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AQA A-level French from Hodder



Hodder have been kind enough to send me a copy of their new text book for A-level French which is published in May. This is an 'all-in-one', comprehensive AS and A-level book which, before discount, costs £29.99, making it relatively good value these days for a two year course. It has an unusually long list of authors: Casimir d’Angelo Jean-Claude Gilles Rod Hares Lauren Léchelle, with: Séverine Chevrier-Clarke Lisa Littlewood and Kirsty Thathapudi. You may know of Rod Hares - he wrote Tout Droit with David Mort and Compo.

The course rigorously covers all the sub-themes in the specification, includes work on all the prescribed texts and films and builds in a review of sub-themes covered in Year 1 into the year 2 programme. This is useful when you bear in mind the structure of the new A-level and the standalone AS-level.

In its early pages the book features maps of France and the francophone world and an explanation for students about how the A-level specification is structured. This introduction clearly lays out the exams to be taken and how the text book itself works. The clarity is notable. The back of the book has a detailed grammar section and verb tables.

It is not necessary to work through the book in order, since each 'spread' of work is pitched at a different level, but I imagine many teachers will use the book as a guide to their scheme of work. More on that below.

Each unit is prefaced with aims; theme, grammar and strategies, the latter following the current fashion (I wonder if this will be a passing fad). After this each unit begins with a activity called On s'échauffe, a kind of pre-reading/pre-listening task, to get students into the theme and its associated vocabulary.


Example of a Unit

Let's take Unit 2 as an example. This is the sub-theme of La cyber-société.

The warm-up tasks is a brief matching and oral activity to get students talking simply about favourite devices. No-nonsense and effective. There then follows a reading matching task based on short paragraphs, a true/false/not mentioned task, then a sentence level gap-fill grammar task on articles followed by translation into English of the sentences.

There is then a gap-fill and matching task based on a conversation, followed by a short translation into English based on the same topic and featuring the future tense. This material is all very much post-GCSE in standard. This is then followed by two useful group or pair-based communicative tasks and a written task. Here are the oral tasks:

a Par groupes de trois ou quatre,
Réfléchissez sur une liste exhaustive des différents usages de la technologie dans la vie de tous les jours.  
À tour de rôle, expliquez oralement à la classe les activités les plus importantes pour vous. 

b Échangez des points de vue sur les questions suivantes. 
Comment voyez-vous l’avenir des réseaux sociaux ? l Comment imaginez-vous les transports dans 25 ans ? 
Comment voyez-vous les progrès de l’électronique et de la robotique dans la maison ? 
Comment imaginez-vous la conquête de l’espace dans 50 ans ?

I like these. The level is beyond GCSE, allows for easy communication and invites a degree of reflective/imaginative response. The writing task is a write-up of the previous discussion. All very sensible.

The next semi-authentic reading source called Deux jeunes cybernautes français is preceded by a pre-reading task focused on vocabulary and word classes, and followed by two comprehension tasks in French 'find the equivalent in the text' and a matching task, then a slightly clumsy grammar drill focusing on verb tenses

 e.g. Est-ce que tu .......... souvent d’Internet ? (se servir, au présent)

Following a couple of listening tasks, there is then a strategies section on vocabulary learning, including sensible advice about learning words in context, mnemonics and visuals to aid memorisation.

After a short translation passage into French, there is a 'webquest'-style task involving some independent or group research, note-taking and feeding back.

The next section in this sub-theme is about cyber-crime and features, amongst other things, a longer text, a drill on adjective agreement, a re-ordering tasks based on a listening text, questions in French on the same text, translation into English and discussion activities.

There is then a good section on the boom in cyber-technology in francophone Africa (recall that in the new specifications the focus should be on the culture of the TL country). This section including strategies advice on checking and editing written work and an opportunity to do some semi-imaginative writing. here is the instruction:

Vous êtes arrivés dans un village reculé d’Afrique. Vous avez montré aux villageois tout ce qu’ils pouvaient faire avec leurs nouveaux téléphones portables. Décrivez dans un court rapport ce que certains d’entre eux ont réussi à faire pour la première fois, et comment cela leur a facilité les choses.

The unit ends with a vocabulary list for reference and learning.

