Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Classroom seating arrangements

Through my teaching career I experimented with a number of desk arrangements: rows, cabaret style, horseshoes and double horseshoes. In later years I regularly used rows for large groups and a single horseshoe for groups below about 12 students (most A-level classes).

I think my temptation to used grouped tables, cabaret style, was a vague feeling that it was less formal and that it suited pair and small group work. On reflection I believe it was a bad idea.

What does research say?

This piece of research seems to confirm what common sense suggests.

I have seen this confirmed in other studies. Let me quote from the abstract:

"Seating arrangements are important classroom setting events because they have the potential to help prevent problem behaviours that decrease student attention and diminish available instructional time.... Eight studies that investigated at least two of three common arrangements (i.e., rows, groups or semi-circles) were considered. Results indicate that teachers should let the nature of the task dictate seating arrangements. Evidence supports the idea that students display higher levels of appropriate behaviour during individual tasks when they are seated in rows, with disruptive students benefiting the most."

It seems to me therefore that when seating students you would be wise not to follow any fashion or vague notion that cabaret style is more modern, less formal or discourages communication. Better, in my view, to prioritise behaviour and the reality that much lesson time is spent with the focus on the teacher with eye contact being hugely important. Having students watch your every facial expression is important is establishing successful relationships.

Tables and students can easily move in any case, so if you need space for walking about or acting, then just pile up tables. If it's pair or group work you want to do, then students can quickly turn around.

My methodology was largely teacher-led but with copious pair work so rows made total sense.

How do you arrange your classroom?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 29 August 2016

Selling resources or sharing for free?

I come across quite a few teachers on social media unhappy that teachers sell their resources on sites like TES. They say that this is against the spirit of teaching and that we should share freely.

There are a few points I'd like to make about this.

Sharing stuff for free is great. I did it for 10 years via and often still do via my site, my blog or on TES (to a very limited extent). We shared worksheets in our departments for years. But I have no objection at all to teachers earning money for the fruits of their labours.

Teachers are not paid like solicitors, doctors and accountants. If they put in extra time for the benefit of other teachers I see no problem with them being paid.  We are all used to buying from publishers and think nothing of it. A teacher who has written a resource effectively becomes a self-publisher. I, like many teachers, feel a little uncomfortable about being an entrepreneur, but you quickly get used to it. In my case, once I had retired from teaching, I wanted to keep writing but, frankly, it would have been daft to do it for nothing. It helps teachers a lot and supplements my pension.

Free resources are great, but they often come with errors and are variable in quality. When you are charging you have to be extra careful to produce something of quality. People will only buy if they think they are getting something better than, or beyond the scope of, free stuff.

Resources sold by teachers are often very good value and complement text book materials. They are often editable too.

It's a free world. No one is forcing a colleague to buy their resources. If you have an objection to paying for teacher-made resources (remember that text books are often written by practising teachers), then you don't have to buy. Up to around a third (rough estimate) of all English secondary school subscribe to I don't see a huge difference between that and buying an individual's PowerPoint or worksheets.

So, to teachers who sell on TES I say, good on you, but I hope the resources are good! And to teachers who share for free, that's even better.

L'affaire burkini

Here is a good starter activity for your A-level students this year - maybe even a main course! Perhaps better done sooner than later while the topic is still fresh in minds. It may have a while to run yet. I'm assuming you have been keeping up to date with the French mayors' decision to ban burkinis on some beaches and the French upper court (Conseil d'Etat) deeming it illegal. Well, someone posted this picture on Twitter (I don't know its provenance, but I'll happily remove it if anyone objects). I'll offer you some good questions in French to generate discussion and widen students' knowledge and critical skills.

Some key vocabulary first:

un burkini (burqini) - tenue de bain intégrale
un maillot de bain - swimming costume
un bikini
une combinaison de plongée - wetsuit
un habit de religieuse - nun's habit
une bonne soeur/une religieuse - nun
un symbole - symbol
ostentatatoire- ostentatious, showy
un voile intégral - full body veil
un burqa, un niqab, un hijab

bannir - to ban
un maire - mayor
la modestie - modesty
le port du voile - wearing of the veil
la cohésion sociale - social cohesion
une tunique - long woman's top
un attentat terroriste - terrorist attack
un contrevenant - offender
passible d'une amende - subject to a fine
la laïcité - "secularism" - strict separation of religion and state, historically to limit power of the catholic church


(Take these in any order depending on responses - adapt as needed)

