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CAs are pants, so how should we assess MFL at GCSE?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by mlapworth, May 4, 2011.

  1. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    Here are my suggestions:
    Replace the current GCSE with a 5 paper exam, to include:
    Listening: all questions in English, requiring answers in English. No
    dictionary needed as there is no written French to look up.
    Reading: all questions in English, requiring answers in English.
    Dictionary allowed. Reading could include an element of translation from
    the TL into English!
    c) Language in Use / Grammar: similar to the
    papers used in the Cambridge EFL exams. Tests of grammar and vocabulary in
    context. Manipulation of language and structures. No dictionary.
    Speaking: assessment by external examiner. No indication beforehand of
    content. Mix of transactional language, conversation and e.g. describing
    / discussing a picture. Emphasis on assessing the students' ability to
    produce spontaneous appropriate utterances in response to aural or
    visual stimuli.
    e) Writing: by final exam. Dictionary allowed
    use discouraged). Variety of question types and stimuli. e.g. maybe
    include something like the old-style picture essay. Include lower level
    questions, and all questions / instructions to be in English. Include
    some translation into the target language (or something similar based on
    getting a particular message across in their own words).
    (All of the above equally weighted: 20% each)
    Maybe combine L + R into one "receptive skills" exam, divided into 2 parts.
    put Reading & Writing together as one paper, and then Listening
    & Language in Use together on a different day, as neither of these
    require dictionaries. (So essentially 2 sessions - a dictionary session
    and a no dictionary session.)
    Now, this may appear old-fashioned, rather than forward-thinking, BUT...
    An exam structure like the one
    above would make a teaching style based on memorising whole chunks of
    text or set responses to pre-prepared questions obsolete and unworkable.
    (There would simply be no point in doing this...) The only way to get
    students to pass exams would be to teach them how to actually use
    language themselves.
    Then the interesting bit (and the
    forward-thinking bit) would be to experiment with all kinds of
    techniques which would allow students to become effective learners,
    users and manipulators of language.

  2. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    I can't fault any of your suggestions, mplapworth!
  3. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Th eproblem with that system for me would be the emphasis placed on writing/grammar - 40%. But only 20% for oral. I would still argue that oral and listening should take priority.
  4. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    Writing/grammar - 40%; Speaking/Listening - 40%; Reading comprehension 20%. That fairly equitably covers the skills and allows credit to be given for higher level work (if we are talking about final exams, not coursework or CAs).
    Give too much weight to Speaking with GCSE level work and you risk disadvantaging those who may lack confidence even when they know the language. Quite a lot of teenagers find speaking in MFL embarrassing but are able to demonstrate their grasp of the language in the other skill areas.
    Come to that, some find 'artificial' conversations in their mother tongue excruciating.
  5. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    One effect of only allocating 20% to oral proficiency would be that it might be neglected in the classroom.
    Here's a thought: as online translators get better and better, the need to write fluently and accurately will reduce.
    Most able students can still be challenged with oral and listening work.
  6. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    Oral proficiency is already neglected. That's why so many teachers need to get their students to memorize chunks of text for CAs. Honestly, how good are today's GCSE MFL students at actually speaking the foreign language. 20% is only slightly less than 25% (ie. the current situation).
    One major problem with a higher focus on the oral side of things is how hard it is to examine reliably. As jubilee pointed out, many students find the oral exam daunting - this was supposedly one of the reasons that we ended up with CAs that can be retaken, or the option to select the best CA from several that the student has taken - to lessen the stress experienced by students in the oral exam. Reducing the emphasis on the spoken part of the exam would make it less stressful. And to be honest, changing it so that there is no need for students to pre-learn whole chunks of language parrot-fashion would probably also lessen the stress, in the sense that you wouldn't be forcing the hard-workig students to spend hours and hours prior to their exam memorising answers to predefined questions..
    I'm suggesting a situation in which the focus in the speaking exam is on students being able
    to manipulate language and produce language spontaneously. So 20% of the exam would be based on their ability to do this orally - compared with 25% currently assigned to speaking, most of which is based on memorisation of prelearnt chunks of text.
    I'd say that as online translators get better and better, the need for a terminal writing exam becomes more and more important. Also testing students' ability to write fluently and accurately is a very effective way of assessing what they actually know.
  7. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    ie. rather than a coursework or CA scenario - online translators could not possibly be used to contribute to assessed work if it was all by terminal exam.
  8. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

  9. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    "Oral proficiency is already neglected. That's why so many teachers
    need to get their students to memorize chunks of text for CAs. Honestly,
    how good are today's GCSE MFL students at actually speaking the foreign
    language. 20% is only slightly less than 25% (ie. the current
    Not sure about that statement, Martin. Probably depends on the school. You can still work hard to improve genuine oral competency whilst jumping through the hoops of assessment when needed. For schools who rudh their students through to GCSE with too little time I have no doubt that rote elarning will replace a real commitment to proper internalisation of grammar and vocab needed for spontaneous speech.
  10. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    Steve, that is very true. I have a really talented Y11 boy who can express himself very fluently, but with the usual hesitations etc. which come in normal conversations. For the last speaking CA, instead of memorising everything, he decided he would make it up on the spot. He did a very decent job of it, yet in terms of content and quality of language I couldn't award him the top grade he had reached in previous assessments where he learned everything parrot-wise. In a way, he is already beyond GCSE level and gets very frustrated by the format of CA which forces him to speak in a very unnatural way. So yes, hoop-jumping for him, with the reward of doing things properly as soon as he is doing A-level studies...
    In the exam training session on speaking controlled assessments, I remember listening to one example that the exam board had decided was worthy of the maximum mark. Everyone at our table looked at each other in disbelief that this was the benchmark by which the exam board would grant the maximum mark: the girl had crammed in so so much content and was speaking at such a fast pace that she was almost not understandable - personally I would have dropped her mark for communication. It really reminded me of circus animals...
  11. gsglover

