Monthly Archives: September 2020

Les Vêtements Francophones: A Project for Novice French Students

I have to admit that I was never a huge fan of projects when I was in the classroom.  There were several reasons for this.  The first was that the class time spent on research and preparing a presentation took time away from the types of communicative tasks that I felt would lead to progress toward proficiency. Of course my upper level students could do research in the target language, but it was very difficult to ensure that they did.  Likewise, although I could have had the students prepare their visual aid at home, I found that some students would not prepare anything and others spent an inordinate amount of time making something pretty that did not in any way reflect their ability to communicate in French. This created a real dilemma for me, as my grading system was designed to reflect language proficiency rather than workmanship, effort, artistic talent, etc. 

Finally, I questioned the value of having students, especially Novices, present in French. Because their ideas (many of which came from research in English) were incongruous with their language proficiency, their presentations often involved reading Google-translated text aloud. It is hard to say whether listening to this type of presentation was more painful to me, the presenter or to their classmates, who didn’t understand a word of the language they heard.

Of course there are many advantages to assigning projects, too.  In fact, there are rockstar language teachers out there who have designed entire curriculums around project-based learning and their students are speeding down the path to proficiency.  Other esteemed colleagues are designing fabulous projects that motivate their students, provide opportunities for independent learning and will be remembered fondly by their students for the rest of their lives.  I applaud all of you!!!!

As for me, in spite of the previously-mentioned challenges, I did find myself assigning projects from time to time.  While I was not able to resolve all of the issues I mentioned above, some students did learn both language skills and content knowledge from their projects and I benefited from having a few days in a row that did not require a detailed lesson plan.  This was important to me then and it would be even more vital if I were teaching via remote, hybrid or socially-distanced face-to-face learning, which is why I recently found myself designing a new project. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have begun creating mini-units based on some of my favorite Troto episodes.  Each mini-unit includes several communicative activities based on the cartoon and then a series of extension activities designed to develop the students’ vocabulary and cultural competence on a topic related to the episode.  Because I had selected Trotro s’habille for my most recent mini-unit, I decided to focus on introducing students to clothing in non-European regions of the Francophone world. After all, as cute as Trotro is, a diet of donkey cartoons alone is not going to introduce students to the diverse and fascinating cultures that make up La Francophonie.  (Although they’re a great way to provide comprehensible input and a context for communicative tasks!)

Of course, there were some challenges inherent in introducing this topic.  Even Novice High/French 2 students would struggle on most authentic texts relating to clothing styles and with so many French-speaking regions in the world, there was no way I could introduce them all. Fortunately, I found an infographic on clothing in Africa that I thought would be at least partially comprehensible at this level and was able to use it to create an interpretive task that was appropriate for Novice High students.  This seemed like a pretty good start, but I wanted to provide students with exposure to additional cultures (I used only the Francophone African countries in the infographic on my interpretive task.) and to provide the teachers with additional lesson plans in the mini-unit.  It seemed like it was time for a project.  

As you can see in this project guide, the project I designed is highly-scaffolded will hopefully prevent many of the pitfalls I identified from previous projects.  The first step of the project will be for the students to select the article of clothing that they would like to research. They will fill their names in on the sign-up list (provided) and then begin researching. Unfortunately, in spite of the many hours I spent researching traditional clothing around the world, I was not able to find comprehensible authentic texts for the majority of the clothing items. Therefore, I would invite students to research in English, or use our frenemy Google Translate to find out some basic details about the article of clothing they have selected.  As you will see on the sign-up list, I did curate one or more authentic texts for each topic that could give the students something to translate or could be used by teachers of upper level students who would like to assign a more in-depth project to their students.

After researching a few basic details about their garment, the students will prepare a script for their presentation. In order to discourage the use of an electronic translator for this portion, I have provided sentence fragments that the students can use to write their scripts. I have then directed students to create a visual aid, but intend for teachers to expand on these directions based on their own expectations.  For example, you may or may not allow the students to have text on their slides or to use notecards.  Lastly, you’ll find a rubric for the presentation itself and a document that the audience members can use to take notes on the presentations.  I think this will help keep their attention and make it more likely that they retain some cultural knowledge.  

