Turn up the volume
Sue Brown samples two series of French readers for pupils with learning difficulties.
Both of these new reading schemes for key stage 3 have features which set them apart and, in some ways, ahead of existing schemes. Maxilire is written for pupils with learning difficulties and slow learners in Years 7 to 9. Neotheque has the unusual and exciting characteristic of including books already published in France and other French-speaking countries for native speakers of the same age. This brings a very welcome authenticity to structured reading schemes.
Maxilire contains 20 readers and a teacher's support book with a set of three cassettes as an optional extra. The readers are brightly-coloured, lively books, with a variety of styles, content and illustration. There is fiction, non-fiction, humour and poetry, and the content ranges from thrillers to romance and from inventions to animals. There really is something for everyone. And with the material tiered at three levels, pupils of differing ability are given a real chance to read for pleasure and an opportunity to progress within the scheme.
With the differing styles of layout and artwork, the variety of writing styles (simple narrative and cartoon strips, with non-fiction in the form of information or puzzles) these books will encourage less-confident readers and so develop their independent reading skills.
The teacher's book contains a photocopiable worksheet for each reader, together with an introduction to the use of the pack. As a resource, it is disappointingly small and far too flimsy. The suggestions it contains, however, and the worksheets, are excellent.
I have two reservations about Maxilire. First, there is too great a jump between the very basic and the intermediate level (both in layout and the number of words per page). Second, level 1 would be more accessible to students with reading difficulties if the books were in a larger format.
However, two packs of these books, so that pupils can work together, would be a real asset for anyone trying to encourage lower sets to enjoy reading in French.
Neotheque is a structured and comprehensive reading scheme at three levels. Niveau 1 is unusual in that it comprises 15 photocopiable worksheets designed to introduce students to reading in French by developing reading strategies from authentic extracts before they progress to levels 2 and 3.
These worksheets could stand independently as a wonderful resource for any department. They introduce concepts of skimming, searching, prediction, sequencing, the use of illustration, layout, context, own knowledge and, finally, dictionaries as a means of interpreting meaning.
The User's Guide also contains worksheets for levels 2 and 3 with preparatory activities as well as glossaries and follow-up tasks. It is the preparatory activities which make Neotheque so exciting, because they encourage reflection as well as active participation from the moment the students choose a title: Why have I chosen this? What do I expect? Am I satisfied? What have I learned?
The most original aspect of this pack is the variety of books it contains, produced authentically from the originals. Neotheque has the exciting characteristics of a real bookshelf and not a specially produced pack. This really is an innovation and, to my mind, makes it immediately more attractive to young readers than any other scheme I have seen.
The way in which the pupils' profile encourages them to record when they have just dipped into books, as well as when they have completed them, reflects a natural tendency, particular where non-fiction is concerned, to pick up and put down books for specific information or odd moments of curiosity. Suddenly, reading in French becomes a normal, enjoyable experience, just like reading in the mother tongue.
Sue Brown is head of modern languages at Stoke Damerel Community College, Plymouth.