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New method of teaching French a hit at two OACS schools

Written on May 23rd, 2007

A new method of teaching French is winning rave reviews from the teacher and an enthusiastic response from students and their parents.

French teacher Maria Makonnen introduced the Accelerated Integrated Method (AIM) in November at Burlington Christian Academy and Dundas Calvin Christian School.

“I just thank God for discovering the program,” says Makonnen.

With AIM, Makonnen is teaching her students to read, write and speak French using gestures, stories, plays, and dances.

After only six months of using the method, she is already seeing remarkable progress. Last week she and her Grade 7 students spent about 10 minutes engaged in a spontaneous conversation about a hockey game – in French.

“I was really blown away,” says Makonnen. “Things that are important to them in their lives, they can actually communicate.”

Makonnen says that if students remain in the program throughout their elementary school career, the majority will be “very comfortable speaking in French.” Some will be bilingual, she adds.

Besides the success of the program, Makonnen has been taken with the way it engages both herself and her students.

“Not only is it the best way to teach, but for the teacher it’s not as frustrating as the traditional, grammar-based, technical program,” she says.

Students are engaged, they communicate in French, the classes are fun, and everyone is fully active from beginning to end.

Last week Makonnen’s French students organized and ran a French café for their parents. They served a French breakfast and performed several plays and dances, all using only the French language.

“When parents see their children speaking French and performing so well and with ease, you get the parents on board,” says Makonnen.

Makonnen recalls at one point suggesting that several of the student waitresses ask the parents if they wanted more coffee or tea. Although she said they could use English at that point, they insisted on speaking only French as they had been doing all along. Makonnen says hearing their response was very rewarding for her.

“The kids are motivated because they see their own success,” she says. “They speak French. They say, ‘Oh, I just spoke French,’ and they’re so proud of themselves … their own ability is the reward in itself.”

And it isn’t just the select few who achieve that either. “This gives everybody the sense of achievement.”

Parents have been impressed as they hear their children speaking French in conversation at home as well.

Wendy Maxwell, a French teacher from British Columbia, created AIM. The program’s key elements including speaking only French in the classroom, using gestures to learn vocabulary and grammar, working with pared-down language, and using stories, plays, music and dance. (For more information, visit www.aimlanguagelearning.com).

Makonnen stumbled upon the method last year after graduating from Redeemer University.

“I was looking for anything that would help me succeed (as a French teacher) and found an ad for (an AIM) workshop in the paper.”

She took the workshop and was “immediately sold on it.” She told her principal that she would pay for the curriculum materials initially just to show how convinced she was of the program’s excellence.

She is hoping to reconnect with the university to demonstrate the program’s success to current French education classes.