Carolyn McInnes introduces the latest live-issue approaches to building modern language skills.
The "middle ability range" is surely the largest group of students in any language department, and motivation is particularly important here to encourage a sense of enjoyment and achievement among all pupils, and possibly enable some to move to more ambitious levels of examination. Francais Direct is a new course aimed at this middle range, and seems guaranteed to motivate most learners with its modern, colourful and informative approach.
The course is designed to span the two years leading up to GCSEStandard Grade and its authors' collective experience of both setting and marking exams is obvious in the topic coverage and the listening, reading, writing and speaking tasks which are incorporated into each of the nine units.
Each unit is subdivided into several topic areas which include pertinent and contemporary issues (job interviews, working mothers, the Third World, conservation, and so on). The book of copymasters contains three basic support sheets for each unit. These give the opportunity for reinforcement and consolidation of grammar, vocabulary and structures taught in the pupil's book, and two extension sheets which serve to stretch the more able of the pupils using the course.
The pupil's book is bright, attractive and clearly set out, with many authentic pieces of reading and eye-catching illustrations and photographs.Experience has shown that having instructions printed only in French can cause problems to many pupils if they are working without the direct help of their teacher (in cover classes, doing homework, etc) and the authors have addressed this problem by adding a short clarifying explanation in English. Key vocabulary is highlighted throughout each unit; structural help is given for writing and speaking tasks; and the grammar and discussion points covered are summarised in the "bilan".
The tasks are clearly defined and there is a nice balance between examination-style exercises and more light-hearted wordsearches, songs and tongue-twisters.
The tapes contain much authentic material, clearly presented and spoken at a realistic pace. Because of the nature of the listening tasks and the support given in the pupil's book, the speed of the recordings is not an impediment to successful completion of the tasks, and serves to acquaint students with "real French" and prepare them for the listening part of their exam.
The Phrases Utiles section at the beginning is a particularly welcome addition to the pupil book. It incorporates the most widely used classroom phrases and vocabulary and gives students a permanent record of the language which they are encouraged to use and listen to in the French class. It also avoids teachers having to prepare their own lists of such vocabulary. There's a comprehensive grammar section, French-English and English-French word lists and an excellent section on exam preparation.
The "Guide to the Speaking Test", although it relates specifically to the GCSE exam, contains many useful tips and wonderfully comprehensive vocabulary lists which will prove invaluable to pupils undergoing the continuous speaking assessments at Standard Grade.
As well as the tapescripts, the teacher's book gives details of all topics and grammar covered in each unit, answers to the exercises, suggestions on how to use the material, and highlighted lists of new vocabulary for each unit.
The authors' experience is obvious in the realistic presentation and expectations of this highly motivating course which should prepare pupils for their respective examinations, while developing their knowledge of the Francophile world.
Carolyn McInnes is assistant principal teacher for modern languages, Eastbank Academy, Glasgow