Professional Development in Vichy, France

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I mentioned briefly in my #authres August: version française post that I had just returned from a 2-week internship at CAVILAM in Vichy, France. I was lucky enough to be one of the 20 teachers nationwide who benefitted from a scholarship to attend this specialized training for French teachers. We were not the only teachers to attend, however – there were hundreds more from all over the world, not to mention the students who come for language learning, DELF/DALF training and other opportunities (though we did not mix with non-teachers in our courses).

The French Embassy in the US offered the scholarship and here’s what they offered:

  • 2 weeks at CAVILAM (registration paid by the Embassy)
  • Lodging in a host family (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Train tickets (round-trip) from Paris to Vichy
  • An allowance of about 225 euros to cover the purchase of books, meals and other incidentals
  •  A $600 reimbursement for the purchase of an international plane ticket

Not a bad deal, am I right?

Each week we chose 2 courses to take, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were no classes on Wednesday afternoons, as that time was reserved for a seminar featuring a guest speaker (one week we had Tunisian writer Yamen Manai as our guest). Friday mornings there was always a CAVILAM-sponsored breakfast to mingle with professors and other students.

My courses:

I took four courses total from this list, which were:

  • Panorama de la société française en 2016
  • Améliorer les compétences orales et écrites avec TV5Monde et médias
  • Enseigner la langue et la culture dans une démarche culturelle
  • Lexique et grammaire en action

The Good:

  • TWO WEEKS in France on the French government’s dime! Doesn’t get much better than that.
  • An opportunity to collaborate with French teachers from all corners of the globe.
  • Living with a host family; my host family was truly the HIGHLIGHT of my two weeks in Vichy. They were wonderful!!
  • Access to numerous authentic resources – I seriously brought back a folder stuffed to the gills of ready-to-go resources and activities.
  • New teaching strategies! I got to see French teaching through the lense of native speakers, which brought new perspectives and approaches. In particular, I learned some really valuable writing techniques and new ideas for interacting with authentic resources. Exposure to the CECR framework (France’s measure of proficiency) was also really interesting.
  • Generally speaking, the professors didn’t spend a lot of time lecturing; there was a lot of hands-on practice of new ideas and concepts.
  • CAVILAM has a wide variety of cultural activities; every evening there was something going on, from movie nights to afternoon and weekend excursions (day trips to Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Rocamadour, wine tasting, sports, food nights, etc).

The Not-So-Good:

  • For being a 2-week intensive program, I had a LOT of free time. I would have appreciated maybe taking 3 courses a week instead of two; but then again, I really like school.
  • Similary to the above note, I felt a little at a disadvantage since the second week we were at CAVILAM also happened to be the week of Bastille Day, which meant a jour férié on that Thursday, so no school. So in addition to not having our afternoon course on Wednesday, we also did not have it on Thursday which meant we didn’t experience the full benefit of taking whatever class we selected and missed some material.
  • It seems that CAVILAM combines courses; the “Lexique et grammaire en action” course was also the “Atelier d’écriture” (or something similar) so both sections ended up getting content we didn’t sign up for, and less of the content we DID sign up for.
  • I encountered a snafu when attempting to get my allowance, which was not really the fault of Campus France but it still was a major inconvenience; I had arrived early to spend a few days in Paris and thus chose to get my allocation the day of my departure from Paris to Vichy, which also happened to be a Sunday. Campus France assured me that the Western Union in question had Sunday hours (a rarity in France) but when I arrived, it was inexplicably closed. This meant I went several days without my promised allocation, and when I did receive it, it was prorated. Boo.
  • CAVILAM has on online “plateforme” that we were expected to sign up for and we were promised that all materials from the courses would be uploaded to the plateforme; some of us experienced that, some of us did not.
  • The cultural activities (namely, the excursions) were sometimes expensive (mais ça vaut la peine).

Overall, would I recommend this opportunity? Absolutely! If you are a teacher who is new to the idea of teaching for proficiency, you will leave with a wealth of knowledge and new ideas for practice. If you aren’t new to the idea of teaching for proficiency, you’ll still get some new ideas and you’ll be able to spend two weeks immersed in the French language and culture with very minimal out-of-pocket expenses.

If the SPCD Vichy training is something you’d like to experience, check out the application requirements at the French Embassy’s website! Bonne chance!

 

 

The Hard Truths

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In 2015, I attended the Ohio Foreign Language Association’s annual conference. I don’t live in Ohio, I live in Michigan, but I really felt that my state’s conference wasn’t offering sessions that aligned to my professional interests. I mean, I’m sure there are some people that get excited by sessions like Strategies for teaching the gerund in French but those people are not me.

