Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teaching the universal culture

Many proponents of 2nd language teaching have often claimed it necessary to not only teach a language but also the culture. In the case of French language education, this culture would be the Québécois or French (France) culture. I have heard many professors from French backgrounds discuss the importance of conveying the context in which the language is being spoken to the students. I do not agree with this assertion.

As Julie Barlow and Jean Benoit-Nadeau claim in their book “The Story of French”, French is the world’s second international language after English in terms of number of countries where it is spoken. That is to say, its culture is universal and cannot be watered down to two places where the language may have originated.

As an immigrant who learned French as a second language and now teaches it in high school, I can say that I am not “culturally enriched” in the language. Instead, I teach French as a tool for communication. It can be used to express ideas orally and in writing. Unfortunately when French is taught in the context of its founding country or province, many universal truths are missed.

French is spoken in over 52 countries in the world and is a dominant language in Africa. Although the accent varies, it is widely spoken and understood. I remember going to Nairobi, Kenya and teaching French at the Aga Khan Academy. The kids did not have textbooks, only paper and pens. I was the textbook and they took copious notes. Did I talk about France and Quebec as I taught them? No. Here I was, halfway around the world and I was teaching French – as a communication tool.

As a French Immersion teacher, I teach novels. Many schools over the years have taught typical French and Québécois novels in which there are many cultural expressions and thought. I have shied away from Québec plays and instead teach “La Route de Chlifa” – a wonderful novel about a boy from Lebanon and his experiences during the war. It is fraught with many ideas. One such idea is to leave a country of strife during the war but then to get an education, go back and improve the living conditions of the people in the country.

The novel does not teach us about the French culture. Instead it teaches us about others’ culture, of their strife and of their ways to cope. It simply conveys these ideas in French. French is a means to an end. Let's make it a universal end.

Monday, December 8, 2008

La Réussite!!

On réussit à quelque chose quand on se sent satisfait avec les résultats de nos efforts. En tant que professeur, on veut toujours inpirer nos étudiants à réussir. En leur réussite est ma réussite. Je suis très contente aujourd'hui avec la réussite de mes étudiants. 2 ont été publiés dans un journal français et je me sens un peu responsable alors qu'ils suivaient mes directions. Cependant la réussite appartient à elles, qui ont fait des recherches et l'analyse non seulement de l'article mais aussi de ce qui se passe dans le monde à propos du SIDA. J'en suis très fière. Quelle réussite!!

Voici le lien (les deux commentaires appartiennent à mes étudiants!)


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Violence in Schools

In the wake of yesterday's shooting at Bendale Technical Institute, many people in Toronto are weighing in on the issue of violence in schools. I used to work for the TDSB at a school not too far from Bendale (but with a great view of the lake). I have also worked at a school in a more violent neighbourhood, across from CW Jeffries, where Jordan Manners was killed. Any administrator will tell you that a school's utmost priority is the safety of its students. As teachers, we are given the responsibility of helping to maintain that priority (without endangering our own lives, of course.)

Many schools in the TDSB have uniformed police officers in the hallways who will be patrolling the schools but also will begin to get involved into school life as coaches and mentors. As time goes on, Toronto schools are slowly beginning to resemble schools south of the border where uniformed officers (and non-uniformed) and metal detectors are present.

The YRDSB has not yet encountered this magnitude of violence in its schools. That is not to say it is unlikely. Perhaps in a few years, it too will resort to different levels of security for its students. Currently, teachers and administrators "police" the schools. That is to say, we have "hall duty" or "cafeteria duty" etc. Do we take our walkie-talkies with us? Absolutely! We also stage code red drills where students practise "taking cover" to simulate a "lock down" situation for the school. We have video surveillance in the halls and outside the school. We have a great relationship with the police.

Precautions in place, can a school truly be safe? No, but we will continue to try!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's Grad night!

What a feeling. The end of the school year is pent with emotion for many. Last night I attended a graduation ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of so many students who I remember from my first year at this school. I think I had the best first period class in my first year at this amazing school. I don't think we have ever had such an accomplished gr.12 class. The scholarship list was phenomenal. Their contributions to their community were even more phenomenal. This year alone, $70,000 was raised for cancer research at this school. Causes such as Darfour, and Myanmar were also very close to their hearts. In fact, the school participated in a Letter writing campaign to end the atrocities in Darfour. En plus, ce groupe m'a inspiré d'organiser notre première soirée internationale à cet école. Quelle aventure!

