A few weeks ago I wrote about curriculum design at KS3 using a lexicogrammar approach underpinning the concept that less is more! Click here to read that post. However, can the same approach be adopted at KS4 taking into account the constrictions of the GCSE exam?
Two years ago, I started teaching the GCSE Spanish course using the MARS EARS approach adopted at KS3 and it worked! Sadly we did not have public exams this year, to show data in relation to its success, but students' progress, their feedback and attitude towards MFL are important testimonials.
I started teaching the approach with a low ability Y10 class in September 2019. After finishing the GCSE course a few weeks ago, 2 students from this set have chosen to study Spanish for A Level and about 50% of the class are working at a 6-8 level. Nobody is falling below the important 4 grade mark. For me that is success! Currently, I am teaching a new Y10 class, this time a top set, using the same lexicogrammar approach. The feedback and progress are equally positive.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the approach works because the approach breaks out the language into affordable chunks which are easier to encode into the long-term memory and gives specific structure to low ability students. Similarly, high flyers can become fluent quickly, which increases motivation, and start manipulating the language freely.
Key elements of the KS4 MARS EARS Curriculum
- In order to continue progress from Y9, we use Sentence Builders for all the AQA GCSE topics.
- We adopt the same MARS EARS approach to teaching as in KS3, although, giving time constraints, the time spent at each stage (modelling, awareness raising, receptive processing etc..) has to be reduced. This is not a problem, as students have a very solid foundation on key structures and grammatical knowledge from Y9. Consequently, although I would welcome more curriculum time, I can deliver the syllabus allowing the recycling of lots of structures.
- Each Sentence Builder is linked to a Quizlet course, which helps memorisation. Students have weekly "sentence" spelling tests combining the content of such SB.
- The same "high impact expressions" which were extensively taught and recycled at KS3, are used and recycled at KS4, closing the learning circle for students. These high impact expressions, inevitably have to increase in number but at least 50% of them are familiar to students as they have been used since Y7!: se me da bien/ me ayuda a relajarme/siempre he querido hacerlo/ me gustaría que... fuera/tuviera are examples of these structures.
- Students are encouraged to manipulate language more and more and moving away from the Sentence Builders (the EARS part of the approach). Progressive timed writings are key to achieve this. We plan a timed writing every two weeks in exam conditions, after extensively modelling and structured practice, since the beginning of Y11. These timed writings are also essential for interleaving topics and subtopics.
- We recognise that there are two types of vocabulary: productive (that appearing in our Sentence Builders) which students know in all its forms (semantic, morphological, phonological and grammatical meaning) and receptive (the official AQA vocabulary), which appears in Listening and Reading exam questions, and which students also learn in Quizlets. However, students only require to recognise the receptive vocabulary. High ability students transfer, naturally, receptive vocabulary into productive one, which is pleasing to see.
- The strategic planning of Reading and Listening exam style questions via Exampro tasks, which we extensively analyse in lessons.
- Encouragement to use TL where possible. A tight reward system is applied to achieve this. Scratch cards are a winner here!
- The strategic planning of Structured Production leading to Fluency via a wide range of engaging and communicative tasks. Those activities used at KS3 can easily be adapted to KS4, which means we do not need a textbook!
- Lots of grammar practice and encouraging metalanguage to identify patterns in Sentence Builders, so when explicitly explained, grammar encodes successfully into the long-term memory. It is magical to see how low ability students can spot the differences between present, past and future and guess whole verb paradigms based on their present tense conjugation experience: "we" in Spanish will always have a "m", while "they" will have a "n".
- Incorporating cultural aspects to the curriculum via songs, poems and short films (Cuerda o La leyenda del espantapájaros work brilliantly here).
- Teaching students, via a Sentence Builder which can be recycled in many topics, to narrate a funny story/little disaster. I got this idea from Vincent Everett and it really adds elements of complexity: reported speech for example, which translates into grades. In this scenario, students learn: entonces mi amigo dijo/ iba a ... pero decidí/ iba a cuando de repente. Students also enjoy creating these stories.
- Sharing marking schemes with students, referring to these and actively asking students to reflect and act upon specific feedback: Closing the gaps and making students take ownership for their learning. This includes the use of post exam/ assessment reflection sheets. In the example below, students spend a lesson reflecting on their performance overall (in same cases we do not assess all the skills). They colour in the circles to reflect, visuall,y where they are in relation to their Baseline Grade (BG). Green above BG, yellow meeting their target, pink below target. Then, they decide, with my guidance, what strategies they will adopt to close the gaps. In the following assessments they review this sheet and they will fill in a new one. There are always some wins, which increases confidence. Similarly, this is great to help students see which level they are working at and have a clear progress road map to sucess!
- Interleaving topics! Carousel Learning is great for this!
- Balance between exam skills and learning for pleasure, the JUST RIGHT GOLDILOCKS effect.
- Pitching at the right level and encouraging a growth mindset: making mistakes is fine as we learn from them. Get students involved in their own learning.