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Reading ages of pupils in English and success at GCSE MFL

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by dpeccles, Feb 23, 2016.

  1. dpeccles

    dpeccles New commenter

    I am trying to do a research project on the link between a pupil's reading age score in English and their ability or otherwise to gain 3LP or 4LP at GCSE in a MFL.
    I've tried websites such as read-able.com but they only deal with English language texts it seems. Does anyone know of any research that has been done on this and can point me in the right direction or any anecdotal evidence from teaching that gives some clue either way. Would be very grateful.
  2. veverett

    veverett Occasional commenter

    Someone who I trust to know these things did say to me fairly recently that Reading age is the strongest indicator of success in MFL. I didn't ask them what research this was based on. Wish I had now! If I bump into them at Language World, I'll ask them. Meanwhile, keep looking. I am sure the information is out there.
  3. mpillette

    mpillette New commenter

    Reading age in English may be a good indicator per se, but...

    Example 1 - Take two pupils given the same English reading score at, say, end of KS2. What if one is an English native speaker and the other only started learning English three years earlier? Should they be given the same GCSE MFL target?

    Example 2 - Take two ‘comparable’ pupils (same experience, etc.) given the same English reading score at end of KS2. AT KS3-4, one will have 3 hours of MFL a week and the other one 1-2 hours. Should they be given the same GCSE MFL target?

    And more:
    - From Ofsted report “Key Stage 3: the wasted years?”: “Some of the senior leaders spoken to were clear that (…) they did not think the Key Stage 2 results were reliable.”
    - If an MFL department is short-staffed/poorly staffed for a few years, should their year-11 teacher be blamed for their below-expectation exam results?

    I could go on...

    Dodros likes this.
  4. never_expect_anything

    never_expect_anything Occasional commenter

    I'm really intrigued by this! What an interesting area for research! I'd love to know if there is any existing research.
    I'm a secondary MFL specialist by training/experience/qualification, but I now work in SEBD across the whole secondary curriculum, with a focus on English/Literacy, as that is a particular area of weakness for most of our students, and I agree that reading ability has a strong influence on the ability of students to reach their potential/target grades in GCSEs (which are based on cognitive ability) across the board. I believe this is going to be even more the case with the new GCSE examination structure which relies on terminal examination, which will be exceptionally tough for weak readers.
    However, the idea of reading ability having a particular influence in MFL learning and progress has never occurred to me! Over the past 2 years I have taught ab initio students, with low reading ages, to FCSE level in MFL in one academic year, and they have passed. Reading is only 1/4 of the marks for MFL (and reading ability should not impact speaking or listening skills), so I don't see how this is going to have significant impact (compared to, say, history, in which students have to read long source texts in complex English).

    I recommend you start by investigating what reading ages and ability scores encompass, if you are not already very familiar with what these mean. If you work in a mainstream secondary, perhaps speak to the SENCO, who should be able to point you in the right direction. But basically, for a start: Reading 'ages' are based on a range of skills, ranging from phonic decoding, through information retrieval, context comprehension, right through to inference and deduction. A reading age of around 10:06+ is considered to be 'functional', which means, that those students can generally access the secondary curriculum (e.g. textbooks etc.). The texts to be understood at GCSE in MFL are generally literal, so a low reading age would not necessarily prevent a learner with 'functional' reading skills from being able to access them, as they are required to use skills such as recognising cognates (which is a similar level to phonic decoding) and information retrieval (e.g. looking for key words); however, I would anticipate a reader with a reading 'age' of below 10 having some difficulty with such tasks.

    I look forward to reading more thoughts on this topic from other forum members...
    Dodros and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  5. dpeccles

    dpeccles New commenter

    Thanks that would be great!
  6. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    Teaching MFL in Secondary to pupils who have low reading ages in English is a waste of time and counter-productive.
    Imagine an 11 year old pupil who gets extra lessons in English (1:1) because of a reading age of barely 6 years. Their teacher/tutor spends ages coaching them to put a double f in different. They then go to their Spanish class where they are taught 'dificil' and it's stressed that there is no double f in the very similar word. Slow progress in English becomes even slower. Potential in Spanish is laughable.

    Why not give them their extra lEnglish literacy using Spanish themes for the resources? They make progress in English and gain general knowledge.
  7. -myrtille-

    -myrtille- Occasional commenter

    That would be the ideal situation, in an ideal world where there are extra staff available to teach these pupils. But I doubt many of us are in that situation, and I wouldn't feel able to teach both in the same room at the same time.

    I have a class of Year 8s with reading ages between 7 and 15. Needless to say, the pupils with reading ages of 7-9 are not doing very well. I give them support in class (key words to refer to, extra help sheets, etc.) and they can just about cope, but once the support is withdrawn and they're in an exam situation they can't do it.

    That said, they must be getting something out of it, since two out of my three weakest pupils have chosen to come on the French exchange this year. With only 22 pupils attending from the whole school (including top set Y10s), I do feel quite proud of the fact that these 2 Y8s with SEN and weak literacy clearly have enough interest in the subject that they want to come to France and stay with a French correspondant.

