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Difficulty of MFL exams harms take-up

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by Bungie, May 11, 2019.

  1. Bungie

    Bungie New commenter

  2. faceman

    faceman New commenter

    I really hope that Ofqual takes some notice of this. I’m fed up with teaching the most difficult subject in every pupil’s timetable.
     
    agathamorse and madcatlady like this.
  3. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    If kids are going to do well in Languages, they need to put the time into it out of school. Those who score highly do precisely that.
    The perception of difficulty is also a reluctance to invest in this time and effort.
    We shouldn't as teachers be thinking we are teaching the hardest subject, because we aren't.
    Say and write some phrases. They repeat and copy them. Keep doing this again and again. When you know them, try replacing some bits with other bits.
    Stop making it difficult by dissecting the thing. Languages are not difficult. Although you can choose to make them difficult if you present them as such. Why though? No exam board actually requires a kid to sit there and explain the present perfect and cite all the exceptions to the rule too. You can choose to deliver in as abstract a way as you like, but the fact remains-repeating and copying are not intrinsically difficult things to master.

    But the effort out of school is apparently difficult. And that is what is out of our hands.
    A few hundred vocabulary items and three or four longer structures with some variation will get you a decent grade in languages. Like anything else, they will stick with enough repetition. Yet we work with many many children who do not retain even ten of these items, because between one lesson and the next they have not put the work in.
    Who makes this subject hard?
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
  4. Bungie

    Bungie New commenter

    As a linguist, I didn't find the subject hard, but I did have to invest a huge amount of time at home - far more than for other subjects. However, a significant part of my role at the independent sixth form college where I work (50% of the week during the exam season) is invigilating exams in other subjects. Many papers in other subjects are a joke - it is often possible for an intelligent, well-read individual to answer them without ever having studied the subject, and this is certainly not the case in MFL.
     
  5. minnie me

    minnie me Star commenter

    Who knew ?!
     
    agathamorse and madcatlady like this.
  6. cake4tea

    cake4tea New commenter

    It's not helped by the content of the new GCSE. Most UK teenagers aren't interested in European festivals or healthy lifestyles.
     
  7. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    Quite right, cake4tea. And including "The Environment"… recycling, pollution etc is enough to kill off most pupils' interest and enthusiasm.
    Add to that intimidating assessment tasks and you can see that a lot of the problems in MFL are inflicted by syllabus-drafters and examiners.
     
  8. lifereallyistooshort

    lifereallyistooshort New commenter

    But surely today's youngsters are very interested in the environment? As witnessed by the school strike movement, Greta Thunberg etc. Maybe we just need to tap into that when we teach the topic?
     
  9. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    I would like to think so, lifereallyistooshort, but my experience of preparing even very able students (let alone weaker ones) to deal with this topic suggests otherwise. Maybe I've just been unlucky up to now.
     
    Lara mfl 05 and agathamorse like this.
  10. Skeoch

    Skeoch Lead commenter

    I'm not a language teacher. But do we set our sights too low? Compare our Year 11s' French or Spanish with, say, 16 year old europeans' English?
     
  11. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    There's no fair comparison here really, Skeoch, owing to the differing attitudes between our kids' learning a FL and Europeans learning English specifically.
    For years I used to take a school party every June to a partner-school in Germany; when we went into the German kids' English lessons we were, of course, bowled over by their standard. However, when we went into the German kids' French lessons we quickly saw that they were just as **** at French as we were.
    Europeans will reach a good standard in ENGLISH as they perceive this to be a very important, or essential skill these days for social, work-relatd and economic reasons, therefore they succeed. Our kids do not see a knowledge of any particular foreign language as essential, hence the muted attitude towards it and limited success. Germans regard French as unimportant and have also limited success at it.

    Compare it to learning to drive: everyone sees that as an essential skill, and as a consequence nearly everyone who commits to taking a driving test passes.
     
  12. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    Ha. This is true.
    One of the questions offered in one MFL coursebook for higher level grades is "does the government do enough to tackle poverty?".
    I'm not really sure how a fifteen year old year old is supposed to respond to that in three tenses with conjunctions and balanced opinions and a variety of vocabulary and more than one pronoun"
    How about
    "Yes! I am a Pupil Premium student and I get my school trips paid for me. Last year I went to the safari park and next year we will go to London-amazing! . In my opinion it is wonderful. Nonetheless there are lots of homeless people. It is a shame, however my brother doesn't care."
    Ridiculous.
     
