Teaching French in middle school can be a daunting task, especially when there are a lack of quality resources in your school. For several years as a classroom teacher I found myself I piecing together bits from all over the place, but longed for something that was more comprehensive with a consistent approach; speaking with colleagues I heard I was not alone in the pursuit to replace the patchwork approach with a quality program that reinvigorated the teaching and learning process.
Feeling this need first hand has made this search a personal and passionate one for me. As a means of helping me narrow down and evaluate potential resources I have used my goals for an FSL program in my middle school to create a rubric.
|Entry level lesson sequences that are accessible yet provide a sense of challenge to a beginning FSL student in middle school.||Language is too complex or too simplistic for entry level FSL learners.
Images/themes are too juvenile for middle school students.
|Language is simple and accessible for beginner FSL learners, but does not provide a challenge.
Images/themes are mostly age appropriate, but can sometimes feel too corny or high reaching.
|Language is appropriate for beginner FSL learners. Allows for students to feel successful and challenged.
Images/themesare engaging for middle school students and have relevance to the context in which it will be used.
|Teacher’s guide that gives opportunity to bring life to lessons so that students are engaged, and teacher is well informed.||Teacher’s guide does not support teacher knowledge, either assumes the teacher has strong background, or does not provide context for how the material can/should be implemented and used.||Teacher’s guide is fairly straightforward to use, however teacher may at times need to go elsewhere for further breakdown or explanation of content.
Lesson sequences are easily adaptable for classroom use.
|Teacher’s guide supports teacher’s ability to teach the given theme in a confident manner.
The guide provides a comprehensive approach to teaching each theme and the content within.
Lesson sequences can be used as presented.
|Assignments/tasks that combine both oral and written expression in a variety of fun and unique experiences.||Teacher guide does not provide variety of activities for language practice.
Activities are mostly worksheets or activities with little rigor or relevance.
|Activities may need to be modified; however, overall they support student learning and language practice.
Activities tend to be repeated, with slight modification to keep students engaged.Both written and oral language is emphasized.
|Guide provides a variety of engaging lessons and unique activities for language practice.
Activities are varied and allow students to feel challenged yet successful.
A variety of new activities that promote oral and written language are presented.
Connections/activities may continue in an online format.
|Relatable to students of today. Lessons tap into interests of today’s learners with a transference into practical use.||Images or content is dated.
Resource doesn’t seem to take into account the audience is middle school aged (11-13)
Activities may seem too young or old.
Context for learning does not transfer into real life.
|Images and content is relevant to middle school learners.
Resource mostly provides age appropriate activities for 21st century learners.
Skills and language learned can often be transfered into real life situations.
|Images and content are current or timeless.
Resource provides learning in a context that is relatable to the average 11-13 year old student living in Canada.
Skills learned is easily transferred into a real life context.
As a starting point I have decided to turn to the resource that currently sits on the shelf in the teacher’s resource closet to establish its validity and relevance. Every single edition the school owns sits here looking as though years have passed since its last use; is this a sign? Visages is “a highly visual, full-colour magazine” published by Pearson Canada, and authored by none other than Judy Mas, the now retired coordinator of Languages and Multiculturalism in our district. It is now becoming clear why I have seen this resource grace the shelves of pretty well every single school I have been in within the district.
Flipping through I have instant flashbacks, this was the program used in 1995 when I was in fifth grade! The “Télévision” unit makes references to popular TV shows at the time: Little House on the Prairie and Asterix. The CD which plays theme songs to accompany each unit is cringe-worthy upon first listen, but smoothed over by colleagues as the hook that is so silly and ridiculous that kids just buy in (I’m not so sure I’m buying that!). The activities are juvenile, but of course upon further inspection on the Pearson Canada website it is aimed at “grades 4-6,” not 6-8 which is now considered middle school in our district.
On the bright side, the teacher guide does provide lessons that would benefit even a novice FSL teacher, and are organized in a way that provides a choice of two routes for teaching the various themed units. At the end of each unit is a performance task, which allows students to practice their oral skills in a fun, interactive and social way. Even with those positives, I’m not sure I need to go back to the rubric to know this resource is no longer in the realm of reasonable for today’s students. Originally published in 1994, over twenty years ago, it no longer meets the needs of today’s learners, and does not provide context that transfers real life. Using it because it is the only resource available isn’t fair to anyone and tells me this needs replacing ASAP to prevent further
torture to the delivery of the program!
|Entry level lesson sequences that are accessible yet provide a sense of challenge to a beginning FSL student in middle school.||Meeting/Not Meeting||While the language is at an appropriate level, the lessons are too juvenile for the intended audience. The recommended delivery and materials feel too corny and forced|
|Teacher’s guide that gives opportunity to bring life to lessons so that students are engaged, and teacher is well informed.||Meeting||Looking past how dated this resource is, (which is extremely difficult to do) it does support the teacher with options for delivery as well as English and French explanations, so it gets a very reluctant pass.|
|Assignments/tasks that combine both oral and written expression in a variety of fun and unique experiences||Not Meeting||The activities are juvenile and simplistic for this age. The assessment activities don’t have a lot of rigor and it feels like a stretch to see the relevance or purpose as to why a teacher would assign them.|
|Relatable to students of today. Lessons tap into interests of today’s learners with a transference into practical use.||Not meeting||Images and content are over 20 years old, and completely unrelatable to a middle school aged student in 2015.It is hard to see a real life connection where students will have to use their knowledge of 90s TV shows to communicate.|
Overall this resource fails. Whatever merits it had 21 years ago when it came out are lost because it is just so unrelatable now. Clearly this resource needs replacing, it is taking up too much valuable space on our shelves and it isn’t right that teachers are left with this as the only choice.
