I often find myself reflecting on how I can connect my students' French learning to what they are learning in their regular classrooms. I used to do a lot of cultural projects in English, and then I came to my senses and recognized that I was interrupting input with these activities and it wasn't worth it for me to continue on this path.
I see a lot of value in helping students take what they are learning in their classes in English and bring it into our French classes. However it is important to avoid making things contrived or forced. Take, for example, our first grade's unit on the life cycle of a butterfly. I am not going to take the time to teach my students the names of the phases of the metamorphosis process in French; what purpose would that serve?! Nonetheless, this fall I wanted to make some sort of a connection. So we read La Chenille qui fait des trous, which was a perfect way to connect to the students' science lessons while keeping the language accessible and relevant. They already know the story, so I had already had a leg up. And what rich vocabulary in this book! Days of the week, fruits, numbers...these categories are often taught in isolation, or as lists for students to memorize. This book presents this vocabulary in a familiar context, making the words much more accessible.
I remember a few weeks ago, again in a first grade class, where I was doing some work with numbers. I had pulled an activity from one of my favorite sources of online "games" (that has as its audience young French children); this activity focused on skip-counting. I hadn't really realized how important this concept is outside of my goal, which was to practice French numbers. My objective was simply to help students to think about numbers in a context outside of simply counting on their fingers. One of the teachers looked at me during the activity with an approving look. I realized that this moment that there was a lot of value beyond what I wanted them to accomplish. The critical thinking skills required for this exercise benefit students
I'm sure that the vast majority of language teachers already do this, and I think it's especially easy for FLES teachers. But it can be worthwhile to revisit this concept and explore activities that may have benefits beyond what we anticipate. Bisous.
This is a screenshot of another activity from the site I mentioned above. It's one my FAVORITES, and it comes in a multitude of sizes and difficulties.
There is always a lot of sharing of brain breaks in the CI community. I began seriously implementing them about two years ago, and man, are they great! Fun, essential, and community-building. If you haven't visited La Maestra Loca's blog to see her amazing collection, do that now. (Well, as soon as your done reading this post!)
One of my students' favorites is a game we call Qui a volé les biscuits de la boîte à biscuits? This is one that can run a little longer than others, but I still love to do it once or twice a month. (It's in the Mafia/Bad Unicorn vein.)
The basic idea is that students sit in a circle, close their eyes, and place their hands behind their backs. I walk around the circle and place a biscuit (a little fake cookie that a friend baked for me) in the hands of one student; the cookie should be small enough for students to cup it in their clasped hands. I then tell them (in French) to put their hands in front and open their eyes. They then sing the chorus of the song, and students start to guess who they think stole the cookie.
On the the left is the slide I show to introduce the song.
Click here for a PDF of the Notebook file I use to introduce the vocab in the song.
The text of the song in English is
Class: Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
Students raise their hands and I choose a someone to name a suspect:
Class: _______ stole the cookies from the cookie jar. (The accused's name fills in the blank.)
________ stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
Student accused: Who, me?
Class: Yes, you!
Student accused says either: Yes, me or Not me!
If the student isn't guilty, the class says, So, who?
We keep playing until the guilty student is found, or I decide we need to stop, in which case students put their hands behind their backs, close their eyes, and I retake the cookie to play again another time (that student will get the cookie a different time). Because I teach younger kids, I have to keep track of who has had the cookie, since everything has to be "fair!"
Let me know if you try this, and what you think!
After returning from iFLT18 this year, I noticed a different post-conference feeling. When I first began my CI journey eight years ago, I remember leaving big conferences with a full and exhausted brain. There was so much information and so many amazing ideas, I felt like I was walking around in a stupor. What should my take-aways be? What's most important? Where do I begin?!?! It was critical for me to remember to start small: implement one or two specific ideas into my lessons. Every journey begins with a single step, right? At the same time, the big ideas presented at these conferences helped me to develop my philosophy and shift my approach to my teaching. I knew what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it. Nonetheless, I was still overwhelmed.
Now I feel like I'm at a point where I walk away from days upon days of sessions and workshops energized. Seeing teachers in action allowed me to reflect on my own practice. And yes, I certainly had the doubt that Megan Hayes mentions in her post-iFLT blog post.
But when I flip the post-conference-thinking coin, I find excitement the other side. Apprenticing under the amazing Paul Kirschling during adult French beginner language lab was one of the most powerful experiences of my career. I received direct feedback on my teaching from a seasoned CI French teacher. (How often does THAT happen?) My co-apprentice teacher, Blair Richards, wrote up her reflections on her blog. (My apprentice specific observations will be coming in the next week.)
I have some concrete changes I would like to make in my classroom when the students return. Last year was a particularly challenging year for me, so I'm excited to feel optimism and enthusiasm about teaching filling my soul. The pre-school adrenaline has begun to pump through my veins. (But don't worry, I have PLENTY of summer left to enjoy, including celebrating my 40th birthday.)
