French Connection

16 Apr 2014, Posted by admin in Packages,Top Slider, No Comments.

French Connection

Students at UC Blue Ash are sharing their knowledge of French at an adjacent elementary school, hoping to inspire a love of foreign languages for years to come.

Story, photos and map by Emily Begley

A trio of college students shuffles around the library at Blue Ash Elementary (BAE), working to the rhythmic tune of dull crayons scratching paper. The sound is accompanied by excited chatter of 15 children speaking in French and English.

The children sit at four tables, separated into groups of threes and fours. The tables are covered with construction paper, scissors and stickers. As they work with the materials, the college students watch over their shoulders, helping them write words in French and answering their questions.

The scene portrays the mission of the French Service Learning program, an ongoing outreach project offered by the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College (UCBA).

The program gives UC Blue Ash students the opportunity to extend their knowledge outside of the traditional classroom by teaching basic French vocabulary to kindergarten through fourth-grade students at the elementary school, located next door.

UC Blue Ash has offered French service learning since 2010, said Jody Ballah, UCBA French professor and service learning coordinator. Students with at least one year of French experience enroll in a three-credit hour course, which is available in the fall and spring semesters. Students meet twice a week, preparing lesson plans on Tuesdays and teaching the elementary school students on Thursdays.

The students work with an after-school class at Blue Ash Elementary that is incorporated into the BAE’s Champions enrichment program. The class is given the opportunity to pursue a foreign language in addition to artistic, academic and athletic options built into Champions.

A total of 51 Blue Ash Elementary students have participated in the French service learning program since its beginning, Ballah said.

“My favorite part of the program is to see my students interact with the kids and bring out their natural talents and abilities,” Ballah said.

“I am also thrilled to see students using French outside of the classroom in a very authentic context and to see them empowered in their language learning.”

Class in session

On a recent afternoon, service-learning students Andre Crumpton and Alexis Shelton sat cross-legged on a colorful carpet. The rug, checkered with the letters of the alphabet, was at the center of the elementary school’s library.

Crumpton peeked above a laminated poster titled “Les legúmes.”

“Commet dites vous ‘green?’” Crumpton asked, pointing to a green pepper, or “le poivron vert,” at the bottom of the poster.

Andre Crumpton uses a poster as a visual aid during a class at Blue Ash Elementary. Crumpton and peers Lex and Melissa Schmerr frequently begin classes reviewing previous material with their students before introducing the day’s primary activities.

Andre Crumpton uses a poster as a visual aid during a class at Blue Ash Elementary. Crumpton and peers Lex and Melissa Schmerr frequently begin classes reviewing previous material with their students before introducing the day’s primary activities.

His students squinted to read the text above the photo – “vert” – before saying the answer aloud in broken unison.

“Trés bien,” Crumpton said, setting the poster down.

Glancing at the clock, Crumpton turned to Shelton and announced the class’s next activity: A set of worksheets to label and color in a small group setting.

As the only students enrolled in the service learning class during spring semester, Crumpton and Shelton were challenged to effectively manage the students’ activities. They frequently chose to split the group into halves, assigning one teacher to each small group.

They did receive help from Melissa Schmerr, UCBA French tutor and program volunteer. Schmerr first enrolled in the class in 2010 and, after completing the course multiple times, returned as a volunteer.

“The children are a dynamic bunch that are consistently offering us challenges as well as rewards,” Schmerr said.

Throughout the semester, UCBA students created lesson plans revolving around food, colors, animals, culture and more. Each class session was dedicated to a new topic, including a short review of previous material.

Beginning early

According to program evaluation experts Evantia, only one fourth of public elementary schools in the U.S. report teaching second languages to their students. The majority of classes offered are limited to introductory courses.

Additionally, fewer than one half of students go on to study a foreign language in high school.

“Foreign language programs are often one of the first items to be scrutinized and cut when elementary, middle, and high schools in the U.S. face poor performance evaluations or budget crunches,” said the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages on their website.

“However, many studies have demonstrated the benefits of second language learning not only on student’s linguistic abilities but on their cognitive and creative abilities as well.”

An article by Center for Applied Linguistics information associate Kathleen Marcos analyzes these advantages, concluding, “Research has shown that second language study offers many benefits to students in terms of improved communicative ability, cognitive development, cultural awareness, and job opportunities.”

“If a child has a number of positive experiences with another language, he or she can become quite receptive to learning other languages,” the article states. “Throughout the school years, parents can show their children that the ability to speak a second language is valued by encouraging an interest in other languages and cultures.

A 2001 study by Monique Bournot-Trites and Kenneth Reeder focused examined the mathematical achievement of students grades 4-7 who were taught French as opposed to their first language of English. The goal of the study was to observe the effects of French immersion at the intermediate level.

Students who received 80 percent of their mathematic instruction in French showed an advantage in mathematical achievement over their peers, according to the University of Toronto Press Journals. Their peers received only 50 percent of their instruction in French

These findings and similar research play an important role in UCBA’s program.

Although service learning strives to improve foreign language at a young age, the program’s major goal is to establish an interest in foreign language that will continue throughout and beyond students’ high school careers.

This interest does not necessarily pertain to French, Ballah said. Ballah and her students hope to inspire an interest in foreign languages and cultures.

“I wished someone had taught me a second language, or at least introduced it, when I was young,” Shmerr said. “To be able to give that opportunity to a child is very rewarding.”

This story was syndicated to and published by Soapbox Cincinnati.

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