The French Corner 2019 Recap

Well, 2019 is coming to a close, and at the end of the year I usually reflect on what new things I tried and what new experiences I had in the classroom.  Here's what happened with me in 2019.

This year I attended the NYSAFLT (New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers) Annual Conference in my hometown of Saratoga Springs.  Conferences are a great way to connect with other colleagues and gather new ideas.  I came away with lots of new ideas and had a chance to connect with other teachers I hadn't seen in awhile.

Martina Bex
The amazing Martina Bex came to my school to talk about comprehensible input in November.  She gave us lots of really great ideas, including one I'll talk about below.

Card Talk
Card Talk is a no-prep, fun activity that Martina led us through in her workshop.  She explains it in detail in this blog post.  In summary, you ask the students a guiding question (such as what is their favorite activity or food) and the students draw their answer.  The teacher shows the class the students' responses and uses it to introduce new vocabulary and prompt a discussion.  This can then be used for a variety of future activities.  I had students draw their favorite food and used it to introduce some new vocabulary at the beginning of the food and meal-taking unit.

Earlier this year, after attending several workshops on the topic, I began developing IPAs (Integrated Performance Assessments) for my students.  Each exam consists of an interpersonal task, an interpretive task, and a presentational task, centered around authentic resources.  While there are a great many resources and sample IPAs available online, I ultimately ended up developing them in collaboration with my colleague, because I wasn't able to find any that tied in properly with our curriculum and learning objectives.

Secret Phrase
I started using a password or secret phrase with students as they enter the classroom this year.  It has proven to be a very effective way to reinforce key vocabulary and increase student engagement.  I blogged about using a secret phrase here.

Norming with Students
I learned about the process of norming with students here on Annabelle Allen's blog, and I tried it for the first time this year.  I blogged about it here.  Essentially, norming with students allows the students to take ownership of all the ideals you already wanted them to practice.  I was so encouraged that the norms my students came up with were essentially all the things I was going to tell them anyway.

Positive Notes
I started handing out positive notes to students when they do a nice job on something.  It's a nice way of letting students know I appreciate their efforts.  I usually make out the note right there during class and hand it out.  I also made a note to hand students that are misbehaving to invite them to conference with me, but my students have been so well behaved this year, I haven't needed to hand any out yet!

Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth Book Read
This past fall, my colleague Sarah led a book read on the book Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth.  Not only did it give me a chance to read a great book and pick up some new ideas, but I got to connect with colleagues from across my building and partake in some great discussions.  Have you ever done a book read at your school?

For the first time in the spring, I had my students write poems about themselves.  I loved seeing their creativity!  I blogged about it here.

My colleague Sarah introduced me to GooseChase earlier this year.  It's basically an online version of a scavenger hunt.  I had my students look through French books and find images that represented various adjectives in French and then share them for the class to look at together later.  I blogged about GooseChase here.

SuperHero Comic Book Maker
When it seemed all the cool apps I used to use were no longer working, a Twitter user tipped me off to SuperHero Comic Book Maker, a great way to assess students' speaking.  I blogged about the app and shared some examples of student work here.

La main verte
When I was in St. Pierre and Miquelon this summer, I picked up a new book for my classroom called La main verte.  I read it in some of my classes this year, and my students loved it.  They loved how strange it was, and the images accompanying the words made it fairly easy to understand.  Do you have a favorite book that you read to your students?

Well, my 2019 was filled with lots of new things.  Here's wishing you a happy new year from the French Corner!
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5 Uses for Socrative

Full disclosure:  Socrative did not pay me anything to write this article, in fact they did not even ask me to write this article!  I just happen to love their app.

Socrative is an app that works on just about any device and it's a great easy, quick, way to assess and review with students.  I only use it for formative assessment, because I use Canvas (our school's learning management system) for summative assessment, but it could be used for summative assessment as well.  I previously blogged about Socrative here, here, here, here, and here.  In this post, I will recap some of the methods I previously blogged about and add some more.

Stations Review
Before I give a quiz, I often do review in stations.  This originated out of necessity, because before we were 1:1, I had a class set of iPads, but I did not have enough for every student to use.  I ended up keeping the model after we went 1:1, because I like getting students out of their seats and usually one of the stations does not require a device. Usually one of the stations involves the use of Socrative, in the form of a multiple choice quiz.  I don't grade the quiz, but I can see how the students did when their results come in (I let them answer anonymously).

