Report June16


The document Language acquisition curriculum review Second Report to Teachers June 2016 is now available on the OCC. This document explains that a lot of significant progress has been made in the curriculum review - so I warmly recommend that you visit the OCC, download the document, and read it with care!

What I offer below is a succinct summary of each of the main Sections (e.g. "1.Background"). In addition, I provide some personal comments, discussing issues raised by the summary I have given, with particular attention to what the proposed new systems imply in terms of forward planning and possible changes in approach.

As usual, remember that both the summaries and my comments are in no way 'official IB statements' - they are personal analysis and argument, which you should of course check against the official 'Second report' document.

Summary by section

1. Background ... reviews the work of the review to date, in overall terms.

2. Curriculum review timeline ... detailed table of work, including planned activity up to the introduction of the new programme in 2018. Note that the publication date of the new Language B Subject Guide is programmed for January 2018 ... a date to remember!

3. Review Parameters ... this section lists the fundamental ground rules which are guiding the work of the review. These are worth reading in detail. I would stress the following as particularly significant :-

  • courses should "promote conceptual understanding" - which appears to mean, in particular, understanding of fundamental concepts about the structure and nature of language (see section 7 below)
  • the 6th bullet point states that "International-mindedness needs to be actively incorporated"
  • "Assessment ... will be offered onscreen and off-screen" - evidence of IB's determined move towards transferring all assessment to online / virtual systems: paper's on the way out ! (Fuller details in section 8, below)

4. Aims  ... There is no major change from the Aims in the current Subject Guide, but I note that these Aims are more clearly expressed, and that there is a slightly stronger emphasis on the intellectual and social implications of language. To me, the approach is summed up in the 6th Aim: that the study of language should "provide students, through language learning and the process of inquiry, with opportunities for intellectual engagement and the development of critical and creative thinking skills".

5. Assessment Objectives ... Again, no significant change, although the phrasing is slightly more concise and clear.

6. Proposed Curriculum Model ... The diagram proposes a clear pattern of priorities: the prime aim is communication. The following sub-sections give a little more detail:-

6.1 Language ... involves receptive, productive and interactive skills - and these three terms will form the basis of the assessment system.

6.2 Themes ... which are related to the PYP and MYP systems of themes, "in order to enhance the learning continuum". The themes are :-

• Identities
• Experiences
• Human ingenuity
• Social organization
• Sharing the planet

These categories are expanded in more detail, with examples, in page 5 of the Report.

I think that these five general themes cover all of the current Topics (most material currently used can be easily adapted to the proposed themes) - and in a more interesting and stimulating way (for example 'Experiences' includes the current ideas about leisure, but covers the full range of human experience from pleasure to pain).

6.3 Texts ... are listed under three principal categories: Personal texts, Professional texts and Mass media texts - and the lists are pretty comprehensive, particularly the Mass media column.

The problem for me, at present, is precisely that the list is so 'comprehensive' - how does one cut down or re-organise all of these into teachable units or groups? For example, the 'Mass media' list contains 23 items: are students supposed to study all of those? ... especially when several are vast categories such as 'Film' ! Well, watch this site - I'll be publishing ways to handle all of this, once I've got my head round the matter.

7. Concepts ... are specified as :-

• Audience
• Context
• Purpose
• Meaning
• Variation

Note the following sentence, which provides the underlying rationale for choosing such concepts: "Knowledge of vocabulary and grammar – the what of language – is reinforced and extended by understanding certain concepts that illustrate the why and how of language." Which makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

8. Onscreen and off-screen assessment ... The assessment systems proposed by the new Subject Guide will come into effect from May 2020 onwards. It appears that from that date, schools will be able to opt for one or the other system - presumably deciding for one or the other depending on whether the students (or the school) have the required technical systems available to handle the onscreen option.

Note the following sentence at the end of this section: "It is envisaged that the off-screen version of assessment will be discontinued for all language acquisition courses during the life of the next syllabus scheduled to be released in 2018." - that is, within the 5-7 years following on from May 2020. So, on-screen assessment is coming in whether anyone likes it or not!

All of this will naturally be made clearer by IB over the next couple of years. Universal on-screen assessment depends on all candidates having access to a computer (and, actually, access to reliable internet connection, which is a trickier issue...) This raises obvious security issues: if students use their own laptops, will they be able to access their own notes and/or online help systems? Well, probably not ... I have heard as gossip that the IB's exams would all be presented within a rigidly controlled system - once the exam package was opened, the student could not access anything outside that package until the allowed exam time-period was finished. OK ... seems possible ... but I'd still like to see the real detail. 

9. Assessment outlines ... The proposed components form a simpler structure than the present one. Basically, there are only three components, thus:-

Assessment 1 : Writing ... HL 1.5 hrs / SL 1 hr ... 25% weighting

Assessment 2: Receptive skills – listening and reading (separate sections) ... 2 hrs (both HL & SL) ...50% weighting

Internal Assessment : Individual oral ... 12-15 minutes + 20 minutes of preparation (SL 15 minutes) ... 25% weighting

Note 1: the document provides two version of the above general outline, one 'on-screen' and the other 'off-screen' (refer to section 8, above). The only significant difference in format is that Assessment 2 in the 'off-screen' version appears as two separate papers of 1 hour each - presumably one hour for listening comprehension and the other hour for reading comprehension. In the 'on-screen' version, it appears that "Candidates will have complete control of time management" ... they will be able to divide their time as they choose between reading and listening.

