Category Archives: Immersion

The Importance of Modeling

When I was explicitly teaching language every day in French Immersion, modeling was a no brainer. It’s how we developed oral and aural language skills as well as conceptual understanding in various curricular areas. I still use explicit modeling when teaching Core French because it has become second nature to me in a language context. However, lately I’ve been reminded of the importance of modeling in all areas of learning.

Kids – heck, all people – need to see others lead by example. This means modeling how to problem solve, how to make healthy choices, and how to be kind and compassionate. It means taking risks ourselves in order to show our kids that mistakes are not a bad thing. It also means being authentic… because kids know when we don’t mean it.

Social emotional learning is complicated; there are so many factors that influence our lives and those of our kids. It can sometimes be difficult to model compassion, patience, and empathy when we aren’t feeling particularly compassionate, patient, or empathetic. However, these are qualities that will help our kids grow up happy and healthy; help them build strong relationships. Society needs to stop assuming that kids “should know” how to be respectful or kind. If we don’t show them ourselves, how will they know what it looks like?

So be brave, make big mistakes, and model the reactions and strategies you want to see in our kids. We tend to fall back on behaviours that are most familiar… so let’s make kind, compassionate, and empathetic more familiar. And when we mess up, let’s admit it. Model honesty and resilience.

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Oral Language – How and Why?

Oral language development is always a hot topic in French Immersion, or any second language classroom. I can’t count the number of times someone has said to me “I took French all through high school and can’t speak a word!” As a French teacher, there is nothing that makes me more sad or disappointed. What is the point of pursuing language learning if we can’t interact with anyone else?

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Often we mean well, but there is a lack of understanding about how students best learn a new language. I would like to share my strategies for developing confidence in oral language amongst my Late French Immersion students.

Identify the Learning Intention

If we are not clear about our objective as teachers, how will students know what they are supposed to learn? I’m not talking about vocabulary here, either; I’m talking about what we want our students to be able to do. Try structuring your intention in the form of an “I can…” statement. For example, “I can use passé composé to share what I did on the weekend.” This will help provide you with context in which you can teach the language structure.

Context

Vocabulary taught in isolation is almost never meaningful for students; it relies on memorization and is not representative of any authentic communication situation. Grammar in isolation can be even more troublesome; what is the point of knowing how to conjugate the past tense (passé composé) if we have no idea when or how to use it in a real-life situation? Focus on what students want to talk about in the past: their weekends, their vacations, or what they did before coming to school that day. These are meaningful learning opportunities because students are actually applying the language structure in an authentic way.

Model

This step is so key! Teachers must model the language structure they want their students to learn before they ask students to use it or write it down. This means providing multiple examples along with actions and/or visuals to help cue students’ vocabulary. Using a simple structure repeatedly in context is most effective. For example, I might point to what I am wearing when I say: “Je porte un chandail bleu. Je porte des pantalons noirs.” Obviously the structure you choose to model and practice depends on the level of your students; in our class, we often focus on a specific verb tense or expression (e.g. passé composé or “J’ai hâte pour…”) The key in modeling is to avoid translating in favour of contextual cues and to take reading out of the equation; that can be learned later once the structure is internalized.

Partner Practice

Once we have modeled a language structure in a meaningful context and supported our model with actions or visuals, we can move on to offering students the chance to practice. However, this should be done in a very structured way. I will often share my model and then ask students to share their own personal phrase with a partner. This allows them to practice in a safe way as it does not put them on the spot in front of the whole class.

Once students have practiced in partners, I model a question such as “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” and call on anywhere from 1-5 students to answer the question. This is the time to correct any errors in the targeted structure.

Developing Independence

Have the class repeat the question, such as “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” chorally to ensure correct pronunciation. Then allow them the independence to practice the question and answer format with their peers. Inside/outside circles is a strategy that works really well with most students. It allows me the opportunity to circulate and formatively assess students’ abilities very quickly and easily; it also gives students the opportunity to practice the same language structure multiple times to increase

Know When To Intervene… and When Not To

With new language Learners, it is very easy to become intimidated or anxious. While of course the purpose of structured oral language practice is to target specific language structures, we need to know when to intervene or correct and when fluency is more important. If passé composé is what I am modeling, then that is the structure I will openly correct in students’ communication. Correction of errors is necessary and important, but building confidence is even more important! Don’t forget that it’s ok to leave them to fumble through expressing their thoughts as well, as they are developing different skills at different times.

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How Morning Meetings Have Transformed Our Learning

This year, for a variety of reasons, I decided to try morning meetings with my grade seven students. Every morning, we sit in a circle and one by one, we share how we are feeling that day. We rate our feelings on a scale of 1-10 and provide some reasons why we are feeling that way if we are comfortable doing so. This has been an incredibly powerful experience for me as an educator, as it provides us with dedicated time to listen to each other, builds trust within our classroom, and encourages students to take risks in sharing in a new language. It has also provided us with an avenue for oral language practice. Each day, we target a specific language structure. For example, Mondays are usually practicing past tense as we share what we did on the weekend and Fridays are a great opportunity to talk about “J’ai hâte…” It is amazing how many errors can be corrected when they are class learning intentions. Over time, students have become more comfortable correcting themselves and others as well. We are able to laugh about some of our mistakes while we develop common language understanding. Several initially shy students have come out of their shells during morning meetings! It’s been a wonderful experience that has greatly increased students’ confidence in French. I can no longer imagine not having morning meetings in our classroom.

I believe oral language development is essentially the most important skill we can help develop in our students. Without speaking and listening, they will always lack the ability to communicate meaningfully with others in real-life situations. By targeting specific language structures and modeling oral language on a regular basis, we can help our students open doors to new experiences.

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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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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.

Une véritable récompense!

Parler en français avec ses pairs est toujours un défi avec mes élèves d’immersion tardive. Je comprends; c’est plus facile d’utiliser sa langue maternelle. Même comme adultes, on est souvent paresseux. Je ne crois pas que les récompenses servent comme résolution du problème, alors je continue toujours à féliciter ceux qui font un effort.

Mais aujourd’hui j’ai observé quelque chose d’extraordinaire… un événement très rare mais qui m’a fait sourire…

Pendant un bloc de lecture en équipes, j’ai entendu des voix qui ressemblaient les voix de mes élèves, mais qui n’étaient pas tout à fait le même que d’habitude. J’ai entendu des élèves qui se chicanaient… mais qui se chicanaient en français!!!

“Non, ce n’est pas un mot français!”

“Cherche dans le dictionnaire!”

“Tu ne fais pas ton travail…”

C’était de la musique à mes oreilles! Et en plus… ils riaient!

C’est quand on a des expériences comme celui-ci qu’on se rend compte que notre passion a influencé quelqu’un.

Je continuerai à les encourager lentement… évidemment, ça fait du bien.