Upper School French: Real learning
Picture books that create opportunities for student learning
“For each unit, I try to come up with a project where the final product is more than a test, something that will allow them to use the language meaningfully,” says Upper School language teacher Veronique Brau, who teaches students studying all levels of French. “You don’t have to wait until level IV and V to do something really meaningful.”
In exploring ways for her students to use language meaningfully, Brau looks to various sources of inspiration, including Seattle’s French-language community. Which was how Brau heard that The North Seattle French School, a bilingual and French immersion elementary school, was looking for content to help their students study the environment. Students in Brau’s advanced French classes had previously worked with the elementary school students, adapting stories and reading aloud to classes. “It was great for the kids of the French school to see that other kids – big kids! – are learning the language,” says Brau. And it not only kept the Lakeside students on their toes (five-year olds tend to ask a range of unexpected questions) but it gave them an opportunity to shine in a new way. “I could tell that it was bringing them a lot of confidence,” she says.
Brau wondered how students in French II might also experience that challenge and confidence boost. The answer came to her while reading to her young sons: Lakeside students could create short, environmentally themed picture books in French for the elementary school students.
She debuted the project with three sections of French II students. “Right away there was a lot of energy around the project because it was going to be so public,” says Brau. “It was real.” Over the course of a month, pairs of students researched topics, learned the content, wrote and illustrated a story, and carefully edited text. Students chose a wide range of topics, such as how to sort trash; small everyday actions to protect the environment; the salmon life-cycle; endangered species; and the melting of the polar ice cap.
Protecting the environment is a deeply familiar topic to students in the region. “Because we live in a place that cares so much about the outdoors, it’s something they can relate to,” says Brau. “We’re trying to make the language more relevant and use it for something real... Making a difference doesn’t have to mean getting involved in politics – it can be writing a book to help children understand what they can do to protect the environment.”