Up with Year 8
The national Key Stage 3 Framework for foreign languages is now in its second year and in many schools the first cohort is well into the programme for Year 8.
Ofsted evaluations and subject reports comment positively on the impact of the Framework on teaching and especially on the learning and motivation of boys. Benefits already apparent are an increased ability to speak and write the target language extensively, alongside greater confidence in text-level work.
The focus shifts
In Year 8 the focus firmly shifts from laying a solid foundation onto the acceleration of the language-learning process.
The Framework provides a set of clear expectations for the end of the second year, which may pose a tough planning challenge for some departments. If we study the wording of the Year 8 objectives we find that terms such as extend, develop, add, variety and exception are used instead of understand and basic. This purposely encourages the view that in Year 8 the emphasis rests firmly on refinement of skills and widening of linguistic repertoire and not merely on practising them.
However, the Year 8 objectives frequently build on similar Year 7 ones, which can often form a way in. Before you launch Year 8 objectives about gender, verbs or sentence-building for instance, pupils can revisit last year's groundwork to take stock of what they already know before building on it.
Reinforce Year 7
One productive way to reinforce Year 7 objectives before launching the Year 8 version is through the use of starters. Frequent pacy revision of key ideas, concepts and skills hammers home the basics from last year and paves the way for that second layer. Also keep up your resolve to maximise the plenary session, which can summarise today's progress towards an objective and allow pupils to reflect on the wider knowledge they now have about, for instance, word order.
Creative deployment of the objectives with Year 8 could lead to pupils making speedier progress in the four skills. There are limitless possibilities for clustering objectives from both the Year 7 and 8 lists to consolidate pupils' technique. Many textbooks have an extra, optional section at the end of every unit, or every half-term. The listening, speaking, reading and writing activities gathered here would make ideal source resources for the clustered approach.
For example, with a reading text a class could easily combine those Year 7 and Year 8 objectives which deal with reading strategies and sentence-construction. If your department has completed the KS3 subject audit, the outcomes of this could similarly point to likely objectives to cluster together and target with pupils.
One department agreed that their Year 7 able pupils were not performing markedly better than the others at writing. That "je ne sais quoi" was lacking. Consequently, as this cohort moves through Year 8, the top set will revisit certain Year 7 writing objectives with an emphasis on real mastery. As they then add in the Year 8 versions the department hopes to see a real difference in the quality of written work.
This year MFL departments are widely involved in whole-school or LEA projects of some sort. With a bit of imagination this is another potential vehicle for Framework exploitation. Several schools in Essex have been visited by the LEA's ICT consultants, who delivered a hands-on course in digital video, with pupils making, editing and showing their own video advertisements. This course is going to be repackaged for foreign languages in the secondary schools, giving the opportunity to view and discuss genuine foreign advertisements and to make an advertisement in the target language. Here pupils can practise objectives ranging from spontaneous use of language to cultural awareness.
Some departments will have found last year that their Year 7 pupils struggled to master 35 objectives. With classes everywhere, the recommendation is that teachers may work on Year 7 objectives after Year 7 if they have not been fully mastered. It is tempting to make value judgments about objectives ("is writing more crucial than cultural background?") but perhaps it's more the case that some objectives can be mastered more swiftly than others.
Some objectives will probably need building up over the year but examples such as 8W5 (verb tenses) and 8L4 (extended sentences) illustrate the close relationship of the Framework with progress up through the national curriculum levels. Others are the difference between the linguist and the mere student of languages.
Work in Essex with special schools has adapted the KS3 English framework's approach, with certain objectives highlighted as key within each section.
These include 7+8W1 (vocabulary building), 8L5 (dialogues) and 7S3 (adapting sentences). A selection of linguistic objectives and those dealing with strategies can still allow good progress to be made. One early finding which arose from research on language-learning was that all pupils found problems with "little words", such as a, zum and de. No single objective covers these but over two years pupils visiting similar ground in objectives about gender might develop a better understanding.
Talk to the English department
A stratagem often employed nowadays by English teachers is the shared reading or guided writing session. Here the teacher works on a text or a piece of writing, expecting increasing contributions from the whole class or the small group of pupils involved, modelling effective practice. The initial steps towards independent use of techniques can be scaffolded, theories can be explored or ideas discussed. This is a methodology directly transplantable into languages classrooms and one which would do wonders for objectives dealing with complex sentences or reading competency.
A spin-off of the shared approach to learning is that there are increased opportunities to hone the "spontaneous language" mentioned in several objectives. Finally, looking up occasionally from the present tussle with Year 8 we may keep alive our hopes for end of Year 9 - the goal is a nation of more effective speakers and listeners, more confident and independent readers and writers, with an in-depth knowledge and a greater awareness of the culture and life of the target country (and greater uptake in KS4). We want pupils who can manipulate language better and to be more imaginative and creative with it. That's a tall order so let's be objective about it!
l Framework for Teaching Modern Foreign Languages: years 7, 8 and 9 (ref DfES 00842003) is downloadable from www.standards.dfes.gov.uk
Andrea Osborne is a foundation subjects consultant for Essex County Council and teaches MFL at Furtherwick Park School on Canvey Island.
Tel: 020 8506 2089