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Showing posts from 2012

How can you have accountability without prescription?

Professor Bill Boyle of Manchester University wrote on the 26th December of his wish that in 2013: "those involved in policy decisions which affect learning opportunities and progress, and ultimately, life chances of pupils, address the issue of deregulation: deregulating teachers from delivering test-preparation focused lessons, and deregulating pupils from being passive recipients, both required to deliver acceptable prescribed outcomes for measurement purposes." The regime of prescription and testing which has become part of the British and American educational culture, what Pasi Sahlberg, the author of Finnish Lessons, describes as GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), is widely criticised because it creates a "mug and jug" view of learning - filling students with knowledge to be regurgitated in tests which form the basis of high stakes school accountability. I'm sure Michael Gove, despite his affection for knowledge-based curricula, is fully awa

How well was MFL taught?

Just came across this YouGov survey which asked people in different age groups, regions and social classes how well they thought various school subjects were taught. You might find it interesting. The subject which emerged as the best taught was English with 87% of respondents saying the subject was well taught. In second place was maths (80%), then geography (76%), history (75%), PE (67%), biology (65%), chemistry (64%), physics (60%), art (59%), MFL (55%) and music (52%). Figures are also supplied for how badly the subject was taught and these show a similar order. A closer look at the MFL figures shows that the most happy respondents are those in the 25-39 age group. Younger and older respondents were considerably less happy. Conservative voters were a little happier than Labour voters, with Lib Dem voters the happiest. ABC1 class voters were happier than C2DE by a margin of 10%. What could this all mean? Here is my shot: Languages (along with art and music) are special

To grade or not to grade?

The arguments for not writing grades on pupils' homework are generally familiar. They include the fact that pupils tend to look at their mark and ignore other corrections and feedback, that poor marks can be dispiriting and that high marks can encourage able pupils to coast. Teachers these days are encouraged to always get the pupil, whatever their ability, to realise what they need to do to improve and to set short term and longer term targets. We used to discuss this in our department quite often and, in the end, decided to keep a system of grades in place, along with occasional targets for improvement and written feedback in English (we felt this carried more weight with students and was a more personal form of communication). So why did we keep grades and what form did they take? Pupils usually like to see a grade and it can be argued that attaining a good grade is motivational. The very able student is keen to keep getting A grades and the average student will be pleased

Bûche de Noël

Voici une recette facile pour les fêtes de fin d'année. A mon avis notre chef aurait pu s'habiller d'une façon plus appropriée pour la cuisine. Elle aurait pu porter un tablier par exemple.

Zero preparation lesson plan

We all know that listening is the number one skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehension input I would sometimes start lessons with this kind of listening task: 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 true/false statements. This can be further extended by getting students in pairs to recount your weekend from their notes and/or their own weekend. In a French teacher's busy li

Performance Related Pay

I read the Teachers' Pay Review body report the other day. It recommends a diluted form of performance related pay for teachers (PRP). In essence, what is likely to come to pass is a national framework for teachers' pay, with maximum and minimum bands, but an end to automatic annual increments and the flexibility for head teachers to give rises to staff within the bands. The unions reject this formula out of hand whilst the DfE is reported to be on a "war footing" in anticipation of strikes. The report argued that the new framework would make teaching a more attractive career, would allow heads more flexibility to retain the best staff, would help attract good teachers to the most difficult areas and, ultimately, would raise standards of learning. Firstly, it is widely accepted (and indeed the pay review reports the fact) that there is no international evidence that PRP improves teaching or outcomes for pupils. Teachers are not motivated to perform better by the p

Dom's Unbelievable Truth

Dominic McGladdery had the idea of using the concept behind the Radio 4 comedy The Unbelievable Truth as a way of getting students to listen or read carefully. The idea is that you give an account with a number of deliberate errors in and the other students have to spot the deliberate errors. (In the radio prog, it works in the opposite way, with the contestants having to smuggle through truths among all the errors.) So, with this in mind, here is the story of Cinderella, written (not very authentically) in the perfect tense and containing 10 deliberate errors. You could give this to an intermediate level group. It could be read aloud if the students are clear enough, or done as a reading exercise. You could make it competitive, using two different texts of similar standard, by seeing which partner can spot the most errors. I am sure students would enjoy this. Il était une fois une belle jeune fille, orpheline, qui habitait dans une grande maison avec son père remarié. Sa belle-mè

