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'Vive les differences'

Trainee teachers find an exchange trip to France can put va-va-voom into their classroom practice

The culture clashes experienced by Brits abroad in France have been a healthy source of material for comic novels. But research by a pair of academics suggests the clashes trainee teachers from Britain experience on placements in French schools can help them to develop fresh approaches to teaching.

Christine Allan, who runs Leeds Metropolitan University's four-year primary education with French BA, and Dr Jon Tan, research co-ordinator for education and childhood, asked 10 trainee teachers on the course about the impact of their one-month placement in France.

They found the benefits went far beyond improved language skills.

Before the trip, the trainees were worried about the challenges of teaching in another country and especially about whether their French was up to scratch.

But after a month away, the researchers found the culture clash had made the students think more about education in a broader sense.

One, identified as Student A, said: "In France they don't use differentiation. So there was one child who did have some severe learning difficulties and... was seen as the naughty child by the French teacher."

Another said: "It was amazing to see that the children used public transport to get to local attractions and were well behaved. It was surprising to see that the class teacher was relaxed and not stressed about the whole process of taking the children out."

Student G said: "When I came back I felt for the first time in ages so positive about being a teacher. The whole experience encouraged me so much about being a teacher, the implications for back here, just thinking about how I can be more child-focused."

Ms Allan said: "The exchanges open up their minds it's a life-changing experience for them. They become more reflective of their own practice and experience in England."

Louise Matthews, one of the students, is now a newly qualified teacher at Ash Green Primary in Halifax. She teaches French twice a week to her Year 3 class.

She said: "Out of the 10 of us, I was probably the most negative about going to France. I didn't want to go. But four weeks down the line, I thought it was the most positive thing I've done in teaching."

Mungo Sheppard, acting head of Ash Green, said: "Louise is fantastic. The reflective experience of going to another country came over really strongly in her application. She's really integrated French into her classroom."

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