For the past year or so I have been wondering how to prepare Key Stage 3 (11-14 years old) students for the new GCSE in MFL (A public exam taken at 16) . Like most people, we hear bits of information from Ofqual, DFE and newspapers etc. about a return to written exams in MFL. I understand that this will happen along with translations. Until we see more detail, it is quite difficult to adapt, in my opinion, our teaching to the new exam format. For example, will students have access to a dictionary during the written exam? I know a number of teachers who have expressed concerns that controlled assessment doesn’t actually evaluate the skills that it is supposed to test. I do have sympathy with this viewpoint and therefore welcome the new changes coming into place.
My thinking at the moment (this is likely to be modified over time!) is to encourage students to regularly revise key vocabulary (Memrise is without doubt the best online application for this) and to use a dictionary judiciously. For example, a general rule of thumb is to seek one word from a dictionary for every two/three sentences that they write. This encourages students to write what they know and not want they want to write. However, for those students who struggle, I do encourage the use of a textbook/writing frames. Personally, I find it very frustrating when students don’t put into practice the words and phrases they have been taught and know. There is a tendency to try to translate their thoughts from English directly into the target language. This inevitability leads to students attempting to write complex sentences which include a variety of tenses as well as colloquial language. Obviously, given that they are relatively novice writers in the target language, their work is strewn with basic errors and is difficult to understand. I always hammer the same phrase to students “Write what you know not what you want to say.” As a teacher, I do try to teach language which is both relevant and fun in order to mitigate against this issue. Lastly, I do believe this technique will help students when faced with the daunting task of writing in a foreign language in an exam hall.
Given there will be a time limit to the writing test, I include one in my assessments too. Therefore, in order to complete the writing criteria successfully, students need to communicate with a degree of fluency. Also, I set aside five minutes for students to check their work. Common errors are spelling mistakes, (especially accents) agreements and missing words such as “has” “is” “am”. In my next blog, probably in the New Year I will write about how I create learning activities which help students to write from their long-term memory with more accuracy.