Tag Archives: teaching

Assignment One: French as a Second Language Resources in Middle School

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.

Criteria Not Meeting Meeting Exceeding
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!


Criteria Score Rationale
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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 2.25.48 PMAIM

Criteria Score Rationale
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: Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 1.36.06 PM

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.





Reflection?  What? In a course for teachers about teaching?  Are you crazy?!

Poster courtesy of venspired.com – Click the photo to be linked to their site.

It is hugely ironic that certain teaching practices which we know to be beneficial and proven are often neglected (I’m talking verrry often neglected) when it comes to teaching adults.  That’s why when I saw the topic of this week’s blog post my literal reaction was shock, and awe, followed up with a very Full House “Duh!”.

It’s my generation, and I stand by my Uncle Jesse love!… back to the matter at hand.

We know reflection is so so so so so so so SOOO important in learning, it tackles where we’ve been, it helps us create goals around where we’re going and it reinforces what we have learned.  I feel like this course has been so beneficial to my professional development as a teacher, the assignments have been inquiry based and personal to my own interests, which has made the takeaway so much greater.

So, what is my biggest takeaway thus far?

I don’t know that I can say one particular lesson was most impacting,  the overall process of going in-role as the learner has given me new perspective.  The actual process in which we are being asked to explore, dig deep, connect and share has been so much more meaningful than pretty much any class I have taken, ever.  Why? Because the work I am doing is for myself, based on my interests within a given area or genre set out by Aaron Mueller, our fab teacher.  This is the most relevant and purposeful learning I have done in university.  Because of this, I recognize the need for more of these types of learning experiences within my classroom (and in everyone else’s too).  As much as I believed I knew this “lesson” before, I feel I know it and understand it in a whole new way through the process of completing the assignments for this class.  It doesn’t feel like I am actually doing work because I am enjoying myself!  However, unlike a personal project I am being kept accountable by the timeline and the great teachers who are also part of this course.  I have always believed that learning should be fun, engaging and relevant to the students, but through this experience I feel like I have some great frameworks for what this may look like on a broader scale.

Another big “ah ha” moment I’ve had with this course is the specific and thoughtful feedback we receive for each assignment.  I, like most of my students, am very grade oriented, once I put my heart into an assignment I am instantly attached to my work like it is my child, and I want it to be well received, and proof of it being well received is my grade (I see another side to this when I am the teacher, but that is another story).  Whatever the outcome it doesn’t really matter (or at least shouldn’t) as much as the understanding of what was good and what could be improved.  A personal reflection is not entirely possible if the teacher marking the assignment merely gives you a number, or a letter.  This has frustrated me with many university courses, especially the online ones, because I find often times grades are arbitrarily given.  (I am fairly certain that at the end of term when half of my assignments are all being marked at once and I am being given an 85 on each of them it is because the person marking knows it is a good enough grade that most people won’t complain or question, but not so good that when the majority receive it  your grading tactics are given away).  Ok, while I am a skeptic I am also a learner who wants to understand why and how I earned the mark I did, and really, anyone who has put any sort of level of commitment into an assignment deserves this acknowledgment and explanation.    In this course we have been given feedback in a way that makes me feel acknowledged for the work I have done, with some understanding or suggestion for how it could be improved.  Trust me, I understand from the perspective of a teacher that providing this feedback is challenging, and time-consuming (oh so freaking time-consuming) and often times those notes are overlooked just for the grade, but it is also one of the most important parts of the lesson and learning processes.

So, in summary, these are my two golden learning nuggets which have come from the role reversal of teacher/student:

1.) Providing learning opportunities that are personal and inquiry based within given parameters.

2.) Quality feedback acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of assignments.

What I felt resonated with me most in the student role were things I knew and practiced beforehand in the teacher role, however through this course my thinking was challenged, and deepened with the understanding of “why”, which could only have taken place by going back into the student realm for a little while (another argument for educators being lifelong learners).  This course should be offered multiple times, with opportunities to explore different avenues and pedagogy.  I only wish all classes could be this valuable.