Comprehension and how to improve GCSE

In my last post I reflected on how, because teachers love to teach to the test, the test has to be good and has to encourage the right methodology. What is wrong with the current GCSE exam and how could we go some way to fixing it so that it reflects sound teaching methodology? Currently 30% of marks are awarded for speaking and 30% for writing. In addition, these skills are tested by controlled assessment which, notwithstanding its benefits, encourages the rote learning of chunks of language, focus on technique and takes time away from enjoyable, communicative lessons, filled with target language. Only 40% of marks, therefore, are awarded for comprehension of the language. Now, I have previously written about how I have some admiration for the Comprehension Hypothesis advanced by Stephen Krashen. Without getting too airy-fairy about this, he claims, somewhat uncontroversially in fact, that acquisition occurs when learners are given access to "comprehensible input". If

Cart before horse

British teachers, like most others, teach to tests. It is vital, therefore, that the test be a good one. If the test is good, it will reflect good classroom practice. So let's look at A-level and GCSE for a moment. At A-level in MFL I would contend that there are major elements in those papers which do not necessarily reflect good classroom practice and which are the remnants of tradition and the influence of universities. I am talking principally about translation, especially translation into the target language. You see, once you include a significant number of marks for translation sentences or passages, teachers will spend a good deal of time working over practice sentences. They would be foolish not to if they want their students to get the best results. Now, time spent on going through English sentences and grammatical analysis is time taken away from high quality immersion or "comprehensible input". This means that progress in comprehension and oral fluency

frenchteacher updates

I am pleased that there are now 1000 subscribers to . In reality there are many more users as only one subscription is needed per school. When I decided to transform the resources into a subscription site I had no idea how many would sign up, but I did deliberately set the price low to attract as many users as possible. There were two reasons for this: firstly, my living does not depend on it and secondly, I like the idea that as many teachers as possible are using the resources, especially as I enjoy writing them. So thanks to any readers who have signed up and if you haven't, take a look at the samples . My web designer Harry Green, who is a student at Newcastle University, is working on a redesign of the site to make searching for resources easier and to bring some aesthetic improvements. Recent additions to the site include dice games on the perfect tense (Y9 - low intermediate), talking about TV (Y12 - high intermediate) and simple revision questions

Lingro Here is an interesting twist on the online dictionary. Lingro offers the traditional, Wordreference-style dictionary, but also has the facility to translate individual words on any website page you choose. You just enter the URL of the web page, then the Lingro allows you to see instant translations as you click on words. These pop up in a little window near to the chosen word. This is a very good tool for the non-specialist linguist, though skilled linguists might also make some use of it from time to time. By the way, the Lingro bilingual dictionary is very fast and quite detailed. It claims to be the fastest on the web. However, I have not yet come across anything that will take me away from Wordreference , with its detailed (if not infallible) translations and useful forum.

Teachers Pay Teachers Teachers Pay Teachers is an American site set up by Paul Edelman, a former new York City teacher, which allows teachers to sell their resources to each other for modest fees. There seems to be a good range of French resources available, but it is hard to evaluate their quality since you can only rely on the description of each one; there is no preview facility. However, there is a rating system and buyers can leave comments on the quality of the resources. Resources include card games, powerpoint presentations, activities, worksheets, mini-lessons and posters. Most resources cost between $1 and $5. Some are free. Although many teachers would question why they should bother paying for powerpoints and workbooks when they can get them for nothing on a site like TES, this online marketplace concept is a good one and an easy way for teachers to make a small income from resources made in their

OpenExam This is an interesting and potentially extremely useful initiative for language teachers and students. OpenExam is a "teacher-led, non-profit, charitable foundation of schools, colleges and universities" which aims to provide a bank of examination papers which can done on computers, tablets and phones, and self-assessed online. Exams will include GCSE, IGCSE, A-level, IB, AP (USA), Matric (South Africa) and SSCE (Australia). These are the stated objectives of the charity: 1. to encourage the teaching and learning of modern, foreign and endangered  languages, thereby promoting international relations and mutual understanding between cultures. 2. to facilitate the acquisition of foreign languages by providing teachers and students with online access to exam-style resources. 3. to provide a mechanism for formative assessment and internationally recognisable records of achievem

How about an immersion week?

