Skip to main content

How would we change our teaching if there were no exams?

This title occurred to me as I was reflecting on the value of translation in language teaching.

When I taught A-level French, in the second (A2) year I would devote quite a lot of time, especially in the run-up to exams, to translating sentences from English into French. Students usually enjoyed it and felt they were improving their grammatical understanding and accuracy in the process. It also had the advantage of requiring no preparation, not an insignificant point for busy teachers. For me it was quite enjoyable too, all the more so since, with years of experience, I was on top of the material and could deal with almost any question.

But you know, if there had not been an exam to prepare for, I doubt very much if I would have done it. Maybe as a very occasional alternative activity? Maybe. I would rather have used the time for interesting communication in French.

At GCSE we spent a suitable amount of time preparing for controlled assessments, oral and written. Although we did our best to fit them into our existing scheme of work, not wishing the tail to wag the dog, they did force us into practices we would have otherwise avoided. Having students spend hours memorising chunks of language is an example. Showing model essays and listening to model oral responses is another. That's time I would have spent teaching texts, watching video or doing paired conversation practice.

At KS3 we would spend a good few lessons in the summer term helping pupils prepare for end of year exams. This usually entailed a fair bit of grammar bashing to help my class do as well as my colleagues'. This I feel easier to justify, because, although regular revision and unit testing was built into the schemes of work, I could see a case for an annual recap, revision and consolidation. There's no doubt that our pupils were highly motivated by their end of year exams which were awarded high status in the school.

What if these exams had not been there? How else would I have changed my practice?

It's actually a tricky question to answer because we get so tied in to one way of thinking, one way of doing things. But here we go. I would have:

- focused less on writing

- used more imaginative material, more storytelling, less GCSE-style lifestyle material

- done almost no exam technique preparation

- spent more time on teaching texts

- spent more time listening and watching video

- continued to value accuracy, but not so much through translation

- set less revision or "learning" homework, more practice

- set more speaking homework (e.g. recording presentations)

- done more extensive reading

An interesting thing to ponder is whether it would have been possible to motivate students as much without GCSEs. An advisor once told me that she had come to the conclusion that exams were the only way to motivate the least interested students. Perhaps she was right. The post 16 curriculum is so absurdly narrow in England that it does still seem appropriate to me to have a high stakes test at the end of Y11. But if we modernised our A-levels, perhaps we could do away with a high stakes 16+ exam and be like other nations. If we are to trust the PISA tables GCSE does not seem to raise our national attainment.

What do you think?





- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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)

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…

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…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.


Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …