UKEdMag: Teaching French to a Diverse Classroom, by @NEFeghali

Article by: Natasha E. Feghali. Extract from UKEdMag March 2014 issue.

Imagine the excitement with which students greet the opportunity to take part in a French language school treasure hunt for objects that stimulate the five senses. How about the fun of reading the daily announcements in French two to three times a week to the whole school or creating a multicultural marketplace where students and community members participate in oral comprehension? These are some of the ways in which I have engaged once reluctant learners of French as a second language (FSL).

I’ve been teaching French second language classes at Eastwood Public School in Windsor, Ontario for two years, incorporating different aspects of French language and culture into my classroom. At Eastwood, we have a multicultural community of students from Canadian-born and newcomer families. Many at times loathed learning a second language. For my English language learner (ELL) students especially, vocabulary and reading acquisition can be extra hard work as they are learning English at the same time.

[pullquote]Creating a safe space where everyone is working at their own pace doing concrete activities has helped circumvent  barriers [/pullquote]Creating a safe space where everyone is working at their own pace doing concrete activities has helped circumvent some of the barriers that ELL students might otherwise face in a core French class. Providing opportunities for students to bring their home culture into the classroom, reinforcing curriculum in from other subjects with French language activities, celebrating everyone’s creativity have all led to increased engagement and comprehension among my students and increased success for ELL students in particular.

On a recent Monday, my grade four FSL students spent their French class preparing for our Marché Français, which took place over a two week period. Students decorated the classroom like a market and made kiosks out of boxes. I encouraged students not only to think about what they might find in a traditional French market, but to also think about foods or other items that represented their own cultures. In this way, we integrated a host of different foods, artefacts and experiences into our learning of vocabulary and represented students’ experiences here in Canada and in their countries of origin. A Macedonian student brought in woodwork traditional to his village. A Korean student brought in a jade stone while a Jamaican student filled her stall with fruits and vegetables you would traditionally find in Jamaican cuisine.

A student who recently arrived from Iraq in the Middle East, brought parsley, tomato and eggplant for his stall and was excited to talk about how you could incorporate those ingredients into cooking. This created an environment where students not only learned the French words associated with the foods and artefacts that they brought into the class, but they were able to share something about themselves and their cultures with other students. We talked about creating a market unlike any of the markets that we have in Windsor, reflecting the diversity of our school community. Each student then prepared a presentation in French about what they had brought into the market.

In the second week, we invited parents to the Marché and a pot-luck. Students introduced themselves, their school, and what they had brought to the Marché to the people who had joined us. For those parents who were also learning English, students translated the presentations into their native languages. The pot-luck ended the exercise as we shared some of the wonderful food students and teachers had brought in.

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