Why Say “Oui” to French Immersion?

Why Say “Oui” to French Immersion?

Principal, Elbow Valley Elementary School – As an administrator at a dual track elementary school and a former French Immersion (FI) student, I am frequently asked, “Why FI”? With advanced registration upon us, what better time to write about my thoughts and first-hand experiences.

Let’s start with some obvious and not-so-obvious advantages to being bilingual in our great nation:

  • Canada’s official languages are English and French; as such, increased cultural, social and employment opportunities are afforded to those who speak both languages.
  • I can attest to the advantages of bilingualism within the education sector. When it comes to employment opportunities, districts across the country are searching for French speaking educators to teach both Core French and French Immersion.
  • The not-so-obvious advantages (and ones that I cannot yet attest to) include the increasing body of research supporting the notion that speaking multiple languages serves as “exercise” for the brain. Similar to muscles, the brain responds to this demand by strengthening executive functioning, eventually protecting against dementia as one ages.

With the above-mentioned benefits in mind, why say “no” to FI?

The most common parent question I am asked is, “How do I support my child if I don’t speak French at home?”

I sometimes liken this question to registering for other life skills. As a child, I begged my parents to allow me to join the local competitive swim club. Despite the fact that neither of them could swim, they agreed. They supported me by ensuring that two essential elements were in place: commitment and structure. I was committed to developing my skills by adhering to the practice structure that had been put in place. Mom and Dad ensured that I was at every practice – even those at 6 in the morning!

The French Immersion program is similar in that it is designed for families who do not speak French at home. All communication with parents (i.e., forms, report cards, etc.) is in English and homework consists of practicing skills that have been taught in class. The greatest form of support a parent can provide for their child is committing to daily reading – in their first language. Engaging children in authentic literacy experiences (writing emails, speaking with relatives, etc.) shows them that you value language. It also provides transferable skills and serves as the foundation upon which students acquire their second language.

At times, French Immersion programming is perceived as being for the strongest students. This has not been the case in my experience as an administrator or as a student. Speaking multiple languages is not a measure of intelligence. While programming may look slightly different, the curricular outcomes are the same as are the supports available to French Immersion students. Advances in technology and the increasing connectedness of our world have made resources more accessible than ever before! In addition to digital supports, there are invaluable resources in our own backyards. If you are considering French Immersion, seek out your local chapter of Canadian Parents for French (CPF). CPF offers many resources to families considering French and also provides French experiences within our communities.

It is my hope that this blog has provided some food for thought. If you have questions or you are simply curious about FI programming, reach out to your designated school. We are here to help all families make the best choice for their child(ren).

Happy decision making!

What Do You Make?

What Do You Make?

Learning Design Specialist – In preparation for the Learning Design Maker Cohort, we thought it would be interesting to ask teachers, “What do you make and why?” Tough question! Immediately I put on my teacher hat and thought, “Well, I make awesome lessons, labs and fun projects because… curriculum!”

And then I thought about what making really is: making is finding creative solutions to unique problems. Teachers are designers of learning; we are here to design for our students and to learn alongside them. One way teachers can create authentic experiences that are fun, engaging and real, is to come up with interesting and relevant challenges for kids to solve. In making, students rise to the challenge by creating authentic, high quality products. They will be engaged, reflective, collaborative, and feel accomplished. During the Learning Design cohort, our goal was to generate engagement by encouraging teachers to make something they were proud of.

The modern maker movement is about making high quality products for an authentic audience or consumer. Whether a person knits a blanket to give as a baby gift or bakes cookies for coworkers to enjoy, creating a high-quality product worth sharing is the essence of making. When a student produces something that they take no pride in, either because they lacked the skill to reach a level of quality they could be proud of, or the product has no consumer beyond a teacher who will grade it, the engagement can be limited. When students have an opportunity to create products that are meaningful to them, that they can be proud of, and that can be shared with an authentic audience, making becomes magical! Teachers don’t have to be experts. Being willing to pose a question and learn alongside students can be just as powerful. Providing an opportunity for students to explain, exhibit or show off to parents, industry or local government adds even more to the experience.

Making requires more than knowledge and some remembering. It often requires deeper understanding, reflection, and an application of knowledge. And isn’t that the goal of teaching – to create authentic learning experiences that drive students to be engaged learners ready for problems of the future? So what are you making?

Girls in STEAM

Girls in STEAM

Technology Learning Specialist – On Nov. 23, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of 50 girls, their teachers and guests at the Girls in STEAM Day. STEAM is the integration of science, technology, engineering and math with the arts to stimulate inquiry, innovation and creativity.

