Working together makes it easier to assimilate knowledge, and makes for a wonderful - almost intergenerational - encounter.
I've been teaching English at a High school in the Assomption network since 2008, and I'm in charge of the English Language, Literature and Foreign Culture specialization in the final year of high school. How can we make teenagers understand that they actually have an important role to play in their environment? How can we make their learning more concrete? How can we help them mature ? How can we support them in this process of construction ? How can we encourage their creative and artistic spirit ?
These are some of the many questions I'm confronted with on a daily basis in my job. One of the compulsory "themes" in the final year of high school helped me to answer these questions, at least in part : "Self expression, self-construction - Initiation, learning".
Through visual, fictional, cinematographic and real-life works, my students discovered how the child in us is guided by a "role model" and how it also guides the adult, keeping his or her dreams alive and his or her eyes full of curiosity and hope, whatever the environment, hostile or benevolent, here or elsewhere, yesterday or today.
And all that in English, of course !
One of my colleagues also teaches English at a middle school in Paris, and we decided to get our students, so far away and so close to each other, to "meet".
Sixth-graders write greeting cards to senior students
My colleague had her sixth-graders make New Year's cards. This is a task they are able to do in their first year of learning: introducing themselves, their tastes, their family, their origins, their hobbies and so on. They are therefore capable of communicating with a third party, even if only briefly. Their assignment was to write a New Year's greeting card to a senior student, introducing themselves and getting to know each other. They also had to illustrate their card: an all-round task, as it were, also calling on artistic skills, as the work had to be meticulous in every respect.
My colleague then sent me her students' cards, which I distributed to my students. They were very excited because I had told them I had a surprise in store for them, and they hadn’t a clue of what it was, so they were very curious to find out what the "surprise" was!
I then distributed the cards of the "little ones" to my "big ones" (whom I called my "old ones" as a joke... the age gap between a sixth-grader and a senior is so wide that there's almost a generation gap !) My students had to take note of the instructions given to the sixth graders and evaluate their cards, taking into account the level expected during the sixth year. This wasn't as easy as it sounds, because you have to be quite sure of what is expected at this level. They also had to comment on their work. The commentary wasn't easy either, as everyone had to be careful to be fair and to start with a positive remark to encourage the students to understand what they do well, to help them improve on what they're less good at.
Tutors from the last year of secondary school answer the young sixth-formers
Then, in turn, my students had to answer their younger correspondent, using expressions and vocabulary that were just a little more complex than those used by the sixth-grader, in order to stimulate their desire to learn without discouraging them with expressions that were too complicated to understand.
As I collected my students' work, I was moved to see how seriously they had taken their tutoring role: the cards were each more beautiful than the last, some students had done remarkable illustrations and all had written a clear, friendly and very personal card. Several of them asked me questions as they were correcting or writing, to make sure they hadn't made any mistakes. Two students weren't at school on the day the work was due, but they managed to get it to me on time, as they knew I had to send it all back quickly, knowing that the "little ones" were beginning to find time was taking too long !
What's more, the work was not graded (it's difficult to assess this type of work in figures), yet my students did it conscientiously and invested themselves fully. Group photos were exchanged between my colleague and me, so that our students could see each other all the same.
What conclusions can we draw from this collaborative effort ?
There are many, of course. Collaboration, mutual aid, cooperation, co-assessment - all these values are essential to the learning process, and have been brought to the fore in our two classes. The fact of not being "rewarded" with a grade (especially for seniors who are anxious to get good results for their future studies) clearly shows one thing: our teenagers are much more altruistic and generous than we're led to believe! And not just altruistic, but capable of empathy, naturally: to put yourself in the place of someone smaller than yourself and know how to give them what they need to help them grow (knowing that you will also mature in the process, of course), what a great display of maturity and humanity!
All my colleague and I had to do was provide the necessary tools, but it was our students themselves who did the work, proving that they are eager to learn and grow, and that they evolve in a climate of trust that is conducive to learning.
I wish to thank my colleague from the Collège Saint Georges in Paris and her young students who made this possible, and also, of course, my final year LLCER students at Saint Ambroise high school in Chambéry.
Frédérique Lévêque and Elvire Crespo
English teachers at Lycée Saint Ambroise- Assomption Chambéry
Key words: metacognition- collaboration- mutual aid- tutoring- joy of sharing- altruism