Foreign Language/French--High School--Katherine (Kate) Wilson
Katherine (Kate) Wilson Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School
Montgomery Public School System
Touring Vieux (Old) Tours during the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of St. Martin of Tours's birth
Link to the Tumblr blog Kate is planning to use while abroad: http://tatiek8.tumblr.com/
Brief Description of Proposed Fellowship: Complete an immersive, two-week French teacher training at the Institut de Touraine in Tours, France, to develop strategies for teaching five levels of the language while improving personal fluency.
My plan is to fly to France about a week before my training session begins, around June 22nd, so that I may spend a bit of time in a French school in Beaugency, a town about an hour from Tours by train, with an English teacher there—Gaby Pillon—whose students exchange letters with my French students. Since school will still be in session, I will observe her teaching practices with the differing levels of students in English. In addition, this will give me an opportunity to practice my French in a small town and to learn more about French secondary education, including the different tracks students can choose in high school. My training at the Institut de Touraine begins on June 29th, so I would need to settle in with my host family in Tours by the 27th or 28th. Staying with a host family is both economical and practical, as it comes with breakfast and dinner included and offers me more opportunity to observe French culture and communication. The training itself offers instruction in French language teaching methodology and practices, French culture, and the long history of the Loire Valley, including the important Battle of Tours in 732 C.E. and the many chateaux built in the area by French nobility during the middle ages, Renaissance, and classical periods. With any time off, I could explore some of these cultural landmarks to take pictures and pick up brochures and information to share with my students and the history teachers upon my return. The teacher training session concludes on July 10th, after which I could return and stay with the English teacher in Beaugency through the 14th of July, the French national holiday celebrating the start of the Revolution in 1789. Thus I can observe how the town and the teacher’s family observe the holiday. My flight home would be just after the holiday so that I could have a couple of weeks to process what I had learned and begin preparing for the coming school year.
The trip and training have given me a large variety of activities, websites, and resources for creating innovative and engaging lessons for all five levels of my French classes. I came back with a Google drive and flash drive full of resources to pull from or modify, and I’m using them and seeing an increase in my students’ confidence in speaking French in class. They’re being more communicative with me and with each other, which was the main goal of my program. In addition, I’m able to show them pictures of everyday things in France that I took during my trip, and I’m giving them more updated cultural information about everyday life in France than before. I’m also looking forward to a project-based learning project in a travel unit that will allow me to use the authentic materials I gathered during my travels.
More than that, I am networking with FLE teachers from all over the world, keeping in touch with those from my training through social media and email. We have a Facebook group in which we shared our experiences in France and are now sharing teaching resources and ideas. I also keep up with my host family through Facebook, and gain new insights into French culture regularly. The trip has proved invaluable to my development of new practices and knowledge of my subject in so many more ways than I could have foreseen.
During the week of oral proficiency teacher training, we learned techniques for all levels, but the thing I’m most eager to try in my classroom is the Global Situation. The teacher asks the students to imagine an environment (a cruise ship, an apartment building, a market, a school, etc.), and then asks them to populate the environment and to develop a story. To understand the concept better, we got into groups and created our own lands with nothing but symbols for water, sand, mountains, and trees. Since the geography affects resources and the development of industry and culture, one could see where to put a village and to begin to construct a narrative with the people living there. We did this also with a cruise ship. We designed a cruise ship and began to talk about a special dinner the captain was giving and the possible problems that might arise—stolen items from guests’ rooms, missing people, etc.—to create a story. The Global Situation would work well in any unit and at any level. The teacher’s job is to create a basic framework, supply necessary vocabulary, and mediate any disputes in a group, but the goal is to create a safe space for the students in which they are willing to take linguistic risks and use their imagination. For that reason, it should not be heavily graded, as that will intimidate students. It’s also a long-term project, done in stages and generally taking 8 to 10 school days, which you could spread out over many weeks.
I learned about many other activities and approaches to using authentic resources such as commercials, comic books, short sketch comedy scenes, songs, and children’s literature to supplement the practice of various aspects of grammar and thematic vocabulary. I’m sharing these ideas with other teachers in my school and worldwide through social media.
Three main reasons drove my decision to go abroad for this training. First, I needed intensive training in best practices in the FLE classroom, and I knew I would get that from the highly rated program at the Institut de Touraine, where they teach FLE year-round to students from around the world. Second, I wanted to network with teachers in our language of instruction--French, not English as would tend to happen in the U.S. Third, I wanted an immersion experience to improve my confidence in my own spoken French and to pick up as many authentic resources as I could.
My last full immersion experience was seven years ago, a full five years before I began teaching French, when I was selected for a National Endowment for the Humanities summer teacher seminar in Avignon, France, on French Theater of the 20th century. My own Senator Jeff Sessions led the charge to defund that program and other teacher programs abroad because he thought they were "paid vacations for teachers." How little he understood those programs! I read plays, wrote papers, and attended plays nearly every evening. I learned so much from that intensive class that I have been able to use in the classroom, in both French and my elective class, and I knew that to get the most out of any training, it would need to be abroad. Unfortunately, there is no money for such PD in my district, and without the grant, I would not have been able to have this experience. My students are reaping the benefits, and I hope to see an improvement this year on my National French Exam scores and on the AP and IB exams.
Foreign languages, especially French, are just as important as STEM subjects in our global society. Learning another language and culture makes students more empathetic and more attractive in the global market.