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

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…