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Stories

GCSE modern language specifications are rather boring, aren't they? It seems like the people who decide what kids should be learning at KS4 can't get beyond the paradigm of the last twenty years. At KS3 there has been a willingness to think outside the box a bit and to give teachers more freedom to do what they wish, not that that's been reflected hugely in the course books I see.

So why are our books dull? Well, we are generally working with a grammatical progression imposed on a series of worthy topics which are deemed to be of interest to our students. You know the sort of thing: holidays, town and country, health, hobbies, food and drink, friends, shopping etc. Every now again our books are spiced up with something more "relevant", so now it's all internet, emails, web sites and mobile phones. None of it is what you might call attention-grabbing. I've nothing against grammatical progression, but the topical contexts it is set in could be better.

One thing that's missing is stories. Back in the days of Mark Gilbert's Cours Illustré de Français, which I have discussed here before, it was nearly all stories. Every day family stories, stories about monkeys in trees, stories about Christmas truces during the war and so on. Many of them were mundane and dull, some were mildly amusing, but the reason they were used was to try and fire the imagination of youngsters and to provide a framework for productive oral and written work through question and answer. Stories lead to greater creativity of thought, along with a range of written and oral tasks.

let's say you were revising clothes and accessories in Y10. As well the fashion show or the pictures of people dressed up in the book, why not have a story, or cartoon story, about a murder at a fashion show, or about a French teacher who falls in love with a fashion model, or a story of jealousy between two fashion models? OK, so they aren't brilliant, but you get the point.

I haven't seen course book in years which tries to use stories effectively. They do appear sometimes. In the Tricolore series (Y8 book) we read about Inspector Louis Laloupe and I find those cartoon stories very usable for teaching purposes as well as a bit of fun for the kids. If I were publishing language books I would hire an imaginative children's writer to produce some simple stories which could be simplified in the target language. I'm not sure the current crop of linguists who produce courses are up to writing somrthing good enough. In any case, the latest exam board demands may stop them doing so. One could even start with simple versions of classic, familiar tales, written in the perfect tense.

So, if greater numbers of students are going to flock back to MFL at KS4, let's make sure that the lessons are not, as OFSTED recently put it, too dull.

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