L'exploration indépendante - Encouraging Learners to Delve Deeper

A few years ago, I started giving my students (who are 7th graders) independent homework.  It was a way to get students exploring the French language and culture outside the classroom.  Since writing my post on independent homework, I have tweaked and expanded the options to try to give students more variety.  In recent weeks, though, I have come upon a treasure trove of new resources, many of them from participants in the French Teachers in the US Facebook group.  That is how this new and improved collection of resources I'm calling Independent Exploration came to be.  I have taken care to ensure that each resource is age and level appropriate for middle schoolers, as well as interesting.  There are so many resources out there, but some of them are just too advanced for a beginner or not appropriate for their age. There are 10 categories, and each time I assign Independent Exploration, students must choose one thing (from any category) and either send me a screenshot or answer a couple of questions about it.  The goal is for students to find an enjoyable way to explore French language and culture on their own, and hopefully develop a habit of doing it so they'll be compelled to do it without me assigning it.  In compiling this, I was worried that there may be too many choices, but with students' such varied interests, I wanted to provide a range of options.  By breaking them down into categories, it doesn't look like an overwhelming number of options.  I also have a random link generator so students that can't decide what to do can just click that and it will decide for them.  I have created a page for each category on this blog, but come fall each of these pages will be a page on my Canvas page for students to explore.

I wanted to share some things I learned in the process of curating these resources and what my rationale was for selecting certain resources.  First of all, I see Independent Exploration as a way to let students have fun and go down their own path...even fall down a rabbit hole of exploration, perhaps.  To that end, I just include links and videos as is.  I love EdPuzzle and FluentKey but I prefer not to include and quizzes or assessments in this collection.  Most of these resources are YouTube videos.  I like videos because they are great authentic resources and with all the subtitle and playback speed options, it gives them an opportunity to follow along with what is being said.  These are the general criteria I follow when selecting a video:

  • Obviously, the video has to be interesting for middle schoolers!
  • The majority of the videos I chose were current and relevant to today.  There were a few exceptions, but in general, I find that kids tend to disconnect from content that feels dated to them.
  • I only chose content that needed little context and which did not address any sensitive or delicate subjects.  I think that type of content is better left for explicit instruction with the teacher there to guide and scaffold.
  • Most of the videos had closed captioning available.  Even if it's auto detected and auto translated, that gives them a lot more scaffolding to understand the content than nothing at all.  I made a few exceptions if the video was really culturally relevant or the language was really comprehensible.  Another exception is music videos, because so few of them offer closed captioning.
  • I make sure to vet each video.  Sometimes content might be labeled "for kids" but it has content in it that is not entirely "school appropriate."  Another thing to watch out for is the closed captions.  Since most of them are auto translated, there are lots of mistakes.  Some of them were humorous, like the French word "baguette" being translated as simply "baguette" instead of "magic wand" in a Harry Potter clip, and "chouette" being translated as "owl," which is one possible translation, but in the context it simply meant "neat/nifty."  Sometimes the translation goes really awry though.  On more than one occasion I witnessed some fairly harmless words (at least in the context in which they were being used) in French be mistranslated as quite fowl words in English.  It might be best to avoid sharing those videos.  In general though, I think the fact that the translations aren't perfect just reinforces the message we try to send to our students that translators are not humans and they can't take the place of actually learning a language.
Some of the teachers whose curated resources I drew from include Sherry from World Language Cafe, and Madame Geisler and Sarah Tamsen via French Teachers in the US on Facebook.

Below is an opening video that gives students a preview of what they'll find in the resources.

Click any banner below to view the resources in that section:

In this section I linked to a few apps and websites that students can explore, such as Duolingo.

In this section I provided a few ideas of how students can involve their friends and family in the language learning process.

I have broken this section down into six sub-sections:  Les pays francophones a collection videos showcasing the beauty and culture of francophone countries, Mlle Decker's Journey Through la Francophonie, a tour of the French speaking areas I've personally visited through my photos and narration, and then there's Holidays, ImpressionismHistory and Culture in France, and Why French?.  On the Pays francophones page, I provided maps for each geographical region highlighting which countries are francophone because I try to reinforce as much as possible locating francophone countries on a map.  In some of these playlists I did include some English language videos.

In this section I included some zumba, yoga, and exercise videos directed in French or featuring francophone music.