Qu'est-ce que vous voyez ici? Décrivez cette image.
A quoi sert une combinaison de plongée?
Un burkini, c'est quoi exactement?
Pourquoi parle-t-on du burkini en ce moment?
Comment les maires justifient-il l'interdiction du port du burkini? (Risque de provoquer des incidents car c'est symbole ostentatoire de l'islam jihadiste - n'oubliez pas les attentats terroristes atroces en France)
Quelle image a choqué beaucoup de personnes, surtout en dehors de la France? (Des policiers armés qui demandaient à une femme d'enlever sa tunique sur une plage dans le midi de la France)
Qui a inventé le burkini? (Une designer australienne - les ventes ont décollé depuis cette affaire!)
Que dit la loi nationale sur le burkini sur les plages? (en août 2016 le Conseil d'Etat a dit que c'est illégal)
Pourquoi est-ce que certaines musulmanes portent un voile ou un voile intégral?
Quels sont les avantages de porter un burkini sur la plage?
Est-ce un signe de l'oppression des femmes ou un simple choix personnel?
Que dit l'islam sur le port du voile? (Il n'y a pas de règle stricte)
Que dit la loi française sur le port du voile intégral (burka/niqab)? (Interdit dans les lieux public - les contrevenantes sont passibles d'une amende - en fait, le port du niqb est rare en France)
Est-ce qu'on devrait dire aux femmes ce qu'elles peuvent porter?
quelle est la différence entre porter une combinaison de plongée, un burkini ou un habit de religieuse?
Pourquoi cette affaire est-elle si importante pour la société française?
Quelle serait l'attitude des Britanniques en ce concerne le port du burkini?
Que pensez-vous de cette question?
Est-ce que la laïcité est un prétexte pour la xénophobie?
Cest quoi, la xénophobie?

Hard to avoid talking a bit about French secularism (laïcité) versus British multiculturalism. Which leads to better integration?

Question fondamentale: c'est quoi, l'intégration - assimiler les minorités en les obligeant à suivre un modèle traditionnel français - ou encourager la cohésion sociale en tolérant et même encourageant les différences?

If you want to go further, you can explain that right-wing candidates for the leadership of the Les Républicains party have been trying to attract support by taking a hard, some woudl say xenophobic, line on this issue, notably ex president Nicolas Sarkozy.

After discussion you could set these questions for written reinforcement.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Another look Languages Resources by Samantha Broom

Samantha Broom has had her website online for quite a few years now. It had a refresh some time ago. Many teachers and pupils must have benefited from her work over the years. If you haven't come across it, do take a look. There are resources for five languages, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese. I'll concentrate on the French materials in this post.

From the home page navigate to French from the drop-down menu at the top, not the Babbel "Practise French" advert.

Although there are a few A-level resources on Maupassant and Molière, the bulk of them are for near beginners and intermediates (GCSE). Topics include: personal information, daily life, home and abroad, healthy lifestyle, basics and Christmas.

If we take just one sub-section of the Home and Abroad category, holidays, you see a menu of over 50 resources, principally Word docs, but also some PowerPoints. there is a mixture of worksheets, presentations, games, cue cards, texts, gapped texts, Titles of resources include; J'ai logé; A l'hôtel conversation; Où vas-tu aller en vacances; transport; En panne; Dans ma valise and Tu pars en vacances. This is the tip of the iceberg.

On the subject of accommodation, the J'ai logé sheet has clear pictures for a matching task and some oral and written production. You could display it for an instant 20 minute session practsining J'ai logé... and J'ai passé... You could extend it to practise pendant. The level is Y8 or easy Y9.

On countries, the Où es-tu allé(e)? sheet is clearly laid out and could be used for display to generate simple oral work and writing. It would suit Y8 pupils learning cities and countries with prepositions.

The Comment as-tu voyagé? sheet has standard clear visuals with gaps to fill. Phases are presented at the top. This would be dispalyed, again, to generate oral work and you could easily blank out the supplied vocab as a simple development of the teaching sequence. This type of resource is s staple of controlled practice in the target language, in the early stages of a teaching sequence.

In fact, many of the resources you find on this site reflect Samantha's mainstream TL approach, which makes total sense to me. It's really quite old-school, but may still be less than familiar to some teachers. I would guess she would adopt a teacher-led approach to sheets like this, then handing over to students to practise in pairs or even groups. There is so much you can do with this type of material, recycling language along the way.

The sheet entitled Le weekend dernier consists of a set of six boxes of TL words and chunks and gapped verbs, all of which will help pupils build up an oral or written description of their last weekend. You might display this for oral practice/repetition and then use it to build up a simple composition.

You can probably tell that I relate strongly to this approach. There are some little errors in some of the sheets, but since they are all editable you could fix these.

Samantha has been very generous to share all her many resources over the years. If you have missed this site, dip into it, soak up the methodology (Samantha trained at St Martin's College, now University of Cumbria, I believe)  and plug any gaps in your scheme of work. I think there is a tendency sometimes to value what is new at the risk of forgetting what high quality material has been freely out there for a while.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

On marking and feedback

Ofsted have just given guidance to their inspectors that they should not be evaluating the marking of student work.