That year, Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame was the keynote speaker. I thought it was a little weird – Dave doesn’t teach a World Language – but his message really resonated with me. If you’ve never seen Dave present, he is extremely high energy and passionate about hooking his students into the content he teaches. At one point in his message, Dave addressed the fact that people often tell him things like, “What you do is amazing! I could never do that, though – I’m just not that creative.” What Dave said next was like a punch in the gut (I’m paraphrasing here):

“I’m not creative” is a bad excuse and a cop-out to avoid change, because change is hard and uncomfortable.

It’s a materials adoption year in my district and over the last two years, we’ve been talking a LOT about proficiency and what that means. It has not been an easy process. I am not trying to be egotistical at ALL when I say that awareness of proficiency standards (and proficiency-oriented teaching methods) is…limited amongst my colleagues (who are wonderful people and, like all of us, do the best they know how to do). It tends to move in a cycle that looks a little bit like this:

  1. We agree that we want to be a more proficiency-focused department.
  2. We examine the proficiency guidelines and discuss their implications.
  3. We come to a consensus that Novice Mid (or even High) is a reasonable outcome for French 1.
  4. We try to design a level 1 class, but it ends up being based entirely on grammatical targets and say – should we introduce the past tenses at the end of the first year, or very beginning of level 2? And how early should we train them for the AP exam? But the grammar!!
  5. Well, that’s not really the point of proficiency and is probably going to set us up for frustration…
  6. Argument, then repeat from step 1.

So you know what? Like Dave Burgess, I am going to deliver a few hard truths.

Not because I think I have all the answers, or because I want to shame anyone who doesn’t think this way, but because once believed all of these things below to be false until someone else took the time to help my viewpoint evolve.

1. Proficiency is a REAL THING.

Language proficiency is a real thing, even if you personally don’t “believe” in it. When I say that novice mid students (those that are often in level one) cannot reliably speak in complete sentences, that is a fact rooted in DECADES of research by trained professionals. This means that your level one students, if administered a true proficiency test, will MOST LIKELY not use perfect subject-verb agreement, with extra details, in a nicely complete sentence. In the instances that they do exhibit “perfect” grammar, it is likely because they memorized a particular language chunk. Creating with language and sentence-level discourse does not happen reliably until the intermediate stage.

2. If you build it, they will come.

Or, in language educator jargon, if you provide [comprehensible] input, the students will acquireThey will. Even Johnny Boy who never does his homework or brings his textbook to class, or Sally Girl who is afraid to verbally participate in class but who can rock a timed writing. Therefore, conversely, if you don’t provide comprehensible input, your students will not acquire and the age-old paradigm of only the strong (or 4%-ers) survive will probably begin to manifest.

3. You do not need a special aptitude to acquire a second language.

Everyone on earth has acquired a language. EVERY. PERSON. ON. EARTH. How did they acquire a language? Nothing but input from another source (usually mom and dad). So why do so few high school students acquire Spanish (or French, or German, or any other second language)?

Because we stop providing input and start providing “knowledge.” We provide verb endings, stem-changers, DR MRS VANDERTRAMPP and basically a calculus formula for the uses and formation of the subjunctive. The “good at traditional school” kids thrive, and everyone else crashes and burns and drops out after level 2 because it’s “too hard” and now they feel like they’re not good at Spanish (or French, or whatever). And then teachers say the phrase I loathe more than anything – “Well, little Bobby really shouldn’t have been in level two anyway.” To me, that is a Dave Burgess-level cop out. When I hear that, what I hear is I’m only going to accommodate you if you can learn within my comfortable, familiar teaching style and not What can I, the teacher and the content expert, do to make sure that ALL students are successful in my classroom? 

4. Yes, ALL students.

All students who go through your language program should exit with some degree of language proficiency (NOT necessarily explicit knowledge OF a language system). Yes – every student. Even that student who only makes it through level 2. Even the one who never did a single workbook page. Even the one who still insists on saying “J’ai allé” even after you “teach” them the right way to say it (he’s still demonstrating comprehension of the concept, right?). Your AP students should not be the only students who go on to remember and use their French.

