French Teacher AIMs for Success

Last week, Middle School French teacher Ms. Karen Oraas went to Winnipeg to teach an Accelerated Integrated Method (AIM) workshop, a program designed for educators to learn how to teach French as a second language using interactive methods.

Ms. Oraas is one of four teachers in the French department passionate about AIM, which enables students in Kindergarten to Grade 8 to converse comfortably in French at a basic level with less than 100 hours of instruction. Ms. Oraas has been cited as an expert in this innovative teaching style, and was asked to lead a full-day workshop last week in Winnipeg for 35 teachers from Manitoba’s independent schools.

The primary focus of AIM is language fluency. In order for students to achieve this goal, teachers create a French-only environment in the classroom and expect students to use full French sentences to communicate. They use gestures to help students associate words and they ensure there is no passive listening in the class by immersing the students in an active learning environment. This means instead of the students repeating words after their teacher, they learn to work out the sounds of full sentences together as a class.

“Traditional teaching focuses on grammar and verbs, but students cannot say ‘I need to go to my locker to get my agenda book’ in French,” explains Ms. Oraas. “My goal is to have students conversing in full sentences by the end of Grade 8.”

Reading and writing are other key components of the method. Instead of using themes to teach single words, activities are based around stories and students are expected to paraphrase and write summaries in a few pages of text.

“Even if my students choose to take another language in Senior School, I don’t want them to look at something in French and say ‘I can’t read this.’ I want them to say, ‘this is in French, I remember this and I can understand it.’” says Ms. Oraas.

A new programme is being launched by AIM Language Learning on June 15, called Jeunesse en Action (Youth in Action). Using the same principles as the original methodology, the programme will also focus on high-frequency vocabulary, but will combine the creative use of story, drama and song to provide second-language teachers with the opportunity to motivate and engage students learning French for the first time. AIM Language Learning is making an instructional DVD for teachers, and Ms. Oraas will be featured teaching 13 of her students. The filming will take place here at SMUS this Saturday.

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