    gsglover Occasional commenter

    As I may have said earlier I have bitten the bullet for speaking and told all my good students NOT to memorise chunks. Prepare them by all means but don't try to learn them by heart. I am willing to accept a slight reduction in marks if needs be and so are they. They will all get As in any case and probably A*s too as the other skills are excellent(as long as the writing is assessed uniformly!). As regards the candidate I think you mean, even allowing for some communicATION DOUBTS THERE WAS SO MUCH THAT i HAD TO AGREE TO FULL COMMUNICATION MARKS, BUT IN THE CURRENT ROUND THE CANDIDATE WITH FULL MARKS DOES NOT SOUND REHEARSED AT ALL SO IT CAN BE DONE! Sorry about caps lock- too tired to edit it!
  12. Well, I think on the whole, the idea of CAs isn't too bad. We have a similar type of exams here in Germany. The difference is: pupils know that only the topics and Grammar studied before can come up, but they don't have questions or bullet points they know. Most teachers practise similar questions in class, but nobody can learn anything by heart. It's up to real competence. There are 3 "CAs" for GCSE and 4 for A-Level. Every "CA" counts. For GCSE/A-Level there is one combined terminal paper (about everything that was covered in Y10 for GCSE and everything that was covered in Ys 11/12 for A-Level) for listening/reading/writing and a 20-minute speaking exam in groups of 2 for GCSE and 3 to 4 for A-Level. They do the speaking well before the written exam phase so that they have already done the first 25% when they do the combined paper.
  13. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    So, more like a writing exam, then.
    Similar to the Cambridge EFL exams.
  14. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

  15. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    It's more like a writing exam at present , with the writing of all responses done well in advance (often by someone else or by cut 'n'paste) and learned by rote. The teacher knows which questions/answers each pupils has memorised and they promise to stick to those in the test. The pupil is not having a conversation; they are responding, in Pavlovian fachion, to the 'trigger' of the question.

    If you want to test conversational skills, you need to have an unrehearsed situation. Some pupils, of course, will be unable to engage in a conversation or will give a response that is unrelated to the question asked. You will essentially have the same sort of exchange as the pupils might have abroad with a sympathetic native speaker.
  16. -myrtille-

    -myrtille- Occasional commenter

    I really hope something is done to change the current situation of CAs soon.

    I'm an NQT and have two Year 10 classes, one of which is extremely low ability. Most pupils have no idea about tenses and have patchy knowledge of basic vocab and phrases.

    From the word go, I've had to teach for controlled assessments - they've already done a mock one and are doing their first real one in a few weeks. This means I'm having to rush through the tenses rather than start from the basics and build up. I'm having to rush from presentation to production with very little time in between for practice. I feel that I've lost all chance of building up their confidence and trust because they're constantly being assessed with very little chance of success because they've barely got started.

    I feel that if there was a writing exam in Year 11, there'd be a chance to get through to them BEFORE they were assessed. If I had time to teach them properly, something might "click" for some of them and they'd understand the perfect tense, for example. But instead, they will have completed (and mostly failed) half of their GCSE in Year 10, leaving them with nowhere to go.

    I don't really have any suggestions, but strongly feel that this is not the right way to do things.
  17. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

  18. curlyk

    curlyk New commenter

    I still can`t see how proposals for O ` Level type exams in MFL will meet the needs of any but the best linguists. Untiered examinations , no thank you. !! We used to have TWO exams to meet all needs, O level and CSE, with different types of CSE exam available, in the 70s and 80s .Too much emphasis on writing for the bottom half ( or more ! ) of the cohort will just put them off. I have marked too many rubbish GCSE writing exams in the past to relish the return to that experience for pupils, teachers and examiners. Communicative competence exams in speaking, listening and reading ,with some writing tested using dictionaries, for those unlikely to continue study beyond ` Gove ` level, a demanding but accessible 4 skills equally weighted, exam , for the top end , would meet the needs of all. But what do I know , I have only taught for 35 years . Speaking and comprehension skills should be the top priority.. Grammar would still need be taught to allow for genuine speaking tasks to be set and assessed ,but an in depth ,challenging, writing element should be the preserve of the top end only. Top grades only available to those competent in all 4 skills.
  19. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    I agree that single tier is a mistake. But the terminal writing exam needn't be O level style - there are all sorts of possibilities for the sort of task that can be set. Just as you have a wide range of questions on the reading paper, why not do the same with writing?

    Yes, I agree.

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