Technology in the Classroom – an Interesting Perspective

As schools are spending more to have technology more accessible to classrooms, the time students spend on computers is increasing.  In the past, I’d  never really had access to computers. The one I had in my classroom (when I had one) was so slow and dysfunctional it was basically useless. This year, one of the homeroom classrooms where I taught rotary French was also where the mobile computer lab was stored. My biggest management issue with that class revolved around the never ending battle of getting the kids off of the computers who would try to sneak the labtops in their desks at any given opportunity. I’ve never seen a group of students who were so eager to use Wordreference.com. This constant access to computers actually became a real addiction problem for a couple of students who were literally, always in front of a computer screen (and one can assume that it was the same at home). Forget computers, phones are the new device of choice! Despite being banned for use at school, teachers spent more time arguing and confiscating phones than ever before.

It was with great interest that I read the NY Times article “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” that was forwarded to me by a fellow teacher. Although it was written in 2011, I found it really interesting in light of the situation I just described. In a nutshell, the author writes about a school in Silicon Valley where 3/4 of the students have parents who work in the upper echelons of the giant tech companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. As a Waldorf school, the emphasis is placed on physical activity and learning through creative hands-on approach. The use of computers is banned at school and are even discouraged at home because it is thought that they discourage “creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.”

It goes on to elaborate on the debate about the role of computers in education with proponents saying that not equipping students with technology to better compete in the modern world would be irresponsible. The article aslo mentions advocates stating that children who grew up with electronic devices at their fingertips simply won’t be engaged without them. The Waldorf parents argue that teaching is a human experience and that “real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.”

The article frequently references one parent in particular, Alan Eagle, educated with a computer science degree and the director of communications at Google.  His daughter is in Grade 5 and doesn’t know how to use google but according to him, technology has its time and place.  He states, “If I worked at Miramax amade good, artsy R rated movies, I wouldn’t want my kid to see them until they were 17.” Further, the technology is “brain dead easy as possible'” and that he sees no reason why kids cant figure it out when they get older. Interestingly enough, California is home to 40 Waldorf schools (a disproportionate share) and the neighbouring Waldorf schools to the one featured in the article are also heavily populated by students whose are in the high tech industry. It makes you wonder that if these people, the creators of the technology of today, are that opposed to their own children having access to it in their own lives, perhaps we need to consider how much children are exposed to in our own classes…

Keeping the Wheels Turning As the Year Winds Down – Detective Stories

Yes, it’s that time of year again – summer vacation on the horizon but before getting there, you must survive the last few weeks of French with the Grade 8s.  In case you’re not familiar with that scenario, getting them to do any work can be “a most frustratingly futile experience which sees your heart rate and blood pressure soar.” And that’s putting it politely. Although I agree with Mike about the need to have the students working on something that motivates and engages them, the challenge with seeing your students for one period a day is that there is little continuity at this time of year with it being a time of constant disruptions. What I’ve more or less resorted to by the last two weeks of school is mini activities that span a range of 1 to 3 classes. One that I’ve found they’ve enjoyed is the Murder Mystery activities. There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing your students thinking, debating and collaborating during this time when the most energy they seem to be able to muster is devoted to them repeatedly asking you why you’re still making them do work. Although I started off this post talking about Grade 8s, this is actually an activity that could work with a rannge of grade levels. I found  a couple of online sites suited for students which had a variety of mysteries (and even magic tricks as a bonus). Two that were particularly are listed below. I also found the Schoastic website helpful for ideas to develop a whole unit (ideas for next year…)  As for finding material in French, I was not overly successful. There was one site Polar FLE that seemed to be fairly good but again as a Core French teacher, you’ll probably find that you will need to translate and adapt the material so that your students can easily follow along. Happy sleuthing!

www.kidsmysterynet.com

www.42explore.com

 

“Frozen” in June

I know that at this stage, the last thing anyone wants to think about is winter (unless of course we’re in the middle of a heat wave). My one grade 7 class has been Frozen (as in the Dinsney movie) obsessed! They’ve seen the movie together as a class, know all the songs, can quote any line (Swedish accents included) and even shed a few tears when Anna is temporarily turned int beo ice. We had been working on a unit loosely based on On y va Destinations d’hiver way back before March Break. For a multitude of reasons (namely soccer, track and field, baseball tournaments and the school play) it has taken us forever to wrap it up – hence the title. Once May hit,  we opened it up to just about anywhere for the final task where students had to write a postcard from a destination of their choice. Based on their research, they had to comment on the food, attitutude of the people, possible activites with a focus on using the futur proche (je vais visiter) and the verbs vouloir and pouvoir (je veux faire, je peux voir). For the project,  several students approached me and wanted to write a postcard using the premise of the Frozen movie. The submissions were fantastic and were highly creative (and down right hilarious). I thought it was worth blogging about because it was met with such enthusiasm that students did not even mind doing the assignment. It seemed like a good example of tailoring things to suit the interests of the students. Below is an example of one of the submissions.