In this section I shared a number of various stories told in French.  Some of them are authentic francophone stories and some of them are translations.

In this section I included playlists featuring music from the francophone world, organized by geographic region.  Beneath the playlist, I provided some background on each artist.  I provided links to maps of the country of origin for each artist because I try to reinforce as much as possible locating francophone countries on a map.  When selecting songs, I tried to get as much cultural variety as possible.  While most of the songs are recent, I put a few classics in as well.  With each song I select, I research the lyrics to ensure that they are school appropriate.  It can be challenging to find music videos that are school appropriate, but if you search long enough, they are out there.  While I prefer videos with closed captioning available, a lot of music videos don't have that option.

In this section I included humorous and interesting content, mostly from francophone YouTubers.  From cat videos to goofy kids, it's all here.

In this section I rounded up some videos that cover topics we learn in middle school, along with a few instructional songs.  The focus is more on vocabulary than grammar.

In this section, I gathered up some francophone TV shows and short films as well as trailers and short clips.  I included some authentic francophone content as well as translated content.

In this section I included some videos explaining how to cook francophone dishes as well as links to recipes.

Students will also be invited to suggest their own way they could earn credit for independent exploration, which begs the question, what resources would you add to this collection?

This is a continual work and progress.  I will constantly add new resources as I come upon them and remove ones that become outdated.

By the way, I made all the graphics in this post using Canva.  They have a free version but I am testing out a free trial of their paid version right now.  I actually have Photoshop and am quite adept at it but Canva is just so easy to use and has a vast library of imagery to use.

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10 Reflections from 10 Years of Teaching

Wow.  It seems like just yesterday the principal I had in middle school was sitting me down to offer me a position teaching 7th grade French at my alma mater.  That was now ten years ago!  After my first decade of teaching, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the lessons I've learned so far.  Here are ten lessons I've learned in ten years of teaching:

1. The best part about teaching for me has been working with kids even more so than sharing my love of French.
I would bet that the vast majority (if not all) of the teachers you will run into really enjoy working with kids.  I know that to be true of the teachers where I work.  They are constantly trying to come up with ways to support them and to make the educational experience more memorable and meaningful to them.  That being the case, what first drew me to the profession was my love of French.  In junior high school, as I was starting to think about career options, I knew I wanted my love of French to be incorporated into my future vocation.  It was actually during a career exploration project in 9th grade English class (thank you Ms. Brinkman!) that, after considering a few different options, I completed to project by concluding that the career I was most interested in was being a French teacher.  And after that, I really never turned back!  Now, of course I love sharing my passion for French with my students, but it's really building rapports with them that makes my job so meaningful to me.

2.  The most enjoyable topics to teach are the ones that students enjoy learning, not the ones I enjoyed learning as a student.
In junior high and high school I loved grammar, and I've found that's a common occurrence among future language teachers.  Most, if not all of us, were grammar nerds in high school.  The only thing is, 98% of the general public do not find grammar interesting!  So I have found as a teacher that topics that I wouldn't necessarily think would be that interesting to teach, such as the alphabet or numbers, are some of the most fun, because there are so many fun activities, songs, and games that students enjoy participating in to learn them.  When it comes to grammar, over the past ten years, I have drastically changed how I teach it to make it in order to make it as contextualized as possible and I try to minimize explicit grammar instruction.

3.  The age level I work with (and love working with) was not the level I originally wanted to teach.
When I was in high school and early college, I always figured I'd be teaching 9th or 10th grade French, because I loved the grammatical concepts I learned about at those levels.  When I student taught in a middle school, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed working with the younger group (younger in the sense that my adolescent certification covers grades 7-12).  I think each age group presents its own unique rewards and challenges, but what I love about the middle level is that my students 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. Additionally, 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. Those are just a couple of reasons why I love the middle level. Last year I wrote a whole post about why I love the middle level, which you can read here.

4.  One of the most rewarding experiences for me as a teacher was watching my own students teach younger kids.
As adviser to my school's French Club, at the first meeting of the year, I ask students to suggest activities they would like to participate in. A few years back, a student suggested that we go into the elementary schools and teach French. I thought that sounded like a great idea, so that is what we did!  Watching first and second year French students share their knowledge and passion with 2nd and 3rd graders was incredibly rewarding.  You can read more about this project here.

