TEACHING FRENCH USING THE PROFICIENCY-ORIENTED APPROACH
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Until recently, I had never heard of the Proficiency-Oriented Approach. But immediately after discovering it, I knew I had to share this really amazing framework with you that will help you in your FSL or second language classroom!
The Proficiency-Oriented Approach is a general framework that encompasses teaching a language in a way that encourages meaningful learning and real-world application, developed by CARLA (The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition).
WHAT IS IT?
The Proficiency-Oriented Approach targets multiple components of language acquisition, including the four modalities (reading, writing, oral communication & listening), language and culture, student-centered learning and real-world application all in one go. Sound complicated? Don't worry, I promise it isn't and you are likely already doing so many of these things in your FSL classroom!
Let's walk through each of the different components together so that you can get a better understanding and learn about some ways that you can use this within your own classroom too!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE PROFICIENT?
By definition, proficiency means a high degree of competence or skill; expertise. With language learning, we typically tend to think about proficiency as the ability to be fluent in a language in all four areas (reading, writing, listening, oral communication). Proficiency also refers to the ability to be able to communicate in a second language in a variety of different circumstances, for example in different geographical regions, in different scenarios, etc. - so really any place, any time!
THE FOUR MODALITIES
As aligned with the Ontario Curriculum, the four modalities of language acquisition include reading, writing, listening and oral communication. As second language teachers, you are likely ALREADY planning tasks for your students that include the four modalities. The logic behind planning tasks with all four modalities included is that the more components of a second language that are being practiced, the more profound impact it will have on the learning of the student.
Here is an example of a task that touches on each of the four modalities:
LISTENING: Students listen to a short story or narrative.
READING: Students have the chance to read the short story or narrative and work on understanding vocabulary and repeated words/sounds.
WRITING: Students create an extension or continuation to the story in small groups, adding characters, problems, solutions and other narrative components.
ORAL COMMUNICATION: Students transform their story into a script and give it to another group where they will need to present the story in a drama format to the class.
LANGUAGE & CULTURE
When considering language and culture, it's important to recognize that this is a very broad title that covers many different things. Depending on the second language that you are teaching, the culture behind each language can be vastly different from another. Keep in mind that it is not enough to simply talk about the culture of the language with your students; the goal is to have them explore the culture, learn more and develop a natural curiosity that promotes questions and a deeper understanding. Sometimes, conversations and materials surrounding culture can be difficult to teach because they touch on deep-rooted issues such as racism, discrimination, inequality and conflict, however, we have a responsibility as educators to present all perspectives of culture to our students and foster these discussions and conversations.
The Proficiency-Oriented Approach to language instruction is student-centered, meaning that we are building upon what the student needs, what they already know and what they can do with a focus on a variety of different learning styles. If we are not starting our instruction by meeting our students where they are at, we are not setting them up for success. At the beginning of the year, have your students take a little quiz to help them identify their learning style.
It can be especially challenging when your students are all at different learning levels, and it can be very time-consuming to think about creative ways to present materials to your students in a manner that they will all be successful.
Here are some simple suggestions of how you can present materials to your students of various learning styles:
Write the instructions on the board
Create a short audio recording of the instructions
Have students associate movements with the tasks
Allow students the opportunity to write instructions on a desk whiteboard or sticky note
Remember, learning is not linear; everyone learns at a different pace and it's important to address this especially when teaching a second language because it is not something that is natural to our students!
REAL WORLD APPLICATION
The last puzzle piece of the Proficiency-Oriented Approach is the Real World Application component. No matter what second language that you are teaching, we all have the same goal in mind; to prepare our students to be able to communicate and understand it outside of the classroom with others.
This can be a very daunting task for educators, because how on earth are we able to truly prepare our students for the real world in one short year? The answer is simple - you can't! It takes YEARS of practice and learning from others in order for students to be fully proficient in their second language and sometimes even then they may not feel fully prepared. Depending on the language you are teaching, remember that your students will have the opportunity as their learning journey progresses to work with teachers from different geographical areas that will help them to build their proficiency in their second language, including you! I grew up in the French Immersion program here in Canada, which meant that 50% of my education from Kindergarten to Grade 12 was in French. During those 14 years, I had teachers that came from so many different French-speaking regions of the world, including France, Quebec, Africa, Acadia, Ontario, Romania, Algeria, Egypt and more. Each teacher brought a unique perspective of language and their own cultural toolkit that helped to develop my understanding of the French language around the world.
Overall, the Real World Application piece of the Proficiency-Oriented Approach is not one that is taught overnight, but rather over the course of years. To set our students up for success, all you need to do is to continue to teach them in a way that creates an authentic learning experience that they can understand.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The reality is that there are many different frameworks out there that focus on language proficiency, in fact, an overwhelming amount. What resonates with me when it comes to the Proficiency-Oriented Approach is the fact that it combines many frameworks that you may already be using in your second language classroom, and it breaks down into four manageable parts. Each component of the Proficiency-Oriented Approach is intentional, meaning that it has a purpose for your students and allows them to foster an interest in learning as well as have a deeper level of understanding.
The Proficiency-Oriented Approach also provides an opportunity for second language educators to reflect on their teaching practices and create innovative tasks for students. When implementing this framework, you as an educator can challenge yourself to build off of your own second language learning experiences and continue to create positive ones for your students.