You can allow short answers or multiple choice, but I have tend to prefert multiple choice, because I like how you can provide immediate feedback for it.  With short answer, you can enter in a correct answer, but if the student spells it wrong or leaves out an accent, it is marked wrong. Once the student answers a question, a dialog box pops up telling the student if their answer was correct or not, followed by an explanation.   At the end of class, if time allots, I go over some of the questions that were missed the most. Socrative also allows you to see a breakdown of how many students chose each response.  I reset the results after each class so the breakdown only reflects the current class.  I previously blogged about using Socrative as a review station here and here.

Interpretive Reading Practice
I recently started giving IPAs (Integrated Performance Assessments), and each IPA has an interpretive task, which is usually reading centered around an authentic document.  While I give the actual assessment on Canvas, I make up a mock activity with a similar type of document to practice on.  I prefer to use this over Canvas for the practice because it easily lets me see a breakdown on how students performed on each question.  Below is a sample reading question (the students can click on the document to make it bigger).

Sub Activity Socrative is the perfect activity for a sub if you're 1:1.  The sub doesn't even need to have access to a computer, as long as they write the room code on the board.  This is helpful also when the sub doesn't speak the language - the feedback that you can provide to students after each question helps compensate for that.  I can also check from home and see how they are doing and go over answers the next day if I choose. Worksheet Alternative
I've converted several worksheets to Socrative activities.  It makes it more interactive for the students and easier to go over at the end.  Usually if I'm having students do an activity like this, they are working with a partner.  This is especially helpful if you don't need the students to keep the worksheet - it saves paper!

Open Ended Response
Most of what I do on Socrative is using the "Quiz" function, but there is also a "Quick Question" feature that can be useful. Do you ever have a few minutes left at the end of class and spontaneously decide to have the students respond to a question (or maybe you've planned it)? There is an option that simply allows you to have students respond to a quick question, be it true or false, multiple choice, or short answer. You don't have to pre-plan anything. You can ask them the question orally or write it on the board somewhere. Then, if you have more, time, you can have your students vote for their favorite response (if you chose short answer). This would be cool for a creative writing question. In the question below, I simply asked students to order an item off a menu.  I previously blogged about using the quick question feature here.

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What's the Secret Phrase?

Over the summer, a few of my colleagues got me in on a practice that has been going on for some time now, but which was new to me.  The practice is using a password which students must utter in the target language before entering the classroom each day.  One of my colleagues even lent me a book by Bryce Hedstrom entitled What's the Password?  Requiring a Password to Enter Spanish Class:  The Exclusionary Practice That Builds Inclusionary Community (phew!  That's a long title!).  Even though the book caters to Spanish teachers, there is plenty of information in it of benefit teachers of other languages.  The benefits of using a password in a language class, as enumerated in Hedstrom's book and in conversations with colleagues, are that it creates a sense of community, it gets students speaking the target language as soon as they walk in the door, it allows the teacher to ensure contact with every student and the ability to assess how they're doing that day, and it provides an opportunity to reinforce additional vocabulary.  There are certainly even more benefits than that, but those are the ones I've found to be the most prominent.  In this post, I'll share some information about how I've been using passwords in class this year (which we call la phrase secrète, or secret phrase).

Every Friday, I teach my students the phrase secrète for the following week at the beginning of class.  Although I try to keep my instruction 90% in French, this is usually done in English, because there's usually some cultural background I like to explain along with it.  I often instruct students that they must make some sort of gesture or inflection with the phrase to show they know what it means.  For example, when uttering, "C'est la vie," or "That's life," they had to shrug their shoulders as if resigning themselves to something.  I also write the expression on a whiteboard which is displayed at the front of the room for the week to help.

On Mondays, I stand outside the classroom with the whiteboard to help students remember what to say.  The rest of the week, I expect them to remember it, but they can peek inside at the whiteboard or listen to a classmate say it first.  Sometimes I just tell them what it is and they repeat it back to me.  It's not meant to be a high-stakes situation, so it's not the end of the world if the student forgets.  They have a lot to remember in a language class!  At the beginning of class on Monday I usually recap what the phrase secrète is and what it means because some students will have forgotten over the weekend or have been absent on Friday.

If for some reason I am not able to be at the door when students are arriving in class (had to take a phone call, talking with a student from the previous class, etc.), students are expected to wait out in the hall until I can greet them.  I foresaw this being an issue and a stressor when I first planned to use passwords, but in practice, it happens so infrequently, it's rarely an issue.  On the ultra-rare occasion where the bell has rung and you've got 20 students waiting in line to give you the phrase, I say "tous ensemble" (all together) and they say it in unison.  I think this has only happened once because I keep the passwords short and sweet so that it doesn't cut into class time too much.