5.  I love living in and being from the same town as my students (and having attended the same school as them).
I really love the sense of community I can take part in by being a native and a resident of the same locale as my students.  Many of my colleagues are also alumni.  Students love hearing what teachers of theirs I had.  I enjoy running into students (current or former) in public because it shows them I'm part of their community.

Me as a 7th grader in the same school I now teach at.

6.  Another proud teacher moment came when I saw my students really pull together after a tragedy.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, my students made drawings and messages of hope and solidarity for their pen pals in France.  I was so touched by how passionate each student was about this project and how much effort they put into it.  You can read more about the project here.

7.  When teaching a language, sometimes the less "rigorous" lessons have the biggest long-term impact.
While academic rigor is important in education, not all of the lessons that reinforce big ideas and enduring understandings that we want our students to take away from our classes need to be super rigorous.  It's important to infuse memorable lessons that give students a chance to sample and enjoy food, music, and traditions of countries and regions that speak the target language.  Each year, my students celebrate la Chandeleur by sampling crêpes and flipping them (you can read about an earlier version of this activity here), Mardi Gras and Carnaval with music and food, and a variety of other celebrations.  These lessons are just as important as the others because they are an important part of the cultural piece and they are the activities that make students more excited about learning a language.  At the end of the year, most students say our crêpe day was the highlight of their year in French class.

8.  Contacting parents for good news is just as important as bad news.
Teachers devote a lot of time to reaching out to parents of students who are struggling, either academically, behaviorally, or otherwise.  This is an important part of our work, but it's also imperative that we don't forget to get in touch with parents whose students have excelled in class.  Parents are usually so surprised and thrilled when I call them simply to tell them their son or daughter is doing a great job in class.  In our school, we also mail postcards to students of our choosing each month.  I also make sure, when I've had to contact a parent for bad news, to follow up with good news if the student has improved in the area where they were struggling.  It's important, not just for the parents, but for the student as well.  If you contact a parent with bad news, and then don't acknowledge when the student works to make an improvement, I think that can send a message that you don't really notice or appreciate their efforts.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

9.  It's ok not to be the expert and it's ok to be wrong.
As pre-service teachers, we are told to be firm with students from the very beginning so they respect us.  I've even heard that saying, "Don't smile until Christmas."  As I've grown as a teacher though, I've become more comfortable with admitting when I don't know something or I need input from students or I'm just plain wrong about something.  Of course there have been times when I inadvertently did something that a student found unfair or I made some sort of mistake.  I'm happy to apologize when those things happen, and I think it strengthens the relationship with the student to validate what they are upset about.  I've also solicited feedback from students after completing projects, asking what apps or websites we should use in class, and after remote learning.  Students appreciate when they are listened to, and being able to admit that you're wrong or that you don't know everything shows you are human and makes you more approachable, I think.

10.  I truly believe that in a first-year language class, being able to get one's idea across is far more important than being able to use correct grammar.
When I first started teaching, as a lover of grammar, I did a lot of explicit grammar lessons.  Right around that time (and even a little bit before) a huge shift in best practices was emerging in language education that advocated for more contextualized use of language and a greater emphasis on communication as much as possible in the target language, along with a reduced emphasis on explicit grammar instruction.  Over the past decade, year by year, my colleague and I, the two French teachers  in our building, have made many changes to our curriculum to adhere to these best practices.  I no longer teach students how to conjugate verbs.  Do I think in order to fully master French that they need to know how to do this?  Yes, certainly, but not in their first year of instruction. My colleague has noted over the years that with the changes we've made to our curriculum that students come into her class as 8th graders more and more able to express themselves effectively and in French each year.  I found that when I taught students lots of explicit grammar, some of them really struggled to grasp it at such an early level of language acquisition, and those that did grasp it really mastered it during the activities and assignments that we did, but if they were to do a free write or have a conversation, they often could not apply those rules contextually, which is the whole point of learning them.  I find that in more recent years students leave my class more confident that they are able to communicate in the target language and more excited about continuing their studies.  That to me is more important than verb endings.

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A Few Thoughts on Current Events

Recent events in the United States have given Americans, including educators, a prime opportunity to reflect and take action against racism.  As you all know, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an African American man, senselessly died at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Following the news of his death, many people across the United States and around the word, of all ages and backgrounds, have demanded that more attention be paid, and more efforts be made, to reform racism, both individual and systemic, against black people in the United States.

