Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Category: Teaching French as a Second Language (Page 2 of 2)

Confirming My Wonderments

I recently wondered about the three most urgent needs of the students in my classroom. This is what I came up with:

  1. Improved conversational French skills
  2. Larger classroom space + headsets with microphones
  3. Open and positive mindset about learning French

A new classroom is on its way (yeah!), so, this year, I’m hoping to motivate and support my students with one main goal: speaking more French in class.

I wanted to make sure I was on the right track (plus it was my Cohort 21 homework this month!), so I interviewed three of my students to get their thoughts and ideas. These are the questions I asked them:

  • Can you tell me about a time you had a lot of fun speaking French in class?
  • What makes it easier to speak French in class?
  • What do you need from me to help you speak French more often in class?
  • What prizes would be fun to earn with your group?

The students were kind, thoughtful, and delighted to be given a voice. Each student I spoke with agreed that speaking French in class is the right place for us to focus next. When I read over all of their responses, I am taking away these three insights:

  1. Students like talking about things that feel authentic and fun. Students want to believe that what they are learning will apply to them in “real life”, for example, ordering at a restaurant. Skits and games are highly-popular.
  2. Students want opportunities to practise.  Since I stopped using AIM as my primary program in Grades 6-8 a few years ago, I’ve noticed I miss the “pleasant repetition” that was so naturally built into the AIM lessons and activities. It was interesting to me to see that some of the students seem to miss this as well. I feel there are ways to apply this philosophy into the new program we’re using. I need to speak less during lessons and help my students speak more. The people who are doing the speaking in the classroom are the people who are doing the learning. As one of my students said, “..the more we do it, it will become more natural.”
  3. Free time is a great reward. When my students participate in class, they earn points for their monthly group. We’ve moved away from using food as rewards and prizes in classrooms, and my students said they are too old to be interested in small items from the dollar store, so today I tried out a new prize – free time. 10 free minutes at the end of class for the winning group was a huge hit!

So, that’s our starting line. You can see how I had a quick check in with all of my Grade 7 students about oral communication in the classroom here. I feel like I have a big task in front of me, but I’m so excited, and I know that there is some excellent growth ahead, for both me and my students!


Taking Our Oral Communication Temperature

While the exact wording of my Cohort 21 goal and action plan are still to come, one thing I know for sure is that I will be exploring the area of oral communication in a core FSL classroom. In particular, I want to dive deep into how I might get my students speaking more often, not only with me, but also with each other.

I have a few ideas that I’m hoping to try; however, before I got too far into the phase of testing new things out in my classroom, I wanted to take the temperature of where my students are at right now. Last week, I put together this Google Form for my students to complete anonymously. I thought of all of the different ways we use oral communication in our classroom, and I asked them to rate their confidence level with each.  My plan is to use this same survey in May to (hopefully!) identify areas of success and areas where we can still do more work together.

This survey was completed by 28 Grade 7 Core French students with a variety of backgrounds when it comes to learning French as a second language. Some students come from immersion programs, some have been in a core French program since kindergarten, others since Grade 4, and I have a few students for whom this is only their second year learning French at all.

This might be the way many of my students speak French in class most often. We read chorally, we read and perform skits, and students read sentences, paragraphs, stories, or speeches they’ve written. I’m glad to see a good number of students feel confident with this skill.

This question is interesting and fun to analyse. Last year, when these students were in Grade 6, we used many DJ DELF/Etienne songs in our classroom to learn new vocabulary and grammar. They were so enthusiastic that we even had a DJ DELF concert at the end of the school year. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this is the highest area of confidence. I need to capitalize on this!

Speaking in complete sentences without much support is tricky, so it’s natural to have lower levels of confidence than simply responding to a question or sharing an idea quickly. One FSL teacher I know says he always expects each response to be a complete sentence (hint – listen for a verb in their response), even if it slows down the class. I think slowing down is a huge part of what I’m going to have to look at moving forward, so I can do this as well. Less is more.

The last question is the part of the survey that shocked me the most. Here, my students seem to be more confident speaking French with their classmates than they actually show me in class. I want to interpret this result to mean that students can do this, and my next step is finding out how to get the language out of them more consistently. Many of my students will speak to me in French during class, but getting them to talk to each other in French during class, that’s the dream.

I was nervous putting this survey out there for my students to complete. I taught many of these students last year as well, so it feels a bit personal; however, I’m pleased to know our starting point and excited to see their growth by the end of the year!




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