Programmed to pass

30th June 1995 at 01:00

By Michael Buckby. Student Book Pounds 8.75. - 0 00 320067 1. Teacher's Book. - 0 00 320068 X. Copymasters Pounds 54.50. - 0 00 320070 1. Revision Workbook Pounds 2.25. - 0 00 320149 X. Assessment Pack Pounds 25.

- 0 00 320150 3. Cassette Pack Pounds 59.95. - 0 00 320069 8. Collins

Michael Grenfell on the critical level in French studies. The title alone is a good indication of Auto Examen's main focus. Following the successful, three-stage Auto course, Auto Examen sets about preparing pupils for GCSE and Standard Grade. While the earlier course takes pupils through key stage 3, Auto Examen deals explicitly with key stage 4.

Everything about Auto Examen is geared towards examinations and assessment. Each of the 12 chapters in the pupil book starts by setting objectives, and concludes with self-evaluation activities and a reminder page of what has been learnt. These two steps in language learning are part of a pre-programmed structure of six stages around which each chapter is built. Once objectives have been set, comprehension exercises based on reading and listening follow. Pupils repeat and memorise key words and grammar, after which there are opportunities to invent language and respond more creatively.

Chapters are crisp, clear and attractively presented. Topic content is varied. There is a real effort to extend the subject matter dealt with in the earlier years: predictions and resolutions are used to teach the future tense; national stereotypes for expressions of opinion.

Coverage is fairly brief, and there is occasionally the impression that, with up to seven different activities on a single page, nothing is dealt with in depth. Further coverage of key stage 3 material - holidays, fashion, travel, etc. - also seems repetitious.

A main feature of the Auto series is the emphasis it puts on autonomy, learning strategies and general self-help tips. Auto Examen applies the same philosophy to its exam focus. Each chapter of the pupils' book has at least four pages of exam preparation activities, A moi, les examens! These are backed up with tips from real-life examiners on what to look out for, how best to learn and generally create a favourable impression. A separate Livre de Revision lists vocabulary and how to learn it, useful conversation phrases, and provides a series of test-yourself revision exercises. Similar material is supplied on separate photocopiable support sheets. As well as extension activities, these include revision of material from Auto 1 - 3 and answer sheets. There is plenty of opportunity for pupil self-evaluation.

Auto Examen claims to have been designed for the top-half of the ability range. A parallel course has been published for other pupils. The learners the authors have in mind are clearly academic, self-motivated and have developed learning skills. For this type of pupil, Auto Examen must be perfect.

A further pack of materials provides exercises for more formal assessment. These are sensibly divided into three terms' work and cover the four skill areas. Answers, transcripts and tips for use are given with record sheet templates. Much of the material is based on seven cassette tape-recordings, which teachers can re-record as much as they want without infringing copyright. The language is clearly presented with lively, modern music, plenty of pauses for pupils to digest what has been heard and employing an attractive, and naturalistic, range of voice tones and accents. Settings are authentic without too much intrusive background noise.

Much of Auto Examen represents the very best in modern foreign language teaching. Its various components offer a range of approaches through materials that make the most of modern recording and printing techniques. It is one of the first courses that genuinely sets out to extend recent communicative methods and involve the learner's knowledge of language and learning in a very overt way. It takes on board the explicit demands of the national curriculum.

What is less clear is whether this format will provide the best structure for progression in foreign languages at this critical intermediate level. Auto Examen sets a base line for future developments.

Michael Grenfell is a lecturer at the Centre for Language in Education at Southampton University.

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