For centuries African Americans have faced and continue to face grave injustices.  I know lots of work needs to be done to eradicate it and I stand with all those who are calling for self-reflection, solidarity, and reform in this direction.  I am committed to joining in these efforts, both on a personal level and as an educator.  I can't simply publish this post and go back to life as usual, never doing another thing again to help put a stop to this problem, and I promise I won't do that.

When I was an undergraduate at SUNY Oswego, I took a series of social justice classes as part of my education program. In these classes I learned a lot about the injustices, both subtle and overt, oppressed groups in society face, which have helped me better understand what challenges my own students in oppressed groups face and additionally understand better what's going on in the United States today.

As teachers of French and other world languages, we need to celebrate and share the diversity of the varied cultures of the languages we teach. Most people in the United States, when they think of the French language, think of France and maybe Canada. Many of my students come into my classroom not realizing that French is widespread throughout Africa and the Caribbean, geographic regions with predominantly black populations. When I show them the faces of the French speaking world, it's not just people from France. It's people from Haiti, people from Senegal, people from French Polynesia, people from Algeria. It can be challenging at times to try to educate students on what life is like in these parts of the world when I have never visited them myself, so I have welcomed guest speakers who are from or who have lived in these places. I know I could be doing more, but I think it's a combination of small and large actions that together make the most impact.

While I don't have a very large platform on this blog, I believe even small acts of solidarity can make a big difference when added up together, so this is one of the ways in which I can contribute to the bigger picture.  Thank you for taking the time to read my message, and if you have a platform on which to share your support and solidarity (be it a social media account or a blog), even if it's a small one, I strongly encourage you to use it.

The End of the School Year 2020

This is my third post on remote learning.  Click here to browse my other posts about remote learning.  I know for some of you, your school year has already wrapped up, but here in upstate New York we are entering the last few weeks, so I wanted to share what I'll be doing remotely this year to wrap this up and try to make things as special as possible for students.  Normally I'm inclined to not blog about ideas until after I've implemented them, but in case any of these ideas end up being useful to those of you still wrapping up the school year, I decided to go ahead and share these ahead of time.  I'll be sure to follow up and edit this post if I feel there's anything of note to add after I've implemented all of them.

Normally at this time of year I would be having some type of awards ceremony for my top students, either with my department or by myself.  This year, I have selected ten students that have really excelled in multiple areas (effort, achievement, enthusiasm).  I will be calling each of their parents to commend them on their achievement, and I will send each of them a signed certificate of achievement (made out in French, of course) and a free cone coupon donated by our local Ben & Jerry's.  I thought about doing a virtual awards ceremony (I've seen a lot of blog posts floating around this idea), but in the end I felt it just wouldn't have the same feel as a real awards ceremony and it could potentially be very awkward with multiple family members huddled around one device.  I felt that talking on the phone with each of their parents about their child's specific achievements would be just as special.  That was my personal feeling about it, but I don't doubt that it could be worth your while depending on you and your students' specific circumstances.

For the past ten years, I have been using Animoto to create a slideshow of images and videos I have captured in my classroom throughout the year.  I feel like this year, creating that slideshow is more important than ever, as we as teachers all clamor to try to maintain that sense of community that we spent the whole school year building up with our students in person.  Although my last photo taken in the classroom was in March, I always incorporate student work into these slideshows, so I am including lots of remote learning assignments in this slideshow to represent the last quarter of the school year.  It does make me sad to think that this slideshow won't have any photos of students enjoying their end of the year outdoor party or their annual 7th grade trip to our local amusement park, but luckily with remote learning, I am easily able to share what memories we did create this year with my students.

Reading a Children's Book in French
Throughout the year, I like to take time to just read to my students in French.  Earlier this year I read La main verte, which I purchased in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon last summer, and the students loved it.  Then I recorded myself reading Ours brun, dis-moi... (the French version of Brown Bear Brown Bear by Eric Carle) to teach colors and animals.  Lastly, I recently recorded myself reading Lola.  I will also be reading a book called Mon premier livre : Moi ! (not exactly a story, but it has a ton of great vocabulary in it) during my synchronous Office Hours.  That will be more fun because I can actually help my students negotiate the meaning in real time instead of just explaining it to them over the video.