I hope that this project might be helpful for some of your clothing units and would be grateful for your feedback.  If you’d like to access the rest of the mini-unit, it’s available here

Ready-Made Mini-Units for Novices

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trotro_(cropped).jpg

Based on the comments I’ve seen on the French Teachers in the US Facebook page, #langchat, etc. I know that the work of teaching via distance, hybrid, in-person-but- socially-distanced-learning has not gotten any easier since the school year began. While I wish I could do more to help my colleagues that are doing the real work of teaching, I have spent some time creating a few more lessons that can be used regardless of the version of pandemic teaching that your school district has devised. Since my previous work was geared toward the Intermediates, I’ve decided to focus on the Novices for a while.

Each of the mini-units below incorporates a series of activities related to a Trotro video as well as additional activities using authentic texts on the same topic. A short lesson on a relevant grammatical concept is also included. The resources include a Google Slides presentation to which the activities are linked, keys, and rubrics. Everything is editable so you can modify for your students. Here are the mini-units I’ve created so far:

Click here for link.
Click here for link.
Click here for link.

As always, I’m grateful for your feedback on these resources!

Assessing Writing During Distance Learning

As I work with teachers around the country, I continue to be in awe of the work that you are doing! While I am very grateful that I am not navigating the demands of distance, hybrid, and face to face but socially distant learning, I have spent considerable time thinking about how I might have modified different aspects of my practice to accommodate these challenges.  

While I previously shared some ideas about using graphic organizers for assessing interpretive reading, I really struggled on how I might have assessed presentational writing.  I have always had students do their writing assessments in class, so that I could be confident that the work I was evaluating reflected their actual level of proficiency.  Based on the assessment and my thinking at the time, I sometimes allowed access to paper dictionaries, online dictionaries, drafts, nothing but their brain cells, etc.

Distance learning, of course, presents a whole new set of challenges as we cannot physically prevent students from using Google Translate. While I agree with others that there is an appropriate time and place for using GT, when I was teaching I wanted to avoid having students write entire paragraphs in English and then plug them into any translation program. Like all of you, I could easily identify when students had done so, but this realization just created additional obstacles. Firstly, I preferred that my students’ grades reflect their proficiency rather than their behavior, so I needed to provide an alternate assessment  rather than simply give them a zero.  Secondly, the disciplinary measures that I was sometimes required to take did little to improve my relationships with students who already lacked the confidence to do the work as directed.  

As a result of these challenges, I decided to turn my attention to how I might make it more difficult, rather than less difficult, to complete an assignment using translation software. Here’s a link to a Google Presentation with the steps I came up with.

  1. On Slide 1 the students brainstorm the vocabulary they will use to complete the task (a message about a typical day in their life.) While they might use a translation program for this step, I am somewhat confident they will have made these words their own by the time they complete the assessment.
  2. On Slide 2 the students write simple sentences about their day using the vocabulary they have selected.
  3. On Slide 3 the students rewrite (or copy/paste) their simple sentence but add additional details.
  4. On Slide 4 they organize their sentences, add transitions and proofread.
  5. On Slide 5, they submit the final draft.

It is my hope that by following these steps, the students will be much less likely to resort to Google Translate. In fact, I’m not even sure what that would look like.  In addition, I think this writing process could lead to increased proficiency in presentational writing even for students who are learning in a classroom environment.  

I’d love to hear back from any of you who use a similar process. I have so much to learn from you that are doing the work!

Lou! A 9-Week Curriculum for Intermediate French Students

Based on the encouragement of my readers, I have spent the last month continuing my work creating mini-units based on the Lou! cartoon series. I have now posted mini-units for the first 9 episodes as well as a bundle that includes all 9 episodes at a discounted price. It is my intention that these 9 mini-units could provide a stand-alone first quarter curriculum for Intermediate students (Level 3+) regardless of whether they are attending class face-to-face, in a hybrid situation or entirely via distance learning. Because of the focus on communicative tasks and authentic resources, these units are also appropriate supplements for AP or IB classes.

Since I am so new to creating resources that I am not actually using with my own students, I would be very grateful for feedback from any of you that have used the mini-units. I have no doubt that you are finding typos and other errors (which is why I have provided editable documents) and I would love to correct those. It would also be helpful for me to know which activities you are finding useful and which do not meet your needs so that I can focus on providing more beneficial resources in the future. Please send your feedback to me at lisashepardwlc@gmail.com.

Here’s a link to the bundle: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Lou-Intermediate-French-Curriculum-for-Remote-Hybrid-or-In-Class-Learners-5988136

Bonne Rentrée à Tous!