Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to present a talk about using coding and robotics to support procedural language among French Language Learners* (FLL). The conference was with the Ontario Modern Language Teachers’ Association (OMLTA/AOPLV) in Toronto, Ontario and involved three days worth of workshops and talks. I mostly focussed on my work with coding in ScratchJr (for primary) and Scratch (for junior), as well as using Tickle to program robots (ex. Dash and Dot, Spheros, BB-8) in an FLL classroom. Examples of student work included assignments and lessons from my own classroom and my work with other teachers at my school.
Overall, I was very surprised at how new an idea this was to many French teachers. I often feel that Core French and French Immersion programs can be somewhat isolated from the developments in Educational Technology. Not surprising, however, was the general enthusiasm for integrating some of these ideas into classroom practice. The connection between learning oral French and coding to me is simple (and I’m sure that others have noticed this as well): programming involves negotiation.
There is so much pressure for French language teachers to strengthen oral language skills in our students. Coding requires an iterative process whereby language structures are practiced, re-ordered, and refined to achieve a goal. This process happens aloud when students are working in pairs. With appropriate teacher support, paired students must talk through their ideas, create code, and then go through a debugging process, while discussing how to improve their code. Additionally, presenting and discussing their programs, as well as their coding process, creates an authentic reason to have complex oral interactions in French as a class.
*FSL students refers to student who are learning French as their second language. I prefer the term FLL, since many of my students are learning French as their third or fourth language. What’s important to me is classifying these students as learners of French, not whether or not French is their second or third language.