Their tireless efforts to excel in school and give back to their community did not go unnoticed. As they raised their hats in hurrah, parents, teachers and the entire world celebrated with them.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Poetry - One of my favourite poems


Home they brought her warrior dead:
She nor swoon'd nor utter'd cry:
All her maidens, watching, said,
"She must weep or she will die."

Then they praised him, soft and low,
Call'd him worthy to be loved,
Truest friend and noblest foe;
Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
Lightly to the warrior stepped,
Took the face-cloth from the face;
Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee --
Like summer tempest came her tears --
"Sweet my child, I live for thee."
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Motivating the Unmotivated

On the weekend, I watched a touching bollywood movie(my favourite kind)named "Tare Zameen." It was about a kid who seemed completely and utterly unmotivated at school. He was ostracized by his peers, his teacher and even by his own parents due to his inability to read and be successful in school. The boy had become so overwhelmed with all the negativity that surrounded him that he withdrew into himself. Then came a teacher who recognized his inability as a symptom of dislexia. Often, students are not motivated to succeed for reasons other than "not trying" or "being lazy". In fact, some students just can't do it as much as they want to. It is the teacher's role to recognize this fact and create a supportive learning environment for the child that is conducive to success. Extra help, peer tutoring and teacher interventions can all help a child be successful. Ability and motivation are inextricably linked. Recognizing this fact will help more students succeed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Silliness will get you somewhere

Child rearing. Some say it isn't what it used to be. I have what you would call a "spirited child". She is something else. She has been from day one. Stubborn, headstrong, very intelligent, and a leader. Dealing with my daughter has caused me much grief. Some days are bright and sunny and others are quite the opposite. I have sought out many opportunities to learn to "tame" my spirited child - with little success. I have read a couple of books - "Taming the spirited child" and "The Great Mom Myth". I have attended some seminars and in the end I have found a strategy that works. Being silly. Kids love silliness. It makes them happy - it makes them laugh. Then they are more inclined to agree to go to bed or eat their dinner or say their prayers. The problem is that we as parents are not always in the frame of mind to be silly. We are tired after a day's work and just want to relax. Well guess what? There is no relaxing with kids (not until they are asleep at least). Kids demand attention and they should get it. Why not be giggly and geared up at the same time?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Use of Technology in Learning

Imagine there's a classroom. I wonder if you can. Imagine one teacher teaching in that classroom. Now imagine more classrooms. Imagine one teacher teaching in all those classrooms. How is it possible you say? Simple - videoconferencing. Through the use of technology, many classrooms in Ontario are changing the way we learn. Students are using online learning communities, moodles, blogs, videoconferencing and yes "cell phones" and PDA's to learn.

Teachers often complain of cell phone text messaging use in the classroom. Why can't students learn to turn it off? Why not turn the negative into a positive? Just today, I noticed a student using a cell phone as a calculator to do her math. With internet access through cell phones, the possibilities are endless.

Yesterday I sat in on a videoconference with a famous author. The author, through the use of videoconferencing, was able to "teach" 3 classrooms simultaneously and might I add, successfully. What an idea!!

A York University initiative called ABEL has enabled many schools in Ontario to use technology to teach their courses. Through access to the latest technology, ABEL teachers can create online chats, blogs, moodle and videoconferencing. My own personal experience with ABEL has been very positive. Students can log onto the moodle with their passwords and see what they have to do this week. They love it!

Use of technology in classrooms can be viewed negatively by some, however, this is a case where the positive outweighs the negative. Technology is here to stay. Why not harness its prowess?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Public vs. Private education

Many (affluent) parents often consider sending their kids to private school. Here in Ontario, there are many private schools to consider (albeit very expensive alternatives) to public schools. Private schools offer lower class sizes and more individualized teacher time. Public schools often are overlooked for their effectiveness in teaching. In my opinion, in Ontario, the public school system offers a superior level of education compared to private schools in Ontario.

Firstly, lets look at what both school systems are based on. Both purport using the Ontario curriculum to deliver information. In fact, teacher training within the public system on the approaches to curriculum is far superior to teacher training within the private realm. In fact, the purpose of a board of education is just that: To facilitate professional development among its teachers which most boards in Ontario do very effectively.

