MET:Technology in the French Immersion classroom

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Originally authored by Marie-Astrid Detharet

Revised by Donna Forward and Lauren MacDonald (March, 2013). Monique Waters (February, 2015).



French Immersion, or FI as it is also known, is a form of education where the learners are typically Anglophone (from English speaking families) and complete their core subjects in French.[1] The use of technology in French Immersion classrooms can afford students authentic means to use French across the curriculum to support their language learning.

Technology under various forms has been used in and out of the classroom by students and teachers in the hopes of better preparing them for the future. It supports 21st Century skills, such as communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking across the subject areas. By using technology in a meaningful and purposeful way, teachers allow students to demonstrate their learning in a way that mirrors their everyday life outside of school. Students can choose the program, app or tool to use that will best suit their individual learning needs and style. The use of technology in French Immersion classrooms can offer students authentic means to use French across the curriculum while engaging in 21st Century skills.

Technology in the French Immersion Classroom

French Immersion in Canada

Thanks to former Prime Minister, Pierre, Elliot Trudeau [2] French Immersion became popular in Canada. It did not exist until 1965 however and it began in Québec with parents wanting their Anglophone children to have the opportunity to have a French education. One of the main goals was to offer the students a better chance to be eligible for jobs as well as to introduce them to the French Canadian culture and to make living in Québec society much easier. Eventually, French Immersion spread to the other provinces and the federal government funded the program.

Now, French Immersion is extremely popular throughout Canada and approximately 300,000 students are enrolled in more than 2,100 schools across the country [3]. French Immersion programs are available in all ten Canadian provinces as well as each of the territories. There are also three possibilities for entering into French Immersion schools; 1) Early Immersion (starting in Kindergarten – where 100% of instruction is in French) 2) Middle Immersion (entering in Grades 3 or 4 – where 80% of instruction is in French) and 3) Late Immersion (starting in Grades 6 or 7 – where 60-75% of instruction is in French). By the time students graduate, the amount of French instruction is diminished to 50% or lower per day. [4]. However, in some provinces, a higher percentage of French is taught in the upper grades, compared with the majority of schools who slowly wean out courses in French in the senior grades.

Technology in the Classroom

In today's society, technology is no longer seen as an option but rather as core foundation needed to survive in today’s competitive world. "The question is not whether computers and multimedia should be allowed in classrooms, but how they are to be used. Society is more connected and more global in scope than ever before. There is more information available today than at any previous time in history." [5] Technology in all of its forms has been an important part of education for many years. Over the last decade, technology has been making significant impact in Canadian schools. There are many devices, applications (apps) and tools that can help support students in the K-12 system in learning French.


Laptops and Computers

Computers are the predominant form of technology in today’s schools. Whether in a technology lab that houses several computers or a cart holding a class set of laptops, this form of technology is still the preferred choice for most educators. Computers are as diverse as people with most schools using PCs and some using MACs. Laptops are the next best thing, needing wireless Internet to be connected to the schools’ servers to operate anywhere throughout the school. Even at the university level "more and more departments are requiring that students enrolling in certain courses bring laptop computers to class."[6]

Laptops have built in webcams and microphones which are ideal for communicating in French. Equipped with Web 2.0 tools such as Skype, laptops and computers are perfect for allowing students the platform to communicate with other French speakers. Computers and laptops provide students with the opportunity to learn French online, such as the Conseil Scolaire Francophone’s Ecole Virtuelle in British Columbia for example. In addition, Learning Management Sites (LMS) such as Moodle are available in French, which gives teachers a platform to offer their French language courses online.

Desktop Computer [7]


Advantages of Laptops and Computers

Laptops and computers have many advantages to education and language learning including:

  • Posting instructional material online, to have information readily available for students to access.
  • Feedback from the teacher with email and IM chats possibilities.
  • Animating and displaying concepts visually.
  • Collaborative learning environments, such as Google Docs, Skype, MSN chat."[9]
  • Word Processing capabilities.
  • Various search engines for research purposes such as Google, Yahoo, Bing.
  • Access to texts, articles, dictionaries and websites in various languages.
  • Access to different language keyboards to type in other languages.
  • Access to various Web 2.0 tools that support language development and 21st Century skills.
  • Access to various audio and video tools such as Audacity and iMovie where students can create audio and video recordings of themselves which can be used for assessment and emailed to students and parents as a language model to help support correct pronunciation for at home reading.
  • Allow students to become more responsible for their learning by letting them find answers online in their language of study without always asking the teacher.
  • Access to editing software such as BonPatronto go beyond the word processor and work directly on the grammar and sentence structure of their writing.
  • Access to online dictionaries and translating websites.
  • Students can access up to date information.
  • Today’s laptops are much more lighter to carry which offer language students the option to bring their own to class more easily.