In 2013 I wrote a blog about marking and in The Language Teacher Toolkit we included a section about marking, partly based on that blog. I'd like to come back to the issue now.

Marking takes us a very considerable part of language teachers' lives, although, if it's any consolation, perhaps less so than the lives of our colleagues who teach English or history. Why do we mark? How much time should we spend on it? How should we do it?

My starting point is this: the main aim of marking is to make sure that students have done their work. Far more important than feedback is the simple point that students have to do the work in the first place, taking as much time and care as possible. My experience, and it may be yours, was that you could not trust a significant number of students to do their work properly unless they knew you would be checking it, reading it carefully, correcting it and, yes, grading it - although I suspect the careful checking was more important than the grading.

Many pupils want to please their teacher and one key way they can do this is by impressing you with their written classwork and homework. If you don't mark their work regularly, they will spend less time and inevitably make less progress. There is research on this (google John Hattie), but actually we are in the realm of common sense here.

However, you only have so many hours in the week, so you have to mark quickly and not spend too long writing detailed comments. If the alternative is to set less work and mark it more slowly amd meticulously, it is a less desirable one in my view. Less work = less input = less recycling = less progress.

So what about making life easier by marking work in class? This is a great idea for some types of exercise, but bear in mind three points. Firstly, that type of exercise (grammar drill, gap-fill, comprehension matching task etc) has its limitations and can be easily copied. Pupils cheat. Secondly, going through and ticking an exercise in class is a bit routine and boring; I often felt I could be doing something more interesting.  Thirdly, if you do too much marking in class, some pupils may start to take their work less seriously because they know you won't be reading it personally. But yes, overall, quick marking in class is worthwhile, recycles language practised at home and, crucially, saves you time.

Taking books or papers in regularly for marking is hugely important for you as a teacher. It really shows you how carefully students are working and what they are finding easier and harder. You'll see who the careful, neat writers are; who goes the extra mile by looking things up; who has taken in what you did in class. Furthermore, it's your personal, private means of two-way communication with each student. You can give confidential praise and advice, admonish, build up a rapport, encourages them to want to impress you even more next time. All this helps you maintain good classroom control too, as each student knows that you know them and care about their progress. If you are intimately acquainted with students' written work, you can make subtle reference to it in class, building your relationship further.

That's all very well, but it takes time, I hear you say! Well, why not correct selectively, use underlinings/circles and get students to self -correct, use codes, don't write too much at the end and don't bother with systems like "two stars and a wish"? In England Ofsted have no preferred marking method. Remember that the key point is that the students did the work carefully and knew you would mark it. Two minutes a book may be more than enough for intermediate students. With experience you learn to go fast. If students know your standards are high, they will also write more neatly, making your task quicker. If work is too scruffy, don't accept it. If they have to write it out twice, they will be less inclined to hand in scruffy work in the future. No excuses.

Grading is a contentious issue and you may simply have to apply your school's or department's policy. On balance, I was in favour of it. High performing pupils were motivated by maintaining high grades. To get a lower grade can be a loss of face which they will want to put right next time. You can even use this to inspire pupils to better effort and performance. Similarly, you can grade tactically with lower-performing pupils - give them a merited higher grade and they will be delighted and hopefully want to keep up that standard. If your grading is criterion-referenced in some way, so much the better.

What about the old problem "They only look at the grade, not my corrections?" That's easy to fix. Just allocate a little time for written corrections to be done. Alternatively, if, like me, you found that a bit dull, make it a part of a homework or save up corrections for a 15 minute session in a later lesson. This forces pupils to go over earlier work and recycle language.

So, in sum: mark a lot, take in books, mark quickly, build those relationships.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Guest blog: four games for intermediate pupils

This is a guest blog by teacher Siobhan Daly. Thank you for sending it.

As a relatively young teacher fresh from university, I was well aware of the importance of games in the MFL classroom. Active teaching methods, encouraging a love of the language, making students more confident and comfortable in the classroom- the merits of games in the classroom were numerous. And the games of course proved worthwhile - indeed, so successful that I admit that I was slightly resentful that my own teachers in secondary school didn’t include games in classes when I was a student. 
Games for junior classes were simple and efficient- bingo, charades and various quizzes. However, I was stumped when it came to organising games for older MFL classes. Being well aware of their self-proclaimed “cool” status, I knew that a simple game of bingo would do little to engage them (unless there was a promise of an interesting prize, which my student budget failed to stretch to).   

Here are a few games that really did work for senior students:

Chain games
This is extremely simple, and basically involves each student saying a sentence in French. Each student has to repeat the previous student’s sentence from the very beginning, so it’s a good test of concentration and memory. It is particularly useful for practising tenses - for example past tense, where students can describe what they did yesterday or at the weekend. This is also useful for perfecting pronunciation. It's a simple all rounder!

