By Natasha E. Feghali
What could leadership look like in a French Second Language (FSL) classroom? Can we conceptualize a self-run program where students autonomously learn and create within their own capacities? Can we mirror what international schools are doing? In a deeper more philosophical sense, can we help students in a FSL environment become engines of their own learning? I have some thoughts.
In some cases, my role as a French Second Language teacher goes beyond the classroom. I educate in a multicultural community of students from Canadian-born to newcomer families. Working at Eastwood Public School in Windsor, Ontario, for the last three years has given me an opportunity to incorporate different aspects of the French language and culture into my classroom. When I began at this school, students loathed learning a second language. However, I have facilitated an environment that asks students to transform their once negative beliefs and embrace culture, FSL literacy, and a second language while accepting responsibility for their school community and their peers. More importantly, I have asked them to embrace a new mindset.
Parents and teachers alike could agree that providing collaborative spaces for students to transform themselves into positive global citizens, growing past passive membership in society, promotes the desire to crave knowledge, culture, and multiple language acquisition. Our goal is to help students become well-rounded global citizens. The simple act of showing interest towards diversity displays leadership and a desire to create a classroom that transcends and embraces one’s community and even the language being learned.
Teaching a second language can be difficult in the face of socio-economic issues, behavioural and learning disabilities, and the other challenges students may face before attending a second language classroom. Because learning a language takes persistence, time, and patience it may seem a daunting task for both student and teacher – especially, when the factors above are active. To help diminish these issues and create a harmonious classroom that fosters leadership and individuality, direction must be cultivated in the hearts and minds of students.
The work is not all complex, however. In some ways, teaching second language literacy is actually as simple as helping students experience the authenticity of the language (being taught or discovered by the students) and helping students witness the world through the windows of their classroom (in this case French). To become a second language teacher, one needs personal tolerance and flexibility and must support collaborative learning. The kind of collaborative learning and inquiry-based tasks one must create within a FSL classroom need to emphasize leadership, community, and promote school-wide participation in that second language.
As a teacher, I have witnessed students completely transform their thinking from ignorance and hesitation towards acceptance, role-model leadership, and school and community building for their peers. For some students, the change has been astounding. This classroom (and whole school) shift has lifted my FSL program to new heights. The student body has both adapted and embraced the thinking around the unique, high-level learning I ask of them daily. When my students come to class, they understand that we will engage in effective protocols, embedded daily practice, FSL literacy, collaboration, and self-reflection. I believe this prescription promotes leadership and can change the way teaching and learning a second language is perceived.
One theory I have been working on all year in my intermediate FSL class is leadership through independent learning. The intermediate students in grade 7 and grade 8 are fully engaged, self-aware, and totally autonomous; and, they are HIGHLY motivated. In our classroom, change is desired and strongly valued as intermediate FSL learners engage in self-directed, collaborative acquisition of the French language and FSL literacy. In these grades, we have been using a bi-weekly learning cycle where students engage in intensive differentiated FSL curricula followed by autonomous, yet organized creativity. The language of “autonomous, yet organized creativity” stems from allowing students to learn and create their own language acquisition.
At the beginning of the school year, I worked to facilitate a shift towards a future, gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student. The ideas or modeling shared with students involved school norms, the significance of interpersonal relationships, student and peer learning, and school-wide leadership – I encouraged students to become creative autonomously. Modelling these ideals has encouraged my intermediate students to become self-sufficient and eager to learn on their own. As a teacher, I provided the framework while students planned, created, and demonstrated their learning for our school and community to see. Students were learning independently without being dependent on each other; however, collaboration ensued.
As a teacher, I allow students to create their learning in a safe space of exploration, cultural diversity, and positive growth around self- awareness for differentiated independence. For example, in a recent project titled "The French Lesson," students worked autonomously to create a lesson in French they would teach to a primary grade. Students were given a framework to follow; however, the bulk of the assignment grew from their own criteria for success and student leadership with our youngest learners.
My ideology has been to create a leadership model where students become owners and creators of their second language. At times, it seems scary to give students free range of their learning, the themes they want to discover, and the autonomy to work independently. At one point, I even questioned myself; however, I have learned that facilitating the idea of what they are going to research and study can become the catalyst for embracing French literacy, language, and culture. In other words, I provide the topics or project ideas and students work autonomously within a framework to create the learning and to own that organized creativity. Students learn at their own creative and differentiated pace, as they embrace their unique needs. As a teacher, I act only to facilitate and sustain the classroom learning community. In many ways, this process exemplifies a strong and effective gradual release of responsibility.
Learning through independence can build strong leadership with students in any subject matter as long as students are engaged and attached to their learning and their school environment. I believe this attitude towards learning demonstrates a belief that student development takes differentiated learning forms that suit and meet students’ second language classroom needs. The progressive role of forward-thinking second language teachers is to create a class climate receptive to individual students; that facilitates productive teamwork, diverse learning needs, and styles; and that gradually releases responsibility in ways that move students towards second language independence. In such authentic learning, students engage creative control of their learning and work harmoniously with peers and teachers alike: the limits are endless. Although the subject matter is FSL, classroom beliefs fall around leadership, community building, peer mentoring, and sustainable changes around teaching and deeply learning second language.
Natasha E. Feghali OCT
DELF-DALF Formatrice/AIM Educator
Natasha E. Feghali is an artistic French Second Language Specialist educator in Windsor, Ontario. She currently teaches FSL at Eastwood P.S and is also a DELF/DALF formatrice with the CIEP Paris, France and an AIM educator. Feghali has been teaching for 6 years (one of which was with the Ministère de l'Education National de France where she worked in Bordeaux, Aquitaine) at the primary level. Feghali has been creating alternative ways of learning a second language by the use of art, culture and more. She has created well received workshops which have helped many educators yield positive and encouraging results in their second language classroom. She is also an award winning free-lance journalist for the last 12 years with experience in arts, lifestyle and fashion journalism and most recently educational pedagogy. Feghali was born in Canada, lived in Bordeaux France and is a devout world traveler with a taste for the savoir faire of cosmopolitan living. Feghali’s passion for language, music and literature (she is fluent in French, Lebanese and Croatian) has encouraged her pursuit in life.