We all know that the best way to boost the linguistic progress of students is to get them in an immersion situation for as long as possible. At Ripon Grammar we could measure the improvements in listening and oral skills made by those who did the exchange. Teachers are always striving to increase motivation and skill in all sorts of ways: games, using new technologies, looking for new ways to practise grammar and vocabulary. However, I would suggest the best single thing we could do, if an immersion stay abroad is impossible, is to organise an immersion period in school. How could this work? You could first persuade your senior leadership that the benefits would be worthwhile - improved results, higher motivation, personal and intercultural benefits, higher take-up for A-level. You could even present the equal opportunities case, as there are always pupils who are unable to do exchange visits. You could request a week, probably after exams in the summer term when teachers of ot

Lessons from abroad

Lessons from abroad: International review of primary languages is a research report from the CfBT published this year and written by Teresa Tinsley and Therese Comfort. It looks at practice in a number of overseas countries, some of them Anglophone, for example the USA and Australia, others including Asian countries, France, Spain and Scandinavian nations. It is a very lucid and interesting review. The clear executive summary is worth reading and in a sense it says nothing very surprising, but delving into the detail a bit more I was more persuaded a little than before about the value of second language learning at primary level, though remain as sceptical as ever given the challenges it presents to Anglophone countries. To sum up, research is pretty clear that there are significant benefits to children in learning another language whilst young. The younger you can go, the more likely you will be able to tap into the natural acquisition capabilities of the under 6s. In addition, t

Médecins Sans Frontières resources

Some time ago Médecins sans Frontières placed some excellent French resources on their British site. The themes covered, unsurprisingly, are the causes of poverty, the work of humanitarian associations, immigration and medical research. They say: "The films illustrate challenges facing the global community and encourage the discussion of wider social issues. The resources can be used by schools wishing to promote cross curricular collaboration since there are links to Science, Geography, Maths, RE, English and ICT. Our aim is to provide authentic sources which will be engaging for students. We would also like to raise awareness of MSF’s work in the field and show young people the circumstances and challenges faced by their contemporaries in the wider world." There nine short videos in all, each one accompanied by a transcript and exercise. I had a look at one on AIDS. The images are accompanied by a voice-off narrative, spoken in very clear French read at a p

Rote learning

My name is Steve and I am a barbershop singer... I mention this because when we barbershoppers learn songs we generally do so by ear. We are provided with learning tracks on CD or MP3, play them on our iPod or in the car and set our parts to memory. For me it would take, say, 100 listens of a short song to memorise my baritone part (often the hardest). This is a good case of learning by rote. You do repeated practice to set something to memory. My earliest memory of rote learning, forced on me by teachers, would be learning times tables. This was useful and has served me ever since. Another memory I have of rote learning is learning the Greek alphabet from one of those yellow and black "Teach Yourself" books. This has served me little, though oddly I still remember chunks of it showing how effective it can be long term. For O-level Latin we learned by heart enormous sections of Verres in Sicily for the translation paper so that you did not even have to think of the transl

New franglais

The French have pretty much gave up defending their language from the influx of English. It amused me to learn in the early 1990s that the Minister of Culture Jacques Toubon, in his failed attempts to stop anglicisms, became known to some as Jacques Allgood. Even so, I continue to enjoy the range of neologisms, many of which spring up in the fields of new technology and entertainment. Some are French adaptations of English terms, such as réseauter (to network), most just English terms used because they are fashionable in some circles. I often find the latter in a blog I look at from entitled Têtes de Séries by Pierre Langlais (yes, Langlais). Pierre writes about all the latest news of TV series, especially American and British. In recent blogs I have found pour le fun , difficile d'en parler sans spoiler, les deux épisodes suivants étaient meilleurs que le trailer, Yahoo lance... une webséries (avec un s), les champions du buzz, le post  (continues to be used despi

Cheating, bending rules or optimistic marking?

