies with them after an activity has been completed with language such as: “How did you find that? Did you listen for cognates? Did it get easier third time through?” etc.

Reading

Let's suppose you have given this short text in French to a low intermediate or intermediate level class:

1. Un robot est un type de machine spéciale. C’est une machine qui peut se déplacer en suivant les instructions d'un ordinateur. Comme c’est une machine, il ne se trompe pas, il ne se fatigue pas et ne se plaint jamais. 
 2. Les robots sont partout autour de nous. Par exemple, les robots fabriquent les voitures. Certains sont utilisés pour explorer des endroits dangereux. Par exemple, les robots peuvent explorer des volcans ou la surface des planètes. Certains robots sont utilisés pour nettoyer. Il y a par exemple des aspirateurs-robots. 
 3. Certains robots ressemblent à des humains, mais ils sont rares. On utilise des robots pour désamorcer des bombes. Les drones sont utilisés dans des guerres, mais ils ont beaucoup d’usages paisibles. Par exemple ils surveillent des terres agricoles. 
 4. Il y a longtemps, les gens imaginaient des robots. Il y a plus de 2000 ans, le célèbre poète grec Homère imaginait des robots en or, mais le premier véritable robot a été fabriqué en 1961 aux Etats-Unis. Il s’appelait Unimate. Il a été utilisé pour aider à fabriquer des voitures et il ressemblait à un bras géant. 
 5. A l'avenir, nous aurons beaucoup plus de robots. Ils vont des choses que nous ne pouvons ou ne voulons pas faire. Ou bien ils vont des choses qui sont trop dangereux pour nous. Ils vont nous aider lutter contre les incendies, ils nous aideront à combattre les guerres et ils vont nous aider à combattre des maladies. Ils vont nous aider à découvrir des choses. 

One approach to teaching this text whilst incorporating strategies would be as follows:

1. Ask the students in pairs to jot down in two minutes anything they know about robots. This activates prior knowledge and raises interest in the subject. Quickly get the students to feed back. (This is their first strategy, though you may not choose to mention it yet.)

2. Tell them you have a real French article about robots, which will tell them more about the subject. Read it to them, perhaps asking them to follow the text with a ruler or their finger (depending on the ability of the class). This enables them to hear and see sound-word relationships and gives them a first contact with the text.

3. Explain that they are going to use a clever second strategy to help them understand the text. Then get them to highlight or underline any words they recognise because they look like English words. Explain that these words are called cognates. Model how you would go about it, ‘thinking aloud’ as you do it. Get feedback. Remind them that they can do this with any text they read.

4. Next, so the lesson does not become one solely based on talking about strategies, read out some true/false sentences in French. Match the difficulty level of these to the class.

5. You can now introduce a third strategy. Tell them this is to help them understand the text, then give an example and how you identified the verb. To help them understand in more detail, ask the students to highlight or underline any words they think are verbs. If they need reminding what a verb is, what it looks like (from its ending) or where they are likely to find it, then do so. Get feedback.

6. Now do a ‘find the French’ task. Give students, orally, about ten English phrases which they have to identify in the text. With weaker groups do them in the order they appear in the text and make them as easy as they need to be. The students can write these down (so that they are all busy). Get feedback.

7. Now make a statement in English and ask the students to match it to one of the numbered paragraphs. Get feedback.

8. You can now give the class some written questions in English to answer with the help of a dictionary or glossary. This is their fourth strategy: using resources. You can go around offering help where it is needed. If the class is very well-controlled, students could work in pairs. Get feedback.

9. Review the strategies the class used and elicit whether they found them useful. Remind the students that they should not use the dictionary too much and can often understand the meaning without knowing every single word. Tell them that you will try these strategies again next time with another article. You might even ask them if there are any topics they would like to read about. You may wish to reflect on how the above approach compares with just handing out a text with questions for students to answer, not just in terms of effectiveness, but in terms of developing active learners and building your relationship with the class.

To conclude this third post, we would point out that high-attaining linguists may have relatively little use for strategies, or indeed may use them instinctively. For lower-attaining students, however, those who find things hard and ask "how do I improve?", strategies may be a useful route to go down.

References

Pachler, N, Evans, M., Redondo, A. and Fisher, L. (2014). Learning to Teach Foreign Languages in the Secondary School. London: Routledge.

