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Published September 22, 2015 | French (Language and Literature)

Active Learning Classrooms in Service of French Lit

Just prior to the student strike in 2012, the administration at our college presented an active learning classroom implementation project codenamed CLAAC (for Classe d’apprentissage actif). This initiative was part of a vast research project that brought a few colleges from Quebec together with the Université de Montréal. I’ve been teaching French literature for about 8 years and was interested in experimenting with some new ways of presenting my class. I was already interested in integrating ICTs into my teaching, but I was more or less traditional in my approach. So when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to get involved.

The teachers that were interested in the project had to work in tandem. We had the benefit of release time to review our courses and construct new teaching scenarios. The student strike sort of blindsided our project, which really began in the fall of 2014 in a new active learning room that we fondly dubbed ‘The Entreprise,’ due to its immensity and its high-tech atmosphere. The delays allowed the participating teachers to test their learning activities in a standard classroom. We were thus able to adapt the content of our workshops in anticipation of the new environment.

The CLAAC Active Learning Classroom at Collège Ahuntsic

During a ped day in August of 2015, while speaking with my colleagues, I insisted on the importance of making gradual changes instead of changing everything about their teaching approach all at once. I, myself, began by switching back and forth between the CLAAC and a traditional classroom with the objective of slowly finding my way. The students were disoriented at times because of the frequent room changes. But now, my teaching has been completely reimagined for the CLAAC. The dynamic it brings is very different and very interesting. In essence, it’s not so much the content that’s different - but the teaching plan. Here is a video module that I developed for my students (in French).

An Example Video Entitled Faire un plan de dissertation

You also need to give students time to adapt to this new dynamic that permits collaborative work.  It’s good to work together, but you also need to know yourself. During the whole experiment, I was inspired by the presentations of my colleagues that were teaching in other disciplines. For example, I replaced a portion of my course dealing with methodology by adding videos (a PowerPoint presentation that I narrated). The students view these before coming to class. While they are in class, they apply the content. I noticed that as the semester went on, students used the videos more and more, whether before or after class or in preparation for the exam.

Furthermore, leading up to the exam, I have an exercise that warms up their neurons. I distribute a question to each team. The students then formulate a response within their group, then draft a summary. The strength of the review session is improved through teamwork. A spokesperson for each group then summarizes the answer their team devised for the benefit of the whole class in a plenary session. Then Bam! I give them an exam question that goes a little bit deeper.

What the Students Think

My students were questioned multiple times starting from the very beginning of the research project. The data collection is running its course, but I have had some positive preliminary feedback that has allowed me to be quite enthusiastic. The students are more motivated and committed. They see the teamwork as very enriching. I have noticed a decline in absenteeism, since the students can no longer count on their friends to share notes. That also has an effect on my personal motivation and incites me to change and improve my pedagogy.

Do I see any problems on the horizon? We’re gonna need some more active learning classrooms real soon! And I don’t want to go back to my old classroom!

How about you? Are you experimenting with Active Learning spaces or have some resources to share? If so, please feel free to share with a comment below.

About the Author

Étienne Bourdages has been teaching French Literature at the Collège Ahuntsic since 2006. He has a Masters in Literary Studies. He also completed a short program in Pedagogy for Higher Education at the UQAM.

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