With la rentrée right around the corner (or already past for some of you), it's time to think about those all important first weeks of school. I think teachers are somewhat divided on how they feel about September. I've heard some teachers say that they like it, but I've also heard many say they enjoy it more once they are in the swing of things. I happen to love September, so in this post I'm going to share 10 reasons why.
1. Refreshed and recharged!
With two months out of the classroom and focusing on other endeavors, I come back in September ready to go. No matter how much we love teaching, it's hard to deny that we definitely have the most energy in September as opposed to May or June.
2. Starting their journey
Being a teacher of first year French students, September is a time when I get to watch them embark on their journey to language acquisition. I love the activities we do to get acquainted with the language, the culture, its importance in the world, and what it means to be a language student. It's an exciting time, and I can see the enthusiasm in the students' faces. Read more about my rentrée activities here and here.
3. New year, new rules
September is a great time to tweak rules and policies. If you have a policy from previous years that you're ready to throw out or change, it's a great feeling when September rolls around!
4. September behavior
I don't have a lot of behavior issues in my classes, but even still, we all know that students are on their very best behavior on the first day of school. Overall, I'd say the behavior is best for the first week or two before some students may start to try to challenge the teacher to see how strict he or she is. What's not to like about September behavior?
5. The Walk Through
Every year my school has a walk through for students to come to school and find their classes the week before school starts. I absolutely love this event, as I get a chance to interact with students one on one before the first day of class. It helps them out on the first day because they've met some of their teachers already, and it helps me out because I recognize some of their faces. It's also an opportunity to meet parents, many of whom accompany their children to the walk through.
6. Open House
I love open house. It's a golden opportunity to connect with parents. A lot of students are a little overwhelmed the first couple weeks of school with all the French spoken, but they quickly adjust. At open house, I explain why we speak so much French and offer some information as to what French will look like for them this year and beyond. They get to see their child's first project, a mind map presentation of himself, hung on the wall. I have a sign up sheet for parents who would like to volunteer in the classroom for cultural (i.e. food) experiences. A lot of the positive relationships I've had with parents stemmed from meeting them at open house.
Why do you love September?
Since the #Authres August initiative was shared by Sara-Elizabeth of Musicuentos, tons of language teacher bloggers have been sharing their resources. As my addition, here are a few authentic resources I've found recently:
Infographic - 25 chiffres sur Rio de Janeiro et les JO 2016
Infographic - Les français et la pause déjeuner
Infographic - Les Français et les animaux domestiques (via Recipe4Rigor)
Infographic - Les Français et les animaux domestiques (via Recipe4Rigor)
Food & Meal-Taking
Infographic - Les français et la pause déjeuner
Document - Guide des familles - rentrée 2016/2017 - Collège La Salle - Saint Laurent (pp. 3-5 have lots of schedules and dates)
Website - Bien préparer la rentrée 2016 - Official site of French government with information about all school levels (useful for all sorts of topics)
Family /Animals / Description
Monsieur Sacha Playlist on Disney Channel FR:
10 Trucs À Faire Quand On S'ennuie (via Madame's Musings)
For more #authres, read my other posts on the topic.
Posted by Samantha Decker on Sunday, August 21, 2016
Language teachers are divided about whether or not it is appropriate to assign students target language names. On the pro side, some teachers feel that it helps teach pronunciation and give students an identity in the target language. On the con side, others feel that it's not authentic, since students won't actually be addressed by a different name when they go to a target language country. While I think both sides have valid arguments, I'm personally on the pro side. In this post I'll share a little bit about the role names play in my classroom.
The Purpose of a Target Language Name
Assigning target language names is a long standing tradition in American foreign language classrooms, especially in the lower levels. Since I teach 7th grade first-year students, many of them come into my classroom expecting to adopt a French name, and are very excited to do so. The process of choosing a name and an identity for French class gives them ownership and motivates them for the year ahead. Anything that motivates students is a winner in my book! Many former language students fondly remember the name they went by in class. I know I remember adopting the name "Simone" in French class, since "Samantha" doesn't have a French equivalent, and my mother says she went by "Chérie." In Spanish class, I chose the name "Paloma," because I liked the way it sounded. In any case, picking a target language name seems to create positive memories for students, and having positive memories about French class is what makes students want to continue their studies!
