NCLs 4 MFL: soooooo Y2D?

I hope that at least the MFL teachers among my readers will have understood the title of today’s post!

As we all know, from September 2013, schools will no longer be required to assess their pupils using National Curriculum Levels at KS3. The DfE is not replacing this system of assessment and reporting, preferring instead to allow schools “to introduce their own approaches to formative assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression”. Whilst the DfE argues that NCLs are “complicated and difficult to understand, especially for parents” it is by now what they are used to, and has been a fairly useful, if somewhat arbitrary way to compare children’s progress across a range of different subjects.

Did someone say curriculum reform?

With this in mind, most schools seem to be sticking with NCLs in the absence of any viable replacement. (I have yet to meet a teacher whose school is scrapping them, but if yours is I’d love to hear from you! @MonsieurRMC).

The big problem with National Curriculum Levels in MFL has always been that, since pupils are awarded a distinct level in each of the four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing), it is immensley difficult to give them an overall level for their progress in the language as a whole. Some departments ‘average out’ pupils’ levels, but this has always struck me as an extremely misleading method of reporting; a pupil may achieve a level 4 for reading but only a level 2 for writing and be awarded a level 3, despite the fact that he or she is not working at level 3 overall.

The temporary solution

From September 2013, I will be directing my department to assess and report pupils’ levels in a slightly more comprehensive way: all y7 parents will be sent a copy of the NCL sheet below, and each pupil will have a personal copy to keep in her book. When pupils have demonstrated sufficient evidence that they have fulfilled any of the criteria for any one skill, the teacher will record this with a tick in the relevant box. Pupils will only be awarded an ‘a’ sub-level when they have fulfilled all criteria for all skills at that level.

Pupils and parents will be able to track progress and identify areas for improvement simply by looking at their individual progress sheet at any given time.

Pupils and parents will be able to track progress and identify areas for improvement simply by looking at their individual progress sheet at any given time.

This system should also facilitate reporting differences between other sub-levels; a ‘b’ sub-level will be awarded to a pupil who only needs to evidence one or two more criteria for that level. A ‘c’ sub-level will be awarded to a pupil who has fully achieved the level below plus one or two criteria of their next target level.

A simpler system?

My hope is that this system will make it easier for teachers to continually assess and keep track of their students’ progress, and for pupils and parents to identify areas in which the pupil needs to improve. Both of the PDF documents with the levels for Y7 and Y8 are available below, and constructive feedback is always welcome!

KS3 MFL NC Level Descriptors (Part 1) KS3 MFL NC Level Descriptors (Part 2)

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Optimus Education: Outstanding Secondary Learning and Teaching One-Day National Conference 2012

Going out of school for CPD is always a mixed blessing; it’s nice to escape from the intense pressure that is school and, as much as I love my students, sometimes I need to be away from the white noise of teenagers’ learning and emotional needs; but for those of us so close to the capital, it’s also a day of busy public transport, an early rise and a late return. Still, I am lucky to be in a school that allows teachers to go out for training, and even luckier that I was trusted to go in the place of the member of senior leadership who was supposed to be going originally. Thus, on 14th October, I found myself stepping off the HS1 into London’s St Pancras station and heading to Brompton for the OptimusEd Outstanding T&L Conference 2012. Here’s a review of what I saw and heard:

Keynote 1 – Ofsted Update, Gill Jones HMI

Gill Jones’ Ofsted update was a little late for me, since Ofsted came and went last term (and told us we were Outstanding!). Nonetheless, her comments seemed to corroborate my experience of Ofsted and will be useful for anyone dreading their impending visit:

  • The quality of teaching is the top factor relating to pupils’ success,
  • Inspectors observe pupils’ learning, not teacher’s teaching,
  • Teachers not expected to do everything required in one lesson,
  • No one teaching methodology is preferred,
  • SLT observations should record progress of particular students in groups,
  • Literacy should ensure students use relevant subject-specific vocabulary,
  • SMSC is observed in the corridors as well as in lessons.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Modification of lesson observation forms to account for pupil progress,
  • Literacy policy embedded in all lessons.

