An Interview with a Retired French Teacher

I recently interviewed one of my high school French teachers, Barbara Lynaugh, for a school project. I asked her questions about promoting French literacy, and I thought I might share her answers with you! Just to give you a little background information, Ms. Lynaugh taught at Saratoga Springs High School in Saratoga Springs, NY, and since her retirement she has kept busy, among other things, producing a CD of French songs with lyrics for French students called Do-Ré-Mi. Click here to purchase Do-Ré-Mi online.

How did you come up with the idea for Do-Ré-Mi?
The idea for Do-Ré-Mi was easy. I like to sing; students generally enjoy singing. Words, in this case vocabulary words, are much easier to remember when put to music and pronunciation is enhanced tenfold! Quite importantly, as a foreign language teacher, I designed the songs to represent a multitude of topics which students need to master in their basic acquisition of French.

What have your students said about Do-Ré-Mi?
Students appear to enjoy the Do-Ré-Mi songs because they can all participate at the same time without being individually self-conscious about their pronunciation. Some thoroughly like to "ham it up" while other who are somewhat shy may barely vocalize the words. A rule I use is that as I pass by each student's desk, I want to see a mouth moving and hear some noise...not in English though!

How does Do-Ré-Mi promote student interest in French literacy?
More is done with the songs than just singing them. Vocabulary lists are provided for prior study and verses are translated aloud by individual students or as a choral activity. The songs are usually introduced to the class after a particular topic has been covered. (Each song has been written with a specific vocabulary or grammar topic.)

You used TPR a lot in class when I had you. How does this motivate students to listen and respond in French?
TPR is a great vehicle through which to teach a second language. Involving the students in active hands-on activities energizes them and helps then to retain learned materials for a longer period of time. TPR teaching and learning is enjoyable and stimulating for both the teacher and the class.

In what ways can a textbook promote student interest in French literacy?
While many teachers prefer not to teach from textbooks, they offer a valuable tangible resource for students to have as needed. The instructional progression of materials in a well designed textbook can always give students a resource to fall back on for review purposes, misunderstood topics, etc. Too much reliance on textbooks alone however, diminishes a teacher's creativity, leads to student disinterest, and results in mundane lesson planning and lessons in general.

A lot of the students in the class I was in when I had you were already independently motivated to read/write/listen/speak in French. What do you do when you have a mixture of motivation levels?
It is quite a challenge to teach students with varying motivation and ability levels. Someone always loses our. Those at the lower end of the scale experience frustration and frequent failure, while those at the upper end are deprived of challenging learning opportunities. A truly candid response from me...I am pro, pro, pro ability grouping and tracking. I have done it all...both mainstreaming and tracking over the years and will always place my money on the tracking mode of teaching!

The children we worked with were naturally excited about everything. How do you get high school students to feel the same way?
High school students do not take an interest in all their subjects. Many of them have 1 or 2 subjects that really matter to them, i.e., that they see any value in. When a subject is taught with depth, color, purpose, enthusiasm and a combination of levity and seriousness, students tend to feed off those qualities. Students must be encouraged to believe that what they are learning has value either in the present or in the future for them. If a subject can be related to specific events in one's life, the material is of more interest to that person. In second language learning, the opportunity to travel or to encounter native speakers of another country in one's own town is very motivating.

Can you share any other techniques you have for motivating students to read/write/listen/speak in French?
I am very convinced that originally created products are very helpful in teaching ANY subject. Teachers know what their students need to learn, how they respond to various activities, what works and what doesn't work. A very important part of motivating students is to continually look for ways to praise and encourage them...but not so much that the words are over used and appear shallow. A great way to inspire students is to invite French speaking peers or community members into a classroom exposing students to the authenticity of the language. Preparing culturally based lessons can be helpful as well, as students like to compare similarities and differences with students of their own age in another country.

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