After only two months in the Intensive French program, Grade 6 students at Humboldt Public School (HPS) were given a positive report by their teacher for their efforts to learn a second language.
"They're doing really well," said teacher Courtney Knaus. "The amount that they've learned in two months is amazing."
It is a new venture for both Knaus and her pupils this year. Although she has been teaching Core French in the three years since she has been a teacher at HPS, this is the first year for Knaus with the Intensive French program.
Likewise, her young students are the first ones in the school to undertake the program. It's been quite different and a challenge that they seem to be rising to.
"There was a big excitement in the air when it started this year," Knaus said. "They are aware that they are the first ones at our school doing it. And the first ones in the public system in Saskatchewan, so that's a bonus."
Both Catholic schools in Humboldt began the Intensive French program in their schools last year, although it had already been available for a few years in the province. Knaus says she believes that when the program started here in town and parents started hearing about it, they began to show interest and asked about having it at HPS.
"Parents brought the request to our principal, Dave Hill," Knaus explained. "We had a presentation for the parents, then we gave a choice to the families. We asked them 'would you be interested in having a child in it, yes or no?' and the response was very strong."
In Canada, there is the French Immersion program, where students generally start in Kindergarten, and the Intensive French program, where students start in Grade 6.
With French Immersion, all subjects except English are taught in French over the whole school year. The Intensive French program, however, gives the children an intense five months of concentrating on French literacy skills before they return to regular teaching in English for core subjects such as social studies, science, math, and so on. They will still maintain about an hour a day of French in the second semester.
Knaus believes the intensive program offers the children an opportunity to be able to converse more in French because they acquire the core literacy skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) necessary to be able to communicate in that language.
To qualify to teach the program, Knaus had to attend a one-week preparatory course organized by the Consultants for Intensive French from the Ministry of Education in Saskatoon. Knaus said she and other participants were given the curriculum guide for the course and told to follow it as much as possible.
"We went through all of the strategies and evaluation techniques," she said. "The program is very specific about how they want things delivered, how you question the students and how you read the books."
Previous teaching experience means Knaus already has a hand on classroom management and can concentrate on the way the program is going.
She also started a routine in the class that the children seem to like, that she calls chef du jour, or leader of the day. Every day, a different child gets a turn to be at the front of the class asking their classmates the questions.
"It's all vocabulary we've used a million times, " Knaus said, "like their age, 'quel age as-tu?' and so on. Then they're just the helper for the day, handing sheets out or collecting things, they like that kind of stuff."
As a teacher, Knaus says learning a second language and becoming bilingual encourages the children to continue to learn more French. The advantage of the French literacy approach in the Intensive French program is that the children are learning to say things about themselves or about things they like, for example sports, and they want to put it into practice.
What did some of the children in Knaus's class have to say about their new experience in learning French?
Braydon Bentley says he thinks learning French is different, but that it is a good thing.
"When my aunt and uncle went to France," the Grade 6 student said, "they didn't know how to ask for things and they didn't understand when people were talking."
A second student, Dylan Larson, said he'd learned at least 100 new words so far, as well as how to talk about different sports.
"We learned that in France, 'football' is what they call soccer," said Dylan, "and that the football we play here they call 'football américain."
Both boys said that they wanted to go on to learn more languages later in life.
For now, students in the Grade 6 class are still working on learning their first foreign language. But what happens when this year is over and they move on?
"When the students continue into Grade 7 they go back into the English program but we do something that's called enhanced French," explained Knaus. "It's the same idea as the Intensive French, but they will get about two hours per week of French that will focus on the same principles of French literacy: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Optimally, Knaus added, it would be an hour a day of enhanced French, but realistically, it will probably be two hours a week.