Challenges of Laptops and Computers

There are also many challenges when using laptops and computers in a French Immersion classroom including:

  • Availability of hardware with up to date software programs. Often computers that schools can afford are older models that require upgrading or cannot support needed software.
  • Unreliability of hardware.
  • Most often, school computers are located in labs which are in high demand. Therefore, teachers are competing to sign up which is not only stressful but affects how long teachers will be able to book the labs for certain assignments.
  • Financial situations of some families make it difficult for students to be able to afford a laptop for schools with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.
  • Considerable financial costs to schools with tight budgets for hardware, software and additional devices such as headphones, microphones, etc.
  • Older laptops do not stay charged long enough and therefore students are always looking for outlets to plug them in.
  • Students using their own laptops/computers may be running a different operating system than that of their teacher. This can make receiving troubleshooting assistance from the teacher difficult if the teacher is not familiar with the operating system that the student is running.
  • Teachers need to ensure students understand rules and regulations regarding “etiquette”, copyright, etc.


Suggestions for Student Learning

There are many ways that laptops and computers can be used to support learning in a French Immersion classroom. For example,teachers can create audio recordings of students reading or telling stories in French. The sound recorder that comes built into the software with many computers is easy for younger students to use. Another program is Audacity which is a free, multilingual audio editor and recorder that can be used with computers running Windows or Mac OSx.[10]. These audio recordings can then be assessed by teachers and listened to on multiple occasions if needed. Using the Web 2.0 tool VoiceThread is an excellent way to encourage students to speak French [11]. This tool allows them to prepare their discourse and offers them the opportunity to record as many times as they like until they are happy with their recording. Just this exercise alone (reading their text several times before recording), is an excellent way to practice oral French. There are now many sites that offer free French Podcasts for students to listen to [12].

Students can use video cameras to film French skits or presentations and download these onto a laptop or computer. Movie maker programs such as iMovie are popular with language students since it allows them to create their own videos and do their own editing on their own computers. Simple hook up from the laptops to projectors offers for the videos to be shared with the entire French Immersion class.

Laptops and computers can also be used for reading and writing activities in French, such as accessing Francophone blogs and participating in online, asynchronous discussion sites [13], which students can access from anywhere. Teachers can also have their own Learning Management Sites (eg.French Moodle site), where students can access assignments online. This is an excellent tool for those teachers wishing to create a hybrid or blended classroom model where, even though students are learning in a regular, face-to-face classroom, they can still participate online and access their work ubiquitously.


SMART Technology

Another form of technology making a strong impact in classrooms has been the introduction of the SMART Board. SMART Board interactive whiteboards are used in over 2 million K–12 classrooms by more than 40 million students globally. [14] SMART Boards are interactive whiteboards, designed to function with a projector and a laptop or computer. The whiteboard uses the images from the laptop, projects them onto the tactile screen and allows its user to manipulate objects and text on the screen. This technology allows students to draw, erase and type on the tactile screen using the attached pens, eraser and keyboard. The keyboard has the option to be changed to different languages based on the needs of the user. SMART Boards also include the software application SMART Notebook, designed to work with the boards. It allows users to make or edit lessons, in various languages, and make them interactive with the whiteboard. SMART Notebook contains a gallery of interactive activities, multimedia, games, clipart, and backgrounds for teacher use.


File:Photo 923196 resize article.jpg
Student working on SMARTBoard [15]

Advantages of SMART Technology

SMART Boards have many advantages including:

  • Student Engagement.
  • Meeting the needs of visual, kinesthetic and auditory learners.
  • They have easy to use, hands on learning tools.
  • Allow teachers to create meaningful and interactive lessons in any language.
  • Allow teachers to save and print off notes written on the board.
  • Affords instant uploading of class notes to websites for absent students. [16]
  • Have a discussion forum where teachers can communicate, ask questions, and share lesson plans and ideas.
  • SMART Exchange is a online depository of pre-made lessons across curriculum areas for teacher use in the classroom, including lessons in French.
  • Can be used to show videos and online stories in French across the curriculum areas to support learning, including world events in real time.
  • Allow teachers to model activities for students to then do collaboratively or independently.
  • Allow students to present their learning to their class.
  • If schools have wireless capabilities and Apple TV, both students and teachers can connect their devices to the SMART Board to show learning.
  • Allow students in different classrooms and schools to meet using Eluminate.


