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The Accelerative Integrated Method
A holistic approach to the teaching of FSL
By Wendy Maxwell
This article provides an overview of the major components of this revolutionary second language (L2) methodology, named the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM), which has been designed to rapidly accelerate the development of fluency at the beginning stages. Grade two students who have spent only a few years in this program (200 hours of instruction) have successfully reached levels of fluency that compare favourably with students at the same grade level in immersion programs (up to 1,500 hours of instruction). They are able to read and write stories independently, as well as communicate effectively in spontaneous oral interactions with their peers and teacher in French. Most importantly, the students feel confident and competent in the language, and therefore develop a high degree of motivation to continue to improve their fluency levels. Quite remarkably, in some cases, it is difficult to differentiate between students in this core French classroom and students in an immersion classroom.
Un jour un pettit chat regarde Dans l’eau. O non! qu’est-ce Je fais? un hibou volle dans le ciel. le hibou regarde le chat Qui est pettit, Bonjour. dit le hibou. Qu’est-ce il y a? O la lune est tombée dans l’eau Je ne sais pas Qu’est-ce Je peux fais? est-ce tu peux saver la lune? dit le chat. NON, Non, NON! Je ne veux pas sauver la lune! O. je veux court o cheval. Mais, Je veux sauver la lune. Court o cheval!!! il peux sauver la lune. le pettit chat court o cheval. vien ici! vien ici! est-ce tu peux sauver la lune? dit le chat. NON!!! dit le cheval. Qu’est-ce Je peux fais? dit le cheval. Tu peux mais ta patte dans l’eau dit le chat. Non. je Naime pas leau! grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!! Court au pompier. il peax sauver la lune. Pompier. vien ici. vien ici! est-ce tu peux sauver la lune? le pompier dit va a la Maison petitt chat!!! grrrrrrrrrrr!!!! dit le pompier. il peax sauver la lune et le pompier va dans la maison. le chat court au roi. Bonjour, dit le chat. Qu’est-ce tu veux? dit le roi est-ce tu peux sauver la lune pur moi? regarde le ciel petitt chat! le petitt chat regarde le ciel. la lune? C’est vrais? dit le chat. Oui! C’est vrais! le roi et le chat rit! Ha! ha! Ha!
Un jour un petitt chat marche dans la forét. ha! ha! ha! Oh nooooo! Qui est là? Qui est là? dit le chat. Sais moi! Sais moi! grrrr! Sais moi! Bonjour! Bonjour! Je suis un noir chien! Tu est? ha! ha! Oui Je suis dit le chien. O non. Qu est-ce Je fais? le chat court, et court, et court. viens ici! dit le chien. Qu’est-ce tu veux? dit le chat. je veux tu! dit le chien. Aprett ca Le chien dit.... je suis ton ammie noir chat!!!! Le chat dit tu est? Oui ha! ha! ha! le chat est tres content! O c’est un bien ammie! Oui je suis!
Grade one, core French student
The above unedited story was written by a Grade one student, who, at the time of writing this piece, had received less than one year (ninety hours) of French instruction in a core French program that has been developed specifically to help students and their teachers achieve higher levels of success than ever seen before. This article provides an overview of the major components of this revolutionary second language (L2) methodology, named the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM), which has been designed to rapidly accelerate the development of fluency at the beginning stages. Grade two students who have spent only a few years in this program (200 hours of instruction) have successfully reached levels of fluency that compare favourably with students at the same grade level in immersion programs (up to 1,500 hours of instruction). They are able to read and write stories independently, as well as communicate effectively in spontaneous oral interactions with their peers and teacher in French. Most importantly, the students feel confident and competent in the language, and therefore develop a high degree of motivation to continue to improve their fluency levels. Quite remarkably, in some cases, it is difficult to differentiate between students in this core French classroom and students in an immersion classroom! As one teacher who implemented the program for the first time last year states:
The results have been amazing. I work in an immersion school, and
the level of French now used by the core French students has been astounding to everyone, myself included. I have been most excited by the way in which they write the creative stories after working on a play. The quality is very high. The students' knowledge, comfort and comprehension with the language they are using surpassed all my expectations. They are proud of themselves too!
Thank you, thank you, thank you !
