Adventures in Teaching CE1 – Hooked on Phonics

So for those of you following my current adventures, I’m currently teaching CE1 students – the equivalent of 3rd graders in the US. I have 15 students, 3 boys, and 12 girls. I teach four days a week in the mornings teaching reading and math. I teach to the book. I need to prepare the students for when their teacher comes back from maternity leave.  I

One of the challenges with this group is that they are all weak French readers. In my village, you can thrive never speaking French and only speaking Moore. Note that I say speaking, not reading or writing. Many villageois cannot read or write Moore, and they really don’t have to. They don’t have to write papers in Moore, write speeches in Moore, or read the papers in Moore. It seems to be predominantly an oral language. People who cannot read French or Moore can tune in to local radio stations, Savane FM, La Voix de Paysans, or Radio Wend-Panga and they read the top news stories from the papers and television in Moore. There are also many people who translate during speeches or meetings for Functionnaires or Nassaras who don’t speak Moore fluently. When I asked the CM1 teacher if he could write or read Moore, he said that he could only read a little bit. He really has no need to be literate in Moore because all the communication is oral.

Also, surprisingly all the boys in the class are afraid to talk or answer questions. I frequently have to cold call on them and really nudge them to participate. Perhaps it’s all the girls in the class making them nervous…

Senior Management at PCBF is really pushing for early grade reading in local languages. I fully support this. I strongly believe that if the students learned to read in Moore that it would be much easier for them to learn to read in French, and they would be able to better communicate in their own local language. The problem is that there are currently no widely available materials for teaching this. There are some bilingual elementary schools in BF that were part of a pilot program that proved to be very successful. It’s a five year curriculum with corresponding teacher training. The teacher teaches their respective grade level, and then that summer they get trained to teach the next level and then teach it.  They start out in the first year teaching 90% in local language and 10% in French, and each year they increase the amount of French instruction so that by the 5th year it is 90% local language and 10% French.

Also, if the students develop strong Moore reading skills, their Math skills will also improve. During my student teaching I worked with a middle school teacher who did her undergrad in music education and her grad school in teaching language arts. She told me that she strongly feels that students who are weak readers tend to have a lot of trouble reading music. That makes sense. Music is essential a language, and in order to read music you have to decode symbols and interpret them.

I feel like one of the reasons why my students are having so much trouble with math is because they are not strong enough in Moore or French to really make sense of it all.

 ImageRight now I’m trying to emphasize phonics with my class. The challenge is that French phonics (compared to Moore and English) are very difficult. There are so many instances where words have silent letters, and each vowel has many different sounds. When you read Moore, each letter is pronounced in a word, and the vowels (most of them) only have one sound e.g.

Ne y windga , Zind-y, ligidi — i has the same sound in both words

(good afternoon, sit down, money)

Taaba, naaba, paga, raaga, rawa, safande – the aa sound is the same

(together, chief, woman, market, man, soap)

The CE1 curriculum starts with reviewing the previous year’s book (CP2). Most of the time the students never get through a course completely and there is a lot of material that has to be made up the next year.

A typical CP1 reading lesson starts with a sentence like this « Mireille regarde le soleil se lever. »

The emphasis on this lesson would be on the eille/eil sound. They would then add consonants to this set of vowels and practice saying them. While this is all in good faith, the second the students leave the class/the teacher turns her back the student start speaking Moore. There is no reinforcement of what the students learned such as having their parents read to them at night, or having a meaningful dinner conversation in French (culturally speaking it is impolite to have a conversation while one is eating in this country).

The other challenge is that each reading passage is exponentially harder than the last. The students have no incentive to read in French because the villageois don’t speak it and as I said previously, you can get along just fine just speaking Moore. For right now I’m just trying to be realistic and to prepare these students to start the CE1 book the next trimester when their teacher gets back from maternity leave.Image


Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid – little by little the bird makes its nest.


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