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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 5, March 2007

Teacher associations call for action on FSL teaching and learning

Have you read the recent report on French-as-a-second-language (FSL) teaching and learning in Canada?

The report presents the results of a national survey of the challenges faced by FSL teachers, a project jointly undertaken by the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers (CASLT), the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), and the Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers (CAIT), and funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

A total of 1,305 FSL teachers, representing all provinces and territories, completed a web-based questionnaire on their perceptions and opinions regarding teaching resources, other resources (e.g., classrooms, consultants, French-speaking support staff), support from key stakeholders, teaching conditions, and professional development opportunities. All four FSL program types currently available in Canada were represented in the sample: Core French (CF), French Immersion (FI), Extended French, and Intensive French.

The questionnaire also asked teachers to provide information about themselves, their schools, their teaching experience, and their educational background. Responding FSL teachers were: predominantly female, distributed across FSL program types, geographically representative (except in the case of Quebec and BC), representative of a range of size of board and school, generally very experienced teachers, generally Anglophone, quite confident about their own abilities in French, and mostly from CF backgrounds.

Findings

This report presents the survey findings under the five main categories of questions: teaching resources, other resources, support from stakeholders, teaching conditions, and professional development.

Overall, the majority of respondents considered commercial materials to be "poor" or "adequate" although CF teachers were more satisfied with these materials than FI teachers for whom few such materials exist, particularly materials representing Francophone culture. The quantity and quality of library resources, computer software and, community resources were considered as "poor" by the majority of respondents.

With regard to other resources, more than 40% of the teachers report that a classroom dedicated to FSL and an FSL consultant to help them with their teaching are not available to them. Funding for activities, lack of French-speaking supply teachers, consultants for students with special needs, French-speaking non-teaching staff also concern the majority of teachers. However, the majority of the teachers report easy access to computers, the Internet, space for lesson preparation, and storage space.

Most teachers perceived the community in which they teach to be the least supportive of their work, while school administration was perceived to be very supportive. CF teachers also report less support from parents and students.

The majority of FSL teachers reported that teaching conditions (e.g., class size, special needs students, administrative duties) were slightly, or somewhat, manageable. It seems, however, that teachers found it difficult to interpret the differences between conditions that were "slightly," "somewhat," or "very" manageable, since "class diversity" was the challenge most often mentioned by teachers in answer to the open-ended questions.

Most FSL teachers report participation in PD through discussions with colleagues, reading professional literature, and attendance at one workshop each year. It appears that some provinces, instead of providing routine workshops and conferences, have moved into electronic delivery of PD. Teachers suggest that funding, relevant topics, PD during school hours, and French-speaking supply teachers will make PD more accessible to them.

Future directions

Almost 40% of respondents have considered leaving FSL teaching. This obviously signals the need for a follow-up study to discover their reasons and the role sponsoring associations could play to reduce this number.

Only 31.6% of respondents hold FSL specialist certificates. To what extent does this play a role in their ability to meet the challenges of FSL teaching and their future as FSL teachers? Sponsoring associations, in partnership with faculties of education, may be able to answer this question and ensure that faculty curricula reflect the resulting findings.

Survey respondents were mainly experienced teachers. As a result, we know relatively little about recent graduates from faculties of education and whether they are better equipped to deal with the challenges awaiting them. A study of teachers during their first years of teaching (graduates of a representative sample of faculties of education in several provinces/territories) could answer this question. Again, the sponsoring associations could undertake such a study.

Teachers expressed a need for PD to upgrade their language skills and learn about new FSL methodologies. The sponsoring associations could provide this PD.

Teachers expressed the need for resources reflecting Francophone culture as well as library resources, computer software. In this case, too, the findings point to a clear role for the sponsoring associations.

Negative attitudes toward French have been well documented in the literature and substantiated in our survey. The sponsoring associations could partner with the Office of the Commissioner of Official languages and Canadian Parents for French to improve the situation of the FSL teacher.

The full report is available in English and French at: The Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers (CASLT), www.caslt.org, The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), www.ctf-fce.ca, The Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers (CAIT), www.acpi-cait.ca.

Excerpted from the report’s executive summary. The researchers involved in the report are: Sharon Lapkin, University of Toronto; Alina MacFarlane, CASLT research officer; Larry Vandergrift, University of Ottawa.


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