Sunday, 31 May 2009

Proposed New Level Descriptors in Languages: Your Chance to Have a Say

Some changes are afoot concerning the level descriptors in Languages. Do check out the suggested changes here and take part in the feedback questionnaire here

You will need to register and provide an email address to be sent a link to take part in the consultation. This is a very quick process and the questionnaire is very short.

What are the main changes?

Attainment Target 1: Listening and Speaking
Attainment Target 2 : Reading and Writing
Attainment Target 3: Intercultural Understanding Across Attainment Target 1 and 2

The number of Attainment Targets is reduced to 3. However, the mix of active and passive skills in AT1 and AT2 could make accurate assessment very tricky indeed. Levels 1-3 seem harder to attain, which will hit lower ability students and may slow down perceived progression.

It is also generally acknowledged that students achieve higher levels in receptive skills, so if the level for AT1 and AT2 is an average, this could lead to little incentive to develop productive skills further. Time will also be a factor to be considered as a lot of MFL Faculties have seen their curriculum time decrease since MFL were made optional in 2004. With the pressure on to increase uptake at KS4, more assessment and less curriculum time does not seem like the way forward…

Another major change is the introduction of Intercultural Understanding as an attainment target although this is already in place in the KS2 Framework for Languages as one of the 5 strands also including Oracy, Literacy, Knowledge About Language (KAL) and Language Learning Strategies.

Although I do believe that Intercultural Understanding is a very important part of learning a language, the level descriptors appear to be politically-motivated and will not be easy to assess in a meaningful way in a classroom environment.

Student should “research and analyse materials relating to target language countries or communities and present their findings in an appropriate format, including personal responses in their analysis” for an Exceptional Performance level but if it is done in English-which is more than likely-how can this be done “across AT1 and AT2”?

3/5 better than 4?

Guidelines from the new Curriculum For Excellence in Scotland support the assessment of 3 skills: Listening & Talking, Reading, Writing. There is also a clear reference to Intercultural Understanding in the Reading Strand, “Reading to appreciate other cultures”

In Wales, Oracy, Reading and Writing also feature as skills to be assessed but Intercultural Understanding “should underpin the purpose of learning a modern foreign language and be integrated into as many activities as possible”.

I notice the fact that Listening and Speaking have been integrated into one Attainment Target in both Scotland and Wales while Reading and Writing are still assessed separately, with Intercultural Understanding underpinning the context for language-learning. A better idea perhaps?

While the discussion goes on as a new thread in TES MFL Forum, keep an eye on the outcome of the consultation via the ALL-London page (thanks to Helen Myers for this)

I would also be curious to find out about assessment practices for languages in other countries. So please, do leave a comment if you are not from the UK…

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Come and Join My World Languages Twibe!

After trying out Twitter Groups, my preference has definitely gone to Twibes.
Twibes are Twitter groups set up in order to help people with common interests finding each other on Twitter.

“Why do we need Twitter groups when we have hashtags?”
Hashtags are words prefixed with a “#” added to tweets and automatically hyper linked to a search. For example: #WorldLanguages . Hashtags are useful but they do not provide lists of users with similar interests..Hashtags are also owned by the community and the meaning of a tag may change over time or one particular Hastag may have multiple competing meanings.
Twibe members may be connected by geographical location, career, religion, hobby or any other commonality. There are several thousand different Twibes in dozens of categories, with some Twibes having thousands of members, while others only have a handful.

A Twibe has a founder who chooses keywords for the Twibe, and sets its mission statement via the Twibe description. Joining a group is a positive step to identify oneself as a member of a specific community. Hashtags can be used by anyone at anytime, in contrast, a Twibe has a visible list of people.

Twibes allow for multiple keywords, which allows for richer meaning and clearer topic definition. Hashtags are easy, but they can have duplicate meanings e.g. MFL is only related to languages in a UK context and some languages searches also include computer languages!