Reading Review – One of Three

After reading about 1/3 of Will Richardson’s e-book Why School I felt the need to put it down because I was devouring it so quickly that I wanted to prolong the experience of reading it so that I could really savor it.  So, instead of continuing to read I opened my laptop and started this blog post, well I should correct myself, a version of this post that no longer bears resemblance to what is now written here in its place.  The original post I had written was a long and impassioned write where I shared my ideas about teaching and the need for quality ways of incorporating technology into our lessons.  After my day or two hiatus from Richardson’s e-book, I returned to it to read on, realizing quite quickly that a lot of “my thinking” was further articulated within Why School and were in fact Will Richardson’s ideas too.  I must say, I love having that strong connection with an author where it feels as though they are inside my brain and that I can relate what they’re saying so much that it is almost as if they’re speaking on my behalf.  The downside to this  powerful connection was that I had to go back to the original post and rewrite it because my ideas would be taken undoubtedly as plagiarism (even though I had written them before reading Richardson’s version), so redraft I did.  Once again, after editing and revising and clarifying a few of my ideas I stepped away from the computer feeling as though I had once again expressed some good ideas and read on (I do realize I was majorly dragging out an incredibly short book, but I felt I had to in order to prolong my enjoyment!).  Just as before, I found that Richardson and I shared similar thinking, even many of the same “buzz” words and of course it once again appeared plagiarized, blarg! It was my fault for not just having read the freaking book through in the first place.  So this time rather than write another post that I would undoubtedly have to revise I went straight back to Why School and finished it, then proceeded to text all my close friends who are educators, PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!  Because I know they will all GET it too.  It’s this type of read that inspires me and makes me want to implement new ideas into my teaching immediately.  Unfortunately, being on maternity leave at the moment I won’t be able to do that, so in the meantime I will use this inspiration to plan where I want to go when I return to the classroom, and live vicariously through the other amazing educators whom I know will GET this book, and who will feel like they need to spread the news and walk the walk just as I did.  Luckily for me, even though I am not in my own classroom right now, I am in an online classroom, thus the reason for this blog’s existence, my reading of Why School, and this very blog post.  So, while I am not teaching I am still exploring ways to improve my teaching and how to incorporate technology to support my pedagogy and the learning experience for my students.  Why School has helped clarify my thinking, and steer me in the direction I will take in for my personal discovery within this course (what a brilliant idea, we all get to explore and further tap into our own interests!).

Like Richardson, I see technology as a means of relating to students in a way that excites and empowers them in their learning experiences.  I do not rely on technology to make me a better teacher, but rather weave it into practices where I think it can enhance learning.  (I felt it important to clarify that, because technology is not a magic wand that will make bad teacher good; it may assist learning, but it cannot replace quality teaching). Because of all that it can offer in today’s world technology has growing importance in the future of education.  Each school year admits another group of more technologically advanced students than the last.  Today’s students were born into a world unlike the generations prior, one where every question has an answer, every idea is accessible, and conversations are not limited to your network of family and friends.  Today’s learners don’t know a world without instant gratification, everyone they know and every thing they need to know is accessible 100% of the time.  So how do we tap into this demand for technology and information and incorporate it into our pedagogy to further support learning?  The shire comprehension of how to use technology isn’t enough, we need to teach our students how to take facts that the internet serves up on a platter and make sense of them, interpret them, decipher their quality and reliability, all the while applying common sense and prior knowledge about the world to provide meaning and understanding.  So, to further educate myself I am going to take the opportunity for this reading review assignment and further explore how to teach critical thinking using technology as a supportive tool.   In my experience, I have seen students who struggle because they are looking for the one “right” answer, often life doesn’t provide us with black and white answers, yet our education system seems to want to lead us to believe something other than that reality.  I feel that the ability to think critically is a life-long and real world skill, one that somehow gets overlooked in some of our classrooms where value is placed on rote memorization and scavenger hunts in text for fill-in-the-blank answers.  I hope my exploration will provide a bit more clarity for how to use technology to support learning cross-curricular while also giving me the opportunity to stay with the changing times, and the new demands of today’s learners.  If you have any suggestions on resources that will help me in my search please feel free to leave them below, I promise to visit and explore each one.   I look forward to this collaborative and social journey with all of you, as John Donne said, “no man is an island,” especially with the invention of the internet!

Stay tuned, friends.

Oh, and please purchase Will Richardson’s book Why School.  It is only $1.99, yes $1.99!! And every single person who has made it to this point in this blog post will appreciate it, I promise.  You can get his book here.

If you want to hear more of what Will has to say about today’s learning environment check out this YouTube clip of a Ted Talk he did in 2011.