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

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…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

Using sentence builder frames for GCSE speaking and writing preparation

Some teachers have cottoned on to the fact that sentence builders (aka substitution tables) are a very useful tool for helping students prepare for their GCSE speaking and writing tests. My own hunch is that would help for students of all levels of proficiency, but may be particularly helpful for those likely to get lower grades, say between 3-6. Much depends, of course, on how complex you make the table.

To remind you, here is a typical sentence builder, as found on the frenchteacher site. The topic is talking about where you live. A word of warning - formatting blogs in Blogger is a nightmare when you start with Word documents, so apologies for any issues. It might have taken me another 30 minutes just to sort out the html code underlying the original document.


Setting work for home study

A major challenge for language teachers just now is selecting and sharing work with students to do at home. Here a few suggestions on the issue to add to your own. The sites I mention are the tip of the iceberg and focus mainly on French. I have stuck to free resources, not subscription sites.

By the way, I'm not getting into the use of tech here, as I have no great expertise on that. In any case, I imagine for younger learners especially it may be a question of setting other types of work.

ADVANCED

For advanced learners the job is not so tough. There is a plethora of listening, reading and grammar material they can use, whether it be from their textbooks, other resources shared electronically or online resources. You may have your favourites, but for a selection for French you can check out my links here and here. You may want to stick with topics on the syllabus, or free up students to read and listen more generally to what interests them.

One idea I used was to ask students to c…

"Ask and move" task

This is a lesson plan using an idea from our book Breaking the Sound Barrier (Conti and Smith, 2019). It's a task-based lesson adapted from an idea from Paul Nation and Jonathan Newton. It is aimed at Y10-11 pupils aiming at Higher Tier GCSE, but is easily adaptable to other levels and languages, including A-level. This has been posted as a resource on frenchteacher.net.

This type of lesson plan excites me more than many, because if it runs well, you get a classroom of busy communication when you can step back, monitor and occasionally intervene as students get on with listening, speaking and writing.