Approfondissement

Following the 12 sub-theme units there is a section which revisits the first six sub-themes (the AS-level ones, if you like) with further activities and the higher level of difficulty (A-level, not AS-level). teachers would find this very useful towards the end of the two year course.

Literature and film

The middle of this 291 page book features 34 pages devoted to film and literature, covering, as I mentioned earlier, all the prescribed works. As an example, the section on Les 400 Coups by Truffaut features a plot summary text, a TL comprehension task with 'choose the correct sentences', a listening tasks besed on a conversation about the film, oral and writing tasks. I like the opportunity for students to be able to dip into a film or text in this way - it may even be useful for teachers with little or no experience of teaching film and literature.

These 'mini-units' can be used to reinforce language work irrespective of whether you are teaching the works. The text book does not, of course, supply extensive resources for teaching film and literature.

Grammar

If you were to follow the units in sequence the order of grammar covered would be as follows in the first year of a two year course (six sub-themes):


  1. Present tense, future, interrogatives.
  2. Articles, reflexive verbs, position and agreement of adjectives, perfect tense.
  3. Comparatives and superlatives, imperfect and pluperfect, direct and indirect pronouns.
  4. Irregular perfect tense forms, passives, infinitives, negatives.
  5. Imperatives, past historic, imperfect, present and past participles.
  6. Present subjunctive, conditional, adverbs.
Quality of reading material

Sourcing interesting reading at the right level is always a challenge, if a little less so at A-level. In this instance, the authors have written some good adapted-authentic texts of the right length and difficulty level. All are rooted in the target language culture and will not only develop language skill, but provide the knowledge students will need to do well in their speaking tests. (Recall that some marks are allocated for knowledge and understanding in the orals.)

I would just add the caveat that the requirement to include a greater degree of knowledge of the culture does force the authors into writing pieces focusing on, for example, information and history. This inevitably limits what you can do in terms of imaginative exploitation of the texts. This was always going to be an issue following the remit handed don by ALCAB and the DfE. On the other hand, the literary texts do offer scope for more personal texts. 

However, examples of interesting texts include an innovative approach to stopping smoking in Belgium (in sub-theme 3 - bénévolat); an article about whether being a UNESCO heritage site is useful (in sub-theme 4 - patrimoine); a feuture about eh development of French cinema (in sub-theme 6 - cinéma); a piece about eh history of trade unions in France (in sub theme 11 - manifestations et grèves).

Listening

I haven't had access to listening files so cannot assess their suitability, but the exercise types look fine and there appears to be a decent quantity and range of material.

Essay writing

Writing about texts and films in exam conditions (which students used to do in previous incarnations of the A-level) will be a challenge, so the book tackles this with two brief chapters on essay planning and writing, one for AS-level, one for A-level. Resources include strategies and a list of useful expressions to use. This is a worthwhile inclusion, though some will find it brief. Sometimes there is just only so much you can squeeze into a book.


Sum-up

This is the best A-level text book I have seen for many years. It manages to provide what students need for the new A-levels whilst being inherently interesting and extremely usable. There are bound to be exercises which teachers do not like, but you could work through the book (probably in order) and not need a huge amount of back-up material. It is a bit thin on structured grammar practice, but this is hard to accommodate with a text book so this is not a complaint at all.

The book is very clearly laid out, colourful without being gimmicky and the resource material and exercises types are well chosen. There are choices to be made in terms of how you exploit the book. As I mentioned above, each unit is graded for difficulty, so do you just go through the whole unit or do you dip in and out, doing the easier material of a unit first, then coming back to the harder material later. This latter approach feels a bit clumsy to me, but it may depend on the ability and prior attainment of the students you are teaching.

You would also need to consider the order that the grammar is presented within and across units. The sequence above makes pretty good sense which might lead you to simply working through each unit and building your scheme of work around the structure of the text book.

Students with very weak skills post-GCSE will find the material a challenge so some teachers might want to do a rigorous grammar revision course at the start of Y12, or just strongly reinforce the grammar elements in each unit.

I am hoping to review the text book from OUP very soon; I hope it is just as good, but I do urge you to get hold of a copy of this Hodder book. It's excellent and so much better than the previous generation of A-level books.













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