School Spotlight: Akiva introduces new elementary school French Language Lab - First of its kind in North America

Akiva School was founded in 1968 by a group of parents led by Rabbi David Hartman who sought to create a school community that would meet the academic, religious and social-emotional needs of its students. Five decades later and the school continues to pride itself on adhering to the same principles and goals. Their latest endeavour has been integrating an impressive Language Lab into their school, a first of its kind in not just Canada but North America, where students are truly immersed in the French language in creative, effective ways. Head of School Rabbi Grossman offered MList readers some insight on their lab and how it is revolutionizing the bilingual experience of their student body.

How is a Language Lab different from offering students time in a French class?

When you think about an average classroom where students are learning French, if you’re sitting with 24 students and a teacher who is lecturing, every student has approximately 20 seconds a day to speak French. And that is just not the way to properly learn a language. If you think about how we learned our first language, we spent the first few years of our lives constantly speaking it and we learned it naturally. So, how do you recreate that situation in a school where students will have the opportunity to speak and interact in French in a fun and engaging way? Through a Language Lab.

Where did this idea come about?

Language Labs have been around at the university-level for decades. I learned Hebrew that way many years ago in Israel. But it has never been done at an elementary school level. In the Language Lab, students have the opportunity to learn and interact with each other and with the teacher through this platform, speaking in French continually.

Where did the content for your Language Lab come from?

We found a company locally in Quebec, Robotel, that could provide the technology platform that would support the French content which we developed internally here at Akiva. The new Language Lab also supports our new Quebec culture and language program entitled, La ligue Québécoise, where we take students on field trips out into the real world to learn French: on the Métro, to the supermarket, and to various cultural installations. For example, we had a police officer come into the school so students could talk to him in French about real-life situations. Rather than learning French with a textbook, our Language Lab and new programming are authentic French learning experiences and engage the students in an exciting way.

Why do you think this approach to learning is so effective?

The Language Lab fits into our school philosophy, which includes individualism; we tailor learning to the interests of every student.  One of the reasons many students aren’t engaged in language learning is that they are not particularly inspired by the content the teacher is teaching. However, with our Language Lab and its custom content, a student can go in and the teacher can ask “what is interesting to you?” and that student can learn about that specific topic – all in French of course.  At the same time, we are able to follow all of the content guidelines of the Quebec government curriculum.

We have decorated the room with floor-to-ceiling murals depicting real-life cultural scenery, so the students feel like they are surrounded by French and Quebec culture while they’re in the lab.

Students can also go at your own pace, unlike a traditional classroom. If they need a bit more help with a certain part of the French language, they are able to spend the time mastering it without being embarrassed in front of their peers. Students who are precocious and advanced can also progress at their own pace. They are not dependant on the rest of the class.

To learn more about Akiva, visit the Akiva Open House Presentation on Wednesday, November 13th at 7pm.