Skip to main content


Showing posts from December, 2011

What can we learn from the Finns?

This is a very good piece in The Atlantic:

Essentially it is argued that an educational system based on cooperation rather than competition, with no private schools, little accountability or inspection, no standardised tests or league tables, no streaming or tracking, well paid and highly qualified teachers, achieves better results than the American or British model. In answer to those critics who point out that Finland is a small, relatively wealthy and socially homogeneous nation with 600 000 pupils as opposed to the 7 million or so in England and Wales, the article cites evidence that other educational jurisdictions including Norway or some states in the USA, with similar levels of wealth and social homogeneity, still do less well. Norway's model, for example, is more like the American than the Finnish.

All this should lead us to question ou…

The oral approach

Henry Sweet was one of the founders of a new way of teaching foreign languages early in the twentieth century, a century littered with methodological alternatives to the grammar-translation approach. Sweet, like Gouin in France, believed that speech was more important than the written word and that languages should be taught primarily using the spoken word. The approach which subsequently developed was not a "direct method" as such since the oral approach assumed careful selection and gradation of target language input. It was strongly teacher-led, discouraged formal teaching of grammatical structures, preferring the notion that students would pick up rules from the skilled presentation and practice provided by the teacher. The approach was also situational in that structures would be practised within a meaningful situational context, for example, family life.

Central to the approach is the use of repetition and question and answer in the classroom, along with contextual clu…

2012 - an interesting year to come

As the year comes to a close there are exciting things ahead for your blogger. By August 2012 I shall be a retired French teacher, missing many aspects of the job, no doubt, but being a shade relieved that the day to day stresses will be over. My post as Head of Modern Languages is currently being advertised on the Ripon Grammar School website and will appear in the Times Ed in the new year. No doubt I shall reflect more on looming retirement in future posts, so enough of that.

Professionally I shall be devoting more time to the website, with the aim of making it a minor commercial venture by May. Not so much a business, more a paid hobby, I hope. I shall also be trying to ensure that the department is all totally in order for my successor who will inherit a talented and enthusiastic team. Being Head of MFL at RGS really is a tremendous privilege. I shall continue to keep close contact with the teacher networks such as mflresources, TES Connect and the MFL "twit…

Latest primary languages news

What's going on with primary modern languages? Many teachers in the field would like to know as things have been "on hold" for some time. Although things are still a bit up in the air, Clare Seccombe has posted a very good summary of what has emerged so far from the National Curriculum review. Look at the table she has posted summarising what should be taught at key Stages 1 and 2.

I remain on the sceptical side of primary languages. In Ripon there has been pretty good coverage of French at KS2, but the pupils I encounter in Year 7 seem to be at no great advantage when compared with those I taught twenty years ago. They have acquired some vocabulary, variable pronunciation habits and a degree of enthusiasm (thankfully), but the time allocated to French at primary means that significant progression is limited. Their knowledge is not strongly embedded and they have little or no writing skills. I am sure that…

Le top 50 des verbes français

1. Être
2. Avoir
3. Faire
4. Dire
5. Pouvoir
6. Aller
7. Voir
8. Savoir
9. Vouloir
 11. Falloir
12. Devoir
13. Croire
14. Trouver
15. Donner
16. Prendre
17. Parler
18. Aimer
19. Passer
20. Mettre
 21. Demander
22. Tenir
23. Sembler
24. Laisser
25. Rester
26. Penser
27. Entendre
28. Regarder
29. Répondre
30. Rendre
 31. Connaître
32. Paraître
33. Arriver
34. Sentir
35. Attendre
36. Vivre
37. Chercher
38. Sentir
39. Comprendre
40. Porter
 41. Devenir
42. Entrer
43. Retenir
44. Écrire
45. Appeler
46. Tomber
47. Reprendre
48. Commencer
49. Suivre
50. Montrer

Source: CNRS and

IPSOS-Mori survey finds teachers generally positive about controlled assessment (Report dated October 2011.)

.... although French teachers are less positive than most, mentioning in particular two aspects: firstly, the fact that rote learning plays such a large role in the production of controlled assessments (p.26); secondly, that there are many practical problems in carrying them out, notably the demands for cover staff whilst orals are being carried out. The survey/report does suggest that the modern language controlled assessments need looking at.

I was surprised to find little reference to the issue of reliability of assessment (i.e. cheating). Although respondents said that they could not control what sources were used by students, the issue is not dealt with in the conclusions.

All in all, it is not the kind of damning report that critics of CA would like to have seen, me included. I imagine Michael Gove may have welcomed …

Maxime Le Forestier

Au fil des ans, mes deuxchanteurs préférésfrançais,tant pourl'écouteà la maisonqu'en cours,ont étéMaxime LeForestier etFrancis Cabrel.J'ai découvertMaximeLe Forestier, quand j'étaisassistantà Montauban en1977-8.C'étaitsonapogée, cette époque où la radiopassait des chansonstelles que San Franciscoet Unarbredans la Ville.J'aimaissa voixpure etla simplicité deses chansons.Il acontinué à faire desenregistrementsau cours des annéeset j'ai appréciécertains albums plus récents,Passerma route etL'Échodes Étoiles.La clarté desa voixfait de luiun bon choix pourla classeaussi, doncj'espère quema classeA2a appréciéun peu de l'ancien etdu plus récent, l'autre jour.Youtuberend l'utilisationdu chant dans laclasse plusstimulanteaussi.Voici deuxextraits deLe Forestier.Dans le premier ilparle de sesamis de la«Maison Bleue»de San Francisco etla vieen Amérique et enFrance à cette époque; le second, c'estMaximequi chante la chansonmagnifiqueLes chevauxre…

Does learning languages make kids smarter?

