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Steve Glover's comments on the draft MFL A-levels

I am grateful to Steve Glover, author of the excellent ALF (A-Level French) and ALGIE (A-Level German Literature and Cinema), who was kind enough to send me comments about the ALCAB report on A-Level modern languages and what I have written in my blog posts. You may recall that the report is the basis for new specifications which will be taught from September 2016. Steve brings a wealth or knowledge and experience to the field of A-Level languages, having taught and written for A-level students. He has given me permission to post his comments as a blog.  I have very slightly edited what he wrote. I hope colleagues who teach A-level MFL find this interesting.

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I certainly don’t disagree with most of your comments, Steve, although I would agree with the ALCAB report that some of thematic material chosen by teachers arguably doesn’t lend itself to progression to university as well as it might. I am thinking particularly of the film Les choristes in the context of the WJEC prescribed list and the other boards generally. The film could just as well be set in another country and I do imagine lecturers sighing when they find out their incoming students have spent half their learning time on it.

Amélie, La haine and Au revoir les enfants, probably three of the other most popular choices, do have the merit of being steeped in the culture of the target language which is what ALCAB are stressing. Whatever exam boards put on their list, there will still be a tendency to gravitate towards what appear to be the most easy or approachable titles resulting in a “bunching” effect.

 The “indicative” list published by ALCAB for French doesn’t mention a single one of the most popular texts currently being studied, which is not in itself a problem, as I think teachers should change what texts/films they do to reflect student interests, requirements and aspirations. However, the list appears dominated by personal stories of ethnic minorities alongside a very random mix of authors and titles from Voltaire’s Candide up to Amélie Nothomb’s Stupeur et tremblements. Apart from the latter the books seem to come from the back of the group’s mind on what used to be popular in the past.

Having had a quick trawl through the Amazon book list many of the books are not even obtainable, or scarcely so. “Indicative” means that boards will be able to choose equivalents to the books mentioned, so any Molière, any female 1950/1960 author, any personal account of the occupation etc may appear. I quite like the idea that the AS question on the book/film and half the A2 question are intended to be a context type question or set of questions rather than a full essay. I guess this removes the AS essay, the marking of which has generally been considered suspect.

Regarding questions in English involving higher analytical and critical thinking skills, personally I don’t think this should be too much of a problem as most of the texts around have guides on background such as the Methuen series - theoretically students shouldn’t take as much time to train to write better essays than in French although clearly those studying other languages or English would be advantaged.

This emphasis on serious literature and cinema in itself, however, is going to put off students from studying the A-level course; long, serious books are likely to be a real turnoff.

The way I read the ALCAB report was that there may well be explicit grammatical questions on the paper testing a range of grammar; I guess this could be done through reading comprehension with the students distinguishing the correct answer or maybe having to transform active into passive, indicative to subjunctive as wellas the good old cloze test for endings etc.

I agree with you on the themes. It is quite possible to take the existing ones to the required level of analysis and evaluation within a French/international context. How many teachers have actually not been using target language texts and listening material in preparing students? Over the last 30 years or so the issues coming up for discussion are pretty much globalised in any case, or at least fairly even across Europe, so a purely French /French speaking reaction to a topic is unnecessary.

I am rather worried about the idea of a very random English to French translation but the exam boards have a long history and experience of this and it needn’t be a problem.

I’m not sure that the personal project for the oral is a big deal as the Edexcel board already does it with a one minute presentation, defending a controversial issue followed by a discussion of that position. The proposed oral in fact seems to most to resemble Edexcel's.

I’m interested in the way the ALCAB report describes students currently needing to have the knack to score well on the comprehensions with the language accuracy not generally counting. I do agree to some extent with them that current comprehensions for some boards are a bit of an intelligence test. The boards vary on this, but certainly cloze tests for listening can be more of a reading comp/grammar test - much quicker and easier to approach in that way. They don’t really have that many answer  in the target language where the accuracy of the grammar is disregarded. I guess they’re saying that they would set a listening passage the content of which would be expected to generate considered critical responses.


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