Testing Effectiveness of AIM in the Upper Classes of Dutch High School (VWO 4-6)
By Wim Gombert
In the past two decades, the position of the French language in Dutch secondary schools has grown weaker and weaker. Fewer students choose the language after the first three compulsory years and schools have also reduced the amount of time available. Pupils cannot communicate well in French anymore and French seems to disappear from Dutch schools.
However, in some schools, more students choose French. For example, in my own school, where I teach English immersion classes French, the number of Dutch students choosing French as a second language has increased substantially.
Figure 1: Number and percentage of students who chose French after three years of compulsory French at the Gomarus College. The students from 2014 on have had the AIM-method.
I believe these French classes are popular because of the accelerative integrative method (AIM), which focuses on meaningful use and repetition without explicit grammar lessons and is in line with a usage based perspective on language. This method is quite the opposite of the traditional methods used in the Netherlands, which are usually structure based and include a great deal of explicit grammar. Most of my colleagues who participate in the network of AIM-teachers report that French has become one of the favourite subjects among their students.
AIM has already proven to be more effective in the first two years of high school (Rousse-Malpat & Verspoor, 2012). The AIM children are more fluent in both oral and writing skills and after two years they are just as accurate as their traditional counterparts. Also AIM schools report higher grades for French on the central exams. The first school using the AIM method at the lowest level (CSG Prins Maurits Middelharnis – 4 year VMBO) reported a significant increase of the proficiency level as measured by the final exam (compared to the national average) which was 8.2 (6.2) in 2011, 7.9 (6.4) in 2012 and 7.3 (6.4) in 2013. The first school using the AIM method at the highest level (Cygnus gymnasium Amsterdam – 6 year Gymnasium) reported having an average on the final exam in 2013 which was 2 points higher than the national average with a 100% percentile score, which means there is no school in the Netherlands with a higher score.
However, most of the detailed, empirical AIM research has been concentrated on younger children in the first three years of high school as the method was developed for elementary school originally, but now several schools have continued teaching with AIM inspired materials in the higher classes. The purpose of the current project is to provide empirical evidence that AIM is more effective than traditional programs in the last three years of VWO. The ultimate goal though is to get French back in Dutch schools and have pupils communicate in French effectively!