We have a special guest post today from a teacher that we have had the pleasure of getting to know at a local middle school. Nora is a passionate French Immersion teacher and her post today is about her experience teaching Late French Immersion. Please read, enjoy and be inspired by her wonderful ideas!
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my job as a grade 6 late French immersion teacher lately. I’m currently on leave from teaching, awaiting the arrival of my second daughter so it feels like a natural time for reflection. I have also done two information sessions about the program for the school district and for my school in the last couple weeks so when Meaghan approached me to see if I wanted to do a guest post about my experiences as a late immersion teacher it felt very timely!
I came to my current position in 2009 after about six years teaching high school French as a second language in BC and international schools in Turkey. To say that my new job as a middle school “generalist” teacher in late French immersion was an adjustment would be a massive understatement! I spent most of my first year expecting that I would try to get a contract teaching French in high school the next fall. However, over the course of the year, I fell in love with the program and began to see all kinds of possibilities in having the freedom to explore and promote language acquisition through all subject areas. Now I can’t imagine a program more suited to my own interests and background and I count myself as very blessed to have stumbled into this unique teaching situation.
For those who are not familiar with late French immersion, essentially students arrive in grade 6 with little to no French background. Over the course of their grade 6 and 7 years, they become “immersed” in French and receive no English language arts instruction. By grade 8 the late immersion students are integrated into the regular French immersion stream (which comprises of students who have been in immersion since kindergarten) and are expected to be able to function at the same level. As a product of the early immersion system, I must admit that initially I couldn’t really conceive of how students could develop the skills they would need to do all their coursework in their second language in just two short years. But most of them are successful and many continue to be top performers throughout the rest of their French immersion schooling.
I think that one of my favourite things about this program is that it enables me to be a creative and experimental teacher. I have worked closely with many of the other late immersion teachers in our district and know that everyone approaches the job differently and has different techniques that they rely on. This is of course true for all teachers but there are no textbooks for late immersion and the focus is, above all, on language acquisition and because of this most teachers create their own resources which reflect their teaching philosophies or styles. I draw heavily on my FSL background and I give my students a great deal of support in English until I feel they are ready to do everything in French. I usually start insisting that they speak French exclusively around March during select periods and by June they spend most of the day speaking to me and each other in French. It’s not always a pretty French, but, as I am getting to experience firsthand with my two year old daughter, that’s how language is acquired. I also made the decision, after my first year, to teach math primarily in English to ensure that the students aren’t missing any important concepts and also to enable me to use the “social learning” style of instruction that I find particularly effective for teaching math. When their French is adequate, usually in the third term, we start doing math in French.
Every January I feel as though the students haven’t learned enough French. I start to panic that I haven’t been forcing them to speak French as much as I should, that they won’t be able to function in French by the end of the year. And then there comes a time, usually in around March, where they make a huge leap forward. That’s when things start to get really fun. They start to be able to really use the language to express themselves and I can doing more creative and personal writing with them. And then around May, we start our island project. Basically, the students create new identities. They revisit learned structures and vocabulary to create quite a complex biography of a francophone passenger on a cruise. They can choose to be male, female, old, or young. They write a background story for their character. They keep a journal. We do regular activities in class to get to know each others’ characters and then the relationships between characters start to surface. They eat, socialize and gossip on board until one day there is an accident and they are forced to evacuate via life boat. They find themselves on a deserted island with only the supplies that they were able to rescue from the boat with them. In due course they build homes, dream of rescue, have disputes, and hunt and gather the various animals and plants they have discovered. Once a student said to me, “you know Madame, this is so much more fun than French!” and I knew that I had discovered something wonderful.
It’s very satisfying to teach in a program where the students are generally motivated, where the teacher has a lot of autonomy, and where the outcomes are so easily measured. I feel fortunate to have a job I (mostly) love and to teach in a school where the program is supported by my colleagues and administration to the degree it is. Thank you to Meaghan and Karley for asking me to be part of your inspiring blog!