French and the Community

In French 59: French and the Community, undergraduates teach French to Haitian immigrant children in order to improve their own French skills and to both serve and learn about the Haitian-American community.

Goal/s:

  • Students develop their oral communication skills in a foreign language through teaching French to children.
  • Students gain teaching skills through planning and executing lessons. 
  • Students serve the Haitian community of Greater Boston by teaching children a language that is important to Haitian culture and acting as role models and mentors.
  • Students learn about Haitian culture through direct interaction with children and families.

Class: French 59: French and the Community

Introduction/Background: Undergraduate students enrolled in the course teach French to Haitian-American children at two community centers in Greater Boston on at least 3 Saturdays out of the 10 week term.  In class, students learn about Haitian culture, pedagogy, and French vocabulary and grammar in order to prepare them to teach students and improve their own mastery of French.

Procedure: 
Setting up a Relationship with a Community Organization

  • Instructor contacts community organizations (in this case, 2 Baptist churches in Roxbury and Somerville) to find one that is interested in hosting a language course for 20-30 children over about 10 weeks.
  • Community organizations should have a contact person who can schedule rooms for the program, advertise it to families, provide snacks, contact families of students who are absent, etc.

Course Logistics

  • To enroll in the undergraduate course, students must send an email to the instructor in French about why they are interested. Course requires a high level of French fluency. 
  • About 3 undergraduates teach at each site every weekend. Thus, the teaching staff must coordinate among the students to ensure each week is covered. Staff polls students for their availability, then creates a schedule for the semester. To ensure that the program serves the community even when enough students aren’t available, teaching staff may occasionally need to fill in for students, especially on holidays or weekends on which college events occur.
  • At least one member of the course staff goes with the undergraduates each weekend.
  • The lead instructor of the course generates lesson plans for at least first few weeks of class, and scaffolds students to creating their own lesson plans near the end of the course.
  • The course instructor creates a booklet of worksheets and activities for all of the children at the beginning of the semester, which is left at the community center until the end of the class, when children can take it home.

Instructing Undergraduates about Pedagogy

  • The course instructor assembles a syllabus for the semester on French grammar and vocabulary, Haitian immigrant culture, and pedagogy.
  •  Students learn about 1-3 topics in pedagogy per week through readings, assignments (e.g. create an example warm-up), and in-class discussion, so that by the end of the semester they are able to write their own lesson plans.
  • Most readings on pedagogy are in French, except when pedagogical concepts might be difficult to explain in students’ second language. The main topics discussed are below, with English materials hyperlinked:
    • The benefits to children of learning a language
    • The relationship between language and identity, and information about Haitian immigrants and the Haitian education system
    • The 5 C’s of language instruction – communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, communities (link 1, 2)
    • Backwards design (link)
    • Lesson planning (link)
    • Bloom’s taxonomy (link 1, 2)
    • Warm-ups (link)
    • Controlled practice
    • Closure (link)
    • Teaching speaking/pronunciation
    • Teaching grammar
    • Incorporating technology

Teaching at the Site

  • Undergraduates teach a 1 ½ - 2 hour lesson to children.
  • Examples of lessons include introductions, telling time, colors, food, animals, money and the market, etc. All lessons include some sort of hands-on activity, such as making vegetables out of Play-Doh and naming them, singing songs, or creating animal masks.
  • Lessons begin with a brief, fun warm-up activity, then are followed by review of the previous class, 

Follow-Up

  • After each visit to the school site, the group posts a video to the course website debriefing how the lesson went and suggestions for next time. The group for the next week watches these videos to prepare. The instructor watches the videos as well so as to grade and give feedback on college students’ own speaking and comprehension of the language. 
  • At end of course, the class puts together a celebration for the students and community. They design a play for the students to perform in French at the celebration, which incorporates the vocabulary they learned throughout the semester.  Students’ families are invited to attend and bring food.
  • The final project for each student is to create an ideal lesson plan.

Comments: 

  • Community children may not always show up consistently and thus may not know the words from the week before, which can be challenging to accommodate.
  • It is helpful to have parents or community center staff involved in the class to help with behavior management.

Materials/Resources:

  • Booklet of worksheets and activities for children (e.g. cartoon of a family, song lyrics, pictures of vegetables, etc.)
  • Crayons
  • Construction paper
  • Other materials as needed for activities – e.g. Play Doh, materials to make masks, etc. 

Submitted by Carole Bergin, Harvard, Romance Languages and Literature