Skip to main content

ALCAB's response to the A-level consultation

The very brief summary of the A-level consultation on new MFL A-levels and ALCAB's response is to be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388784/Reformed_A_level_subject_content_Government_Response.pdf

I have already blogged about the revised subject content here, but you may be interested, as I certainly was, by what emerged from the consultation.

Of the 74 individuals or bodies who responded to the question "is the draft content appropriate?" only 18 agreed.

Three recurring points to emerge from the consultation were:
  • The amount of assessment in English should be reduced to allow for a greater focus on teaching foreign language skills (39% of respondents)
  • The themes suggested by ALCAB should be amended to make them more engaging and appealing for students at this level (24% of respondents)
  • ALCAB should reconsider the compulsory study of literary works to broaden the appeal of the qualification (15% of respondents) 
They all ring true from my point of view, particularly the first two. I am slightly surprised that even more teachers did not raise these issues.

So how did ALCAB react? Well, as we now know they did respond to point one by requiring that the literature/film essays be written in the target language. The new wording of the subject content does make it clear that essay titles will have to be more demanding than they are now. They clearly remain concerned that content may not be sufficiently "cognitively challenging".

With regard to the second point, they have reduced the number of general themes from three to two. They have also amended their list of "indicative themes". The new list, which looks much like the July version, is here: https://alevelcontent.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/alcab-revised-mfl-indicative-lists-december-2014.pdf. Much of it remains barely teachable if you want stimulating, communicative lessons. At least they removed "les mathématiques françaises". I really don't think ALCAB get the point about what constitutes a good A-level lesson - they are not secondary teachers. (Note that they add that it is up to awarding bodies to choose topics within the general themes - let's hope the exam boards interpret the indicative lists freely.)

I suppose that we should be grateful that ALCAB met teachers part of the way in terms of the English essay, but in my view, it remains the case that the new A-level is highly unlikely to attract more linguists. It is still too biased towards literature and film (ALCAB's concession to include biography, journals, diaries and letters is next to useless), still stuck in the past in its reaffirmation of translation and essay, as well as its neglect of listening (you need to look at the assessment objectives to realise this). This still looks too much like an undergraduate modern languages course and not something fresh which will attract more customers to A-level MFL.

Final note: if the government changes in 2015, this new A-level will be put on hold or may never even see the light of day. Fingers crossed.

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…

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…

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 …

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…