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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