Monthly Archives: April 2016

Oldies But Goodies of French Film: Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources

filmI have found that one of the best ways to keep my French 4/5 students engaged at the end of the year is by designing my units around films. The opportunity to watch movies in class is rewarding to the students, who are now able to comprehend much of what they hear in an authentic film.  Furthermore, films are rich in cultural content and many provide thought-provoking topics for discussion and written commentary.

While my film library has evolved over the years, two constants have been Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. Although Jean is a bit less engaging to some students, they all agree that watching this one is worth it in order to relate to the intrigue of Manon.  This year’s classes, like many others, felt that these films were the best we had seen this year.

Although I have created a variety of different activities and assessments to accompany these films over the years, this is a description of what I did this year.

Day 1: We watched the first 18 minutes of the film.  It is typical for me to show about 20 minutes of film in a 48-minute class, as I pause frequent to ask questions about the characters and plot, to ask the students to make predictions, and to discuss language and cultural content.  For homework, I created a matching quiz on Canvas in which the students matched one of the new vocab words to its French definition. (Click here for  screenshots of the quizzes I made.)

Day 2: Students reviewed the vocabulary/film with a word cloud activity.  (Click here for all four word clouds.) Each student has the same word cloud but 6 different vocabulary words.  They use circumlocution to describe the words on their list to the partner who highlights them on his/her copy of the word cloud.  I usually use pair crossword puzzles for circumlocution activities, but this was less time-consuming to create, and didn’t require the students to know how to spell the words.  Note: There are words in the cloud that neither partner will highlight. After this interpersonal activity, the students took a simple true/false quiz. (Click here for the quizzes I used during this film.)  I have found that if I do not give a quiz over each day’s portion of the film, the absent students will not watch the parts that they missed.  Therefore, in order to make them accountable I plan a short assessment for each day.  Following the quiz we continued watching the film (18:00-34:00) and for homework there was another Canvas matching quiz.

Day 3: The students completed another word cloud pair activity and then took a quiz on the previous day’s film excerpt.  In order to encourage more critical thinking skills, this quiz required the students to determine whether various hypothetical events were probable.  They then had to justify their response with details from the film.  After the quiz, we watched the next section (34:00 – 52:00) of the film.  For homework they completed an additional Canvas quiz.

Day 4: After the pair word cloud, the students took a simple vocab quiz.  I used some of the same clues to “encourage” those who weren’t doing the practice quizzes on Canvas.  We then watched the film.

Day 5: Because I needed to finish the film (in preparation for a sub on the following school day), I did not prepare a pair activity or quiz, we just spent the period watching/discussing the rest of film.

Day 6: The students reviewed the film by discussing the questions for this movie in the text, Cinema for French Conversation.

Day 7-Day 9: The students completed this performance assessment for the film.

  • Interpretive Listening: Students watched two videos about Jean de Florette and answered multiple choice questions.
  • Interpretive Reading: Students read two reviews of the movie and answered true/false (+ justification) questions.
  • Interpersonal Speaking: Students discussed which character(s) were responsible for Jean’s death and why. (I divided students into groups of 3 for this assessment.)
  • Presentational Writing: Students were given a choice of 4 different writing prompts

Because I showed Manon des Sources during a week that we had a shortened schedule due to standardized testing, I eliminated the speaking activities in order to have enough time to watch at least a couple of scenes from the film each day.  While I gave short quizzes (#1, #2)  for the first two days, I eliminated these, too, by the third day, so that I could finish the film by the end of the week.  Here’s the performance assessment I gave when we were finished with the film:

  • Interpretive Listening: Students watched an “upside-down” interview of Emmanuel Beart and filled in the questions and answers in English on a graphic organizer.
  • Interpretive Reading: Students read a biography of Emmanuel Beart and answered AP-style multiple choice questions.
  • Presentational Writing: Students chose from 4 different prompts.
  • Interpersonal Speaking: Students practiced 3 different role plays, and then I randomly selected pairs and assigned one of the three role plays for the assessment.

This week I’m showing Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis for the first time, so stayed tuned for additional activities and assessments!


What is a Proficiency-Based Teacher?