Challenges to SMART Technology

SMART Boards also have the following challenges:

  • Only one person can use the SMART Board at a time.
  • Often used as a teacher tool not a tool for students(sort of like replacing the overhead projector).
  • Financial cost to schools to purchase, install and maintain boards.
  • Student engagement could be a novelty effect.
  • Boards must be monitored carefully as they can be damaged if students use felt pens instead of the appropriate SMART Board writing tools.


Suggestions for Student Learning

There are many ways that SMART Boards can be used to support student learning in French Immersion classrooms. There are French programs that can be purchased such as e-tools for language teachers, which is a program containing digital vocabulary exercises and activities that have been designed to engage and motivate students when using SMART Boards. Schools can set up Eluminate conferences, using SMART Boards. This is especially useful for teachers in remote areas. Pockets of French Immersion communities can share their experiences with other French speaking students from around Canada as well as with the rest of the Francophone world. Activities used with Eluminate allow students to have debates, discussions and participate in conferences, while at the same time, communicating entirely in the French language. In other curriculum areas, such as Math and Science, SMART Boards can also help support French Immersion teachers in their lessons. There are many programs available in order to make Math [17] and Science [18] in French an interactive and collaborative experience for Immersion students.


iPod Touches and iPads

The iPod Touch is a portable music and video player, handheld game console, and email-capable personal digital assistant, designed and marketed by Apple Inc, released September 14, 2007. [19]. While similar to the iPhone with a touch screen and the capacity of wireless connectivity to the Internet and to iTunes, it does not have as many features and apps as the iPhone and is also much cheaper. Many purchases of apps, videos, books and movies purchased through iTunes can be used on both the iPod Touch and the iPad. iPod Touch [20]

The iPad is a line of tablet computers designed, developed and marketed by Apple Inc., primarily as a platform for audio-visual media including books, periodicals, movies, music, games, and web content.[21]. Designed for consumers who want a mobile device mid way between a smartphone and laptop, iPads first found their way into homes in April, 2010 and have since been adopted by school boards throughout the world. IPads are equipped with similar programs as computers, such as Internet search engines, games, keyboard and word processing software.[22] Applications, or apps, can be downloaded onto the iPad for free or sometimes for a fee through the app store. There are thousands of different educational apps available and many of these can be used for supporting French language learners. iPad [23]


Advantages of iPod Touches and iPads

iPod Touches and iPads have many advantages including:

  • Easily portable, weighing less than a laptop, which makes them both very easy to carry from class to class.
  • Easy setup and download from iTunes account.
  • Wifi capability.
  • Bluetooth compatible.
  • Option to be connected to a 3G or 4G phone for Internet hub.
  • High level of student engagement.
  • Varied selection of educational games available in different languages.
  • iPads offer many of the same features as iPod Touches.
  • There are many new applications free and for sale,such as French Pod 101, that can be used for language learning are ideal for iPads.
  • Easy for students to use and can offer learners the opportunity to practice reading, writing, speaking and listening in French.
  • The hands-on concept of the iPod Touch and the iPad make them attractive to use and visually appealing for students to learn.
  • Many school districts are offering entire class sets of iPads for teachers to use with their students.
  • Many students already have their own iPod Touch or iPad that they can bring to school if there is a BYOD policy.
  • Students can demonstrate their learning through an app and can email the final project to their teacher.
  • Allow students to record their own voices and play back the recording so that they can hear themselves speaking French. This allows for reflection and for improvement in pronunciation.
  • Both iPod Touches and iPads are ideal for listening to French language Podcasts. [24]


Challenges of iPod Touches and iPads

There are also many challenges including:

  • Financial costs for schools and school districts to purchase.
  • Time required to set up and sync school iPads and iPod Touches.
  • Not having enough devices for each student in a class to use (limited availability of devices - forcing some students to be left out).
  • Not all students can afford their own devices for schools with a BYOD policy.
  • Some teachers don’t allow devices in their classes.
  • Teachers need to know how to use them and how to implement them in an educationally purposeful and meaningful way.
  • Who pays for the apps?
  • Other requirements such as wifi, cables, adapters, or Apple TV (if teachers want to show on IWB) means more financial costs to schools.