Speaking of short and sweet, my personal preference is to not make my passwords long and complicated or require a lot of forethought from students.  For one thing, I teach first year students and that's a lot to ask of them, but also I don't want to lose instructional time because I am waiting for students to say the password.  If you teach upper level students, or see this as a good opportunity to challenge them, you'll just have to budget some class time in for that.

When I first explained this concept to students, I actually had them go out in the hall to practice it.  We all remember things better if we've actually done them!

When a student is late, even if they have a pass, they must say "Je regrette, Mademoiselle" (I'm sorry, Mademoiselle).  I explained that even if they have a pass, it's still the polite thing to say when entering a classroom late, so they are practicing good manners.  They've also started saying this when they forget their homework, so it has become a very useful phrase!  I was worried that shy students would be too timid to say this in front of the whole class, but everyone has complied so far, and I don't have a problem if they say it to me in a quiet voice, as long as they are making the effort.

Hedstrom's book has all sorts of ideas for different types of passwords you can use with your students, but the ones I usually choose are either related to what we are learning (but not absolutely essential vocabulary) or super important expressions that don't really fit in anywhere else.  See below for a list of passwords I've used this year.  Sometimes the passwords aren't really appropriate as greetings (for example "Bonne journée" or "Have a nice day"), but once they've been used as a password, students start using them a lot more.

As I just mentioned, if you want to see a particular word or phrase used more by students, make it a password.  After saying it every day for a week, you will see a huge uptick in how often students use it in their daily conversation.

Here's a list of passwords I've used or will be using shortly this year:

-Bonjour, Mademoiselle (Hello Mademoiselle) - some students still say this before they say the current password
-Student:  Merci mille fois ! (Thank you so much), Teacher:  Je t'en prie ! (You're welcome) - Some students actually say "Merci mille fois" to me at the end of class!
-J'ai mon ordinateur (I have my computer) - Students must hold up their device or point to it
-Bonne journée ! (Have a nice day) - Obviously not a greeting, but students now say it every day as they leave the classroom so it stuck!
-Teacher:  Comment vas-tu ? (How are you), Student:  Je vais bien (I'm doing well)
-Teacher:  Qui est-ce ? (Who is it?), Student:  C'est moi ! (It's me)
-Aujourd'hui c'est lundi, mardi, etc. (Today is Monday, Tuesday, etc.)
-MDR (French version of LOL) - Students had to laugh as they said it
-C'est la vie (That's life) - Students had to shrug their shoulders as they said it.  We've been saying this one a lot in our daily conversations!
-Bonnes vacances ! (Have a nice vacation)
-Bonne année ! (Happy New Year)

Do you use passwords in your classroom?  How do you use them?
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Ways to Reinforce Geography in French Class

Perhaps a better title for this post would be, "Ways to Reinforce Where French is Spoken," since a major part of geography for me is just getting students to realize that French is spoken in other countries besides France.  Here are a few of the ways I do that.

I keep a container full of pens with flags of francophone countries for students who need a writing utensil.  The name of the country is also attached to the flag.

When we're learning about weather, I give students an assignment where they have to describe the weather in a French-speaking city for a week.  You can read more about it in this post.

For National French Week one year, I had my French Club draw flags of French-speaking countries outside the school with sidewalk chalk.  You can read more about it in this post.

Also during National French Week, students bring in dishes from various parts of the French-speaking world, and point to the country that it's from on a map.  Students keep track of what they ate on a sheet and write their favorite item.

When time allots at the end of the year, I do a project with students where they create a short commercial for a French-speaking country or region using Adobe Spark Video.  You can read more about it in this post.

Outside my classroom, there is a bulletin board where I feature student work during most of the year. At the beginning of the year, though, I feature photos taken in French-speaking countries.  The above bulletin board features a map with photos pointing to different French-speaking countries on it, and the below bulletin board features photos I've taken in French-speaking areas.

I have some posters around my room which I created which show off the French-speaking world.  The one above is also the header for my classroom blog.  The one below is one we often point to when discussing where in the world a particular French-speaking country is.

In my post Using Google Maps to Reinforce Francophone Geography, I share how using photos taken in French-speaking countries and then placing them on a map can be a great speaking activity.

Another weather activity I do with students is to create a weather forecast on the iPads using Adobe Spark video.  You can read more about that activity in this post.