Cultural Videos
At the end of the year, when time permits, I like to have students collaborate on a project where they create a short advertisement for a French-speaking country or territory.  After giving it careful consideration and discussing it with a colleague, I decided that having students do this project, which requires a lot of teacher guidance, on their own at home, would present too many roadblocks to students and ultimately would not be the best way to (remotely) achieve the original objective which is for students to gain an awareness of where French is spoken and what life looks like in some of those countries and regions.  With the project off the table, I decided to share some cultural videos with students through EdPuzzle and other means, with questions and discussions incorporated.  In a subsequent post I will share these and other videos I found useful this year.  It can be tough to give up a project or activity that you really enjoy having your students do, but I'm sure we all did a lot of that this year with the transition to remote learning.

Video for Next Year's Students
One of my favorite things about the end of the school year is helping my students create a video to share with the incoming students the following year.  Click here to read about how I've done it in the past.  In recent years, students have done this on Adobe Spark Video (which I can't say enough good things about, and which was first introduced to me by one of my own students) on iPads.  It's kind of like a video version of PowerPoint, only so much prettier.  I am so grateful that our school now has a subscription to this service, so students are currently in the process of creating their own mini videos at home showcasing vocabulary they have learned this year.  They also have the option to record a video of themselves acting out or presenting the vocabulary or talking about what they liked best about class this year.  One of my particularly tech-savvy students has even offered to make it look like the video was taken in another location, such as Paris.  I haven't made the finished product yet, but I can already tell from what students have submitted so far that it is going to be just as good as it was in previous years.  Above is a version from a previous year.

Remote Learning Feedback Survey
I think it's important to solicit feedback from students, even if it means they might end up providing us with constructive criticism.  I've been able to improve my lessons in the past through constructive criticism provided by students from their perspective, and I know students appreciate when we listen to them and take their ideas into consideration.  I'm new to remote teaching.  Sure, I've done plenty of blended assignments in the past, but presenting new material and providing support without meeting face to face at all is new territory.  To that end, I've created a survey in Microsoft Forms to collect my students' thoughts about remote learning, specifically in French.  I've asked them what things helped them learn best, what kept them motivated to keep practicing French, what activities they might have liked to have seen, what frustrated them, and what methods of support they prefer.

Virtual Yearbook Signing
Every year since I started teaching, I have purchased a yearbook.  The last few days of school when students are signing yearbooks, I always invite them to sign mine as well.  This year, I will be creating a "Virtual Yearbook Signing" platform.  Essentially I will create an optional assignment in our LMS where students can "sign" my yearbook by submitting a message, and when I receive it I will leave them a message as well that they may choose to print out if they have access to a printer.  I plan to compile all the messages I receive from students into a document and print it out and paste it into my yearbook.

What are you doing to make the end of the year special for your students this year?

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Remote Learning Assignments for World Languages

This is my second post on remote learning.  Click here to read my previous post.  As I publish this in late May of 2020, I know the school year is just about wrapping up for many of us or may already be over for you.  That being said, with the future more uncertain than ever, I figured there might be some value to sharing this post with you now.  All of these assignments could be adapted for in-person learning as well.

For this first assignment, I blogged about an earlier version of this assignment back in 2016, but I teach things a little bit differently now.  I asked my students to create or find an image of someone doing something that they know how to describe in French.  Then, write a caption for it.  The sentence could be as simple as, "Le garçon danse" (The boy dances), or they could make it more sophisticated, like, "Le garçon danse à la maison le weekend" (The boy dances at home on the weekend).  They then uploaded their result to our LMS.  In previous years, I have done this exact same assignment, and it is simple enough that no modifications were needed for remote learning.  Now did all students do it perfectly?  Of course not, but that's always the case, and after providing them feedback, a number of students re-submitted the assignments with corrections made.

Similarly, after students learned about expressions with the verb "faire," (I introduced them as "Je fais" expressions), I asked them to take or find a picture of themselves doing one of the activities on the list and caption the photo in French.

For this next assignment, I asked students to write a sentence describing something or someone with an adjective.  They had learned (remotely) some common adjectives and how to place them properly in a sentence.  Now, when I did this assignment in person in previous years, I had them pick a masculine noun and a feminine noun to focus on both forms, but I had to simplify this because they would not have as much guidance from me like they would in class.  I used my daily video instruction to explain the assignment and provide examples.  It turns out a lot of students chose to describe their dog!