Bonjour Rachel,

Je suis à Arendelle avec la fameuse Elsa. Ici, c’est vraiment fantastique! La nourriture est tellement délicieuse, surtout le magnifique gâteau au chocolat. Le paysage est accidenté et à couper le souffle. J’aime beaucoup le Montagne du Nord parce que le Palais de Glace exquise est au sommet.  Demain je vais faire une tournée dans le traîneau de Kristoff avec Sven et je vais faire une famille de bonhommes de neige pour Olaf. Avant de partir, je veux surtout visiter la Vallée des roches vivantes et donner un coup de visage à Hans. Je veux jamais quitter!

Ton amie,

Sophia

 

Le passé c’est brassé – Bring the Passé Composé to Life (Part 2)

               An important lesson that I’ve learned this year is have the students write in a concise manner. In the following assignment, La journée de …, students must basically incorporate most of the major things we covered in approximately 10 sentences (passé composé with avoir/être, singulier/pluriel, compound sentences and adverbs). Originally in past years, I used to do a similar project entitled “Une semaine dans la vie de …” which involved them describing the week in the life of someone using the same requirements but was more than double in length. With my senior classes, I’ve been focusing more on quality rather than quantity by teaching them how to expand and elaborate on simple ideas. Again, the shorter length requirement is more feasible for reluctant FSL writers but showing all your students how to achieve more complexity allows your more advanced students to still be challenged. I’ve attached the project guidelines and reference sheets for you to view. Hopefully, it might be useful for an end of the year assignment.

la journee de project guidelines

Les activités possibles – au passe

 

Le passé c’est brassé – Bringing the Passé Composé to Life (Part 1)

     With the arrival of the nice weather, it can be increasingly difficult to keep students on track and focused. As Mike suggested, coaching them to the finish line is a must. However, what helps immensely is when they are interested and engaged enough to put out the effort, which for Grade 8’s at this time of year is a challenge. I thought I’d share something that my grade 8 students seemed to respond well to. We have been studying the passé composé for some time now (in a more isolated grammatical fashion) and it was time to start using it in a more concrete fashion. Seeing the success my colleague had with the Six Word Memoirs (see previous blog), I decided to kind of mirror that and have them write out their 5 most memorable moments. I wrote out an exemplar based on my own personal memories (excluding marriage and birth of children – didn’t think they could quite relate to that) and then we brainstormed most frequently used verbs and them listed on different charts according to verb endings. Just to make it a little more interesting, I came across some really nice watercolour paper and had the students paint a background. The project was short enough that it seemed feasible even for the most reluctant students and was a bit of a creative outlet for the artistic types. However, even with 5 sentences (more or less), I was able to see if they had in fact grasped the concept. The photos convey what they were able to come up with.

Six Word Memoirs – How Much Can Be Said With So Little

     There’s not a whole lot of positive things to be said about French à la carte, but something I have learned to appreciate this year is going into the different classrooms and seeing what other teachers are doing. My colleague, who is the Homeroom teacher of one of my French classes, is phenomenal on many fronts. Most of all, her depth of analysis and critical thinking means that her assignments are always creative and engaging, so much so that I find I’m almost wanting to do them myself.

     The other week, she showed me the latest. As part of her memoir unit, she had her students communicate the essence of their lives and characters into six word memoirs. Some of the examples she provided them with were the following:

“Author of so many unwritten books.”

“Yes, I still have Superman sheets…”

“Was a painting, now a mural.”

“My rise to fame went unnoticed.”

“Smart girl wants love, gets dog.”

     It was fascinating to see what the students were able to come up with themselves. Submitting a draft of their top six, it was amazing actually to see how they were able to incorporate wit, perspective and feeling into their descriptions. Most intriguing was matching up the words with the student and the insight it provided into their character. Finally, it was really interesting to see how effective they were as writers. They were much better at it than me. The right six words are not easy to come by – try it yourself…

 

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.