Smith, S.P and Conti, G. (2016) The Language Teacher Toolkit. Createspace Publishing Platform.

Learning strategies (2)

This is the second blog in the mini-series about learning strategies. This was material that we could not fit into The Language Teacher Toolkit.


Using learning strategies 

Working with strategies is firstly about making explicit the processes students are already using to help them learn and, secondly, exposing them to a greater range of strategies in order to widen their repertoire and make their learning even more effective.

There is general agreement in the literature that instruction about strategies should be explicit and that we should not just assume students will pick them up. However, it is debatable whether strategies should be taught separately or integrated into normal language learning activities. Pachler et al (2014) take the latter view and we would agree. Whichever route you take, it is always worth reminding students to use strategies. It may serve little purpose to tell students once and assume they will always remember what to do.

So we are talking here about integrating strategies into the whole ‘assessment for learning’ framework (formative assessment): helping students as often as possible to find the best way of working for themselves to make the maximum progress. To make things clearer for you, we present in summary form below a list of strategies under the headings meta-cognitive strategies, using what you know, using the imagination, using organisational skills and using resources (from the site of NCLRC – National Capital Language Resource Center – nclrc.org).

Meta-cognitive strategies 

Organising and planning: Plan the task or content sequence; set goals; plan how to accomplish the task.
Manage your own learning: determine how you learn best; arrange conditions that help you learn; seek opportunities for practice; focus your attention on the task.
Monitor: while working on a task, check your progress on the task; check your comprehension as you use the language; are you understanding?; check your production as you use the language; are you making sense?
Evaluate: after completing a task, assess how well you have accomplished the learning task; assess how well you have applied the strategies; decide how effective the strategies were in helping you accomplish the task.

Using what you know 

Use background knowledge: think about and use what you already know to help you do the task; make associations.
Make inferences and predictions: use context and what you know to figure out meaning; read and listen between the lines; anticipate information to come; make logical guesses about what will happen.
Personalise: relate new concepts to your own life, that is, to your experiences, knowledge, beliefs and feelings.
Transfer/use cognates: apply your linguistic knowledge of other languages (including your native language) to L2; recognize cognates. Substitute/paraphrase: think of a similar word or descriptive phrase for words you do not know in L2.

Using the imagination 

Use imagery: use or create an image to understand and/or represent information. Use real objects: manipulate real objects as you use the target language.
Use role-play: act out and/or imagine yourself in different roles in L2.

Using organisational skills 

Find/apply patterns: apply a rule; make a rule; sound out and apply letter/sound rules.
Group/classify: relate or categorize words or ideas according to attributes.
Use graphic organizers/take notes: use or create visual representations (such as Venn diagrams, time lines, and charts) of important relationships between concepts; write down important words and ideas.
Summarise: create a mental, oral, or written summary of information.
Use selective attention: focus on specific information, structures, key words, phrases or ideas.

Using resources

Access information sources: use the dictionary, the internet, and other reference materials; seek out and use sources of information; follow a mode; ask questions. Cooperate: work with others, including the teacher, to complete tasks, build confidence, and give and receive feedback. Talk yourself through it: use your inner resources; reduce your anxiety by reminding yourself of your progress, the resources you have available and your goals.

Next time we shall look at how to teach strategies and, in particular, specific strategies for teaching listening and reading.

References

National Capital Language Resource Center  http://www.nclrc.org/

Pachler, N, Evans, M., Redondo, A. and Fisher, L. (2014). Learning to Teach Foreign Languages in the Secondary School. London: Routledge.

Smith, S.P and Conti, G. (2016) The Language Teacher Toolkit. Createspace Publishing Platform.


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Learning strategies (1)

This post is co-authored with Gianfranco Conti of The Language Gym. When we wrote The Language Teacher Toolkit we had to do some pruning in the final edit and this is from a chapter about learning strategies which we did not include. So this is the equivalent of a demo tape or rough cut that didn't make the final album.

Introduction 

What makes a good language learner? Can we teach students ways of improving their own learning? ‘Learning strategies’ have come into focus since the 1970s and often feature as add-ons to the latest textbooks. We have already referred to them a number of times in this book, notably in our chapters about listening and reading. They are about teaching students how to learn and have been described as “a set of actions taken by the learner that will help make language learning more effective – i.e. will help a learner learn, store, retrieve and use information” (Norbert Pachler et al, 2014).

