Getting ready for the new GCSE: the sequel

“There is an immutable conflict at work in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”  Phil Knight

I’m not actually sure who Phil Knight is, but I like the quote and it has relevance to this situation with the new GCSE.  We will not master the new system in its first few years but we can influence the outcome by preparing our students well.  The last post on this topic looked primarily at preparing pupils for the new speaking tasks and a previous one examined the return of the roleplay.  This one will focus on the writing element of the new GCSE.  I have previously blogged before on writing but this is specifically aiming at the new GCSE.  Whilst I aim to be unbiased, three exam boards are submitting 3rd and 4th drafts. This post therefore will be written with the AQA specs in mind.  Today’s post is an amalgamation of my own thoughts and ALL South West’s conference in Bristol yesterday.

Here is a summary of what candidates have to do based on the AQA spec.

Foundation Writing Marks Available Higher Writing Marks Available
4 Sentences in TL based on picture 8 90 word task in TL
Instructions in TL
16
40 word paragraph in TL.
Instructions in TL
16 150 word task based on 2 bullet points
Instructions and bullet points in TL
32
Translation of sentences into TL 10 Translation of paragraph into TL 12
90 word task in TL
Instructions in TL
16

The question inevitably is: how do we prepare our pupils for this?  A quick look at the mark scheme provides us with two themes to be aware of:

Foundation students will need to focus on content and quality of language. 

Higher students will need to focus on content and range of language.  

From what I can see, it appears the higher students will need to do more, with more.  We are looking at breadth and depth, which is great. Teachers of foundation students might this allows more time for reinforcement and repetition of material, once you have worked out how to teach all the topics in 2 years but that is another blog post.  Given that we now have 6-7 lessons per CA back then we have to maximise the time on language learning.

Whatever you choose to do the focus will be on preparing students to use the language in a situation where they have no help other than some TL prompts, a picture and what they remember.  Some of the ideas below were gleaned from yesterday’s conference and credit has been given below where appropriate.

Folded tests (thanks to Greg Horton)

Greg suggested this idea yesterday.  I might have modified it as I couldn’t remember it all. Students have an A4 sheet of absolutely key phrases that they should know (creo que, es, son, pensaba que, pienso que, voy a, espero, me gustaría etc).  English is down one side and Spanish down the other.  You hold the sheet portrait and fold it in half.  The students then test each other:  Sherice says the English and Chardonnay aims to recall the Spanish working down the list.  They then swap but Chardonnay starts at the bottom of the list and works up.  They then check their scores and see who wins.  The test reinforces and tests spontaneous production of key phrases.  Greg then suggested a penalty shootout between the two highest scorers at the front of the class.  This would ensure that the students know quality language and it places value on knowing these phrases.  You could also develop the range and breadth of language with higher sets by changing the test papers after a term.  A homework task could be to make sentences involving the words.

TL Instructions for all written work

Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

The new exam is going to be largely in TL.  Some exam boards may supply “probable rubrics” but why not start now?  The more students are used to it; the less scary the exam will be. As MFL teachers we are used to acting and a lot of gesture and mime can probably help to ingrain the key phrases in the minds of our learners.  Failing that then you can teach it to them or have your most frequent utterances displayed on walls or learning mats.

Learning walls

Displays of posters might need to become a thing of the past (perhaps save them for the corridors).  What can students learn from your wall?  At the moment, I will be honest, they cannot learn enough from my walls.   A fantastic idea I saw at Bradley Stoke Community School was a teacher who had pouches on the walls of short summaries of how to do each tense or how to form negatives in French.  What do your walls contain that improve written work?  Foundation students will need this kind of support. Otherwise they will become too dependent on dictionaries they are no longer allowed to use  If I had my way the walls in my room would act like the ones in Minority Report, but we’re not there, yet!

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Equipment checks

One of the curses of controlled assessments is that students memorise entire paragraphs about their work experience but cannot form sentences in a foreign language or hold a basic conversation.  Eva Lamb spoke yesterday about engineering situations such as an equipment check and repeating TL that can be used in other situations:

Photo Credit: Nene La Beet via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nene La Beet via Compfight cc

Eva:Hast du ein Heft?