If you have 28 minutes to spare, have a look at this interesting discussion featuring the eminent Canadian researchers Ellen Bialystok, whose speciality is bilingualism and intelligence, and Laura-Ann Petitto, a neuroscientist. The discussion is pitched at the intelligent layman, but is certainly of interest to foreign language teachers.

The title of this post is simplistic, of course, though Bialystok does state that any stimulating mental activity is good for front brain development, so bilingualism is certainly good for you. She points out that twenty tears ago we would not have been asking if it was good for you, but rather is it bad for you. Times have changed.

Another useful point made by Petitto is that very young learners are better at picking up syntax and phonological patterns, but that vocabulary is equally well acquired by humans of all ages. Does t…


Thanks to Isabelle Jones for tweeting this link.

This looks a very useful resource for language educators. They have brought together videos on foreign language learning, along with many other subject areas, and put them all in one place.

This is what they say:

"Imagine hundreds of thousands of great short videos, and other media, explaining every topic taught to school kids. Imagine them rated and sorted into a giant Directory, making them simple to find. WatchKnowLearn is a non-profit online community devoted to this goal."

There is a strongly hierarchical structure to the site with the main languages category broken down into separate languages (e.g. French), then with further sub-categories (e.g. song, grammar, sounds, basic vocabulary). Each of these categories is then broken down further. For example, within the French grammar section you get adjectives, gender, imperfect tense and so on. Not sure this makes …

A discredited exam system?

The revelations in the Daily Telegraph about improper practice at examination meetings raise a number of questions. Firstly, let's not pretend that there is anything new in individual examiners overstepping the mark at meetings when advising teachers about how to get the best marks in GCSE and GCE exams. Off the cuff comments about the ease of exams or advice to teachers about what to teach or emphasise may be too careless, but are not necessarily symptomatic of a deeper issue. Examiners have been saying this kind of thing for years. They are nearly all practising or former teachers, so their inclination is to support colleagues as far as possible. As exam boards have become less aloof and keen to offer better customer service, examiners will occasionally overdo it. They are only human.

No, the real issue here is the one which other commentators and teachers have raised: the commercialisation of the exam system. Exam boards are competing for schools' business and there is seri…

Poor exam marking

Ofqual reported today a very significant rise in the number of re-marks and re-grades in this year's GCE and GCSE examinations. The rise is partly explained, say Ofqual, by a rise in the number of units being taken. This does not explain the rise of re-marks and re-grades at A-Leve. Whatever, any practising secondary school teacher knows, from plenty of anecdotal evidence, that standards of marking are too variable and may be declining. At my own school this year we had particular issues with AS level history and GCSE French and German.

In French we sent off 15 writing scripts for re-mark and 12 went up by a few UMS points, in two cases leading to higher grades. A small number of our German GCSE students saw UMS points rises of at least 10.

The standard of marking is just not good enough and means teachers lose faith in the examination system. The quality of examiners must be questionable, training and standardisation may be inadequate,…

BFI Ciné-Minis

Just came across this site via Serena Dawson on Twitter. The BFI has some French short movies on DVD with accompanying teaching ideas. In theory the material is aimed at KS2 and KS3, but the one film I watched (via Youtube) could be used with older students.

There is a DVD to buy with all dozen or so shorts, but at least two of them are on Youtube. I watched StrictEternum, a quirky eight minute film with clues leading you to the amusing dénouement. The "lesson plan" to go with it would make sense with, say, Y8 through to Y10.

Well worth a look.

Un nouveau paquebot "France"?

Article tiré de Yahoo Actualités:

 "Le projet de construction d'un nouveau paquebot France se concrétise peu à peu. La troisième phase d'études vient en effet d'être lancée par Didier Spade, patron d'une société parisienne de bateaux de luxe qui se démène depuis trois ans pour reconstruire le mythique navire lancé il y a 50 ans aux chantiers navals de Saint-Nazaire. Après deux études portant sur la conception du navire et la répartition des espaces - réalisé toutes deux par les chantiers STX de Saint-Nazaire -, cette nouvelle phase porte sur l'aménagement intérieur du paquebot et la gastronomie à bord. Le célèbre chef Alain Ducasse s'est d'ailleurs associé au projet.
La construction est désormais envisagée pour 2013. Elle pourrait s'effectuer aux chantiers nazairiens, comme le souhaitent Didier Spade et STX. La mise à l'eau, elle, aurait lieu en 2015.

350 millions d'euros à trouver

« Ce sera un paquebot très différent du premier Fr…

Audio Lingua

This is rather good! This site offers a large archive of short audio clips, mainly of intermediate level, recorded by native speakers. Clips are in six different languages, with lots in French. The ones I have listened to would suit higher GCSE or even A-level and could be recommended for home use, for example in the run-up to exams for listening practice. Alternatively they could be used from the from of the class or in a computer suite. You could ask studenst to take notes in French or English, or design easy comprehension tasks (e.g. questions in English or French). The audio quality is a little variable, but usually very good. You can dowload clips or just play them from the site, which is what I would do.

Clips carry star ratings and you can select them by difficulty level.

This what they say:

Audio-Lingua, qu’est-ce ? Une base de données collaborative de fichiers audio authentiques, enregistrés par des locuteurs natifs, libres de droits pour une ut…