Secondly, public school teachers in Ontario are some of the highest paid teachers in the world. Private schools (largely) do not have similar pay (or benefits or pension) as public schools. Although some do try to match pay, they fall short of offering job security. Private schools offer their teachers an annual renewable contract whereas public school teachers contract are essentially "for life". If you were a teacher, which type of school would attract you? In most cases, the most highly trained teachers teach in the public school system. Public schools mimic, for the most part, societies. Private schools tend to show a more elitist approach to education and therefore do not prepare students adequately for the "real world". Students and teachers of private schools are oblivious to members of the society who "fall" beneath them. Terms such as ADD, Aspergers, LD are foreign to many teachers in the private realm. To conclude, therefore, a public education in Ontario, by far, is the most effective form of education for our kids. Hip, Hip Hooray for Public Education!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Les Langues pour la Communication Orale

Hier, j'ai eu le privilege de juger un compétition d'art oratoire au niveau secondaire. J'étais très imprésionné avec la qualité de la langue et aussi le choix des sujets. Je pense que l'art oratoire permet aux étudiants de s'exprimer dans une façon simple et efficace un point de vue sur n'importe quel sujet. Je me souviens quand j'ai participé à un concours et je ne vais jamais oublier cette expérience. Ma soeur a aussi participé aux plusieurs concours d'art oratoire et elle a très bien réussi. Un de mes étudiants a gagné dans sa catégorie, il y a quelques années. Je pense qu'en présentant oralement, on devient plus confiant. Bien sur ce n'est pas facile de présenter devant un auditoire qui va vous écouter et vous juger mais cela implique certains habilités. C'est une façon de faire face à nos inquiétudes, nos craintes et de réussir contre toute probabilité. Nous vivons dans une société qui souligne l'importance de communiquer clairement nos idées et nos pensées. Pourquoi pas à l'oral?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Really Overrated Museum (ROM)

As a "suburbanite", I have always liked living just outside the city. The trafic and congestion is less, as are the number of people. The downside is that kid-friendly venues such as the Toronto zoo, Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum are all located in Toronto. I have been to the zoo many times, in fact we have a zoo pass - the kids really enjoy it (much more than I do). I still remember the ad (as my dad reminds me everytime we go there) - "There's a place for you in the Metro zoo." I have been to the Science Centre once and it wasn't that bad overall. The worst part was trying to watch a movie about insects on the IMAX screen with a four year old. What a joke. Needless to say we were "outta there" in no time.
When I was in a student in school, I remember going to the ROM. I found it fascinating to see a dead person embalmed and preserved in the Ancient Egyption section of the museum as I studied Ancient Egypt in class. As an adult, going back last week to see the same dead person (many years later) still preserved made me head in the other direction. It's fascinating what a few years can do to you.
My trip to the ROM last week during the March Break was quite the opposite of what I expected.
As we arrived at the ROM we were greeted by a line up outside the building and around the corner. Several ROM people were on hand to greet us and offer us solace by asking us to buy a ROM membership for $140 dollars (or something astronomical like that). You see, by buying a membership, you could bypass the line, and some people did. As for myself and the kids, we were getting in free anyways (some of the perks of my profession). As we finally entered into the building, we were greeted with yet another line up. Tickets finally in hand and 2 hours later (or so it seemed) we went up the elevator to the second floor. Stroller and kid in hand I attempted to see some of the lavish displays but was stopped by a staircase with no elevator or help in sight. Okay I can handle this, I said. Finally some respite, a kids area dedicated to kids. Well they play and then they little one is hungry. I offer him a bite of something as a security guard comes by to let me know that there is no eating here on this level. Down we go to level one again. Find a place to eat, up to level two. Uh Oh. Now we need a diaper change. Find a bathroom - oops no change table - WHAT!! NO CHANGE TABLE!!??? Okay, do diaper change in his stroller. Let kids run about in an open area. Security again - don't touch the poles in the open area - they are painted with special paint. Okay down to the gift shop to get a souvenir - oops line-up again.
Okay we are almost out - phew Daddy is here to pick us up. What a day at the Really Overrated Museum. I think I would have been happier going to the Markham Museum. Sometimes, being a suburbanite isn't so bad after all.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The point is moot

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone and think - "it really doesn't matter?" Who cares anyways? The point is moot. I once went to law school to learn about moot points and the law of course. It was not all I imagined it would be. It was a difficult lesson to learn but sometimes we are destined for something else. You might say - destiny - barf! Who believes in destiny anyways?
Well I do - I am a destiny believer, believe it or not. Certainly choices do influence a person's destiny but I believe that, in the end, destiny will prevail. I know I was destined to be in the profession that I am now. The signs were always there, I just neglected to see them along the way. Sometimes we deny our destiny for one reason or another. Perhaps we think we are too "good" or not "good" enough.
I adore what I do - I miss it when I am away. I influence people. I impact their future in ways I do not even know. I think that people can be happy doing what they do on a day to day basis if they can uncover their destiny. It may take awhile, but one day you will get there. The past is moot, uncover your real destiny to realize true happiness.