Archive | February, 2012

The second semester

28 Feb

The second semester started of like the first, with one significant difference. Instead of feeling confused by my place in the classroom, my role with most of my new teachers is now well-defined: I am charged with helping the students prepare for things, specific things. In my class of BTS, it is their certificate exam this summer. For my terminals, we are preparing orals for the Bac. In one class of seconds, I am helping them work on a project about gender discrimination. With another, we are preparing for the Cambridge certificate.

These exams are quite difficult. Students are given a document. It could be an advertisement, a text, a cartoon, a role play. They are given 10 minutes to prepare and then must talk for 10 minutes. At first, the teachers told me to “practice” with the students. They’d provide a document for the student. He or she would prepare for 10 minutes and then come with me to play it out like an exam situation. I would be the stand in for the examiner. After the 10 minutes, the student would scurry back to class and I was to provide feedback for the teacher, including the range in which I thought the student would have scored had this been the real deal.

Ideally, each student should talk alone continuously for three to four minutes, after which the examiner, or me, intervenes to ask questions and deepen the discussion. The scenario rarely plays out this way. In fact, most presentations fall flat in around two and a half minutes. This, I find, is due to lack of a plan. The students are given 10 minutes to prepare, and I am not sure they know what to do during that time.

The teachers often look to the assistant to help the students refine and reformulate what they say. My question is: how can I correct them if they do not know what to say? There are many battles that come alone with the work of a language teacher. As a language teaching assistant, one has the right to choose which of these to take on. The one I’ve chosen is strategy.

Even when the teacher asks me to “play”, I more often than not abandon my role as examiner to offer tips to the student. It’s all a formula, and that is what I want the students to see. The information they need is right there on the document, regardless of its nature. They could easily, and with no loss of credit, burn through an entire two minutes of talk time simply describing the document in detail, which, of course, is something they are expected to do.

I work well using lists – my tasks always seem less daunting when I have them laid out in front of me – so I am testing this strategy first. I give the students a list of very straight-forward questions, almost an order of operations, to help them figure out what to say. For example, when looking at an ad, they must say who is advertising the product, what product is being advertised, and for whom is it being advertised, among other things. If they answer each question as thoroughly and detailed, which they are more than capable of, they will have plenty talk about on their own until the examiner takes over.

To my surprise, this tactic is working well. First of all, they actually copied down the questions I gave them. Secondly, they asked questions as we worked! There is nothing more satisfying to me at this stage than a student who is invested enough in what we are doing to ask questions. I am thinking that I will even type up the “formula” for all of my students. I can try to tell them something about how, next time I see them and we practice, I better not have to remind them about the method, but I don’t want to push it…

La galette de Roi

8 Feb

Tandis que tous mes compatriotes louisianais savourent les King Cakes (galettes de roi en forme de couronne faites de brioche au glaçage aux couleurs violette, verte et or), nous en France, on se délecte d’une tradition pareille : la Galette de Rois. J’étais contente de découvrir que cette tradition existe en France. Jusqu’à présent, rater le Mardi Gras et tout ce qui vient avec cette saison suscite le plus les sentiments de nostalgie et de mal du pays parmi notre groupe. Heureusement pour nous, on a quelque chose à nous réconforter.

Les galettes de roi françaises sont faites de pâte feuilletée fourrée avec frangipane (ma galette préférée), fruit (la galette de pomme ressemble à « Apple Pie »), crème, chocolat, etc. La tradition, qui célèbre l’Epiphanie, veut qu’on « tire le roi. » Une fève en porcelaine est cachée dans la galette. La personne qui « tire la fève » devient roi pour la journée et a le droit de porter une couronne en carton d’orée. Les fèves étaient, j’ai entendu d’une Française, originalement des bébés et symbolisaient le bébé Jésus, comme on trouve dans les King Cakes en Louisiane. Actuellement, les fèves sont souvent des personnages mais peuvent représenter n’importe quoi ! Il y en a qui les collectionnent.

(En France, j’ai plus de chance en tirant la fève que j’ai eue en Louisiane en tirant le bébé. J’en ai tiré trois !)

While my fellow Louisianians are savoring their King Cakes, we in France are taking pleasure in a similar tradition: La Galette de Roi. I was happy to learn that this tradition existed in France. Until now, missing Mardi Gras and all that comes with Carnival seasons has stirred up feelings of nostalgia and homesickness the most in our group. Fortunately, we have something that offers us a little comfort.

The French Galette de Roi is made of a flaky pastry and is filled with frangipane (my favorite), fruit (the apple one tastes like apple pie!), chocolate, cream, etc. The tradition, which celebrates Epiphany, calls for “pulling the king.” A porcelain figurine is hidden in the cake. The person who gets it becomes king for the day and wears a golden crown made of cardboard. A French lady told me that these figurines were originally in the shape of babies to symbolize the baby Jesus, like what we find in our King Cakes in Louisiana. Now, they are usually random characters but could be nearly anything. There are even people who collect them.

(In France, I have more luck getting the fève than I had in Louisiana with getting the baby. In fact, this season, I got three.)

My first taste (unseasonally took place in December… commercialization is to blame I suppose)! My friend got the fève that time…

Two of my fèves: a ship and a little blue guy!

What the whole cake looks like (I found this one online… not sure why I never took a picture myself…)

Must wear the crown with pride!

St. Malo

2 Feb

Après avoir habité en Bretagne pendant trois mois, en fin je me suis rendue sur la cote, à la ville de St. Malo. St. Malo est une très petite ville dans le nord du département Ille-et-Vilaine dans la région de la Bretagne. Je suis restée dans La Ville Intra-muros, une vieille partie de la ville, presque une ile, entourée par une muraille qui donne sur la Manche. On a passé tout l’après-midi en se promenant entre les bâtiments et en dessus de la muraille. Le temps a fait très beau, mais pas aussi belle que la ville et la mer. Même les photos ne les avantagent pas,  surtout pas le bleu breton qui est absolument fantastique.

After having lived in Brittany for three months, I finally made it to the cost, to St. Malo. St. Malo is a very small city in the north of the department Ille-et-Vilaine in the north of Brittany (the same departement as Rennes). I stayed in La ville Intra-muros, an old part of the city, practically an island, surrounded by a wall that looks onto the English Channel. We spent the afternoon strolling between buildings and on top of the wall. The weather was absolutely beautiful!… but not as beautiful as the town and the sea. Even the photos do not do it justice, especially not the Brittany blue that was just incredible to see.

Beautiful old boat just outside of the Intra-Muros. In season, I believe you can climb on and take a tour... and maybe even ride out on the water.


View of the Intra-Muros as we approached it on foot. This part of town is only a 15 minute walk from the train station.

One of the spots where you can enter to the beach and walk up to the clear blue waters of the English Channel.

The crystal clear blue water I was just telling you about... 🙂

Every old French town has at least one old beautiful church.

Anchored boats in low tide. View from on top of the wall.

Another gorgeous view from atop the wall.

Canons that once protected the city of St. Malo.

Looking out to the sea... just before sunset.

Danger: strong tides!