Written by by Nick Brown, the Head of MFL and EPQ at Lincoln Castle Academy, a comprehensive school in the Midlands, as well as a firm advocate of the Project Qualification.
The acronym MFL is, I hope, obvious to the reader, whereas FPQ and HPQ may be new. The Level 1 Foundation Project Qualification (FPQ) and Level 2 Higher Project Qualification (HPQ) focus on project-based learning. Both are equivalent to half a GCSE: Level 1 covers grades 1–3 and Level 2 grades 4–9. I want to consider them primarily from the perspective of a language learner and how they can be used to support and enhance language studies.
I am going to put a few ideas forward. I will start with the notion that assessment is simply a test to show what you, or a student, already knows and is not actually the end goal. The new knowledge and new skills learnt are the true aim of education, alongside the journey that gets there.
Let us consider the power of projects. As a teacher of MFL for 20 years, I know that every year and at every level throughout my career I have set my students project work. Project work has always enabled learners to ‘dig a little deeper’, hone their organisational skills and fundamentally have time to really consider something. I have often attempted to give them choices, such as 'What makes Guadeloupe unique as a French speaking area?' or 'Research the use of the imperfect, then teach that tense to the class'. The element of choice really can lead to enhanced interest and therefore intrinsic motivation. Projects give students huge opportunity to explore culture and language.
Cultural knowledge is deeply linked with language and gives it context. It’s not necessarily rewarded by the traditional GCSE but has provided some of the best MFL classroom discussions ever. For example, I was once told that reading a foreign language newspaper was limited to 50% unless the reader understood aspects of culture. In Russia, for example, a newspaper would never refer to ‘Putin’ but rather ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich’. The reader must connect the two. Equally I know that students have gained so much from flipping the learning and having time to work through difficult concepts.
So where do the FPQ and HPQ come into this? These qualifications provide the road map and framework to studying. They give credit to independent, sustained work and academic curiosity. MFL are all about that longer-term effort to a reach a certain level of mastery and profundity of understanding. Here the cultural capital that is missing from many elements of a traditional GCSE can be amply rewarded.
So how can the MFL student benefit from these qualifications? It is really down to how you look at it because in this suite of qualifications, you have to consider how it can work for you and your students. The student is in the driving seat of deciding what exactly to study. Because it really does not matter what exactly you learn – the journey of discovery is what you get rewarded, and a grade, for. Let us consider some examples.
- GCSE Latvian does not exist. But a student who speaks this language at home could perhaps embark on a project with a question focussing on the Latvian language or element of Latvian culture.
- A GCSE French student in one of my classes is wanting to deepen her understanding of French people. Therefore, she’s decided that during her holiday, she’s going to write a diary examining an element of French culture.
- A student in another class was particularly taken by films that we have shown in class and is therefore analysing some of the films of Pedro Almodόvar.
- Whilst planning a trip abroad, two students wanted to use an educational visit to have a structured focus and one wanted to ask the questions about what makes Qatar unique. She planned to use questionnaires and interviews to explore her question. Another student was interested in how a country prepares for the World Cup. Each project will be tailored to individual interests, and each one will contribute to increasing their intercultural understanding and having a question to debate and discuss.
- A student could decide to follow a route that enables them to create an artefact. This could be a musical composition, an artistic piece or even something from history.
All work submitted for assessment must be in English, but research and study could be in any language. Students have different project outcomes to choose from: written report, field study, performance or artefact. This allows the student to engage in an in-depth study of a subject area of interest to be presented in a variety of different ways, and focus on showing the findings of the investigation. The end-product could be a video presentation of the information gathered, a report or another medium such as an animation of the data.
The FPQ and HPQ specification looks closer at requirements and exact details such as league table equivalence, but what I have learned is to look beyond just those details. I have tried to use some imagination and really think how I can enhance language learning opportunities for my students. If at the same time it is preparing them for future language learning and perhaps university study, all the better.