For the past 4 to 5 years, I have worked very hard to design instruction based around authentic resources, as this is considered the goal of our ACTFL and Ohio standards - what can a student do with authentic resources designed for native speakers. From the first weeks of Level 1, I would use authentic resources in class, and I was very proud of how well most of my students could handle an Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) based on authentic documents or audiovisual. However, there were always students who struggled, such as students with learning disabilities that affected reading, students who were designated as ELL, students who lacked successful literacy strategies in English. And no matter what sort of pre-reading or scaffolding I offered, many of these students were so anxious or afraid of the authentic texts that they would not attempt - or would rely on using their phone or Google Translate to try to sneak by that way. While I was very proud of my chops as a "standards-based proficiency-focused teacher", I was uneasy knowing I was not helping ALL my students feel like they could succeed in French class. It happens too often that the students who struggle are simply considered as afterthoughts - we must modify our instruction to make it doable for some who cannot do it as designed - rather than design instruction that will work for ALL students in the first place. (Check out Universal Design - I learned about this after I had figured out I needed to shift my design perspective, but it definitely informs my practices now)
Along the way I discovered the work of GianFranco Conti and began incorporating some of his lessons and units into the lessons I had written and the ones I had adapted from Français Interactif. My level 3 students in particular raved about how much they liked it, because they were able to quickly create compound and complex sentences that felt natural to them, and did not need to struggle to assemble individual words and phrases to communicate at a level that felt like high school, and not elementary school. The more activities that I added in his style, the more impressed I was with what ALL the students could do with the language, confidently and with accuracy. As I learned more about his method (see his blog and books, I am not going to attempt to summarize), I decided that it was more conducive to enabling ALL my students to learn language than my existing strategies which revolved around authentic resources. A more equitable pedagogical method was the clear choice.
This year I am using Conti materials and methods along with my own materials that I write with Conti principles in mind. For the first time in probably 5 years, I did not start my Level 1 students out right away with authentic resources (infographics usually) and spent some time with the Conti beginner workbook activities and stories I wrote using the structures and vocabulary we had been working with. I have created listening and speaking activities as well, using GoFormative because we have been either hybrid or virtual all year. As time goes on, I am incorporating a few authentic resources in Level 1, but I still see the students who lack confidence shutting down completely as soon as they encounter something they know is "real" French, so I still have some work to do to reassure them. But on the whole, the students have responded very favorably to the method - they feel empowered to create sentences and communicate at a level that feels less child-like, and it is still a joyful surprise to me each time I see a level 1 student creating strings of compound or even complex sentences with a high degree of comprehensibility. Levels 2 and 3 are getting regular work with authentic resources, but supported by language practice that is based on Conti's or using his materials from Language Gym and TES (I often adapt them for our needs). The students often tell me, this stuff works! The sentence builders, the repetition, the scaffolding - it all facilitates acquisition and builds students' confidence in using the language. My colleague @profe_hanna and I both say, the only way they won't learn with Conti methods is if they won't do the work! And yes, to be honest, there are plenty of students who are not working for a whole variety of reasons, so I am not going to pretend that what I am doing is a magic bullet that will lead to 100% engagement. But, I will say that I know that the way I am teaching now is absolutely more equitable, and I know that ALL of my students can learn French this way.
So, Conti + authres? This is the way.
(A second part to this blog post will follow with a sample outline of what class looks like for me at all 3 levels)