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How will you plan your A-level course?

A new specification is clearly an opportunity to revisit not just themes and exercises types, but the overall structure of the course. At the moment is is unclear how many schools will enter all or some of their candidates for the new standalone AS level, or how many (possibly for reasons of cost) decide to abandon AS levels altogether. Anecdotal evidence suggests schools will react in different ways in the first year or so of the new spec.

The traditional approach to a course is to tackle each sub-theme in turn (e.g. family, volunteering), bolting on grammar in a sequenced fashion, beginning with revision of simpler grammar and moving to harder. Text books often reflect this approach. Each unit features a mixed diet of listening, reading, speaking, writing and structured grammar tasks. The study of a text or film, in this scenario, would be done, in most cases, during the spring term of an AS course, or the autumn and spring terms of an A-level course. recall that for AS students have to study a book or film, while at A-level they have to study a book and film, or two books.

With the new A-level there is also the Individual Research Project to factor in. It would make sense to do this largely in the second year of the course, possibly even in the spring term so that it is freshest in the students' minds for the speaking test during which it is assessed.

There are alternative approaches you might consider. One novel approach which is being suggested by AQA is to use the whole of the first year to work on a film and build the grammar study around this. The study of themes and development of skills such as translation, essay writing and summary would run in parallel.

Another that some schools seem to use in my experience (this goes back to the days of grammar-translation) is to divorce topic/communicative teaching from grammar and have dedicated grammar-translation lessons, say one a week. I have to say that this does not appeal to me, having been brought up with the notion of building grammar practice into communicative lessons.

There may also be schools who decide to have dedicated listening, reading, speaking and writing lessons. This feels artificial to me and would not encourage mixed skill lessons featuring a variety of tasks.

How you plan the two years also depends on your staffing. If the class has two teachers, you may allocate different topics to each teacher and let them both incorporate grammar content. This can work well with little overlap between the two teachers. One teacher may focus on specific skills such as translation, summary (new to A-level) and essay writing. One teacher may be responsible for the teaching of texts and films.

For the record, if I were using the AQA A-level French specification over two years (not yet accredited, but with topics not going to change), I might adopt this broad-brush approach:

Autumn 2016   Sub-themes: Family, cyber society, heritage
                         Grammar: present, perfect, imperfect, future, conditional
                         negation, relative pronouns, adjectives
Spring 2017     Sub-themes: Cinema, contemporary francophone music
                         Grammar: pluperfect, future perfect, conditional perfect,
                         subjunctive, adverbs
Summer 2017  Sub-themes: Volunteering + other topical material
                         Grammar: revision
                         Focus on summary, translation, essay writing
                         End of year assessment/exam (AS-level or similar)
Autumn 2017   Sub-themes: Positive aspects of a diverse society, life for the
                         marginalised, teenagers and political engagement, immigration;                            revisit AS topics, study of film or book (1)
                         Grammar: general revision via translation or other tasks
Spring 2018      Sub-themes: How criminals are treated, demonstrations and                                 strikes; study of film or book
                         (2) revisit two AS topics, individual research project.
                         Grammar: general revision via translation or other tasks.
                         Focus on exam technique, including oral. Mock oral.
Summer 2019   Specimen/made up paper practice, timed practice in class, oral
                         practice, translation practice, essay practice

I would also add there there should be time to deal with other topics not referred to in the specification, for example topical issues when they arise. You would probably have an end-of-year exam at the end of the lower sixth and a mock exam in December or January of the upper sixth. If you do the IRP during the spring term you would have to a mock oral later. I would choose to do the IRP relatively late on so that it is fresh in students' minds at the time of the speaking test in April/May.


  1. Thanks for this, Steve. Some really interesting things to consider as I'm planning our new A level SoW.

    A couple of questions that I'd love your thoughts on.

    Though the AQA specifications don't detail much about the conduct of the research project, I notice you mention the idea of a mock oral. Interesting, Edexcel's specs read the following (p.24 of the Spanish A level spec). "Teachers must not: [...] give detailed feedback or guidance to individual students about how to improve theirwork to meet the requirements of the assessment criteria. The guidance provided should only enable students to take the initiative in making amendments, rather than detailing what amendments should be made. [Teachers must not] rehearse or provisionally assess the student’s presentation and give feedback so that the student may then improve it". How does this fit in with preparation for the research project?

    Additionally, with written TL only assessed in the new A level in translation into TL and through response to literary texts/films, how would you be building in writing skills throughout the course? How would you be assessing it when the exam board mark schemes are focussed on literary analysis?

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. With regard to mock orals it is hard to give a definite answer as this may be one area where Ofqual are still in discussion with wxam boards. It should be possible for someone to do a practice oral, either the regular teacher if there is to be a visiting examin, or another teacher.

    TL is assessed also in summary work, both from written andlistening sources (for AQA). Writing skills are, in my view, built in to every aspect of teaching: transcribing, gap-filling, summary, translation, essay, question-answer, drills, paragraph writing. Specific essay technique can be taught separately.

    1. Thanks for this, Steve.

      In Edexcel, as I can see, there are no particular marks for 'Quality of Language' in Paper 1 - just as it currently stands, that grammar is not considered unless it obscures clarity of meaning. Will be interested to see if this gets past Ofqual. What sort of mark scheme would you be using for routine written work during the course?

      Will be interesting to see what Ofqual comes back with regards to controls for the research project.

    2. I am no longer teaching, but if I were I would use a quick to administer letter grade for quality and number grade for effort. Marking takes too long as it is!

  3. Thanks Steve, this is really useful as I'm about to embark on writing SOW for the new A-Level. We're going with Edexcel and are keeping the 4 AS model for the time being.

  4. Thanks for commenting. I have added two sub-themes I had omitted in upper sicth year.


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