Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What's "Authentic" about tasks in French class?

I've seen many teachers around me struggling to shift their thinking as it relates to having students perform authentic tasks in a second language class.  Most clearly understand that having a student fill in a "Conjugate this verb" worksheet is not authentic, but beyond that, there are many shades of gray. I not an expert, but just an educator interested in supporting this conversation & further refinement by teachers as they find what will work best for their unique groups of learners.

It seems important to start with a look at Higher Order Thinking skills.

What are HOTS ?What are "HOTS"? (as I sometimes see them called in critical literacy, primary-junior circles) You already know what they are! They're the types of activities that ask our students to do deeper thinking.
Consider Bloom's taxomony. (Which, for the record, was revised at some point in the past decade... thanks to my school teacher-librarian & friend for sharing that information with our staff this year, as I think some of us might have assumed nothing changed as the terminology was still kind of the same!)

Think about those skills at the top of the hierarchy... evaluate, analyse, apply. Pay particular attention to APPLY for the FSL classroom.

Bloom's Taxonomy

And now, about that need to have students work on "authentic tasks" together. Authentic means something a learner might actually do, now or in the near future, in the real world, in French. Given the opportunity, of course, through access to francophones with whom they could interact.... but let's just suppose a new francophone family appeared in your anglo community next week.

Some assignments:
Giving students a dialogue so that they can pretend to have a conversation by repeating lines someone else has written for them - NOT authentic. Having students write their own lines for a dialogue, practice them at home and present in front of the class - NOT authentic. Putting on a play - NOT authentic (unless your group of students is specifically composed of future theatre folks!)

How about "tasks"?  We should be avoiding, to a great degree, the types of "tasks" that have sometimes existed in the Core French classroom in the past.  Copying a note. Conjugating a verb. Repeating phrases after the teacher. Finding vocabulary words in a word search.  Even larger projects that we assigned... things like making a promo video, writing a letter, creating a web page, ought to change quite a bit with the new curriculum.  Our students could not accomplish these tasks in French. The reality was, the industrious ones spent a week or more glued to a French-English dictionary trying to accomplish some "project-oriented" goal. The not-so-motivated did nothing, except complaining "this is stupid; French is stupid" (because they FELT stupid when we asked them to do something that was way beyond their comfort zone). And those in between often did bits and pieces in French, but mostly wrote drafts in English... and then used Google translate to come up with final text they could colour and add images to in order to make it their own. How were they supposed to see the educational value in that?

Now you're saying to yourself, "Ok, Mme Aiello, that's a fine bit of judging and nay-saying, but what really do you expect from us? We aren't miracle workers you know!"  My response to your imaginary statement is two things:  I'm not judging... I've been there and done that myself. But I'm also about ongoing learning, for adults as well as kids. The second part: Guess what? We just might be miracle workers. We do have a lot of control over how students view French, with our day to day choices and approach to teaching them!

Miracles crossed out with French Class written above it

Don't give up and fall into the slump of quieting students with worksheets, rote memorization and translation... just don't do it! Keep reaching out to colleagues, try new things together (and on your own when you have to!) and share your success stories! While I'm thinking of it, yes, share your materials too! If you want to open a TPT store, please use my referral link. It costs you absolutely nothing extra (There's a $60 annual fee if you want the best commission rates, but you can get started without paying a single thing, and there's no need to upgrade to a premium account if you prefer to keep it free.)

Here's what I suggest fits the bill, or "hits the mark" since I decide to use a target as my organizer. (Click the image to zoom in for a better look, and do please pin this image to share with others!)

Authentic Action oriented Tasks for French Class; three lists (best fits, so-so, and missing the mark)

In no way am I suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bath water, and that the activities I've indicated have no pedagogical value. Some are great for scaffolding. All I'm saying is let's not stop there, and call that a summative task (assessment of learning). Let's help our students to feel confident and capable in the real world, one step at a time!  I'm ready to take some flack over this... I'm working it out for myself too. So, please feel free to engage in professional dialogue in the Comments section below. Just please remain polite and constructive, to help us all to move forward. 

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