5. It’s not about you.

Change is hard. Change is uncomfortable. Change is time consuming, and slow, and frustrating. Teaching is a deeply, deeply personal profession and confronting areas for improvement within ourselves is often an emotional and difficult journey. But at the end of the day, our jobs are not about us; they’re about the kids who rely on us every day. If we want to foster a growth mindset in the youngsters around us, we as teachers NEED to model that growth mindset by making purposeful, intentional attempts to try new things and expand our horizons.

The bottom line is, don’t close yourself off to something that at first seems unfamiliar and strange – embrace it. Use it as an opportunity to discover, to stretch your thinking. It’s the hard truths that make us better than we were before!

 

Come Into My Classroom

If I’ve been quiet these last few weeks, it’s because I’ve been struggling enormously to accept the very ugly reality my country has been living. Much like Amy, the election season and results have effected me enormously, as a woman and, without going into specifics, a member of a minority group that a certain President Elect has chosen to malign over the course of the last year and a half.

Then his administrative appointments came, and it started getting worse. Betsy DeVos is from my state and I can tell you very few (as in, not any) complimentary things about her stance on public education. Then, our state government began the process of dismantling teacher, firefighter and police pensions and healthcare, and things got even uglier.

I’m not sure where this overwhelming public negativity towards teachers came from, and I know teachers are supposed to remain publicly apolitical but our jobs are political. They have been politicized on a state and national level and one thing I’ve never been particularly good at is holding my tongue. So I won’t.

If you think public schools are failing, come into my classroom. Please let me prove you wrong. In fact, here’s an outline of my week:

We’ve studied geography, exploring the region of Québec. We’ve read and interpreted authentic Francophone legends, discussed their cultural implications and value and we’ve summarized and created together, synthesizing the information that we’ve learned.

We’ve learned how nearly half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean drinking water, the grave illnesses associated with that, and how our own actions can impact the lives of others. We’re researching solutions and implementing a plan of action.

We’re comparing family traditions not just between “American” and “French” cultures but how celebrations and traditions can vary across the many cultures represented in our classroom, so that we can better understand not just the world we live in but the people we live WITH in that world.

We’ve interacted with native speakers on social media. We’ve read, listened, written, spoken, sang, danced and laughed and did I mention?

We did all of this in a language that is not native to ANY of my students.

On a wider scale, our school is preparing a Diversity and Inclusion Day, in response to the hateful rhetoric currently infecting our country, to show that our diversity isn’t something to be scared of, but something to be proud of.

We’re gearing up for Charity Week, which is bigger and more loved than even Homecoming week and dedicated 100% to serving others. Lest you forget, in one week our school raised $84,000 for last year’s chosen charity. High schoolers. In one week.

So please, tell me again how public schools are failing our students. I’ll tell you again to just come into my classroom and see for yourself.

 

How do you get them to _____?

Last week I shared via Twitter a few writing samples from my French 4 students to get a better perspective of where their proficiency lies – something that is, admittedly, really difficult for me to determine from where I sit as their (very) sympathetic teacher. The samples got very positive feedback from the #langchat community and beyond, which was exciting for my students and validating for me as a teacher that, hey! Maybe I’m not actually messing this up as badly as I sometimes think I am!

The samples also got the question I seem to hear a lot from my colleagues who are trying to get into a more proficiency-based mindset: How do you get them to (fill in the blank here)?

I am really fortunate to work in a school district with (mostly) highly-motivated students. They really want to get an A, which can sometimes be annoying but is also a great motivator for a proficiency-based class because I can tell them “If you want an A, you need to write in complete sentences/add transition words/more detail.” I often look at my level 4s and ask myself, how did you learn to do this?! because even I don’t really have a clear cut answer! I don’t have a good system for introducing vocabulary and making it stick. I rarely teach grammar and I never give worksheets or homework requiring them to practice the grammar that I do introduce. I don’t teach using novels consistently (unfortunately). My gradebook is horrifically unbalanced (can you believe I didn’t assess listening at all for my level 4s in the 3rd quarter? Insert monkey-covering-face emoji here). I don’t even use 90% Target Language all the time (shaaaaame! I know!).

So, here are a few things that go on in my classroom that seem to be doing something to help my students. This is by NO MEANS a way to make myself look good – these are simply the things that go on in my classroom that I think may in some way be linked to my students’ success. I wish I had more clearcut answers for those of you who are starting on this journey, but half the time I really think the students are successful in spite of what I do rather than because of it, LOL!

1. No homework or participation grades.

I only grade things that I consider to be assessments. I don’t assign participation points and on the extremely rare occasions I give homework, I don’t grade it and it’s optional. This means the stuff I do collect and grade has a huge impact on their overall grades and to be successful on those assignments, they need to participate in class and do the things I ask of them. My control freak tendencies hate this. My past experiences of giving homework and participation points, however, were not convincing enough that I felt motivated to continue doing it.