Running to the board games
Again, this is really straightforward but is really useful for reinforcing vocabulary learned for a particular topic. Split the class into two teams, and ensure that each student takes turns to write vocabulary related to the topic on the board. The team with the most vocabulary wins. This even makes learning about the environment in French fun!

“Minute game”:
Again, this is topic-focused. Split the class into small groups. Give each group an important topic related to the written answer on the syllabus, for example healthy eating. One student from each group must speak about the topic for one minute without repeating themselves or pausing. If they do so, the next team member must continue speaking about the topic for one minute. Teams are awarded points for completing the minute, as well as not hesitating to intervene. The first group to achieve six points win. I’ve found this particularly useful for solving students’ fear of speaking French in class.

“Quiz trade”
Here, each student will have a card with a French phrase and the English translation. Students stand up and find a partner, asking that partner what the phrase on their card means in French. Each student will guess each other’s card and swap cards. Each student then continues and finds another partner to swap cards with.
When the activity ends, students will use their card with their new phrase and incorporate it in written work. They will also aim to incorporate the first card that they had, as well as any other vocabulary or phrases that they learned in the game.  I find this effective for learning vocabulary for written pieces- it certainly makes the learning process slightly less tedious for the students.
I hope that these are helpful. Bon courage in incorporating them into your own classroom!

Review: Penny Ur's 100 Teaching Tips

I have always enjoyed reading Penny Ur's books about language teaching. Penny is well-known in the field of English language teaching (EFL) and has recently retired from full-time teaching. This slim volume, part of the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers, is rich in wisdom, expressed in an informal and lucid fashion.

The 100 tips, one per page, are divided into 18 sections, covering topics such as: starts and ends, using coursebooks, games, grammar, group work, discipline, homework, listening, pronunciation and teacher talk.

Penny is at pains to say that she is not prescriptive about the points she makes, but almost everything she writes makes great sense to me as a fellow teacher of long experience. She is clearly a methodological pragmatist, noting, for instance, that you need not be dogmatic about target language use - translating a word can be far more efficient that spending ages trying to explain it with definitions and synonyms.

I like her claim that "vocabulary is the most important thing to teach". She writes;

"When I started teaching I was told: 'Don't bother about teaching vocabulary, they'll pick it up, grammatical patterns are the priority' (this was the heyday of audio-lingualism). Big mistake! Huge!"

I can identify with that, no doubt having emerged as a teacher in a similar era.

Incidentally, as far as vocabulary is concerned, she mentions the importance of teaching chunks of language, not juts isolated words. She also argues that you sometimes have to teach words out of context. For example, she writes that if you simply write up a word on the board, pronounce it clearly, explain and translate it, students are more likely to remember it than if you just deal with it more briefly in context. This is an example of a teacher having learned through experience that there is no one way to teach a language and you should be wary of dogmatism.

Penny makes it clear at various points in the book how important it is to recycle language in different ways. She even suggests that when selectively using a text book (the best way), there is nothing wrong in doing the same exercise twice, varying the execution slightly. (I compare this to a piece of music where the skilled composer repeats the same phrase but alters it slightly the second time round to hold the listener's interest.)

This book is packed with little 'tips of the trade' which should be of interest to both new teachers and those with experience. Don't worry that Penny's background in EFL; almost all the advice holds true for modern language teachers.

I very much like her postscript page entitled 'Do your own thing.' I found myself by coincidence writing an identically titled blog a few weeks ago. She writes;

"Your main source of expertise has to be your own experience and experimenting - the more the better - supplemented by student feedback and discussions with colleagues or interactions with other teachers at conferences or online."

Penny concludes by saying that teaching should be fun and leave you with a 'smiley' feeling. Doing your own thing should help you achieve this.

This little book is excellent. It would be a super addition to your departmental library.

If you are interested, here is Penny Ur talking about her book, which is published by Cambridge and costs £8.99 from Amazon.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Falling modern languages entries at A-level 2016

This is an update of previous blogs following yet another year of decline in A-level modern language entries....

Once again in 2016 the number of students taking A-level languages has declined overall. Even Spanish has failed to buck the trend.

In 1993 nearly 30,000 students entered for A-level French. In 2016 the figure was 9672, down a few hundred from 2015. Just compare with a few other common A-level subjects (I am grateful to Brian Stubbs and JCQ for these figures, which I have rounded up or down in some cases - apologies for formatting):

                             1993                            2012

Maths                   66,000                         86,000
History                 46,000                         52,000
Geography           46,000                         32,000
Physics                38,000                         34,500 (fell, but rising since 2006)
Biology                48,000                         63,000
Chemistry            41,000                         49,000 (fell, but rising since 2003)
Psychology          22,000                         56,000
Religious studies   9,000                          23,000
Media,film,TV      7,000                          32,000
Business              23,000                          28,000

French                 30,000                         13,000     2016: 9672
Spanish                4,800                           7,300      2016: 8460 (down on 2015)
German               11,000                          5,000      2016: 3842

In 2016 the number doing "other modern languages" was 9209 (a number of these would be native speakers residing in England).

