OCR aims to make language learning more appealing to 14 to 16 year olds as well as more effective with new GCSEs in French, German and Spanish. Out are the rather uninspiring ‘ma trousse’ (pencil case), and ‘le tank top’ and in are tattoos (le tatouage), music festivals and volunteering abroad.
Changes to OCR’s new draft GCSEs focus on three areas: making content more contemporary; bringing back skills including grammar as components of an indispensable language ‘toolkit’; and putting science and fun into vocabulary learning.
Firstly, OCR has radically updated the content: out are tired topics such as ‘My holiday’, ‘Aurélie and Fabian go to town’ or ‘Mathilde’s school day’ and in is more age-appropriate content such as tattoos and music festivals; in the new draft German GCSE, there is a film review of the thriller Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run), and in the Spanish GCSE, tweets on the Olympic Games.
Secondly, OCR is putting renewed emphasis on developing linguistic skills by adopting the well-established skills learning of EFL teaching that have proven so successful globally. “This entails moving away from working too long on a clichéd topic until a student is bored with it,” said Katherine Smith, who is leading on MFL GCSE and A level reforms at OCR, “to working on more appealing subjects, and with an all-important shift in emphasis on the skills that they can transfer across content.” This comes out of a concern voiced at meetings held with teachers, employers and universities, that the focus on topics is leading to a disappearance of skills.
“Current GCSE specifications have focused on preparing coursework which is more about the theme than learning the building blocks of a language. This has de-skilled students and led to ‘topic fatigue’. Our new approach should fundamentally improve both the student’s enjoyment and their linguistic ability,” added Smith.
These neglected skills, borrowed from EFL, include grammatical structures such as tenses, connectives, asking and answering questions and infinitive constructions which can be learned and frequently revisited across the new course. “For example, learning how to express opinions in different ways: ‘I don’t believe that…’, ‘What do you think?’ and then applying these to different themes such as music, fashion or technology in a ‘Just a Minute’-type activity,” explained Smith.
Other skills from EFL include techniques for reading foreign texts. “You can’t be expected to understand a new text at first, but students will be taught how to skim it, then scan it for words they know, and build up their understanding gradually, not to be dispirited if they don’t understand the first sentence.” Other EFL skills are in speaking and conversing: “They will be taught tactics such as how to ask the speaker to repeat themselves, or to speak more slowly”.
OCR also wants to abandon inflexible vocabulary lists. Learning from A-Z lists from ‘abeille’ to ‘volaille’ is being replaced by a far more appealing activity: a colourful, fun app called Memrise, based on scientific memorisation theories which students can use to spend a minute a day learning a few words, building up their vocabulary as they go along.
All MFL GCSEs from September 2016 will require students to study a short extract from foreign literature, at the request of the DfE. This is the first time that literature has ever appeared in modern language GCSEs. In OCR’s draft French GCSE, this is an extract from the Bald Opera Singer by Ionesco, in the draft German GCSE is Ruhm: ein Roman in neun Geschichten by Daniel Kehlmann, and in the draft Spanish GCSE El juego del ángel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
OCR’s draft specifications for GCSE French, German and Spanish were submitted to Ofqual for accreditation on 9 April.