Note 2: the evident consequence of this outline is that the Written Assignment and the Interactive Oral Activities will disappear from Language B assessment from May 2020.

In one sense, it is a pity that these two components will disappear: the WA is an interesting task which is capable of promoting imaginative writing; and the 'interactive' activities are arguably a more realistic basis for oral assessment than the rather formalised Individual Interview, a one-to-one conversation with a teacher.

However, for assessment purposes, both have highly questionable aspects. In the case of the WA, it is very hard for an examiner to judge how far a script is the student's own work, since it has not been produced under anything like exam conditions. In the case of the Interactive Activities, it has never been possible to moderate the marking of these activities - and the IB now has a general rule that all assessment must be capable of being moderated.

9.2 Assessment criteria ... Criteria will be written for Assessment 1 Writing and Internal Assessment: Individual Oral. It is emphasised that criteria for all three courses (ab initio, SL and HL) should "carry the same terminology" - i.e. use the same words to express the same kinds of indicators.

It seems sensible that criteria for the three courses should be coherent and use compatible terms ... but will they have defined differences in marking standards? This is not yet clear.

It is evident that the writing of the criteria has not yet been completed, but it appears that a framework has been decided :

Assessment 1 : Writing ...

  • Criterion A = Language
  • Criterion B = Message
  • Criterion C = Conceptual Awareness

It is not yet clear what Criterion C will involve. On the face of it, it would appear that the current system's emphasis on 'text type conventions' will disappear. Or does it? ... since the 'concepts' mentioned in section 7, above, are the factors which control the choice and use of text types and their conventions. This may turn out to be a more sophisticated and demanding assessment of how and why text types are used

Internal Assessment : Individual oral ...

  • Criterion A = Language
  • Criterion B1 = Message: Visual stimulus (for SL - HL will use a literary text as stimulus; see section 11, below)
  • Criterion B2 = Message: Conversation
  • Criterion C = Communication

Again, we shall have to wait and see how exactly these criteria are written so as to judge exactly what is being analysed in Criteria B & C, on the basis of which indicators. On the face of it, it seems that Criteria B at least is split into two so as to deal precisely with the different tasks in different sections of the oral interview ... and that the difference between "Conversation" and "Communication" may turn out to be the difference between what you say and how you say it.

10. Decisions taken: listening comprehension ... this is quite a complex section, so you should look at it closely. However, the basic ideas are that:-

  • at both SL and HL, there will be three listening comprehension tasks (presumably, stimulus text + various questions)
  • at SL, stimulus texts will range between 60 and 120 seconds; at HL, stimulus texts will range between 90 and 180 seconds
  • at SL, stimulus texts will be a mixture of scripted and authentic; at HL, all stimulus texts will be authentic

Note: 'scripted' means 'written by examiners and recorded using actors'; whereas 'authentic' means genuine off-air native-speaker stuff (although there is a proviso that even 'authentic' may be edited or re-recorded to cope with technical problems or blurred speech ... so not necessarily 100% authentic!)

The difference between 'on-screen' and 'off-screen' versions of the listening comprehension is clarified. Essentially, 'onscreen' candidates will be able to access the stimulus recordings + questions as they wish - whereas 'off-screen' candidates will "will view the stimuli via projection and the texts will contain built-in pauses during which candidates will write their answers on paper." (See section 9, above.)

10.1 Decisions taken: Assessment / Paper 1 ... this section clarifies the structure of Assessment 1: Writing. At both SL and HL, this paper will involve :

  • 1 response from choice of 3.
  • Tasks will include a variety of written, audio and audio-visual prompts.

So, basically the same structure at both levels. However, length and time allowed are different:-

  • SL - 1 task of 250-400 words ... in 1 hour
  • HL - 1 task of 450-600 words ... in 1 hour 30 minutes

Two features here deserve comment, in comparison with the current Subject Guide's system. Firstly, there is less choice for the candidates - which may indicate that covering a range of different text types is now perceived as being less important? And secondly, what does this reference to "prompts" mean - especially the enigmatic mention of " audio and audio-visual" ? Very intriguing ... could it mean that the tasks will not so much involve 'imagining a situation' as 'responding to some given ideas'?

11. Literature: Language B HL only ... this section emphasises that literature plays a significant in the HL course. Two literary works should be studied; and the HL Individual Oral will be largely based on discussing an extract from one of those works.

It would appear that the final format of the HL Individual Oral has not yet been decided, but it is suggested that it might work like this:

Preparation: student receives an extract from one of the literary works ... prepares a presentation on it (20 minutes preparation)

Part 1 : student's presentation ... NB this should deal with the theme or message of the extract, and is not expected to be 'literary criticism' in the sense that would apply in Language A.

Part 2 : discussion with teacher on the student's presentation

Part 3 : wider discussion of one of the course themes (see section 6.2, above)

11.2 Language B HL internal assessment trial: Overview of research and evaluation reports ... in short, the system has been trialed, and the trial was helpful and generally successful. Have a glance at this section to see more detail.

As it happens, I was asked to moderate the English B samples. Simply put, my conclusions were that:-

  • both teachers and students handled the proposed system quite easily and effectively, even though it was an experiment and they could not have done much preparation for it
  • there was quite close agreement between the schools' marks and my moderated marks, indicating that the draft criteria used were at least satisfactory
  • the trial suggested to me some changes to the criteria, both in basic structure and in detailed phrasing - I reported these, and it would seem that some at least have been taken on board. Clearly, more drafts of the criteria will be written and critically assessed ... and we will have to wait to see how the final version turns out.


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