I used my iPhone’s voice memo app and taped class today, 18 April 2017. It’s a challenging class because the 10 students tend to want to chat off-topic ‘EN ANGLAIS’ all the time. What I have learned in the almost 3 years with them is to accept what I can’t change and simply to translate their random comments INTO French. My ‘saving’ justification is that at least the students are getting some comprehensible input in French.
Actually, it’s true – the class has just heard and absorbed the English content. (they are far more interested in their classmate’s lives than in the activities I have planned!). So there is value in me translating that comment into French. For example, in today’s class, Henry explained that his mom was artistic. I happened to know about that and was able to add in French that a colleague’s son, a HS senior had his graduation photos taken by her. I said that in French they did not know and gestured the meaning, “He is going to receive his diploma.” Then one girl piped up in English, ‘Mrs. Shaw took a picture of my dog for the Biltmore News’. So I just carried on smoothly, “Mme Shaw a fait une photo de ton chien pour un magazine?” When she acknowledged, I then added a question in French. She understood. More CI, Comprehensible Input! Cha-ching!
The detour into English that I brought back into French took place during a typical Tuesday’s opening. Tuesday is when I show the video that accompanies the song of the week for each level. As the students were entering class and settling into their seats, I quickly googled the singer, Tal, to find out a bit of interesting background to share with them. I searched, ‘Qui est Tal’ or who is Tal, to find the French Wikipedia article. Scanning, I read that she was born into a musical family.
With that in mind, I chose, on the fly, to introduce the music video in French by telling my students about her and then turning that into questions to each one of them in French. I asked in French: “What kind of family were you born into?” and I mentioned several possibilities – ‘musicale, artistique, intellectuelle, sportive, travailleuse’. Discussing with each and then reporting back to the class what their classmate had said provided some rich CI, or comprehensible input, about their favorite topic – themselves.
That activity worked well and most of the students did make an effort to speak French.
After the video, I mentioned in French that Tal seems to like her hair because she fingered it a lot in the song. They got that.
The next activity that the voice memo feature recorded was an imaginary letter I had created from a character in our French novel, Le Vol des Oiseaux. Very occasionally I might ask a student in French 8 to read out loud in French if I think they won’t butcher the language, providing POOR input for their classmates. Since some of our structures and individual words in this novel are new-ish, I decided to read out loud for the class from the projected letter on the screen. Then I asked individual students to translate into English. This procedure helps us focus on the meaning of each word as the words fit together into a sentence.
My concluding activity had each student pretend to be the main character and write back a response to the older sister, the letter’s originator. That worked well. Students were engaged for 15 minutes, occasionally asking me how to say something in French as I circulated. On the spur of the moment I changed how I was going to spend the final 10 minutes. Instead of picking up our reader and continuing on in Chapter 3, I asked the students to physically swap computers, read and edit a classmate’s letter.
This activity gave them more Comprehensible Input and allowed them to see and (perhaps) correct errors in spelling or French sentence structure. My goal is to prepare French 8 students for a more grammar-based curriculum in the Upper School.
Today during a planning period, I’ll ‘clean up’ the letters for them to read in class tomorrow, translating into English.
What pleases me about this class is this: despite the obstacle of their daily and willful chatting in English, I have learned to maintain my calm and give as much CI, Comprehensible Input, as I can in the 38-40 minutes with them.
I am firmly convinced that for the mental representation of communicative French to form in their brains, students NEED rich CI every day. If I do that, then I am doing my job as a professional French teacher.
Audiotaping myself turned out to be a better experience than I had thought. I felt reassured not only about MY French, but that students were also using their French and that, comfortably. No small thing.