Speaking more in lessons

My focus with my Year 10 Spanish classes at the moment is the controlled assessment speaking task that I am planning on conducting with them as soon as we finish the topic. What is so special about preparing my class for controlled assessment tasks I hear you say? My masters dissertation, that’s what.

I am currently completing the proposal for my final dissertation at the moment and my topic of choice/torture is how to improve pupil’s speaking skills and confidence through encouraging use of the target language. I won’t bore you with the details (just yet), but as the idea has been moving around my head for the last few weeks I have begun, slowly, to think about ways of enhancing the amount of pupil speak in my classroom.

Over the last few weeks my classes have learnt how to talk about their musical, television and film preferences, and after watching Pan’s Labyrinth they can also describe it (or any other film) particularly well. Their most recent homework was to record themselves speaking for approximately 3 minutes about what we have covered so far and to send it to me electronically. I gave no specific tool for recording themselves, but pointed them in the direction of their phones, audacity on their laptops (lots of them have school ones) and I also suggested vocaroo. I would loved to have used Voxopop to share pupil’s responses but I was struggling to use it properly and ran out of time before I set the task. One to look at in the future, definitely.

This evening I have sat down to mark the audio files that I have received and so far, they are fab! Pupil’s have clearly spent time preparing what they want to say, and although I would recommend focus on pronunciation for some of them, the content is spot on. They use opinions, linking words and even tenses. If they produce work like this in the actual controlled assessments then we will be getting some very good results indeed!

My plan over the coming year is to develop a range of strategies to further encourage pupil use of target language in the classroom. My routines (register and forfeits) will come in handy with this and I hope that there will be some good use of web 2.0 tools as well. What do you do to encourage speaking in the target language? What activities have worked well for you? My favourites are often based on board games (like Blockbusters or Snakes & Ladders) or a round robin type activity (like I went to the shop and I bought….). What about you?

AQA GCSE – New Specification

Coursework…urm, I mean, Controlled Assessment is the name of the game in today’s post.Hand_writes

Having had a meeting with our Director of Studies I am now contemplating exactly how, when and where we are going to conduct the controlled assessments that are part of the new specification GCSE in MFL offered by AQA. As a department that has always shied away from coursework, in favour of the writing exam, we find ourselves in an interesting position as to how to meet the requirements of the examination, whilst still ensuring that pupils are challenged and motivated in MFL and without the teaching becoming exam orientated. The reading and listening examinations pose no problem for us, as this is what has always happened, however we now have no choice but to do a written controlled assessment and a spoken controlled assessment. Candidates must have two tasks (in each skill) submitted towards their GCSE and they are allowed to know what they are, before preparing it and then completing the final task in ‘controlled conditions’ with only a task sheet in front of them. On this sheet they are allowed a plan with up to 40 (TL or non-TL) words, no conjugated verbs nor codes. In the writing assessment pupils are allowed a dictionary.

Two ideas came out of our discussion: 1) Do we integrate the controlled assessment into our current internal examination system (January exam & Summer exam)?, or, 2) do we set aside an assessment period towards the end of Year 11 once all pupils have completed the GCSE course?

With the first option we have the potential problem of using external examination results to go towards an internal assessment. Is that right? It currently goes against our school’s coursework policy, but this may be revised in the light of so many subjects now having to complete coursework….urm, I mean controlled assessment. It also means that they can end up doing assessments when their knowledge is not of a high enough level and when they have not finished the course. Naturally, pupils’ ability is higher after a further year of study, so would that make any assessments completed in Year 10 a waste of time?

With the second option we can use tasks in the style of the controlled assessment for internal assessment at the relevant internal assessment periods, preparing them to some extent for what would be expected of them in Year 11. Then, in March/April, pupils can focus solely on completing the 4 tasks set (two for writing, two for speaking) having a complete knowledge bank behind them. The question here would be, what do we do in the mock examination in January? Another speaking and writing task that could go towards the final assessment (adopting the best of 3 approach)?

What would you do? Any other ideas anyone? I would be very interested in hearing from other schools around the UK to find out what you are considering.

Oral Exams & Exam Boards

It is that time of year when all of my GCSE, AS and A2 students are clamouring for any spare time I might have in order to help them out with their oral examination practice. Next week I have the joy of conducting all three levels’ oral exams, starting with AS Spanish first thing on Tuesday. I decided to write a little bit about this for two reasons: 1) new specifications are in place at AS and on their way for A2 and GCSE and 2) the technology side of things.

