Skip to main content

So what would a better A-level have looked like?

In contrast with the backward-looking A-levels proposed by the Russell Group and accepted by Ofqual, what might we have done to improve an already effective modern languages A-Level? What would be fresh, challenging and engaging?

The recent JCQ report looked into why students are not doing A-level language courses and one thing which emerged was that students would like to see more interesting topics, see a greater stress on communication and less stress on grammatical accuracy. Although this would not meet the preferences of Russell Group universities, I believe student opinion, if accurately recorded, has got it right.

The British tendency towards conservatism finds its expression in the desire to protect the role of reading, writing and grammatical accuracy, even when most observers would place greater value on the practical skills of listening and speaking. Most of us learn a language primarily to listen to it and to speak it. A-Level should keep this strongly in mind.

My own sketch of A-level would look something like this:

Listening - 30% - adapted/authentic sources tested in the target language by means of multi-choice, matching, gap fill, spotting differences in transcription, ticking true statements etc.

Speaking - 30% - terminal oral test featuring discussion of topics done in class and one major work/film/historical topic, discussion of a picture or text, possibly some kind of role play task.

Reading/Writing - 40% - to include a range of authentic/adapted texts, tested in the target language, with a focus either on reading comprehension or written accuracy. No translation, but testing of detailed comprehension and grammatical knowledge by various means e.g. question-answer in the TL, multi-choice, cloze, matching etc. One essay in the target language on a cultural topic either from a prescribed list or freely chosen by the school to correspond with the teachers' and/or the students' preferences.

Topic content would resemble the idea of "general studies in the target language" and feature a list of important themes from contemporary culture (e.g. integration, environment, education, development, popular culture, media, moral issues and so on) with the stress to be on sources from the target language and stressing points of view from the target language culture.

You will note that I have rejected the approach suggested by the Russell Group which lays far more emphasis on knowledge of the target language culture with topics they mention such as Dreyfus, the Algerian war, impressionism, the New Wave, surrealism etc.

I ask you which type of syllabus is more likely to engage young people and get them to develop fluency in the target language?

Comments

  1. I'll ask my daughter who told me last night she would like to do French A level this coming academic year.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

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 _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Two ways to build in recycling: Intensive input-output work and narrow reading

We know repetition is vital for acquisition so we need to work it into lesson planning. There are various ways to do this when reading and listening. “Narrow reading” and “narrow listening” are useful, for example. Stephen Krashen first coined these terms and suggested that exposing students to a series of similar spoken or written sources of input was an effective way to promote acquisition. (His version was much less structured than what will be described below.) Text books often include a series of paragraphs featuring some vocabulary or structures in common to ensure repetition. Gianfranco Conti has turned this into a fine art with highly patterned sets of paragraphs including large amounts of repetition. We adopted this technique for our TES GCSE French units of work. Here are four French paragraphs where you see the technique in use. Repeated chunks are shown in bold.