Skip to main content

Changing educational paradigms

This is an entertaining and thought-provoking animation based on a talk by Sir Ken Robinson. A colleague put me on to it. Not sure what you think, but a few thoughts occurred to me:
  • Some actual knowledge needs to be transmitted to children before they can think in usefully creative ways. In science you need the basics of Newtonian physics, chemical reactions and the like before you can move to higher levels.
  • Some fields of learning, such as my own (second language learning) are about acquiring skills and knowledge and the most efficient ways may not necessarily be the most creative - aspects such behaviourist repetiton can go a long way.
  • Economic necessities mean that what Sir Ken calls "batch" systems and the traditional classroom are difficult to avoid.
  • I am not sure I agree with him when he says children do not believe that getting a degree will lead them to a good job. Many children but into the system and know how to make it work for their benefit.
  • Ken makes an assumption that children find their education boring. This is not always true!
  • Grouping children by age usually makes sense, socially and educationally, doesn't it?
  • He is absolutely right that we are heavily conditioned by the division between academic and non-academic learning. Policies such as languages for all up to 16 and the Ebacc have been attempts to break down this division. All children, these initiatives assumed, can access so-called academic subjects.
  • To a large extent, new technologies notwithstanding, we are still doing what we did in the 1950s and we find it hard to escape traditional thinking in education.
  • Politicians and parents conspire in maintaining the status quo. We seem to value testing, uniforms and conformism.
  • Sir Ken, as others have done, seems to dislike the division of the curriculum into subjects. How, in practice, can this be avoided?
  • We are in the habit of bemoaning the failures of our education system. We could look down the other end of the telescope and claim that it is remarkably successful, given the challenges schools face.
  • Is it a coincidence that all developed countries have developed systems with great similarities? No, because despite their limitations, they actually work rather well.


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

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…

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…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

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…