After La Vie en Ville, my French 8 students move into this unit about global dwellings and tiny houses. I've reimagined this house unit (Novice High/Intermediate Low proficiency target) from 2015 to invite students to both explore the diversity of dwellings in our world through a social justice lens, and let their creativity run wild as they design tiny houses for their ePals in a project-based learning (PBL) sub-unit. This unit reflects work that I did with Natalia DeLaat in preparation for our ACTFL18 session, Yes, Novices Can: From Global Awareness Toward Social Justice in Year 1. Many thanks to Natalia for all of the wisdom and resources she contributed to our development of this unit.
Here is the completed template for the entire 20-day unit, using a mash-up of Helena Curtain's & Thomas Sauer's unit templates.
Here are my daily lesson plans for the unit. Again, they may not make a lot of sense to you but I always wonder how other folks roll this stuff out to learners on a day-by-day basis, so I'm putting it out there in the spirit of sharing.
My authentic resources for the unit can be found on my Pinterest board.
My hook for this unit is the children's book Igloo à Tipi, which introduces some key words for describing homes in French. Next I use this slideshow of world dwellings, which gets students thinking about the influence of climate, geography, natural resources, and culture on where we live. Although I like starting with a children's book for the sake of comprehensibility, my students need to see actual dwellings in order to get a real sense of what we're talking about. Natalia gave me the great idea of having students match these images to teacher-written descriptions of the dwellings that recycle the key vocabulary for the unit:
Dollarstreet (see photo at head of post) and its corresponding TED talk are an excellent resource to get students thinking about what's the same and different in global dwellings and why (spoiler: economics!). The site is available in French and features many French-speaking countries in Africa and Europe, as well as Canada. Although I introduced students to the site with a sort of webquest (see pp.11-14 of the student dossier), it's also ripe for using the See, Think, Wonder thinking strategy to get students making observations and asking questions.
As the unit shifts from global dwellings to tiny houses, I wanted students to think about why anyone might choose to live a small space. I teach in a wealthy suburb full of (tasteful) McMansions, so voluntary simplicity is a bit outside the community's norms. The video for the song Etre et avoir by Zazie was a strong visual to get across the idea of living with trop. From there, students investigated a variety of infographics and websites devote to tiny houses. Lisa Shepard helped me design a series of lessons using the IMAGE model from Glisan & Donato. I did not get to use these as fully as planned, but I still hope to incorporate more of them in subsequent years. Check out the full student dossier for several resources about tiny houses, as well as this Edpuzzle and this one. Toward the end of the dossier, students start to learn about the problem of inadequate housing: who's affected, where, and how a few organizations are using tiny houses to help in the French-speaking world.
Once students knew about tiny houses, it was time to think about linking that knowledge toward a final product. Until this year, I included a dream house project in this unit. Student feedback about that project convinced me that the unit needed a refresh. When my district offered PBL training through the Buck Institute last summer, I leapt at the chance to redesign this unit with a new focus. The sub-unit on tiny houses is the result of this training. You can hear more about the tiny house PBL project by watching this video, where I was featured with several colleagues trying PBL, made for our annual professional development day:
There are several aspects of PBL that work well with proficiency-oriented thematic world language instruction, among them: addressing real-world problems, investigating authentic resources, and presenting to an authentic audience. In those realms, this project was great because it addressed a current topic of interest, used lots of authentic resources from the French-speaking world (and a few not-authentic ones, written by for and/or for learners), and gave students a real purpose for interacting with their ePals (see video for details). I also love PBL's focus on reflection and feedback which I find key to establishing a growth mindset. However, I struggled to achieve a perfect PBL-ACTFL standards mind-meld, especially when it comes to 90%+ use of the target language. Here's why.
First, PBL emphasizes students asking their own questions about the subject matter. My students are just barely able to ask original questions in French at this point in their language-learning journey.
PBL encourages collaboration with the community and having a kick-off "entry event" with an outside speaker. We had wonderful guest speakers (see video), but none of them spoke French. Even if I had found a French-speaking architect who could present three times in one day to my classes, I'm not sure my students would have understand a native speaker unused to presenting to language learners.
Next, I hesitated to have my students work in groups on this project because I wasn't confident they'd be able to navigate the complications of group work in French. I ended up having them work individually, but incorporated daily paired check-ins and peer assessments that were heavily scaffolded so they could take place in the target language.
Finally, PBL's focus on creating a final product for a public audience meant that I was constantly compromising between staying focused on developing my students' language skills and allowing them to devote the time and care that it takes to create a truly polished-looking presentation. I wanted students to sketch a quick floor map and focus on writing about it - they wanted to spend days using a website to develop an elaborate, 3D design. Ever since I learned about "Grecian urn lessons" from Cult of Pedagogy, I've pretty much abandoned fancy slideshows, elaborate art projects, and anything else that takes my students' focus away from the language. But I get that my students wanted to show their ePals something really great-looking. When asked what I should change about the project, nearly everyone said they wanted more time. I think this was due to their desire to add more polish to the aesthetics.
In terms of the nuts and bolts of the project, here were the steps:
1. We sent a questionnaire (via Google Forms) to our ePals to learn what they wanted in a house. This included some questions about the environmental benefits of living in a tiny house that aligned with the reasons given in an infographic we studied (see dossier p.25), so that we could compare our ePals' priorities to those in the infographic. I also had my students take the survey so that we could do a cultural comparison.
2. Students studied their ePals' responses and began to design the house using this guide. Eventually each student had a slideshow that they presented pecha-kucha style in class in small groups, and students gave each other feedback using this sheet, and took notes on the presentations using this table. They then incorporated that feedback where possible, and recorded their presentation as a video for their ePal. We used Explain Everything for this because it allowed students to time their slides and then record audio to accompany them.
3. I used this rubric to assess the projects, and students wrote me (scaffolded) letters to show what they thought of their own work. We also surveyed our ePals to see what they thought of the designs, and how well they understood students' French. I was careful to use the same phrases in the scaffolded letters as I did on the ePal feedback survey questions, so that students could compare how well they were understood with what they expected. Overall, students developed a lot of confidence in their ability to convey a message in French via this project. I was also pleased to read that one of my less-engaged French 8 boys thought this was the best project we'd done so far - he was my target audience when I moved to this project from the dream home.
If you've made it this far, you can see that this unit had a lot of moving parts and remains a work in progress. I look forward to streamlining it in years to come!