Skip to main content

Back in the swing

Good to be back with classes. Teaching is the most enjoyable part of our job, far more interesting than target setting and analysing results.

One of the major areas for us to think about this year is the new GCSE with its controlled assessments and discrete skill testing for listening and reading. I'm not a fan of the latter. We have been down this road before and I know what will happen. English teachers of MFL, naturally focused on achieving the best results, will adapt their teaching to the testing method. If this method involves, for example, texts in the foreign language with questions in English, then teachers will happily incorporate this approach into their schemes of work. Text books will reflect the same methodology (see already the Nelson AQA French course). It's called the "backwash effect".

This will lead to lazy teaching and poor methodology. We must avoid, as far as we can, a methodology which retreats too far from the principle of using the target language in large amounts. I've never been dogmatic on this issue, but if we are not using TL at least, say, 80% of the time, we are not providing students with the input they need to progress. Skill in language is largely acquired naturally when we provide plenty of comprehensible input, as Stephen Krashen, the well-known and influential applied linguist put it. He went further and claimed in his monitor model that so-called "conscious" learning was next to useless in language acquisition and that it merely acted as an editing, or monitoring facility, which could check for correctness. I thought his model was deficient and simplistic, but his general point was sound.

When you add to the equation that our time with pupils is very limited in some schools, it is doubly important to provide enough target language.

So we as a department are determined not to fall into the trap of teaching and assessing through the medium of English.

Nor shall we spend nearly every lesson in a desperate attempt to maximise performance in the controlled assessments. Another danger this year is that schools, again in their anxiety to do statistically well in the exams, will offer a diet of teaching to controlled assessments, doing umpteen speaking assessments and too many written assessments. This could disrupt totally a sensible teaching sequence where grammatical progression and vocab building should play a leading role.

So, as always, we should do what is right and not be led too closely by the assessment system in place at the time. Just teach well!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…