Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Student Voice: How I feel speaking French

This year, I am facilitating a collaborative inquiry with a group of FSL colleagues, exploring action-oriented tasks.  In order to narrow our focus and develop a final research question, we set out to document our observations, make notes, speak to students, share student work, and capture student voice around learning activities which are action-focused.

I described my "project" and process with my intermediate students, and asked them to share some feedback about the guided-speaking tasks we do each day in class. My guided-speaking activities are usually 10-15 minutes long, involve speaking and listening to multiple people, and are used to introduce common phrases and new vocabulary. They are designed to focus on authentic situations, and common conversations, and be active.

Students were asked to finish three sentences on a feedback card. Here are some examples of the student voice I captured:

When we practice speaking French to others in class, I feel:
o   Like trying to find words I can recognize and blend them with new ones to create new sentences.
o   Cool speaking another language!
o   It is easier to talk to my classmates.
o   Fine. I like doing partner work as long as I know what to do.
o  I think it feels more real to be speaking to someone else.
o  It is fun to walk around and have conversations.
o   Like I know what I am doing and I’m getting more practice.
o   Comfortable when speaking French.
o   That I can say most of the words but I will screw up half of the time.
o   Okay, I might mess up but don’t think anyone is judging me so hard.
o   Nervous and obligated to impress others.
o  Excited to talk more in French to my classmates.
o Stressful because I don’t want to answer a question incorrectly.  But I do learn from the mistakes.
o   Bored, but happy because I get to talk to my friends.
o   Annoyed when people speak in English.
o   Happy because we get to talk to people.
o   Confident when speaking to others.
o   Like I’m improving and feel better because I know learning languages are good for your brain.
o   Like it is a little hard but I can do it.
o   Like I know the words and I can use them properly. Also, other people can understand what I’m saying.
o   Okay, unless I am talking to the teacher.

My observations: Students enjoy the action-oriented task of speaking to one another, and they see the benefit to their learning.

I find it easier to speak in French when:
o   I am using words I know and practiced.
o   I am partnered with my friends.
o   There are examples of French words on the Smart Board.
o   I’m in a group because people can help you out.
o   It’s in easy, quick lines.
o   When we’re having fun or are moving around talking to people.
o   We practice before we start.
o   I have the words in my head or in front of me.
o   I have an example of the question the first time I do it, so I can get used to saying it.
o   We go and talk to people in class, and ask them questions.
o   When we get up and walk because I can practice having a conversation.
o   We learn a new word and the teacher says it beforehand so we know how to use it and what it sounds like.
o   I have learned the words for a long time.
o   When I’m one-on-one with a friend.
o   I’m actually talking to the person not just looking up at the board.
o   Talking with friends.
o   We learn a new word or phrase and then get to talk about it.
o   We talk to partners. I find it easier because it gives more practice.
o   There are words to the question/answer or even the beginning of a question/answer on the Smart Board.
o   I am 1:1 with someone else.
o   I know what to say and when have gone over it before.
o   I can see the sentences.
o   The words we are meant to include are up on the board in French.

My observations: They enjoy speaking to their friends in class. They also find it helpful to have written samples to refer to when using new phrases or words, and to have speaking guided and scaffolded first.  Note to self: If I provide anchor charts to help them with speaking, am I 'weaning them off' so they don't come to rely on reading too much in order to speak?

I find it difficult to speak in French when:
o   There are some new words that I don’t know or understand.
o   We only have a short time.
o   There are difficult words to pronounce.
o   I am using words that I just learned and that I haven’t practiced.
o   I don’t know how to speak the words correctly
o   We have to speak long French sentences without examples on the board.
o   I have had little time to practice or don’t’ know some words that may be useful.
o   I’m talking to the teacher.
o   I get put in the spotlight to answer.
o   I can’t see the words because I forget what they are.
o   I don’t know how to pronounce the words properly.
o   While the entire class is listening.
o   I have a full chat with someone.
o   Words don’t relate to English and have multiple accents.
o   I can’t see the sentences.
o   I only speak in French and use no English at all.
o   I don’t have the words I need in front of me.
o   We don’t have enough time for each of us to use the sentences.

My observations: Students are keenly aware of their accent and are worried about pronouncing words correctly. They prefer to speak to an individual rather than the entire class. They rely on anchor charts and examples on the board.

I was surprised at the insight I gained after collecting this 'student voice' when it came to our speaking activities. Their feedback leads me to believe that they see the value in actively participating and using French in action-oriented conversations. It also has made me evaluate the role that anchor charts and sentence-starters play in building oral fluency.

I encourage all my FSL colleagues to capture student voice regularly - you might be surprised at what you learn.

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