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3 ways to unite the teaching and development of oral skills in French and English in secondary school

In this article, our collaborators, France Legault, Maxime Paquet and Dave Parenteau, offer a few ways to maximize efforts and promote collaboration between all language teachers.

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By France Legault, M.Ed., RÉCIT from private education, Maxime Paquet, PhD, French teacher and educational advisor at Collège Sainte-Marcelline, Dave Parenteau, English teacher at Collège Le Salésien

According to the results of a survey conducted by Chartrand and carried out among 801 French teachers and 1,618 students from 4e and 5e secondary level, few activities related to speaking in general, and even fewer oral comprehension activities, are carried out in French classes in secondary school (Sénéchal and Chartrand, 2011; 2012). We can also see that the development of oral communication skills is last in the order of priorities behind learning activities related to writing, reading and grammar. Knowing the importance of communication in global skills (Romero, 2017), how can we allocate time in class to teach and assess it without being overloaded?

We suggest a few ways to maximize efforts and promote collaboration between all language teachers.

Track 1: Understanding the English as a second language and French as a mother tongue program

It should be remembered that the English as a second language program (MEQ, 2006; MELS, 2007) attaches great importance to the development of oral communication skills and, in particular, to oral interactions between students. The program defines text as “any form of communication — oral, written, or visual — using the English language.” (MEQ, 2006, p.173). As for the first competence, that is interact orally in English, it forms the backbone of the English program and allows students to be placed in authentic oral communication situations that require the mobilization of linguistic, discursive and communicative skills.   

In the French, mother tongue program, the weighting assigned to oral communication skills is lower, i.e. 20 % of 1st at the 4e secondary, and 10 % in 5e secondary (MEQ, 2006; MELS, 2007; MEQ, 2011). In the evaluation framework (MEQ, 2011), we find that the evaluation criteria related to speaking are similar to those in writing and that those related to receiving a message are similar to those in reading. Thus, it is necessary to plan the learning activities of the French course by ensuring that the three skills are interrelated, and this, in order to give meaning to the learning, but also to work in a spirit of efficiency.  

Knowing that oral interactions are at the heart of the English program, but that oral communication skills occupy a lesser place in the French program, why not focus on oral interaction activities? It's probably a double whammy for all; students will be more competent and lessons can be beneficial for both subjects.

Track 2: Target common oral objects in order to teach them to students

We often use the spoken word as a medium of communication and exchange, but more rarely we teach specific objects that allow real learning to take place. However, Dumais (2014) identified 334 oral objects that can be taught. This list of objects includes, in particular, intonations, pauses, visual aids and posture.

Although some are less of a priority and worked on through reading and writing, it is nevertheless recommended to target 4 or 5 specific oral objects each year (Dumais, 2020) in order to teach them adequately. Collectively identifying these objects makes it possible to share the responsibility of teaching them, and they can subsequently be reinvested in other contexts or in other subjects.  

How to target the objects of the oral?

Drawing up a portrait of the strengths and weaknesses of students who attend school certainly makes it possible to target certain oral objects to be prioritized. In addition, the oral communication activities offered to students certainly also influence these choices.

Track 3: Get students to document their learning, to self-assess in order to improve

Through the oral teaching process, the documentation of oral productions, using digital tools, allows students to re-listen to themselves in order to self-assess, self-regulate or to assess their peers. Promoting students' metacognition and providing an overall view of the development of their oral skills, documentation makes it easier to monitor their progress. 

What tools can be used to collect the videos of the oral productions, the self-evaluation, co-evaluation and evaluation grids? A PowerPoint distributed by Teams or a Google Presentations distributed by Classroom make it possible to post links to videos of oral productions, to insert digital grids or photos of these when they are completed in paper format.

These various avenues show that by joining forces and focusing on a common vision, we will be able to develop the oral skills of our students and create bridges between departments without upsetting all of our planning!

References :

Dumais, C. (2020). Develop the oral communication skill of secondary school students orally by genres. [Presentation by a speaker]. 

Ministry of Education of Quebec (2006). Quebec school training program. Secondary education, first cycle. Quebec: Government of Quebec.

Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sport (2007). Quebec school training program. Secondary education, second cycle. Quebec: Government of Quebec.

Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sport (2011). Framework for the evaluation of learning, French language of instruction, secondary education 1st and 2nd cycle. Quebec: Government of Quebec. 

Romero, M. (2017). Skills for the 21st century. In M. Romero, B. Lille & A. Patiño (eds.), Creative uses of digital technology for learning in the 21st century (pp. 15-28). Quebec: Presses de l'Universite du Quebec.

Sénéchal, K. and Chartrand, S.-G. (2011). State of the art of French teaching (ELEF). Is there a place for the oral in the French class in secondary school? The Notebooks of the AQPF, 1(1), 4-5.

Sénéchal, K. and Chartrand, S.-G. (2012). Representations and practices of oral teaching in French class: changes and constants for 25 years. In R. Bergeron & G. Plessis-Bélair (eds.), Representations, analyzes and descriptions of oral French, its use and its teaching in primary, secondary and university. (pp. 185-199). Côte-Saint-Luc: Peisaj.

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