The enthusiasm these young ladies had for learning, experimenting, failing and trying again was electric. The conference began with the girls creating name tags that represented them: who they were, their interests, and their aspirations for the future.

We then had the opportunity to listen to three outstanding RVS teachers (Jill Quirk, Jenn Hummel and Shauna Taves) and their students describe the ways they support girls in STEAM in their own schools. Students also discussed what STEAM meant and learned about the stereotypes and biases they may face in the future.

The rest of the day focused on hands-on activities: making Christmas cards with lights and circuits, doing science experiments that resulted in Christmas ornaments, learning about robotics and coding with Little Bits, Spheros, and EZ-robots, and creating a band with found instruments.

Why did we do this? We need to encourage girls, especially those between 11 and 15, to pursue their interest in science and math. Society is missing out on the diversity needed to stimulate innovation and creativity if we are not attracting girls to engineering, sciences and math.

In a study commissioned by Microsoft, Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics states, “Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models continue to channel girls’ career choices away from STEM fields.”

“This means that governments, teachers and parents only have four or five years to nurture girls’ passion before they turn their backs on these areas, potentially for good,” states Microsoft. “When we encourage girls to pursue science and technology, we double our potential to solve problems.”

“If the cure for cancer is in the mind of a junior high girl, the odds are that we’ll never find it.”
– Dr. Jenna Carpenter, Louisiana Tech University

Enhanced Support at Rainbow Creek

Enhanced Support at Rainbow Creek

Students grocery shopping at No Frills.

RVS Learning Support Teacher, Rainbow Creek Elementary – What do you know about Enhanced Support? When I was given the chance to share about the Enhanced Support program at Rainbow Creek I jumped on the opportunity. I love being able to celebrate the successes of our exceptional students!

For those of you who don’t know, the Enhanced Support program at Rainbow Creek Elementary provides direct support to students with complex communication needs. As the lead teacher, I am supported by three educational assistants, as well as divisional staff who collaborate on student programming. Programming is based on each students’ individual needs with a focus on improving communication, social interaction, behaviour and independence in addition to their academic skills. I have the opportunity to work with homeroom teachers to modify curriculum, promote peer interaction and ensure student success in their inclusive classrooms. In addition, students have the opportunity to develop specific skills in the Enhanced Support room. Our students participate in weekly outings such as grocery shopping for our school breakfast program. Students also develop independent life skills through activities such as cooking.

A student learning to use their power wheelchair.

Currently our students are working on goals, such as learning to drive a power wheelchair, communicating using Touch Chat, practicing street safety, and developing a greater understanding of expected school behaviour. It is amazing to see our students develop skills which will help make them more independent in their lives.

As the Enhanced Support program continues to develop, I have come to realize it is about more than just students with complex communication needs. It is about creating a culture of acceptance where all students can feel that they belong. It is about teaching all students to embrace diversity and difference. It is about creating an environment that promotes equal opportunities for all learners.

If you are ever in our building, come by and say hi. We would love to share more about what we are learning!

Bridging the Generation Gap

Bridging the Generation Gap

RVS Teacher, Prince of Peace – I teach 23 wonderful Grade 1 students at Prince of Peace Lutheran School. Next door to the school is the Prince of Peace Manor, which is a senior care facility. One day, I ran into my former substitute teacher Jacqueline, who is now retired and lives in the Manor. We started to discuss how to bring my Grade 1 class (the younger generation) to visit with the residents at the Manor (the older generation). We worked out a plan with dates and times and what the two groups would be doing when they got together.

Our first meeting had our “adopted” grandparents helping the students with a primary colour booklet. About 12 seniors attended this meeting, which lasted about half an hour. The students were a bit apprehensive, but soon the two groups got introduced and started working on their booklet. They soon became fast friends. Our second meeting had about 22 seniors, that is about one senior to work with every child! They worked together on their secondary colours booklet. The seniors were very impressed with the student’s knowledge of identifying primary and secondary colours and how polite the children were to them. By the third visit, the seniors and students had developed a deep bond and were so excited to see each other again. You could see their happiness from their beaming faces and sincere greetings. Their faces just lit up! This time, the groups worked on numbers and counting. Prior to leaving, the groups were giving each other good-bye hugs and telling each other how excited they were for their next meeting!

This has turned into a weekly event. The talking and visiting is so appreciated by the seniors. Some of the “grandparents” do not get a visit from their own children or grandchildren. They are so happy for the little time they get to spend with the students. The students in turn experienced the positive interactions with a senior that may not happen in their own family. Both groups have become great friends and eagerly anticipate their next meeting.

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