Boris: Ja ich habe ein Heft?

Eva: Hast du dein Heft?

Vladmir: Ich habe kein Heft

Eva: Hast du dein Heft verloren

Vladmir: Ja Ich habe mein Heft verloren

Eva: detention!

Ok…so she didn’t say the last line…but it is a very simple way to recycle language and one I am itching to try.  She suggested doing it with year 7 from the very first lesson.  It forces every student to speak and the haben verb paradigm is instantly being absorbed.  From then, change it to homework, who won the Manchester United Arsenal match (sorry Arsenal fans) etc.  It is also not much of a stretch from knowing “ich habe, some personal pronouns and some past participles to being able to use them in written work.

More Grammar practice; less nouns.

Students can find the nouns for homework on Wordreference.  Textbooks are massively guilty of presenting nouns, nouns and more nouns.  Students need verbs.  Every sentence on this blog contains a verb, some might even have more than one.  Verbs are going to be key.  Foundation students will need a stock of them that they can deploy at any point. Higher students will likely need a greater range of them but know what they can do with them.  For example: knowing that adding é ía to a Spanish infinitive will change the meaning and equally removing the last two letters and replacing with o or é will also change the meaning.  Irregular verbs will likely need to be learnt.  This could be done for homework.

Core language

Two of my colleagues from English recently tried testing their bottom set 3 times on the same vocabulary.  They took in the marks from the third time.  They also made the students then write some sentences using the vocabulary.  Unsurprisingly the scores increased each time, even for the weakest.

MFL departments need to nail down a core of language that students should know at the end of years 7,8 and 9.  If you work with primary schools then you can do even more of this.  Every student should be able to produce certain structures.  Why is it that last year’s year 11 bottom set could also remember juego al fútbol (pronounced “joo way go al fut-ball”)?  Yet a simple pienso que, debería, tengo que or other verbs was beyond them.  They need a core and they need testing on it regularly to give it value.  They also need testing on their ability to apply it.

Some phrases need to be procedural in the same way that students are taught a procedure to approaching a simultaneous equation, expanding brackets or a quadratic formula.  We do this with ,weil clauses but do we do it with other structures?

Transferable structure plenaries

Most of our lessons contain some nouns but it is the grammatical structure that is important.  Take for example the Expo 1 lesson on “dans ma ville”.  The structure that the book is teaching is a very simple “il y a” and “il n’y a pas de”.  Quite often students will remember this in the context of “dans ma ville il y a” but the question is can they apply the il y a elsewhere?

Photo Credit: eldeeem via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: eldeeem via Compfight cc

This photo could be shown at the end of the lesson.  Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans le photo?  Suddenly the students have to apply their knowledge of the structure along with the previous topic of house and home.  Get them to produce the sentences on mini-whiteboards. This way you can measure their spontaneous production of the TL (thus managing the first task of the foundation paper) and also check their understanding of the structure.  Then try it with another photo (maybe the one below).  Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans le photo?

Say more

Photo Credit: zenobia_joy via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zenobia_joy via Compfight cc

Greg Horton had a slide which simply had question words on it.  One of his class would sit at the front and be given a simple sentence to read or you could give them a picture.  The students ask questions to elicit more detail from the person sat at the front. Continuing on from the previous idea, the starting sentence could be: “Hay un perro”  Pupil could then ask:

¿Cuántos? ¿Dónde? ¿De qué color es?

More advanced students could ask:

¿Por qué?  ¿Qué hace?  ¿qué opinas tú de los perros?

Again it is about spontaneous production.  Students could note down the answers on whiteboards to test their listening.  They could change the verb forms to practice grammar.  They could even do a tabloid version on mini-whiteboards where they exaggerate every claim that is made or completely misrepresent what the student says:

Student: en la foto hay un perrito tierno.

Students: en la foto hay un perro agresivo y violente.

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3 thoughts on “Getting ready for the new GCSE: the sequel

  1. Pingback: Everyday Literary Texts | Everyday MFL

  2. Pingback: Summer is here | Everyday MFL

  3. Pingback: New GCSE – one year in | Everyday MFL

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