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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 quest

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 cl

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 "t

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 t

Le top 50 des verbes français

 1. Être 2. Avoir 3. Faire 4. Dire 5. Pouvoir 6. Aller 7. Voir 8. Savoir 9. Vouloir 10.Venir  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 wel

Maxime Le Forestier

Au fil des ans , mes deux chanteurs préférés français, tant pour l'écoute à la maison qu'en cours , ont été Maxime Le Forestier et Francis Cabrel. J'ai découvert Maxime Le Forestier , quand j'étais assistant à Montauban en 1977-8 . C'était son apogée , cette époque où la radio passait des chansons telles que San Francisco et Un arbre dans la Ville . J'aimais sa voix pure et la simplicité de ses chansons. Il a continué à faire des enregistrements au cours des années et j'ai apprécié certains albums plus récents , Passer ma route et L'Écho des Étoiles . La clarté de sa voix fait de lui un bon choix pour la classe aussi, donc j'espère que ma classe A2 a apprécié un peu de l' ancien et du plus récent , l'autre jour . Youtube rend l'utilisation du chant dans la classe plus stimulante aussi. Voici deux extraits de Le Forestier. Dans le premier il parle de ses amis de la « Maison

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. D

WatchKnowLearn 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 th

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 ser

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 inadeq

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 Image du futur paquebot (Yahoo) « Ce se

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