I read chunks of the recent Ofqual report on the English GCSE debacle. The media focused largely on the observation that teachers had a tendency to overmark controlled assessments and to try and get their students just over the C grade borderline. There were some persuasive graphs to demonstrate this. Some talked of cheating, others talked of bending rules and Glenys Stacey herself used the phrase "optimistic marking". In passing, commentators did point out the obvious fact that it is the exam boards' job to moderate teachers' marking effectively and that over-generous marking should not affect grade outcomes. Picture: Microsoft Office In fact, the detailed and, I thought, balanced Ofqual analysis probably emphasised a different point entirely: namely that the whole English assessment regime was flawed and that accountability measures put so much pressure on teachers that they felt almost obliged to mark generously. Evidence from the TES forum was used in the

Independent learning in MFL

I must admit that I have never got my head around "independent learning" when it comes to language learning. As a Head of Department I was encouraged, along with other departments and teachers, to incorporate as much independent learning as possible in lessons. An underlying assumption, I assume, was that students would be less bored when working on their own, more challenged and that knowledge and skills acquired in this fashion would be better embedded. Trouble is, language teachers know that to get their pupils to acquire language successfully they need to supply lots of language input which means talking to them, asking them questions, playing them CDs or videos. This is the best quality listening input, although we are, for very good reasons, happy to let them work in pairs and groups when the quality of input will be less good. All this listening means it is harder for the language teacher to create the conditions for independent learning, unless we just mean that t

What's new on

I've added a testimonials page to the site if anyone is interested to read what some teachers think of the resources. I'll add more comments as I receive them. To accommodate this on the home page contents bar, I've shifted the Spanish resources into the "free resources" menu, so Spanish has not disappeared, it's just elsewhere. I've also decided to place a few small Google ads on American and Canadian sites as the large majority of my subscribers are British and I am not so sure Americans, Canadians, plus teachers down under, are so aware of the resources. Most of the resources on the site are not aimed specifically at British teachers, although I am conscious of the fact that some of the acronyms for assessments look alien to non-British teachers. As for new resources on the site, I've added a few more crosswords for KS3 and KS4 (low intermediate), plus a crossword on the subjunctive for advanced students. I have also made a resource about Bonf

AIM Language Learning I've been having a look at the AIM (Accelerative Integrated Methodology) website to find out a bit more about this approach which has become widely used in Canada and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere. Although AIM has been around a few years, I confess I had only heard of it briefly via Twitter colleagues from Canada and it has not made a great mark in Britain. The best way to learn more about it in detail would be to watch the introductory videos in which the method is explained and seen in use by enthusiastic teachers and pupils. What struck me was that, if you get beyond the faintly hokey appeals to research, there is much that is familiar if you are a teacher who enjoys games, song, mime, drama, group and pair work. This is a set of resources and a methodology which gets youngsters very actively engaged in listening to and using the foreign language in all kinds of fun ways. There is a strong emphasis on the use of mime and gesture, cons

La famille Smith

Just to show that things are human here at Frenchteacher Towers, here is a photo of Joel (my son who is studying physics at Manchester Uni), Elspeth (Professor Elspeth Jones who, she was told, is a "thought leader" in internationalisation in higher education) and yours truly on a fine morning at Swinstey reservoir, Blubberhouses (yes, Blubberhouses), near Harrogate, North Yorkshire. My brother-in-law Peter Jones from Sydney took the photo.


There are a number of terms and abbreviations used in the field of teaching languages other than English. As far as the teaching of French is concerned, in Anglophone countries, some Americans (in New York) talk of LOTE (Languages Other Than English), some of WL (World Language(s)), most that I have found use FL (Foreign Language). The term Languages is also used on its own, for example by New Zealand high schools. Australians and New Zealanders seem to use ML (Modern Languages) at the university level, but at high school level, Australians frequently use LOTE. In NZ literature I have also seen IL, for International Languages. The British now use MFL (Modern Foreign Languages). We used to say Modern Languages (ML), but some years ago it was thought necessary to distinguish the likes of French and German from community languages such as Hindi or Chinese. Interestingly, in the British university sector, where the distinction with community languages is less relevant, the term Modern La

Lyrics Training I have been writing a new page on about using music in the modern languages classroom. In my searches I came across the Lyrics Training web site. What a useful and clever site! You can listen to songs and do gap fills interactively. If you do the free sign up you can build up points and record your progress. Here is a very good training video by Russell Stannard on how it is used: You could easily recommend this site to your A-level students or maybe take a group into the ICT room for them to work on a song.

