Dictation is an exercise used in schools when teaching language. Brunfaut and Banerjee (2013) describe dictation as, “an exercise in which a selected passage is read aloud to students in carefully chosen chunks at a speed that is slow enough to allow them to copy it down”. Dictation is used as a way to test many aspects of language, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar, which is why the exercise is held in such high esteem in France, as Valette (1964, p431) explains that the student, “is examined on his knowledge of orthography and his understanding of grammatically agreements”, which is a difficult aspect of the French language to grasp.
Through my observations at this school, I have noticed that each teacher approaches dictée differently. Teachers of Cycle 3 approach the exercise in a more traditional way by reading out a passage for the children to listen to and copy, which they then discuss in part. Where as teachers of Cycle 2 tend to recite short phrases for the children to copy before they progress onto full texts. As well, each teacher reads out the text differently, some repeat small chunks as many times as necessary and others limit the amount of times a single phrase can be repeated. I think this highlights how important it is for a teacher to know the pupils in their class well, as they will have tailored their approach appropriately to suit their needs.
As the French language is such a prominent part of the French curriculum, teachers use dictation techniques quite regularly throughout the week. Due to falling standards in French children’s reading and writing skills, with studies showing that, “the CM1s are now significantly behind the average of the European Union countries,” (Pirls Survey) the French Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has proposed daily dictation nationwide, in an initiative called, “une dictée par jour” (Le Point, 2017). French newspaper, L’express (2018), reported that this initiative was just one of four circulars published by the Government, which Blanquer described as, “a national reference of text” providing recommendations to teachers.
Brunfaut, T. and Banerjee, J. (2013) ‘Dictation’ in Byram, M. and Hu, A. (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and Learning. Available at: https://books.google.fr/books?id=XxZbhSsqnUQC&pg=PT470&dq=teaching+dictation&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwizptXA6LLaAhWMHsAKHdrQCj44ChDoAQg1MAM#v=onepage&q=teaching%20dictation&f=false (Accessed: 15 April 2018).
L’express (2018) ‘Dictation, Mental Arithmetic, Reading: the recommendations of the National Education to teachers’, 26 April. Available at: https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/dictee-calcul-mental-lecture-les-recommandations-de-l-education-nationale-aux-enseignants_2003741.html (Accessed: 28 April 2018).
Le Point (2017) ‘A dictation a day: the Blanquer Formula to raise attainment levels’, 12 May. Available at: http://www.lepoint.fr/societe/une-dictee-par-jour-la-formule-blanquer-pour-remonter-le-niveau-05-12-2017-2177440_23.php (Accessed: 28 April 2018).
Valette, R. (1964) ‘The Use of the Dictée in the French Language Classroom’, The Modern Language Journal, 48(7), pp. 431-434.
This morning, I spent time observing in the CE1 class, which was my first time in this classroom. In terms of the layout of the classroom and structure of the timetable on a Monday morning, it is very similar to the other classes in the school; they have the same whiteboard and projector system at the front of the class where the teacher conducts most of her lessons from, they have desk layout of pairs and rows and they have small areas, such as a library and a sink. They also focus a large majority of the morning on French and Maths. However, there was one new activity that I picked up on in the class, which I thought was a nice addition to the day. In the back corner of the room, there is a small table with a box and pieces of coloured card on it. In the box, the pupils can put in any thoughts and ideas they have that they want to be heard by the whole class. The teacher then takes the box to her desk daily and reads out these cards, which are colour coded by content, to the rest of the class for evaluation.
I think that this is a nice addition to the daily routine of the class, and the children have now become accustomed to the protocol and now know that the teacher expects them to share their opinions to then be discussed democratically as a class, rather than shouting out their thoughts when they feel like it. It is important that a teacher sets clear expectations for the children so that they learn to behave in such a manner from the beginning and that they behave in this way consistently. Stronge (2018) points out that effective teachers are those who know how important a role each child plays in the classroom, and therefore involves them in setting the expectations for the classroom. I feel as though this teacher has achieved this through her methods and it is certainly a method of behaviour and classroom management that I will try in the future.