The ”EXPERT” Solution

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about the difficulties of trying to meet the needs of all the students in my grade 7 class.  Just to refresh your memory, this particular group has a unique set of factors at play which undeniably influence the overall dynamic and structure of the class: 33 students in total, almost a 2:1 ratio of boys to girls, 5 gifted students, 3 hsp and another 3 on IEPs. As a solution to managing the endless questions and difficulties of all students, I had set up a system of students who acted as “experts” in their group. I had recruited those students who felt they had a solid grasp of the material and who equally were able to demonstrate patience and good communications skills. Luckily I had more than enough who fit the bill. I had asked the remaining students to submit the names of the top three experts they felt comfortable working with and after spending a couple of months in this arrangement, I decided to move them around to new groups. In the process, I had asked the class to provide me with some written feedback on their thoughts about the “expert” system. On the whole, people thought that it was an effective solution but there were quite a few amusing comments which I had not anticipated. I thought I’d share them with you.

They could all see that having an intermediary was a good form of “blockade” and made life much easier for the teacher. Some were annoyed that their experts couldn’t answer all their questions while others were grateful for the time and effort they had put forth. Funnily enough (I suppose in response to those super demanding students), some had felt rather intimidated and overwhelmed with having to look up all the words in the dictionary for their charges. Others reflected how it was sometimes a thankless job where people were quick to criticize but slow to appreciate.

We had a subsequent discussion as a class where we had to specifically define the duties of the experts who were really only supposed to be the first line of defence. We talked about the need to balance demands with also giving the experts some space to get their own work done. Finally, it was established that the experts were not free labour nor did their duties include literally doing the work of others. With these new parameters in place, the system has been fine-tuned and is now running like a well oiled machine. The experts have achieved a near celebrity type status and seem to enjoy the esteem of their peers. We have now added a new tier as well – the “Experts In Training.”J

Feedback on Descriptive Feedback

Sometimes the latest educational trends sound good in theory but oftentimes tend to be less than fruitful in reality. After thoroughly marking ninety assignments and including lots of suggestions, positive reinforcement and constructive criticism, I couldn’t help wondering if the writer’s cramp was really worth it. Were these kids really going to follow the advice so painstakingly offered? For that matter, were they even going to take the time to read what was written or were they just going to zero in on the mark and disregard everything else? I decided to candidly ask one of my grade 8 classes some pointed questions. They were more than happy to participate in an official “study group” and this is what they had to say on the subject.
“Do you read the comments your teachers provide or do you just look at the mark and disregard them? “ It’s true, the mark is what they look at first but all of them take the time to thoroughly read any feedback.
“Do you try to follow through with the suggested advice?”  Most said yes but there were a handful (and you know who they are) who stated that realistically, if it required a lot of effort (example – to redo something entirely), they would not.
What form of descriptive feedback do you feel is the most valulable?”
This question kind of depended on the type of student they were. The ones who tended to be self-motivated and driven were able to take written feedback, internalize it and apply it. In all cases, students really found that a one on one meeting (however brief) where they had a private moment with the teacher was the most valuable. The verbal feedback provided them an opportunity to better absorb and ultimately respond to advice/suggestions instead of reacting defensively to critiques.
In sum, is the time and writer’s cramp worth it? Yes, it is above all, an opportunity to engage and connect with your students which does not go unrecognized.

Current Francophone Musical Artists – 10 “Must Know” Musicians

     When disscussing current Francophone musicians with Grade 8s, I’ve found it challenging to hone in on those that would appeal to 14 year olds who are somewhat reluctant to buy into anything outside of the mainstream top 40 charts. When it comes to music, their musical tastes seem to be quite ingrained. Seldom is there much flexibility between the rock and rap genres let alone new linguistic frontiers. Given the sheer volume of what’s out there, it can be difficult to identify what’s good, what’s appropriate and what’s appealing. Consulting the current charts was not very useful since there was not a great deal of difference between what was also popular here. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find an easy answer to my query when I happened upon the website girlsguidetoparis.com (see link below) and found an entry entitled “10 French Singers You Should Know” that covered a range of genres and was accompanied by an informative blurb about each individual/group (direct links were also provided).

    According to the “girls”, the list included the following:  Coeur de Pirate, Shy’m, Benjamin Biolay, Camille, Christophe Mae,  ZAZ, Ben l’Oncle Soul, BB Brunes, -M-, et Sexion d’Assaut. I’ve checked out a few of them and so far, I think they would potentially be okay. I plan on screening a couple segments of some of the videos and have the students write reviews of the songs (a task we’ve been doing already in accordance with their selections). Other ideas might be to design some web-based reading activities around biographical info, upcoming concerts, reviews, etc. As indicated by the title, the webiste itself would be appealing to girls in particular and woud offer some interesting off-shoot activities (think “voyage virtuel”)…

http://girlsguidetoparis.com/archives/10-french-singers-you-should-know/