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AIM in the Immersion Classroom? C’est fantastique!
By Ann Chiasson
I have been a French Immersion teacher for 18 years. In 2004, after several years of teaching French through themes, I was ready to throw in the towel! My students could name dinosaurs and animals, but they couldn’t make complete sentences. I was frustrated and fed up. Then along came the AIM.
Wendy Maxwell developed the AIM for use in the core French classroom, but with certain adjustments and adaptations, it can be used successfully in immersion classrooms as well. The first thing that immersion teachers need to recognize is that there is no way you can gesture through each and every activity that takes place in the immersion classroom. You should, however, use the AIM during oral communication and language instruction activities, as you would in a core French classroom. Naturally, using the AIM will have an effect on how you use language while teaching other subjects. As immersion teachers, our primary goal is to promote second language acquisition, regardless of what subject is being taught. With that in mind, teachers should ensure that students have ample oral production time during all subject lessons. This could be done by integrating TLSE during a lesson, by using total and partial questions and by gesturing certain key points and having students speak chorally. Using the AIM throughout the immersion program will ensure higher levels of fluency in even the youngest students.
Another consideration for immersion teachers using the AIM, is knowing how to put young beginners at ease in this unfamiliar situation. Kindergarten students beginning their school career already have a lot to adapt to; being away from mom, living in a group, making friends, following rules, adapting to new routines. French immersion kindergarteners have the added component of doing all this in a language that is foreign to them! The skilled AIM teacher will use a lot of body and facial language along with gestures in order to help students make sense of the language. Regular and frequent positive reinforcement will put young students at ease and make them feel good about learning a second language. Focusing on and celebrating even the tiniest successes students have in French will help students feel good about themselves and motivate students take more risks in their second language. Incorporating lots of music and singing into the day will also help younger students feel comfortable, as these are activities that will be familiar to them. Exposing students to language through music is a natural extension of the AIM. Laughing and using lots of humor with young students will make the second language experience a positive one. At the very beginning, it may be necessary to have certain safety related rules and routines (i.e. fire drills and intruder alerts) explained in the mother tongue. Second language acquisition takes second place to safety issues. Students need to feel safe and understand what if happening around them.
In the immersion classroom, AIM routines such as the entry routine will have to be performed several times each day. Little ones need many reminders about what is expected of them. The entry routine is a fun and engaging way to remind students to speak French. Rewarding students with J’ai parlé seulement en français cards many times each day will also be an effective and useful tool. Remember: a student whose efforts in French are recognized and celebrated frequently, will be motivated to continue taking risks in his/her second language.
The AIM has completely changed my approach to teaching French in the immersion classroom. My students can still rhyme off the names of various dinosaurs and animals. The difference is that now, they can tell you all about these creatures using complete sentences in their second language! Hurray for the AIM!