Skip to main content

Decoupling AS level

When it comes to the decoupling of AS level from A-level the press and blogosphere have focused mainly on the reaction of universities to the policy. They have come out against it, arguing that the information they get from AS level results makes it easier for them to select students accurately. This has led, by the way, to some discussion as to whether AS results or GCSEs are a better guide to future university achievement.

But as a former French teacher I am more concerned with the how the new AS level, as currently proposed by Ofqual/DfE, will affect the numbers ready to carry on with modern languages into the sixth form.

As a result of the current structure of AS and A2 level, considerable numbers of students choose to continue with a language for one year. They are often the type of able student who drops a language at the end of AS level to continue with maths and science. They frequently choose a language because they enjoy it and see the value of keeping a practical skill going for a year.

The new AS level, a standalone qualification, equal in difficulty to A-level, but with less content will, unfortunately, discourage such students from continuing with a language for that extra.

Firstly, the current AS level is a bridge between GCSE and A2 level. Although some students still find it a serious jump from GCSE, the specification is designed to contain overlap with GCSE, and it is approachable by the large majority of students with at least a B grade at GCSE. Indeed, the mark scheme, certainly for the oral component, is on the generous side. This means that students can be attracted to the subject for that extra year and some of these, realising how much they like it, change their minds and continue with a language even though that had not been their original intention. This phenomenon occurs for all subjects to an extent, but particularly in languages.

Secondly, whereas it is now standard practice for students to do four subjects at AS level, decoupling AS level while making it harder may well discourage schools from even offering AS levels. They may advise students to focus their efforts on doing well in just three (harder than before) A-levels. My hunch would be that AS MFL would become an option for a tiny minority of students who feel able to do it and whose schools could afford to lay it on. As it is, a significant number of students find they cannot do a language because there are not enough students in their school to make it financially viable. This situation will be exacerbated.

Its is easy to foresee, then, that the numbers doing AS level languages, and therefore languages as a whole, will fall even more from their currently perilous level.

If you have read my previous blogs on A-level reform, or studied the Ofqual and ALCAB documents, you will know just what a leap in difficulty the new AS level (and full A-level) will be for that large number of less than brilliant linguists who nevertheless enjoy their language lessons. Students may be going from rote learned controlled assessments about their school to studying the Algerian war or the Franco regime in the target language.

The ALCAB panel argued, in a hopelessly optimistic fashion, that the revised GCSE will produce students better capable of coping with the new decoupled AS and A-levels. What do you think?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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…