Guest speakers are another great way to get students exposed to the culture of countries you may or may not have ever visited yourself.  I've had guest speakers who lived in or were from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire and France.  Often times the visit was accompanied by some type of project or activity to tie in to the presentation.

In the front of my classroom, I have flags of French-speaking countries and organizations that use French.  I reference these at the beginning of the year when discussing the usefulness of French and where it is spoken.

So, what ways do you use to reinforce geography with French students?

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My Experience Norming with Students

Last fall I started following Annabelle Allen aka La Maestra Loca (read her blog here) after seeing her present at ACTFL in New Orleans.  Recently I read her blog post about norming your class with your students and I decided to try it in my own classroom.

It is important prior to this activity to explain what a norm is, since many students aren't familiar with the term.  Our school has a saying that the principal says on the announcements every day, which is, "Be safe, be respectful, be responsible."  I explained that these are examples of norms.

Above is a student sample of a worksheet I had them fill in, following steps similar to those outlined in Annabelle's blog post.  First, they individually list their hopes and dreams for the class, citing one long term goal, and one short term goal.  Then they worked with one or two other classmates to generate three norms to help them achieve these goals.  It's important that students understand that their goals are outcomes and that their norms should be steps they can take on a daily basis to achieve them.  Some students were unclear about this at first and were putting things like "be fluent" as norms, but with further clarification, they caught on.  Eventually, they paired up with another group and pared down all their norms to four norms.

Once they had settled on their norms, one representative came up to the chalkboard and wrote each one.  Then, everyone took turns coming up to the board circling their favorite norms.

The chalkboard after one class finished the activity.

At the end of the day, I looked at which norms were written and circled the most and I generated a list of four norms to post in the classroom.  Here it is:

The beauty of this is, this pretty closely matches what I've always tried to instill in my students at the beginning of the year, but now that they've thought critically about this and come up with it themselves, it means so much more to them.  Thanks Annabelle, for sharing this wonderful idea!

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The First Day of School

I guess I've never done a post that outlines what I do on the first day of school, so here it is.  I've gotten my ideas from a variety of resources, so I will try to give credit where credit is due.  First of all, I will say I got a lot of my ideas from this wonderful post from Creative Language Class, but I put my own spin on it.

I like students to walk away on the first day not only excited about the year ahead, but actually able to say a few words in the language they signed up for.  By the end of this lesson, students will have learned the following words and expressions:  Bonjour, Je m'appelle, Comment t'appelles-tu ?, and Au revoir !  Of course they will hear many other words and expressions along the way, but the aforementioned are the ones I am targeting.

I use a Prezi (see full Prezi at the bottom), and once class begins, I zoom in on this slide and announce my name to the class.  Students shout out what they think it means.

Then I zoom into this slide (which I stole directly from Creative Language Class!), but I don't say it out loud because I am speaking all in French.

Next, it's time for attendance.  I say "Ici," and point to the floor, as in, right here, and then "Absent," and put my hands in the air like I don't know.

I then show this quick video to demo what attendance should look like.  It's a mashup of YakIt Kids (which sadly, is no longer available) and the animoji feature that you can get on newer iPhone models.  Then I take attendance, and each student says, "Ici !"

Then I share a little about myself.  I show a photo of myself when I was a student at their school, a photo of me in Paris, a photo of my cat, a photo of my riding a horse, and a photo I took in Paris since I love to take photos.  I describe all these photos to students in French.

Then I ask the class, "Permission de parler anglais ?," which is a trick I got from my colleague Lisa.  By asking permission before speaking English, it reinforces how important it is to speak French as much as possible.  At this time I break into English.  Some may not agree with this, but I like to talk to them a little bit about what to expect and congratulate them on working through the first part of class entirely in French.  I share some of the topics we will be learning about, some of the different ways we learn, and I also tell them about French Club.

Then we go back into French for the rest of the lesson.  I get them to say what they think "Comment t'appelles-tu" means, and when they've figured it out, everyone makes a name tag.

Each student gets half a sheet of card stock which they are instructed (in French, of course!) to fold the long way ("like a hot dog"), then write "Je m'appelle" and their first and last name on one side, nice and large.  While this is happening, I usually play some French music for them.  Later on, when they pick their French names, they will write the same thing on the other side, but replace their first name with their French name, assuming it's different.  Students are asked to keep their name tags in their binders and put them on their desks at the beginning of each class until I've learned all their names AND French names.  Eventually I let them know they don't need to use them anymore and they can recycle them.