Years ago I had done a search for a current resource that would replace the piece-meal program I was using. The problems I encountered when I called publishers were that unlike the rest of Canada, BC doesn’t introduce French as a Second Language until grade four/five. So, all of the resources I came across that were aimed at my target audience were either far too advanced, and the resources that were at an appropriate level for beginners were far too juvenile as they were aimed at primary students. Coming back to this search this time around I decided to try something different and start by calling friends in the profession rather than publishing companies. That is how I was introduced to the program AIM: Accelerate, Integrate, Motivate by Wendy Maxwell.
The teacher who introduced me to this resource had nothing but incredible things to say about how successful the program has been in her classroom. The following video brought to life much of what she described to me in our conversation.
Here is an example from the AIM website of one of the stories for this level. Note: the theme connects cross-curricularly, and since the images are drawn it will have a more timeless look to the context of the material.
|Entry level lesson sequences that are accessible yet provide a sense of challenge to a beginning FSL student in middle school.||Exceeding||Even though there is no English is spoken during the French lessons students are set up for success with most common phrases, and words used in the French language along side gestures, which help to reinforce understanding and vocabulary enrichment.|
|Teacher’s guide that gives opportunity to bring life to lessons so that students are engaged, and teacher is well informed.||Meeting||This program requires teacher training workshops which may not be available in every city.Each unit is accompanied with songs, posters, gesture DVDs, reference materials, assessment activities, power point presentations, and a video example of the final task.There is online support for teachers in the format of: online workshops, forums to connect with other teachers, and video tutorials.There are SMART board digital downloads available for purchase.|
|Assignments/tasks that combine both oral and written expression in a variety of fun and unique experiences||Exceeding||There is a combination of oral and written tasks throughout each unit. The structure of the program promotes regular language use amongst all participants. The activities often utilize movement and group involvement and set students up for real world application.|
|Relatable to students of today. Lessons tap into interests of today’s learners with a transference into practical use.||Exceeding||The AIM program uses familiar stories as a mean of providing common ground to reinforce lessons.The images and storylines are relatable to middle school aged students.There is an option to access an online portal to extend learning beyond the classroom.Real life language skills are learned that will help students be successful using French outside of the classroom.|
The only two draw backs with the AIM program that I can see at this stage of my research are: Training availability, and the level of commitment required to implement this new resource. If staff are not on board with learning a new approach and really emerging themselves in this new technique there will be no point in purchasing the resource for the school, no matter how superior the product may be.
If we can assume that staff would be enthusiastic about the AIM program I would recommend it should replace Visages in our school as the primary resource available for teaching French as a Second Language. AIM appears to be current, engaging in its approach, while providing material that is relatable for students and a variety of means to support teachers.
The introduction kit that I would recommend would be the Le garçon qui joue des tours kit based on the write up on the website it sounds most appropriate for late FSL students.
“This entry-level play is suited to the older elementary student. It is a story that deals with sibling rivalry and appropriate behavior toward others. A boy who constantly enjoys playing tricks on others at their expense learns an important lesson about kindness.
This kit is for students with no prior knowledge of French, but pushes students a little bit farther and faster than Les trois petits cochons.
Students are introduced to approximately 500 words. Present and passé composé forms of common verbs (regular and irregular), adjectival agreement, the formation of questions and the use of ne…pas are introduced.” AIM Language Learning
According to AIM’s price list found on their website each kit is valued at
$495 which includes:
With the option to include:
- Student DVDs (min. 10) @ $15
- SMART board digital download @ $49.95
- Student workbooks (min. 10) @ 15.95
I would start by purchasing one copy of the first kit, along with 30 student workbooks, and the SMART board digital download (assuming there is a SMART board in the classroom). In my experience student DVDs are impractical and will not be used, which is why I have not included them in my breakdown. Perhaps the teachers using the resources will feel differently and we can revisit this purchase at a later date.
The grand total for our introductory kit would come to $1023.45 + taxes and shipping.
AIM Language Learning. (2010). Retrieved August 8, 2015.
Mas, J. (1994). Visages plus Paperback. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
Pearson Canada. Explore French as a Second Language (FSL) Products. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
The Regents of the University of California. (2015). Evaluating resources: Home. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Association. (2003). Tips for Writing Evaluation Reports. Retrieved August 8, 2015.