Every year I've been teaching, I always create a list of names for students before the first day of school. With anywhere from 135-175 students, this is not a quick task, but the linguist in me really enjoys doing it. I get to know students' names, and it gets me excited for the year ahead. For each name, I provide a French equivalent or closest match. If it's a less common name, I consult Wikipedia or a French baby names site to find the match. Again, I'm a bit of a perfectionist in this regard, and really try to find an equivalent if there is one or the closest match if I can't.
It's important for students to understand that not all names will have a French equivalent. If their name does, I put a "=" between their name and the French name. If I had to give the closest match, the student will see a "≈" between their name and the French name. I separate girls' and boys' names to make it easier for students to find their name. The beginning of a girls' names list might looks something like this:
Alexandra = Alexandrine
Amanda = Amandine
Amber ≈ Amélie
Anna = Anne
Catherine = Catherine
Caroline = Caroline
Carly ≈ Caroline
At the end of the two lists, I also add a few other popular names for boys and girls that hadn't already made it onto the list, especially hyphenated names like Jean-Baptiste or Marie-Claire.
I don't have students pick names on the first day of school. There's too much else to take care of during the first week, plus, I need to learn their given names before I can start to learn their French names! On the first day of school, students learn how to introduce themselves. They get a piece of yardstick and make a name tag with their given name. They keep these out on their desks until I have learned their names.
Pronunciation & Choosing a Name
One of the things I like about choosing a French name is that it introduces students to French phonetics and spelling conventions. After giving this pronunciation lesson, I give students the list of names and let them practice pronouncing them with a partner. If they need help, they raise their hand and I assist them. While each student is given a French name that matches their given name, they can choose whatever name they like. Since most students choose the name I picked for them, it's not that hard to learn them all. For the students that choose a different name, many of them take great pride in getting to choose their name. Once the students have picked a name, they write "Je m'appelle" and their new name on the back of the name tag that they made on the first day of school.
Getting to Know You
To help students learn each others' French names, an activity I do after teaching "Il s'appelle" and "Elle s'appelle" is to have students get in groups and try to memorize each others' names. One student says "Je m'appelle [name]." The next student says "Je m'appelle [name], Il/Elle s'appelle [name of the person next to them]," and so on. If they finish quickly, they can repeat the activity, but this time each person adds a funny gesture after their name to spice things up.
When students write their name on their papers, I teach them to write it the French way, LASTNAME Firstname. It's a way to incorporate culture into our routines. I first mentioned this idea in this prior post.
Posted by Samantha Decker on Monday, August 15, 2016
For the past four years, I have been the advisor to our school's French Club. Before starting the club, I met with veteran French teacher Susan Frost of Lake George, NY, to get some ideas. This post is comprised of both my own ideas and those of Susan's that I've had success using.
Before getting into some of the things I've done with the club, I want to outline some of the decisions that need to be made before you can start a club:
The Focus of the Club - This may seem fairly obvious, but the focus of a French Club can take many forms. Will this be an immersion club where only French is spoken? Will the goal be to learn more French or will it be focused more on culture? Will you have many different activities or just one or two ongoing activities? I made the decision to focus primarily on culture and secondarily on language, since I find this to be a nice supplement to what we do in class. By not insisting on French being spoken all the time, students with little to no background in French can still come and enjoy our activities.
Who Can Join the Club - My building has students in grades 6-8, but only students in grades 7 & 8 take a language. I made the decision to allow all students, regardless of grade or enrollment status in French, to attend French Club. My rationale for this is that one need not be enrolled in French to learn about it and to broaden one's horizons. Even students studying Spanish sometimes attend meetings, because they are interested in what we are learning about. This does mean, though, that some students will attend the club for 3 years, so I make an effort not to do exactly the same activities every year (although anything involving food is a slam dunk and students are happy to repeat it).
How Often The Club Will Meet - Many after school clubs meet once a week, but after meeting with Susan and talking to other French Club advisors, I realized that once a month is a more appropriate frequency for a club of this nature. Each month, there is a different focus, and students are informed ahead of time of what the meeting will be about so that they can decide if they want to come or not. If we are doing an extended project, then we will meet more frequently to work on that as needed (see below for what some of those projects are).
