In the latest addition to the Technology in Modern Foreign Languages series, Suzi Bewell tells a wonderfully inspiring tale of language learning and international collaboration using the power of videocoferencing in the classroom.
Back in early January 2009 I was contacted by Sophie Herblot, a young French headmistress who had stumbled upon my French teaching and learning blog. She got the feeling that I was quite technically aware (not quite true back then) and wanted to know if there was the possibility of starting up a partnership with a special focus on video conferencing. The French government are currently ploughing quite a lot of money into technology and web conferencing in particular. Sophie is lucky enough to teach in one of the 3 pilot organisations in her region.
Madame Herblot teaches in a Primary school in Bantouzelle near Cambrai, in Northern France, and over the next few weeks we spent a lot of time on MSN and email getting to know more about each other and, more importantly, sorting out the finer details of our “projet visioconférence”. Within a few days, we had both installed Skype and discussed ideas for what we might explore in class (with a focus on speaking) and were all ready for our first “essai”. We were both keen to have a try in class as soon as possible.
In early February I bought a webcam ready for the big day and the following day we set about trying to connect from my home in York to Sophie at school in France. We were both very nervous and extremely excited as you will hear if you have a listen to the short audio clip.
The next week I set about downloading Skype onto the Primary school’s laptop and despite warnings about firewalls and LEA internet security, Sophie and I managed to connect classroom to classroom which was even more exciting and meant that a plan was coming together.
Our first lesson was planned for Friday 13th March – pupils would spend the lesson introducing each other and using their knowledge of numbers and the alphabet in French and English to fill out personal details. Sadly, for technical reasons beyond our control, Skype failed to work and all concerned were very disappointed and frustrated…but not deterred in the slightest! Sophie and I were determined to try again the very next week.
Friday the 20th March 2009 was a most memorable day because we managed to connect with our French friends and I experienced the best French lesson of my career to date. A light bulb moment when learning takes place for a real purpose, in front of a real audience and where pupils are fully engaged and excited about the lesson, quite unaware that learning is actually taking place because they are having so much fun – and real French kids are clapping at them and implying that their French is actually not bad! Awesome.
A few weeks later, still extremely excited by the first successful live hook up, we took the topic of clothes and colours as our focus. The French pupils had posted us cardboard cut outs of Pierre and Marie along with clothes in a variety of colours. We had to listen to their descriptions in French and show our understanding by dressing the dolls appropriately. Much fun was had by all.
We were then treated to a rendition of “Hello it’s me!” an English version of a song they had viewed on our blog called Bonjour, c’est moi! (all about parts of the body). Much to our surprise, they had translated it into English and performed it to us “en live” and with actions. My pupils were full of praise and also amazed at how great the pupils’ English was. Again there was lots of cheering and clapping – what better motivator for learning a foreign language! This is what Sophie had to say:
Once more, it was wonderful today!!! Pupils were very happy and proud. Our English teaching adviser was here and filmed it all. He said it was a very good example of preparation and organisation and he congratulated both of us for our work!! Waouh!!
The summer term was quite hectic and sadly we didn’t get chance to connect again so in June we decided to write letters to keep the contact going and to focus on reading some basic English / French.
In September the Year 6 class had moved onto secondary school and I took over teaching a Year 5 class at the same school. On December 4th they had their first taste of web conferencing and absolutely loved it! We sang the alphabet in French to the tune of ten green bottles and spent most of the lesson focusing on cognates and phonetic awareness. The grand finale to the lesson was a bilingual Christmas medley of “Vive le vent” and “Jingle Bells”. This is what Sophie had to say:
“Je suis super contente de ce qu’on a fait vendredi! Les enfants sont emballés, Ils ont a-do-ré.”
At a recent MFL Show and Tell event in London, I stated that I would encourage anyone to try out web conferencing as it is by far the best thing that has happened to my teaching in the last 11 years. To find out more and discover exactly what the pupils think, please watch this presentation.
Top photo courtesy of Sophie Herblot.