  13. cake4tea

    cake4tea New commenter

    Good point SBKROBSON. Most 15 year olds wouldn't discuss this in English!
     
    Lara mfl 05 and agathamorse like this.
  14. lifereallyistooshort

    lifereallyistooshort New commenter

    No, but the top end of higher tier students do discuss this sort of thing in English.... this sort of question does allow the best candidates to show some real flair and range. Most teachers judge the type and level of question appropriate for the students in front of them, surely, and only ask such a demanding question when it is appropriate?
     
  15. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    That is absolutely not correct.
    You saying this means that if a child is skilled in languages (or academically) then they are also skilled in discussing complex topics about the nature of society. That is simply not true.
    Likewise there are many students who are rubbish at languages (or academically), and yet could hold their own school assembly on cross cultural comparisons of poverty.

    The sorts of things that young people discuss are age related, not related to whether they are going to sit a Higher or Foundation exam.
    Sure, some of them talk in depth on mature issues.
    But many of them don't. Why should they be given such stuffy and irrelevant concepts in order to aim high? It's about language as a skill,surely, not world experience?

    What does anybody know about what the government is doing to counter poverty when they are just 15?
     
  16. lifereallyistooshort

    lifereallyistooshort New commenter

    My point really was, that teachers ask questions that are appropriate for their students, whatever the level.
     
  17. veverett

    veverett Occasional commenter

    Interesting discussion which slightly misses the point of the original article. It's not about making the content of the exams harder or easier. It's about a historical statistical anomaly which means the grade boundaries are set to ensure that pupils of the same prior attainment at KS2, go on to get a worse grade at GCSE in MFL than they would in History or Geography. Ofqual are aware of this but their remit is to maintain the standard of each subject year on year. Not to compare subjects. The anomaly was carried over from the old system as part of the promise that the same number of pupils would continue to get equivalent grades. Except the change from A-E to 9-1 means the deficit has been stretched to a whole grade, especially around grades 5/6/7. This is nothing to do with the difficulty of the exam or performance of the pupils. It was set in advance as a feature of the system.
     
    acornclayton likes this.
  18. ChocolateChunk

    ChocolateChunk New commenter

    The new GCSEs - AQA - have significantly raised the bar as the Controlled Assessments are gone and students cannot pick and choose which Higher Paper they would like to take. On top of that, the Listening Higher and Reading Higher contain some really tough questions - even to a native speaker - based on the language in the audio / visual text but also on the linguae of the question.
    There is also such a dichotomy between Foundation and Higher in terms of the expectations. Many schools will enter a student based on her/his Target Grade which is preposterous. The student has nothing to say, neither does the teacher yet the latter and the HoD will be held accountable if this is not reached.

    The MFL subjects are not the most difficult to teach, it is based on context: how popular MFL are in your school, how do SLTs perceive MFL and how they support your team, if the eBacc is an aspirational route etc...

    The student is now a lot more accountable for her/his own success as the Writing and the Speaking could cover anything for all 3 Themes and this is where the issue is. It is not that hard because their answers need to mechanical as these two Exams explain the same sort of answers: opinion, reason, expand.
    Many schools really miss implementing Independence skills into their pupils. They often lack the big vision as there are always too many issues to solve right ahead. This would be a first step to success but again, there are other factors to take into that account for this to take place successfully.
     
  19. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    I see in the streaming charts one of the big hits is a bilingual crossover in Spanish. Young people are quite content to be exposed to languages.

    The appetite is there for languages. However, the path line set out is uninspiring. Some of that fault is the GCSEs, but the issue with MFL has been there long before the new GCSE.

    Perhaps MFL could embrace a more PE type status. Looking for a a generic and compelling experience of languages for a lifetime of multi language interactivity (and mandatory KS4 status) whilst also offering specialist qualifications for those who see a future in languages.

    That would free you up to embrace pedagogies that are not beholden to the GCSE assessments.
     
  20. meggyd

    meggyd Senior commenter

    Bilingual year 9 child. Read Harry Potter in Mfl when class work too easy for him. Could not do A Level or even Gcse as could not discuss environmental issues, genetic testing or work experience in Mfl.
     

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