How You Will Inform Students About Meetings - I try to meet the same week of each month, but with field trips, long weekends, and vacations, that doesn't always happen. Both I and the other French teacher inform our students ahead of time of each meeting, but since the club is open to all students, I also have an announcement made the day before and the day of on the morning announcements. I also post about it on Edmodo. One way or another, you'll want to make sure your students are well aware of any meetings to they don't miss out if they want to attend!
Projects & Activities
The first meeting - I like to use the first meeting to introduce students to the club. Although 6th graders are invited to attend along with the older students, a majority of the members begin attending in 7th grade as French students. I tell them what we've done in years past, and then ask students to provide ideas for the coming year. Some of our greatest projects were ideas from students. I invite students to bring French/francophone food to the meeting that's easy to share, since refreshments always draw a larger crowd. Above are mini croque-monsieurs that a student brought in to share. They are divided into traditional and vegetarian, and they're even gluten free! Students always come up with the neatest things. I never would have thought of this! If there's any time left at the end of the meeting, I have a little Kahoot game that we play with trivia about the French-speaking world (questions cover topics such as which countries and organizations use French or which teachers' last names are French).
Impressionist Art Project - On two separate occasions, the French Club teamed up with the Art Club to recreate an Impressionist painting. One year we did Seurat's Eiffel Tower, and another year we did Van Gogh's Starry Night. Students recreated a portion of the painting on a small square, and the squares were then put together to make a mural. A project like this takes a few meetings to accomplish, but the nature of it is such that students can attend any or all of those meetings in order to collaborate on the project. I admit, I was mostly here for "moral support" and bus pass writing during these meetings, as I'm not much of a painter. The two art teachers I worked with were the genius behind the project!
To learn more about how I incorporate Impressionism into my classroom, click here.
Cards for hospital patients - Thanks to Susan for this wonderful idea. Every year I have a meeting where students write cards for patients in the Montreal Children's Hospital. They are not personalized towards anyone in particular, but they all contain various well wishes in French.
Fundraiser - A few years ago we did a fundraiser to benefit the children of Haiti. Students sat outside the cafeteria during lunch periods collecting donations. Anyone who donated got a sticker. They also asked friends and family at home to contribute. In the end, we donated the funds to the UNICEF Haiti Fund.
Mini bûches de Noël - Another great idea from Susan Frost. Although it would be great to make a seasonal dish such as a bûche de Noël, the time available after school is too limited to take on a project like that. Enter the mini bûche de Noël! It may not be as authentic, but it introduces students to the dish nonetheless. First, we look at photos of bûches de Noël, since they can look so different. Then, we watch a video showing one being rolled. Finally, students make their own mini bûches de Noël using Swiss rolls, frosting, a fork to make the bark texture, and little holly decorations. In class, students can bring in real bûches de Noël, along with other dishes, the day before December break.
Donate a dish - One year a student suggested we make a francophone dish and donate it to the local soup kitchen. We made a Moroccan couscous salad. Local grocery stores donated some of the ingredients.
Valentine's Day Hearts - This idea was adapted from a post I saw on the wonderful French Teachers in the US Facebook group. The other French teacher and I pre-cut hearts for students to write friendly messages on in French (Joyeuse St-Valentin, Tu es magnifique/fantastique, etc.) during French Club. They then hung them on the lockers around the school. An announcement was made for students to see a French student to find out what the message meant (which was the wonderful idea of the poster on Facebook). One caveat for this is that it is incredibly time consuming if you have a large school. My school has around 1600 students, and this task ending up taking quite a bit longer than expected. Luckily between the French teacher and I and a number of French Club students who were willing to put in some extra time to get them all up before Valentine's Day, we accomplished the task.
Cheese tasting - The tried-and-true cheese tasting event is always a winner, and we repeat it every year. I give students a list of French cheeses that are easy to find, and students can sign up to bring some in. Before we eat the cheese, we watch a quick introductory video.
Collaborate Across Schools - This past year, middle school French Club students had an opportunity to Participate in World Cultural Night at the high school. At this event, high school students studying language at the upper levels present something cultural - be it food, a game, a performance, etc. The public is invited to attend. The French Club students split into two groups and presented on cheese (something they learned about at one of our meetings as well as in class), and French film titles. The cheese group gave out the survey above for visitors to take home to remember which cheeses they liked. The French film group made a Kahoot game based on the films on the poster below (the flaps lift up to reveal the title in French). As visitors pass by, they can play the game (2-4 people at a time). The winner got a cream puff. This was a great way for these students to get to participate in a high school environment and see what awaits them down the road. It's always great to collaborate across levels!
