Students learning Accelerative Integrated Method speak the language with immersion-like rapidity
October 23, 2008
STAFF REPORTER – THESTAR.COM
An innovative way of teaching children French is gaining popularity across Canada, including in the Toronto area.
Vancouver educator Wendy Maxwell created the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM) to teach French because she did not believe her students responded to how French is traditionally taught, with students sitting in the class trying to memorize verb conjugation.
AIM teaches the language with gestures, literature, music and dance. Children learn how to speak and communicate first, then reading and writing follows. “With gestures there is an immediate transfer. Every single word has to be understood,” Maxwell says.
Ontario public and private teachers attended a workshop last weekend in Toronto to learn more about the program, and some teachers say the results are astounding.
“Once they learn how to speak, the written words come naturally. This imitates the natural way language is learned,” says Sylvia Duckworth, who has used this method for eight years in her grades 3, 4, and 5 classes at Toronto’s private allboys Crescent School.
At the workshop, Duckworth demonstrated AIM with her class of Grade 4 boys to an audience of teachers. Many were amazed by the immersion-like fluency of her students, even though they’re taught only 40 minutes of French a day. Duckworth’s hand gestures eliminate the need to use English in class. When the teacher gestures, the students speak in choral unison while interpreting the gestures. The gestures and words are strung together into sentences, she says. “What’s amazing is these kids are achieving levels of fluency comparable to French immersion kids and this is core French,” Duckworth says. “They can manage an everyday conversation in French.”
Many Ontario boards have signed on to the program, including those north of Toronto, in Niagara and the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board, says Maxwell, who started teaching in Toronto’s public board before moving to a private school, where she developed AIM.
“Many school boards have adopted it board-wide or are piloting the method,” Duckworth says. But for others, “I think it is just too revolutionary. Some language consultants can’t get their heads around it.”
Ministry of education guidelines are geared to accept only traditional programs, Duckworth says. “Some teachers are teaching it anyway, buying the kits with their own money and it’s $1,000 a kit, or they get their principal’s approval.” AIM first teaches children the 700 most frequently used words in the French language, says Duckworth. This includes irregular verbs, not usually taught until much later.
What’s amazing is AIM captures the attention and imagination of students, says Crescent School parent Andrea Wolff. “They don’t have the chance to let their minds wander or look out the window,” she says. “I am pretty impressed.” Edite Sammons, of King City’s Country Day School, says she was the first teacher to pilot Maxwell’s program in 1999. “I have learning-disabled kids, some with behavioural issues, and they are connected and learning. I just love it.”