One of my struggles as a French teacher is to foster independence in my students while providing them with authentic and comprehensible input. Finding a balance between providing good models of language and allowing them opportunities to practice speaking freely in lower-level classes is an exciting challenge. Students in these earlier stages of language learning struggle constantly to say what they want with their very limited amount of French, and this can cause great frustration for teenagers. Their analytical skills are developing quickly, and they want so badly to express themselves and their complex ideas. “Dis ce que tu peux, pas ce que tu veux,” is one of my constant refrains. Saying what you can and not what you want, however, causes irritation and feels unfulfilling. Each day we start off with a warm-up of familiar French and kids dive in, prepping their pronunciation and fluidity in order to ease into the new day’s material. While lessons and topics change, our daily routine says the same : welcome students warmly, listen to how they are doing, go over the date, our AIM, and discuss the weather. This has been a great tool to practice some of the more “boring” content material in a more authentic way – think of memorizing numbers and weather only to associate them with pictures in a textbook or play bingo. As new words and expressions come up during our discussion of how we’re all feeling that day or what we did over the weekend, we note them down together and then move on with the day’s other content goals.
Oftentimes after returning from a conference or a sick-day, colleagues who had covered my classes tell me that some students basically jumped in to take over for them, starting off class the way they’ve been used to starting with me since day one. Particularly with my current level 2 students, this happened quite often. I decided to harness the energy of this class and their familiarity with our routines to get them speaking with each other more by leading our daily routine. Students in all classes are assigned various jobs – such as our participation tracker, class DJ, and meteorologist – so I took it a step further and have a rotating schedule of students who will take over all responsibilities of leading our daily routine. Below are videos of what this looks like on a random day this fall :
In the first fifteen minutes of class, I become a coach. I’m there for support, guiding pronunciation, tracking new expressions or vocabulary students want to use spontaneously, and encouraging our student leaders along their way. I’ve found this role to be incredibly fun, and many of the students really enjoy this moment of our time together, checking the schedule to see when their turn will be up, interjecting with an “oh-la-la” (Kerelyn’s particular favorite), an “intéressant”, a “comment ça s’écrit,” or a “comment dit-on.” During this time, they have started helping their neighbors get caught up and follow along a little more. This also frees me up to walk around the classroom, to answer more questions, and to get student volunteers to write work on the board that we will go over later on in class.
While this is still far from perfect and not entirely independent, my students are eager to talk and to communicate; they are eager to encourage and assist fellow classmates. This routine adjustment has strengthened bonds, added a level accountability, and brought closer together the small little family we create over our time of struggling in French together.