Saturday, 15 January 2022

It's coming home!: the new MFL GCSE Proposal, let's be positive!

Yesterday, the DfE published the outcome to the consultation for the revised GCSE Qualification for MFL. It can be found here.  I wrote my thoughts on the original proposal in this blog here, where I outlined what I liked about the proposals: 

  • The rational behind the proposals, which is difficult to argue about: the current GCSE is too inaccessible as it has too many topics, too many words to master and too many words that need to be inferred by context, meaning that it advantages bilingual candidates and high ability students with better literacy skills. The proposed GCSE aims to close this gap and make languages accessible to all as it removes guesswork and rewards hard work. An honourable aim, although, we all know that grading is the big elephant in the room when it comes to MFL in this country and no reform will be successful until, harshness in MFL is tackled and reduced!
  • Glossed vocabulary
  • Questions in English for the Listening and Reading papers
  • The importance of phonics in the curriculum
  • A reduction of the content that students need to master: less is more!
However, I had the following reservations:
  • The use of a specific list of vocabulary, where 90% of its content would come from the 2000 most frequent words occurring in the language, which meant there was not a lot of content vocabulary which would allow students to talk/write about interesting topics, especially if we want to refer to cultural topics. The revised version has reduced that percentage to 85%, a minor improvement, and now talks about word families not just words, which gives some space for manoeuvre. 
  • The notion of not having Themes/Topics and the clear emphasis on grammatical acquisition, at the expense of communication, which it is still there, was another thorny issue for me: if themes or topics are no more, productive skills must be based pretty much around grammatical productivity, neglecting communication in the process. I am pleased, this is not the case anymore, and in the revised document, allows for a limited number of broad themes or topics relating to the countries (culture) where the target language is spoken. 
  • My final reservation was about seeing a distinctive pedagogical background in the review, imposing a structuralist approach to teaching MFL, extensively supported by NCELP. That it is pretty much still the case. Not any other GCSE specification suggests methodology but just content.
Steve Smith analyses beautifully the new proposal review in this blogpost here, a must read!

WHAT NOW? 

Well, it looks like the proposals are coming home. However, whether we agree with the changes or not, we need to put things into perspective. 

We all are professionals, who aim to achieve fluency and real communication in our students while developing a cultural understanding of the countries where the target languages are spoken. 

That should still be the centre of our curriculum language journey and we should not disregard the resources and language roads we have mapped out in our schools so far. 
Some points to consider in preparation for the new GCSE to be first taught from September 2024:
  • The importance of phonics in the lessons, this is already happening in many, many schools. Such work can be done with a lexicogrammar approach to teaching, I certainly do. In fact, if you follow an EPI approach, modelling is all about phonics, while the use of dictations and reading aloud are key in language acquisition and integral part of EPI.
  • Make sure that your KS3 SoWs include as many of the family word lists proposed by the DfE as possible. This does not require a lot of work but rather tweaking your vocabulary content in your SoW. If you use Sentence Builders, it will need just minor adjustments so that we can make sure that students are exposed to the appropriate vocabulary. Because a specific list of words has been published, this task is relatively easy to achieve.
  • Grammar is key in the new proposal, but it is key in any language acquisition journey and SoW, and certainly the current GCSE relies on manipulation of the language, one of its best features. If you follow a Lexicogrammar approach, grammatical mastery is key to be able to manipulate the language and communicate freely moving away from Sentence Builders. I can certainly see this happening with my students now!
Overall, the message I would like to send with this blogpost, is that the new proposal should not change our approach to language learning and our goals should remain the same. We shouldn't reinvent the wheel, rather adapting what we do so that we tackle the new exam format and, for that, we need to wait for the Boards to come out with a new specification. 

At the moment we should enjoy the wonders of teaching languages and seeing our students become good communicators. 


It's coming home!: the new MFL GCSE Proposal, let's be positive!

Yesterday, the DfE published the outcome to the consultation for the revised GCSE Qualification for MFL. It can be found here.   I wrote my ...