Students spend 3 hours a day learning the language for 5 months
Starting this fall, Grade 6 students at Ottawa Christian School (OCS) will be spending 55 per cent of their day in an Intensive French program for the first half of the year.
Intensive French is a teaching approach where Grade 6 students receive instruction in the language for most of the day — 50 to 80 per cent — for five months. During the second half of the school year 15 to 20 per cent of the day is in French instruction.
OCS principal Paul Triemstra says for the past decade the school has been looking to enhance its French program and increase the amount of time for core French.
“Ottawa is an area where French is very important,” says Triemstra, noting that many of the jobs in the region require the ability to speak the language. “As a result, many parents have a very high priority on French.”
The school learned about the Intensive French program approximately five years ago from Dr. Larry Vandergrift, a University of Ottawa professor and a member of the OCS community.
“We started looking into that program and we started getting very excited about it because it shows results and it is something that can be done in a small school like Ottawa Christian School with one highly qualified French teacher,” says Triemstra.
The program can propel Grade 6 students to a Grade 10 French skill level within five months, according to researchers.
OCS students will receive three hours a day of the French language arts program through writing, speaking, reading and completing projects in the language during the five-month period. For the second part of the year students experience a compact version of the regular science, socials and language arts in English with one hour of French instruction each day. In Grade 7, students continue an enriched French program alongside the regular curriculum.
Triemstra says one of their initial concerns was whether the program would be beneficial for students who have a learning disability, but found research that indicates an intensive language instruction will strengthen the student’s English language skills.
“The research is indicating that students with difficulty in learning the English language benefit tremendously from the intensive French program,” says Triemstra, noting this includes from a psychological perspective because the students all start on the same level.
In eastern Ontario there are some separate schools that offer the program, but Triemstra says as far as he knows they are the only Christian school in the province to use Intensive French.
The school has also received support from some of the program’s thought leaders.
Wendy Carr, a professor at the University of British Columbia, is a leading scholar of Intensive French and recently attended one of two OCS evenings on the program for the community.
Dr. Joan Netten at the Memorial University of Newfoundland is one of the program founders and principal researchers. Netten will be working with Vandergrift to assess the program at OCS.