Virtual classes proving très difficile for French immersion teachers

·2 min read
With the COVID-19 pandemic moving classes online, some French immersion teachers say it's been a challenge making sure their students aren't speaking English. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
With the COVID-19 pandemic moving classes online, some French immersion teachers say it's been a challenge making sure their students aren't speaking English. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Trying to get French immersion students to speak French in school was often challenging before the COVID-19 pandemic, but some teachers are concerned that with everyone now online, the problem has only gotten worse.

"I'm not hearing that the kids are always speaking French," said Kim Doucet, who's currently teaching Grade 2 French immersion with the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual School.

Doucet, a French immersion teacher for the better part of 25 years, said with the proliferation of Google Translate, virtual meetings and online breakout rooms, it's becoming more and more difficult for educators to enforce language rules during class time.

She said the lack of spontaneous interaction that would normally occur in a classroom is also causing some students to fall behind.

"We're not catching up to those gaps," Doucet said.

"If they're not being watched, they're not necessarily speaking French," agreed Danielle Takoff, a veteran teacher at Fisher Park Middle School.

"A lot of this is leading to slower development, especially for students that might not be super motivated as others."

Veteran French immersion teacher Kim Doucet says that with students learning virtually, it's more difficult for educators to enforce language rules during class time.
Veteran French immersion teacher Kim Doucet says that with students learning virtually, it's more difficult for educators to enforce language rules during class time.(Kim Doucet)

Takoff said it's difficult for teachers to know when students are relying on their own knowledge and when they're turning to the internet for help.

"Google Translate is the bane of our existence as French immersion teachers," she said.

Another common challenge is video-conferencing itself: students don't have to turn on their cameras during class, and when teachers drop in on virtual breakout rooms — smaller gatherings of students outside of the regular classroom —some have reported catching their students speaking English to each other.

While Takoff has been exclusively teaching French online for the past five months, even when classes were held in-person, mandatory mask-wearing policies were making things more difficult.

"You rely on so many more cues, so with the mask that has added a barrier to communication," she said.

For Danielle Takoff, Google Translate is the 'bane' of her existence as a French immersion teacher during COVID-19.
For Danielle Takoff, Google Translate is the 'bane' of her existence as a French immersion teacher during COVID-19.(Danielle Takoff)

Some positives

With just over a month to go until the end of the school year, however, it hasn't been all bad.

Takoff said she's found that after she built trust and relationships with her students, they became more engaged and willing participants.

"If you've got a good class dynamic [and] students who are willing, we can hear them better, we can sort of focus one-on-one," she said

Doucet agreed that while it's been a difficult transition, most of her immersion students have done their best.

"[They] are really making huge gains in reading and oral communication," she said. "I am just thrilled with what my students are achieving — even while being online."