||Volume 20, Number 3, November/December 2007
The challenge of teaching core French in BC
By Wendy Carr
Core French teachers at the elementary and middle-years levels face many challenges. More than 800 BC core French teachers took part in a survey this spring, and the pressing challenges they identified were how to achieve provincial learning outcomes with the lack of time and valuing allocated to French instruction and how to teach a language when many lack proficiency and methodological background.
It was a good time to survey teachers—10 years since the full implementation of the BC Language Education Policy. Prior to 1997, the teaching of core French in elementary schools was optional. Now all Grades 5 to 8 students study a second language—in most cases, French. This was a wonderful development for ensuring full access to second-language education, but three main problems quickly emerged:
- The majority of elementary schools did not have a French specialist.
- There were no training programs at the universities for core French generalists.
- There was no prescribed amount of time allocated for core French instruction.
Generalist core French teachers (elementary and middle years)
There are some specialists (about 25% of all respondents) with linguistic and methodological background teaching core French at the elementary and middle-years levels; however, the majority are generalist teachers who deliver core French as one subject among many in their teaching assignment. Where there is a specialist, she or he often platoons the delivery of French, i.e., teaches her or his own class plus one or more other classes in exchange for the teaching of another subject. In many, but not all cases, the specialist speaks French and has taken university coursework in French. However, most are generalists who do not speak French and have not taken second-language methodology coursework. This leads to frustration for teachers who want to do a better job but are juggling French as one of many curricular demands.
Attrition rates at the secondary level indicate that we need to do more in the early years of French instruction. These rates are particularly disquieting because secondary core French teachers are almost always specialists who possess linguistic background, methodological training, and passion for the language. Often students do not make contact with these teachers because they drop out as soon as French is no longer mandated after Grade 8.
Teacher education in BC
Pre-service teachers enrol in a Bachelor of Education (UBC, UVic) or Professional Development Program (SFU). There is no required course in second-language methodology in these programs even though Grades 5 to 8 core French is mandated for all BC students and has a fully developed curriculum document with prescribed learning outcomes, funding formulae for district budgets based on numbers of core French students, and reporting expectations.
A small proportion of teacher candidates receives specialized training in French at UBC and SFU. They are screened for linguistic proficiency and enter a specialist cohort that takes its coursework in French and undertakes practica in core or immersion classrooms at the elementary and secondary levels. The vast majority of the elementary teacher candidates are hired into immersion classrooms because they are bilingual and in high demand. This means that almost no new elementary core French specialists enter the profession each year.
Time allocated to core French
In BC, there is no prescribed time allocation for teaching core French even though it is mandated in Grades 5 to 8. A recent survey of BC’s language co-ordinators (published in the BCATML newsletter, Fall 2006), showed that the average amount of time allocated to core French is 80 minutes a week in Grades 5 to 7 and 185 minutes in Grade 8. This is less than half the amount recommended by the National Core French Study, the benchmark observed by other provinces, such as Ontario and New Brunswick. Respondents’ comments evinced deep concerns about the quantity and quality of instruction, for example:
"There are some schools that only offer 80 minutes and even some that only have 45 minutes designated with a specialist and the generalist classroom teacher is supposed to make up another 45 minutes. This latter generally does not work and is just about as bad as not offering it at all. "
"The time allocated to Core French 5 to 7 ranges from 45 to 90 minutes a week. Sometimes the amount of time depends on whether the classroom teacher feels comfortable teaching French."
"For some teachers, French is often the class that is the first to be dropped in the need to do something urgent. Of course, we might also question how they are also using their French time–some doing translation, lots of art, not much communication, etc."
"Many of our schools have the generalist teacher deliver French to their own classes...time has been reduced and teachers are teaching French who do not know it–and against their will."
Where do we go from here?
FLAGS (French Language and Global Study) is a new program at UBC designed for elementary generalists who have a special interest in teaching core French. The program begins with a five-week summer immersion experience in a French-Canadian university (subsidized by the federal/ provincial bursary program) followed by the 12-month BEd program at UBC that includes a French methodology course. SFU also invites its students to take a five-week summer immersion experience at the end of the PDP year.
If teacher candidates were required to take the French methodology course presently offered as an elective at UBC, UVic, and SFU, it would be a big step toward equipping them to teach core French, one of the subjects all Grades 5 to 8 teachers are expected to teach.
A number of professional learning opportunities are available for BC’s core French teachers. SFU offers a Certificate in French Language Proficiency as well as individual courses in conversation and writing at various levels through its French Department. Its Field Programs Division offers an Exploring Second Language Education Graduate Diploma for core French teachers and an equivalent diploma for French immersion teachers. The diploma courses are offered in collaboration with various school districts throughout the province, e.g., Surrey and Richmond.
UBC offers several courses in French conversation and grammar at different levels through its French Department and one after-school course in core French methodology for elementary and middle-years generalists through its Language and Literacy Education Department. A certificate program, combining linguistic and methodological development, is proposed for the near future. Both UBC and SFU have collaborated on a new online course, Gramligne, for developing grammatical and linguistic competence for French teachers.
UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies in Education, in collaboration with the Greater Victoria School District, offers two credentials for French teachers: one for French immersion teachers and one for middle-years core French teachers. The latter offers development in language and methodology, beginning with a five-week summer immersion experience and followed by a fall course conducted on Saturdays. The school district and Continuing Studies Division have tailored the course to the needs of local teachers and provide financial support to any participating teacher.
UBC’s Institut de Français and UVic’s La maison française offer summer immersion experiences for practicing teachers. Participants are eligible for partial subsidy through the Explore! program (www.jexplore.ca).
Eight hundred BC teachers articulated the challenges they face in teaching core French in Grades 5 to 8. Insufficient time and training were key points. A number of programs for pre-service and practicing teachers have been highlighted, but it will take sustained effort by, and support for, core French teachers to make a difference. The full report, "Teaching Core French in British Columbia: Teachers’ Perspectives," is available online at www.bcatml.org.
Wendy Carr is a core French teacher in Coquitlam and president of the BC Association of Teachers of Modern Languages.
Les défis dans l’enseignement du français de base en Colombie-Britannique
Les enseignants du français de base à l’élémentaire et à l’intermédiaire font face à plusieurs défis. Plus de 800 enseignants du français de base de la C-B ont participé dans un sondage ce printemps; les défis qu’ils ont identifiés comme les plus significatifs étaient comment atteindre les résultats d’apprentissage provinciaux sans le temps ou la valorisation alloués à l’enseignement du français ainsi que leurs bas niveaux de compétence linguistique et méthodologique.
Tous les élèves de 5e à 8e année étudient une langue seconde; pour la plupart, le français. Ceci a commencé quand la Politique de Langue de la C-B a été implantée (1997) pour assurer l’accès à une éducation en langue seconde. Trois problèmes se sont présentés assez rapidement, entre autre:
- la majorité des écoles élémentaires n’avaient pas de spécialistes en français;
- il n’y avait pas de programme de formation pour les généralistes en français de base (ni de cours de méthodologie requis pour les généralistes);
- il n’y avait pas d’heures prescrites pour l’enseignement du français de base.
Le rapport complet, Teaching Core French in British Columbia: Teachers’ Perspectives, comprenant les données du sondage et les recommandations pour la formation initiale et continue est disponible: www.bcatml.org.