I hope that all of you who attended iFLT this year (thank you Teri and Carol!) can find that excitement in all of that post-conference "overwhelmedness." For those of you who were not able to attend, it's a unique and powerful conferences and I hope you will have the chance one day soon. (And New Englanders/Northeasterners who are unable travel thousands of miles, there's a wonderful opportunity right around the corner at Express Fluency's summer teacher training in Vermont. I'll be there this year, dragging Movie Talk with me! You'll also be able to see Annabelle Allen and Justin Slocum-Bailey in action (two amazing teachers whom I'm lucky to call dear friends), as well as Martina Bex, Tina Hargaden, and Mike Peto.
I will be writing more in the coming weeks, including a post/video reflection on the apprentice teaching experience, and some very pointed posts on working with littles. Check back soon!
In the meantime, may the CI force be with you.
I had the amazing opportunity to apprentice teach beginning French under the tutelage of the incredible Paul Kirschling, and work alongside Blair Richards at iFLT this summer. While I walked away with so many ideas and thoughts, the one that really stuck is the importance of going S-L-O-W-L-Y. For those of you who know me, you probably understand how difficult this is for me. My personality is such that I get super excited and carried away, and, as a result, talk super fast. But it took something as concrete and direct as "STFD" for me to really internalize the idea. (No joke, I literally wrote those letters on my hand during my teaching at iFLT as a reminder. And some of you may have seen this photo on the Interwebs of the visual I created for my classroom to get me to, well, you know...
When I took a step back and thought about the importance of slow, I thought about my students. My high-flyers can keep up with me and enjoy my "carried-away-ness." However, I risk leaving a lot of students behind when I go too quickly. And what good is it to teach when you're losing kids? I love my work, and I hope that shows in my teaching. But if I get so wrapped up in what I'm actually doing and move too fast (as I am wont to do), in the end, I won't be comprehensible, or successful. And that's a humbling thought.
(PSA-The idea of slow really hit me hard when I was a student in Linda Li's Mandarin class at NTPRS in 2012. Being a student in a language that isn't one that I know was essential to my understanding of slow. If you have never had the experience of being a language student, find a way to do that ASAP. Seriously. It's a game changer.)
In addition to seeing Paul, the master of slow, work his magic at iFLT, I was also able to observe several other teachers at the Express Fluency conference in Vermont this summer who embody slowness: Tina Hargaden, Justin Slocum Bailey (who, incidentally has a blog post on this exact idea), and Elissa Maclean. Check them out, and then come back here in a couple of months. I plan on filming and posting more of my classes this year to hold myself accountable with respect to my speed.
I hope that this gentle reminder to STFD helps you reach all of your students and keep yourself grounded and, in the end, comprehensible.
I almost did this as a series of tweets, but thought that would just get crazy.
Consider this episode 1.5 of My CI Journey.
Since my return home from ACTFL and seeing some amazing people, I have been thinking a lot about who I am as a teacher, where I am, where I want to be, and how I got here/will get there. There are a lot of people out there who have helped me become a better teacher, showing me innovating ways of approaching and thinking about SLA and teaching. So, here are those people, listed in chronological order:
Dustin has a leading roll in episode two of My CI Journey. Without him, I may never have discovered TPRS and CI. Thank you, Dustin.
Carol Gaab and Fluency Matters (formerly TPRS Publishing)
Carol organized my first TPRS/CI conference; it was her second intercultural conference, in Cancún in 2011, and the following school year, I ditched my textbook and everything I knew, and embraced TPRS with fervor. Thank you, Carol. (Oh, and please bring back the Club Med conference, even if just for one year!)
Laurie is just Laurie. Anyone who knows her knows she is a loving, generous, amazing soul. I feel lucky to call her a friend. There are no words. Thank you, Laurie.
Blaine Ray, Von Ray, and TPRS Books
In 2012, I went to the NTPRS conference in Vegas. It was my first experience at a TPRS conference where the example language was NOT French. This was a game changer for me; S-L-O-W became my mantra, and changed how I approached delivering input to my students. Thank you, Blaine and Von.
Eric introduced me to Movie Talk at a NHAWLT conferences a couple of years ago. I have since done countless MTs with my students, and presented on it several times at various conferences. I adore MT, and would not have known about it if I hadn't seen Eric present. MT is my favorite. Thank you, Eric.
La Maestra Loca
I feel so lucky to call Annabelle Allen my friend. Her energy, enthusiasm, and exuberance are contagious. She is a generous person who has inspired countless teachers, including myself. I adore Annabelle to the ends of the earth, and am always looking forward to the next time I see her. Thank you, Annabelle.
Not only is Mira a prolific and talented writer, she's really freaking funny. And she's so much fun to hang out with. Thank you, Mira.
My soulmate lives in Cincinnati. Her name is Megan. I owe more thanks to Mira here, as she introduced me to Megan. Our lives and experiences overlap in so many ways, and can't wait to see her and her little munchkins at iFLT next summer. Thank you, Megan.
There are definitely other people who have touched me along my CI journey, but without these people, I wouldn't be the teacher I am today. And I am grateful.
Wishing everyone a happy and delicious Thanksgiving.
Madame Litten teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public K-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This year she is teaching kindergarten and grades 1, 2, 4, and 6.