J. de Boer, Core French teacher
Saanich Board of Education, British Columbia
The success of this approach is a significant breakthrough because, to date, core French programs have been less than successful in creating even a beginning level of fluency among students, especially during the initial years of instruction. It is this crucial time, during the first one to two years of language instruction, that it is imperative that students experience success. If students do not feel that language acquisition is possible during this crucial initial exposure to the language, what often appears to happen is that students develop a feeling that French class is a waste of time. If a core French program is able to lead students to genuine fluency, in a comparatively few short hours of instruction, the majority of French students (and teachers!) in this country will finally be able to realize the satisfaction that the time spent in this subject is not only worthwhile, but very rewarding!
The program that I have developed and now implement with my students at York House School in Vancouver, was created initially through action research and a process of experimentation with both novel and established approaches in L2 teaching, as well as language and literacy techniques used in first language (L1) English classes. It is a method the purpose of which is to meet both the linguistic and general learning needs of the core French student. Prior to the development and implementation of this core French methodology, I was quite dissatisfied with the approach of the programs available to core French teachers. Over the last decade, I have given numerous workshops to French teachers across Canada and have discovered that this same sentiment is very common among these teachers, who struggle daily with a lack of motivation, minimal fluency, and increasing frustration on the part of their students, despite the best efforts of authors and publishers to create a communicative learning experience in core French classrooms. The parents of the students at the independent school where I taught during the 1990s in Toronto were also not happy with the fluency levels of their children who were enrolled in my French program. A change in methodology, therefore, came about as much from my dissatisfaction as from the parents’ desire for a more effective core French program.
The Accelerative Integrated Method is an intensive L2 methodology that significantly raises the expectations and performance of students in core French classrooms. Through this approach, all target vocabulary to be learned by the student is taught kinesthetically, visually and in an auditory manner, thus responding to a variety of learning styles. Because words are kinesthetically presented through gesture, and contextualized through story and drama, students learn to see and feel the language. Through every aspect of this approach, words are constantly associated with a very strong “emotional hook”. This emotional component ensures that vocabulary is deeply embedded. Fluency is built by systematically scaffolding the presentation of new vocabulary, beginning with words of highest frequency and widest scope. Words targeted for presentation through gesture and story in this program have been selected through action research in L2 classrooms. The vocabulary is selected according to frequency, function and ease of acquisition. This target vocabulary, termed Pared Down Language (PDL), places a high emphasis on verbs, but also includes other vocabulary and structures important for beginning fluency development. This method emphasizes both receptive and productive use of the language, both oral and written. The Gesture Approach stresses an active learning technique as the key to effective acquisition. Through the use of story, dramatized initially through scripted plays, then moving to more student-centered improvisational drama and storytelling activities, students experience work with story in-depth over extended periods of time, thus internalizing the process of storying. They extend their awareness of story through story retelling, and creative storytelling. Many of the plays written for this program are based on songs from CDs, written and recorded by my husband Matt, which add another integrated dimension to the program through which students may experience the language. Indeed, what students learn through this method extends well beyond language learning for its own sake. They learn to read and write creatively, analyze their writing, publish stories, sing and create dances, learn to speak publicly to an audience in role, as they “become” the characters in original stories as well as traditional tales from around the world.
Motivation is certainly key to the success of any program, and one of the greatest motivators, particularly in the area of L2 learning, comes from the successful development of communicative competence. Dr. Jim Cummins, professor and researcher at the University of Toronto has stated that the results achieved by students who have received instruction in French Second Language (FSL) through this method are “truly significant” and “revolutionary”. The following comments from a teacher who implemented the program this year illustrate the importance of motivation as a result of success, as a factor in acquisition through this approach:
I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful new approach to French instruction. I honestly can’t believe the improvement in my class in such a short time. [The students] amaze me with their understanding and with their ability to formulate answers. This is not the same class that I had before. Now I have almost no behaviour problems either. Before, every day was confrontation time. I’m really enjoying this. Thanks again.
P.S. My principal sat in on my class today and was very impressed.