Keynote 2 – Embedding Outstanding Teaching & Learning, Claire Gadsby, T&L Consultant

Claire Gadsby’s talk was a mixture of useful suggestions and anecdotal evidence on strategies to encourage staff to work together to improve teaching and learning throughout the school:

  • Outstanding practice should be modelled for busy teachers to enable them to see it working,
  • Avoid ‘overload’ through ownership, by involving teachers in developing ideas for outstanding T&L,
  • CPD should be as engaging as the lessons we try to plan for pupils,
  • Feedback should be shared in a variety of ways:
    • Pecha Kucha,
    • Staff learning wall,
    • WAGOLL (what a good one looks like),
  • CPD should include variety (eg: incidental CPD – placing random objects in the staff room),
  • Coaches should co-plan and co-teach.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Varied feedback models embedded in CPD sessions,
  • Introduction of a staff learning wall,
  • Use of videos of activities during CPD sessions.

Keynote 3 – Independent Learning, Will Ord, Director of Thinking Education

Will Ord’s Keynote on independent learning was as energetic and inspirational as his workshop on questioning:

  • Encourage staff to teach a ‘Golden Lesson’ every week where they try out a new idea,
  • Embed independent learning skills into lesson objectives (eg: to learn how to solve quadratic equations; to learnt to use questioning to improve our learning),
  • Pupils time teachers to see how much of the lesson they spend speaking (sometimes up to 90%!),
  • Use of Learning Warriors – weekly celebration of resilience in the classroom.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Introduction of weekly departmental thinking skills objectives for each year group.

Session 1B – Questioning, Will Ord, Director of Thinking Education

Will Ord’s workshop focused on the use of questioning to encourage higher-order thinking, not only by teachers, but also by training and encouraging pupils to ask the right questions:

  • Remember that different questions exercise different thinking skills,
  • Use phrasing so that options aren’t limited (what might the answer be not what is the answer),
  • Encourage students to use higher order questions in their discussions (a selection was given on the handout),
  • Use stimulus-story-concepts-questions model to lead students to ask more searching questions,
  • Use lego bricks to encourage students to build discussion based on what their friends have said.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Introduction of higher order question posters in classrooms,
  • Training on the use of stimuli in lessons,
  • Investment in sets of lego bricks for departments.

Session 2C – Language for Learning, Sophie Holdforth, Hackney Learning Trust

Sophie Holdforth’s slightly quirky session was actually very inspiring and introduced me to some knew cooperative learning-style stragies that I hadn’t seen before. I really enjoyed this one, even if she did make me wear a (very!) smelly deerstalker hat:

  • Writing has acquired a higher status than speaking but this can be just as helpful for learning,
  • Ofsted are looking for oral literacy skills as well as reading & writing skills,
  • Reciprocal teaching encourages students to discuss by assigning them roles:
    • Questioner (asks questions about the text),
    • Clarifier (looks up unclear vocabulary),
    • Predictor (predicts what may happen next),
    • Summariser (uses own words to sum up),
  • Dialogic teaching uses prompts to scaffold dialogue,
  • Speak-alouds allow teachers to model thought processes about the text whilst reading.

Dialogic teaching uses prompts to scaffold dialogue, like these ones which I used during an A2 French lesson encouraging students to discuss their ideas on Voltaire’s Candide.

Monsieur M’s suggestion for use in school:

  • Introduction of think-alouds in reading groups,
  • Use of bookmarks to remind students of RT roles,
  • Posters of prompts for dialogic teaching in classrooms.

