French Immersion Schools
Acting is a big part of a French Immersion kindergarten teacher’s job. We rely heavily on props to communicate with our students, said a group of kindergarten teachers. In September, the kids have absolutely no idea what we are talking about. That means if we want the class to cut a paper in half we have scissors on hand to demonstrate. Encouraging words, a fun approach to teaching and acting skills do the trick.
It’s a step by step process The first few weeks of the year are spent explaining the ground rules for Kindergarten. The students learn to be responsible for themselves; how to be part of a group and how to work in a classroom. The Kindergarten teachers do much of this initiation in English.
From mid-September until December, is the teachers’ biggest job - teaching the students basic French vocabulary - colours, shapes, numbers - the building blocks of the Kindergarten program.
As the school year goes on, it gets easier. The students start to understand one by one and help each other. After Christmas we usually start show and tell giving the students a chance to use the French words they have learned.
Happy kids key to success in French Immersion is making sure the students are comfortable at school. They may be saying..."I don’t understand what the teacher says”, but the most important thing is the social relationships they develop. The students learn to work well together. They support one another in learning a new language. Having fun while learning plays a big part too. We use little songs with little words and make it like a guessing game. It’s really important to keep it fun and light at the beginning of the year. Encouragement is important too. We tell them they are doing a good job, in English, because they need to feel they are competent in their daily work and they are a little nervous about being in French Immersion.
Listening skills and confidence blossom As well as important grounding in language acquisition, the group of teachers agree that their students leave Kindergarten with excellent listening skills. They can’t be half listening and catch it. They have to be completely there.
When you give directions they have to be focussed on what you are saying. Their self-confidence also blossoms. “I think they start out thinking ‘I don’t have a clue what the teacher is talking about’ and by the end they are able to joke in the language. It gives them the feeling that ‘Hey I can do this’.
Making her students comfortable in a French environment is a Grade 1 French Immersion teacher’s first job. We focus on language and routine. We try to get them to understand the basic things and get them confident in the language...so they are able to work in it.
Students start off not speaking French. When the students enter Grade 1 they speak little French. But by Christmas, the students are talking quite a bit of French and after Spring Break, students are asked to communicate in French only.
Hearing the language first step. The first step in this process is to attune the students’ ears to the language. Like a baby, he or she needs to hear a lot of the language before they can try to speak. They have to have a feel for it. Body language, visual clues and choosing their words carefully are all part of a grade one teacher’s strategies.
The students become very good listeners as they look for every possible clue to understand what is happening. Immersion teachers use themes and look at subjects from all angles to help students develop vocabulary. Books, movies and speakers are all things that help to immerse the kids in the language as well as the subject material.
As confidence grows, students try out French. When they talk in French, we really encourage them. They have more self-confidence - they are more likely to try things. French Immersion students work at the usual grade one curriculum, reading and writing, except they do so in French. Progress is a little slower as they learn these skills in a second language.... But once they start, they progress quickly.
École Intermédiaire Central Middle School is the school which is responsible for immersion at the grades six, seven, and eight levels. Ours is a dual track school, which means that there are both English and French programs available. There are approximately 550 students in the school, and over two thirds are in the Immersion program. There are two streams of Immersion at Middle School. The first is early, or continuing immersion, for students who have been in the program in elementary school. There are two classes at each grade level of early French Immersion. The second is late French Immersion for students who are beginning in grade six. This is to allow late entry for students who are deciding to meet the challenge after the first five years of schooling. The two streams are merged in grade nine at Lindsay Thurber.
“Basically a student considering late French Immersion needs to be a strong motivated student willing to put in an effort to learn a second language”, said John Johnston, former Vice principal of École Central Middle School. "We spend the first three months of grade six developing a good language base as well as study and organizational skills in order to give the kids a good foundation for their studies in French”, added Johnston. Challenge of French Immersion prepares students for rigours of the work world.
Grade 11 student, Jason W. toyed with the idea of entering an English program for high school, but after considering the advantages of earning a bilingual certificate, Jason registered in Lindsay Thuber Comprehensive High School French Immersion program. He feels the challenge of learning in a second language has better prepared him for the rigours of high school and the working world.