This past year, our TLLP* group received additional funding through the Provincial Knowledge Exchange to allow us to further share and enhance our learning, particularly with our respective boards of education. This time has given me an ideal opportunity to reflect on my learning, identify my big “take-aways”, and to set a course for the next path of my journey in FSL teaching.
Perhaps the most important and meaningful part of my participation in this project has been the chance to meet, work, and collaborate with these wonderful people. How wonderful that Twitter brought us together from four different school boards! Cheers to Jen, Corrie, Bev and Maddie!
Take-away 1: Outside Voices are Important
It continues to be a shared belief among many FSL educators; our students need to hear many sources of French (other than the teacher’s voice). It always amazes me how a guest in my classroom can ask the same questions that I ask of my students, and then the students look at me as if the guest is speaking an entirely different language! We owe it to our students to expose them to different dialects, accents, pronunciations, and ways of speaking French.
However – my observations from this project are that my students also benefit greatly hearing other people attempt and struggle to speak French. The outside voice can be French second language learners too (see below, continuum). My students noted a boost to their own confidence levels when they were interacting with other students struggling with the same challenges as they face in their FSL learning.
Take-away 2: Interactions are on a Continuum
If we are to be successful in implementing interactive moments outside our classroom, we need to give ourselves permission to start at a place which makes sense for us and our students. The figure below shows two continuums we need to consider: one speaks to the level of interaction, and the other speaks to the quality of French voices.
The initial stage of interaction is not really interaction at all – it could be simply listening to French music, a pre-recorded video, or someone delivering a speech. There is still a great benefit to this end of the continuum, do not discount it! As we continue forward, students could be interacting to simple questions or statements, but they could be recorded and sent to the other students after production (not live). The final stage is true interaction, live and (hopefully) unrehearsed.
The second continuum deals with the people with whom your students will interact. Will they be FSL second language learners, French immersion students, younger or older students, other educators, adult francophones, or perhaps a Francophone who cannot speak English at all? Don’t undervalue the interactions which are possible all along this continuum – they all present our students with meaningful opportunities to *use* the French language!
Take-away 3: Take Advantage of Spontaneous Learning Moments
One spin-off benefit of asking my students to interact with others outside our school was some “run with it” learning moments which just…appeared! During some simple games and competitions between our two classes, we noticed that the other classes were using some slightly different phrases or words to express the same things. In others, we noticed “how polite the other class was, using merci and s’il vous plait a lot!” What wonderful moments upon which to reflect with my students. Did they still understand what was happening? You bet – but it provided some simple catch-them-off-guard moments which are vital to action-oriented tasks.
Most meaningful were those times in which we had trouble communicating. We didn’t hear them, we couldn’t understand them, they couldn’t understand us, or the background noise was too much. I resisted the urge to step in and save my students. Instead, it provided moments to use our listening and speaking strategies. What do you do if you don’t understand? How do you clarify someone’s ideas? Our interactions provided wonderful opportunities to practice these important communication skills.
Take-away 4: Interacting “for real” Leads to Greater Metacognition
Asking students to reflect on their conversations in class (as learning opportunities) leads to limited results. To me, it sometimes feels too scripted. I often feel they are just telling me what I want to hear (eg. “I listened for words I recognized… blah blah blah”). Once we have interacted with another class, the light suddenly comes on, and they see the experience as more “real”. Students have commented on the struggle they faced to remember the words to use, but then finding alternate words or using gestures. They realized the importance of facial expressions, non-verbal cues and how clearly (or unclearly!) they communicate with others. Some spoke openly about the areas they felt they needed to improve, and those they were eager to practice further. It was the by-product of their use of the language, it lead to real learning and meaningful practice.
I hope you will embark on your own journey to provide opportunities for your students to interact with others outside your classroom. Share your learning with us on Twitter using #fslbeyond and #fslchat.
(*TLLP – Teacher Learning and Leadership Program. For an overview of our project, watch this great Adobe Spark video by Jen Aston)