So what has been going on? I believe a number of factors have led to the decline, especially in French and German.

  • A-level students have a wider range of options in sixth forms and particularly sixth form colleges and many of what we might call the non-specialist linguists have gone to subjects such as psychology and business. These may be perceived to be more interesting or easier to get a good grade in (they are).
  • Funding cuts for college and sixth forms are making small entry subjects economically unviable. Some students would like to do languages, but cannot. This affects German in particular.
  • The supply of linguists coming through from GCSE has declined, though this may be a minor factor since French was on the slide during the 1990's, long before MFL became optional again in 2004
  • In the last few years there has been strong encouragement from government and schools to take STEM subjects (hence the recent rises in the sciences). This reflects a growing utilitarian trend among students to pick subjects which are valued highly by society and the jobs market.
  • It has become increasingly clear to students that it is harder to get a high grade in languages than most other subjects. In particular the A* grade is relatively much harder to achieve than in maths and science. MFL is seen as risky for university entry. The focus on targets and the transparency with which these are shared with students has sharpened the awareness of students to their likely outcomes.
  • There has been no move in the media, schools or from government (until recently with the EBacc) to value languages highly, despite the very favourable employment outcomes for linguists (in the top ten for university subjects)
  • Teaching approaches in MFL may have produced a generation of linguists less proficient in the skills needed for success at A-level (internalised grammatical understanding and its associated outcome, the ability to use language spontaneously). Coursework and controlled assessment may have played a role in this, but the problem goes back further and 1990's course books thin on high quality grammatical progression did not help matters.
  • Lack of curriculum time and poor timetabling at KS3 and KS4 - lack of regular contact - has led to weakly embedded skills so students lack the confidence to continue beyond GCSE.
  • Mike Kelly has suggested that more negative national attitudes to foreign cultures may be playing a role. I am a little sceptical about this and wonder how much young people pick up on national political trends.
It seems a little ironic that as the world gets smaller and young people travel and work more widely, the popularity of languages has waned dramatically, to the point where the UK is perilously short of skilled linguists for business and diplomacy. What could be done to address this?

  • Government should be raising the status of modern languages. The EBacc is a crafty step in the right direction, using league tables to shift schools' curricula and option policies. GCSE entries rose in 2013 and may do so again in the future with the 90% GCSE take-up target. This may slightly improve A-level entries.
  • So-called top universities could make a GCSE qualification in languages at grade B or above compulsory for entry. This would have a dramatic effect on GCSE take-up. UCL have shown the way in this. The current generation of students are highly aware of what they need to reach their destination. It is good, at least, that MFL has the status of "facilitating subject" for the Russell Group.
  • School leaders could change their perception of languages, valuing them more highly on the timetable and awarding them a similar status to maths and English.
  • Government could reward MFL teacher trainees more generously in order to raise the quality of entrants to the profession.
  • Having made MFL compulsory at KS2, resources need to be allocated for resources and training. Investment has so far been pitiful.
  • Incentives could be given to encourage more study trips and exchanges.
  • The GCSE examination should be revised to make it more stimulating.the latest version of GCSE is an improvement in some ways (not others, e.g. translation and literary extracts), but will make little difference.
  • Course book publishers could be less slavish to the exam specifications and actually produce stimulating and challenging resources.
  • The issue of grading in MFL should be addressed, both at GCSE and A-level. We still suffer from severe grading. How about going in the opposite direction and making languages relatively easier in grading terms, recognising their inherent difficulty for pupils? Ofqual has show recently how easy it is to get the grades you want. Several years too late Ofqual has been looking at this issue.
  • Lastly, and importantly, the post 16 curriculum should be broadened to allow students to continue with a language for longer.
Overall, my educated guess is that Britain will not suddenly start falling in love with languages, nor will schools, whose leaders are the product of their society. But the government and universities could easily rig the system to make modern languages more attractive and maybe this is where they should start. Too many young people are missing out on the unique rewards and job prospects which language learning brings.

Review: Ici on parle français

I've been sent three spiral-bound books of resources from MLG Publishing for review. These resource-packed, photocopiable books have been recently published and are written by Susan Thomas with Hilary McColl, illustrated by Heather Clarke. All entitled Ici on parle français and with the general theme of generating spontaneous talk, each book has a different emphasis:

1. Classroom talk for real purpsoes
2. Grammar and communication games
3. Primary version

So let's look at each in turn.