This week, the weather is meant to improve significantly, and so I am curious to see whether the teachers will incorporate the outdoors into any of their lessons. Today, I took part in a sports session, which was outdoors at the local sports centre. I was working with the CE1 class, their teacher and a support teacher on some parachute and ball games. I had heard from the teacher that this class was quite challenging in terms of their behaviour, which is something I did pick up on whilst I was with them as they were very easily distracted from the task, which would quickly escalate to disruptions. This happened more and more as the tasks set by the teacher became increasingly more difficult, which the teacher was also aware of. Though, she had ways of dealing with this, one method was for her to remove a particularly disruptive child from the activity completely for a short period of time, then allowing them to return after they had settled again. When the whole class was beginning to lose focus, the teacher would have them drop everything they were doing, run to one side of the field and back again. This short burst of energy released seemed to refocus many of the children and they were ready to listen again. This session was, therefore, valuable for me pedagogically, as controlling a class in large open space is something that I have been worried about before, and so being able to observe different ways that the teacher was able to command the space was very useful for my professional development.
For the games, the teacher had a booklet that she worked from, many of which were simple games, but some required quite a bit of explaining and demonstration. The teacher had clearly planned these activities in advance, but, because I joined the class for the session today, she quickly adapted the activities to incorporate some English. For example, one of the activities required the children to roll a ball around the edge of the parachute, and then when I said a colour they had to work together to get the ball to stop on that colour. It was nice to see how easy it was to incorporate some English into a sports session, which made me consider some games that I could play in Scotland that incorporate basic French, so that the vocabulary is becoming a part of the children’s daily routine.
Today, I was out of school because we had a group meeting with Nina to mark our placement coming to an end. This was a 45-minute session in her office, where we reflected upon and evaluated our time in our schools over the past six weeks. We mainly discussed what we had learned from our experience, which led to the realisation that school in France is quite different to school in Scotland. One thing we all agreed on was that behaviour management is a lot sterner in France than in Scotland, which seems to have advantages, as the children are very respectful towards the teacher and other staff in the school, including me.
Nina was also keen to hear whether we had enjoyed the experience, which I had, though I did share with her that I was disappointed that I had not had more opportunities to teach the children, as there are some classes that I had not taught in the school and there were a lot of days where I could not participate because the teacher was not teaching English that day. I told her honestly that I felt as though my low level of French had held me back at that particular school because I had struggled to negotiate plans and teaching time with the teachers. She took this feedback from me on board and explained how this surprised her because I was there to teach English and that my expertise as a native English teacher should have been exploited more. However, I cannot argue that I have not learnt a lot about teaching styles, language and pedagogy during my six weeks, all of which is valuable knowledge for my future career that I am delighted to have gained.
Lastly, Nina finished the session by suggesting that in the future, if we ever wanted to make a connection between our current school and a school in France for educational purposes that we shouldn’t hesitate to connect her in the future. Having a connection like this is amazing and will be of great value when I teach in the future, and it would not have been possible if I had not taken this big step out of my comfort zone and come to France for my Learning from Life Placement.
After the meeting had finished, we visited the local bookshop in the centre of town, which had
lots of children’s books in French. After being asked to read, “The Three Bears” in the CP/CE1 class last week, I was inspired to buy a French book that I could use when teaching French in a Scottish school. After spending some time searching the shelves, I found three great books. One of the books was specifically about colour and so could be used in the early years as an introduction to the topic. The other two were classic stories that the children would know in English, which were, “The Gruffalo” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. The language in the last two books is slightly more advanced, but the children will know the stories well and so should be able to follow them, similar to the children in my class last week with the book I read. Plus, I will need to read these books to my class, and so this is a personal goal for me to practice my French so that I am able to read the book aloud in the future.
Today, I did a follow up lesson with CP/CE1 on school uniform and clothes. This was a 30-minute lesson consisting of four main activities. I began the lesson by revisiting the PowerPoint from before, which had all the items of clothing and the name of it in French and English. As I was going through the PowerPoint, I followed the same protocol as before and said the word first then asked them to repeat, with the children showing me that they remembered a lot of the vocabulary as we got nearer the end because they wanted to say it before I said it. Taking on board what the teacher said about extending my time spent on vocabulary, I often asked the children to repeat some of the items of clothing twice or three times, as there are a few words they continually struggle with pronouncing, such as, “trousers” and “shoes”.
Once I was happy that they had recalled the vocabulary from the previous lesson, I moved on to an activity using the flashcards. This activity was, “What is missing?”, where I had each picture flashcard placed on the whiteboard picture-side up, then asked the children to look at the board before closing their eyes, at which point, I would remove one of the flashcards from the board and they had to tell me which one was missing. After a few rounds of this game, I then asked some of the children to come up to the whiteboard and remove a flashcard. After this whole class activity, I had the children work on an individual task using a worksheet I had produced on the school uniform. The worksheet has the outline of the clothes in the school uniform that need coloured in (see Appendix 1).
