Sunday, 4 June 2017

Lingvist


This afternoon I was passed an article in PC Pro: 'Profile: Lingvist.  We meet the Hadron-Collider scientist whose app can teach you French, Spanish or Russina in record time.'

How could I resist not logging on immediately?  I did so, and 90 minutes later, here I am sharing my experience in case anyone is interested.

My conclusion is that it is a wonderful app, especially suited to reasonably intelligent learners who can spell, and who appreciate or need to learn the real language heard, spoken, read and written in the 'real world'. I will be trying it out next week with some of my older learners, and I recommend it without reservation to sixth form and university students or to eachers who may want to 'up-skill' themselves, whether in their specialist or supplementary language.  Or it may suit people who just enjoy solving clues.

If you’re interested, I am now on level 48 of 51, having made deliberate mistakes to test the app (not that I'm competitive, you understand …!).  Many of the words are not ones which I learnt at university where I studied mainly 17th century - 20th century literature.  The PC Pro article talks about learning language from 'movie talk', and I certainly recognised many expressions from a range of scenarios.  I personally try to maintain my skills via watching France 3, especially the soap opera 'Plus Belle La Vie' and cooking programmes.  (I don’t cook - I just like watching the clear French and the rapport between the hosts).

Why do I like it so much?
EASY TO USE
• It is very easy to log in and create an account
• It is very intuitive.  You can work out quickly what to do whether on PC or smartphone (but there appear to be more functions on the mobile e.g. telling you which words to revise).

RELEVANT LANGUAGE FOR THE 'REAL' WORLD
The language really is up-to-date and relevant covering formal and informal contexts.  The language chosen has clearly come from high-frequency language encountered through watching TV, (for example cookery,  fitness, political,  documentary programmes) and films (e.g. crime stories), as well as languages used by businesses, industry, medicine, entertainment channels, the Internet, employment and finance.

ACCURATE
• The machine pronunciation is accurate,  e.g. 'mars' was correctly pronounced sounding the 's' at the end of the word
• I only spotted one very minor omission (not an error) in translation where a word was missed out .. and there is a way of signalling this to the developers.
• It is not fussy about capital letters or accents. You are not penalised for missing them out.  (I realise this may not suit everyone's purpose).
• I note that the default is the masculine when translating first person sentences - but I can see that it would be tricky to change this

INDIVIDUALISED
• It naturally moves you to language to match your ability and provides a challenge
• The algorithm used clearly picks up the words where errors were made and reintroduces them regularly

SOUND PEDAGOGY
• It teaches language in a context: you work through 'cards' where you have to supply the translation of a specific word which will then fit in a target language sentence.
• You are given useful 'clues' as to the word required: exact number of letters, synonyms for the words needed which may well be cognates
• There are no 'short cuts' to avoid learning: If you fail or make a mistake, you are given the answer and you have to type it in before you can proceed; if you do not turn off the sound, you have to listen to the whole sentence read aloud before being allowed to proceed [This is the part which will put off some more impatient learners!]
• If a verbal error is made, a grammar window automatically opens to show the conjugation of the verb.
• If you are 'nearly there' the program seems to recognise this, and highlights in red the letters missing from your attempts
• You feel a sense of achievement as you go through the levels.  (Though when I used my PC I was not aware of this ..)

TIPS:
• You can get through it much quicker with Swype set to French and audio muted.
• Show the translation at all times to improve translation skills.

I look forward to trying this out with a language I do not know.  I will be interested to see how it meets the claim to adapt the learning programme to my individual needs by taking account of what I can do in French.
I could understand if this product were to become monetised, but it would be great if, like Duolingo, there were a way of keeping it free!

Thanks to Mait Müntel for this innovative product!

Some screen shots







Thursday, 25 May 2017

Severe grading

I am half smiling, half grimacing  after re-discovering a recording of a 2010 'You and Yours' programme in which I was asked to explain my position with respect to 'severe grading'.  It is chapter two of this link.

The situation has not changed.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Controlled Assessment: A Brief History!


A reminder of the rationale for the Languages GCSE 2010 Controlled Assessments in Speaking and Writing.


1. December 2006 - QCA 11-19 reform programme - 'The current system will be monitoring [sic] to ensure integrity, safety and a reduction in burden'.  The Government wanted to tighten up the GCSE.  'Coursework' for subjects was often carried out in 'uncontrolled' conditions' (i.e. could be at home, could be someone else was actually doing it, even though all had to sign it was their own work ..) so the new GCSEs (first taught 2008, first tested 2010) insisted that all subjects be tested by final exam except when there was a compelling case that it was impossible to test subject skills in this way.

2. As Part of this review, QCA commissioned an investigation into the assessment of speaking for GCSE modern foreign languages,  Here is the executive summary:

Executive summary
Assessment of GCSE speaking: the current position
The current method of assessing speaking in modern foreign languages (MFL) has changed little since the introduction of GCSE in 1988. The majority of students take one examination at the end of the two-year course. This test is usually composed of short structured role-plays and a prepared presentation followed by a conversation. The test is recorded. In most cases the recordings are sent to the awarding body for marking, but some awarding bodies give centres the option to mark the tests and for their marks to be moderated by the awarding body.

 
The nature of this test can lead to formulaic responses and heavy reliance on a limited range of memorised language. This in turn has a negative impact on teaching and learning, with little opportunity for students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge and skills and to develop independence.