2. Talk to them

We have a lot of informal conversations in my class. My lesson plan actually tends to be “Plan B” as interacting with the kids in a personal way takes precedence, so long as this informal talking takes place in French. If I find we’re starting to slip into English, then we move on to the formal lesson plan. Is this best practice? I don’t know.

3. Grammar in context

I’m by NO means an expert at this but I do my best to introduce grammar in context via TPRS stories and MovieTalks or PACE-model type lessons. Whenever I request feedback from my students, they almost universally say that hearing the grammar in context and lots of repetitions is what they feel helps them learn the best. Plus, it’s not (usually) boring, which means they’re more likely to remember it.

4. Mercredi Musique

This is something that’s brand new this year in my classroom and is now by far the most popular part of my class. Every Wednesday we listen to a song, watch the music video (if appropriate) and sing the chorus. Sometimes we might discuss why we like or dislike the song, or I ask another question that pertains to the song’s contents – for example, last week we listened to Comme ci, comme ça by ZAZ and we answered the question, “What do you do to annoy people?” This was a great opportunity to intro the grammar point “by _____ing” to my upper levels, and just a good conversation piece for the lower levels. Songs are also RICH in slang and idiomatic language, which make them great vehicles for engagement (or at least, I think so). I try to not be offended when my students say things like, “Mercredi musique is the only good part of my week!” I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere!

5. Forced output

I understand that forced output is a controversial topic amongst language teachers and SLA specialists, but for me, it’s not. I need students to demonstrate growth and understanding of the concepts introduced in class, and I need them to do it orally. At all levels. I understand that some believe that students will produce when they’re “ready” but there are also a great many students who would be glad to sit quietly forever if I let them. You know who they are! In my class, we speak French. Whether it’s French 1 or AP French, that’s simply my expectation and by now, my kids in French 4 even interact with me in French outside of the classroom. I rarely correct them when they speak (or write). I even think their oral skills have helped improve their writing skills – I can tell some of them are arriving at the point when they can think about what “sounds” right instead of needing to resort to a grammar rule.

6. Relationships

This year, my evaluator commented on something about my classroom that makes me incredibly proud, and even moreso that he was able to pick up on it in a class where I speak almost entirely French the whole time – that there seems to be an implicit, palpable level of trust. And he’s right – I’m not sure what it is that got us to this point, but my kids and I trust each other. They trust I will not let them fail and whether it’s as a result of this trust or just the nature of the particular kids in my classroom (I’m inclined to think it’s the latter), I trust that when I ask them to do something, they’ll do it. And for the most part, that happens. On the other hand, this is a group of kids who asked to watch the news in French to improve their listening skills so I’m not totally sure that I have anything to do with their attitudes at all!

So, like I said, I don’t know if these things really answer the question of “How do you…?” but these are the things I fall back on year after year so I have to believe there’s some good in there somewhere. Please let me know if you have any other tips on how you get your students to do __________ in your classroom!

Keys to Planning Book Study: Are You In?

It’s always the same: Spring Break comes and I collapse into a heap of over-tired goo and hibernate for one blissful week (this time it was on a beach in Mexico). Inevitably, though, it ends and the same two things happen every. year: 

  1. I panic just thinking about how much I have to do before the end of the school year (what do you mean we only have NINE WEEKS LEFT?!).
  2. I already start to think about what I want to do next school year (I’m a masochist, I know).

Well, there’s not much I can do to solve the first situation other than just ride the wave, but the second one I am more than happy to address! If you read my CSCTFL16 takeaway post, you’d know that Laura Terrill’s session on the Keys to Planning for Learning rocked my world. I certainly wasn’t the only one – in fact, the session wasn’t even over yet when Laura Sexton leaned over and whispered, “Book study?”

Um, YES PLEASE. And I’m thrilled to report that 20+ others have happily said the same. Virtual PD, for the win!

The plan is this:

  1. Begin studying the book in earnest in July – 1 chapter per week (five chapters total)
  2. Share our questions as we read
  3. Post ideas and inspiration as we go along
  4. Conduct Google Hangouts on Thursdays (if you’re missing your #langchat fix) to discuss each of the chapters

The bulk of the discussion will take place via Laura’s LangCamp community. Follow the link for more details on how to become a member if you are not already subscribed. Keep an eye on Twitter though – I’m sure I’ll be Tweeting out my favorite nuggets of inspiration as I read.

