Bonjour Episcopal Family! Having taught here for more than twenty-five years now, I mean that sincerely: the faculty, staff, students and parents of Episcopal feel like a real second family to me. Episcopal has changed so much during my tenure here, and so has teaching for that matter. High-tech twenty-five years ago meant an overhead projector, and maybe a television in the classroom. Today, everyone has a personal device or two, and classrooms are connected to the internet. Even teaching methods have changed. When I first started learning French back in the eighties, we had to memorize scripted dialogues, vocabulary lists and verb conjugations. If you were good at memorizing and nerdy about grammar (like me), then learning a language could be easy. But, learning about a language via its individual parts and rules is not the most effective or long-lasting way to go about it. Honestly, how much French/Spanish/Latin/German do you remember from high school? Exactly. So, over the years I’ve begun to integrate other methods and strategies into my teaching.
Last year I started teaching my sixth graders in an entirely different way, using the Comprehensible Input (CI) approach and scrapping everything else I had ever done with this level. To put it briefly, CI is not a grammar or textbook-driven curriculum. It is not long lists of vocabulary words, nor the teacher talking at the students; it is not learning about a language; it is not immersion either. CI is speaking in a way such that every student can understand what the teacher is saying at all times. It incorporates relevance by exploring topics to which students have a connection and that relate to real life; it is student driven and student centered because students give input and direction to the flow of conversation.
So, since we’re talking about middle schoolers, our topics of conversation can be quite varied and, more often than not, weird. No matter. Together, we talk, create, read, draw, sing and write -all in French, and all in a low-stress environment.
Changing my way of teaching this class has challenged me greatly but has also wrought great rewards. The students’ understanding and ability to effectively communicate in French grew quickly throughout the school year, and we had a blast together. They are my seventh graders this year, and our journey continues. My hope for them is that this skill they now possess -speaking and understanding a foreign language- serves them well for the rest of their lives.
Beth Lemoine was recently named a Newton Distinguished Faculty honoree. You can read more about that here.
To read more about global education at Episcopal and to see photos from last year's trip to Quebec, click here.
Beth Lemoine has a master's degree in teaching French from Louisiana State University. She joined Episcopal’s faculty in 1994, and has taught every level of French from second grade to seniors. She has studied in France and led numerous student trips to France and Quebec, including Episcopal’s first ever French exchange. She believes that the study of foreign languages empowers individuals by building confidence, creating empathy and instilling a better-informed worldview. Madame Lemoine sponsors the Middle School French Club and co-sponsors the Middle School Cheerleaders.