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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.

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