So all that’s left is to decide – are you in?!

 

 

My #oneword for 2016

I have to admit, this school year has been a challenge. I’m feeling more than a little stretched thin and I’m finding it hard to have patience and grace in moments when I probably really should. This year got a little weird back in September, when I combined French 2 classes with a colleague of mine who has never taught level 2 before. As a result, my “original” French 2 students started to feel a little “taken over” by people they didn’t know well, and the newcomers have had a hard time forming a bond with me (and the others) because I can tell they’re not really sure who their “real” teacher and “real” classmates are. Not to mention the class size itself is beyond what is normally allowed at my school – so all of this is manifesting itself in the way you might expect: classroom management problems. Lots of them. And it’s my fault, especially when I start to lose my patience.

To add to that, my grandmother died unexpectedly at the beginning of September which resulted in me having to miss several days of school in the crucial relationship-building stage. At the beginning of October, I broke my foot and was on crutches/had limited mobility until just before Thanksgiving and oh my god just as I was typing that sentence a spider dropped down and dangled in front of my face.

I mean COME ON, you guys.

So all of this – combined with the fact that just this year I’m starting to take more of a leadership role in my district as more and more teachers are starting to get interested in this idea of TCI/teaching for proficiency – has left me with the biggest Impostor Syndrome feeling ever.

Which brings me to my #oneword for 2016: relax.

Yup, that’s it. RelaxLike many teachers, I put an unreal amount of pressure on myself to be GREAT. To have GREAT lessons and GREAT students who have a GREAT experience in my class. When things go south, I beat myself up and stress some more. And you know what? I just really need to chill out before I burn out.

Teaching is my job, but I cannot let it become my life. I could spend (and I have spent) HOURS perusing resources, finding lesson ideas and inspiration, coming up with the perfect lesson plan or story or assignment but you know what? I just can’t. I can’t sacrifice my mental health for my job and I won’t.

I am only one person and all I can do is try my best and let the rest go – for now. Stop trying to do so much at once and accept when things are (as Amy said) – already good. Or even just good enough.

So, that’s my word for 2016: Relax. Inspiring? Probably not. But I hope that looking at it will remind me (and maybe you!) to ease up on the pressure to be GREAT ALL THE TIME. I’m going to be in a relationship with myself a lot longer than I’m going to be a teacher – that’s just a fact – and that’s the relationship I need to remember to work on sometimes.

Bonne continuation!

The Dilemma of Doing ALL the Things

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the messages our superintendent – who is in his second year with us – has been emphasizing as we move forward with a new district mission. Last year it was take a risk and dare to fail and this year it’s do one less thing.

This year’s message of doing less stuff and working hard to do well on the things we keep is one that really resonates with me as a proficiency-based language teacher. Teach less grammar? Grade less overall? Worry less about mistakes? Sure, I’m on board with all of that and I think it aligns really well with my personal teaching philosophy and the principles of TCI.

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The one that’s getting me though is the dare to fail. I don’t know if it’s the November exhaustion creeping in but I just really feel like I’m failing a lot lately. All I can think about is how I should be speaking more TL, circling more when I do stories, giving more opportunities for real-world language use in class, using more authentic resources, making the skills we practice more equitable, scaffolding better. Every day I beat myself up over something that I should have done better because I know better. Every day I ask myself, “Why didn’t you give them more opportunities to do X during this unit? Why didn’t you use this as an opportunity to review this concept? What have you even been doing?”

While I teach in a large district with many language teachers, I am the only French teacher in my building and my district has no curriculum for World Language, formal or otherwise. I have all  the preps, including a level 4/AP split that’s making my head spin. I’m also the only TCI teacher in my district, although now others have started to ask me to lead district in-services to explain how and what I do in my classroom. While this is a great opportunity for my district to make a huge transformation, right now it just also feels like one more thing I said yes to but don’t really have time to do.

I’m feeling burnt out already and it’s only November. I love my students and I’m passionate about teaching French but where does the energy come from?? I don’t feel like I have enough hours in my day to develop units and lesson plans that are meaningful for one level of students without the other levels getting neglected. I don’t know to be a highly effective teacher while also being a highly effective me. And right now I’m not  doing either one of them very well at all. I don’t necessarily want to leave the profession but I find myself fantasizing about taking a break to go back to school, or to travel for a while, just so I can breathe!

I know I’m not alone in this – how do you manage to find the balance?