Robert Slabodnik is a National Board Certified French Teacher of grades 9-12 at Sedro-Woolley High School, WA. He is also an AIM Facilitator for teacher workshops in the western U.S. and Canada. He welcomes all interested teachers to come observe his students in the classroom learning with the AIM.
I first started using the AIM in 2005. At the time, I used the Histoires en action ! (HEA) curriculum kits, as the high school-level Jeunesse en action ! (JEA) kits were not yet available. Having no basis for comparison, my teens were none the wiser, and they enthusiastically enjoyed acting out and dancing to the stories of Les Trois Petits Cochons, Commeny y aller ?, and L’Arbre ungali.
Naturally, when the first AIM kits for high school students became available, I jumped at the opportunity to try them on for size. I have never regretted that decision!
Some high school language teachers may think that the AIM is not applicable at the secondary level. Perhaps this misperception is due to the enormous popularity and success of the AIM in elementary schools; perhaps it’s the use of singing and dancing, or even puppets that is off-putting to some; or maybe it’s the opinion that the AIM curriculum is not rigorous enough in its application of advanced grammar (e.g. Advanced Placement).
Having taught with a traditional textbook early in my career, and currently teaching AP French, I can fully understand these concerns. However, the language teacher who wishes to use the AIM must understand that it is a very different paradigm than the one they personally learned with, or have been comfortable teaching with, over the years.
The AIM really matches what linguist John De Mado speaks of as the Proficiency Paradigm and not the traditional Mastery Paradigm. In a Mastery Paradigm classroom, grammar is pre-eminent, the class is very teacher-centered, students assume a reactive role and the result is learners who are mere “identifiers” of language. In a Proficiency Paradigm classroom, vocabulary, not grammar, is the driver, class activities are student-centered because they are taking on a much more proactive role (i.e. speaking a lot), and the overall result is what De Mado calls “communicators.”
The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) strongly influences the development and implementation of second language curriculum around the world. With its emphasis on authentic language development and proven ability to develop oral proficiency better than any other language curriculum to date, AIM aligns beautifully with the philosophy of the CEFR.
While a student teacher in Seattle some 18 years ago, my mentor Sue Pike reminded me that: “nothing motivates like student success.” While the AIM certainly fulfills that maxim, as with any curriculum it is also teacher enthusiasm that motivates and drives students to succeed. Wendy Maxwell reminds us that teachers who are unwilling to release control are not very successful with the AIM.
The brand-new or veteran teacher who is open and willing to try the AIM for the secondary level needs to bring a high level of enthusiasm for all activities in the classroom. This includes an animated face when gesturing for our beginners, constantly praising students for their efforts, singing aloud a grammar rap, singing and dancing with your students, and maintaining an encouraging smile throughout (it’s not called “pleasant repetition” for naught). All of these show discerning teens that you enjoy your job and enjoy working with them every day as they grow more and more toward becoming proficient communicators.
I sometimes get the student remark: “Vous êtes fou, Monsieur!” Personally, this is a great compliment because I know that the AIM is getting me and my students to teach, learn and perform outside the musty old Mastery Paradigm box.
The AIM is recognized as a holistic approach to language instruction because it uses extensive songs, plays, dances and creative storytelling activities. However, we language teachers need to acknowledge that holistic language instruction should continue well beyond grade six and is very effective for adolescents.
Every September I tell my beginners that the way they are going to learn French will be quite unlike any other class in their high school career: sitting in a semi-circle, gesturing, acting, singing, dancing, playing games and extensive partner and group work are all essential to their eventual language proficiency. When they ask: “What is proficiency?” I show them a video of one of my former French 1 students who holds forth in French for approximately 12 minutes. I tell them they will all be able to do the same after nine months of learning with the AIM.
Patrea Fernandez, Spanish teacher at Bonney Lake High School in the Sumner (WA) School District recently said:
“At first I was concerned about AIM because I did not know how to let go of how I was used to learning and teaching a language. I love using AIM to the best of my ability now. It actually feels more natural while I am teaching. We sing every day and are having a blast.”
Fernandez’s colleague, National Board Certified French teacher Cheryl Roper, says:
“Oh my lands! What an awesome year it’s been so far! I’m so excited about the difference the AIM has made in my teaching life. I’ve been teaching French for 12 years now and this is the first year using the AIM where nearly all my students are voluntarily speaking the target language without fear or hesitation.”