This past term I have been working on a Haitian-themed unit with my Grade Six class. It all started when we were asked to write some letters to the St Vincent’s School after the earthquake. Our school is working to support the Center for Handicapped Children and our chaplain thought it would be nice for those children to receive letters from similar-aged children.
I started out by doing some activities to introduce the geography, history and culture of Haiti and we worked on a simple reader which really opened the boys’ eyes to how lucky they are. We worked on the letters for a number of weeks – as well as learning how to structure a letter (as opposed to an email), there was a lot of new vocabulary to learn and along the way we also learned how to successfully navigate an online dictionary (you know, not picking the first translation that is given and actually reading through the list to see what works!!).
The letters were posted off just before our March Break and when we came back from vacation, I realised that time was slipping away and that I was not going to have time to complete a full-blown unit on anything new so I continued working on the reader for a while, and the boys practiced re-telling the story in their own words – paraphrasing is surprisingly difficult in a second language but they managed very well and ended up writing it in comic book form (How to get little boys into writing? Let them illustrate it at the end!)
I have been teaching the majority of these boys since Grade Three and we have enjoyed numerous visits from Le Chef à l’Ecole so I got to thinking that they might like to end their time with me by doing some cooking. Since we had briefly looked at cuisine in the early part of the unit, I decided to work on that in a little more depth.
I had the boys work in groups using a website where the language was fairly within their grasp. They chose three recipes they liked he look of, figured out what ingredients were necessary and translated the recipe into English. This took rather a long time (as in probably half a lesson every day for a couple of weeks) but they were super-engaged and who’s complaining when 12 year old boys are interested in French???
I collated the results and chose recipes that we were able to make using our very limited kitchen equipment (the boys were disappointed we couldn’t make a roast chicken!) and the boys were thrilled to hear that we would be making:
Acras de Morue (Fried Cod cakes)
Acras d’Aubergine (Eggplant croquettes) and
Crêpes de Bananes (Banana pancakes)
(they were disappointed that we wouldn’t be using “rhum vieux” in the crêpes though!!)
Since I didn’t want to be testing recipes for the first time on the last day of school with 20 twelve year-olds, I searched around and found recipes that were similar from places I could trust or sites that had reviews of recipes. They ended up being surprisingly similar.
On Monday, we headed out to the supermarket to buy the ingredients. The boys were most excellently behaved and fabulous little shoppers (the bag of Twizzlers I bought them at the end of the trip didn’t hurt to encourage best behaviour!) and we headed back to school with everything we needed (thanks Emilie and Brian for accompanying us!).
I have to say on the morning of the cooking extravaganza, I was quite hesitant – as I told them later, it really could have gone either way. But with the help of my wonderful colleagues, Anna and Brian, and the support of my fabulous boss, Catherine, the morning went off without a hitch. I was so proud of the boys and it’s moments like this that really make me step back and realise how lucky I am to work where I do.
My group worked on the Eggplant Croquettes. As you can see in the pictures above and below, the boys enjoyed working with the “weird” veggies!
The boys demonstrated excellent chopping and peeling skills and even though there was a lot to prep, they managed very well. They shared the utensils and the tasks and were simultaneously grossed out and overjoyed when the time came to make the croquettes with their hands!
Anna worked with the boys making fish cakes. I was very surprised at how many of them wanted to make these – I thought they would be the least popular item!
They had a lot of jobs to so (and apparently a lot of parsley to chop!!!) but their fish cakes turned out absolutely amazingly! Staff members were coming over at lunchtime to take seconds and thirds!! And the boys LOVED them!
I will admit we did the shopping and cooking in English because, well it was the last week of school (and I needed help from other teachers who don’t speak French). Also, this is the first time I have ever done a unit of work like this so it’s very much a learn-as-you-go process and, as we tell the boys, the process is just as important as the product. In this case, the product was delicious but next time, the product will be delicious and it will have been made using even more French. They did learn a ton of new vocabulary throughout the process leading up the the final two days which is positive but I definitely see room for improvement next time. Teaching is a constant learning process so I love to try new things and then try then again to see how I can make them better. I can hardly wait until next year.
In the meantime, I am so happy to have finished my time with the boys (they have a different teacher in Grade 7) on such a positive note. I am so proud of everything they accomplished over the past four years in French and was glad I was able to share something I really love doing (cooking) in a meaningful way with them! I sometimes wonder if we could start a new program in schools called “Le Français par la Cuisine” (French through Cooking) – I mean, I would sign up, wouldn’t you???
You can find the recipes by clicking the links below: