Thursday, 3 April 2014

Challenges in Student Engagement in FSL

For me, one of the most difficult things about teaching French in the inner city, is the lack of interest or "buy in" from almost everyone.  I'm sure it differs from school to school, but where I am, French education is just not a priority for everyone involved.  From my collegues, I hear that our students have "other problems" then French.  From the parents, I hear that their kids "can't do French," or that "they will never use French."  From the students I hear, "French is too hard," or "French is boring."  Much of their opinion is based on what they are hearing from the other shareholders.

If you are reading this blog, I don't have to tell you the benefits of learning a second language.  Becasue there are many.

If you are reading this blog, you have probably heard something similar in your area of expertise.  So, the million dollar question is how do you engage students in a subject that may not be valued as much as it shoud?  There are other questions that go along with this, like how do I raise the profile of my subject in my school?  Which is a great question, for another blog post.

We are looking at engagment.  There are many great articles on student engagement.  I spoke a little about engagement  when I wrote about using the Inquiry Model in the FSL classroom, but I wanted to reflect on what I do to ensure student engagment is happening in my class. 

Here's an example, of me getting my students attention.  If you were wondering about the name, I have a moon on my back: clown+lune= clune.  We were thinking about adjectives and nouns, and how to combine them to make titles/ names for our "superheros."  So I dressed up as a caped clown.  You know, a typical Wednesday.

There's a moon on my back if you are wondering about the name.  Clown+Lune= "Clune"

I tend to use a lot of humor in my teaching.  Sometimes throw in a joke to see if the students are listening closely.  At the end of the class, students have a chance to tell me the joke for a stamp on their incentive cards.  Sometimes, I just make sure the lesson is silly itself.  Luckily, I don't need to feel very dignified in my job.  According to author Ruby Kane (from the book Understanding Poverty: A Framework for Teachers), inner-city kids who live in poverty value humor, and the ability to tell an entertaining story.  I see how this works to my advantage, and so I use it.  For example, I was teaching my students how to say/ read our school pledge in French.  I used the echo strategy, but to make it interesting, I really emoted the recitation.  And the studnet had to copy me, so they had to emote as well.  At the end of the reading, one of the student's said, "that was fun.  Can we do it again?" Even the most boring task, can be made interesting in its delievery.  

While I was in teacher's college, I read the book, Teaching Content Outrageously by Stanley Pogrow and I think it completely impacted the way I teach.  I am forutante to be a person with a lot of energy, and a wicked sense of humor (if I do say so myself,) so it made sense that I wanted to be "outrageous" as an instructor.  I know that this method is not for everyone.  Some days, I am too tired to do the whole French class as a happy-fun-time thing.  So I use another strat to get their attention.

I like to problematize my content.  I introduce the class to a problem that I need solving.  Usually one that is grounded in an authentic, real-life situation that the students will encounter. As the culminating task for our "Je me presente" unit, my grade 4 and 5 students had to solve the real life challenge of welcoming a French speaking student from Central Africa into our school.  We had a list of questions to start with:  What would we say?  How will we introduce ourselves? How will we pass along information?  What challenges would we have if we just memorize a bunch of stuff?  What is a better way to prepare so the new student feels welcome?  We also did a little research about the country the student came from.  The students were really engaged because it was a problem, and it was going to be something they would use.  Not may use, but definitely use.  

Lastly, I think that students have a responsibility to be involved in creating their education.  So many of the themes that we cover in my class are student-selected.  For example, my students knew that we were going to look at French literacy/ reading this month, so we had a survey about what type of texts they wanted to read.  They chose comics/ graphic novels and so we started looking at those.  Now our study has started to include superheros, so we looked at costumes and what superheros wear-- which is a cluster of transferable vocubulary.  Even though they chose the topic, I control the lessons, so the students are engaged, but learning what they need to- even if it is a different, albeit fantastic context.  

And even though I use all these strategies, sometimes my lessons fall flat.  So I am always trying something new, and talking to other teachers for ideas.  I like trying new things, it keeps it interesting for me.  Especially because I have to teach the same thing sometimes 3 times a day.  So, if you have some great ideas that you have used in class, please share!  I would be so grateful!

What are some ways that engage your students?  

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