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AIM-ed a warm welcome in French second language..

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AIM is a holistic approach to learning a second language with explicit strategies to help students experience a rich and positive learning environment. The foreign language teaching methodology enables students to become confident communicators in the target language.

AIM is a holistic approach to learning a second language with explicit strategies to help students experience a rich and positive learning environment. The foreign language teaching methodology enables students to become confident communicators in the target language. AIM provides students and educators across Canada a nonverbal communication methodology that promotes memory retention, receptivity to the subject matter and multisensory input of a symbol system that facilitates language acquisition. Since its creation, educators such as Shannon Bourbonnais from Vancouver have seen tangible results on an everyday basis. Student success is consistent as AIM meets the FSL curriculum expectations and achievement levels. The basic premise of AIM is that students learn through gestures. All the vocabulary presented in AIM is selected according to frequency and function in the natural process of language acquisition. A high emphasis on verbs but also includes other vocabulary and structures important for fluency development. Theatrical performances, song and dance are all part of the methodology to intrigue the students’ curiosity in the target language.

 In a quest to use AIM in my FSL classroom, I began to do some research. I found myself inspired and motivated before even using the methodology in my classroom! Research shows that AIM meets the curriculum expectations for oral communication, reading and writing in the target language as well as provides a highly active, participatory experience where students speak throughout the class. AIM gives the students ample opportunities to be involved through flexible grouping with a high emphasis on cooperative learning.

 

Since the FSL curriculum is changing and the approach to second language learning is evolving, I knew that AIM could bridge the gap between past practise and present knowledge. As stated, the AIM methodology focusses strongly on the curriculum with reader texts, inquiry based learning and the AIM Action Oriented Approach.

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However even with all this information I needed guidance. The HOW and WHEN of the methodology. Also were there any downfalls to using AIM? Through my research I found a couple of points that peeked my curiosity. I knew that although spontaneity of self-expression is encouraged, there is little left to chance in the introduction and use of vocabulary. However, this is only in the introductory stages as AIM delves deeply in a meaningful learning context. Each 50-hour kit is based around a single story — folk stories for the younger learners and social issues for the older. I also noticed that an educator needs to be fully committed to change as they need to learn the gestures (not entirely in one go, but enough to be a few classes ahead of the students) and also be committed to embracing the entire methodology for the greatest success.  It is an entire methodology, and a switch in thinking yields the best results. 

Therefore, I decided to contact a few educators who know the methodology and have been using it since its debut. One Canadian educator, Edite Sammons, shared her experience and how she began using AIM. Sammons explained, she was the first educator to begin to pilot AIM back in September of 1999. At that time, Wendy Maxwell (the AIM creator) had entered her students into a competition and after hearing her students speak in the contest, Edite Sammons was convinced that these students were from an immersion background. She approached Wendy as the students had such natural fluency and accent. Sammons was absolutely astounded and knew that she had to do whatever it was that Maxwell was doing in her FSL class. Learning with Edite Sammons about the AIM was very informative as she had tangible advice and answered all of my questions. After connecting with Edite Sammons and other AIM educators in school board, witnessing some of their classrooms and observing how the students’ use the method I knew that students’ success in my FSL class would be prevalent.

Another Canadian educator I interviewed, Sylvia Duckworth, has also been using AIM for over 13 years with enormous success. Duckworth shared that AIM completely changed the way she teaches FSL. She explained that she no longer focuses on rote grammar and dry verb conjugations rather oral communication is the focus of her class. Duckworth also noticed that her students are more ardent towards learning a second language and that they are motivated to speak with fluency in French. Ducksworth continued to explain that since communication is the focus in AIM, automatically it becomes more effective as a teaching tool. AIM, as explained by Ducksworth, is extensive and creative yet with the use of story and drama, provides and engages students to become motivated when learning.

So…I slowly began to introduce the AIM to my FSL students in grades 4-8. At first the students were very curious about the methodology as it is something foreign to them. Literally foreign! My junior as well as intermediate students have taken a liking to the methodology and are always excited to learn the plays, start new kits as well as share their learning with the rest of the school and our community. I have found that AIM makes language acquisition accessible to all students. Because AIM carefully scaffolds frequently used vocabulary, and engages all learning styles through the use of gestures, arts based learning, music and the target language only rule, all students are achieving results; including the most reluctant learners. The gestures are then combined with theater, storytelling, dance, and music to help students remember and use the language. AIM has been relevant to my students and is becoming very practical for me to use. My students have become engaged and passionate about what they are learning and speaking in the target language. 

In conclusion, after observing AIM lessons, interviewing AIM educators and seeing the changes in my own students’ second language development, it is very obvious that AIM is a methodology that works and keeps students engaged. The amount of French spoken in the classroom is incomparable as well as the students are engaged and it becomes intrinsic to them. It is authentic and adaptable to any students’ needs. Many of the language and literacy skills that students acquire by using this method remain well past their formal school years. The acceleration in which the students learn the second language is exceptional. AIM is a wonderful and creative methodology that quickly motivates and engages students to participate whole heartedly in the second language learning environment.

By: Natasha E. Feghali


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