With Twibes, there is no need to remember a specific hashtag or leave room for it in your Tweet. However, tagging clearly has many benefits. Hashtags really are the best way to tie together content from multiple Web sites like flickr, delicious, and twitter, with a unique term. These identifiers work well for conferences or spontaneous events.

Twibes are arranged into categories, and you are allowed to join 10 twibes and create 3. To See what twibes are available in each category…

Go to
Scroll down the list until you see a category heading that interests you
Under each category heading is a list of three Twibes in that category
To see the rest of the Twibes in any specific category, click on the "more" link in the lower right hand corner of the category box
To learn more about a Twibe, or to see a list of Twibe members, simply click on the Twibe name and you will be directed to the Twibe's home page

In the meantime, if you teach world languages, do consider joining my WorldLanguages twibe. To share ideas and resources about language-learning make sure your tweet includes #WorldLanguages (or #wl) or #MFL for UK-related content (with or without hashtag sign).

The Twibe page is also useful to find like-minded language colleagues to follow on Twitter-Just go on the group member’s avatar/ picture to view their Twitter profile or to follow them.
See you soon on our WorldLanguages Twibe Page!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Open School For Languages: Finding Out What Makes Them Tick

On 28th April, The Department for Children, Schools and Families announced that leading educational software provider RM will deliver the Open School for Languages, a key recommendation of the 2007 Dearing Review, through its subsidiary, Lightbox Education.

The Open School for Languages (OSfL) is a £6 million project which will make available online a range of materials in different languages aiming to engage learners, both independently and in the classroom. The goals of the OSfL are to help more young people discover the relevance and value of languages by switching them on to language learning and providing them with opportunities to improve their language skills. The service will also help teachers to raise young people’s language-learning competence, also increasing their participation and supporting the wider languages agenda.

CILT will convene an advisory group for the OSfL and will engage in a sophisticated marketing campaign to promote it. Other major partners include the Cambridge University Language Centre and the University of Salford.
After I took part in the teachers’ online survey about the new project, I was contacted by Tom Bradley at Lightbox Education to enquire whether it would be possible to interview 12-15 Y8 students-mixed ability and with a range of attitudes towards languages- to find out about what sort of website they use and find engaging.

Damien Stewart and Muriel Amaechi visited our school on Wednesday 6th May and ran the following activities:

First of all, students were asked to make a list of websites they used every day, once a week and once a month on average. They had to write the name of the website and the reason why the liked to use it. This was a very interesting exercise for me too as it enabled me to find out about the kind of online content our students find engaging: Bebo, Facebook, You Tube, msn, miniclips, bitesize, Flickr, e-bay, photobucket, pixel fun, housebreaker, gamesmate ...

Individually, students were asked to choose words from a list that could be used to describe their favourite websites. In small groups, they were asked to reduce their lists to find the most popular words. A spokesperson from each group then described the consolidated list to the class, so that a final list of words that represents the views of the majority was agreed. Amongst the adjectives mentioned entertaining, original, personalised, fun, relaxed and creative were the most popular.

In small groups, participants were asked to choose a top 3 and a bottom 3 learning themes/topics from a range of options. The groups then had to make a case for why the themes have been chosen, and then present this to the class. The class then voted on a final top 3 and bottom 3. Some students find this challenging as it was clear that they did not know much about some of the themes. Top topics included Sport, Music, Films/ TV and bottom topics included Politics, Religion and Geography. The Environment was also mentioned as a “boring” topic, which surprised me a lot. Although students seemed to think that it was important to do something about it, it is not something they really wanted to read about...

Using graphical mood boards to help describe the concepts behind each area of functionality, pupils were asked to discuss the functionality that they would expect to find, and think about which areas they would be most interested to develop. They also had to present their findings and own ideas to the class.

This task was extremely challenging and nonetheless, our students came up with original ideas including a virtual skating park and a judge & jury type game. They found the process very interesting and now keep asking me whether I know if some of their ideas will be used or not...

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Thoughts On Raising Achievement

I put together this presentation in response to a number of questions I was asked about Raising Achievement in general.