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Board Meetings
Executive Summary


September 18, 2007


A Comparison of AIM and Non-AIM Grade 8 Core French in the Bluewater District School Board:
Students’ French proficiency and teacher and student perceptions


Context

The Bluewater District School Board (BDSB) commissioned an evaluation of two pedagogical approaches to teaching core French at the Grade 8 level. Some of its Grade 8 classes have adopted the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM) and others have not yet done so. The rationale for investigating possible differences between AIM and non-AIM approaches lies in the desire to improve student achievement in French so that more students will stay in French beyond the required Grade 9 year. This would help to realize the federal government’s goal of dramatically increasing the number of bilingual secondary school graduates by the year 2013.

The mandate of the project was (1) to document the present practices of grade 8 core French teachers in terms of their current approach (AIM or non-AIM) to teaching French, (2) to compare the proficiency of students in AIM and non-AIM classes, and (3) to document the perceptions of students and teachers with experience in both types of classes.

Method

The research team used an observation scheme and field notes to document present practices in 8 non-AIM and 8 AIM classes. The latter classes had been exposed to the AIM approach for at least two years. The final sample consisted of six AIM classes (n = 125 students) and six non-AIM classes (n = 135 students). These classes were given a four-skills French proficiency test package designed for Grade 8; the test data were scored and appropriate statistical comparisons were made. Student and teacher questionnaires were developed for the project, to elicit perceptions related to the pedagogical approach, and, in the case of the students, information on their motivation to learn French. Finally, a subset of 94 students was interviewed.

Findings

Present practices in core French classes. The classroom observations indicated that there is considerable variation within both AIM and non-AIM classes. Individual classes could not be neatly categorized into AIM or non-AIM as there was partial implementation of key AIM characteristics in many classrooms; however, we did classify them according to the approach that predominated. Both types of classes were generally teacher-centred, and many features of student participation were similar across AIM and non-AIM approaches. The use of French was more prevalent in AIM classes.

Student achievement in French. Statistical comparisons of AIM and non-AIM classes showed no differences in achievement on any of the listening, speaking, reading or writing tests of the Grace 8 core French test package. We also compared the test results within and across program groups for boys and girls, and found only one result that was statistically significant, in one case favoring girls and in another, boys. The statistical difference was not strong, so the analyses by gender were inconclusive. Similarly, we analyzed test results by school, and found that the between-school differences, where they existed, could not be explained by program (AIM or non-AIM).

Student perceptions. Students tended to be positive about their core French experience, whether they were in AIM or non-AIM classes. Questionnaire responses indicated a similar degree of motivation for both groups. The majority of those interviewed felt that it was important to speak French in French class, and they were generally satisfied with their exposure to French in the classroom and their overall use of the language. A considerably higher proportion of AIM students claimed that they spoke French “often” or “all of the time” in French class. AIM students felt more confident than non-AIM students about their listening and speaking skills. They were not as positive about their writing skills as the non-AIM students.

Teacher perceptions. It was not easy to classify teachers as AIM or non-AIM as most in each group had attended some AIM training sessions or workshops, and/or were using some AIM materials in their classrooms. Most teachers felt confident about their teaching in the core French program.

Discussion

Although the classes were categorized as AIM or non-AIM based on observational data, the AIM teachers could not be considered to be fully trained in the approach, and some non-AIM teachers incorporated AIM characteristics in their teaching. It is encouraging that students and teachers in both AIM and non-AIM classes are quite positive about their experiences in the core French program in the BDSB. If full implementation of AIM were to take place beginning at the grade 4 level in multiple classrooms in the future, it would be important to undertake another evaluation of the program, provided that a suitable number of non-AIM classes is available for comparison purposes.




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