Learning about ‘learning’ in a French class

I have recently started a 3-weeks French class with the University of Lausanne.   I am amazed not only with my newly learnt French but also the learning design.   It is very well designed and in fact, much better than quite a lot of workshops I experienced in the corporate world.  Just look at the photo – the room set up is already so different from those traditional learning classes.   The circle encourages conversations which is necessary for learning languages.   When we need to write, we can move to the tables on the side.

Overall, the learning experience addresses very well a lot of the adult learning principles.

Here is a piece of the experience as an example.   In a session, the teacher asked each of us (18 of us) to write on a small card 4 French adjectives to describe ourselves (not physical attributes).   She then asked us to write on the back the adjectives in the opposite gender form e.g. ‘sportive’ into ‘sportif’.   She then grouped us into pairs and correct each other.   At the same time, she walked around to offer help.

In a subsequent session, she asked each of us to draw a flower with 5 petals on a flipchart paper.   On each petal, we wrote down a number which is important to us e.g. # of years in Switzerland, # of siblings.   We then took turn to take the stage and guide the others guess what the numbers stand for.  Of course, the conversations were ‘en français’.   She also facilitated the process it e.g. drawing the silent ones to try.

After that, she asked us to post all the flipcharts on the wall.   She then gathered us around the wall with all the adjective cards posted up, and asked us to guess which card belongs to which flipchart. Anyone with an idea was asked to just take the card and stick on the corresponding flipchart.   After all done, each flipchart owner walked around to check and make correction.

Here I see the above experience as an outstanding learning design (more though for technical topics instead of adaptive ones like leadership):

Fun… and safety – We had a lot of fun in the guessing activity.  Some started to make jokes on the number e.g. saying ‘107 must be your age’.   It engaged us into the process, and made us feel more safe to take risk in speaking up.   As most said, the key to learn a new language is to speak more.

Human Connection – The guessing activity motivated us to practice the new language by leveraging our inclination to connect.   After all, language is to connect people.   In addition, the resulting better understanding among each other created a better community for us to take risk in the class overall.

Repetition – One of the adult learning principles is to repeat.   By the above process, without noticing (and feeling bored), we repeatedly visit the adjectives a few times.   Moreover, since most put on numbers of same nature e.g. # of years in Swiss, we practiced repeatedly making similar statements.

Self-concept – Adult learners need to be autonomous and self-directing.    In the traditional language class, students read along following the teacher.   Yet, in the above-mentioned process, we basically discovered the learning ourselves.   The teacher is more to create the environment and answer questions.

Problem-centred – Adults are motivated to learn so they can perform a task or solve a problem.   All those statements we made in the guessing activity are those we will use in daily life e.g. ‘Vous avez 2 frères’ (= You have 2 brothers).

Learning styles – The whole process addresses different learning preference.   Taking VARK as a framework: Visual – Drawing the flipcharts; Aural – Guessing and chatting; Read / Write – Reading and writing the adjective cards; Kinaesthetic – Standing up to present and moving around to match the cards and flip charts.

There are numerous other parts of the program which are so well-designed.   Just too much for me to write about here.

There is however one thing other than the program design which amazed me.   This is something more subtle.   It is how the French teacher facilitated.    I will write about it in the next post.

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