French programming for newcomer English language learners, or ELLs, is an area of professional learning that does not get as much attention as areas like mathematics or language arts. On the surface, it seems obvious – shouldn’t French language acquisition for newcomers be similar to that of their Canadian born peers?

The answer, of course, is far from simple. First of all, newcomer ELLs are not a monolithic group. Some ELLs will come with knowledge of the Latin alphabet, others will come with limited literacy skills in their home language, and others may be experiencing a silent phase as they adjust to learning two new languages. Many ELLs will adjust to French learning with little difficulty, and some may even pursue French learning for years to come.

Complicating the issue further are the different perspectives that educators have about teaching French to students who are also learning English. However, it is important to note that elementary ELLs should not be exempt from learning French from both a policy and equity perspective. French instruction is for all students, and if we exclude or discourage students from French learning we bar access to an important part of the curriculum.

In my last blog post on ELLs in FSL programs, I discussed the different perspectives that educators may have about students that are learning French at the same time as they are learning English. In this post, we will delve into the practical side of things. Exactly how can French teachers adapt programming for ELLs?

Get to Know Your Newcomer Students

To program effectively for ELLs it’s important to know what backgrounds they bring to the classroom. Here are a few questions you will want answered:

Is the student receiving ESL or ELD program adaptations? When a student is receiving English Literacy Development, or ELD programming, it means they have two or more years of interrupted formal schooling. Students in ELD programs will be building their foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and may require extensive scaffolding in language and literacy activities.

What is the student’s home language, or L1? This is an important question because the student may still be familiarizing themselves with the Latin alphabet, which is used in English and French.

What is the student’s position on the Steps to English Proficiency Continua (STEP)? STEP is the tool used by Ontario educators to understand the student’s language acquisition progress in English. Knowing exactly where the student is in their English language proficiency is important, especially if the educator is using English as a scaffold to teach French.

Modifying Learning Expectations from a Policy Perspective

When newcomer ELLs are in the early steps of language acquisition in English (ex. pre-STEP 1-STEP 2), they may receive modifications to the grade level curriculum to meet their needs. In French, modifications may also be made, particularly when students are in the intermediate grades.

As the Ontario Curriculum, French as a Second Language states:

“For students in the early stages of language acquisition, teachers may need to modify the curriculum expectations in some or all curriculum areas. For example, if an English language learner begins the study of French in Grade 7, it may be desirable to modify the expectations to meet the student’s level of readiness and needs. Most English language learners require accommodations for an extended period, long after they have achieved proficiency in everyday English.”

It is important to note that ESL/ELD curriculum modifications typically involve adjustments to the depth and breadth of the grade level curriculum expectation. To make French instruction equitable, and to set clear learning goals for newcomer multilingual students it is critical to understand and apply modifications when needed for the student to be successful.

Another great benefit to applying modifications properly is that it takes a lot of stress away from the workflow of the educator. All too often, I find that teachers are concerned and sometimes overwhelmed by the idea that they are tasked by teaching students with emerging language proficiency in English. Having clear goals for French language output and assessment brings clarity to how they can plan and program for the student.

How to Modify French Learning Expectations

So what exactly does a modified French learning expectation look for an emergent speaker of English?

There are a couple of tools French teachers can utilize to modify French learning goals. The first tool is the STEP Continua, which is used by educators of ELLs in Ontario to understand the student’s level of English language proficiency. Pre STEP 1 to STEP 3, or the early phase of language acquisition, is typically when students are acquiring everyday, interpersonal language skills. It is in this phase of language learning that curriculum modifications are most often made.

The second tool a French teacher might consider using is the CEFR, or the Common European Framework of Reference for Language. This tool is widely used by additional language educators in Ontario and around the world to understand the student’s level of target language proficiency. Pre A1-B1 are considered early levels of language acquisition.

Both tools are language acquisition continua that can be used as an assessment for learning tool to identify what entry points a student might have into the curriculum. Teachers can use the descriptors of language behaviours to adapt learning goals for the student to support accessible programming and equitable assessment.

Let’s explore how we can use the STEP Continua for a grade 7 emergent speaker of English (pre-STEP 1) in a core French program. We will just focus on the ESL STEP Continua to align practice with other subject areas in the Ontario curriculum. Let’s start by looking at the original curriculum expectation:

C1.1 Using Reading Comprehension Strategies: identify a variety of reading comprehension strategies and use them before, during, and after reading to understand texts in modelled, shared, guided, and independent reading contexts.

Next, let’s look at the STEP Continua. (STEP 1 grades 7-8, Reading)

Demonstrate understanding by responding to a highly visual text, using a combination of visuals, drawings, L1, pretaught vocabulary and gestures

Read and follow simply worded instructions with visual support

Use concepts of English print (e.g., directionality of print, English alphabet, sound/symbol patterns, and upper and lower case letters)

We can tell by this descriptor that the student would require a significant amount of scaffolds when reading at this very early step of language acquisition. This might include the option to use the home language to support comprehension, and simplified and highly visual texts.

A modification of the French expectation might be:

Identify and use reading comprehension strategies, such as translanguaging, visual cues, and using pretaught vocabulary to read teacher and student selected French language texts.

Assessment and Reporting

As per Growing Success and the Ontario FSL curriculum, when assessing ELLs in French, teachers should use the modified French curriculum expectations. When the student is being assessed according to modified learning expectations, the “ESL/ELD Box” would be checked on the provincial report card. As the Ontario FSL curriculum states,

When curriculum expectations are modified in order to meet the language-learning needs of English language learners, assessment and evaluation will be based on the documented modified expectations. Teachers will check the ESL/ELD box on the progress report card and the provincial report card only when modifications have been made to curriculum expectations to address the language needs of English language learners (the box should not be checked to indicate simply that they are participating in ESL/ELD programs or if they are only receiving accommodations).

Summing it Up

Part of making French language instruction equitable and inclusive is providing ELLs with an appropriately adapted program based on the curriculum and tools like the STEP continua. Knowing how to adapt program according to policy will ensure that the language instruction is intentional and grounded in learning expectations that provide an entry point into the French curriculum for the student.


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