C’est la rentrée! Day 1 of Virtual Learning

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Day one in the books, and it was so great to see all the faces!  In a way, this year was easier to prepare for: no need to clean my classroom, do seating charts or run off copies.  On the other hand, I had to learn some new skills and couldn’t use my lesson plans from last year.

All in all, I thought it went well today.  My first three classes were French 3 Honors (my son being in my first period of class).  There were a few familiar faces, and some of my students from last year’s 2 regular class had moved up.  I didn’t feel as much pressure to put on a show.  They knew that even though I wasn’t comfortable with the Zoom format, I would not let them down and give it my all every day.  Normally, on the first day of 3 Honors, I introduce myself with images in the background and take small breaks for the students to talk in pairs/ groups about themselves.  Then, I have a competition where they unscramble questions in French (where was Mrs. Chop born? How many children does she have) and answer them in French.  No time for that today as our classes were only 25 minutes, so this was what I did instead:

  1. After greeting students and telling them the day’s objectives in English, they took out their phones to do a Kahoot that was all about Madame Chop.  So this year, instead of focusing on listening, they focused on reading.  After some of the questions, I would go into more detail about a particular fact and an accompanying image (sometimes in French, sometimes in English) and then come back to the Kahoot.
  2. I had to spend the last five minutes showing them around my Canvas page, so they knew where to find everything since this is our main form of communication during virtual learning. I invited students to stay back if they wanted to chat with me individually, and some of them did.  This effort will make it much easier to learn their names.

French 1 was next and the one that I thought was going to be the hardest. I normally do Card Talk on the first day, but I didn’t want to waste time with making cards in class (so I assigned it in a Google slide for homework tonight).  Instead, with the whiteboard behind me, I introduced myself, girl/boy, teacher/student and told them some things I liked.  The kids did choral responses and did thumbs up/ thumbs down for adore and déteste.  With gallery view in Zoom, I was able to see all their faces and even ask some of them about their interests: Do you like tennis? baseball? basketball?  We learned that one boy liked tae kwon do, and voilà- I wrote up the words “les sports de combat”.  Next, I shared a slide with a paragraph about me in the first person, and I told the students to mute their microphones and translate the paragraph from French to English.  Then we came back as a class. I read the French and they translated in English.  I’m confident that I met my learning objectives:

  1. Students will listen to spoken French and understand most of what is being said.
  2. Students will read a paragraph in French and understand most of what is being read.
  3. Students will learn some new words and cognates.
  4. Students will be able to speak some words in French.

Finally, I had my 35 French 4 Honors students.  Because I had them all last year, it made the virtual teaching so much easier.  I spoke entirely in French to tell them what we would be doing today, and then with pictures as support, shared about my good memories of summer vacation. Next, I put them into breakout rooms of 5 people each and I took time visiting each room and talking with the students individually. Unfortunately, the class period was too short and the last few breakout rooms didn’t get the chance to say much to me. I might have to save the interpersonal speaking for the days we have fifty minute classes.  It was so great to see their willingness to speak in connected sentences with such confidence.  A year ago, there were definitely some kids who lacked the confidence to speak.

All in all, it was so great to see new faces and especially the old, familiar ones.  Fingers crossed that we will be back in the classroom soon!

Link to my level three unit. 


Back to school–with Covid

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I will be going back to school in less than four weeks,  and I have no idea what it is going to look like. This will be my twenty fourth year in the classroom, but because of the pandemic, I can’t rely on past experiences to guide me.  I will need to be prepared to adapt more than ever every day and every minute.  We still haven’t heard the official word on what the classroom or the daily routine will be each day and we start in less than a month.  A planner like me does not like the uncertainty.


And there will be the added pressure of having my eldest son in my class. My son, who unlike his mother likes neither school nor French.  How do I put on a good show if students are social distancing and we are all wearing masks ?  The two things that stand out the most about my classroom is the interpersonal speaking and the group work and games.  Most students sign up for my class because they want to be able to have a conversation with a native speaker, and so I make it a point to practice this skill everyday.  Furthermore, I believe learning is social so the pair work and group competitions are essential to my classroom by providing much needed brain breaks and/or formative checks for me.


In order to make myself feel more prepared for the unknown, one thing I can do is go back and look at my unit plans for the classes that I will be teaching this year : French 1, Honors French 3 and Honors French 4.  I can tweak performance assessments, replace outdated authentic resources and envision how what I am doing in the classroom can be done virtually if needed.


Prior to teaching at my current school (this will be my twelfth year and the longest I have stayed anywhere), I was an English teacher for six years, and prior to that, a lone French teacher who had learned to teach from a textbook while creating my own performance assessments and personalizing the class with a student-centered approach.  The textbook chose my themes and the order in which to teach them, but my fifty-minute class period was never spent asking students to open their books as we went through one dull exercise after another.


Then in 2009, I started teaching French at my current school where I wasn’t the only French teacher and we shared unit plans and assessments with the other high school in our district.  I was assigned levels one through three and for the most part, the curriculums were similar to what I had taught in the past so I was able to pull from past experience. However, the French 3 curriculum included themes that I had never taught before or had only taught at higher levels.  Moreover, few of the themes aligned with the textbook that the school had adopted and I didn’t find the resources to be very good or engaging.


Flash forward a few years to our school’s initiative to have every department upload UbD units, (devloped by educators Grand Wiggins and Jay Mc Tighe) which I had read about in their Understanding by Design materials but had never seen what it could look like for world language teachers.


Enter Lisa Hendrickson and Karen Fowdy who hosted an all-day workshop at Central States Conference in 2016.  Their presentation was all about Thematic Unit Planning and walked us through how to design a unit based on AP or IB themes.  This was a game changer for me and their template made sense.  I now start every unit by looking at the previous year’s template and make changes as needed.  If you get a chance to see these ladies, do it ! They have an answer for all your questions and inspire you with how they curate and teach with authentic resources. My colleague and I enjoyed their all-day workshop so much that we signed up for another workshop they presented on assessing interpersonal speaking.


If you would like to see a sample template for my first unit in French 3 Honors. Click here