Bringing vitality to learning

16th June 1995 at 01:00
VITAL 1. By Kate Corney and Michael Buckby Student's Book Pounds 5.95. - 0 00320123 6.

Teacher's Resource Book Pounds 7.95. - 0 00 3201 33 3. Workbook Pounds 2.25. - 0 00 320124 4. Cassette pack (8) Pounds 39.50 + vat. - 0 00 32012 0. ResourcesAssessment pack. Pounds 39.50. - 0 00 320127 9. Collins.

Sue Brown discovers an adventurous course that will inspire lower ability GCSE students.

Vital is a two-year course for the foundation tier of key stage 4. It has been designed to offer a fresh start to the lower half of the ability range as they prepare for the new GCSE examination. This is not a watered-down course, but one whose content, context and structure match the ability and interests of the students and so motivate them through the experience of success in a real and useful context. It is also very teacher-friendly because it does away with the time-consuming need to simplify and edit other courses. It is better structured than a cut-down course, and its methodology is already tailored for the foundation tier. It provides a better chance for all pupils to gain a GCSE pass, covering all the language for the new GCSE simply and clearly, supplying extension activities to help appropriate students to gain a grade C, and giving all students advice and activities for studying, exam preparation and revision.

The Livre de l'Etudiant is set in a vocational context where a young British person is working in Nice in a tourist office. There are 14 units which take the young person through the journey to Nice, chatting to people once there, getting to know the city, giving and seeking information, using the Post Office, getting on with the host family, using the telephone, booking accommodation for clients and receiving French visitors at home in Britain and learning how to look after them. This structure of almost "a year in the life of . . ." makes Vital unique, because although each unit is self-standing and can be used for full or short courses, working through the book gives a real sense of shape and progression in content.

Each unit sets the scene with a bright colourful photograph and then states the objectives, in the target language, but with clear illustrations to clarify meaning. From then on the objectives are clearly and attractively covered, with a definite route through each page, unequivocal illustration, excellent spidergram-type diagrams to help with speaking activities and understand structure, and, above all, realistic activities matched to the age and interest of the student.

The workbook links in clearly with the student's book and supplies extra activities for practice. But perhaps the newest feature in both the student's book and workbook is the help given for revision and exams. Tips on specific sections of GCSE are given, (eg: how to answer questions in the oral to gain most marks). There are ideas for revision activities eg: on learning vocabulary or on learning simple letters by heart. Reading pages supply strategies for reading comprehension and how to use a dictionary. This is an exciting new concept for which teachers will surely be grateful - knowing how to get lower ability students to revise has always been a problem.

The cassettes also offer a rather different approach. First, the eight tapes are copyright free so that pupils may have individual copies for use at home or school. Second, there is just one unit per side so that students can easily find what they require; this is further helped by clear reference throughout to the unit title, objective and the relevant page and activity number. Each cassette really is foolproof. Third, the cassette is definitely a teaching tape. The tape is the medium, rather than the teacher, for presenting, practising and reinforcing new materials. Listening and repetition are central to the course. All new language is introduced orally as well as in written form and the variety of repetition exercises ensure understanding, recognition and good mimicking including showing different moods or feelings. A whole host of listening strategies are used on the cassettes and teachers will be sure to include many of them into their own methodology.

The teacher's book gives full teaching notes on each unit, as well as advice on differentiation and ideas for homework, and the Resources and Assessment Pack supplies full tape-scripts, assessment tests for each attainment target at the end of each unit, certificates for the students and masters for OHP transparencies. And, for once, the tests are as attractive and interesting as the teaching materials!

Vital is an adventurous course and an excellent resource for teachers. It is lively and motivating for the students, who by the end of the course will have in their workbooks a lasting record of their achievement.

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