1. Classroom talk for real purposes (£25)

After a general introduction about the value of spontaneous talk in the classroom and the difficulty of achieving it, the book is divided into three parts: 1) an introduction about the resources, engaging learners, using language for real purposes, teaching and planning; 2) 32 tasks which emphasise pupil language and 3) 20 tasks which focus more on teacher input, plus ideas for games and activities.

The introduction stresses the importance of speaking which goes beyond controlled exercises - "using real language for a real purpose". The writers emphasise the importance of using the target language in everyday situations, while recognising how counter-productive this can sometimes be. It's clear that Susan and Hilary write from long experience and, indeed, these resources are a development of ones written many years ago. They describe carefully how to exploit visuals, mix up oral and aural skills, consolidate work and use games or game-like activities. They put forward a 5 stage lesson planning model: agree a starting point (in English), model, rehearse, use and review.

The 32 tasks which follow feature key language and notes, accompanied by an A4 page of mini-flashcards. The pictures are an aid to simple exchanges in the target language, although the authors are happy for some discussion to be in English. Topics covered include greetings (including a finger puppet resource for cutting out), giving reasons for being late, asking for what you need, giving opinions, talking about body and health, weather, classroom items, colours and ICT.

The more teacher language-focused resources focus on instructions, behaviour, school and school subjects, for example. The book ends with descriptions of simple games teachers can use such as charades, dominoes, picture bingo, Simon Says and Snakes and Ladders. There are handy templates for teachers to use with some of these.

2. Grammar and communication games (£20)

This book features grammar games and overlaps to some extent with the previous book in its choice of games. the 10 units which follow, each one with mini-flashcards or templates, include: grammar terms, punctuation, 'grammar grids' to complete, dominoes to practise articles with classroom items, adjectives and possessives, present tense and verb tenses (present and perfect). there are handy cut-outs for spinners, dice, dominoes and board game templates.

3. Primary version (£15)

This book works on the same principles as the other two, but at a simpler level. each unit has key language (translated into English), loads of mini-flashcards and cut-out templates for dice and spinners.

Worth noting are the clarity of the layout and visuals (no gimmicks, some colour - Heather Clarke did a great job) and the sheer abundance of accurate resources. What is at first view a little tricky to fathom is how exactly you would integrate these resources into your scheme of work. I can't imagine teachers using the books in any sort of sequence, partly since there is only a semblance of grading and careful selection of grammatical and lexical material. On the other hand, I can imagine primary and Y7 teachers making copious use of the the mini-flashcards, phrase lists, cut-outs, templates and game ideas. You'd do well to keep a set of these books in a departmental library to supplement the KS3 or primary scheme of work.

Teachers looking to get their pupils to use French more spontaneously should find these resources very useful. Whether the activities actually develop genuinely spontaneous talk (i.e. beyond pre-learned formulae) is a moot point. Such linguistic creativity takes a good deal of time to develop and many pupils never get there. The interaction (teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil) they promote, however, is bound to help with the process.

I have to say that these chunky, spiral-bound, photocopiable books are outstanding value and have a very good shelf life. Secondary teachers would buy the first two books for £45 combined. The experience and enthusiasm of the writers shine through and pupils and teachers would see instant gains from the tasks.

The books can be found here at MLG Publishing. I thoroughly recommend them as a highly practical add-on resource.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Environment resources on frenchteacher


I thought it was a great shame when the exam boards in England decided to drop the environment from their A-level specifications. Their argument was that it was hard to make the topic fit with the DfE's aim of making topics firmly rooted in the target language culture. They must have thought Ofqual wouldn't wear it. Of note is that the topic still appears in AQA's GCSE specification, as part of the global issues theme.

Maybe it was a marginal decision, but I don't see why teachers couldn't relate environmental issues to individual countries. Just think of France and the areas where the topic could have been worked in:  the use of pesticides in farming, organic food, nuclear energy policy, banning glyphosate weed killers (Roundup), renewable energy, air and water pollution, biodiversity, the growth of solar, electric vehicle production.

At one meeting I led for AQA a dismayed teacher made the point very strongly that the number one issue facing the planet, man-made global warming, could have found its way into specifications. I agree. The "get-out clause" is that students can, in the specification, choose an environmental topic as their individual research project, and perhaps some teachers might encourage A-level students in that direction. It begs the question, for me a least: if you can do an environmental topic for an IRP, why not build it into the syllabus?

Perhaps, ultimately, the exam boards reflect society's general ostrich-like ambivalence about the topic, as well as the view from some teachers that the environment is just "boring".

 If I were still teaching I would still happily do some work on global warming, even if it did not relate specifically to France. It's too important not to talk about. As I have blogged previously, teachers should not be too enslaved to the syllabus - get students to communicate about all kinds of issues which are important and/or of interest to them.

