Distance French: some winning strategies

How to teach and assess French at a distance? Several questions arise. Here are a few, along with tips to help you find answers.

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Each subject brings its own set of challenges when it comes to distance learning. As a teacher, we must therefore review both our ways of teaching and of evaluating. In French, several questions can arise. Here are a few, along with tips to help you find answers. 

Writing: the length of tasks and effective correction

How do you bring writing situations to life from a distance, taking into account the medium (digital or paper), the presence of self-correctors in several platforms and the feedback to be given? 

Suggest small tasks or dissect a longer draft in several stages.

For example, students can write a paragraph or part of their story, make a first correction, and send it to you. At the end, however, do not forget to rework the consistency of the entire text so that once together, the different parts fit together well. 

In addition to avoiding the cognitive overload caused by a writing task, this way of doing things increases the number of exchanges between the teacher and the students and reduces the load of punctual correction. 

What to do now with the auto-corrector? Note that, in most applications and software, it is possible to disable it. Of course, the students could put it back, but trust them. Moreover, the self-correctors ask that we stop at their proposals. They don't always have it all. In addition, by targeting not only criteria related to spelling and vocabulary, but also those related to the organization of ideas, for example, you will more generally assess the skills of your students and override self-correction.

Regarding the correction and its criteria, several platforms, such as Classroom, Kami, Notability, allow you to add comments and signs on a student's copy. The "Talk and Comment" Chrome extension, the Notability application or simply the screen recording option on iPad or on the computer also allow you to add audio comments to the work. So, while correcting, you can comment out loud to name the good points and challenges of each student. By giving them a recording, you are giving them effective and meaningful feedback. And even if students give you a photo of a handwritten text, it is still possible to record a commentary in video or audio format for feedback.

Finally, by modifying the objectives of a task and the correction criteria, it is possible not to feel the pressure to correct “as usual”. Why not target only 2 or 3 correction criteria associated with the difficulties of each student? For example, saying to a student: "In the paragraph you give me, I will only identify punctuation errors, adjective agreement and related to capital letters".  

Reading: reducing screen time and engaging students

Can (should they?) Read multi-page text on the screen as well as on paper? In order to answer this question, remember that reading is not done in the same way on the screen as it is on paper. It therefore becomes unrealistic to impose the same methods on students.

Instead, offer several short readings accompanied by exercises and assessments to guide the students. 

In order to limit eye fatigue and optimize the degree of attention, invite them to read articles in the press, blogs, or even to split the reading of a longer text into several small readings.  

Here are a few gold mines directly on the Web for your students to read:

To engage students and keep track of their reading comprehension, quizzes can be designed using applications like Google Forms, MS Forms, Quizziz, Classkick or Formative. As a bonus, some options in these applications allow automatic correction of answers. 

For more elaborate answers (reaction and critical judgment criteria, for example), it may be interesting to opt for a recording tool such as Flipgrid so that the students answer the questions orally. In addition, this tool includes a feedback component that allows the teacher to provide details to each student. 

Collaboration tools from Google or Microsoft can also be good allies if you ask a question that requires a more elaborate answer. Classkick and Formative may also be relevant for composing responses of this type, but some students prefer tools that are made for word processing. Do not hesitate to consult them on their preferences and to offer them the choice! 

Speaking: a way to take a break

How many times in class would you like to press pause when a student is giving an oral presentation or chatting with others to better assess their communication skills? The great thing about digital is that it is now possible!

Record students' oral interventions or ask them to register

In the majority of video conferencing tools, like Teams, Zoom or Meet, there is a recording option. If you want to offer comments or keep traces of student interventions, recording them allows you to listen to them again. However, you have to be transparent and tell the students that you observe their interventions according to pre-established criteria. Here you can even take it one step further by asking them to build the criteria list with you. For example, they could answer the question: What is a relevant intervention in an online course? 

In addition, Flipgrid can be an ally in asking students to register and send you audio clips. Quick tip: Whenever a task is sent to the app, leave a space to offer feedback on the speaking in general. Then they will know what to improve for the next time.

In short, when it comes to distance French, everything depends on the length of tasks and feedback. To engage students, they need to feel confident and have a clear picture of what's going on. They will thus feel propelled, not overloaded.

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About the Author

Laurie Couture
A high school French teacher and contributor to various blogs, Laurie Couture is passionate about writing and for the innovative aspect in education: how can you change your ways of doing things to improve your method? She loves to discover, discuss and develop about convincing practices related to technologies. Using digital technology, she aspires to set up projects and documents responding to current trends and proposing new approaches.

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