I have long believed in the importance of Real English within the French classroom. As I see it, there is a danger of over-intellectualizing English lessons and this leads to a focus on aspects that are great as an intellectual exercise and yet of little help to a person getting off the Calais ferry for the first time and being confronted with the need to communicate in order to get by.
A survey I read a while ago claimed that the most-remembered phrase in from Lycée English lessons was “the text deals with …”. I find that a highly depressing finding. The whole “text-based approach” depresses me, in fact. English is a language to be spoken and not just read or written about. The new Baccalaureate goes along thes elines and I am delighted by this fact. There is now equal weighting given to four skills within the valuation package : 25% each to Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. That is definitely a move forwards and it is making our teaching practices evolve too. With 50% of the marks being attributed for Oral skills, well, we’d better do our darndest to get the kids working on those oral skills within our teaching confines.
This is where my CARE program comes in. I have long thought that the literary approach to English teaching is not working. English as an intellectual exercise has had its day, as far as the majority of our students are concerned. They want to do see the relevance of what they are doing in class. So many students feel that their real learning begins when they leave school and go abroad and while I agree with that to a certain extent, I also feel we can give them the confidence within our lessons to go out into that big bad world and to try out their language skills and to not sink into oblivion in the attempts to do so.
I get so frustrated by the over-ambitious and highly intellectual teaching sequences I read about on-line. Either the authors have students that are radically different to mine (as they wouldn’t last five minutes with some of the pseudo-intellecutal stuff I read about), or their students are wading through the lessons / snoozing through lessons without getting the most out of them.
So, this is a committment for the New Year to work even harder to make sure the content of my lessons is Real English, stuff that is relevant to my groups of French teenagers today. It has always been a tradition, a kind of unwritten rule that during their final year at school, students learn about Ellis Island. I, too, got hooked into that one and became quite fascinated by the whole immigration question. However I found it gripped the students a whole lot more when we were able to move away from the literary text approach (you may remember the text “Don’t send me back” with the button-hooks) and to mmove to a more relevant nowadays approach. We watched the extract from “Hitch” when Hitch takes his girl to the registry rom and they find the signatures of her ancestors (and then leave on a jet-ski, for the cool element). We looked at the social mix in New York today, the whole “neighbourhood” question and we link this to London boroughs and French cities with their “quartiers”. That became relevant, something the kids could relate to and a subject that they actually wanted to talk about.
I think it is essential we keep the notion of RELEVANCE at the forefront. In my experience, kids will buy into almost anything in the classroom as long as they can see it is relevant to them, in some way.
Last year, when doing the oral exams for the Bac, I listened to a large number of students telling me “My hero is Steve Biko” and then proceeding to recount his life story. I thought to myself at the time how unlikely it was that a 17 year old French kid would really have Steve Biko as their hero figure. It was more a case of reciting what had been studied in class and not thinking for yourself in Real English.
A defining moment for my CARE program came a couple of years ago when I began a sequence with my 1èreSTG class, based on the subject of CONFLICTS. We learned some expressions and we listened to an argument between a mother and her teenage daughter. The students than pulled out of a hat a scenario and in groups of three, they had to produce their own argument. These arguments were acted out and filmed. The results were amazing.
The New Year is going to begin for all my classes with a Real English content. Here is what I am planning :
1èreSTMG – Money and Shopping. Final task : a debate about pocket money.
1L LVA – Love. Final task : creating dialogues for images presented. Source – the opening scene from the film “Love Actually” where people are meeting at the Arrivals gate of Heathrow Airport.
1èreSTI2D – Inventions and Innovations. Working on inventions that have changed the world. Present the impact innovations have had on MY every day life.
Terminale €uro – Globalization. What is my position within this globalized world ? How does Globalization impact on me and my family ?
If you want to know more about my CARE program, you can follow this page as I hope to post regular updates on how things are evolving. There are also relevant bits within the whole FUNOLOGY ethos, which you can find on my Pronunciation pages.
A website with useful expressions for Real English Here.