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Back in the swing

Good to be back with classes. Teaching is the most enjoyable part of our job, far more interesting than target setting and analysing results.

One of the major areas for us to think about this year is the new GCSE with its controlled assessments and discrete skill testing for listening and reading. I'm not a fan of the latter. We have been down this road before and I know what will happen. English teachers of MFL, naturally focused on achieving the best results, will adapt their teaching to the testing method. If this method involves, for example, texts in the foreign language with questions in English, then teachers will happily incorporate this approach into their schemes of work. Text books will reflect the same methodology (see already the Nelson AQA French course). It's called the "backwash effect".

This will lead to lazy teaching and poor methodology. We must avoid, as far as we can, a methodology which retreats too far from the principle of using the target language in large amounts. I've never been dogmatic on this issue, but if we are not using TL at least, say, 80% of the time, we are not providing students with the input they need to progress. Skill in language is largely acquired naturally when we provide plenty of comprehensible input, as Stephen Krashen, the well-known and influential applied linguist put it. He went further and claimed in his monitor model that so-called "conscious" learning was next to useless in language acquisition and that it merely acted as an editing, or monitoring facility, which could check for correctness. I thought his model was deficient and simplistic, but his general point was sound.

When you add to the equation that our time with pupils is very limited in some schools, it is doubly important to provide enough target language.

So we as a department are determined not to fall into the trap of teaching and assessing through the medium of English.

Nor shall we spend nearly every lesson in a desperate attempt to maximise performance in the controlled assessments. Another danger this year is that schools, again in their anxiety to do statistically well in the exams, will offer a diet of teaching to controlled assessments, doing umpteen speaking assessments and too many written assessments. This could disrupt totally a sensible teaching sequence where grammatical progression and vocab building should play a leading role.

So, as always, we should do what is right and not be led too closely by the assessment system in place at the time. Just teach well!


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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
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Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
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20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
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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)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
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. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

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When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…