Anil Fermin: “The words that we choose define our experiences, and I find it amazing to watch our kids gradually discover that sense of power in themselves within the context of a new language.”
In my French class, I recreate as much of an immersive environment as possible. Except in rare cases, I ask the students to speak only in French.
There are four components to the French curriculum:
- Speech production
- Listening comprehension
- Reading skills
- Writing skills
The curriculum is built upon the principle that speech production and listening comprehension are the priorities of language learning. Accordingly, our French classes provide as many opportunities for speech as possible through the use of lessons, which depend upon call-and-response cues that build upon each other throughout the course of the year. The call-and-response cues are initially very simple and incorporate movement, allowing for the creation of class routines that engage the students in repetitive practice in a way that is integrated with their experience of being in the classroom and reduces the tedium usually associated with repetition. Early on in the first trimester, the students are able to engage interactively in activities such as classroom games and outdoor walks in which they are tasked with employing the language they have been hearing, repeating, and moving with in class. As the year progresses, the call-and-response cues incrementally advance in terms of syntactic difficulty.
Having accounted for speech production and listening comprehension as the foundation upon which the language is studied, the curriculum then seeks to extend the students’ relationships with the words they become accustomed to hearing and saying by gradually acclimating them to textual representation. In other words, once the students become oriented within the world of words as sounds, they are ready to develop their reading skills. Again, this is only initiated after a period of basic internalization with respect to verbal expression and aural comprehension. The students begin by working with non-narrative text (e.g., a student is presented with an illustration of a zoo and is asked to read the signs that indicate which animals are where). By the end of the year, the students are at minimum able to read basic narratives. The reading component makes use of various media, including children’s books, poetry, storefront signs, weather reports, etc.
The goal of the writing skills component varies widely per grade, ranging from no writing at all (kindergarten), itemization and basic sentences (1st-2nd grades), basic sentences and paragraphs (3rd-4th grades), and simple journaling (5th grade).
The primary trajectory along which the skills above are developed is driven by a series of thematic units. Each unit provides the context within which the call-and-response cues are introduced, exercised, and then developed. For example, in grades one through five, each class begins the year with the Qu’est-ce que tu fais? Unit (Translation: ‘What are you doing?’) in which the students learn to describe the actions they and their classmates engage in everyday in class. Within that same unit, they then learn not only how to describe classroom actions, but also the objects, reasons, and situations that may surround the meaning behind those actions. Using a contextualized method, the students are given the opportunity to sift through the language they are learning long enough to develop an experience of meaning that becomes the substance of their lessons.
About ANIL FERMIN
Anil Fermin studied linguistics, Romance languages, sociology, and education at New York University. He has taught privately for 10 years and is fluent in both Spanish and French. He is particularly interested in the pervasiveness of language as regards meaning and the role it plays in the human experience. His philosophy on education is nicely represented in the etymologies of the words “experience” and “education”, which both contain the idea of a journey over which one is led.