We’ve all had a teacher we’ll never forget. The teacher who always had snacks in the bottom drawer of their desk. The teacher who loved to laugh and made class fun. The teacher who tutored you after school many, many times because you just weren’t getting it checked in with you at home. The teacher who put the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales to music to help students memorize it. Teachers like this are all about creating meaningful experiences for their students, not just barreling through a curriculum. Seventh grade French students at St. Anne's-Belfield have a couple such teachers in their midst: Jessica Jacob and Karine Boulle, who decided to forego the typical end-of-unit test for a three-week group project where students bonded with each other while flexing a wide assortment of mad skills.
It was fun to incorporate the French we learned into doing something for our school. — Cassia d.V. ’27
Students were tasked with creating a pamphlet about St. Anne’s-Belfield (in French and English) that could be used to help recruit students from French-speaking countries. Starting at the end of October, Mme. Boulle and Mme. Jacob led small groups of students through a scaffolded process that included refining their French grammar and vocabulary, learning marketing and graphic design skills, hearing guest speakers, conducting interviews, and copious amounts of collaboration, compromise, and teamwork. This process lasted nine class periods, and as you can see, the results are phenomenal
On the practical side, students brushed up on their French vocabulary related to school and school life. They learned to choose their words deliberately to accurately convey the school’s mission and values. They learned the importance of knowing their target audience. They learned how to ask the right questions. They learned how to make their pamphlets neat, professional, and visually pleasing. While a final test might have assessed some of these skills, Mme. Boulle’s and Mme. Jacob’s interdisciplinary approach yielded a lot more than just vocabulary proficiency. On the personal side, students learned to think about St. Anne’s-Belfield and the school’s identity. When students within a group had different ideas about that identity, they had to listen to one another and find common ground. Students synthesized a wealth of information shared by their guest speakers -- Head of School Autumn A. Graves, and two members of the School’s communications team, Kelsey Dowling and Erika Hadland. They had to write in a way that ensured that the way St. Anne’s-Belfield students portray themselves aligns with how they’re perceived by the public. At the core, students seemed to agree that the sense of community at St. Anne’s-Belfield is what truly makes the school special, and it’s tricky to explain that to folks who’ve never set foot on the campus. As one group put it, “Our school is more than you can see.”
There’s a lot to be said for an interdisciplinary approach. Educational experts will testify that using multiple disciplines in project-based learning is the most efficient way for students to learn. Connections among subject areas happen naturally, and students feel their work reflects their unique personal qualities. This project in particular helped students realize their worth, both in the school and in the larger community. The result of such projects is so much more than what can be measured by a one-dimensional test. Tests might be easier (and faster) to grade, but sometimes it’s worth it to create an unforgettable experience that will stay with students for a long time.
The project was such a success that these educators will embark on another interdisciplinary adventure in February. This time students will pretend to shop for a house that is for sale in a French-speaking country, explain what drew them to that property, learn about getting a mortgage and what types of things affect resale value, and explore several other tasks associated with home buying. No doubt the students will love every minute of it!