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Over the past few days I’ve been honored to be part of a series of exciting Twitter conversations about what it means to be a proficiency-based language teacher. The conversation all started with this thought-provoking post.  Like many of the others who’ve contributed to this conversation, I don’t feel that my own methodologies fit neatly into either of the categories that the writer described. In fact, I disagree with her suggestion that “it helps us communicate better and more efficiently about diverse practices if we can categorize teaching styles.” It was clear from the responses  that the professionals in the language teaching community are committed to finding common ground and learning from each other.  Although I am not nearly as far along my proficiency-oriented journey as many of my distinguished colleagues, I’m thrilled to join the conversation by sharing my current understandings of what it means to be a “proficiency-based” teacher.

On the most basic level, being proficiency-based means that I make my instructional decisions based on what I believe will improve my students’ proficiency. However, this definition is not as straightforward as it seems. As the ACTFL Performance Descriptors state, “Proficiency is the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context and in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the language.”  Therefore, as a classroom teacher, it is only performance (“language ability that has been practiced and is within familiar contexts and content areas”) that I am actually able to assess. Nevertheless, I’m not quite ready to begin referring to myself as a “performance-based” teacher.  While I might not be assessing actual proficiency, my goal is to prepare my students to prepare my students to function in target language environments. As ACTFL states, “instruction needs to focus on real world-like tasks with the anticipation that learners will be prepared to do the same outside the instructional setting (as in a demonstration of proficiency).”

Although I hadn’t heard the term “task-based” used to refer to proficiency-oriented teachers, I can see why Martina chose it.  ACTFL talks a lot about tasks when describing best practices for instruction and assessment. For example, they recommend that “Educators should provide language learners with practice of a variety of tasks related to the curriculum. In this way, learners will be ready to apply these elements in the context of the new tasks they will face on the performance.” Based on my understandings of these Performance Descriptors, the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, and the ACTFL Can-Do Statements, I have come to believe that well-designed tasks can lead to increased proficiency.  Therefore, I use the following types of tasks in my instructional practice.

Interpretive Tasks.  Much of my planning involves designing tasks in which my students will interpret a written or recorded text.  Because I am preparing my students for the “real world” these texts are nearly always authentic–created and produced for native speakers by native speakers.  While the reliance on authentic texts continues to be a point of divergence between my fabulous “Comprehensible Input” colleagues and those of us that are “Proficiency-based,” for now I’m convinced that using these resources is vital. I believe that my students must practice the skills required to interpret a text in which they don’t know all of the words.  As with other language skills, many students also need to develop a certain level of confidence to complete these tasks.  Practicing the interpretation of authentic resources in class both develops the skills of using context clues, identifying cognates, making inferences, etc. and builds the students’ confidence in their ability to do so. By choosing texts that are appropriate to the students’ proficiency level and then designing tasks that allow students to successfully demonstrate their comprehension, I ensure that my students are able to interpret increasingly complex texts on a wider variety of topics.

Interpersonal Tasks. As a proficiency-based teacher, I believe that students can increase their ability to communicate in this mode by practicing the skills required to negotiate meaning with another individual.  For the novice students, this means lots of class time is spent practicing the questions and answers that they will use during the performance assessment.  I try to create a variety of contexts in which these questions and answers are used, so that the students are never rehearsing the actual conversation that will take place during the assessment.  As the students’ proficiency increases, more open-ended tasks allow the students to practice creating with the language on a wider variety of topics.

Presentational Tasks.  After my students have been exposed to new vocabulary and structures in the authentic materials that they read and use this language to communicate with others, they complete and written and/or spoken presentational task. Depending on their proficiency level, the students may write (or say) short sentences or paragraph-length discourse.

Although my current practices seem to fit with the “task-based” methodology that Martina described, I found that many of the descriptors she used did not describe my teaching.  For example, she indicates that proficiency-based teachers use English to teach culture.  In my classroom, it is the authentic resources that I choose that enable my students to develop new understandings about the target culture.  She also mentions that the infinitive is the “default form” in a proficiency-based classroom.  My students see all types of verb forms in the materials they read and use the forms that they need to express their meaning on the instructional tasks.  With my early novice learners, this means that most of their responses use the first person and they add the second person as they begin to ask questions. Lastly, she describes task-based teaching as providing broad and shallow input.  While it’s not clear to me exactly what she means by this, the gains that my students have made in their language performance reassures me that the input they receive may be deep enough to lead to increased proficiency.

While I didn’t agree with many of Martina’s assumptions about what those of us who refer to ourselves as “proficiency-based” do in the classroom, I sure am glad she wrote this post. Her professionalism in responding to her readers and openness about her own growth is inspirational.  I am looking forward to continuing to learn from her and from the other great educators that have joined in the discussion about best practices in the language classroom!

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