Pédagogie à l’école de langue française (pedagogy in French-language schools): a definition based on the challenges in minority-language settings

By Gilberte Godin and Ronald Boudreau
October 4, 2012

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) undertook a large-scale project in an effort to define pedagogy as it applies to Canada’s minority-setting French-language schools. The definition must of course take two factors into account: students’ living environment and the Francophone community’s aspirations. This is the first in a series of articles designed to shed light on the many concepts underlying this definition.

The project Pédagogie à l’école de langue française (PELF) actually started two years ago—and it was during this period of extensive consultations with a range of committees representing teachers in French-language minority settings right across Canada that a definition emerged, one that takes actual needs into account and revolves around key concepts supported by scientific research. These concepts take on all the more currency thanks both to technology and to the creativity of several partners since they are embodied in videotaped “teaching moments” featuring actual students and teachers.

To set the stage and summarize the history of each concept while explaining how it ties into the linguistic- and cultural-development mission of Canada’s French‑language schools, this inaugural article paints a picture of what is PELF.

PELF centres on the principle that the cultural and linguistic context in which students live weighs heavily in their language development. That context also appears to affect how students do at school, how they identify themselves culturally and linguistically, and how they remain committed to both that identity and their community.

Yet, the responsibility for shaping the context that frames students’ lives does not belong solely to schools. Other players like the community, institutions, Francophone organizations and the government must combine their efforts to make sure Francophone communities achieve what Landry, Allard and Deveau (2010) call “cultural autonomy.”

Although schools cannot lead the quest for cultural autonomy alone, as extensions of the family, they lie at the heart of students’ language socialization. Indeed, because students spend so many hours at school, teachers play a frontline role in each child’s language and identity development.

French-language schools do put forward many valuable efforts to support language and culture. Still, one concern might be that such efforts focus mostly on the quality of cultural and linguistic experiences provided. While PELF both recognizes and encourages cultural enrichment among Francophone-minority students, it favours quality school-based experiences with regard to the cultural and linguistic factors shaping the lives of Francophones in minority-language settings across Canada..

An overview of key PELF concepts

The members of the PELF development committees quickly realized that the teacher’s ties to the cultural and linguistic context of the community must be an integral part of the teaching and learning practices. As a result, PELF elements often apply as much to teachers as they do to students.

PELF practices also stem from a specific in-class dynamic where both teachers and students are eager to become involved by putting their ideas forward and by expressing what they truly feel about French language and culture. As such, the classroom becomes a place to exchange views, to take stock of others’ realities and perspectives and to sharpen critical-thinking skills that will serve to determine the personal action an individual chooses to take as someone who feels connected to the Francophone community.

In step with the critical-thinking skills above (the next piece in the series talks about the French-language concept called conscientisAction, which relates directly to these skills), PELF relies first and foremost on the principle that students and teachers feel a sense of autonomy in the tasks they are performing and that each individual influences how learning takes place. That’s why PELF taps into the concept of dynamisation, which serves as a trigger for the intrinsic motivation a person needs to draw their commitment to action from within.

Two more key concepts are involved in the implementation of PELF. First, there’s actuElisation; in French, the term implies a desire to work in today’s world and to skilfully spread knowledge about French history and heritage from a contemporary perspective that reflects the daily reality of students and teachers alike. Second is the concept known as sensification, which implies that projects, activities and discussions must always hold true meaning for both teachers and students. In fact, to connect with individuals on a “values” level and to have them commit firmly to their cultural and linguistic community, the challenges they are given must shine by their currency and relevance.

Upcoming articles in the next issues of Perspectives will provide a more concrete portrayal of how these concepts contribute to and drive teaching practices in Canada’s French-language schools.

Gilberte Godin is Coordinator of La pédagogie à l’école de langue française at CTF. Ronald Boudreau is the Director of Services to Francophones at CTF

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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