 3. At the same time, Lord Dearing was conducting a review into languages. (Published March 2007)
His understanding of the problems at GCSE are in section 3 of his report.
In the light of the evidence from teachers, he made recommendations which included the two following aspects:

(1)   Subject matter for writing and speaking: The content needed to be flexible to suit the individual motivations of the students.   [See 3.17 ' It is particularly in these years that the context of the learning needs to be stimulating to pupils and to engage them in discussion, debates and writing about subjects that are of concern and interest to teenagers.' ]
 
(2)   Speaking test: It was deemed that a short final test was stressful and unreliable.    [See 3.22 . "We also proposed a new approach to the assessment of speaking and listening, which rightly account for half the marks in the GCSE, on the grounds that the present method is too stressful and too short to be a reliable way of assessing what the candidates can do. It is interesting that when people spoke about the oral test, that however long ago it may have been, it is often remembered as a stressful experience. We therefore proposed that these parts of the examination should be over a period through moderated teacher assessment."

4. QCA (as Ofqual was then) required the Awarding Organisations (AOs) to take account of the Dearing review  (informed by teachers).  As part of the overall 'across all subjects' requirements, QCA  stipulated that the controlled assessment could only be 0%, 25% or 60% (and nothing else.)  This led inexorably to the decision to require 60% of the content to be assessed by 'controlled assessment'.   This then allowed for (1) subject matter for the writing and speaking to be determined by the teacher  in response to pupil preferences rather than being quesitons common to all set by the AO in a terminal exam and  (2)  the speaking skill to be tested over time rather than as a final short exam.

 

Monday, 10 April 2017

GCSE 9-1 grading

This blogpost is focussed particularly on ML in the context of the reformed GCSE currently being studied by Year 10 but the principles and messages are exactly the same for
(a)    Current Y11 in maths and English
(b)   Other reformed GCSE subjects for current Year 10

People are asking how they can use the results of mock exams being taken by current year 10 pupils to estimate final GCSE grades.

THE SITUATION IS RIGHTLY COMPLEX
Being fair to all the pupils of all abilities at a time of major transition and change (and by extension to their teachers) taking a wide range of GCSEs  in a real world of historical legacy and political realities, not starting from scratch, we need to be sophisticated and thoughtful and avoid simplistic solutions.

It's a complex situation but there are a few key principles to help through this transition period to ensure fairness for pupils.

THERE IS INFORMATION
There is a range of information available from Ofqual itself (the body responsible for ensuring the quality of standards in qualifications which have been written by exam boards within the constraints set by DfE) and from ASCL (the Association of School and College Leaders).

THERE IS MISLEADING RHETORIC AND MISUNDERSTANDING
There is also much rhetoric around which is confusing the situation and so it is important to unpick some of the political rhetoric, failed logic etc. etc.  For example, 'the content is more demanding'.  Yes, the specifications do appear more demanding.  They have stripped  out any mention of what pupils can be expected to know understand and do at lower levels.  However, grades will be awarded according to 'comparable outcomes' (see below), not according to any statement-related criteria.

SEPARATE DISCUSSIONS
At a time of transition, change and uncertainty this can open a floodgate to discussion (e.g the value of statement-related criteria).  This may be very interesting, but it can unnecessarily distract from the task at hand,  It’s important to focus on what is happening in order to ensure fairness to pupils during this transition.

KEY INFORMATION

1.      OFQUAL GUIDANCE
The Ofqual Blog has some extremely useful posts.  Here are some examples:

(a)    a 9-1 campaign including a chart to show how grades 1, 4 and 7 will compare with current grades G, C and A

(b)   Grade boundaries: the problems with predictions 3/2/17  This blogpost explicitly says that it is unhelpful to estimate grade boundaries in mock exams.  Three reasons are given for this, and I copy and paste the third of  these below:

Statistics will play a key role in making sure this year’s students are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit these new GCSEs. Exam boards will use prior attainment at Key Stage 2 for the 16-year-old cohort to predict likely achievement at the key grades – 1, 4 and 7. The bottom of these grades will be aligned with the bottom of grades G, C and A respectively so the proportions of students achieving these grades or higher will be broadly similar to the previous year. We, and the exam boards, will have the full national picture; other organisations will only have a sub-set of the cohort, which may not be representative of the national situation.

(c)    Setting grade 9 in new GCSEs  This post sets out how the number of grade 9s will be caluclated

 2.      ASCL ADVICE

ASCL has provided advice to students, parents, teachers and  headteachers.  Here is a copy and paste of the first FAQ in the Headteacher paper:

1 Can I give my governors an estimate of how our GCSE grade distribution in the reformed GCSEs will be this year? What about grade boundaries?

ASCL’s advice is not to rely on any predictions of grade boundary marks for new GCSEs next summer. Statistics will play a key role in making sure this year’s students are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit these new GCSEs, and the setting of grade boundaries will need to take account of the national picture which will not be known until all the papers are marked in the summer. In the School Inspection Update March 2017, Ofsted inspectors have been advised not to press schools for predictions of outcomes this year. It is possible to give an indication of the likely grade distribution because of the statistical linkage specified by Ofqual. ASCL will be publishing more guidance on this in the coming months.

MY ADVICE!
One of the most common issues being raised on ML fora relates to other teachers or managers either expecting to be able to convert raw marks to grades or having managers who are putting pressure on them to convert raw marks to grades as a way of telling pupils about their attainment / progress. What can you do about this?

You have to assess what is or is not within your control.  Staff are in a complicated situation.  The ideal is to have managers who understand the situation and are not making unrealistic demands.  
 
What is in your control …
Following tests, give  pupils specific advice on how to  improve - in effect using the assessment formatively e.g.  'you have shown you understand how to form the past tense, but you do not do this consistently accurately.  Learn all the verbs which take 'être' in the past tense.'

What is out of your control ...
There may be requirements set by your management at school, and you have to follow their direction.  However, you could refer them to the Ofqual blog and to ASCL's advice.

I hope this helps,.