Tuesday, July 31, 2012
A new approach to teaching Basic French
AIM has proven to be fast, fun, effective and inclusive. Teachers who use the program insist their students can often speak after their first year of instruction, which usually begins in Grade 4. This is generally unheard of in more traditional classrooms, and the result is an increased level of confidence that will only continue to grow.
When used correctly, the program allows students to achieve high levels of oral and written fluency. In part, this is contributed to the fact that working in small groups is a common occurrence in AIM classrooms. Cooperative learning creates an environment in which weaker students are supported and learn from stronger ones.
Active learning is also a fundamental element of the AIM program. Here, we are looking for noisy classrooms where everyone in participating and having fun. AIM has also proven to be very inclusive; shy students who would normally dread the idea of speaking up in class participate fully because everyone else is. Again, this provides weaker students with the opportunity to learn from the rest of the class. There are also some great instances where students with pronounced learning disabilities are able to participate along with their peers.
The development of this program has been significantly based on research highlighting the value of an arts and literacy approach to learning, as opposed to a more traditional thematic approach. By bringing culture into the classroom through dance, drama, stories and theatre, AIM students become emotionally attuned to what they are learning. The idea is that they are learning without even realizing it.
Gestures play a huge role in this approach; each word being taught has a corresponding hand signal which provides a picture in the learners mind. This essentially eliminates the need for translation, which supports the “no English” rule that is considered to be incredibly important.
Through AIM language is acquired visually by observing and copying the gestures of the teacher and classmates and orally by hearing the word as the gesture is being completed. This is consistent with the understanding that there are different ways to learn; if a student doesn’t learn effectively one way, say visually, he or she will likely be able to follow the kinesthetic and oral cues.
From a pedagogical perspective, the AIM program is very unique. A story already known to students e.g. The Three Little Pigs, is the basis for an entire unit. Through play acting students visualize what they are learning and are often less inhibited when they are using their additional language when “in character”. This allows them to use the language creatively at a much earlier age.
AIM focuses on what they call important vocabulary i.e. high frequency words and expressions that are truly communicative. Students don’t waste time conjugating verbs they will hardly ever use. Vocabulary is learned through song. Every play, or unit, involves learning one or two choreographed songs that help students understand and internalize vocabulary that is central to the play. Grammar rules are learned by memorizing a rap song that explains the rule. Teachers find it very entertaining to watch their students work through a song before being able to correctly answer a question.
Fundamental to the AIM program is the desire to provide teachers of Basic French with the tools and strategies they need to effectively teach language within a very limited timeframe. Teachers are able to easily learn the gestures, and can learn progressively as they only need to stay a few signs in front of their students. Teachers are also supported by online discussion forums and continuous opportunities for professional development.
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
It took 11 days for a group of 26 cyclists to cover the 1500 kilometers separating Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Manitoba. However, planning this event began over two years ago and required the participation of three organizations that champion equitable access to French-language healthcare services in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
The purpose of the journey was simple: to promote active lifestyles and healthy living to minority francophone communities in the prairie provinces, to raise awareness of the importance of offering health services to Canadian citizens in the official language of their choice and to encourage young French speaking individuals to consider careers in a variety of healthcare related fields.
Participants in this experience came from backgrounds as diverse as the landscape of the prairies. They represented five provinces and varied in age from 19 to 65. Some were native French speakers, for others it is a language they continue to learn.
As the journey became increasingly arduous, especially on windy days, the group came together, relying on each other to find the strength to finish the day. Every evening, local residents came together to welcome the cyclists, to sharing the pride they have for their communities and to demonstrate the vibrancy inherent to many francophone communities in minority situations across Canada.
This type of experience is important for several reasons. It is good for communities, giving young people the opportunity to learn the oral history of their home in a culturally relevant way, a story that has been passed from generation to generation for over a century. It is also about compassion, because when you are sick communication is very important, if nothing else allowing people to die in peace.
For French-second-language learners, this type of experience is very enriching. Just stepping up to this physical challenge and knocking it out of the park makes people question whether or not there is anything they can’t accomplish, really. And it is an opportunity that you only have access to when you put effort into learning the language. But it is important for another reason, also. It shows to what point learners of French can live and grow with this language, right here in Manitoba and across the prairies. It is all around us, and we can live it every day.
It was an emotional experience when the cyclists arrived in Winnipeg, having completed the journey. Each participant took a few minutes to reflect on their experience and share one or two memories that they cherish. For Michael Hudon, Communications and Project Coordinator at Canadian Parents for French- MB and French for Life, two memories really stuck out. First, listening to a principal beam with pride as she told the story of how her older students mentor and encourage her younger ones. It is the proverbial village raising a child, it is the heart and soul of rural living and it is beautiful.
Pictured above is a snapshot into Michael’s second notable memory. The day, which was to be 160 kilometers of riding, started under a heavy fog. All of a sudden the fog dissipated, replaced by a fierce wind, pushing the riders along at 35 kilometers an hour without really having to pedal. It would have been truly euphoric if not for ominous feeling that the massive clouds in the distance would not be for long. The rain came first, it was heavy and cold, but the wind still pushed the group along. Then came the thunder, and soon after lightning light up the overcast sky. Most of the group took cover, because they are not completely insane. But others rolled on, feeling truly alive, satisfied, like people should be so lucky to die so full of life. At lunch the clouds broke, the sun come out, and the journey continued.