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Showing posts from December, 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.