Organisons-nous - Organising your French Curriculum
By Nigel Pearce
06 Sep
Nigel Pearce has spent nearly all his working life in the teaching of French. He was Head of Modern Languages at Summer Fields in Oxford for 20 years, during which time he was for several years the IAPS Modern Languages Coordinator, and held a similar post with SATIPS. He is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and now lives in western France, where he is a freelance translator and proofreader.

French for Common Entrance was written in order to marshal a whole collection of resources amassed over the years and turn them into something that would favour the teaching of French in a certain way.  The current new edition is essentially a complete rewrite of the original set of books - which has taken a couple of years to do - and so I thought it might be useful to offer a few words on how best to use the materials.

First, without wishing to state the obvious, using the Teaching Notes for both books 1 & 2 does give a little insight into the best ways to organize time allocation and so on, but also provides reference points regarding what I suggest are the priorities and most appropriate emphases. As you may already have seen, I have mentioned several times in various parts of the Teaching Notes that the key learning points in any given section should be covered over a particular time-span (a week, a month, a term...) even if there turns out not to be quite enough time for every little morsel to be studied. This leads us on to the question of organising the teaching of the course in the time you have at your disposal.

Of course, French for Common Entrance is designed for success at Common Entrance, but there is more to it than that. The structure of the course, which goes into some depth when it comes to grammar, responds to a need expressed on more than one occasion by senior independent school languages staff; the thrust behind French for Common Entrance
is to balance this with the more enjoyable, real-life aspects of French.  The grammar knowledge required for a good pass at CE is set out in the ISEB syllabus, and should serve as one reference point when measuring progress through the course. The vocabulary is not definitively prescribed, and while various resources do list the essential words, teachers far more imaginative than me will bring in extra colourful and exciting ideas of their own. Similarly, those with pupils who have not long been learning French or who find it a struggle can choose to slim down the learning burden in order to save time in their personal scheme.

This brings me (back!) to time organisation.  My wife frequently says, as we plan a trip or an event, let's start at the end and work backwards.  This is good advice. Whether we are working with a crack squad studying for scholarships or a regular CE class, barely two schools have the same conditions when all the elements are considered - the number of lessons per week, the number of children in a class or set, the ability of a certain group, whether there are unsupervised homework slots,
whether there is an assistant(e) or not - and I strongly suspect these are but a few of some colleagues' concerns.

So go to the end - Common Entrance, scholarship, even the end of year exams (if there are any) or whatever you treat as the goal after a given period.  Next, establish how many lessons you might expect over that time (and don't forget to allow for non-timetable events like exams, revision time before the exams, days out from school, etc.).  Now split the total lessons into years, terms, half-terms and weeks (more advice on this appears in the Teaching Notes), always bearing in mind 'what must I have done by such-and-such a date?', and you will end up with a basic plan that is correct for your situation.  And don't forget, this is not cast in stone. You created it; you are free to alter it as and when you need to.

Lastly, you need to run the above alongside the Teaching Notes to see how best to fit everything in chronologically. You will make adjustments for your groups, their abilities, and anything else appropriate in your case.  You will begin to see what might be - dare one say - left out if time is going to be short, so that the essentials may be learnt securely. For definition purposes, by 'essential' I would mean something like oiseau; whereas it's nice in the CE final free-writing exercise to be able to mention one or two classics (le merle; le rouge-gorge; une hirondelle...), there is limited scope for developing areas of interest within the exam itself. This is understandable, given the time constraints, but it does not mean such fields of potential enthusiasm should be avoided in the French school curriculum. If you have time, a real spur to acquiring interesting vocab is to ask students to do a short project on their own personal interests.  The possibilities under the titles of music, gardening, sport, cuisine, travel, cars, animals, history etc. are endless.  If students can be persuaded to create wall displays and, especially, talk in French about their choice of subject, so much the better.

I do hope you have found this useful.


Want to find out more? Check out Nigel's French for Common Entrance series here.

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