Previously, in my school we have done Edexcel for languages, however, after careful consideration, the department has decided to move to AQA, which means that although we are still doing Edexcel for GCSE and A2 we have been teaching AQA for AS. Seeing as I am nearing the time when most of my exam groups will go on study leave, now is an appropriate time to reflect on the new specification AS.

Personally, I have found some of the topics to be a bit more engaging, especially the more modern elements such as popular culture and media. Pupils are able to learn about things that actually interest them (social networking, fashion, cinema, music etc) and therefore are more motivated to not only continue the subject at A2 level and beyond, but also to communicate in the target language as they actually have something they want to say. Next year’s A2 will be fairly similar topic-wise to what we have taught before, and I am intrigued by the cultural topic element. With Edexcel we have always opted for the written exam, and I have taught a literature book (Sin Noticias de Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza) and a colleague has taught the other topic (Como Agua Para Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and also the region of Catalonia).

With AQA it seems as though we can continue to teach these topics, however, it is how they will be assessed that will change. Pupils must still study two topics (literature, region etc) and they will have to talk about them in their A2 oral exam (something that we have never had to do before), but they will only have to write about ONE of them. Should this influence what we teach? Should this influence what we ask pupils to produce in the classroom? Should we still encourage them to write essays on both topics? I think that the answer to this should be yes. Not only does it then give them the opportunity to have a wider choice of possible questions to answer in the examination, but it will also prepare them more thoroughly for university study. My only concern is that the questions in the exam will be so broad that it will be very difficult to know how to teach them to write effective answers. Previously, literature essays and the like have been related directly to the particular set text whereas now the question will have to be one that could be applied to any literature book! I’m wondering whether it is worth putting trusty old Gurb to one side and looking at films or something…..

The oral exam at A2 has previously been along the lines of a debate, now, it seems to me, that the AS is more pro/con orientated in the writing exam, and fairly general in the speaking, allowing for opinions where necessary. We have previously always recorded our candidates onto cassette and we are a school that has an ailing languages lab, used mainly for the A Level listening exams and practice throughout the year. As someone who enjoys using technology in the classroom I am eagerly awaiting a snazzy languages lab to replace the old one and I was very pleased to learn that we can download the exam listening material on line. Furthermore, we can now conduct our listening exams and record them digitally, sending them to AQA electronically, via their Desk Top Tool (DTT). Over the last few months I have been sorting out the technical side of things with our IT crew, in order to ensure smooth sailing for both the recording of orals and the downloading of listening materials.

Last week I was VERY disappointed to find out from a colleague that AQA have pulled the DTT, asking centres to record onto cassette rather than straight onto the DTT. On further investigation it turned out the AQA had sent a letter to examiners (like my colleague) telling them that as some centres had been having problems with sending through the orals, they thought it best to ask everyone to do the same. Now, I do appreciate that AQA were trying to help centres by letting them know that some places were having problems, however, my school never received this letter – I had to ring them and get it faxed through to see for myself. As I read through it I breathed a short sigh of relief as I realised that actually they hadn’t pulled the DTT completely – they were just letting centres know about the possible problems that seemed to be occurring within certain LEAs (something to do with bandwidth and servers I believe). If a school had begun to use the DTT and were not having any problems, then the school could continue to do so. Phew. I therefore will go ahead and use the DTT as planned on Tuesday with the Spanish AS students. With only 5 candidates, and not being part of an LEA, there should be no major issue about sending the sound files through, but, if the worst case scenario happens, then I can pull the sound files off the computer, save to a CD or memory stick and send them through that way. Double phew.

Interestingly, with the new specification GCSE, I think that a tool such as the DTT will be very beneficial. Candidates will have to submit two tasks that they have completed throughout the GCSE course and I can foresee it being fairly easy to manage pupils’ entries electronically on the school system before uploading their best two tasks (out of say, 5 ). This will also work nicely for their coursework….urm, I mean controlled writing assessment. All we need now is the school system in place for all pupils to have an area to save school work, homework and coursework to, that is easily accessible by teachers. Would this by chance be a VLE? I’ll stop holding my breathe soon, I promise.