Our goal in French 205 is to teach basic language proficiency through authentic cultural materials. In this case, we used French children’s literature to provide students a nuanced understanding of the target language/culture. Our pedagogical process attempted to mirror that of a native French-speaking child living, learning the language and the culture. Our hope was that students would respond positively to an approach that avoided the daunting grammar boot-camp system that can make language learning at this level a repugnant activity for some.
By organizing Intermediate French 1 (French 205) around children’s literature, play, and performance we try to engage students better in the language and liberate them from the experience of language acquisition as fear-based. Our aims in this project are twofold: (1) to encourage students to enter the role of the child, which corresponds to their “linguistic age” in the target language, without infantilizing them, thus allowing them to experience language as a natural and evolving process, giving them a concrete cultural experience, so that they may overcome their inhibitions about making mistakes and suspend their critical faculty in order to inhabit the role; and (2) to encourage them in a second move to experience language learning meta-critically, to feel and live the acculturation process and to examine critically that process, thinking about the production and meaning of French and Francophone culture itself.
One of the major projects has been to create digital storybooks using Voicethread. Voicethread allows users to comment on images and video on-line. Students wrote and illustrated their own children’s book, building on the grammar and developing themes they had worked with throughout the semester. The students shared their books with the rest of the class, which were not only illustrated by the individual groups, but also narrated in French thanks to the recording feature of the Voicethread program.
Students have reacted in a very positive way to Voicethread. They produced some remarkable books—integrating the four traditional language skills in their final product: reading, listening, speaking, and writing and adding the elements of creativity and play that were the hallmarks of our methodology.
Starting in 2014, we switched to using Final Cut Pro X (rather than Voicethread). In the Fall of 2015, we required the students to put their scripts into closed caption files (to go along with their videos in Youtube). – Baynard Bailey, Academic Computing Services