by Lisa Venne, AIM teacher Niagara, Ontario
When I first arrived at the school, it was easy to tell that students were not used to speaking in French. To shake things up and let them know that French class would look and sound very different than what they were used to, I traded student desks for 5 large tables which were pushed to the exterior walls, and placed chairs in a semi-circle in the centre of the room. You cannot expect the students to ‘speak’ if the physical space is not conductive to conversation and you cannot expect them to write if they can’t find the words to speak.
When students are placed in rows, they speak to the back of the heads of others and there is little to no eye contact. Authentic interactions can only occur when the speaker and listener are both engaged in making meaning of language.
I begin teaching the students to speak chorally as I gesture using the AIM methodology. When a student shares an idea independently, the class follows my gestures to repeat the idea in a grammatically correct way, giving them lots of practice and no one ever feels centered out.
The first semester at a new school, I try to teach “Les trois petits cochons” from grades 1-8. I am so familiar with pared-down language associated with this story that I can quickly modify activities for all ages and abilities so that I can focus more on making connections with my students to gain their trust.
In grade 1 students can create different fashions for the 3 pigs to reinforce clothing vocabulary. I can then upload their designs to my active board and play a Guess-who type of game. Students can design and describe the interiors of the pigs’ homes which can lead to a mini unit on the 5 senses. There are many alternative stories available in English and in French such as “Le loup qui s’aimait beaucoup trop” or “The true story of the 3 little pigs” to read and discuss. An older and more advanced student might write a short story as to why the mom pig made her children leave home. Students also absolutely love the video on Youtube: Les trois petits cochons Lady Gaga and can be challenged to create their own music video.
With Mulan’s class, we have studied 3 AIM plays over the 3 years I have taught the students. This year, we worked with Comment-y Aller to begin. We built skills organizing ideas, retelling stories, and editing using the AIM correction code.
In January we watched “The Diary of Anne Frank” to try to help students understand the human affect of War given the questions they were bringing to class about the War in Ukraine. Comment-y aller had already opened discussion about the geography of Europe, colonialism, and political borders of countries. I walked them through the process of organizing a retell into a 5-paragraph essay. Each day we would co-write a section of the retell. I wrote key words on chart paper that they needed translated to talk about the story and helped them to reformulate ideas using paired-down language. We talked about the story prior to them writing so that they could all hear some ideas. I would write key words and a few sentence starters on the board. They were told not to worry about spelling and to circle words they thought were incorrect to review later. They were encouraged to keep their sentences short and told that the goal was to get their ideas across. I have always told my students that if someone who is new to speaking English walks up to them and says “car” and points. They will likely fill in the blanks to help understand the message, “Is that your car? Is it your new car? Do you need a ride? Is your car broken?”
By the end of the week, the walls were covered in new vocabulary, and I had typed ideas as students shared them including grammatical errors. I printed a copy for each student and taught them the AIM correction code. They used a yellow pencil to identify “look-for” words in Rap 1, orange for “look-for” words in Rap 2, and red for “look-for” words in Rap 3. Students were then asked to go through their own retells and apply the correction code. When I marked their work, they knew I was looking to see if they were able to identify all the “look-for” words of Rap 1,2 and 3 and if they knew how to make corrections if needed. I also gave them feedback as to how to improve on expressing their ideas and corrected circled words with no penalty. Students who struggled to write comprehensible sentences were asked to only create lists of words that connected to the next film we would watch. (At least I would know if their struggles were related to formulating sentences or coming up with French vocabulary).
After March break we watched the movie E.T. Each day we would watch 15-20 minutes of the film (in English) while students created a list of French words connected to the scene. They would have 20-25 minutes to write a short paragraph of the scene. I worked with students who struggled and scribed their ideas, or I gestured ideas for a couple of students and asked them to write down what we would say together.
Once we finished watching the film, we created a graphic organizer include an introduction (answering who, when, what, why, where), then brainstormed where in the film students felt were 3 distinct parts. They concluded that it was when Elliot started to feel E.T.’s emotions, when Eliott’s sister, brother and mom met E.T. and finally when the scientist arrived at Eliott’s house. For their conclusion students were asked to give their personal feedback as to why they liked or did not like the film. After the 5 days, students were given 2 periods to systemically go over their writing and apply Raps 1,2 and 3. This time when I collected their work I also marked it up with the correction code, including “oi” (orthograph incorrect) for words that they had available to them in stories or word lists, “mm” (mots qui manquent), m/f (masculine/feminine) and s/pl (singular/plural). Stronger students were also challenged to identify verbs (by looking for pronouns/names) using green so that I could then get them to put their retell in the past tense. Students then rewrote their good copies.
The final task in class was to write their own story or to retell the story of their favorite book or movie using the process we had followed as a class.
Mulan enjoys writing and had begun her short story over the Covid lockdown after Christmas break. In the Brightspace (D2L) platform it is easy as a teacher to add the correction code and for students to edit their work and resubmit. Mulan’s story was chosen to represent our school at the local level and then went on to earn the provincial award.
I always tell students that language development happens on a continuum. My job each year is not to make sure that they have mastered the curriculum expectations (which are open to interpretation and non-specific) but rather to move them further in their abilities to express themselves in French. I mark their work with feedback instead of letter grades and it has really changed the overall effort I see in students.
I am so grateful that I was introduced to AIM early in my career as it completely changed my teaching practice, raising overall student engagement and keeping me LOVING teaching core-French! Thank you Wendy!