PhD studies inform teaching – and vice-versa

Tina Brunelle, French Language Acquisition Subject Coordinator at the Prep, is working towards her doctorate in education at OISE, and her choice of dissertation topic was influenced by her experiences teaching in UCC’s Middle Years Programme (MYP).
A 20-year veteran of the College, Brunelle wanted to explore “the gap between the depth of knowledge and understanding required by the MYP and students’ abilities to communicate in French.” Her dissertation research is formulated around strengthening students’ attainment of “significant knowledge and understanding” in their second language.
 
She’s looking forward to both involving and sharing her findings with her colleagues to maximize improved outcomes. “I think it’s such a wonderful opportunity to address the needs of our own students.”
 
Brunelle plans to incorporate three different MYP approaches to learning – communications, self-management and thinking – into French lesson units to see how they affect students’ communication of their knowledge and understanding. A fourth unit, taught using the current methodology, will serve as the control for the experiment. Brunelle herself is creating the lessons for each approach, ensuring that she or any of her colleagues will be able to teach the units.
 
“This will ensure that all of the French students participating in the study will benefit from each of the interventions without impacting the validity of my research,” Brunelle says. 
 
The study won’t be launched until a few months down the road, and will involve permission from families of students participating in the research. In the interim, Brunelle is poised to test the methods she’s been developing. She plans to keep a journal as she’s teaching each unit to capture her thoughts and experiences, and will request that any participating colleagues do the same. She looks forward to the process of assessing student success with each approach at the end of the units. And afterwards, she’ll be conducting focus groups on each method with both teachers and students.
 
Brunelle will then analyze her findings and present them to both her department and to the College to measure the viability of incorporating any of the approaches into lessons on an ongoing basis.
 
“I also hope to publish my findings and make them available to everyone,” Brunelle says. “I’m hopeful these strategies should be transferable, regardless of the language that’s being taught.”
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