Suggestions and Apps for Student Learning

There are many ways that the iPod Touch and the iPad can help support learning in French Immersion environments. For example, students can read books, either online or through an app, or listen to the story being read for them. They can also listen to dictations, songs, rhymes and poems. Video [25] and audio recordings can be made using apps such as Quick Voice. Students can also use FaceTime with language learners in another class (younger and older students) to practice speaking French. Teachers can also speak into the student’s iPod Touch or iPad and record the correct pronunciation of a given text that the class is working on.

Apps such as Show Me allow students to show/draw a concept in any subject area while verbally explaining their thinking. Teachers can also use this app to create audio recordings of themselves teaching a certain concept, which they can post on a common website or e-mail the link directly to their students. This can then be accessed by students and parents to help explain concepts at home. This can be especially useful for students who are away from class who need to access material which they have missed. Also, this helps younger students, and those with written output difficulties, to be able to explain their reasoning of a Math or Science concept orally for example. Teachers can also access these multiple times which helps when assessing students oral language skills as well as conceptual knowledge.

Apps for digital storytelling such as StoryWheel,StoryKit, Splice,iMovie and Toontastic allow students to create and tell a story in French. These stories can be emailed to parents to showcase their child’s learning and to teachers who can view them multiple times for assessment purposes. Some specific apps for supporting French language learning are:French Pod 101,French 101, French Audio Flashcards, Lingopal French-talking phrasebook,AccelaStudy French, Learn Eazy French, Rosetta Stone French language, Je parle mes mots, and Words For Kids


Cell Phones

Cell phones, although still a subject of controversy in most schools, are another form on technology that educators are using in language classrooms more and more. Many cell phones can be used in the classroom as an educational tool. For example, iPhones are an Internet multimedia smartphone marketed by Apple Inc, which have similar features to the iPad [26]. iPhones can be very effective with language learning if they are put to use properly in an educational manner. Teachers can access many websites as a tool to provide themselves with instant feedback on various topics that their students are working on. Polleverywhere.com is an example of this where the educator lays out the questions and the students send a text to the website with their answers. This enables instant feedback to the teacher. This can be done in any language of instruction.

iPhone [27]


Advantages of Cell Phones

Cell phones have the following advantages:

  • Can be used as a video camera or camera phone which could be a good oral language tool, especially if Skype is downloaded onto the device.
  • Can be used as a portable media player.
  • Have Internet email and web browsing capabilities.
  • Can send and receive texts and visual voice mails.
  • Have both Wifi and 4G connectivity.[28].
  • Cameras allow the students to take photos in class of their French homework if it is posted on the board for example. This saves a lot of instructional time since students don’t need to write out all of the notes.
  • Can be used for creating and viewing audio and video recordings, including French podcasts.
  • Offer an agenda so that students can take notes or write down important dates and events.
  • Allow students to send text messages in any language and can be set on spell check with a dictionary of the selected language. This is especially important for French since many phone and computer programs (such as e-mail) don’t accept accents. If the phone is able to be set to the French language, then the accents will appear automatically.
  • Good for language dictionaries.
  • Useful for learning French vocabulary with selected French learning apps.
  • Offer the opportunity to speak French live with authentic speakers.
  • Students can send and receive text messages in French.
  • Students can access French blogs, French Learning Management Sites and French Social Media sites such a Facebook.


Challenges of Cell Phones

There are also some disadvantages of cell phones:

  • Reception to Wifi can be a problem, which often resorts to students using school, wired-to-the-network computers instead of using their own devices.
  • Some students have iPhones or Smart phones whereas other students cannot afford them.
  • Some schools do not have a BYOD policy and therefore, devices are often stowed away in lockers or students’ backpacks.
  • Many students have phones but not the appropriate applications to do French activities as a class.
  • When students have their own, handheld devices in class, it is difficult to see their screens and therefore, teachers are not always aware as to what sites the students are accessing.
  • Students tend to use their phones for mostly texting their friends or checking e-mails [29] or social media sites such as Facebook.
  • Cell phones often go missing, are stolen, left at home, or not charged, which can cause chaos and confusion if teachers choose to incorporate their use into lessons.


Suggestions for Student Learning

Students can access Web 2.0 tools with their iPhones and therefore, teachers can assign French activities such as creating Voice Threads or Skyping members of other French communities. iPhones have recording capabilities that allow students to create audio recordings of activities in French, or of their teacher reading a French poem for example. Like iPads and iPod Touches, the iPhone allows students to playback recordings [30]. This can help them to memorize things such as text for French poems, lyrics for French songs or lines for Francophone skits.