Session 3B – Differentiation, Paul Anstee, Author: The Differentiation Pocketbook

Differentiation is something I consider to be a personal weakness, so I was looking forward to getting some new, practical ideas to use in the classroom. Unfortunately, Paul Anstee’s workshop was neither engaging nor differentiated (despite him urging us to ensure that our in-school CPD was differentiated for teachers!). The hour-long session effectively defined what the different types of differentiation are and are not, and was a very disappointing end to an otherwise informative and thought-provoking conference.

If you’re interested to know more about any of the strategies mentioned above, feel free to comment or contact me either by email or on Twitter! I’ll be happy to share all of the resources I have!

Exams & Boards: which ones work?

Our school is, in many respects, the county’s only true comprehensive; in an area with such a widespread system of selection, most high-schools only draw from a catchment that has already had the highest achieving students ‘creamed off’.

This, however, is not a rant about selective education (I happen to be somewhat of a fan – unsurprising considering my own background). But teaching as I do in a school which draws from a neigbouring county with no selective education, I am confronted with the problem that my job is to engage and enthuse students of all ability ranges, and, hopefully, encourage them to continue studying a language for GCSE (in our school, languages are not compulsory). Once again, no ranting to be found – of course that’s my job.

The rub is that, with such a relatively low uptake at GCSE (one of my middle-set KS3 classes had an uptake rate of 25%) we are unable to stream students at GCSE level. The result is a class of hugely mixed ability (87% projected A*-C, but with students ranging from A* to E grades) which are all forced to sit a GCSE course.

Two questions therefore present themselves:

1/ is it fair to make all students who have a passion to study languages sit a GCSE course, as opposed to alternative qualification pathways?

2/ which GCSE course should we have them follow?

Please feel free to post your own thoughts on these questions.

GCSEs vs NVQs

When I was at school, NVQs were reasonably new, and risibly labelled as Not Very Qualifieds. My friends and I were, admittedly, a tad precocious and had been well fed on the idea that we belonged to the top 25% of society by our teachers. This condescending view of NVQs definitely marked me and, until recently, had even endured into the first years of my teaching career. This is, happily, no longer the case.

The problem with GCSEs is that the centralised syllabus forces teachers to cover topics that have little relevance to pupils’ lives or interests. What’s more, the new(ish) assessment set-up requires excessive amounts of the use of a range of complex language structures that would probably not be used all together in real life. How, then, can teachers offer qualifications that are both relevant and manageable for lower ability students?

The answer appears to be the NVQ. The advantages of the NVQ are that:

  • students can simultaneously enter different skills for different levels (eg: Speaking Level 2, Listening Level 3),
  • language study can be linked to a relevant area of vocational study,
  • assessment for each level can be undertaken & evidenced whenever the student is ready.

GCSE vs iGCSE           

I will not, I know, be the only teacher with an underlying couche of rage bubbling away whenever I see the Edexcel logo. This rage is perhaps a little ungenerous, since I teach and actually quite like their A Level French syllabus (despite some interesting marking weightings). But the fiasco surrounding the controlled coursework modules of their ‘new’ MFL GCSE has left a very bitter taste in many a teacher’s mouth.

The new controlled assessments, designed to replace the previous controlled and non-controlled coursework tasks, are as flawed as their predecessors; they take up huge amounts of time to administer; they evaluate unrealistic assessment criteria, simultaneously requiring students to use every single structure they have ever learnt; most schools’ Key Stage structures will mean that students have to sit a number of these assessments before they have completed a full programme of study. How is it fair to expect a student to sit a controlled assessment when they haven’t learnt everything they would need to be able to achieve the top marks?

Conversly, the Cambridge iGCSE, until now largely the province of Independent Schools, assesses students in each of the four core skills at the end of their course of study. Each assessment is designed to test listening, reading, speaking and writing skills of different levels and the positivie marking system rewards students for correctly used language.

Whilst I still have to decide whether it is worth persuading my department to switch to both NVQs and the iGCSE, this issue has certainly given me something to think about. If anybody else has experience working with either qualification in languages, their contribution to the debate would certainly be welcome!

What do you think?