Cloud Cuckoo land Well, Cloud Cuckoo World, actually. This is a rather attractive and useful site for primary French teachers who are happy to fork out a one-off subscription of £50. There are two sections to the site. The first has a set of illustrated stories read aloud in English, with key vocabulary repeated and displayed in French. The second has pictures covering some everyday vocabulary. You click on the picture and the word is displayed and pronounced. The illustrations are attractive and would work well both on a computer screen/iPad and on a whiteboard. The pronunciations are excellent (although the free sample story extract said "danseur" when the text read "danseuse"). I cannot vouch for how well the stories would amuse children since nearly everything is behind the paywall. For parents there is a home subscription option costing £10 which may be of interest. The content of the site is tied in with the QCDA Scheme of work. He

Ma nouvelle maîtresse aux chevrons

Elle est jolie, non? Belle ligne et elle ne consomme pas beaucoup.

ABacc - a huge missed opportunity?

Stories in The Times and The Daily Telegraph suggest that the reformed GCE A-levels will remove January modules and resits, and that if students do a contrasting AS level subject (maths or a humanity), complete a 5000 word essay and do voluntary work as part of their portfolio, they will acquire an ABacc certificate which will help give them access to Russell Group universities. It is clear that this idea borrows slightly from the International Baccalaureate and from the AQA EPQ. It is also a response to criticisms that too many students cannot write essays and that they are assessed too much on skills and knowledge acquired in the short term, rather than embedded, all round understanding of subjects. It also tries to deal with the criticism that our A-level students are too narrow in their choice of subjects. A broader curriculum would allow students to postpone key choices until later whilst providing them with a better understanding of the world. It is a timid reform and, as usu


I came across these French assessment materials, thanks to Sarah on the TES forum. French teachers may find them interesting. CIEP stands for Centre international d'études pédagogiques. DELF stands for Diplôme élémentaire en langue française. CIEP is from the French Ministry of Education. the DELF (and DALF) exams are provided for learners of French around the world. The site says: Chaque diplôme correspond à l'un des quatre premiers niveaux du Cadre européen commun de référence pour les langues. Pour chaque niveau une série d'épreuves évalue les quatre compétences de communication : compréhension et production écrites et orales. Particularités Le diplôme délivré est le Diplôme d'Etudes en Langue Française. La mention DELF scolaire n'apparaît pas. La structure des examens est la même que celle du DELF dans sa version "tous publics" , seuls les thématiques et les supports diffèrent et sont ad

How should we assess writing at GCSE?

Writing is the least useful skill for language learners and as internet translators become ever more sophisticated it is likely that the vast majority of learners will never have to construct written language in the foreign language at all. We should downgrade its importance at all levels, but especially at GCSE. The current allocation of 30% of marks for writing is inappropriate. That said, we shall no doubt continue to teach and assess writing, largely to support the other skills and to provide useful classwork and homework tasks. So how should we clear up the current mess which is assessment of writing at GCSE? When it was decided that that exam boards would have to mark written GCSE assignments this issue came sharply into focus with hundreds of schools unhappy with grades. A thread on the TES MFL forum about problems with marking writing at GCSE has been running for over a year. Mistakes in marking with essay based questions occur where the examiner is inexperienced, updates

Je viens de me rendre compte que je fais de moins en moins de billets de blog en français. Faut que je fasse un plus grand effort.... Le fait de ne pas devoir aller au travail me permet de passer un peu plus de temps à préparer des ressources pour le site. Par exemple, dernièrement, j'ai écrit un texte avec des exercices sur les paris sportifs. Il paraît que les Français parient de plus en plus pendant la crise économique et que c'est les sociétés traditionnelles telles que la Française des jeux et le PMU qui en tirent le plus de bénéfices. Quand c'est la crise, les gens prennent plus de risques mais ils préfèrent les points de vente à proximité aux jeux en ligne. Pour ce genre de texte ma méthode, c'est de trouver un article de journal (dans ce cas précis c'était Sud Ouest), d'y trouver les informations utiles et de réécrire les infos à ma façon. Souvent je simplifie un peu le vocabulaire, j'enlève ce qui n'est pas nécessaire et je réorganise la str

