At Michaela, pupils read a lot – hundreds and thousands of words in every lesson. The same is true in French. This is a snip of our Year 7 booklet:
As you can see, it’s full to bursting with words. Long passages of French with parallel translations into English. And not just normal English – dodgy English that enables pupils to see the precise connections between French and English words.
“Yesterday, I am goned to the pool after having done my homeworks.”
“Hier, je suis allé à la piscine après avoir fait mes devoirs.”
Pupils read with their rulers under each line (the better to see and track exactly what they’re reading. They are questioned constantly to see if they are making the connections between the English and the French. If they struggle to see and retain a link, we make it even easier for them:
“Quelqu’un. Someone. Quelque means ‘some’ and ‘un’ means ‘one’. Obviously you can’t have two vowels fighting it out in the middle so the ‘e’ becomes an apostrophe. Look at the spelling – QUeen ELizabeth is off visiting another QUeen who has a feather ‘ in her hat. And look at what she’s riding: a UNicycle. And if you can’t remember that, it’s 6 letters then 2 letters. Count them. If you remember that it’s 6’2, you’ll know how to spell it when you need to.”
As one pupil reads at length, pupils track what they are reading for themselves. A beautiful thing happens: pupils who aren’t reading out loud are silently mouthing the words so that when their turn comes, they remember the pronunciation. They listen intently to their peers, and if they make a (very rare) mistake, hands shoot up all over the room to correct it. Pupils are now in the habit of self-correcting as they read.
So, pupils are always looking at French words, and having their attention drawn both to the syntax of the sentences and the shape and spelling of individual words. They are always hearing French words: if it’s not the teacher reading out loud, modelling excellent pronunciation (always with a bit of a dramatic flourish to emphasise key vowel sounds and accents) then it’s their peers practising.
Their peers are confident in their reading. Why? Because a) we do it so much, b) they are positively encouraged all the time (“PLUS FORT! Lion voices!”), c) we make it easy for them with two key techniques:
- We put dots under silent letters. Pupils don’t pronounce them. They know they’re there, and that they need to be written, but they don’t say them. If they, on the rarest of occasions, do, their peers fall about laughing and they quickly correct themselves with a grin. We don’t dot them forever: by February, year 7 read competently without them. They become used to the fact that ‘évidemment, les lettres -nt à la fin sont muettes, Mademoiselle’, and they tell me, too. Yesterday a pupil saw the word ‘jettent’ for the first time – it didn’t even occur to him to say the -nt at the end.
- We underline the common vowel and letter combinations that differ from English. ‘in’, ‘en’ and ‘an’ are common ones that pupils might slip up on – we are constantly reinforcing their pronunciation by drawing parallels to other words. Lapin, sapin, main, maintenant, dingue, zinzin, radin, malin, calin, intéressant, intelligent. Eu – peu, eux, peux, veut, neuf, malheureusement, chaleureusement. They become used to sounding these out correctly. As a result, ‘new’ texts are never really new – they’re simply a reordering of things they’ve seen hundreds of times before.
When I was training, I was told that reading was a presentation/input activity, not a production/output activity. N’importe quoi! At Michaela, it’s both – we read out loud, all the time, sometimes for entire lessons. Because we foster confidence, pupils love it, and they are starting to really act with it. Here are a couple of examples:
Having recently started to read ‘Ticked Off’ by Harry Fletcher-Wood, I thought I’d create a ticklist of things that our pupils do when reading. Here it is:
Do they read lots, at least a few hundred words per lesson? Do they understand, and are they able to recall, what they read? Do they read high quality, interesting, real-world French? Do they regularly read mark-winning structures, including PROFS (past, reasons, opinions, future, subjunctive)? Do they read out loud with confidence and pizazz? Do they notice vowel combinations and patterns that aid with pronunciation, recall and accurate spelling? Do they quickly correct themselves, and others, when they make a daft mistake? Do they absolutely love reading?
I would absolutely love to get more people visiting Michaela to see what we do – both in the French department and across the whole school. If you want to know the answers to these questions, come and visit any time – have a tour, have lunch, watch a lesson, talk to us. It’s brilliant. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’d be lovely to see you.