Last year I had my students write poems about themselves.  This year I had them do it again, but I simplified the instructions a little.  Last year, I had them incorporate nouns and negatives (ne...pas) into their poems, but for this poem, I had them stick to simple "I am" (Je suis) statements.  Again, I used my daily video instruction to explain the assignment and provide an example.

Finally, as an optional assignment, I encouraged students to write a poem for a teacher who has inspired them and send it to them through email.  I have done this in the past, but I changed the format this year to make it, once again, simpler and more straightforward.  This gave me an opportunity to introduce the formal "You are" (Vous êtes).

On all these assignments, I used the comments feature in my LMS to provide feedback to each student.  I have also used quizzes and a practice writing task, which are things I would normally do in class.

What kind of assignments have you been giving remotely?

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These Are Trying Times!

The last time I posted on this blog was in February, before the novel coronavirus became a global pandemic, shutting down schools, businesses, and other institutions worldwide.  Here in upstate New York, My students and I have been engaged with remote learning since mid March and schools are closed in our state through at least the end of April, as of this writing.  A lot of teachers have been graciously sharing resources for remote learning on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, among other outlets.  In this post I will share a few things that have been helpful along the way:

Daily Screencast Videos via Canvas Studio
My school uses Canvas as a learning management system, which has a built in video creator, which includes the ability to screencast.  If you use an LMS that does not have a built in video creator and you want to do a screencast, Screencast-O-Matic is a great one.  I create the content for my screencasts in good old PowerPoint.  Google Slides or another slideshow creator would also work well.  Do I speak 90%+ in French in these videos like I strive for in class every day?  No, sadly, I don't.  This has been one of my biggest struggles in the switch to remote learning.  Not being able to negotiate meaning through gestures and other modalities as well as check for understanding face to face, I've had to rely more on the use of English to ensure student comprehension.  It's not ideal, but unfortunately the classroom experience cannot be entirely replicated in an online setting.  I allow students to leave comments on the video in case they have questions, and sometimes a student will leave some positive feedback saying something was helpful or that they appreciated the video.  I think doing a video every day is nice because it gets students seeing the language every day (ideally, but of course students are free to watch the videos all at once if they choose to).  I also really enjoy making them.  I sort of feel like I'm back in the classroom with my students when I'm recording them!  I will say that I consider myself pretty tech-savvy, so creating these slideshows and videos doesn't take too long.  Don't feel badly if you don't have the time to create a video per day.  Shoot for one a week if you can!  There are plenty of other resources you can share with your students to get them connecting with the language.  Here are some of the things I've done in the videos:
--Reviewed vocabulary or grammar - Ok, so it probably isn't as exciting or engaging as when I do it in class, but I find being able to talk with accompanying text and images onscreen is more useful for students than just reading it.

--Read "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" by Eric Carle in French.  You can find a French version of it here on YouTube.  What I did was, before I began reading it, I told the students I was going to pause after I said each sentence so that students could repeat it at home.  Then I translated the sentence into English.  Afterwards I asked students to leave a comment stating their favorite color in French.  Also, I am extremely disappointed that I left all my children's French books at school!  I did not have the foresight to think that I'd need them, and I would love to read more stories to them!  Luckily there are a lot of resources online, such as this one.
--Taught this two part Impressionism lesson with an optional self-grading quiz at the end asking them to identify the painter of various impressionist paintings (their only choices were Monet, Renoir and Degas, the three painters I focused on in the lesson).
--Took students on a tour of the Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, pausing at paintings done by the artists they learned about in the Impressionism lesson and asking them to identify the painter before revealing the answer.  I then linked them to the sites so they could explore them on their own.
--Asked students to answer a question or finish a sentence in French in the comments.  This is a really easy, quick way to get student participation and check for understanding.
--Played "Pictionary."  Basically, I put an image on the screen depicting an action in French, and I asked the students to pause the video, jot down their answer, and then press play again to see if they got it right.  I do this in class all the time, so I figured, why not have them do it at home?
--Read a version of this story about SpongeBob that I wrote.  Normally I do a pretty funny SpongeBob voice (when I say "funny," it's definitely the kind where students are laughing AT me as opposed to WITH me, but hey, at least they are laughing!), but I didn't do it in my video for fear that without the ability to read my lips, it might hinder comprehension.

