I read a few teacher blogs of teachers from the States and when things like test prep or State testing come up I am very thankful that I teach in Canada. The insanity of some of the testing just makes me want to take someone and shake them. Luckily, Provincial testing in Canada hasn’t become quite that bad. We only have, generally, one Provincial test per year, though Grade 5 Intensive French has two, one of which is coming up in two and a half weeks.
Also luckily, the prosperity of my school and my job do not hang in the balance over the results of this assessment, in fact, in the past two years where I’ve had my class write this assessment I have yet to see any of the results of how my classes have done. I want my class to do well, but I’m not spending all of my time prepping my students for it either. Good thing too because that would defeat the purpose of Intensive French.
In a nutshell, the point of the Intensive French program is to have an intense period of only French to help our Anglophone students get to a level of French where they aren’t going to be sliding back in levels every year. Researchers found that with the old Core French program, especially in the older grades, the same concepts had to be taught and re-taught every year. Some students would make some progress, but the majority never did. Intensive French is centred around using and re-using phrases until they become ingrained. We also do reading and writing in French but the majority of our mornings are meant to be spent talking in French.
Some classes are assessed orally, but everyone is given a written assessment at the end of the Intensive French block. They’re given a story starter and are asked to write a fictional story based on the story starter. My opinion of this particular assessment and it’s validity is beside the point. I need to get my students ready to write this assessment.
My main focus to prepare them for this isn’t that I need them to do well either. I do want them to do well, of course, but my main focus this year is that I don’t want them to feel over-whelmed and stressed this year. My first year of teaching I had my class for three weeks before the assessment. I didn’t know what the assessment was going to be like and I did very little to prepare my class. I thought they might do okay on it but I wasn’t prepared for the tears and the frustration that both they and I felt. Last year was a little better because I knew what was coming so we could talk about it before. But still, they were frustrated. There were tears. They wanted me to be able to help them like I did normally when they were writing. I realized that I had failed them. I had talked about how to do this assessment, we had done practice stories, but I hadn’t had them practice writing independently. They were lost without me as their guide and as “Mme leDictionnaire”.
So this year, against my judgement, I decided to introduce independent writing, just like I do with Daily 5 in English Language Arts. We did an I-Chart, talked about what to do when they’re stuck, and I enforced the idea that they needed to stay where they were, working in their spot, using the resources around them, but not asking me for help. I would walk around and conference with them, but I was not going to translate every sentence for them. They can write about whatever they want. We did model stories together and model brainstorming and I let them go.
And they amazed me.
Their writing is not perfect. There are lots of mistakes and most of them wrote more descriptions of people or pets than actual stories (my mini-lesson for tomorrow is going to be on the difference) but they wrote. Not all of them wrote their own stories, some copied the model story and that’s fine. It’s a stage of learning, but they did it and some of them did an amazing job. Not only that, some of them ask for time to write and I happily give it to them.
We’ll continue with our “assessment prep” over the next two and a half weeks, enjoying their new-found independence and I will hope that there will be fewer tears this year.