Next it's time to introduce themselves.  I show them this video to model how I'd like them to introduce themselves.  Then I model with a couple of students.  Then I ask them to introduce themselves to the people they are sitting next to before getting up and introducing themselves to other classmates in French.

If time permits, I will have students complete a survey/interest inventory for me as well.  This is done in English, since students obviously would not know how to answer questions like "What's one thing I should know about you?" in French.  Then it's time to say good-bye!

Here you can get a look at the whole Prezi.  I have been doing some version of this lesson for a number of years, and I like that it gets them excited about class and also speaking some French.  Going over rules and procedures is left for later on, once everyone has settled in.

What do you do on the first day of school?

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10 Reasons I Love The Middle Level

As I enter my tenth year teaching middle school French, I realize there's a lot to love about the middle level.  Sure, middle school, like any level, comes with its own share of challenges, but I find the rewards generally outweigh them.  It's the only level I've actually taught (aside from student teaching and substitute teaching), but I honestly can't imagine it any other way.  Luck and timing brought me to the middle level, and I'm here to stay!  Here are ten reasons I love teaching middle school:

1.  Middle schoolers are a delightful blend of child and young adult.  Many of them still possess a childlike demeanor, but they are learning to think more like adults.

2.  Teaching students a language from their first day to the end of the first year allows you to see the foundation they build in language acquisition.

3.  Middle schoolers don't mind goofy songs and dances to learn a language (heck, a lot of high schoolers still like them too!).

4.  Teaching lower level French means the students know a lot less, but the language you're working with is less complex, making comprehensible input less challenging to create.

5.  I love seeing students discover the French language and culture for the first time.  The beginning of the year is the most exciting time for this, as students discover what countries speak French and how much French they actually already know (cognates and English words borrowed from French).

6.  Reading from a French children's book when we have a few extra minutes is a perfectly acceptable thing to do!

7.  I love watching my middle schoolers teach elementary students the lessons they prepared after school for them.

8.  Middle schoolers still have some level of appreciation for my dorky and quirky sense of humor, even if they try to hide it sometimes!

9.  Middle schoolers have so much energy, which can be both a blessing and a curse, but mostly it's a blessing.  My job would be boring if I didn't have all that energy to work with and channel!

10.  Middle schoolers can be quirky and unique and they are at a time in their lives when they are trying to develop their own identity, and it's fun to watch them grow, not just in the language, but as people!

Have you ever taught middle school?  What's your favorite level to teach and why?

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Using Superhero Comic Book Maker

This is just a quick post to share a new tool I recently used to give students speaking assessments.  It's called Superhero Comic Book Maker HD.  I wanted students to collaborate on the iPads to demonstrate their knowledge of how to ask and answer basic questions in French.  I was hoping to use the Sock Puppets app, but it proved to be too buggy.  After Tweeting a request for alternatives, technology guru Joe Dale suggested the Superhero Comic Book Maker app.  I gave it a try and it proved to be easy to use and kid-friendly.  Students were to, with a partner, choose a background and two characters, then record a short dialogue.  In order to make the characters' mouths move you have to keep tapping the character while you speak.  My colleague Sarah lent us her mini recording studios so students could create higher quality, easier to understand audio.

The only major downside with this app is that there's no way to export what you've created, so in order to grade them, I had to go on each individual iPad and look at them.  Any projects I wanted to publish on my blog I had to AirDrop to my phone and then upload from there.  So it's a bit tedious.  Here are some of the results:

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They're Poets and They Know It!

With our revamped curriculum this year, I had an opportunity to try some new projects with my students.  Over the past year, I have developed an interest in writing poetry, and I thought it would be neat if my students wrote their own.  The great thing about poetry is that there can be a lot of repeated structures and each line can be simple.  I was thinking about having students write a poem that repeated the structures "Je suis" and "Je ne suis pas."  I wrote a sample poem showing what I was looking for:

Basically, the poem alternates with lines saying positive things about myself (using both nouns and adjectives) and things that I am not (using only adjectives).  I also included some photos that illustrate the sentences.  I helped students prepare a rough draft in class and then they peer reviewed with a neighbor.

Here are some of their masterpieces!

On the day it was due, students shared their poems in small groups and snapped their fingers after each one was read.

I also had students write a poem for someone else, using "Il est" or "Elle est."  This was right before Mother's Day, so some students wrote the poem for their mothers.

The above student made hers rhyme.  Impressive!

Have you ever had your students write poetry?  What did they write about?

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