Core French teacher, Grades 8/9
Vocabulary taught during the initial stages of language acquisition
The unique concept of the PDL is, as the metaphor implies, a “core” vocabulary, consisting of the most essential verbs, nouns and expressions that beginning speakers need in order to develop fluency. The PDL was created through action research and documentation of the basic linguistic needs of beginning L2 students over a decade in a core French classroom setting. Research included the monitoring of daily interactions, both spontaneously with teacher and peers, as well as guided class discussion. In addition, L1 acquisition studies, vocabulary frequency research such as Le français fondamental, and other functionally-oriented L2 research, such as the Threshold Level studies, all contributed to the design of a vocabulary that, both in theory and in practice, appears to be the most essential for beginning fluency of young learners of FSL.
Although the notion of frequency is a major aspect to the selection of lexical items in the PDL, it is not solely a high frequency vocabulary. It is based upon the assumption that beginning L2 acquirers need straightforward, consistent ways of self-expression in the language, so that they may, as quickly as possible, form an internal representation of the basic elements of the language. It is also designed to present vocabulary in a way that parallels L1 learning, and acquisition is accelerated by ensuring exposure to high frequency vocabulary in a holoarchical fashion, whereby the most highly frequently used lexical, grammatical and functional items are to be presented early in acquisition, and, as new items are introduced, the words introduced initially are reviewed constantly. Thus, the student receives maximum exposure to the vocabulary that were presented early in the program.
Accelerating acquisition of the PDL through the Gesture Approach
Just about every L2 teacher gestures, to some degree, to his or her students to help convey meaning. Actually, studies have shown that the use of gesture as a nonverbal communication technique promotes increased receptivity on the part to the students toward the subject matter, and, in the eyes of the students, makes the teacher appear much more approachable, interested, warm and caring. This new strategy, which I have termed the Gesture Approach (GA), takes the use of gesture to a whole new level, allowing teachers to both visually and kinesthetically teach target vocabulary like never before. For me, it has suddenly opened up doors to communication with my students that, a few years ago, I would never have believed possible, both in terms of comprehension as well production of the language by the students. Due to the highly accelerated rate of success in language acquisition as a result of the implementation of this method, students who have received instruction through the GA appear much more motivated to learn the second language and are extremely proud of their new language ability.
The GA provides a tool for teachers to give an understanding of how the language flows in context, with a strategy that is at the same time kinesthetic and visual as well as auditory, and that helps to accelerate the acquisition of the target vocabulary. A number of students actually use the gestures to facilitate communication with the teacher and each other. There is a natural ease associated with the use of sign. In fact, children of deaf parents sign words before children of hearing parents speak. One of the reasons for this is that words are arbitrary representations of meaning, whereas in gesture, the action and its meaning have a direct and natural correlation. Acquisition of vocabulary through the GA allows for a concurrent stimulation of both right and left-brain hemispheres, as students internalize meaning extremely rapidly through both production (left brain) and gesture (right brain). Through action research conducted over the past few years, and as I have begun to develop and implement these strategies with my students, I have found that production is essential for truly effective internalization of vocabulary and language patterns, as well as to develop the ability to engage in spontaneous communicative interaction. Through this program, it is possible to scaffold production through such techniques as gesture presentation, gesture review, association teaching, questioning in gesture and teacher-led self-expression.
One of the covenants that is established from the first day in this program is the “French only” rule. The expectation that French will, without exception, be the exclusive language of communication in the classroom by the students (and teacher) is naturally supported in many ways, since the program is designed specifically to accelerate fluency. The GA techniques are used very effectively to ensure this support. One teacher describes her experience with the program and its effectiveness with her students over a two-year period:
My pilot classes are now in grade three and converse with me and with each
other exclusively in French. I do not need to gesture nearly as often to ensure comprehension. The students continue to be motivated by the plays and music. Their language is natural and fluent and laughter is abundant. ... It is undoubtedly the most innovative, exciting and successful method of teaching core French that I have encountered in my 21 years as an elementary educator.
