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…

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…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…

Five great advanced level French listening sites

If your A-level students would like opportunities to practise listening there are plenty of sources you can recommend for accessible, largely comprehensible and interesting material. Here are some I have come across while searching for resources over recent years.

Daily Geek Show

I love this site. It's fresh, youthful and full of really interesting material. They have an archive of videos, both short and long, from various sources, grouped under a range of themes: insolite (weird news items), science, discovery, technology, ecology and lifestyle. There should be something there to interest all your students while adding to their broader education. Here is one I enjoyed (I shall seriously think about buying tomatoes in winter now):




France Bienvenue

This site has been around for years and is the work of a university team in Marseilles. You get a mixture of audio and video material complete with transcripts and explanations.This is much more about the personal lives of the students …