The aim of this task was for the children to listen to me as I told them what colour to use when colouring in each item of clothing, for example, I would say, “colour in the trousers red”. From this, I was able to see which children had understood what each item was because they would have a sheet filled with clothing items of the correct colours. Equally, the children had the opportunity to practice their knowledge of the colours in English, and some of them even picked up that I had read the colours out in order of the rainbow from the song they had learnt, which was very perceptive. I think that an activity like this was a good assessment method for the class as I received some of the sheets back from the children and they had all managed to follow the instructions. Before doing the lesson, I had considered adding blank captions for each item and then had the children fill these in so that they had a resource sheet with the pictures and the words in their jotter. However, I now realise that this would have been too difficult for this year group as they are just in the earlier stages of writing French and would therefore struggle to spell English words, so I am glad I removed this element and kept the lesson purely focused on listening and talking.
Lastly, I finished the lesson by reading the book the teacher gave me to the class. The book was great because it incorporated all the items of clothing I had previously taught them, as well as including a few extras, which the children could guess from the corresponding pictures. The book was written in short phrases that rhymed, so it was easy for me to read and would have been pleasing for the children to listen to. They also recognised and got excited by the pictures of the animals despite it all being in English, which was great to see.
As a whole, I think the lesson was good, as the children participated in a variety of activities to keep them engaged and occupied for the full lesson. One thing I would criticise is my transitioning between activities as these were quite clumsy and the children became restless. I think this may be partly down to the language barrier, as in Scotland, I would fill the time between handing out sheets with speaking but this is difficult when the children only understand basic English and I do not speak lots of French. As well, the lesson ran slightly longer than I had expected and so if my transitions between activities had been sharper, I would have avoided this issue.
Despite this minor setback, I did think that the lesson was successful and I received good feedback from the teacher regarding my resources and the delivery of the lesson, which I was happy with. Even the children expressed how much they liked my lesson, which was great to hear. I think that this lesson has shown how far I have come over this placement as I was much more confident throughout the lesson and I think this showed in my delivery of the lesson.
It is the final day of my six-week placement at école Bel-Air and I have returned to the CE2 class. Before the day began, I received my completed “End of Placement Review” from my teacher, which she had filled out. She briefly discussed her answers with me, which I mostly agreed with. I was glad that she thought my lessons were interesting and that she expressed how much the children had enjoyed having me around, as I feel I have bonded with quite a few of the pupils over the past few weeks. The learning points the teacher has provided for me are very helpful and I feel as though I have learnt this and more from observing and practicing teaching. It is a shame to hear that she wouldn’t want to take a student next year as the school is a great school with lovely children, but I do agree that they do not have the time to incorporate a student into their timetable as I struggled to obtain opportunities to teach and I feel as though I have not progressed as much as I would have liked to because of this, but I was glad to hear that they were pleased with what I did do and the issue was not my ability.
To finish off my time at the school, I had the opportunity to teach one last lesson to the CE2 class, which was a continuation of the body parts, which I had done with them the previous week. The opportunity was quite spontaneous as the teacher had planed to do the lesson herself but offered it to me, so I had to quickly review the resources and the plan for the lesson. Luckily, I had thought of this idea before for teaching body parts if I was ever asked to do a follow up lesson, which meant I could jump straight into the lesson. The activity was a worksheet with a circle in the centre. From this, the children had to listen to my instructions in order to create a drawing of a monster. For example, I would say, “draw three heads”, and the pupils had to draw these onto the body outline and this continued until I had said each body part.
As part of this activity, the children were practicing both numbers and body parts in English and, because they are nearing cycle 3 in their learning, I wrote the instructions on the board so that they could see the spelling of the word. The children seemed to manage this task quite well, however, they sometimes struggled with understanding the body part as I was saying the plural of the word, which can sometimes be quite different from the singular, such as feet. Apart from this, the children were showing signs that they were solid on body parts. Having the opportunity to finish my time here by teaching was a nice way to end; especially when I could see how engaged the children were with the lesson.
Stronge, J. (2018) Qualities of Effective Teachers. 3rd edn. Alexandria: ASCD.
Appendix 1 – School Uniform Colour Sheet
This week, Tuesday was the first day of the school week as yesterday was a public holiday for Easter Monday. I spent the day in the CE2/CM1 class, where I observed lessons in French, Maths and History. For French, they had to do dictation exercise, which I have noticed is quite common in France for teaching grammar and language rules.
