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Showing posts from April, 2016

A-level summarising tasks

One of the new aspects of A-level assessment from 2017 and 2018 is the inclusion, at both AS and A-level, of summary tasks. On each Listening, Reading, Writing paper (Paper 1) there will be two summary tasks, one of a listening source, one of a written text. At AS-level the source texts are of around 150-200 words, at A-level a little longer. With AQA the length of the summary, written in target language, is around 75 words at AS-level and 90 words at A-level. You need to check specifications for any variations. The inclusion of summary comes from the DfE/Ofqual and is common to all exam boards.

I welcome this change. Summary is one of those multi-skill assessment tasks which marry well with what I would consider good classroom practice. Once you have worked on a listening or reading text with a class, exploiting in various ways (e.g. pre-reading/listening tasks, reading aloud, oral interactions including question-answer, correcting false sentences, aural gap-fill, information gaps an…

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 structure…

Histoires à écouter - authentic listening and reading

Here is a lovely authentic resource for listening and reading French at intermediate level or above. It's called Histoires à écouter from Shortédition and you can find it here. These are mini-story podcasts which you can either just listen to or read or listen and read together. They happen to be a very good way of ticking that literature box for GCSE and could be exploited in a number of ways.

Pupils could just read and listen for pleasure independently. There are a huge number to choose from, read and written by various native French speakers and writers. You can choose the length of story too; you can select 5, 10 or 20 minute pieces.You could copy and paste sections of text to do further tasks such as gap-fill and questions in English or TL.You can simply print off the stories to use as a classroom reading resource in the traditional fashion.You could set sections for translation into English.You could play them out loud from the for version for pupils to read.Since the subjec…

MFL A-levels accredited

As of yesterday there are now two awarding bodies who have had their A-level specifications accredited by Ofqual. The delay has been a frustration to teachers anxious to be planning for September, but new specifications are never brought in early enough for teachers and Ofqual are certainly fastidious over the detail of mark schemes, question rubrics and specimen papers. the last minute nature of all this has much less to do with exam boards and Ofqual, much more to do with the politicians who set the hurried timetable. Need I say more?

Many teachers will, in any case, now be making their choice of exam board and when gained time arrives in May, then the real preparation can begin. New textbooks should be out by then too if you feel a textbook is useful.

In fact, what has emerged from the boards is much more palatable than the initial vision of ALCAB which was, in my view, too academic and unsuited to the planning of stimulating, communicative lessons (check out that link and you'…

Help! Comprehensible input is not working for me!

I don't get it.

I've watched two series of The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen and Follow the Money (all Danish or Swedish/Danish series with English subtitles). I understood what people said and everything that happened. That's many hours of comprehensible input. Great TV too.

And yet... I cannot understand any Danish (apart from the the odd swear word). I occasionally repeat things to amuse myself and my wife, but I can barely say a word. Comprehensible input failed miserably.

This is not really to dismiss CI, of course, but just a reminder that understanding language with the aid of subtitles is an inefficient way of learning a language. It's also a reminder to teachers that showing a film in the target language to near beginners or low intermediate pupils does little to directly further acquisition. It may serve other very useful purposes, such as giving an insight into culture and contributing to general motivation, but it's a very inefficient way to teach a langu…

New A-level translation booklets

Gianfranco Conti and I have been working on new resources for the new A-levels (although they could easily be used with the current specifications). The main focus is on translating into French, but each unit/booklet contains a range of tasks:
Pre-reading vocabulary, morphology, syntax and translation exercises.An article with comprehension exercises (e.g. true/false, tick the correct sentences, questions in TL).An oral communicative task.Translation into English.Grammar manipulation drills.Post-reading vocabulary and pre-translations tasks (matching, gap-fill, definitions etc).Three graded translations into French. All the previous tasks are designed to lead up to these. At first glance they will look hard, but after doing all the preparatory tasks, students should find them more than do-able and hopefully will get a sense of mastery and achievement.Answer key Topics posted so far; family (AQA, Pearson) , Cyber-society (AQA), World of work (Pearson), How criminals are treated (AQA).

Oral booklets for new AS-level specifications

I have completed two booklets to help pupils and teachers prepare for the new AS-level oral exams to be done in 2017. Here is an example of one theme with vocabulary and questions. This is for the Edexcel/Pearson spec, but is the same, in this case, as the AQA theme (family). Apologies for formatting issues! Feel free to copy for your own use.


l’amitié (f)                     friendship                     l’amour (m)               lovele bonheur                    happiness                     un partenaire                partnerun compagnon              partner                         une compagne             partnerun mari/époux              husband                       une femme/épouse       wife      une connaissance         acquaintance                les parents                   parents/relativescohabiter                      to live together             le mariage                    marriage, weddingle cocon familial           family nest                   le souti…

On giving written feedback

Evidence from reputable sources such as John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam has led schools and teachers to place an increased emphasis on feedback than in the past. Effective, timely feedback is said to be one way to maximise your students' progress. One unfortunate consequence of this emphasis is that schools have sometimes insisted on teachers providing detailed written feedback and targets on students' work in a very prescribed and back-covering fashion. This is time-consuming, as the recent DfE workload report noted and not a requirement of Ofsted.

