Meeting the Challenge – What to Do With Immersion/Francophone Students in your Core French Classroom

     Imagine the following scenario. A former French Immersion student for the past 5 years transfers schools and winds up in a Grade 6 Core French classroom and is subjected to a year of learning basic vocabulary, how to conjugate “er” verbs and doing skits with “AIM” hand gestures. What a nightmare – and our Core French students think that they have it rough!
Over the years, I have had several competent French-speaking students who end up in the Core French stream for a variety of reasons. It can be quite daunting as a teacher to try to effectively accommodate and integrate them into the classroom. It’s almost like having a first year university student suddenly join your Grade 8 History class. I also find, somewhat ironically, that they can be even more challenging to deal with than your neediest students and actually pose the same problem. The difficulty becomes how involve them in the class in a way that they remain interested and motivated to keep challenging themselves as French learners.
     This year, I have a student in one of my classes who is a fully bilingual Francophone who went to all francophone school up until the end of Grade 6. After conferencing with him at the beginning of the year, he felt most comfortable learning alongside the rest of the class. I obviously altered the scope of the work and assessments and in consultation with him, designed some individual project. I still noticed that he wasn’t bursting with motivation (perhaps he never was) but still felt guilty at the thought of his languishing away.
     Finally in a conversation, it came up that he really enjoyed the time I had him working with a group of students on their pronunciation for a presentation. Suddenly, I had an idea. One of my most vivid memories of being in French Immersion in high school was getting to speak in small groups with an older (very good-looking by the way) student from France named Yves. We would go visit with him and just spend the time having a natural, relevant conversation. I thought this could serve two purposes: Charles would feel valued as an expert helping his peers and my students would also benefit by increasing their conversational skills.
Every Friday, I reserve the last 20 minutes of the period for Charles to lead the discussion group. Students must then report back to me and demonstrate the new language they learned so that everyone is accountable on all fronts. So far, it’s been a welcome experience for everyone.


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