As I was observing the Maths lesson, I noticed that the teacher was teaching two different lessons using two separate whiteboards to a class split completely down the middle. I assume that this was due to the two different age groups present in the classroom, however, this is the first sign of differentiated learning I have seen in this school. As I observed the lesson, I noticed that there were a few pupils struggling to keep up with the pace of the lesson and a few racing ahead in their understanding.
When the lesson had finished, I asked the teacher about something I had noticed on the board: letters on the corner of each board resembling initials. She informed me that this told the children what jotter they should be using to do their work; for example, the board had the letters “CB” on it, which stands for Cahier de Brouillon. When I looked up the English for this in my dictionary, I discovered that it meant, “rough workbook/jotter”, and so this specific jotter, which I have seen before in other classrooms is used for different subjects, such as Maths or French, and it encourages the children to show how they have worked something out without constricting them to be neat and tidy.
After lunch, I witnessed a good example of behaviour management from the teacher following an incident in the playground. Although I was not fully able to understand what the incident entailed, I did understand how the teacher dealt with the issue, as she used similar protocol I had read about in theory. First, she heard the story of what had happened from one child’s perspective and then again but from another child’s perspective. The technique used by the teacher here could be categorised as conflict mediation, where the teacher, as a third party, guides the two children in conflict towards a resolution. Gartrell (2013, p351) describes the teacher’s role, as, “making sure both parties are equal contributors to a peaceful settlement”, which, in this instance, she did by allowing each child an equal opportunity to voice their opinion. Through this, the classroom atmosphere feels more democratic and fair for all, which is a key value I have witnessed throughout this school.
As part of a community initiative, the police visited the school today to teach some of the older pupils how to ride a bike safely in the street. Their safety course included breaking responsively, using their arms to signal which direction they wanted to turn and weaving the bike in and out of the cones. Not only does this opportunity highlight the place of the school as a member of the wider “La Chapelle St Mesmin” community, it also highlights a clear cultural difference between France and Scotland. In Scotland, children are often spoken to by the emergency services about issues of public safety, such as crossing the road or the dangers of fire, but learning to ride a bike safely is not something that is consolidated upon in school.
Today, I was given the opportunity to do a follow up lesson with CE2 about School in Scotland. Last time, I did not have the opportunity to hand out my worksheets to the children and so this time we filled them out together. I thought this way of doing it was better than giving them the sheets first time round as it meant that more attention could be put to completing the sheets properly. Plus, it was good from an assessment perspective to see how much the children had remembered from the previous lesson, which was quite a lot. I began with the timetable sheet, which I mirrored on the whiteboard using the answers provided to me by the children.
Next, I moved onto the school uniform sheet and went through the vocabulary for this again through asking, “what is this?” then receiving an answer and finally asking the children to repeat the word after me to practice the correct pronunciation. As this sheet was more of a revision sheet than a worksheet, I tasked the children with working in pairs to test each other on the vocabulary, where one showed the other a picture of the clothing and the other had to successfully name that piece of clothing without looking at the caption. Throughout this, I walked around the classroom and encouraged them to use their whiteboards to try and write down their answers. As I was making my way around the classroom, I noticed one girl was sitting alone and did not have a partner for the task so I became her partner and tested her on the items of clothing. This highlighted to me how important it is to continually observe your class throughout the lesson, as, if I had stayed at the front of the class I would have missed this, as well as not being able to hear what was being said by the children in case it was wrong.
Today, I had another opportunity to accompany the CE2 class on a school trip. This time, they were going to a cinema to see a series of short animation films by one director. The cinema that we visited is called, “Cinema Les Carmes” and is situated in the centre of Orléans, so we had to take a tram to get there. Taking the tram was a new experience for me and I found it interesting how the school used public transport when they were going places, the whole experience felt very relaxed and the teacher did not seem phased by taking such a large group of children out of the school to use public transport. The teacher explained to me that the cinema we were going to often hosted events like this one exclusively for school children and many of the films they show have an educational element to them. This is a great resource for the school to have and film and theatre seems to be a large part of the school’s culture as they classes often visit film screenings and plays.
Accompanying us on the trip was a parent of one of the pupils, who was very friendly and took an interest in my role in the school and why I was there. It was great to have this opportunity to speak with another adult and gain more of an insight into the class from her perspective, as she has known many of the children from a young age. I was also grateful that she was so accepting of my presence as I have been worried about how I am perceived by the parents because I don’t speak a lot of French, but I could tell she appreciated my attempts to communicate with her.
Gartrell, D. (2013) A Guidance Approach for the Encouraging Classroom. Boston: Cengage Learning.