Create your own crosswords I have to recommend this site by Dave Regan. There are quite a few online "make your own crossword" sites, but I particularly like this one. It is free, unless you want to access your crosswords from multiple computers or mobile devices, in which case you pay an annual $10. Dave allows you to use the crosswords for any reasonable purpose, including commercially. Plus it's very easy indeed to use. You simply set up your parameters - colour of grid (grey or black, grey uses less ink), font and page size (American letter or A4). You enter your answers and clues, click and in very little time the crossword is made. You can go back if you discover you have made a mistake and then save the document as a pdf or HTML file. You can also leave your completed crossword available for others to use. They stay there for a limited period of about two months. Here is the current list of ready-made puzzles:

Word wheel "> Here's a nifty little idea for playing with vocabulary. The word wheel could work well with advanced learners. Here it is: This is how the activity was described: "Get kids interacting and improving their language skills with this fun game!  For the activity, I tossed vocabulary words in a lunch bag. Kids flicked the game spinner, then pulled out a word. Once they had their word, the fun began!  Students act, draw, rhyme, or define their word. They might also have to put it in a sentence, name what part of speech it is, or give a synonym or antonym for it. It's a game of chance! Below is a tally sheet I made for kids to keep score. To make a spinner, you simply print design on card stock and laminate. Then, you add a paper clip and insert it in your spinner." I'm sure you could make further adaptations to this. I wo

ALF by Steve Glover (2)

In my last post I reviewed a unit from the A*ttitudes online AS French course by Steve Glover. Today I'm going to review one of his A2 film packs designed to support the work of teachers and students studying A-level cultural topics. I've chosen to look at La nuit américaine, one of my favourite Truffaut films and one which I taught a couple of years ago alongside three other Truffaut pictures. The first resource is a lengthy plot summary of the film with verbs in brackets to put in the present tense. The grammar task is easy for A2 level, but probably worthwhile in as much as it gets students to read the summary very carefully. These summaries are very useful for a medium where it is difficult, unlike with a novel, to situate events easily. There is then a clever exercise aimed at building skill with adjectives when drawing up character descriptions. This suits a film with very distinct and interesting characters very well. I liked the matching task where students have t

ALF by Steve Glover (1) ALF stands for A-level French. It's Steve Glover's site which contains a wealth of top quality resources to support AS and A2 level French teachers and students. Resources can be accessed directly online or can be ordered on CDs. Steve will even accept commissions for specific resources from busy teachers. I took a careful look at one unit of his A*ttitudes AS level resources ( la santé ) and one of his sets of resources on a French film, Truffaut's La nuit américaine . In this review I'll focus on the AS material. The unit on health comprises a good range of tasks, including some Taskmagic 3 games. To start with there is a partial vocab list which students can supplement. This is reinforced with some Taskmagic games. Then there is a lengthy text with pictures on various aspects of healthy living. Verbs are left in the infinitive and have to be put into the present tense, a worthwhile task at AS level, as many students are still insecur

Exploiting Google Arts and Culture pictures

I came across the amazing Google Arts and Culture a few years ago when it was first christened Google Art Project. It's an easy and rather awesome way to look at famous artworks from around the world. It struck me that language teachers could make use of this resource to generate discussion at advanced level. The best pictures for this are ones which do not rely on simple description, but where students can let their imaginations run riot with their own invented back-stories. How about this work by Van Gogh (Agostina Segatori dans le Café du Tambourin): You could get the ball rolling with questions like: What's her name? How old is she? Where is she? What's she wearing? Why is she there? Why is she alone? What's she drinking? Does she usually drink this? Is she waiting for someone? Who? How is she feeling? What's happened? What's going to happen? etc etc The students will go where they want with this. T