TOL 020: Interview with Becky Kelley (Part 1) – Teaching French to American High School Students

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Becky Kelley is currently a French teacher at Windsor High School in Windsor, Vermont. She also spends her summers working at the Middlebury Interactive Languages Summer Academies, where she will be the French Language Director this summer. She has taught French and ESL in a variety of contexts, from France to California and from middle school to adult. She holds a Master’s degree in Teaching Foreign Language from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.  

In this episode, we talk about teaching French at a high school, and the challenge of motivating learners and helping them see the importance of learning a foreign language. We also talk about the importance of dialogue between teachers and their learners, especially in regards to learning expectations.

Time Stamped Show Notes

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[1:50] How Becky got started teaching French.
[2:25] Language was the main motivator, not necessarily teaching.
[3:36] Becky’s study-abroad experience.
[4:40] Becky first started off teaching as a language assistant – the “native speaker voice.”
[5:37] Becky’s teaching experiences so far.
[6:40] Becky’s current teaching context now – public high school in Vermont.
[8:44] Language is not seen as a priority for many learners because of their circumstances and background.
[9:19] Biggest challenge for Becky – conveying the value of language education.
[9:52] Spanish is the “default” foreign language in the US.
[11:00] How Becky handles this challenge – incorporating authentic material to make sure learners see how French is used in the real world.
[11:27] Maître Gims – a popular francophone artist nowadays.
[11:55] Making sure they see French as more than a school subject.
[13:29] Language class has gotten this reputation of “being fun” as opposed to being something to take seriously.
[14:59] Learner’s expectations of how class is supposed to be can influence how activities are received.
[15:59] There is a culture among the school that languages might not be as important or as “difficult” as other subjects.
[17:00] As language teachers we have the problem of, “Why is this important to me later in life?”
[17:53] How Becky sets and manages expectations with her learners in the classroom.
[18:35] Helping learners to see what the teacher is doing and why they are doing such things can give the teacher more credibility and make learners more aware of their learning.
[19:26] Becky makes the rubrics she uses to grade  her learners very explicit, so learners can see the subtleties in their progress.
[20:42] Becky talks about standards-based / proficiency-based grading – we try to give an example of what a standard is.

[22:57] Speaking language is a skill, “I want to know what they can do with it.”

Resources Mentioned:

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) – Here you can find the ACTFL Proficiency guidelines and use it as a tool to assess your learners, depending on your situation and contexts.  This type of guideline is much more detailed than generic level names.


Other Useful Resources:



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