To improve student engagement and learning, the Languages Department has placed a greater focus on the element of authenticity. Teachers are in the process of trying to incorporate as many authentic texts as possible. The hope is that when students see that they can understand, and hopefully relate to an authentic French text, that they will then feel more engagement with the content.
With the revised curriculum now available, units have been redesigned to incorporate the new skills, competencies, and content. It would be safe to say that approximately 30% of the new curriculum’s Big Ideas, Core Competencies, and Content, seem to focus on Francophone culture, or Aboriginal content. One of the core competencies in French, is understanding that language and identity are connected, and that there are different regional dialects of French. The following was used to support these ideas:
- Exposing students to different texts from various Francophone cultures. Spending several hundreds of dollars purchasing authentic French texts to share in the classroom. Updating units to reflect the various texts.
- Exposing students to different regional pronunciations from around the world, so that they do not need to feel as though the Parisian accent is the standard. Having volunteers read the same page, to facilitate comparison. This will hopefully help students to feel more empowered, when they realize that they can understand any francophone speaker.
- Offering students a trips to various French speaking places to practice speaking French in an immersion, rather than just a classroom setting. These have included local events in French restaurants as well as trips to Jasper and France where students spent longer times in immersion settings as well as a planned trip to Quebec.
Within the French department, authenticity has been a very big focus for this year. The department finished last year trying to clarify which French cultures would be examined in depth, in which year of study. The following was decided upon:
French 10: Canada/Northern US (to respect Aboriginal territories)
French 11: Europe, St. Pierre and Miquelon
French 12: Africa, Caribbean, and any other French colony
The goal was to avoid overlap, so that students did not learn about Paris every single year. Primary resources were acquired, so that students could access authentic texts, and help to connect students with the land in which the story was written. The goal was to connect students with as many Francophone cultures as possible, though literature and to avoid simply teaching literature from France.
Students have also been exposed to out-of-school opportunities to practice their French. Approximately four students last year spent five weeks in Quebec at the Explore Program. Two students participated in the District French speech contest. Approximately 12 students participated in the DELF test, which gives students a certificate of their proficiency in the language. This year, twenty-one students travelled to France over spring break to experience French culture, and practice the language.
In Mandarin, more authentic texts (photos, youtube videos, newspapers) have been used in the regular Mandarin classes, while more challenging documents have also been used in the IB classes. Original and authentic Mandarin texts have been too difficult for the Mandarin as a second language learners, so considerable department funds were spent on acquiring simplified version of traditional Chinese, and modern American and European stories. Students now have access to a variety of resources to help them make the language more accessible.
The bank of regional French accents keeps growing. We record native French speakers from around the world. We record their voices reading the same passage to make it easier for students to hear the difference in the accents. In this way, students are exposed to authentic accents from around the world, allowing them to connect with regional variations that are not just Parisian. This helps students to feel empowered.
This year we have really embraced technology, to help facilitate student engagement. We wanted to use technology in a way that is meaningful to the students, and not just use technology to say that it was used. Here are a few things that have happened:
- French funds were used to purchase a green screen, and a green screen frame.
- Our websites grow and expand each year.
- We are doing a better job of uploading assignments, handouts, and explanations online, so that students can help themselves from home
- A series of video tutorials have been made, so that if students do not feel comfortable asking for help in class, they can always consult the video at home, and watch it several times if necessary, so that they can ‘slow down the learning process’, to a speed which works for them
- We are adapting our assessment practices to incorporate technology. In both Mandarin and French, students often perform their speaking tests in the comfort of smaller and more personalized groups, and record their conversations on their cell phones. Students then send the digital files directly to their teachers. This helps puts students in a situation where they feel more comfortable; instead of speaking to/in front of the teacher, they can speak to their classmates, and feel less intimidated. Then, as the conversation has been recorded, all they have to do is share the file with the teacher, for the teacher to assess the work.
- Mandarin has been especially proactive in enabling students to hand their work in on-line. This has helped to increase the number of assignments that get handed in, and has also had the added benefit of cutting down on paper use.
- Both French and Mandarin have attempted to use internet-based games to increase student involvement, but are having difficulty, as the connection simply can’t handle that many students trying to participate.
This year more than any year, the department has increased its awareness of the social-emotional on learning. It is something that has always been valued, but has had a greater focus this year. This year has been all about relationships. The department tried to match teachers with their passions, so that they are teaching the courses that suited them best. They also tried to place students in classes where they would feel success. “For the longest time, it felt that curriculum was always the priority, but we learned over time that if students like where they are, then they are open to the idea of learning. You almost don’t even have to teach when a student is engaged – you show them the information, and they learn because they just absorb it. Every year we get better and making this happen. Every year we help to make students feel more comfortable, and more confident”.
Ultimately, the department, focused on the first half of the school’s inquiry question: How can we increase engagement? “By getting the kids to want to be there. That’s how we’ve been doing it. Whether it’s making crepes, Christmas yule logs, watching super current and catchy music videos, writing letters back and forth to pen-pals, or just taking extra time to laugh… it all comes back down the students’ internal drive – do they want to be there”? The new curriculum, has facilitated making learning more personal, and relative to students’ lives. French has become more meaningful. “Are we totally there yet? No. Do we have every single student hooked and inspired? Not yet…. But we’re getting there”.
Data will be gathered in Spring of 2018 to determine how teachers and students feel implementation of these strategies are impacting student learning.