Leader of the packs
Camarades is major new French course, designed to take pupils from the start of key stage 3 to the end of KS4. Books 1 and 4 have been published together, so teachers can see where the authors are taking them.
A key feature of the course is the way it deals with differentiation. Stages 1 and 2 come as single books; although many tasks have basic and extended formats. By stages 3 and 4, however, there are parallel books and resources: one each for Foundation and Higher levels. The same topics and language are dealt with at the two levels; each level also having further higher and basic versions for many tasks. This three-way differentiation means that the parallel materials can be used in different sets, making planning for teachers easier, and allowing learners to transfer between sets without disruption.
Each stage has the standard pack of pupil's and teacher's books, resource files, cassettes and flashcards. Activities for incorporating IT are offered, but they are complementary rather than integral to the course.
Camarades is one step ahead of its competitors by coming after the Dearing reforms. Its designers have also learned from the mistakes of many new-generation course books. The pupil's book is easy to follow and engaging. Even in the early stages, there is an attempt to deal with mature subjects: animal rights, for example. These themes are built upon in the later stages.
Maps guide teachers through the content. They provide an overview and show how far the authors have put into practice the latest thinking on modern language teaching. There is plenty of contextualised grammar and a balance of skills. Cassettes and printed material are awash with songs, rap, poetry, and language games. The writers are indeed first in the field.
Does Camarades offer something new? Sometimes, there is the feeling that the materials still drive the tasks. There is plenty of activity, but to what end? But where other courses are looking dated, it is fresh and up-to-date. Camarades will prove to be a user-friendly course - for pupils and teachers.
Michael Grenfell is a lecturer in modern languages at the Centre for Language Education, Southampton University