The CEFR Companion Volume launch conference, May 2018 – Tim Goodier

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‘Across all groups there was a highly positive reception of the CEFR Companion Volume and its potential for facilitating positive reforms.’

This year the Council of Europe published the finalised ‘CEFR Companion Volume with New Descriptors’, an official extension of the Common European Framework to Reference for Languages (‘CEFR’ or ‘CEFRL’). A launch conference was held at the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg, May 2018, and was attended by policy makers, curriculum designers, teacher educators and researchers from across the Council of Europe member states. Tim Goodier of Eurocentres (a founder member of Eaquals) contributed to the event, presenting a concept for implementation case studies. Tim shares here some key information about the new volume:

What’s new in the CEFR Companion Volume?

The CEFR Companion Volume is based on the same research methodology as the original CEFR project, in order to validate additional ‘can do’ illustrative descriptors for the reference levels A1-C2. The new descriptors provide:

(i)        a more nuanced description of the reference levels including a ‘pre-A1’ level, ‘plus’ levels for A2, B1 and B2, and more descriptors for the ‘C’ levels.

(ii)       scales for areas not illustrated in the original text, including ‘mediation’, online interaction, response to literature, ‘plurilingual’ and ‘pluricultural’ competences.

(iii)      selected revisions to the original descriptors to better reflect a plurilingual model of language competence, including the removal of any references to ‘native speakers’, and the replacement of the existing phonology scale with two new scales that emphasise intelligibility (rather than a native speaker ideal).

Also included is a 20 page text on key aspects of the CEFR for learning and teaching, which is a relatively accessible and practical introduction to the exploitation of the CEFR for course design and classroom practice.

Towards a broader view of language education

The CEFR has always differed from the traditional ‘four skills’ model of listening, speaking, writing and reading, instead organising communication and strategies according to:

  • ‘reception’ (e.g. listening, reading, observing)
  • ‘production’ (e.g. spoken and written monologue)
  • ‘interaction’ (e.g. spoken, written exchange, face to face, remotely and online)
  • ‘mediation’ (e.g. mediating communication, texts or concepts)

It is this last category of ‘mediation’ that was missing from the original illustrative descriptors, and has now been developed considerably with 19 new descriptor scales in this area alone.  The concept of mediation in the CEFR takes in a range of communicative tasks and strategies relating to collaborative team work, integrated skills, relaying and synthesising text and meanings, and fostering better understanding among others. Thus mediation competences, along with the new scales for online interaction, plurilingual and pluricultural competences, are highly relevant to the cluster of ‘soft’ communication skills characterised as ‘21st century skills’ in mainstream education, with the advantage of being concretely described at each CEFR level.

Another key point of emphasis in the new descriptors is the addition of scales of plurilingual /   pluricultural competences and multimodal online interaction. The recognition of individual profiles and repertoires that realise an integrated experience of languages, cultures and media literacies is fundamental to both the CEFR and the European Language Portfolio.

International piloting of the new descriptors indicates they can provide a very clear focus for teachers / educators to design relevant integrated skills tasks, and for learners to evaluate their own performances formatively. This captures a clear paradigm shift emerging in language education, emphasising the role of the language learner as social actor, actively facilitating better understanding in multiple ways.

A concept for case studies

The launch conference took a highly practical workshop-based approach, and involved stakeholders in identifying key considerations for implementation case studies, with planned follow-up reporting by participants across member states to the Council of Europe. Participants worked together in four main groups:

  • Teachers, teacher educators
  • Education institutions / associations
  • Policy makers / curriculum developers
  • Researchers

Across all groups there was a highly positive reception of the CEFR Companion Volume and its potential for facilitating positive reforms.  Groups discussed challenges and opportunities and considered themes of curriculum alignment, action orientation, mediation in the curriculum, and plurilingual / pluricultural approaches to education. Key opportunities identified included:

  • Providing a stimulus for renewed engagement with the core principles of the CEFR and the ‘action-oriented’ paradigm shift in language education
  • Stimulating a more holistic, integrated and student-centred approach to evaluation and assessment of communicative competences and strategies
  • Building transversal skills for collaboration and promoting social inclusivity, valuing plurilingual and pluricultural profiles

In follow up to the conference the Council of Europe plans to coordinate exemplar case studies that will be compiled and disseminated in 2019/2020 as a stimulus and reference point for wider educational reform. We hope to have further updates for Eaquals members about this process through 2018!

Tim Goodier 13/6/18