Havergal College, Toronto
Excerpt from Communication, 2001
APDL contextualized through story/theatre/drama/music and creative storytelling activities
In order to develop language, literacy and thinking skills in any language, there can not be a better vehicle for the contextualization of the target language than the integrated use of story, theatre, drama and music. As David Booth and Bob Barton (1990) state so concisely and effectively:
Children new to [a language] find in a story context for understanding. It is not word lists that command their attention, but the lives of characters that fill the tales they read or listen to,...in the literary stories they meet. How painful itmust be for those children alien to [a language] to sit day after day without feeling connected to what is happening in the classroom. And yet, through storying, how quickly they enter the activity, making sense of what is happening, building their own versions, listening, telling, retelling; talking about, reflecting upon – responding. (p.38)
This core French approach would not have realized the success that it has without the concurrent implementation of specially designed stories for dramatization,(and often based upon songs to which the kinesthetic component is linked), that have been developed upon the same theoretical basis for language presentation as the GA. It is essential, when one’s goal is to have students use and understand new vocabulary, that it be provided to them in a comprehensible context, in which they see how the language flows in narrative discourse as well as dialogue. By using the language base of a meaningful story with which the students become intimately familiar over an extended period of time (as opposed to shorter thematically-based units), teachers are provided with a wide range of possibilities for language manipulation activities that help reinforce students’ knowledge of vocabulary and help them to develop confidence and competence in self-expression within the familiarity of long-term study. The activities that accompany and support the use of the plays (both oral and written) are scaffolded, so that students are continuously given the opportunity to strive for increased control over their independence in the language, while at the same time ensuring enough linguistic support so that they experience success at each level.
From the presentation of vocabulary through gesture, to the contextualized presentation of this same vocabulary in the form of stories for dramatization, music and dance, to the eventual expectation that students write creatively, every single aspect of this approach allows students to view the language (both lexicon and syntax) modeled in narrative and dialogue and experienced in an auditory, visual and kinesthetic manner. Modeling of language and thinking skills is an extremely important aspect of this approach. Modeling of plot and character development, paraphrasing and creative oral and written storytelling allows students to build the knowledge and confidence necessary to become not only effective communicators, but also effective storytellers. The advantage of a focus on storytelling in a L2 program should not be underestimated. It is, in my opinion, the single most effective way to ensure that students receive sufficent exposure to deeply context embedded situations so that fluency may develop. In addition, work with story naturally allows for occasions where students may engage in sustained speech and where they learn to effectrively sequence thoughts in the L2.
Story, drama and music not only provide a contextualized language base, essential for L2 learners, they also stimulate students’ imagination and creativity, serving as a model for their own creative use of the language, whether in story writing or improvisational drama activities. This method is designed to be the initial step that provides students with a language base that will allow them to communicate with a basic level of fluency in the language. It seems that the sooner this level of critical fluency is reached, the faster subsequent new vocabulary is acquired. It is almost as if, with this initial step towards fluency, we are providing the students with a clear enough picture of the language puzzle, thus creating the foundation upon which to build fluency. Once this foundation, or critical fluency is achieved, input becomes simply a meaningful piece of the linguistic puzzle that seems to “fit” into the larger whole. The oral and written activities of the AIM, which are geared for a variety of levels of linguistic competence, also encourage the development of a wide range of thinking skills, including knowledge and comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
The French teachers who have implemented this new method have all been amazed at the rapid improvement of fluency amongst their students. It is my hope that many teachers will have the opportunity to experience the same - that a high level of confidence and motivation, as a result of solid fluency development among core French students is indeed possible! The following statement sums up what an increasing number of teachers are experiencing as they take the initial step into full implementation of this new approach to teaching French:
It was only this year, in September ‘01 that I finally decided to implement [Wendy Maxwell’s] method 100%. Why did it take me so long? In a nutshell, [the AIM] program is so radical, I wasn't sure that I could pull it off. Nor was I sure that the boys could handle it. It is a very loud, dynamic way to teach French. The students are talking constantly and interacting with one another. As a teacher of rambunctiousyoung boys, I had reservations about whether I could keep them focused and under control. I could not have been more mistaken. My students are more focused, interactive, and motivated about learning French than ever before. Their French skills have improved dramatically. When you walkinto my classroom you will rarely hear a word of English spoken by anyone,at any grade level. And there is constant chatter. It's wonderful. They are learning French in leaps and bounds. As a teacher, nothing could be more exciting to watch.
Core French teacher
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This article was published in tHe October 2004 edition of Réflexions - the Journal of the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers - http://www.caslt.org