Students can access the e-mail option from their iPhones which allows them to ask questions privately and asynchronously to their teachers if a problem arises during class. This works especially for shyer students who are afraid to speak up in class or who don't want to disturb the teacher who is busy with other students. They can also access French blogs, a French Learning Management site or even follow French speakers on Twitter. iPhones are also easily connected to wireless networks which allows students to visit sites such as YouTube where they can listen to French podcasts, music, theatrical plays and more. Video capabilities on the iPhone also allow students the option of making their own French movies.


Web 2.0

Web 2.0 includes an increasing number of online tools that are accessible to anyone. Many of these tools are free to users. They allow anyone to read, write, create or modify anything, at anytime, anywhere, and receive feedback from anyone across the globe. Such tools include blogs, wikis, photo and video sharing, virtual worlds, and social networking.[31]

Synchronous tools, such as webcasts, deliver audio and video presentations, enabling learners to participate in a live class via a personal computer.[32]. Such tools enable learners to communicate with other learners and their teachers directly which allow educators to give a lesson to a number of students in different locations at the same time.


Advantages of Web 2.0

There are many advantages to using Web 2.0 in the French Immersion classroom. These include:

  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with other students in other classrooms in a school, district, province or country.
  • Communicate with experts and more knowledgeable others.
  • Choose tools that best suits learning needs.
  • Exposure to 21st century skills needed for the future.
  • Opportunity to use language in a setting that mirrors tools that students use outside of school, which can be quite meaningful.
  • Promote communication skills.
  • Many sites are free so there is no cost to students or schools to use these tools.
  • Student familiarity with tools.
  • Easy to use.
  • Webcams are easy to setup and relatively inexpensive and many devices come with them.
  • Flexibility: Students can choose when and how they participate in synchronous and asynchronous tools.
  • Allow learners an authentic environment to practice their language skills by conversing with peers.
  • Versatility: Many Web 2.0 tools can be accessed through multiple devices, such as iPod Touches, iPhones/Smartphones, iPads and laptops and desktops.


Challenges of Web 2.0

There are also some challenges to using Web 2.0 in the French Immersion classroom including:

  • Lack of teacher training and exposure to available tools and their educational value.
  • Lack of hardware or devices and/or those with minimum software requirements.
  • Student privacy and security of student data.
  • The Terms of Service of these tools may not align with school, district and/or government policies.
  • Lack of flexibility in curriculum to implement use in classrooms.
  • Availability of sites in French.
  • Synchronous tools require students or others in a similar time zone for communication.
  • Parental concerns regarding cyberbulling, student safety and security, especially those of younger students.
  • While many sites are free, some do have a cost associated for schools or to access more of the sites capabilities.


Suggestions for Student Learning and Possible Web 2.0 Tools

There are a multitude of Web 2.0 tools available to support student learning in French Immersion across the curriculum areas. Some examples of tools to help students with reading and writing in French are :Zooburst,Toon Doo,Pixton, Glogster, Prezi,SlideRocket, Vuvox, wikispaces, KidBlog,WordPress,Twitter,Facebook, and Edmodo.

Some examples of tools to assist students with listening and speaking in French are Skype, Wimba, Voki, Xtranormal, Animoto,and VoiceThread.

To help with brainstorming for writing and collaborative learning in other curriculum areas are bubbleus, Mindmeister, CorkboardMe and Padlet.

French Immersion teachers who are interested in including Web 2.0 tools in their classroom to help with French language learning can also refer to the following websites to access and learn more about possible Web 2.0 tools: Ultimate Web 2.0 list, Online tools and applications, 50+ Ways to tell a story.

Conclusions

Technology used in French Immersion settings allows teachers to concentrate on the four main concepts of language learning; Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. The audio aspects alone with technology, offer an enormous amount of language learning activities that teachers can use with their French students. From listening to French podcasts, creating French films on iPhones, writing in a blog in French, following Francophones on Twitter or recording one’s voice on VoiceThread, technology has made a huge impact on language learning. We no longer need a language laboratory when we can now access one by using the many devices that are available to us. This technology can bring various advantages to second language classrooms. In addition, technology is an every-changing and ever-expanding forum that schools strive to follow. The cost of these technologies cannot be ignored either. Schools all over Canada struggle with the idea of spending money on technology that could be better spent elsewhere. Most importantly, the use of technology in French Immersion classrooms can afford students authentic means to listen, speak, read and write French across the curriculum, while engaging in 21st Century skills.

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