Kim Schelhaas is seeing incredible results in students’ enthusiasm and skills in the French classroom since employing the Accelerated Integrated Method (AIM) French curriculum.
The French teacher at Stratford & District Christian School says she first heard about the program a few years ago from teachers during an Ontario Christian Schools Teachers Association convention. Learning about the program from other schools as well as her sister-in-law motivated Schelhaas to get started.
Having taught French for 25 years, Schelhaas says she always stressed to students to speak French as much as possible in the classroom, which ended up making them too quiet.
“I noticed (my colleagues using AIM) were excited about the program and they were also so over the top about the fact that the children were speaking,” she recalls.
In the traditional core French class the whole language approach cannot be used because students do not have the tools as a base to work from, says Schelhaas.
AIM has teachers gesture the words as they say them, and use high-frequency words and expressions used in the French language. The teacher begins by gesturing and the students are all required to participate orally.
The program has an arts and literacy approach using drama, music and dance.
“It’s a noisy classroom but it’s a good noise — they are all speaking,” says Schelhaas.
“So the fluency is there, the motivation is there, the engagement is there, and it also meets multiple needs, not just the average student who is strong academically,” she says, noting the method covers multiple intelligences.
Every lesson is divided into 10 minute or less packages, ensuring there is continuous movement in the classroom and students do not get bored.
“It moves along so quickly that you don’t lose the students’ focus,” she says.
The students are put into groups of four to five, mixing up students with different strengths and weaknesses.
Schelhaas says she has seen a “real Christian rapport” among group members, as they try to work together and help the weaker students.
“Nobody is left behind, ever. Nobody turns the page until every one in that group has moved on. And it’s taking responsibility as a Christian for everybody’s needs, not just me myself and I, and I think maybe as a Christian school teacher I’ve taken that on as being a big part of it,” she notes.
This year the school has expanded the AIM program into more grades. Schelhaas is teaching the program to Grades 3-8, and the Grade 1 and 2 teacher is piloting the new AIM program for those grades.
Schelhaas says she was hesitant when introducing the AIM program to the Grade 7 and 8 students last fall, wondering how they would respond.
“They are the most energetic, and receptive of all my classes. It just blew me away,” she says.
“It was like they couldn’t wait to get out of that old mode of boring, boring, boring, and they are so excited (and) they participate.”
She says she has noticed an incredible difference in their abilities since using the program. The class is going on a trip to Quebec in May and are looking forward to being able to use their French.
The enthusiasm is spreading beyond the classroom, with Schelhaas hearing feedback from parents that the class is part of discussions at the dinner table. It is also spilling onto the playground, as students will ask her something in French. Some parents are starting to use their French when talking with Schelhaas.
“It’s definitely the best program I have ever, ever used,” she says.
“It’s definitely a worthwhile program and I don’t think I’d go back to any of the others after this, seeing the happiness, the joy on their faces, their excitement for the language and the fluency,” says Schelhaas.
The AIM program is currently used in 4,000 schools across Canada and is expanding worldwide.
For other schools interested to start the program Schelhaas recommends attending the AIM National Summer Institute, which will be held in Barrie, Ontario, July 4-7, 2011.
To learn more, visit www.aimlanguagelearning.com.