A further consequence I have picked up is that, because marking and feedback has become so prescribed and detailed (including the use of colour coding, 'two stars and a wish', etc) it becomes, in some cases, less frequent. It has to; there are only so many hours in a day. To my mind, frequent, lighter feedback is more effective. If you set homework at the right level to a Y9 class, it should take no more than about an hour to …

Self-publishing with Createspace

Sitting here at the Gare du Nord waiting for the Eurostar, I thought I'd tell you about my experience of publishing a book with Createspace. Createspace is part of Amazon. It allows you upload a book file and have it published online on Amazon and through other outlets. You can publish traditional paperbacks or Kindle versions of your work.

We chose to use Createspace, after reading around a bit and concluding that the process was fast, easy and almost certainly more profitable than using a known publisher in the traditional fashion. Createspace is most associated with creative writing, but more and more educators and academics are finding it a convenient way to spread their word.

The process is simple and mainly pain-free. You sign up for an account at and start a project (your book). You write your book using Word. Createspace offer ready-made Word templates which correspond with the size of book you wish to have printed. 9 by 6 inches is common.

We opted for this s…

Review of The Language Teacher Toolkit

We were pleased to read the following review of our book written by Joanna Asse-Drouet, Head of Primary MFL at Alice Smith International School of Kuala Lumpur (you can find the review on

"The most useful book I have read in a while and a definite "must-have" for all aspiring language teachers, but also for more established and experienced educators!

Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti have brilliantly covered all parts of language teaching, as well as all questions you could ever ask yourself as a Modern Foreign Language teacher. Detailed research and thorough analysis of a variety of approaches will guide you through captivating chapters dedicated to the different skills we teach every day. Teaching Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing is meticulously covered, but you will also find tips on how to successfully teach culture, grammar, tenses or how to make translation a useful learning tool.

Steve and Gianfranco give concrete examples of excellent, fun …

frenchteacher survey feedback

Many thanks to those who took a moment to answer my Surveymonkey questions. I do a survey every few months to see what parts of the site teachers are using most, whether the site is easy to navigate and what improvements teachers would welcome. There were 78 responses.

Here is my summary and comments

The A-level pages remain the most used overall, with 80% of respondents choosing it as one of their three choices. the GCSE section is the next most popular on 60%. The Y9 and Primary/Y7 pages were chosen by 30% and the adult students page by 10%.

Over 70% of subscribers make use of video listening tasks.

10% make use of resources with primary age pupils. I was a little surprised the figure was that high.

Nearly 40% use the Teacher's Guide pages.

In terms of improvements subscribers would like to see, there were no frequently recurring issues, but ones which came up were: a greater range texts, more beginners adult resources, more primary, more Edexcel-based resources, more answers to …

DfE desperate for language teachers

This is from the website. They are trying to increase the supply of ML teachers to enable schools to offer the Ebacc suite of subjects at GCSE. Look at what the site says:

"As a lead school, you can apply for up to £30,000 funding for teacher subject specialism training in MFL. This can help you address workforce challenges to support the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

The purpose of teacher subject specialism training for MFL is to provide school-led MFL subject specialism training to non-specialist teachers and MFL subject specialism training to specialist MFL teachers who:

- are not currently teaching MFL and may need refresher training to enable a move back into an MFL teaching role
- may be looking to teach a new language in addition to their language specialism

This will build capacity within the system to enable schools to address strategically workforce and deployment challenges to support delivery of the Ebacc and build the skills necessary to enable non-specialists to…

Why do you teach the way you do?

Research from the field of teacher cognition suggests that the prime influence on the way you teach is how you were taught yourself. Does that apply to you? Please indulge me with this wistful post!

I have quite clear recollections, no doubt distorted a little with time, of who taught me French and how they did it. First there was the avuncular Mr Chittenden, a bits-and-pieces teacher who did some French and RE. He started us briefly with audio-visual slides, but we quickly moved on to Cours Illustré de Français, written by Marc Gilbert. We were taught using an oral, question-answer approach, much loved by practitioners from the university of London at that time (Hodgson, Hornsey, Harris et al). We worked a lot in the target language and used simple visual aids such as stick characters and classroom objects to help us pick up vocabulary and structures. We did dictations, wrote lots of answers to questions in French and rarely used English. We did little sketches and played the odd game…