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Back in the swing

Good to be back with classes. Teaching is the most enjoyable part of our job, far more interesting than target setting and analysing results.

One of the major areas for us to think about this year is the new GCSE with its controlled assessments and discrete skill testing for listening and reading. I'm not a fan of the latter. We have been down this road before and I know what will happen. English teachers of MFL, naturally focused on achieving the best results, will adapt their teaching to the testing method. If this method involves, for example, texts in the foreign language with questions in English, then teachers will happily incorporate this approach into their schemes of work. Text books will reflect the same methodology (see already the Nelson AQA French course). It's called the "backwash effect".

This will lead to lazy teaching and poor methodology. We must avoid, as far as we can, a methodology which retreats too far from the principle of using the target language in large amounts. I've never been dogmatic on this issue, but if we are not using TL at least, say, 80% of the time, we are not providing students with the input they need to progress. Skill in language is largely acquired naturally when we provide plenty of comprehensible input, as Stephen Krashen, the well-known and influential applied linguist put it. He went further and claimed in his monitor model that so-called "conscious" learning was next to useless in language acquisition and that it merely acted as an editing, or monitoring facility, which could check for correctness. I thought his model was deficient and simplistic, but his general point was sound.

When you add to the equation that our time with pupils is very limited in some schools, it is doubly important to provide enough target language.

So we as a department are determined not to fall into the trap of teaching and assessing through the medium of English.

Nor shall we spend nearly every lesson in a desperate attempt to maximise performance in the controlled assessments. Another danger this year is that schools, again in their anxiety to do statistically well in the exams, will offer a diet of teaching to controlled assessments, doing umpteen speaking assessments and too many written assessments. This could disrupt totally a sensible teaching sequence where grammatical progression and vocab building should play a leading role.

So, as always, we should do what is right and not be led too closely by the assessment system in place at the time. Just teach well!

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