Skip to main content

How will the new MFL A-levels affect classroom teaching?

This is my fourth and last blog for the moment on the new draft content for MFL A-levels, largely inspired by the ALCAB report from "top" universities with input from subject associations, independent schools and one academy. It is notable that exam boards were not consulted. This was an appalling omission. To my mind they have extensive knowledge and experience in these matters which should have been drawn upon. They have intimate knowledge of what students can and should do.

What practising teachers would be most interested in perhaps is how any new specifications will affect the classroom.

Crucially 20% of marks will now be awarded for knowledge of the target language culture (literature and film) and half of these marks will be given for work written in English (e.g. essay or context commentary). This means that at least 10% of marks will be given for answers in English (I mention "at least" because listening and reading papers are allowed a certain amount of questioning in English). How will this affect what teachers and students do?

  • There will be more use of English in the classroom as teachers and students discuss works through the medium of English in preparation for essays in English. Teachers have always had the dilemma regarding how much TL to use when teaching cultural topics. In the new regime they may feel safer using English.
  • In the run-up to mock exams and terminal exams a good deal of time will be allocated to doing practice essays in English. This will mean less time for developing language skills. More routine homeworks may be done in English.
  • Teachers will be discouraged from using textual material which does not relate to the target language culture. (In practice teachers already largely use resources relating to the TL culture, but do allow themselves to exploit other resources when they are though to be more motivational.)
  • Because teachers will have to work to a prescribed list of texts and films they may not find something to their taste. I recall reluctantly having to teach Manon Lescaut many years ago. A-level classes really buzz when both teachers and students are enthused by the subject matter. Can we be sure the exam boards will produce long enough and stimulating enough texts?
  • The stress on literature and film will be a challenge to some teachers who are not trained in these areas or who have a preference for other areas such as history, art, music, geography and so on. Teaching literature and film at A-level requires great skill. Will all teachers be up to the challenge?
  • The inclusion of "intellectual culture" will mean teachers do more on more "heavyweight" topics such as those mentioned in the ALCAB report e.g. new wave cinema, existentialism, impressionism, contemporary music and "mathémathiques françaises" (not sure where that one sprang from!)
  • The inclusion, specifically, of politics and history will mean spend more time on these topics than they may have been used to
  • The inclusion of a research topic at A-level will require a greater amount of self-study than is offered by most departments at the moment. I am not against this, but teachers will need to think through how they will manage this greater independence. Weaker students will need a good deal of support in terms of time management and planning. In addition, although the internet will be the main source of research material, departments may need to look at their libraries. This also applies to the resources required to teach film amd literature; study guides in English will be needed.
Having said this, it may be only fair to acknowledge that much current practice will remain unchanged. I hope there will remain a strong element of A-Level as "general studies in the TL", and as language knowledge and skills are very transferable across topics, teachers need not worry that they are going to have to be experts on history, politics or French mathematics (!). the main focus will, and should, remain on language. A-level MFL is already very good and considered a tough challenge by students. I do not believe it needed toughening up and I certainly do not believe that getting students to write in English makes it any tougher. Finally, and importantly, the new A-levels are most unlikely to attract new recruits.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…