Well, it's still on the specification for one more year at A2 and here is a list of the resources I have on in August 2016:

  • 2015, the hottest year in history (new resource, August 2016)
  • Paris climate change agreement 2015 
  • State of the French environment in 2015 
  • 5 things we learn from the 2013 IPCC report 
  • Acidification of the oceans 
  • Climate change - French-Eng summary 
  • Climate change - Eng - French summary 
  • Climate change - effects of a +4 degrees temperature rise by 2060 
  • CO2 exceeds 400 ppm in May 2013 
  • Rain forests and global warming
  • Deforestation and reforestation 
  • Carbon gas levels 
  • Men and women - carbon footprint 
  • Pollution from air travel 
  •  Deaths from air pollution 
  • Solar energy 
  • Starter activity on energy 
  • Nuclear energy 
  • Nuclear energy - for and against 
  • Wind turbines - for or against

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

In the mood... for the subjunctive

I am hugely grateful to Sarah Shaw for sending me this guest blog. Sarah's background is in advanced level French teaching in England. It's a lesson plan for teaching the subjunctive to advanced level students.


Being conscious that students enrolling onto the A-level French course have all had very different experiences of grammar instruction and perhaps more importantly, have very different feelings about their own ability to use previously taught structures and to tackle new structures, has strongly influenced how I approach the ‘teaching’ of grammar.

I have always enjoyed exploring creative strategies to do this in a way that not only aims to develop the students’ use of a wide range of structures, but also endeavours to break down the anxiety that some students have about grammar, to build confidence around understanding and application, to spark curiosity and develop instinct.

I have found an effective way to achieve this is to carefully layer activities to encourage the students to work cooperatively to first of all identify, investigate and imitate patterns (I prefer to speak about 'patterns' rather than 'rules') where I initially facilitate rather than instruct.

By actively unpicking structures and pinpointing patterns, students often seem more confident to then model their own language using examples, before finally taking the step to explore and experiment with the structure in order to use and integrate it meaningfully, rather than as an impressive but isolated add-on.

For me, the subjunctive is a particularly exciting structure to do this with, especially as the students appear to hold it up on a grammar pedestal! This is my 5 point lesson plan for introducing the subjunctive focusing on when to use it and how to form it (with initially just regular verbs). I find it works best if students are divided into 4 mixed ability groups of 2-4 students.

Part 1 - Identifying the subjunctive triggers: Each group is given a card which focuses on one subjunctive trigger.

The students are given 2 minutes to examine the card and note down what the sentences have in common on a post-it note, which they then fold over to hide their ideas. The cards are passed onto the next group of students who are given 2 minutes to do the same but who can consult the previous group’s ideas after 1 minute before completing their post-it note. This is repeated until each group has seen and commented on each card.

More often than not, the students correctly identify the first four subjunctive triggers. At this stage, you may wish to summarise their findings and provide more succinct, formal ‘titles’ for the triggers by asking each group to identify these from a selection of 4 that are displayed.

Part 2 - Introducing key conjunction triggers: There are a number of ways to approach this part. I tend to pin eight key conjunction triggers around the room and then let students roam around for one minute before asking them to note down as many as they can remember (as a group) in 45 seconds. With the collective effort of all students from each group, I generally find that all 8 conjunctions are recalled. I then feedback as a main group to check the understanding of each conjunction and also to stress the relevance of this activity in relation to the subjunctive.

Part 3 – Investigating regular subjunctive formation: This part is split into 2. Firstly, to investigate how the subjunctive is formed, each group is given 5 verbs that are already correctly conjugated.

The students have to fill in the gaps of their original sentences using the verbs.

Secondly, students are asked to look for formation patterns. They may need prompts such as looking for the stem, verb endings etc… but in general, when steered towards verbs such as ‘venir’, they do work it out. It is valuable at this stage to pull together the students’ findings and present them back (using questioning) in a more structured way to consolidate and also, assess understanding.

Part 4 – Imitating regular subjunctive formation: To imitate the verb formation, swap the cards and replace the conjugated verbs with infinitive verbs. The students therefore have to identify the correct verb to use in the gap fill and then conjugate the verb accordingly. They can do it!

Part 5 – ‘Receptive Practice’: I introduced this stage after reading Gianfranco Conti’s blog on the major shortcomings of L2 grammar instruction. I would previously have dived into application at this point, perhaps risking ‘losing’ some of the students. However, in his blog Dr Conti talks about ‘receptive practice through aural and written medium’. I therefore now use a reading activity to bring together everything we have covered.

Many passages exist in A-level textbooks but I have written my own passage to be confident that it covers exactly what I want it to! It shows points covered in class in use and it also introduces the 6th trigger (superlatives) as well as a couple of irregulars that I like to use as an extension task for more able learners who have quickly assimilated the structure. Students use different coloured highlighters to identify the different triggers, underline what they suspect may be the ‘new’ trigger and the ‘irregulars’. I also like to ask learners to select a sentence that they are particularly impressed with. I find this encourages them to develop a true awareness of how language is being used.

