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Empathy: one key to successful teaching

When I reflect on what I have seen and experienced as a language teacher over the years, one of the characteristics of the successful teacher, it seems to me, is the capacity to show empathy. Whatever their personality or chosen methodology, some teachers have a very keen sense of where to pitch the lesson, how to sense the mood of the class, when to divert from the original lesson plan, how to sense when boredom could be setting in - in general, how to relate to the class. I would go as far as to say that this ability trumps (within limits) the methodology employed in the lesson. I would pick out two types of empathy referred to by psychologists and educationalists:

Cognitive empathy 

This is the capacity to understand another's perspective or mental state. In teaching we can say that it refers to the teacher’s ability to marry every level of their teaching (e.g. planning lessons, classroom delivery, feedback provision, target-setting, homework) to their students’ thinking process…
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Alice Ayel: French the natural way

Teacher Alice Ayel has a YouTube channel which you may find useful. In each video Alice talks through, at slow speed, a simple 5-6 minute account ("story") illustrated with line drawings and words she creates on a mini-whiteboard. It's like a teacher working with a full size whiteboard from the front of the class or pre-prepared PowerPoint images and words.

The stories are in themselves not terribly interesting, but do offer clear examples of meaningful French, with in-built repetition, suitable for post-beginner students.

How could you use these?

Well, I could see a case for occasional classroom use to support your current topic. You might play the clip on full once, then replay the clip on short sections, asking your own questions along the way. You could employ your full repertoire of question types - true/false, yes/no, either/or, open ended etc. You could then ask the same questions and get pupils to write down single word or full sentence answers. The aim would be…

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

How do you view tech tools?

As digital technology and the internet have developed over the last couple of decades, language teachers and their students have benefitted from all sorts of possibilities: online listening, viewing and reading, interactive websites to practise all the skills, online course books and interactive resources for whiteboard, computer, phone and tablet, all kinds of apps for vocabulary and creative use, not to mention those tools which help you be organised and communicate with classes and parents. It's hard to keep up really. Every teacher will have their own feelings about technology and which bits they find useful.

Now even though I am reaching dinosaur status, I must say I was always quite positive about tech. I persuaded my school to pay for an early computer-based language lab (Keylink), was a user of Fun with Texts (later to evolve into Textivate) embraced sites such as languagesonline.org.uk, Taskmagic and MYLO (a multi-skill interactive site paid for by the DfE then eventually …

Daily Geek Show

I've recently come across this interesting French website called Daily Geek Show which also has, by the way, an associated YouTube channel with interesting videos as well as a Twitter feed worth following (@DailyGeekShow). According to their Facebook page: "Daily Geek Show est un site d'actualités dédié aux plus belles découvertes de l'humanité !" There's certainly a lot of potentially useful authentic reading and listening material for intermediate (GCSE) and advanced level.

Based in Paris, the site features videos, news, features, quizzes and an "insolite" section (weird news stories). Here is a video you could use on poverty with an A-level class (or even a really good GCSE group).


The video goes with an article here.

On the day I checked the Features page covered subjects such as  female Nobel prize winners, cannabis, left-handed people, how artistic endeavour is good for your health and animal cruelty.

The News page featured hurricane Harvey, …

GCSE listening resources on frenchteacher

I just wanted to update existing subscribers and anyone else interested about the many listening exercises available on frenchteacher.net which would work well with GCSE classes (intermediate level).

These are divided into three sections on the Y10-11 page

1.  30 minute listening

These are instant 30 minute listening tasks (including correcting) which can be read aloud or recorded by the teacher. I would recommend reading aloud since this allows you to adjust the speed to the class and also gives you the opportunity to improvise a bit by building in repetition and paraphrase. The tasks are divided into Foundation Tier and Higher Tier, so far 8 Higher passages and 7 Foundation. Topics include volunteering, environment, family, healthy living, horse-riding and holidays.

2.  Audio listening

This is a set of worksheets linked to authentic recordings from the Audio Lingua website. I chose these carefully for their relevance to GCSE, length, interest and clarity. You'll find typical pra…

Learning styles

When I was teaching at Ripon Grammar School I did some work on learning styles with a Y10 tutor group. This may have been around the year 2000.  I handed out a questionnaire to my class and the answers were used to help students work out if they were predominantly visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners. The "VAK" model was popular at the time (along with multiple intelligences). Some schools even went to the ridiculous lengths of labelling children as V, A or K to help teachers adjust their teaching to each child. VAK still persists in some quarters.

I did the questionnaire myself and, if I recall correctly, I was more of an auditory learner than anything else. This didn't surprise me at the time since, as a linguist, I had a feeling I liked to listen and had a keen ear. I even do that thing typical of "auditory learners" where you cock your head to one side when you listen.

In recent years "learning styles theory" has been debunked by psychology. …