Saturday, April 29, 2017

Turning the page....

Back to my weekly teaching spot in the village school; like many a village no one in sight at 9.00am in the morning, except a curious ambling cat and a solitary baguette buyer. I rattled the rusty bolt on the old school gates to cross the yard with the trepidation that always fills me after an enforced absence, back in the UK. Its been an even longer gap, some six months, due to  my elderly mother dying and  some medical issues, so like all first days there is anxiety.

Door open and faced with sixteen smiling, anticipatory faces, a jolly 'Bonjour Md Machin' from the Maîtresse and I was back in my natural habitat, at ease and happy.

Now the lesson today was, on the maîtresses request the initial one to a theme about  different school activities and equipment. I had planned a lesson looking at key equipment found in their pencil cases and the prompt sheet I had produced was to aid their visual memory with the final written exercise.

I try to teach much of the lesson in English, so the children can get practice in both, listening to and speaking with,a native speaker. But for instructions I have to  use French to confirm what I want them to do when it comes to any written or read work.
So, when I asked them to make sentences based on the key nouns in the photos on the  prompt sheet I asked" Ouvez votre cahier anglaise et ecrivez". Simple and understood but the problem was that they immediately stuck the sheet into their notebooks and wrote on the next page, which for some meant turning over to write the responses. Now this had a duel result; for some  it instantly made the task more difficult because they had to memorise the key spellings, where as others had an easier task and  for those who had to memorise the whole word, it meant they had the advantage later in recalling that word.
I think in England the majority of pupils would not have stuck the prompt sheet in first, unless specifically told to do so, & hence would have found the easier way. But my small French class (mixed ability aged 7 to 11) all stuck the sheet in and it was pure chance which page they stuck it in hence,for some it was more  difficult and some a more easy the task.

The result was a confusion between them as some of the younger or less able completed the work faster or more accurately simply because the sheet was constantly visible to them, they didn't need to keep turning the page over & back. The maîtresse too was confused, then she said she thought this was a very clever teaching way and that it made the children think and work harder....what my Granny would have called, 'all that sense and little nouse'.

So working on the accidental development of visual work memory I decided to extend this. We'd looked at the  'pen, pencil, pencil case, pencil sharpener, coloured pencil' compound words so I thought I'd extend the 'paintbrush'...'brush, hairbrush, sweeping bush, toothbrush, paint bush', to help them remember. Now these do have a link with the action 'Brosse' in French but sadly I started with the wrong one. So 'Brosse, brosse a cheveaux, brosse a balayage, brosse a dents' all fine, but paint brush no, 'pinceau'....hence I had a class of blank faces looking at me, not so good.

And as if that was not sufficient I decided, for reasons beyond the wit of man, to get them to breakdown the word 'Paint'. The ideas was for them to see 'Pain' the French word for bread, but this didn't really work. Then suddenly one of them registered and sai, in English, "Oui cant eat paint you can eat pain"...I know but that's was their  primary humour.
I should have quit while the going was good, but no, I thought I'd point out that 'pain ' is also a word in English; pain = douleur, something is painful, it hurts.
In order to explain this I acted  the stubbing of a toe, the banging of my thumb, a bad headache....all with sound effects.

Now French classrooms, particularly in  sleepy villages are quite quiet affaires, with set work and steady outcomes, so now both the children and the teacher were aghast at my antics. And just when I thought I'd lost it, I was saved by a flash of infantile humour "I love 'du pain', but its a 'pain' to eat 'paint'. Result laughter all round & much nodding of heads, who says the French don't have a sense of humour!!

Returning home I received up a copy of the French English-Language  newspaper, 'Connections' and chanced on an article by a Nick Inman about learning a language. A brilliant piece of prose and one phrase in particular jumped out at me and summed up my day,
"There are many varieties of French....The opposite of 'perfect' is not 'incorrect', it is 'creative' "

Oh and to finish my school day, just as I left the teacher handed me  a set of hand made and coloured Christmas cards that the children had made. Over four months on from the event  it all seemed a little bizarre, but by all their smiling faces and then later reading their written sentiments I realised it really didn't matter...they'd got creative too