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Thèmes in the NECTFL Review
The NECTFL Review #77, January 2016
Reviewer: Andrzej Dziedzic, Professor of French, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Program: Delfosse, Geneviève, Eliane Kurbegov, and Parthena Draggett. Thèmes: AP French
Language and Culture.
In 2012, the French AP Exam was revised in order to better reflect the changing methodology of foreign language teaching and more accurately evaluate students’ interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational communication skills. Language and literature, previously tested as two separate components, have been combined as one three-hour French language and culture exam, consisting of multiple choice responses to authentic print and audio texts and free responses to both print and audio text prompts. Students preparing for the AP exam are now required to develop and practice their communicative proficiency using questions related to six major themes: Families and Communities, Global Challenges, Personal and Public Identities, Science and Technology, Contemporary Life and Beauty, and Aesthetics. A thorough examination of these subjects helps develops an awareness and appreciation of tangible and intangible products, as well as practices, perspectives, values, attitudes and patterns of social interactions within the French and Francophone cultures.
This new textbook, aptly entitled Thèmes, has been specifically designed to address the required AP components and help students develop personal opinions on a variety of current and relevant topics. The three seasoned pedagogues who wrote it for many years have served as AP readers, table leaders, questions leaders, and AP Development Committee members. As a result, the personal experience and expertise they jointly brought to this ambitious project has greatly enhanced its scope and quality.
Following the College Board’s AP French language framework, the textbook is divided into six chapters corresponding to the six AP themes. Each chapter is further divided into six sections, “Contextes.” The first four sections include selections of reading passages accompanied by questions, vocabulary practice activities, a listening comprehension unit and a culture unit. The authentic texts cover a wide range of topics of interest to our students ranging from Facebook, smartphones, iPads, and gastronomy, to sustainability and humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders. The last two sections, “En bref,” are shorter and structured around two components “Développement du vocabulaire” and “Plus à fond,” which will prepare students to interpret and synthesize information and details form graphs, statistics, opinion polls, charts, tables and images. The ability to interpret and synthesize is one of the most important skills necessary to succeed on the AP exam.
In the introduction the authors point out that there is a logical and meaningful purpose to each of the textbook’s sections, which is to help students understand and connect the skills of engaging, preparing, reading, responding, listening, connecting, exploring, synthesizing, presenting, and consulting. In order to fully develop and practice these skills, the authors have included a wealth of authentic printed documents, audio materials and web resources, announcements, and advertisements. Some of the literary selections introduce important texts by authors from around the Francophone world: Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, Pierre Assouline, Roch Carrier, René Philombe, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and Maryse Condé, among others.
At the end of each chapter students can watch and discuss authentic videos. The “Cinémathèque” section includes Le Petit Cyrano, Sois Mignonne, Entre les Murs, La Dame dans le Tram, and several other films. All videos are accompanied by a variety of pre- and post-viewing activities, making it easier not only to understand the storyline better, but also to be able to interpret, discuss, and analyze it.
A rigorous study of various forms of writing is encouraged in the last section, “Intégration du thème,” of each chapter. Students will have an opportunity to synthesize the material in preparation for various types of written assignments focusing on one or more aspects of the essential questions. The written tasks include a comparative essay, a research report, a narration, an argumentative essay or a film critique and are conducted in three stages: pre-writing activities, rough draft, and a final version. Throughout the textbook students will also be encouraged to practice writing and responding to e-mails, another important component of the AP exam.
The accompanying online ancillary, the Supersite, is known to many of us who have previously used other Vista textbooks. This password-protected website features a wide variety of textbook activities, online-only practice, audio, video, interactive grammar tutorials, reference tools, teacher-student communication, and more. Students can easily complete and submit activities for practice and assessment purposes. A separate Supersite for teachers includes a gradebook to manage rosters, assignments, grades, quizzes and exams, answer keys for all program materials and tools for online communication. Both websites are user-friendly and easy to navigate. All textbook activities with the S icon will refer to additional online activities assignable on the Supersite. The instructors can monitor their students’ progress quickly and efficiently through online formative and summative assessments using pre-made quizzes, tests, exams as well as other assessment tools they will be able to create by uploading open-ended activities. Last, but not least, a Teacher’s Resource DVD Set is also included with the textbook.
At the end of Thèmes the authors added a number of useful appendices addressing both grammatical and lexical items. Rather than present all aspects of French grammar, the textbook highlights and pinpoints structures that present a particular difficulty to English-speaking students, such as the difference between the passé composé and the imparfait, the present and past conditional, various categories of pronouns, passive voice, and the often challenging concept of the present and past subjunctive. The explanations are written clearly and concisely without overwhelming students with unnecessary detail or obscure irregularities in grammatical paradigms. Learners will also find a list of most common communicative expressions used to compare, contrast or show hesitation or approval as well as a list of false cognates and the most common mistakes in grammatical gender, structure or pronunciation. Appendix H fully explains strategies students will need to understand and adopt in order to succeed on the exam. Finally, a complete practice exam is included in Appendix I.
The textbook is based on the most recent second language acquisition methods that recognize the complex interrelatedness of vocabulary usage, linguistic accuracy, and cultural awareness. Language structures and grammatical constructions are addressed inasmuch as they facilitate communication and not as an end goal in themselves. The main focus of Thèmes remains a meaningful exploration of culture in both contemporary and historical contexts. Special emphasis is placed on the use of authentic source materials and the integration of language skills. Thorough discussions of the six themes will allow students to communicate more effectively in French, draw cultural and linguistic comparisons between the francophone world and their own, and use the target language in real-life settings. By fully contextualizing the interactive classroom activities, Thèmes will ultimately motivate and encourage learners to synthesize material from a variety of authentic sources and form their own personal opinions and convictions, which is an expected and desired culmination of their learning experience.