Title Avance! 2
Author Colin Christie, Anneli McLachlan and Eleanor Mayes
Publisher Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN 0 340 81171 4
Reviewer Duncan Byrne

Avance!, which styles itself as one “that makes teaching with the Key Stage 3 Languages Framework straightforward” is a new course from Hodder and Stoughton. The book I have reviewed is the second book in the series.

Having analysed the initial chapters in depth, I can certainly confirm that it does indeed have a logical, consistent approach to the principles of the KS3 Framework. Although the recent CILT/ALL/ISMLA Languages Trends survey revealed that only 12% of responding independent schools are using the KS3 Framework, those teachers in the sector who have had the opportunity to learn about it are enthusiastic about the benefits it could have upon our teaching.

Each chapter of Avance! is constructed around about ten double-page spreads , each dealing with a particular sub-topic. As might be expected, each sub-topic has a series of exercises using most if not all of the four language skills, and, in addition, there is considerable emphasis placed on cultural knowledge and the need to acquire the grammatical foundations of the language. I would say that a double-page spread equates to either one or two lessons and I would agree with the assertion that the structure makes planning according to the principles of the Framework somewhat easier. The first exercise on most pages is a clear ‘starter’ activity that allows for revision of key language introduced previously and which would last only 2 or 3 minutes to get the class into the correct frame of mind. Although I did not have access to the OHT file, the promotional material I received refers to “one copiable OHT sheet for each lesson … for whole class activities”, which if true (and I have no reason to doubt that it isn’t!), would certainly facilitate the task of the busy teacher looking for an inspirational start to a lesson. Simiarly, the ‘plenaries’ refered to in the KS3 Framework are catered for in a recurring section entitled “On réfléchit!” where a final exercise allows pupils to put their new language into context. The teacher’s book also contains clear instructions as to how this material can be adapted according to the dynamic of the class.

What is remarkable about the presentation of grammar in Avance! is the lack of apology for using English to explain key concepts. We have recently reached a watershed in the perception of grammar teaching, and grammar is dealt with clearly and methodically. Although there is frequent recourse to the cloze test to gauge grammatical understanding, I would have liked to see more exercises drilling the grammar points. Nevertheless, I was particularly interested to see the use of proper terminology such as “third person singular” or “imperative”. Does this signify a new dawn for Secondary languages teachers confronted with pupils who have met these terms through the KS2 Literacy Strategy?

Cultural knowledge is dealt with at the end of each unit with a double-page of quite lengthy reading material acccompanied by questions usually in French. The content is far from patronising, with some of the information about French History new to me! However, apart from this double page per chapter, there is precious little ‘meaty’ reading material, although I admit that I have not seen the photocopiable masters file.

Despite a couple of minor reservations, such as the absence of vocabulary listed by topic, Avance! seems to be an intelligently constructed course that would suit teachers following either the letter or the spirit of the Key Stage 3 Framework.