I found this post difficult to write and went back through it several times to try and gather my thoughts. It is hard to summarize what we did and my personal reflections without blabbing on and on and on. Here is the gist, if you have any questions or advice/solutions, please leave them in the comments below.
I decided I wanted to attempt Genius Hour or #20time in my core French classroom after attending the GAFE summit in Kitchener-Waterloo this past April and having had the opportunity to see Kevin Brookhouser speak about how he implemented the 20 Time project with his students. I really like the idea of giving students the opportunity to explore their own interests/passions, however struggled (and still do) with how we can accomplish this in the second language classroom.
Like I have done with previous projects, I threw the idea out to my students to see what they thought and we brainstormed together. We discussed as a class the importance of either researching a topic of interest to them and finding Francophone cultural ties or pursuing a passion/project of their own, while blogging and reporting on it in French. Whichever they chose to pursue, had to have a final product that could be shared in the end.
Here were four questions we generated together that helped guide the project:
- What is of interest to you?
2. How will you share the information you find out for your project?
3. How will you publish your findings?
4. Who will your audience be?
Next, students started generating ideas. Here is a website that one of my students found that helped some of my students narrow down a topic if they didn’t know where to start. Creative Projects of Interest Area
What We Did
First, I had my students create a document in Google Drive that they shared with me. We used this document to develop their ideas. Because it was the first time I had done a project like this with my second language students, I, myself, really wasn’t sure what to expect. Students came with many different ideas and I felt like my job was to continuously provide reflective questions along the way that could be used to guide them to connect it properly to the language and/or culture. I also tried to hold students accountable for the work they were doing. In their Google document, they were to report at the end of each week about what they accomplished and what their plan of action for the following week was.
I gave students approximately 6-7 weeks to work on the project. (I only see them for 160 minutes per week and at this time of the year with field trips and other school events; it often ended up being less time than this).
At the end, their projects were submitted to me via Google Classroom. Students were able to finish the projects, however we ran out of time with respect to presenting their findings and experiences to their classmates.
What I Noticed
The whole point of this project was to allow students to explore the French language or culture in a way that related to their personal interests. In doing so, the idea was that they would be truly engaged in the research or language learning. I did notice however, that some students struggled with the lack of structure. Students had difficulty truly identifying topics they were interested in researching and then making the necessary connections to French culture. (For example, they could tell me that they liked to dance, but maybe couldn’t make the connection to exploring traditional French dances in French-speaking African countries, or researching current popular French musicians in Quebec or Europe). I also found it difficult to manage and keep up with each students’ project planning and reflection. With every student doing a different project, I really had to go into each students’ documents to ask questions to get them thinking. I was also having to do side research for each project so I was better informed about what questions to ask (no, I don’t have all of the answers or know even close to everything there is to know about Francophone culture).
To solve this, I will try to provide a ‘project list’. This would consist of a broad range of topics/ideas that students could research that relate to grade appropriate expectations for each class. (For example, many students were interested in food, so one of the possible choices that I might give a grade 8 class is to ‘create a French cook book highlighting 4 traditional Francophone European recipes’. Or maybe they could teach their classmates how to cook in French by choosing a traditional recipe, and making it with their class by going through the steps in French. Another possible idea for grade 8s interested in sports would be to research the different hockey/soccer/basketball/etc leagues or teams one could play for in French speaking countries in Europe and create a book or movie to teach others about what they learned.) I will ask students to choose from the list, however will encourage them to also think closely about the topics that are really of interest to them. If they don’t see something from the list that they want to pursue, I will then have them submit a ‘proposal’ that outlines their own ideas based on a topic they truly are passionate about. My hopes are that this will provide the connection to Francophone culture and language for those in my classes that need it and that it will accommodate those who maybe have their own ideas they would like to explore by freeing up more time for me to help them develop it.
Another thing I noticed was that some students wanted a more concrete list of exactly what was expected of them or needed more structure to help better manage their time in class.
For this problem, I think as a class we need to generate a timeline at the beginning of the project. This will help with goal setting and to ensure that the projects are meeting different benchmarks along the journey. I am not entirely sure of the best way to gather these benchmarks from the students, but it will be something we will explore next year. (Please add ideas in the comments if you have any solutions to this). For the students who can handle the freedom, I might ask them to generate their own timeline or set their own goals for over the course of the project that highlight what they will accomplish and at what points.
I had some students who wanted to continue projects they were building at home and blog about their experiences in French. How do you do this with a second language, when their vocabulary isn’t extensive enough to be able to fluently express themselves on the topic, nor do they have the necessary skills to determine what words and expressions are necessary in order to accurately build their own vocabulary lists.
I determined that this is a skill that would need to be taught and modeled extensively, if I am going to expect it of my students. I guess I just assumed that they would be able to identify the different words and expressions they needed. For example, if we were going to talk about movies, there are certain words and expressions that relate directly to this topic. I.e. I saw.., I have never seen, actor, actress, the part when, the scene, the character, etc. If I need the word, I will look it up when I come to it. This is not an innate skill. I always encourage my students to keep things simple when expressing themselves in French and reword what they want to say in a way that they use the words and expressions they already know. Then, when they come to a word they need but don’t know (and that is essential to being able to express themselves clearly), they look up how to say this word in the target language. They are then learning new words and expressions that relate to their topic, but are not looking up EVERY SINGLE word in a sentence in order to express themselves. It was evident after this project that this is a skill that we need to continue to refine in class and I need to continue to provide more opportunity for practice.
Lastly, as another next step, I would like to link these projects in the future to purpose based learning. I would like to find a way to make the project authentic and to solve a real world problem. One idea that we had this year was to have students run a book drive (or toonie drive) to raise books/money for schools in Rwanda. Again, this is a work in progress and we would have to find ideas for other purposeful-projects, but one step at a time. Just another idea that I am working on figuring out how to fit it into my Core French classroom.
What do you think?
So what do you think? Are the challenges I have met due to the fact that we are attempting it in a second language classroom? Is it an issue due to the time constraints of my class? Or do you find this happens in a first language classroom that offers ‘genius hour’ or ’20 time’ as well? How do you overcome these challenges to help students be successful?
Here are some examples of finished products.
A Zelda Game made on Scratch to work on directions in French. Click here (will not work on an iPad)Zelda Game Also read here relating to the game: Coding French Games Using Geometry
A game coded by a grade 8 student to help others learn the family names in French. Click here (will not work on an iPad).Learn French Family Names