Conjuguno

My new teaching position has introduced me to a lot of new challenges in finding harmony between CI-based methodology and a textbook-based pacing guide. Our French 2 textbook is especially heavy on irregular verbs, and although my students are working their hardest — engaging actively in CI practice during class and completing a wide variety of practices at home — we’re still struggling to the meet the goal of mastering all these verbs forms. As usual, the textbook considers a set of verbs like dormir, partir and sortir to be one “rule” because all the verbs have similar irregularities. The reality is that acquiring all the present- and past-tense forms of these three verbs solidly enough for confident production is far beyond the scope of one week’s learning, and that doesn’t even take into account the twenty or more additional lexical items to be covered in the week. It’s also far more than can be sensibly addressed totally through CI activities.

Enter Conjuguno. I developed this activity to give students some kind of purpose for using all these verb forms that’s hopefully enjoyable enough to at least trigger a few good neurochemicals and boost their retention.Read More »

Tapout!

Tapout is a quick and easy way to keep extended TPR commands from getting too tedious. I’ve been there plenty of times: you get caught up in the process of challenging students with extended commands like Walk to the table, pick up the book, and hit the door three times with the book — and suddenly you realize it’s a snooze fest. Even the goofiest commands can lose their appeal if you’re trying to work with a large group of students.

I like Tapout because it contains two important elements: it keeps students watching, and it encourages novelty in vocabulary. Here’s the way it works. First, you give a set of extended or chain commands to Student A, who then goes through all the actions and freezes at the last moment. Then you’ll call on Student B and give him or her a new set of commands that begin where Student A left off. Touching your head might become scratching your head. Hitting the door with your foot might become touching the door with your hand. The game requires students to pay attention because they need to jump right into place when you call on them. It encourages novelty in vocabulary because the tapout moment will require a variation on the same command.

For an extra challenge, let students take over the commands. When Student A taps out, he or she sits down and gives commands to Student B, who has taken his or her place. I like this variation because it downplays the speaking role since students are focused on the process of tapping out and do the actions.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Algeria: A First-Person Perspective

Our French program was pleased to welcome Mr. Richard Vaugier, a native of Algeria and former resident of Montréal who now operates his own construction company in Arizona. Mr. Vaugier’s visit gave us the opportunity to not only practice French with a native speaker but also discuss the culture of the Maghreb and socio-political issues that the area has faced for decades. Mr. Vaugier offered first-hand perspectives on modern and historical events in both the United States and Algeria, which is one of the focus areas of this quarter’s culture portfolios. We’re very grateful for Mr. Vaugier’s visit and enjoyed the chance to hear native viewpoints on events that, for many of our students, are familiar only through textbooks and news reports.

Meeting Our First Native Speakers

My second-year students recently had the opportunity to meet native French speakers for the first time, and we had a great experience! We welcomed two college students — one from Rennes and one from Toulouse — who are currently enrolled at Martin Methodist for an hour of Q&A in French and English. I was very pleased with my students’ ability to ask meaningful questions in French about what it’s like to be a French speaker living in the United States, and the French guys were impressed with the level of motivation and interest in our program. I think they were also happy to see that our students were already familiar with their cultural perspectives and home cities through our curriculum. Afterwards, we had just enough time for students to blow up social media with bragging rights and selfies with our guests!

The Mug of Happiness

If anything, I see my blog as a journal of positive things going on in my language program. It’s a personal reminder that a foreign language program — even one in a rural, low-income community with sparse cultural diversity — can be an extremely positive experience for students, teachers and the school community as a whole.

A few weeks back, some of my former students gave me a coffee mug. It was the kind that you can put your own design on, and they had written le café on it in script. The gift itself was a very sweet gesture, but that was just the beginning. Before I had the chance to use the mug, I came in one day to find that these students had filled the mug with little positive messages and affirmations. I was told to read one a day, and several weeks later, I’ve finally made my way to the bottom of the cup and have requested a refill. Maybe la tasse du bonheur is the beginning of a tradition that all my students can contribute to.

I’ve always enjoyed student feedback, even the criticisms. I’d rather have the opportunity to get truthful reactions to classroom management and activities before it’s too late to change them. But there’s always more room for students’ voices in school, and there’s always more room for positivity. The mug of happiness is perhaps a way to spark the search for it. Some of my students, I think, would be hard pressed to write down something positive about anything. The problem isn’t a lack of positives but rather a blinding surplus of negatives. What would happen if I encouraged these students to seek positivity? Does a simple tradition like this have the power to make the positives, few as they may be, outweigh the negatives?

As the eternal optimist, I’m always looking for new ways to make my class a memorable experience for my students. Most of them will never use French in real life or travel outside of the United States. I can admit that, but I can’t accept it as an excuse. I can’t stomach the idea that a student could walk away from my program as if they’d never been in it at all — uneducated, unchanged, unchallenged. I have a million tools in my arsenal to help avoid that possibility, and I think soon I’ll be adding a coffee mug to the list.

Real-World Application

One of my favorite things to do in class is use target language in realistic contexts. I think it’s important for students to find out what it’s really like to be a second-language user, both as a tourist and for the workplace, and I also enjoy the personal touch that students will add to this kind of work. Our French program gives students several opportunities to apply these skills — from roleplaying situations in a store or restaurant with realistic props and money to creating presentations and documents for clients. Read More »