Friday, November 23, 2012

On Purposeful Advocacy

How many French teachers have you heard talking about 55 countries worldwide where French is an important language? With all of the efforts to build French programs in the US, I bet quite a few.We French teachers talk a big talk about the importance of French in business and how much of a 'global' language it is--but we rarely include any culture outside of French culture.  Are we teaching it as a global language, or are we just saying it is and serving crêpes and wearing berets to fit the culture bill? 

I'm among the biggest culprits of over-France-ifying my curriculum, mainly because I'm such a huge francophile. Who couldn't fall in love with the quaint little villages in Alsace? The impressionist art in Provence? Or Paris, the city of love?

Here's the point where I have to question my teaching motives: With such little time for instruction, am I here to expose students just to all of the things that I like a whole lot, or to a more holistic, general view of the worldwide opportunities that await my French-speaking students?

I choose the latter, and here's why:

1) It worries me that students will leave French classrooms with a myopic view of what the Francophone world is--France and Canada, the big hitters in French classrooms in the U.S. (where Canada is the 'out-of-the-box' option).  What our Spanish counterparts have done well is exploit the number of Spanish-speaking countries to where they all seem to matter equally, while us French teachers may mention Western Africa or Haïti, but let's be real, France is the one that really matters. The Francophone world spans 5 continents and 55 countries, why focus solely on 2/55ths? That kind of teaching perpetuates the misconception that Spanish is more relevant than French because more countries speak it. How many times have you heard that, French teachers?

2) I get to learn along with my students.  We travel to a different Francophone country each year and explore the food, dance, customs, art, traditions, politics, religion, etc. This year's focus is Morocco because of recent trip there last summer, but next year we will venture to Cambodia, Vietnâm, and Laos--countries that I know little about, but will discover with my students.

3) It's fun! Chances are that students have some idea about France, the Eiffel Tower, and Paris if they've chosen to take your course.  Surprise them with something unique--Belly dancing, Henna, and Mint Tea were some of the surprises for students from Morocco.

So here's my challenge: pack away the crêpes and berets, and boldly go where few French teachers have gone before: the other 53/55ths of the Francophone world...

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Oh hi! I'm Blair, I teach French in Baton Rouge, what do you teach?"

After a million 'Hi, I'm Blair, I teach French and live in Baton Rouge, who are you?", a million different vendors offering a million different things and a million language teachers electrifying the Colorado Convention Center with their energy and enthusiasm, the best summation about my feelings on ACTFL 2011 is this:

I love this profession (and conference!)

Where else would I get all of these wonderful online resources:

that will invite my students to interact with realia from the target culture? Most of these sites can even tailor and scaffold these resources for them!

Where else could I hear the words 'semiotics', 'L1', 'L2' and 'TL' and get to nerd out about their usage (and the implications of that usage in my classroom?) 90% target language usage? Yes, please!

And where else (or in what other profession), would waving flags and stop signs while dancing and talking about your favorite ice cream be considered 'on task' and 'working'? Totally 7th heaven.

Can you guess the 3 main workshops I attended today? There are strategic hints and bonus points if you can look at the ACTFL program and figure it out...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Give them what they want so you can give them what they need" Dr. Drew, Celebrity Rehab

Okay, so what does Dr. Drew have to do with language teaching? Pretty much nothing. but, Noah Geisler, an ACTFL workshop presenter used the quote to bring home this idea: personalizing language learning (what they need from us) is best done by tapping into their everyday interests (what they want).

Senor G. put it this way: teachers are competing for the currency of students' attention with the shiny things all around them (their friends, their outfits, the person randomly walking by, etc.). If we make our lessons 'shinier' we stand a chance at buying their attention to give them what they need. I mean, who DOESN'T like shiny?

This workshop got me thinking a lot about my warm-up strategies. I've come a long from the first-year "Just sit in your desk and be quiet and translate! Ahhh! Classroom management!" mentality this year, but I got even more ideas today to make my warm-ups more personal and engaging. For continuity Senor G. reccommended a weekly plan so that the material varies, but the activity is more or less the same (ex: On Mondays we watch a commercial, but each monday it's a different commercial).

Here's a weekly plan:

Monday: Advertisement of the Week

Select an advertisement (print or commercial) to use (Senor G. didn't mention this, but it was clear that the commercials he chose were picked because of their visual clarity and comprehensible target language speech). Before playing the commercial prepare students to answer questions, making sure to differentiate so that each level feels successful ('How many?' questions for struggling students and 'Why'? questions for advanced students). Stop the commercial at key points and ask questions (key question: what is this commercial advertising?).

For teachers of Spanish:
For teachers of French:

Tuesday: What are the 'twitterers' saying in French?

First, join twitter and follow French-speaking artists, musicians, authors, politicians and general 'famous' people. Print screen a selection and have students respond to the twitterers in a variety of ways (back channel, google voice, edmodo posts, orally with partners). Discuss any cultural idiosyncrasies present in the twitter feed (acronyms, syntax, viewpoints).

Here's the link:

Wednesday: Joke of the week

Find a child's joke online and act it out so that the students understand what's going on. Use props (or THEM as props) and gradually let the joke unfold. Even better, project the joke on your smartboard and let it visually unfold to create suspense for the punchline!

Joke site for teachers of French:

Thursday: Idiomatic expression of the week

Find an idiomatic expression and have students try to figure out the meaning or draw what it actually means versus what it literally means--there would be some funny pictures! You could also have contests to see who could use the expression (authentically!) the most in one week (or cycle, for us EHSers).

2000 idiomatic expressions for teachers of French:

An AWESOME site for teachers of French by TV5Monde. Includes speakers from all parts of la francophonie (including la Louisiane!) and their take on why a certain expression exists. At the end they always tell you why--it's often funny even for French speakers to find out!

Friday: Art work of the week

Choose a piece of art from the language culture, making sure to choose a piece that provides action/talking points and staying away from abstract works. Have students talk about different parts of the painting and what's happening. On a smartboard you can zoom in on a specific piece of the work of art to have them talk about what's happening in one certain scene. You could even have students describe a part of the painting and have another student guess which part he or she is describing. I love the idea of this activity because there is so much room for differentiation. More advanced students could describe in sentence or multi-sentence level what someone in the painting just got done doing, what he will do, what he is thinking while a lower-level student could give the number of women, the number of men, what each person is wearing, etc.

I got lots of other technology tips and ideas from new resources I had never even heard of (and coming from a pretty technologically interested school, this is refreshing) that will be so useful, let me know if you want me to share these with you and I'll be glad to pass along the knowledge.

Feet on the ground, ready for more. #actfl!

Monday, November 14, 2011

"If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to document EVERYTHING..."

It's been almost 3 years since I heard those words from my Jeannie, the teacher I worked with during student teaching, and have I done anything about them? No. I have documented nothing about my time teaching.

Sure, my resumé could be some sort of documentation, right? It certainly lists all of the hours I have spent in meetings learning things to bring into my classrom, the papers I've written, and every presentation I have made for every organization I'm a part of (trust me, y'all, there are A LOT of acronyms on my resumé).

But where's the joy? The daily in and out of actually living this teaching thing? This is a blood, sweat and tears job, but I don't see any evidence of any of that on any documentation I've made.

10 years from now I want to remember the amazing sentence that a student said, a brilliant idea someone came up with, or the hug that came out of nowhere in the middle of a lesson. Forget the acronyms, it's about to get real!

Are you ready?