90% TL: just do it!

(Just so we’re clear, I stole the title of this blog post from Thomas Sauer, not Nike.)

Well, it’s spring break here, which means that my French ones have been through 3 1/2 weeks of “only” speaking French in class. I will clarify that before that, they did speak French, but there weren’t explicit rules for how much.

A quick look at logistics:

  • If you’re in the classroom, you’re expected to only be speaking French.
  • If you need to ask a complex question/absolutely have to say something in English, you have to go out into the hallway. (This deters students from trying to speak a lot of English, because, well, they don’t want to walk there.)
  • I tally “points” on my clipboard – if you speak English, you “lose points” (please keep in mind that in my class, participation happens à la “Whose Line” – the points don’t actually matter)
  • If I get a TON of blank stares and I’ve explained something in more than one way, I step into the hall to clarify in English. I try to do this as little as possible.

The first few days were terrifying. Loud, boisterous classes that joked a lot with me had been reduced to silent, staring, straight faced children. A few of my middle schoolers flat out refused to speak in French. I, however, was twice as terrified as they were. I’ve heard it said that the teacher is often what holds a class back from 90% TL in class. And for me, it was SO TRUE. I connect with students because I’m so young, and I’ll admit that a lot of that happens in English. I think, however, that I have transferred some of that to my French “personality.”

Also, I think that it needs to be said that students, parents, admin, colleagues, and stakeholders don’t know what we mean when we say “90% target language.” So many of my students were in a panic mode, “how are we going to know what you’re saying?!?!” they shouted the day before we started. An administrator told a colleague who does this same system, “I thought they’d all be whispering in English when your back was turned, but they didn’t.” They key word is comprehensible.

So, what have I learned since this process started?

  • I can speak in comprehensible French for 100% of class time. I held myself back from trying for too long.
  • Students take pride in speaking French and policing each other. About 3% of each day for some students is spent gasping audibly, pointing, and shouting, “anglais!!”
  • Students pick up the craziest expressions!  Seriously, I never knew that they’d learn all the little “flavoring” things that they have! A lot of my Ss can say little things like, “bless you,” “don’t touch [that/me!],” “I’m kidding,” “excuse you!”and expressions that start with, “may I …?” These are the little things that make me well up with pride, and because I say so often, they’ve picked them up too!
  • Students at the novice level can get their point across with the language they know. Negotiation of meaning, anyone?! Instead of saying, “give me back my paper!” they say, “tu es méchant!” When I asked a student why he didn’t invite me to his musical the previous weekend, he didn’t give me a long-winded answer, he just say, “désolé, Madame!”
  • After the initial shock, students are EXCITED to speak French in class. It’s the times that I hear them whispering to each other in French that I have to hold back tears.
  • Laughter is necessary. Not only am I showing students that it’s okay to be silly sometimes, but also that jokes can happen in French, too. Three of my favorites? 1) If I say, “[Student’s name], tu parles anglais!?!?!?!?” they know that the “acceptable response,” (no matter the language they spoke) is, “Non, Madame!” with a bat of their eyelashes. 2) One of my middle school students looked at me the other day, eyes serious, and said “François a DEUX PETITES-AMIES” with the most urgency that anyone has ever said anything. This has become a running joke that we start the day with, asking who else has two girlfriends/boyfriends. 3) I was inviting students to go places with me, and someone said they’d go to a concert with me. When I went to write it down on my “schedule,” he shouted, “JE BLAGUE.” I was mock devastated, but very excited on the inside.
  • I think that 100% really beat the pre-spring break slump. It left me excited to go to class, excited to see my students, excited to learn with them each day.
  • We were allowed to speak English on part of the day before Spring Break as a “reward” or “vacation” and I had a few students who said that speaking English is weird, and that they were no longer used to my voice in English.

This has been SUCH an exciting process for me, and I am never going back!

But, I think the key part of this process has been student feedback. On our “English vacation,” I had them fill out a Google Form about “All French.” I wanted to include some of their feedback here:

I asked them to answer these questions, which I openly stole from Melanie’s end-of-year survey:

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I was really surprised by these numbers, but since I don’t require names on my feedback surveys, I know there are some students who dislike “all French” that didn’t take the survey.

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These results were about what I expected.

The next question I asked was, “What is one thing that has improved since we started?” It was a required question, and this is some of the feedback I got:

Just seeing all of this self-awareness made me so happy.

When I asked students about something that they would change, a lot of it had to do with English. I’m trying to figure out how to validate their opinions and feedback but not spend one day a week in English …

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(PS: that big, long, introspective answer is from my 11th grader who is also in a very traditional AP German class, because she also mentioned that she’s sad we haven’t learned to conjugate many verbs this year.)

 

So, my advice to you if you’re struggling with, or have been “putting off” 90% TL like I have? Just do it! I think the results will terrify, shock, excite, and transform you. I know they did for me.