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Board Meetings
Core French in Ontario Public Schools - OPSBA Survey Executive Summary


September 18, 2007


Although more than 85% of Ontario students are eligible to be enrolled in Core French, there is a strong perception that the current core French program has not provided the foundation upon which a competence in French can be established.  A key concern is the dramatic drop-off in participation rates in Core French after Grade 9. This raises the question of whether there are more effective approaches to supporting the acquisition of French in Ontario schools.

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association surveyed its Member Boards to solicit direct input in response to the following questions:

•     Does your board have concerns about the outcomes achieved in the Core French program in either or both elementary and secondary programs?
•     If you do have concerns, what changes, if any, have you implemented to address these concerns?
•     Have you reviewed this issue in depth over the last 5 years?
•     Would your board be interested in having OPSBA lobby the Ministry of Education to convene a group of education stakeholders to review issues affecting Core French programming in Ontario schools to determine the best delivery model to meet learning objectives and achieve improved outcomes?

Feedback from School Boards

More than one-third of school boards responded and all but one indicated they had concerns with Core French either in terms of challenges in program delivery or with regards to the outcomes. A theme permeating a majority of the responses was that French is not sufficiently valued.  This was described in a teacher comment by one responding board:

“French is still not a “real” subject in many elementary schools as the French teacher is “just a relief” for the “real” teacher.  The French à la carte is an all too common situation in many schools.  Students who have “difficulties” are taken out of French.  If they need time to finish other “real” subjects they are taken away from their French class.  The result is that students and parents don’t think that French is that important and that they need not do the work. This attitude is often carried over into high school ……(If) French is important then let’s give it its due!”

School Board Concerns

Insufficient time allocated to Core French – the difficulty of delivering effective program in a forty-minute timeslot is further exacerbated by the time lost in moving from classroom to classroom.
Insufficient Emphasis on Oral Communication – the current Ontario curriculum is seen as overly biased in favour of grammar and writing and places inadequate emphasis on oral fluency
Lack of Classrooms Dedicated to Core French – due to lack of space, or funding for space, elementary schools tend not to have dedicated classrooms. This places limits teaching strategies since there is no permanent space to display resources that highlight French culture.
Lack of French Resources – there is limited availability of supplementary French language educational resources and inadequate access to opportunities to experience French arts and culture.
High drop-off rate of Students in Core French beyond Grade 9 – this is attributed to undervaluing the importance of proficiency in a second language combined with the strict credit requirements in the reduced four-year high school program.
Challenges of offering Professional Development to FSL Teachers – French teachers tend to be isolated from each other and this presents difficulties in networking and forming Professional Learning Teams.
Difficulties in Recruiting/Retaining Qualified French Teachers – there are challenges in recruiting French teachers, including the financial pressure of a search outside the province.

What Boards are doing to address challenges

Time Allocation – one example is revising timetables to reduce time lost in travelling from classroom to classroom
Oral Communication – some boards are using alternative teaching methods for oral language development such as the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM). Another approach taken is to match the teaching strategies of second language learning with those used in first language learning.
Core French Classroom – one strategy has been to provide special storage spaces for French teachers to allow them easier access to their materials.
Retention of Students in Core French beyond Grade 9 – boards are trying a range of strategies from adapting programs based on feedback from student surveys to using computer-based approaches that allow students to learn at their own pace
Lack of French Resources – reviewing materials from a students’needs perspective and accessing new resources such as AIM’s Histoires en action.
Professional Development – boards are offering voluntary after-school workshops, a DVD of best practices in Core French and incorporating FSL teachers into the literacy training given to first language teachers.  
Recruiting/Retaining Qualified French Teachers – boards have moved to earlier recruitment of teachers and/or have pool hired French teachers.                                                                              

Provincial Review of Core French in Ontario Schools – What should be examined?

Fifteen of sixteen respondents supported the suggestion that OPSBA lobby the Ministry of Education to convene a group of education stakeholders to review the full range of issues affecting Core French in Ontario schools. One respondent was not in favour of a lobbying effort that would require the allocation of staff time and resources at this time. Of those supporting an advocacy position, specific areas for consideration were identified:

Starting Core French in Grade 1 as is the case with all other subject areas
Examine solutions to the systemic shortcomings at the elementary level (à la carte, timetable difficulties, devaluing of FSL)
Flexibility towards enhancing Core French to allow for other subjects to be taught in French, e.g., math and drama.
Consider allowing students in grade 10 to have more electives
Consider French as a substitute for the fifth English/third language under the additional required credits like Spanish or other international languages
Include researchers in the review group to assist with decision-making on program effectiveness
Build more linkages between boards and Faculties of Education to allow input into appropriate preparation of candidates for delivery of French in schools
Build expanded opportunities for Core French teachers to participate in professional development and learning in the most effective teaching
Consider an approach to facility space calculations that better supports the delivery of Core French.


Conclusion

School boards largely want to deal with the challenges that are a barrier to students acquiring functional fluency in Canada’s other official language. While boards are introducing many innovations at the local level, there are systemic issues that need to be addressed at a provincial level.  

The current Ontario Curriculum for Core French is seen as too highly weighted in favour of grammar and written language, presenting a barrier to engaging students in the vibrancy of the living oral language.  There are structural issues around the allocation of time to French in the elementary school timetable and concerns about the barriers school boards face in allocating a dedicated classroom for French instruction.  At the secondary level, a high proportion of students arrive in Grade 9 without having developed oral skills in French or a propensity to enjoy the language; in addition, the credit system weighted as it is towards compulsory credits, combined with a devaluing of French as an important credit to have for a future career, serves to drive down the numbers of students interested in or prepared to continue French past Grade 9.

The Ministry of Education is due to begin a review of the French curriculum in 2008.  OPSBA should advocate for the establishment of a Working Group that can provide advance input into the review process.  That would make it possible to link the need for changes in the curriculum to the bigger environment within which French is taught and explore innovations that will inspire students to learn and benefit from both of Canada’s official languages.

Issued June, 2007                                               

© 2013 - Bluewater District School Board