Archive for the ‘American children in French schools’ Category

LÉcole, Part Three

May 21, 2010

At mid-term, just before the two-week April school vacances, James and Isabelle receive their first report cards. These are not the typical U.S. kindergarten report cards noting such things as “plays well with others” or “satisfactory progress.” French report cards, even in CP (the equivalent of kindergarten) students are given letter grades of A, B, C, D, and F in about twenty-five different categories. These are serious scholastic assessments, and the kids are doing serious academic work. We are delighted, of course, and James and Izzy extremely proud to discover that they have both earned nearly all A’s and B’s.

By this point, school has become for the kids better than being at home with the mothers. When we pull into the parking lot in the morning, the other kids rush the fence, waving and shouting “Bonjour, Isabelle!” and “James! James!” At the end of the day, they march out two by two with the other children, holding hands with their best friends, laughing and smiling. They all call “à demain” to Madame P. as they file through the gate, and James and his pal, Pablo, burp “au revoir” to each other as Pablo heads for the bus. Madame P. herself tells us that James and Isabelle’s reading and math and language skills are excellent. “They are just like my other French students now,” she says. “No difference.”

Primary education in France is much more rigorous, we think, than the equivalent grade level in most U.S. schools. Certainly, different skills are emphasized, and the methods of instruction are different.

Math work

We are particularly impressed with the mathematics work that James and Isabelle are accomplishing, including (as we near the end of the school year) the addition of four or more three-digit numbers in a column, basic geometry, and measurements and weights. They will, of course, have to learn inches and feet and quarts and gallons and pounds and ounces when we return to the States, but they’ve got the metric system down. According to “Trends in International Math and Science Study, 1995,” France ranks 13th in the world in math education (U.S. is 28th), and we believe that the primary school foundations we’ve seen have a lot to do with that achievement.

Cursive cahier

Both children have learned to write in cursive, which they call “French writing,” and which is hardly taught at all in American schools these days. They are allowed to play educational computer games when their work is done, so they have also learned some basic keyboarding skills.

Vocabulary instruction is a phonics-based program, and we’ve all learned a lot of new words from the worksheets of sounds and words that are our homework nearly every night. There is also an emphasis on memorization, both of poems and songs, which the children then recite in front of the class.

The reading curriculum is where we find the only flaw in French education for our kids, though it is certain that both James and Isabelle have developed excellent French accents and pronunciation, and that they can sound out almost any word. The whole class goes to the school library every Friday, where each child can check out one book for the week to take home, but the class reader is a Xeroxed text from which we read about two pages every night, repeated in school over and over again. It takes an eternity to finish one book, long enough that we’re all completely bored by the time we finish it. Of course, we’re book people, and we’ve been taking the kids to the library (including the public library over in Samatan here in France) weekly to check out a stack of books heavy enough to require a shopping bag almost since they were born. The kids certainly know those three or four books they have read in class, and those books do include some difficult vocabulary. At home, we’ve continued to read books in English as well. We can’t complain too much since now James and Isabelle can read in two languages at only six years old!

One of the many poems we have all memorized...

When we look back at the first days of l’école in Saint Araille, it’s almost impossible to believe the adjustment James and Isabelle have made. Their teachers and support staff at the school have been amazing and wonderful, very supportive and just tough enough. Both of our children adore Madame P. and work hard to please her. If we were able to stay on here, she’s already said that they are ready for the next level. School is both fun and challenging in France (and in French), and we hope this experience has given James and Isabelle even more important lessons in living, making them open to adventure, ready to take risks and confident in their abilities to make new friends and learn in new ways (including speaking in burps!). We hope they have learned to be brave and a little excited in the face of the new and different… even—back in the U.S. next fall—first grade!

L’Ecole: Part Two

October 23, 2009

Today is Tuesday, James and Izzy’s fourth day of school. Already everything is better. As Madame P said, “mieux et  mieux, petite à petite”; “Better and better, little by little.”

On the weekend, we tried harder to speak French at home, and it seems to have helped some. We play French Scrabble Junior and French Monopoly Junior. I model for the children, asking Susan, in front of the children, how to say almost everything in French: Qu’est-ce que c’est? I ask the children to speak to me in French, to help me learn French. Poor old Mom is a little slow, you know. I need you to help me. I buck up my courage and ask for help from the cranky woman at the gas station while the children watch. I practice my most important phrases aloud: S’il vous plait. Pardon. Je ne compre pas. Parlez vous English? Je ne parle Francais. I try to read road signs and advertisements and children’s books aloud in French, talking through the ways I try to decipher the language. Susan makes more flashcards. She asks the children what they need to be able to say and tries to help them remember the phrases.  James wants a turn on the scooters at recess, but we cannot find the French word for scooter in our dictionary. He says he does not want to play soccer, but that the kids follow him around at recess asking him to play. This seems to make him angry. He is intimidated. But by the end of Friday, he reports that he’s been making faces and snoring sounds with a blond boy named Louis, and he laughs hysterically in the re-telling of this. Louis might be a friend. Izzy says that she went with a group of girls for a little while and watched them twirling and lifting each other. She smiles and laughs.

On Monday, we had another small scene at the after-lunch drop-off. The children don’t want to go to a new class. They like Madame P. They don’t want to be with the littler kids. “I’m embarrassed,” James wails. But we leave them, and Madame C. shepherds them off, and by the end of the day at 5:00, they report that it was fun. They get to have a whole third recess, and they both got to ride the scooters as much as they wanted—no competition from the big kids. They sang songs, including “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in English. Plus there was a snack time and Madame C. gave them each two containers of applesauce.  James’ notebook includes completed worksheets on the “ou” sound, on which Madame P. has written Très bien! Izzy reports that she now has three friends. Both kids have suddenly realized that attendance at their birthday party (coming up at the end of November) will be sparse if they do not make friends, and so they are motivated. And Wednesday is a day off from school, right in the middle of the week!

We know we will have more dramas. The vacation will surely set us back, and we don’t even want to speculate about the first day of eating in the cantine or the first bus ride, but, for now, we have cleared this hurdle. Mieux et mieux, petite à petite.