Elementary Teachers - For the past two years, French Club students have gone into elementary classrooms to teach mini lessons to the students. French Club students who participated in the project came in after school on a number of different occasions to prepare lessons and create visuals and examples. Students practiced the lessons on each other, and we discussed some scaffolding and classroom management techniques. For the first two lessons, my colleague and I developed the agenda, but for the third and final lesson, the students gave their input. The project has been one of the most rewarding I have ever done with students. You can read about it in detail in this post.
Sidewalk chalk - For National French Week this past year, students in French club drew flags of French speaking countries with sidewalk chalk on the front entryway to the school. I got the idea from a teacher at a NYSAFLT Conference who said she took her elementary students outside with sidewalk chalk. Well, middle schoolers like sidewalk chalk too! You can read more about my National French Week activities in this post.
I hope you find these ideas helpful if you're planning to start up a French Club this year. What are some of your favorite French Club activities?
Posted by Samantha Decker on Friday, August 05, 2016
Summer's an important time for teachers. While many of us take some time to relax and unwind, it's not uncommon for teachers to use this time to reflect on the year gone by and prepare for the one ahead. Here's what you'll find on my summer checklist:
Back Up & Reorganize Your Files
If you're like me, your files tend to need some tidying up at the end of a school year. I keep everything on my flash drive, but I also back up to Microsoft One Drive (connected to my school email) and Box (through my home computer). I also like to go through and delete old files, especially outdated SMART Notebook files, which can be large.
Get Organized with Evernote
If you're not using Evernote yet, you should be! I wrote a post a few years back about how I use it to gather resources and plan lessons. The summer is a great time to play around with it!
Get Acquainted with New Technology
You know when you find out about a new app or website, and you think, "Wow that looks really cool, but I'd really have to play around with it a bit before I could use it in my classroom?" Well I often think that, at least. I often find myself test driving new tech tools during the summer and sometimes even preparing an activity or lesson on them. Doing this takes the pressure off in the fall.
Re-Evaluate Policies & Procedures
Summer is the best time to think about how you run your classroom and what changes you'd like to make in the coming year (new grading system, homework policy, etc.). If I decide I want to make changes to a rule or policy, I wait till the fall to do it. I think it's a bit unfair to students to go changing policies left and right throughout the year, and it starts to detract from your credibility. It's important to go through any handouts you give out at the beginning of the school year and make sure they reflect the changes you're making.
Load Up on PD!
I try to do something PD-ish during the summer. I regularly read teacher blogs throughout the year, but during the summer I tend to dig in a little bit more, either by browsing articles in-depth that I've saved to Pocket (another amazing organizational tool), attending a summer conference or taking a 3-hour class, or reading a book (check out my summer reading for French teachers).
As language teachers, we have a responsibility to maintain fluency in the language(s) we teach. Whether we achieve that through travel, through correspondence with colleagues or native speakers, watching movies or TV in the target language, or through listening to music or reading target language books or magazines, is up to us. Lately I've been listening to a lot of Cœur de Pirate and Valérie Carpentier on iTunes. Both are Québécoise singers.
It's important to take time off to relax and recharge so you come back in the fall more energized than ever! In the summer I pursue my photography more intently. I find this pastime provides a great balance to teaching.
What does your summer checklist look like?
Posted by Samantha Decker on Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Many of you have probably heard of Humans of New York, the photo project featuring portraits and interviews of people seen on the streets of New York. The site has grown in popularity so much so that it has inspired a wealth of offshoots for various other cities around the world. One such offshoot is Humans of Paris. I recently decided to use Humans of Paris as photo prompts in class.
I gave groups of students a photo to talk about in groups. They were to discuss and infer the end to the following sentences:
-Il/Elle est... / Ils/Elles sont... (content, jeune, vieux, etc.)
-Il/Elle a...ans / Ils/Elles ont...ans
-Il/Elle a... / Ils/Elles ont... (froid, chaud, faim, etc.)
-Il/Elle aime... / Ils/Elles aiment... (les chiens, le sport, etc.)
