Every French Immersion Teacher is a Literacy Teacher

Picture source: http://www.learntopreserve.com/the-art-of-preserving/2010/9/13/7-different-pickle-recipes-in-7-days-sort-of.html

There was an article in an american newspaper that spoke about the shift to the “Common Core” in education. The biggest change for one of the long-time teachers was the approach that all teachers must teach literacy. For French Immersion teachers, this is old hat. One of the fundamental aspects of French Immersion instruction is that all teachers must also be teaching the language. Students are learning French not only in their language course, but also in Science, Math, Social Studies, Health, Physical Education, etc. It is extremely important that French Immersion teachers are aware of the language instruction piece of their planning at all times, especially when the “subject” is not French. Students need to be able to develop vocabulary about different topics and develop the language that is particular to different situations.

A story that made this clear to me was a conversation I had with a former student who had graduated from Immersion a few years ago. They told me about their trip to France and ordering food in a restaurant. They indicated to me that they felt at ease in most situations, but they could not find the vocabulary they needed when the waiter asked them what they wanted on their sandwich. They had not had a class were they spoke about food for the last 4 years of their school career. This meant they could talk about literature with people easily, but could not remember what the word for pickle was in French. This showed the importance of language instruction in all subjects and how multiple subjects contribute to holistic language education.

In French Immersion programs, even the Foods teacher is a language teacher.

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Being a Part of the Change Process

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Change is not easy. This fact has been hammered home in almost every industry and sector. For all the “hard” or “chaotic” parts of change, we often forget the incredible opportunity to influence outcomes. I had a recent experience that drove this point home.

While at a meeting of colleagues I was getting frustrated with my perceived lack of progress. We were all talking about different possibilities and ways to move forward with technology, but I didn’t think we were getting anywhere. At one point, in frustration, I thought to myself, “This is pointless, why am I even taking part in this process.”

I was able to answer my own question right away. These “messy” parts of change are incredible opportunities to influence decisions and also make sense of questions. What I failed to realize was that the conversation was a group of people making sense of unknown topics together. There is no “right” answer, we come to consensus through the discussion.

I saw this later in the week when I realized that as a result of being a part of the conversation I was better prepared to share my vision of how we should move forward. I also realized that my opinion was largely influenced by the conversation. I not only was able to put my thoughts forward, but accepted the opinions of the others.

The lesson I learned is to be continue to be a part of the change process. Get into the discussions and keep in mind that you are influencing the future.

UbD your PGP

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I had a thought the other day as I was struggling with my professional growth plan. Why not use the concept of Understanding by Design/Backward Design for this process?

I started my PGP by looking at the Alberta Principal Quality Standards and trying to speak to them directly. This was not personal and I found it uninspiring. I felt I was focusing on the statement as opposed to what I wanted to work on.

When I started to think about the aspects of my practice I wanted to work on first (my goals), then tried to link them to the Quality Standards, the process felt more worthwhile.

I was surprised by how compatible my goals and the standards were, but it took me looking at the end result I want to achieve to see the correlation.

I am sure that everyone has found themselves uninspired by a required activity. I like this strategy to make these tasks meaningful.

The Pleasure and the Pain

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Educators often say they want to prepare students for life after school. This usually entails trying to pass on concrete skills related to work and production. This week I was reminded that there are also other aspects of life that students need to learn how to deal with, namely the emotional highs and the lows of life. I like to think of this as “the pleasure and the pain” of living. Through living we experience events that make us incredibly happy and incredibly sad. These events are often the ones that mark us the most. My question today is how are we preparing our students to deal with the great and not so great events in life?

There have been two events that have made me think about this question in past week. Event one was the start of school. The smiling faces and positive energy made this a great event. There was a genuine positive outlook in the building that made me feel like we could achieve anything. Event two was the funeral of a former colleague. This was emotionally draining and very sad. Both the highs and the lows of this week made me think of the ways that I have been taught to deal with extreme ends of the emotional continuum. Did anyone really talk to me about ways to deal with sad moments in my life, as they did on how to edit an essay? I really can’t say they did.

I do not have answers to this question, but I am thinking about character education and psychological well-being for our students and society.

September Resolutions

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi

To me, September has always felt like the start of the year. It seems to be the point where I look at the whole year ahead and think about the changes I want to make. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do make September resolutions. Here are two that I have made this year.

First resolution: get my students connected to the world. One thing that I find motivates students to learn is when they are able to see how concepts we are learning about apply outside of school. I am going to work hard to get my students to see and experience the concepts I teach outside of school. So far, I have made contact with a Sports Editor to Skype with my students about writing. Others ideas are still coming.

Second resolution: To remove barriers on how students demonstrate their learning. There was a time when I was quite particular about the activities that students could do to show me they had met the outcomes of a course. When it comes down to it, I needed to ask myself if the format was important or if student understanding was important. I chose understanding. I am hoping that flexibility in format will allow students to focus on the outcomes we are targeting.

I read an article saying that if you share your resolutions with others they are more likely to stick as people keep you accountable. I guess this would qualify. I’ll try to give an update later in the year to tell you how my September resolutions are going.

This blog post also appeared in PSD 184 days of learning blog which can be found at http://www.psdblogs.ca/184/

Why Learn a Language?

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I overheard an interesting conversation the other day about language learning. There was a middle-school administrator who was having difficulty with student motivation in Core French. The students were saying the class was boring and that they did not see how they would use French in their lives. The solution proposed by the administrator was to cut language learning and offer something else.

immediately had an issue with this argument. I admit, I am biased when it comes to this subject, but I will try to reason why I feel that cutting language learning is not to the benefit of students.

Firstly, the last time I heard a student saying these same things it was in regards to a Math class. Would any middle-school administrator consider for a moment cutting their Math course because the students thought it was boring and irrelevant to their daily lives? I would say that the chances are low. The reason for this is the importance of the subject. Both Math and Languages have benefits beyond the actual subject. Alberta Education even goes as far as to say that language learning has an impact on ” intellectual potential, scholastic achievement, first language skills, citizenship and the economy”(http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/resources/learnlang/benefits.aspx).

Secondly, where is the role of the teacher in the student engagement piece of this debate? Generally, when a class is seen to be “boring” we would look at the activities being asked of the students, the way they are interacting with the subject and the overall engagement being encouraged by the teacher. I feel that in this case because the administrator feels they can cut the course, they can overlook the pedagogy question. I know of teachers who make language learning fun, just as I know of teachers who make Math fun, despite the general opinions of our middle-school population. These teachers use the students interests to make it interesting, they choose activities that engage the learners, they reach out to other people and interact in a meaningful way, they teach culture as well as language. The kids adore their language classes.

In our current globalized world, where companies do business anywhere, I believe there is more reason than ever to introduce the concept of language learning. Language learning will also bring openness to new cultures and people, a requisite skill in today’s world.

I did not say that teaching languages is easy, just as I would never say teaching Math is easy. The argument I am making is that languages are important and need to be treated with the same rigor and professionalism that other subjects do. We would be doing our students a disservice if we were to cut language classes.