We, the undersigned members of the French advisory team at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, are writing to express our concern and dismay at the content of the draft curriculum and lack of consultation in the preparation of Français Immersion et Littérature. Some of us teach in the Undergraduate Bachelor of Education program, preparing pre-service teachers of French, and in the Graduate Programs in Education working with in-service teachers. Additionally, many of us conduct research to further the body of knowledge surrounding language and literacy. Members of our committee have been working with French Immersion teachers and students in schools for many years and understand what students need and how they learn languages.
We stand in solidarity with the many groups who have already expressed their concerns about this document, including Canadian Parents for French (CPF), the many school boards who have contacted the Minister and published their letters publicly, and the Education faculties of Alberta post-secondary institutions who devote their work to research and preparation of pre-service teachers. We will not repeat their work here but voice our main concerns.
Our primary concern with Français Immersion et Littérature is the pedagogy that would result from a surface-level reading of the document. For French Immersion to be successful, teachers do not simply speak French and assume that students will “pick it up”. Skilled French teachers design instruction so that language elements (vocabulary and structures) are modelled by the teacher, with scaffolded opportunities provided for students to notice, respond, and create language using new vocabulary and structures that have been modelled and contextualized by the teacher. The front matter touches on some of those points (“la communication orale joue un rôle central”; “interactions contextualisées”; “s’exprimer dans divers contextes”). However, we do not see these concepts reflected in the main document. For example, the proposed draft curriculum focuses on explicit language features, and suggests that students should memorize words (“certains mots simples et très fréquents doivent être mémorisés, par exemple: le, la, un, une, des, et, est, je, suis”). Especially in K-6, French Immersion students learn the language NOT by memorizing words or sounds, but by being immersed in a French language environment where the teachers use language that is meaningful and pertinent to the students’ lives. Skilled teachers know that language teaching is not done by following a checklist of decontextualized elements.
French Immersion is a highly successful evidence-based second language instruction approach which has been adapted for other languages internationally since its inception in 1965. Any new curriculum document should reflect the gains from over 50 years of classroom practice and insights from research, building upon strength-based practices for children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, the reality in Alberta’s classrooms today. New directions should be decided in consultation with practicing teachers of French Immersion, as well as university-based experts who work in teacher-preparation programs at Alberta’s universities. Since this is not the case, we cannot endorse this proposed draft curriculum.
Members of the team who took part in this analysis include University of Calgary Werklund School of Education professors Sylvie Roy, Katherine Mueller, Rahat Zaidi, Roswita Dressler, Umit Boz, and David Scott.