Skip to main content

Commentary on new GCSE subject content document

https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/GCSE%20Modern%20Language_final.pdf

Page 3 Subject aims and learning outcomes

I note the greater emphasis placed on production (speaking and writing) rather than reception (listening and reading). This bias is corrected in later sections. Emphasis on spontaneity, fluency and independence. As at KS3, notable reference to "literary texts", which are subsequently (page 4) defined to include letters, excerpts from literature and essays, poems, short stories, novels or plays. This is a change of emphasis, reflecting the content of KS2 and KS3.  I welcome this in general since it should allow for more imaginative and creative work, but in reality, we can assume that there will be little study of novels or plays at KS4. Intercultural understanding is given some prominence (more so than KS2 and KS3). Bilingual learning is referred to (CLIL).

Page 4 Stress on progression from earlier key stages. I remain unsure quite what "matters, skills and processes" are. I note that purposes should include work and academic-related related language as well as personal interest.

Page 5 Listening and speaking

This is generally uncontroversial, but I would question: "follow and understand clear standard speech at normal speed". Even at AS and A2 students do not currently have to cope with language spoken at "normal speed". This is unrealistic and too demanding. I welcome the reference to "authentic sources, adapted and abridged as appropriate". "Adapted" will mean slowed down and simplified, which somewhat contrasts with the earlier reference to "normal speed".

The statements on speaking seem uncontroversial. Translated into assessment they should mean less memorised learning of chunks.

Page 6-7 Reading and writing

I note the reference to "abridged and adapted literary texts". I have no issue with this and we should end up seeing some more interesting course books as a result.

I also note the reference, as at KS3, to translation of sentences and short texts from English, though not from the target language. As I have previously recorded in this blog, I see the usefulness of some translation of this type, but do not see why it should be included in a programme of study. It is too ideological and could encourage poor practice overall. Teachers do not need to be told to use translation and it is not a necessary part of a course.

Page 8 Assessment

It seems we are to return to equal weighting of the four skills. This is better than what we have now, but I would have preferred to see less emphasis given to writing. This continues to reveal a bias towards the written word in MFL and in education in general. In these days of Google Translate we should not be valuing writing as highly. It will lessen time given over to listening and speaking which most would regard as more important.

I welcome that in Speaking and Writing a minimum of only 10% of marks need be awarded for accuracy. One may have feared that in the search for "rigour", accuracy would play too great a role.

This is important:


"It is the expectation that questions and rubrics for the majority of modern languages will
be set in the assessed language, except where tasks focus on assessing the candidate’s
understanding of the use of the language (grammatical and lexical knowledge) or in tasks
where the candidate is translating from the assessed language into English or from
English into the assessed language. It is more appropriate that the instructions for these
tasks should be set in English."

So, this means a return to mixed skill assessment, which I welcome. However, does this statement also mean that parts of the assessment will include translation into the target language? If this just refers to, say, bullet points in English for composition writing, then I would have no problem. If, on the other hand, it means formal "prose translation" of a passage or sentences, then this would be a seriously retrograde and undesirable step which would have deleterious effects on classroom practice. I hope and trust it is the former.

And that's about it!

We have, therefore, another super slim document which will be fleshed out with grammar and vocabulary in exam board specifications.

Most of it is uncontroversial, but I believe there was a missed opportunity with skill weightings and we need to be wary about how much translation, especially into the target language, ends up in courses and on exam papers. The move towards more imaginative texts is to be welcomed.


Comments

  1. Good summary, thanks Steve. I agree that we should value speaking and listening above writing - it would be interesting to know the real-world percentage breakdown of writing vs speaking.
    Jamie @languagenut

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi
    Good summary - I'd just done a similar summary for my department when a colleague showed me your page. Agree with all you say - also I think there needs to be some reference to video rather than just audio in assessing listening. Song lyrics as well as poetry /literature would also bring it more into the 21st century.
    Jon Meier
    j.meier@talk21.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good summary. Thanks. I'd done something similar for my dept and then someone showed me your post. I agree with all your points. Plus I think it's worth saying there should be some reference to video extracts when assessing listening skills. Also it would be nice to see song lyrics also appear as part of the possible 'literature' sources. A few more references to new media and social networking would bring the proposals more into the 21st century.
    Jon Meier j.meier@talk21.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, Jon. I agree with your comments about video, song lyrics and social media. Good points.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great summary, very useful, thank you. One question - do you know whether this document shapes iGCSEs too, or are they completely independent from UK government input?
    Thanks, if you can help me!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi there, great summary, very useful, thanks. One question - do you know whether this document shapes iGCSEs too or whether they are independent from UK government policy?
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I believe IGCSEs are separate. By the way, someone asked me when the new GCSEs would begin. The answer is not before Sept 2016. with first exams in 2018. We are told that most subjects will begin a year before that. Michael Gove says that MFL will be a year later because of complications with assessment. Orals? I can't see why they should be delayed.

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

Using sentence builder frames for GCSE speaking and writing preparation

Some teachers have cottoned on to the fact that sentence builders (aka substitution tables) are a very useful tool for helping students prepare for their GCSE speaking and writing tests. My own hunch is that would help for students of all levels of proficiency, but may be particularly helpful for those likely to get lower grades, say between 3-6. Much depends, of course, on how complex you make the table.

To remind you, here is a typical sentence builder, as found on the frenchteacher site. The topic is talking about where you live. A word of warning - formatting blogs in Blogger is a nightmare when you start with Word documents, so apologies for any issues. It might have taken me another 30 minutes just to sort out the html code underlying the original document.


What is the natural order hypothesis?

The natural order hypothesis states that all learners acquire the grammatical structures of a language in roughly the same order. This applies to both first and second language acquisition. This order is not dependent on the ease with which a particular language feature can be taught; in English, some features, such as third-person "-s" ("he runs") are easy to teach in a classroom setting, but are not typically fully acquired until the later stages of language acquisition. The hypothesis was based on morpheme studies by Heidi Dulay and Marina Burt, which found that certain morphemes were predictably learned before others during the course of second language acquisition. The hypothesis was picked up by Stephen Krashen who incorporated it in his very well known input model of second language learning.

Furthermore, according to the natural order hypothesis, the order of acquisition remains the same regardless of the teacher's explicit instruction; in other words, …

Setting work for home study

A major challenge for language teachers just now is selecting and sharing work with students to do at home. Here a few suggestions on the issue to add to your own. The sites I mention are the tip of the iceberg and focus mainly on French. I have stuck to free resources, not subscription sites.

By the way, I'm not getting into the use of tech here, as I have no great expertise on that. In any case, I imagine for younger learners especially it may be a question of setting other types of work.

ADVANCED

For advanced learners the job is not so tough. There is a plethora of listening, reading and grammar material they can use, whether it be from their textbooks, other resources shared electronically or online resources. You may have your favourites, but for a selection for French you can check out my links here and here. You may want to stick with topics on the syllabus, or free up students to read and listen more generally to what interests them.

One idea I used was to ask students to c…