    We've been allowed to identify 10% of our Y8 cohort who will follow an FCSE course in Y9, 10 and 11 rather than doing the GCSE. So these generally pupils with reading ages below 10. Of course, there is still a big discrepancy between those with a reading age of 10 or 11 and those with a reading age of 15 or 16, and I imagine it's these sort of pupils that the OP is more interested in (as the extremely weak readers don't normally do GCSEs in MFL).
  8. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    What I was suggesting was that those very weak pupils should not be in MFL classes at all. The gains that they might make from time to time are miniscule in comparison with what they'd get from extra English support.
    In most standard comprehensive schools there are usually enough pupils with poor reading ages to make up an extra Englsih class instead of includeing the pupils in MFL. It's in those extra English classes that I'm suggesting that an interest in a European country/countries could be nurtured alongside improvements in their motehr tongue.
  9. -myrtille-

    -myrtille- Occasional commenter

    I agree that if timetabling can be fixed to make this work, it would be great.

    We have a bit more flexibility in KS4 (Y9 and above) as MFL is blocked at the same time for half of the year group. But to allow this to happen, KS3 classes are shoved in at random - so when I'm teaching Y8, my colleagues might be teaching Y7 or having PPA, which means they couldn't have an English class running parallel to Y7 and 8 MFL classes.

    In Y9 it's working really well - when pupils did their options at the end of Y8, we identified a group of pupils who would not be capable of accessing the GCSE course. They have 1 extra literacy lesson per week, 1 extra numeracy lesson per week, and 1 lesson of Spanish. In the Spanish lessons they do a lot of simple vocab games and quite a lot of cultural stuff taught in English. Then they build up gradually and with a lot of support to doing the FCSE Spanish Pass Level assessments. So they do still have MFL lessons (it's school policy) but it's done in a completely different way which is more suited to their needs. I hope this arrangement will be the same for the bottom 10% next year.
    never_expect_anything and Dodros like this.
  10. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Very good advice here from Never_expect_anything. As a MFL teacher who moved in mid-career into SEN, I would agree that "Reading Age" is a construct of several different skills, which is why educational psychologists seldom use it as an indicator when they compile their reports on students with literacy difficulties nowadays, preferring to give test scores and to use percentiles within the student's peer population and to offer interpretations of performance in a range of objective tests with recommendations for further action. I don't believe the authorities granting access arrangements for exam candidates with special assessment needs will accept reading ages as a basis for gauging students's eligibility forr reasonable adjustments, again preferring objective test scores. "Reading Ages" may well be intelligible to people outside the SEN community, but there are better statistical indicators nowadays.

    I also agree with mpillette that an 11-year-old with a reading age of 6 will mean different things for different individuals. The child in question may be somebody with undiagnosed specific learning difficulties (dyslexia) and normal performances in all areas of the curriculum except when assessment requires literacy skills. I see no reason why a child with low reading skills in English shouldn't be able to perform orally and aurally in MFL; after all, many students from the ethnic communities can speak their Asian home languages fluently without being able to read or write a word of it. Or the child with low reading skills may have general learning difficulties, performing poorly even when assessment doesn't involve reading and writing. I would argue that child 1 with SpLD should have dyslexia-friendly teaching in all subjects, including English and MFL, to raise their standards, while child 2 with general learning difficulties may never get beyond more than a relatively low level of English literacy and should therefore try and get as broad an education as possible rather than "flogging a dead horse".

    Finally, having worked in SEN for many years, there are no panaceas that are going to turn a low reading skill child overnight into a avid and competent reader. An 11-year-old with a "reading age of 6" has had 6 years of primary education where the focus has been on the development of basic literacy and numeracy. If six years of general reading instruction and specialist interventions haven't worked, you can be sure that the nut will be even harder to crack at secondary level. I remember a non-SEN colleague once saying that children with low reading ages should only have literacy and numeracy lessons at secondary school if they hadn't reached a certain threshold in reading, writing and number work. I wonder what the children's (and their parents') attitude would be to such a proposal, assuming that there was a guaranteed method of getting their literacy and numeracy skills to the right level. Unfortunately, I don't know any intervention that would guarantee rapid progress in these areas, let alone a "cure".
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2016
    never_expect_anything likes this.
  11. never_expect_anything

    never_expect_anything Occasional commenter

    Many good points well made, Dodros.

    For the OP's benefit, if they haven't already spoken to the SENCO for advice / further info on what 'reading ages' mean: when Dodros refers to test scores and percentiles, most specialists use the 'SAS', which stands for Standardised Age Score, and those are the figures requested when applying for access arrangements for exams. SAS scores are statistically derived by the creators of any standardised test (which any test that gives a 'reading age' result is), based on results obtained in the standardisation / test trialling process. A score of 100 is always the statistical 'average' (mean) for a pupil of a given chronological age; scores of below around 86 are generally considered to be sufficiently below average to be granted access arrangements.
    Dodros likes this.
  12. BrightonEarly

    BrightonEarly Occasional commenter

    This has motivated me to look again at the reading ages of my Y11 class. I can easily export spreadsheets from SIMS with this data and sort columns by reading age to see if my predicted grades then also fall into rank order. I could then do this for my other classes as well. I can always find time for an interesting aside especially when it might even provide interesting food for thought.
  13. Random175

    Random175 New commenter

    My experience is that it is not a good predictor. As far as the weaker pupils are concerned - yes it may well be their weakness in English in terms of organising their thoughts that means they will find learning a language difficult. However I find that those with very high reading ages find it difficult to write independently because what they want to write and say is very complicated, - too complicated for their French ability.

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