The former help students overcome their limited linguistic repertoire to ensure communication can happen. Such ‘coping strategies’ are clearly best developed through real life communication, but can be developed to some extent in the classroom. The latter are about teaching students specific ways to enhance their own learning and so make faster progress. We shall go on to look at some research evidence in this field and some specific ideas and techniques which you could use in the classroom.

What the research suggests

What the research says in the literature in this field a distinction is commonly made between communication strategies and learning strategies. The classification of learning strategies has varied over the years, but one useful one is this from J. Michael O’Malley and Anna Uhl Chamot (1990):

Metacognitive strategies, which involve thinking about the learning process, planning for learning, monitoring learning while it is taking place, or self‐evaluation of learning after a task has been completed.
Cognitive strategies, which invoke mental manipulation or transformation of materials or tasks, intended to enhance comprehension, acquisition or retention. Social/affective strategies, which consist of using social interactions to assist in the comprehension, learning or retention of information, as well as the mental control over personal emotion or attitude which may interfere with learning.

Here is another way of viewing the processes involved in learning strategies (see Carol Griffiths (2008), listed in Pachler et al):

 They are active they are what students do (both mental and physical behaviour).
 They are conscious (although they can become automatic, at some level students are partially conscious of them even if not attending to them fully).
 They are chosen by the student (there needs to be active involvement, hence the strategic element).
 They are purposeful (towards the goal of learning the language).
 They are used by the student to control or regulate their own learning.
 They are about learning the language (not employing what’s been learned). It is also worth pointing out that there is considerable overlap in the literature between the concept of learning strategies and another, known as ‘self-regulated learning’. The latter refers to learning that is guided by metacognition (thinking about one's thinking), strategic action (planning, monitoring, and evaluating personal progress against a standard), and motivation to learn.

Self-regulated learning emphasizes autonomy and control by the learner who monitors, directs, and regulates actions toward goals of learning and self-improvement. Can we be sure that learning strategies make a difference? There is a growing body of research to suggest that they do. For example, Larry Vandergrift and Marzieh Tafaghodtari carried out a study with 106 students studying French as a second language (FSL). They compared two groups taught by the same teacher and found that the group who used metacognitive learning strategies outperformed the control group in comprehension. In addition, the gains for less able listeners were greater than for skilled listeners.

In a comprehensive review of the literature carried out in 2005 by the EPPI-Centre (Institute of Education, London), the conclusion reached was: "There is sufficient research evidence to support claims that training language learners to use strategies is effective, but it is not possible to say from this evidence whether the effect of training is long-lasting or not. Furthermore it is not really known to what extent the specific mechanics of different training interventions are responsible for the effect, or if it is due to improved awareness that a broad range of training might engender in the learner."

So the conclusions to be drawn from research are not clear-cut; you can imagine how difficult it is to do research comparing groups of students who use learning strategies with other groups who do not when there are so many variables, as well as the teacher, in play. How can you be sure it is a learning strategy or strategies that have produced a particular outcome? The best language learners may just use successful strategies instinctively. This led Peter Skehan (1989) to state "there is always the possibility that the 'good' language learning strategies...are also used by bad language learners, but other reasons cause them to be unsuccessful".

In the next blog we look at how learning strategies can be used.

References


EPPI Centre (2005). Strategy Training in Language Learning – a Systematic Review of Available Research. Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

http://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/eppiwebcontent/reel/review_groups/mfl/mfl_rv1/mfl_rv1.PDF

Griffiths, C. (2008). Lessons from Good Language Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

O'Malley, J.M. and Chamot, A.U. (1990). Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge University Press.


Pachler, N, Evans, M., Redondo, A. and Fisher, L. (2014). Learning to Teach Foreign Languages in the Secondary School. London: Routledge.

Skehan, P. (1989). Individual Differences in Second-Language Learning. London: Edward Arnold.

Smith, S.P and Conti, G. (2016) The Language Teacher Toolkit. Createspace Publishing Platform.



  • Vandergrift
  • , L. and
  • Tafaghodtari
  • , M.H. (2010). Teaching L2 learners how to

  • listen does make a difference: an empirical study. Language Learning, 60/2.