French on the level

23rd November 1995 at 00:00
Avantage 4, By Rosi McNab and David Crossland. Rouge.Student Book Pounds 7.99. 435 37447 8. Resource File Pounds 49.50. 435 37450 8. Teacher's Guide. Pounds 18.50. 435 37448 6. Cassettes (pack of 6) Pounds 69.95. 435 37449 4

Vert. Student Book Pounds 7.99. 435 37440 0. Resource File Pounds 49.50. 435 37446 X. Teacher's Guide Pounds 18.50. 435 37442 7. Cassettes (pack of 6) Pounds 69.95. 435 37444 3. Assessment Pack 199697 Rouge and Vert Pounds 59.95 x VAT. 435 37453 2, Heinemann, Age range 14 to 16

Carolyn McInnes welcomes an innovative multi-tiered approach for mixed ability French classes. When faced with 30 pupils of assorted abilities in a French class it is easy to feel more like a plate-spinner in a circus than a teacher. Making sure that everyone has relevant work, providing extension materials for some and consolidation tasks for others, checking that the speaking group is communicating in French and not discussing last night's football in English while still being available to respond to pupils' problems has language teachers throughout the country crying out for more ready-made, differentiated materials to help reduce the stress of managing a mixed-ability class.

With this in mind, Avantage 4, Heinemann's "fully differentiated French course" for key stage 4 and Standard Grade, proved a particularly welcome find. Its many worksheets, extension and revision tasks and graded assessments encourage individualised learning at the student's own level and pace. And it goes a stage further because the course itself is differentiated, consisting of two separate packs for upper and lower ability groups: Rouge (for students expected to attain grades A-C (CreditGeneral) and Vert (for grades C-G (GeneralFoundation).

Both the Rouge and the Vert halves of the project cover the same sequence of topics, thus enabling syllabus planning and helping some students to transfer, if necessary, between levels. Although there is some overlap in the material used, each book presents the topics in its own way, with separate tasks and exercises.

Well suited to broad-banded classes, with all students using the same colour of book, the system does not lend itself so well to classes encompassing all abilities. In such situations it would be useful to have a common introductory section for each topic to support whole class exposition and discussion.

Both books contain 10 modules, all colourfully illustrated, with attractive features, pictures and styles. The presentation is followed by practice material and a "Flash-Info" which explain language points as they come up. The "Magazine" and "Je bouquine" parts of these modules are particularly appealing, providing reading materials for students to dip in to at their leisure.

Teachers are constantly trying to encourage reading in the foreign language, and this section provides an assortment of informative materials which appeal to the teenage imagination. Too much in some cases, as I discovered when interrogated by a class of 15-year-olds as to why the human body is six centimetres shorter at night than during the day (an assertion found in the Le Corps section).

French is the language of communication throughout, and instructions are simple and obvious. At the back of the books are grammar sections, verbs, word lists and useful classroom expressions. The English-French word list (which appears as well as the more traditional French-English list) is a useful addition which so many course books ignore.

Although it contains some excellent materials, the green book does not go far enough towards simplifying tasks for pupils with low ability or learning difficulties.

The French handwriting in some activities and worksheets is difficult, if not impossible, for some pupils to read. This is surely a case where legibility has to be more important than authenticity, and typed or word-processed extracts would prove more motivating than the scrawls with which pupils are presented in some activities. Many of the Vert listening materials are too fast or complicated for slower learners and the difference in levels of listening for both packs is not as pronounced as it should be.

The Resource File in the Vert section goes some way towards establishing a better balance, with many simple, clearly laid-out worksheets designed to motivate and encourage pupils of lower ability. Its Rouge counterpart contains some excellent extension materials which stimulate and stretch the more capable pupils and the more advanced listening materials lend themselves to individual work.

Grammar is extremely well served in both courses, with frequent explanations and practice in the books and differentiated grammar sheets in the Resource Files. The Assessment Pack which accompanies both courses (serving both levels) provides a bank of excellent practice materials in all four skills, based on exam questions. The marking keys provided are based on GCSEs, but can be easily adapted to suit other national examinations.

Although this course is not as fully differentiated as it claims because there is still a shortage of basic materials for pupils at the lower end of the ability range, the writers must be congratulated on having produced an extensive bank of imaginative and attractive materials for a variety of abilities, thereby helping to reduce "plate-spinning" in class.

Carolyn McInnes is assistant principal for modern languages, Eastbank Academy, Glasgow.

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