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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.

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