After they had a few minutes to discuss, the groups presented their inferences to the class. Then we actually read the caption that appeared with the photo on social media. The captions are in both French and English. Sometimes the students had inferred correctly about the people in the photos, and other times they learned interesting facts that couldn't be inferred from the photo.
I liked using Humans of Paris as a prompt, because it was more authentic than just stock photos, but also because the actual captions made the activity more interesting. Students enjoyed reading the stories behind the people in the photos.
I made an effort to pre-select photos that would elicit the vocabulary and structures we were reviewing, but also whose captions were relatively easy for them to read in French.
The great thing about Humans of Paris is that you can use it at any level. I'm interested to hear how YOU might use this in your French classroom?
Posted by Samantha Decker on Wednesday, June 15, 2016
As much as coming to class and participating every day is vital to progress in language acquisition, so is supplementing daily lessons with at-home review. As language teachers, we spend a great deal of time encouraging our students to use the language outside of class, including sharing the many ways in which one can do that. Here are some of the tools and ideas I have used to encourage at-home French use.
I know many language teachers have sung the praises of DuoLingo. When students finish a task on the iPads early in my class, I often allow them to go on DuoLingo. By using it in class, students are more likely to use it at home. At the beginning of the year, I allow them to sign up for an account in class. DuoLingo is a great supplement for the curriculum.
Languages Online is a series of games and worksheets created by the government of the Australian province of Victoria. If I have a few minutes at the end of class, I sometimes pull up one the games and have a students play. Then I post it on Edmodo for students to play at home.
I am quite fond of TinyTap. Not only do I use it in class, but I post the activities on Edmodo for students to play at home. I also linked to many TinyTap games for students to play for their long-term assignment (see below).
Quizlet remains one of my favorite vocabulary studying tools. What makes it so indispensable is the fact that the words are pronounced for students while they study. While the voice is a bit robotic, it's pretty accurate and you can't beat the fact that it's all automated. Some of my students make Quizlet sets on their own to study from, I also post my sets on Edmodo for students to access. Playing scatter (above) is great for the last few minutes of class or if a student finishes a task early. I like students to see or play the game in class, which increases the likelihood that they will play it at home.
Any time I show a YouTube video in class, I share it on Edmodo and on my blog. If students want to watch it again, I remind them that they can watch it at home, and many students often report that they share the videos with siblings and parents.
I just started using Edmodo this year after our school stopped using our previous LMS. I really like it as a great way to communicate with students. I post homework on the blog as well as resources. I also award badges for various achievements, such as the ones below:
Besides the badges above, I also award badges for good behavior and other non-French related achievements. Students who earn 5 badges get a homework pass. Many of the badges above are for the use of French outside of class. Unfortunately, many students forget that these opportunities are available to them, as they are mentioned once at the beginning of the year, and although I do mention them from time to time, they are not a daily part of our class routine. I intend to do more with the badges next year, as I think they are a nice alternative to extra credit. I will be making some cooler prizes (perhaps some of the privileges other teachers have suggested on their blogs) and probably lowering the number of badges needed to get them (5 badges can be difficult to earn).
Personalized Learning Goal
Shortly before April break, I thought it might be a good idea to give students some sort of independent assignment to encourage the use of French outside of class. This was a one-time assignment, but the idea was that hopefully some students would develop study habits from this and continue these activities of their own volition. I gave students a list of possible assignments, most of which just required a parent signature. Students had a lot of fun with this. Among other things, I had students report back that they watched their favorite movie in French, spoke French on vacation with a friend, talk to Siri in French, and talk to a French-speaking relative in French.
One of the resources I created for this assignment was a list of games students could play. Some of them we had already played in class, but I also included many new ones, some with new vocabulary for students to acquire. The games came from TinyTap, Languages Online, EdPuzzle, and Kahoot. I reminded students that with the proper equipment (a computer or laptop and one device for each player), they can play Kahoot at home.
While I am constantly working on new ways to encourage the use of French at home, I think the advent of all these new tools and games in the last few years has really helped. What are some of the ways you approach this challenge?
P.S.: Many of the tools I have written about in this post I have also covered in more detail in the iPad Diaries. Head over there and take a look!
You may also want to read my post on keeping a blog.
Posted by Samantha Decker on Monday, May 23, 2016