How AIM began
I also wanted to help students connect emotionally with the language and found that moving from one theme to another – chunking vocabulary with little connection from one theme to the next – would not allow for the necessary scaffolding and repetition (‘pleasant repetition’), nor would it ensure the emotional engagement that I wanted. I believed a focus on stories would bring engagement to a higher level and even more than that, theatre pieces would both optimize language practice as well as emotional connection to characters. Working with theatre and creative drama is proven effective in first language and literacy programs and I believe it has an even more important benefit in a foreign language classroom, as students interact in role, thus reducing their anxiety – the affective filter. Integrating story and theatre with music and choreography tied everything together into a cohesive whole.
This ‘world of story’ that we were creating in the classroom also provided a wonderful opportunity for beginning language manipulation. I found that students could easily respond to questions and work with words at a much more sophisticated level – right from the beginning – due to the in-depth familiarity with the play and the integration of songs.
Over the course of the first three years of development of what is now AIM, between 1993 and 1995, I produced a series of three ‘Fun French Plays’ books and accompanying language manipulation activities books.
By 1996, I was happy with the progress of my students, but I felt that something was missing. Later that year, I read an article by James Asher – on ‘Total Physical Response’(TPR). I tried the basic strategies with a couple of classes – having them stand up, jump and move their bodies in response to a command. I could see the benefit of learning by ‘doing’ the language and was very excited about the possibilities. However, I quickly realized how I could design a kinesthetic approach that would provide a greater impact on language acquisition. With the ‘Gesture Approach’, I could do things that weren’t possible with TPR. For example, I wanted the whole class to benefit from the kinesthetic response at all times and decided that reducing it to a simple gesture would solve this! In addition, I wanted the kinesthetic benefit to be possible with all words – with TPR, certain high-frequency words found in my PDL could not be given as a command to which the students respond physically. How does one kinesthetically respond to ‘peut’ (can) ‘doit’ (must) ‘aime’ (like) ‘pourquoi’ (why) or ‘quand’ (when), for example…and these are just a few of many essential, high-frequency words that are taught in the first few AIM classes!
I also believed that if students are simultaneously understanding, speaking and viewing the language, the impact on acquisition would be huge – and I was correct! In 1997, I wrote a book called the Gesture Approach that contained detailed descriptions of the gestures and hundreds of hand-drawn sketches. A couple of years later, I wrote the first overview of the methodology called Accelerating Fluency.
Throughout the development of AIM, I was very aware that I was NOT to be working with the written word with my primary students. I was told that that I must focus exclusively on oral language skill development up to age 8. Coming from an immersion background, I knew that developing written language skills in tandem with oral is of great benefit, especially for the visual learner – so, despite the requirement by my administration, I did focus on development of all FOUR language skills, no matter what the age of the student, right from the beginning.
As AIM developed, I was constantly amazed at what my students were producing! I kept hidden the three- to seven- page stories and dozens of written responses to total and partial questions and other language manipulation activities that my students (even at the primary level!) were completing. I eventually met with the head of the modern language department and showed her the samples of lengthy and engaging stories that my students – even the emergent writers – had written. She agreed that I should be allowed to include writing as part of my program – for all students.
I continued to refine the methodology over the course of ten years – adding more plays and creating a sequence over the course of 300 hours of instruction in French.
In 1999, I based my Master’s Thesis on a research study conducted across two classes – similar in every respect with the exception of the program delivered. One class of grade two students had been taught with AIM and the other with a typical thematic approach. The results demonstrated that AIM students are able to communicate at levels that are significantly higher than non-AIM students. Research by others that followed, with students taught exclusively by an AIM trained teacher, using AIM as intended, demonstrated the same significantly higher achievement levels of AIM students.
Since 2004 the methodology is used by thousands of teachers all over the world, primarily in Canada, Australia, The Netherlands and the United States. Recent news from the Netherlands has shown that the first cohort of AIM students to write the National exams scored highest in the country! I am so pleased that teachers all over the world have found success with the Accelerative Integrated Methodology!
Developing AIM has allowed me to meet wonderful, passionate dedicated teachers all over the world – I feel so fortunate!