Life as a Student Teacher (Part 2)
When does English belong in the foreign language classroom?
Sometimes I feel like I am going crazy. There are so many theories and methods on how to teach, and then there are even more theories and methods on how to teach foreign language. Lucky for all foreign language teachers, those theories can clash! It's hard to mix the two pedagogical practices, and it's even harder to put what you liked on paper into actual practice in your classroom.
Study after study shows that the best way for students to learn a second language (L2), is to teach everything in the target language. It is extremely important that the L2 is taught within context, and from day one it should be in the target language.
And yet, most other pedagogical practices makes it difficult to always use the L2 in the classroom. For example, pretty much every teacher will tell you to learn about your students and create strong relationships with them. How in the world would a teacher be able to do that in a French 1 class where the kids don't even know how to say "hello" in the language they are about to learn?
I've talked with more experienced teachers, although they were not within the same field, and their advice was "just do it in English." But that goes against my very core as a Foreign Language teacher. I want my students to learn French, but will they be willing to learn it if there isn't any English? What about creating the relationships with my students?
As a student teacher, I have been in two different classrooms, with two different mentor teachers. Both used heavy amounts of English. I have seen first had that teaching French in English does not lead to the strongest French skills. When I was a student in a French class, I learned entirely in French. I started with French 1, and on day one my seriously French teacher told us, "After today, I will not speak English to you." It was terrifying, but it was what I needed in order to learn the language. For seven years I have been speaking, hearing, reading, and writing in French. I had a great relationship with my teachers despite the language barrier. Although, I must acknowledge that my schooling experience is very different from the students I am teaching now.
I was born in an affluent, middle-class, white neighborhood, and I went to schools with the same demographic. My teachers were also that demographic, white and middle-class. Currently, I work in a low income school in Colorado. My students' lives and my past high school life are very different.
What I would want to do is only speak French with my students from day one. I truly think that as long as you have the supports in place to help students, they will learn quicker and better in this kind of environment. Although, I've been learning in my current classroom that when I tell kids about "adverbs" and "conjugating verbs", they have no idea what I'm talking about. If they don't understand what I'm asking for in English, how can they know what I want from them in French?
All those things aside, I still wish to have most of my lessons within French. I have a few ideas on how I can build up to an entirely French classroom, while still being able to apply the critical pedagogy I've been reading about. I hope to slowly build up to it, after building their foundation in English. The cultural puzzles I plan on having them do, the things we talk about and share in class, the class norms we create, and my lessons in aspects of grammar will all be in English. Then through the classes, I will add more and more French into my lessons. So then by French 2 they will be able to handle entirely French lessons. This is yet to be something I have put into practice, but this will be something I will try in my first classroom. I hope it goes well.