This individual task is also an extremely valuable way for me to ‘check-in’ with each learner and assess understanding. A final full group feedback working through the reading activity together is a great way to conclude the class. I like to close my lessons with some kind of exit pass. There are many possibilities here; noting down the triggers, noting down conjunctions, conjugating some regular verbs in the ‘ils’ form, predicting what the ‘irregulars’ will be. These can also form good starters for the next class, which focuses on those usual suspects!

The students always seem so proud to be able to use the subjunctive and this approach does appear to work. I love observing the transition from the excited overuse at AS (which I do not advise for the exam but which I do feel is an integral part of the acquisition process) to the natural, well placed and fluent use at A2 when the subjunctive is just another impressive part of their personal repertoire.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Tackling the MFL teacher shortage

If you are teaching in England you may well be aware that the government intention is for nearly all young people to study a language as part of the Ebacc suite of qualifications. That means GCSE MFL for nearly all by 2020. The "nearly all" is not yet totally clear. Some are saying that about 90% of pupils will be expected to do a language to GCSE level. Bear in mind, however, that most schools are under no obligation to follow this directive and the evidence seems to be that many will not. Schools who do not enter enough pupils for the Ebacc have been told they cannot be graded "outstanding" by Ofsted, but even this powerful inducement may not have the desired effect.

To achieve the 90%-plus rate of GCSE entry schools will need to recruit many more language teachers. By one estimate this means 2000 new teachers. There is already a shortage of MFL staff, more noticeable in some areas than others. The government is aware of the issue. It knows that the supply of university linguists is small and that it may not be possible to recruit enough staff from the rest of the EU. Keep in mind that we already depend hugely on "imported" teachers to fill gaps in schools; things may be even trickier if free movement of labour across Europe is limited.

As an aside, if you want to know why the labour government decided to drop compulsory languages at GCSE, read what Estelle Morris, the education minister at the time, said.

Although not much reported, in March of this year the DfE introduced its scheme to attract more people to language teaching. Details are here. They have proposed what they call Teacher Subject Specialism Courses. They could have called their scheme "Make Do and Mend".

This is what they say:

"The purpose of this training is to improve the subject knowledge of non-specialist and returning teachers. It will increase the number of hours taught by offering school-led teacher subject specialism training opportunities. This training is delivered free of cost to participants. This includes: 

  • non-specialist teachers who could potentially teach a relevant subject in addition to their main subject; 
  • non-specialist teachers who are currently teaching a relevant subject either full-time or in addition to their specialist subject teachers looking to return to the profession;
  • language specialists (in the case of MFL) who aren’t currently teaching;
  • MFL language specialists (in the case of MFL who could potentially teach an additional language)."

In a separate guidance document for "lead schools" they say:

"The purpose of teacher subject specialism training for MFL is to provide school-led MFL subject specialism training to non-specialist teachers and MFL subject specialism training to specialist MFL teachers who are not currently teaching MFL and may need refresher training to enable a move back into an MFL teaching role may be looking to teach a new language in addition to their language specialism.

This will build capacity within the system to enable schools to address strategically workforce and deployment challenges to support delivery of the Ebacc and build the skills necessary to enable non-specialists to move into an MFL teaching role or up-skill non-specialists already undertaking an -MFL role. The priority target groups for secondary MFL are:
  • teachers not currently teaching MFL with post A level MFL qualifications teachers not currently teaching MFL with good A level MFL qualifications; 
  • teachers not teaching MFL who are native/near native speakers; 
  • non-specialist teachers currently teaching MFL in addition to their specialist subject; 
  • specialist MFL teachers who are not currently teaching MFL and who need refresher training to enable a move back into an MFL role; 
  • specialist MFL teachers who have the capacity to teach a new language in addition to their language specialism."
So the DfE is happy for teachers with an A-level in MFL to teach GCSE, to "upskill" existing non-specialists and to encourage specialist in one language to do another.

I wonder if the DfE is aware of the evidenced correlation between teacher subject knowledge and teaching quality (it is), as well as just how long it takes to develop skill in a language.

It is difficult to see how this initiative will produce enough properly skilled MFL teachers for the future. The best hope will be to increase further the number of native speakers. When MFL became compulsory in the 1990s I doubt that there were enough good teachers around, but at least there were more graduate linguists coming through the system.

We shall muddle through somehow, victims of a misconceived policy and poor forward planning. Pupils in less favoured areas will have to make do with well-meaning teachers who have trouble stringing sentences together, don't know enough words and cannot explain grammar. The problem does not just lie with MFL, of course. Maths and physics have been coping with under-skilled teachers for many years. That's another story.