National Curriculum levels will no longer apply to the new programmes of study at KS3 and there are mixed views about this in MFL teaching. On one hand there are valid concerns about demonstrating progress in a way that is recognisable to pupils, parents and stakeholders, and on the other hand there is a welcoming of the opportunity to allow pupils more freedom to differentiate themselves by the outcomes they produce rather than to limit them by setting tasks that are assigned by level.
Quite a few MFL teachers have told me that they will use more open-ended tasks that can be carried out at a range of different levels, and that they will mix the language skills more within activities, so that pupils whose ability varies across the skills have more opportunity to play to their strengths. There is also an aim of generating greater engagement by giving pupils more choice about what they do with the language rather than expecting them to perform broadly the same tasks regardless of natural inclination or preferred communication style.
I saw this in practice a few weeks ago where a colleague conducted what he calls ‘Freestyle French’. Pupils are given a scenario or a piece of stimulus material based on the topic or context currently being studied. They are reminded to use their books as a guide to re-using language that they have seen recently. Then they are given completely free-rein to produce any piece of work of their choice to demonstrate what they can do with what they know, provided there is a link to the stimulus.
On this occasion the stimulus was a photocopied postcard depicting the Paris Métro system and some famous sites. The topics covered recently were places in a town, directions and getting around – not always the most inspiring!
As well as a good range of written pieces of work, the class produced:
- Several Powerpoint presentations describing one or more of the sites highlighted in the postcard
- A couple of illustrated posters advertising the benefits of using the metro: vite; pas cher; confortable; or, more ambitiously, using effective imperatives: Venez a Paris! Utilisez le métro!
- A copy of the postcard with the directions of the métro lines labelled in single words: nord, ouest, etc
- An elaborately enacted sketch in which pupils played the part of lost tourists and helpful/unhelpful transport staff and passers by
- A few pieces using tenses other than the present: Un de ces jours je veux aller a Paris. La ville de Paris a beaucoup d’attractions. Je vais visiter Notre Dame…
- And a poem or rhyme performed with a rap-style accompaniment: Je m’appelle Marco; Je prends le métro; Je vais chez moi; Je vais chez toi; Tout le monde fait comme ça…
So what level was the task? Well it produced a whole range of outcomes from word level to paragraph level, in both written and spoken language, using simple constructions and more complex constructions and tenses. The task itself didn’t have a prescribed level and because of that every pupil was able to make something of it. If the removal of NC levels gives rise to more of this kind of approach I’m all for ‘Freestyle French.’