Taking students on a tour of the Musée d'Orsay

Self-Grading Quizzes with Feedback
Right now I'm treating quizzes like assignments, but I like self-grading quizzes for remote learning because they give the student immediate feedback.  Obviously, they are somewhat limiting in what you can expect of students, which is why they aren't the only kind of quiz I use.  I do my quizzes in Canvas, but there are a number of different platforms for creating self-grading quizzes with feedback such as Google Forms or Socrative.  I keep them short (usually 5 questions), and if a student selects the wrong answer, I leave a comment explaining why that answer is wrong.  In Canvas, you can allow students to retake the quiz, so I have enabled this option for remote learning, with the hopes that students will retake the quiz until they get a perfect score.

Kahoot, Gimkit, and Quizizz Challenges
Like many of you, I frequently play Gimkit, Quizizz and Kahoot in class with my students.  How silly was I that I didn't realize you could assign these games to students to play at home!  If I didn't realize this, I'm thinking that there may be some of you who didn't realize this either.  In Gimkit, you click "Assignments" on the lefthand side, then "New Assignment" to make a challenge, and it gives you a link to provide to students.  In Kahoot, you click "Challenge" next to the Kahoot that you want to use.    For Kahoot, the free version is limited to 100 students, I believe.  If you're like me and have more than 100 students, you'll need to upgrade to the paid version.  Get this though:  right now it's free to educators doing remote learning due to COVID-19, so I didn't have to pay a penny for it.  In Quizizz, you go to the quiz you want to use and click "Assign HW."  For all three of these platforms, you can instruct students to enter their first name and class period so you can actually count it in your grade book.  I did this at first, but going forward, I am making these types of activities optional in an effort to cut down on required assignments and not overwhelm students.

Encouraging Independent Learning
Even before we made the switch to remote learning, I encourage students to develop independent learning habits outside the classroom, as I sure many of you do to.  I even sometimes assign independent learning assignments (you can read about this here, but it's an earlier version of what I currently do), where students have to pick an activity and have a parent sign off that they did it.  Now that students have more unstructured time than usual, I'm continuing to encourage this, and have provided a list to remind them of the various ways they can practice the language outside the classroom.  Some of these activities include using Duolingo, watching a movie or TV show in French or with French subtitles, finding some French music on YouTube, communicating with a friend or family member who knows French, going on Amazon.fr and creating a wishlist of items they'd like (this is great because the photos aid in comprehension a lot and most of them are familiar with the format of the American version of the site), and putting Siri or another voice assistant into French and trying to talk to it.

Keeping Connected with Pen Pals
My students were so looking forward to receiving their second letter from their pen pals in France (you can read more about how I do my pen pal project here), but unfortunately, the school in France had already shut down before the letters could be sent.  Not having an easy way to exchange the letters digitally, the teacher in France and I decided to compile a document with a couple of sentences from each student (one in French, one in English) stating what they are doing these days and what they are looking forward to.  Students can go through the document and find the sentences that their pen pal wrote.  It's not as exciting as receiving a letter, but it's a way to keep them connected in the meantime.

Google Voice
I have been using Google Voice (along with email) to keep in touch with families.  Google Voice is very easy to set up, and the main benefit is that you can call parents from your personal cell phone without revealing your phone number.  Of course this can be accomplished by blocking your number, but many people won't pick up the phone when there's no number, and then you can't provide a callback number.  The number Google Voice assigns you is local, so the person picking up will see that it is a local call.  Another benefit of Google Voice is the "do not disturb" setting.  If you don't want to receive calls from parents during evenings and weekends, you can elect to have incoming calls sent straight to voicemail.  It's nice because you can still receive phone calls from friends and family that know your real number while you have your Google Voice set to do not disturb.  I will say that the app seems a little glitchy (it seems like a lot of people I called went straight to voicemail, but maybe that's a coincidence), but overall, it works well for what I need it to accomplish.  I usually try to use phone calls as the first point of contact with a parent, unless they've emailed me before and I know they are comfortable using email to communicate, so it's great not to lose that capability just because I'm not physically at school next to my school phone.  I've called so many parents, mostly to check in because they hadn't completed any assignments and I wanted to see if they needed any help, and I found that there was some of confusion from students about what was required and how to access it.  With every teacher doing things just a little bit differently, it's understandable that some confusion might arise.  That's why communication is so important!  By the way, Google Voice is a great way to have students do a speaking task.  Just have them call your Google Voice number, state their name, and leave a message in French!  Make sure you have do not disturb turned on or your phone will be ringing off the hook!  You would probably want to do this on a different Google Voice number than the one you use to contact parents because it could get confusing trying to juggle student voicemails and parent phone calls.

