Maximizing Time in FI Programs

I have spent the last few months thinking about how I can maximize my time in our Late French Immersion program. If you are a fellow immersion teacher, I’m sure you’ve experienced the stress and frustration that comes along with teaching a choice language program in an environment that does not promote the target language. Time is precious to all teachers, and there will never be enough of it. However, in an immersion program, the pressure can sometimes feel ten-fold with two entire Language Arts curricula to cover and a never-ending list of school and community interruptions – many valuable, some not – decreasing our students’ time in the target language. “No more than 20% English” seems almost impossible to maintain at times when considering prep, school presentations or events, and English LA.

My students are in their second year of French when I meet them in September, but are placed with Early Immersion students in their grade eight classes in high school. Although most become comfortable with this over time, many students initially find this to be an intimidating experience. All of a sudden, they are expected to interact and keep up with students who have 8 years of experience in the language. Every confidence-building moment they can experience in French now is invaluable to their language learning!

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the importance of effectively teaching English LA balanced with squeezing in as much French as possible into our grades even year. Here are some of my suggestions for maximizing our time in French Immersion…

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Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Plan a Bilingual Content Area

Most immersion teachers are used to integrating subject areas on a regular basis. However, in my own experience, it usually ends up being one of Science, Socials, Health and Career, or Fine Arts combined with French. While this works brilliantly, it does not address the issue of teaching English LA effectively, which is extremely important in Late FI; students have no English LA in grade six and, despite misconceptions about the program, we often have many ELL students. By combining a major content area such as Science with Literacy in English, students could be given more opportunities to read, write, and communicate in English on a curricular topic. It could also possibly save time and increase the opportunities for authentic use of community resources during inquiry-based learning.

Use English LA to Teach a Content Area

This may appear to be the same as the approach above, but is in fact very different. While teaching Science in English using the language to teach content, this approach involves finding resources for guided reading and writing in English that are curricular and using those resources to teach literacy. I find that Health & Career works well for this approach, as there are many more available resources in the community in English than in French. Again, this increases the opportunities for authentic inquiry-based learning where students can connect with experts in the community.

Don’t Teach Your Own English LA

This could be achieved in 2 ways…

1. If you are lucky enough to have a say in this and your school is large enough that it works, try to schedule your English LA as your prep time. This way, students continue to see you as their French teacher, English literacy is taught thoroughly and effectively, and you minimize other subject areas being taught in English rather than the target language.

2. Try swapping with another teacher in your school. Teach their Core French while they teach your English LA. Personally, I love this idea as it makes use of everyone’s strengths and solves the common issue of classroom teachers having no training to teach Core French. However, you have to find someone who is willing to work with your grade level, which can sometimes be difficult.

Bring More French Culture Into the School!

This is a no-brainer for getting your immersion students excited about the French language. Again, depending on your situation, this can very simple to organize or very difficult. In Late FI, we don’t get nearly as much funding as an Early FI school because we have fewer students. Booking one presentation would eat up our year’s worth of cultural funding. However, be creative and look for cheap, fun, authentic alternatives. This year, we have a crêpe food truck coming to our school and drama workshops that will be provided in French. Last year, we took our two classes to a French restaurant and attended our district’s Festival des films. Skype calls with other French classes around the world are amazing, free, and incredibly meaningful to students. Signing up for a global project such as Écouter lire le monde is again, free, and a great way to connect with other students in French contexts.

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All of these are much more cost-effective alternatives than bringing in a cultural performer for a concert, and I think they create more lasting memories for students.

Many of these suggestions may seem simple, but it is so easy to fall into the trap of eating away at our students’ time in French. Sometimes a little planning and restructuring of our schedule ahead of time can help a lot!

FI teachers out there – How are you maximizing your students’ exposure to French while effectively teaching reading and writing in English? I’d love to hear what works for you.

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