BAS editor Sander Berg
The Bulletin of Advanced Spanish/UCL project described in Stephen Hart’s accompanying article examined the relatively low take-up of languages at A-level. As he explains, one possible response would be to add new components to the current A-Level syllabus, to be offered as an alternative to the set texts and/or films.
In this article I will offer some ideas about what a Science & Technology component might look like.
The current AQA syllabus, which I shall use as a point of reference, is divided into core (1, 2 and 3) and optional (4) content as follows:
1. Social issues and trends
2. Political and artistic culture
4. Works: Literary texts and films.
The proposal is to add an extra option:
5. Science & Technology.
At the moment the student’s level and skill are assessed in three exam papers:
Paper 1: Listening, Reading and Writing
Paper 2: Writing
Paper 3: Speaking
The proposal to add a Science & Technology component would leave Paper 1 and Paper 3 unchanged. Currently, for Paper 2, students have to answer two questions in Spanish. This can be on two sets texts or on a text and a film from a prescribed list. If we add an extra optional component, one of the questions on a film or literary text can be replaced by a question on Science & Technology. Students still answer two questions in Spanish for Paper 2, but they would have a broader choice.
A good model for the type of questions to be used in the Science & Technology component is Paper 3 from the Pre-U. There, students are given a choice of five questions and are required to write a discursive essay on one. The ability to write convincingly about a polemical issue is a useful skill that is currently absent from the AQA A-Level assessments and would be an attractive addition. It may also encourage teachers to organise class debates as a way of preparing students for this type of argument.
The only science and technology-related topic currently on the AQA syllabus is ‘cyberspace’, which includes the influence of internet, social media and smartphones. The Pre-U syllabus contains other scientific and technological topics: medical advances, scientific and technological innovation, the environment, conservation, and pollution. These would be a good place to start. But there are more topic areas one could think of, each with a number of sub-topics. For example:
Historical perspective (e.g. Galen and humours) Spanish and Latin-American medics (e.g. Ramón y Cajal, Cuban doctors) Genetics and stem cell research Treatment of disease and its future Epidemics and pandemics
Scientific and technological innovation
Historical perspective: general development of science The industrial revolution Nanotechnology Robotics
Pollution & conservation Climate change Nuclear power and renewable energy
Artificial intelligence and augmented reality
Applications of AI Dystopian visions of the future Gaming and the metaverse
Historical perspective: the space race Future of space exploration Commercialization and militarization of space Space-junk
Evolution and Human Biology
Historical perspective: Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Evolution of humans Questions of race & ethnicity
Teaching these topics in Spanish is a form of ‘content and language integrated learning’ (CLIL), although teachers are by no means required to be experts in any of the fields. One does not need to be a qualified biologist to read and discuss a text on race and ethnicity in Spanish, or an astronomer to watch a Spanish-language TED Talk about space junk. All that is needed is for the teacher to be interested and willing to look for material. It is already the case that in Spanish Departments there are those who are keen to teach films and books, while others tend to prefer topics and grammar. The same sort of specialisation based on personal preference can develop when it comes to teaching Science & Technology.
Since students already learn about the literature, culture, history, politics and current affairs of Spanish-speaking countries elsewhere in the curriculum, the lesson material does not have to be related to a country in which Spanish is spoken. If there is a good article or short film on Cuban medics or the way in which climate change is affecting Patagonia, then so much the better, but the general idea is that students are exposed to scientific and technological texts and audiovisual material in Spanish and learn how to develop ideas and express themselves on the topics concerned.
A wide range of relevant and appropriate texts can be found in Spanish-language newspapers, magazines, websites and A-level textbooks. Publications for young learners may be worth exploring. You can even read selected passages from novels by Spanish-language authors (e.g. Isabel Allende’s Paula, in which the author’s daughter lies in a coma).
In addition to reading texts, it is important to expose students to spoken language. YouTube and some TED Talks in Spanish offer short and informative films on scientific and technological topics. Podcasts like Ciencia para escuchar are a good way to practise listening to scientific topics. Documentaries such as Yann Arthus Bertrand’s Home (Spanish version) or fragments from films like Hable con ella, Mar adentro or Camino can be shown in lessons.
I hope these humble suggestions have shown that Science & Technology could potentially be a useful addition to the syllabus, appealing to a segment of students who might not otherwise consider studying Spanish at A-level.
If you like the sound of this option, please let us know. Whether you are a Year 11 GCSE student considering an A-level in Modern Languages or an A-level teacher or university lecturer specialising in Modern Languages, please fill in the survey, which follows this article.
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