Having Some Fun!
Since most of the world has had to switch to remote learning, schools have been taking to social media to share messages of positivity and support to students and families.  Our school is no different.  Here are some photos of me that were shared with students and families via social media:

This was featured in a slideshow of teachers in our building reading, to promote literacy.

This was featured in a slideshow showing photos of staff members in our building holding up signs with words of encouragement.

So, what has worked for you in this age of remote learning?  In what ways are you connecting with students digitally?

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Holidays in the French Class

Holidays are a great opportunity to infuse culture into the classroom, and there are a number of holidays worth exploring in French class.  In this post I will share some of the ways I introduce various holidays to my students.

La fête des rois
La fête des rois, or Three Kings Day, takes place on January 6.  On this day, French families typically eat a special cake called Galette des Rois, or King's Cake.  Inside the galette is a small figurine.  The person who gets the figurine in their slice is the king or queen for the day.  On this day, I usually start out by giving students a little information about the holiday and role play the family scene of passing out the pieces of galette.  I modified this PowerPoint and translated it into French.  Now, with classes of sometimes as many as 31 students, it's not practical to try to divide a galette among so many students.  My colleague came up with the idea of using cupcakes as stand-ins.  We ask two students per class to prepare cupcakes for half the class (this way, if one student forgets, you can cut the remaining cupcakes in half), and stick an M&M or a Skittle in one of them.  The students who get the candy in their cupcake are the king or queen.  Now, as you can see in the photo, we have been using Burger King crowns for the past few years.  It's true that Burger King isn't terribly culturally authentic, but we teachers have tight budgets, and my colleague got the crowns for free simply by asking for them!  Burger King was happy for the free advertising.  You could also make crowns or by simple crowns online.

Mardi Gras/Carnaval
I spend a fair amount of time on Mardi Gras and Carnaval.  I teach students about the customs, history, where it's celebrated, then students make masks in class and we culminate with a celebration featuring student-made dishes such as King's Cake and beignets.  I talk more in detail about how I celebrate Mardi Gras and Carnaval in this post.

Poisson d'avril
Poisson d'avril is the French tradition of April Fools Day, where children stick paper fish on each other's backs.  On this holiday I share the tradition with students, then I give them each a fish to color.  After they finish coloring, we discuss in French what colors each person's fish is.  Then they begin sticking fish on their friend's backs in class.

National French Week
Ok, so I know this isn't a holiday, but it's a great opportunity to promote the study of French in your school.  I usually do three things for National French Week:  At French Club, students decorate the entranceway to the building with flags of francophone countries, and in class, I have a poster contest for students to share why they are learning French, and I have a celebration where students bring in dishes from all over the francophone world.  I go into more detail about these three things in this post.

La Chandeleur
Chandeleur is the French version of Groundhog Day, except there's no groundhog and crêpes are eaten.  Prior to the holiday, I tell students about the customs, as well as two proverbs:  "À la Chandeleur, le jour croît de deux hears" (On Chandeleur, the day grows by two hours) and "Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l'hiver est par derrière; Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte" (When Chandeleur is bright, winter is behind; if it is overcast, 40 days of loss).  On the day of the holiday, I transform the classroom into a café, and students order crêpes to eat in class.  In the past I invited a local restaurant in or ordered the crêpes wholesale, but this year I made the crêpes at home.  Parent volunteers help heat up, fill and serve the crêpes.

Heavily celebrated in Europe, on December 6, Saint Nicholas or Saint-Nicolas, the patron saint of school children, visits children's homes and leaves goodies in children's shoes.  At the beginning of class, students place a shoe in the hallway.  Then I tell the students about the holiday, and students go out in the hall to find a treat in their shoe.  I also show them this song and this video showing a parade.

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