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Cultures of France and the Francophone World

Professor Devan Baty during the canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Her blog post about the trip, "Pagayez Chers Camarades" offers context for her revised class on Cultures of France and the Francophone World."

FRE 303 “Cultures of France and the Francophone World” is a biannual course taught in French that serves as a bridge between intermediate and advanced level French courses.  

In addition to students majoring/minoring in French, it also attracts International Relations majors and occasional students taking it as an elective.

Overview

Dans ce cours, nous étudierons quelques bases de la vie politique, sociale et culturelle de la France contemporaine pour nous préparer à des discussions en classe axées sur la diversité de cultures en France.

Nous discuterons des différences qu’on constate entre la/les culture(s) française(s), la/les culture(s) américaine(s) et les cultures dites « francophones ».  Nous lirons aussi des textes sur les enjeux politiques et culturels de la “Francophonie,” et nous regarderons des films qui élucideront les expériences identitaires des minorités ethniques, sexuelles, régionales et religieuses en France. 

Nous mettrons en question les rôles de la langue française,  la laïcité et les valeurs de la République comme critères constitutifs de l’identité nationale et nous terminerons notre cours par une exploration de l’histoire et du patrimoine partagés entre la France et l’Amérique du Nord ; les USA, le Canada et, dans un moindre degré, les Antilles. C’est un cours de culture, et de partage. Ainsi, le format de la classe sera la discussion.

This course explores social, political and cultural life in contemporary France with an emphasis on France’s cultural diversity and the differences between French culture(s), American culture(s) and Francophone culture(s).  Through discussion of texts and films, we will grapple with the political and cultural stakes of « Francophonie» and explore ethnic, religious, regional and sexual identity issues and experiences in contemporary France. 

Following an examination of the roles of the French language, secularism and Republican values as founding criteria of French national identity, the course will finish with an exploration of the shared cultural history and heritage of France and North America ; the US, Canada and, to a lesser degree, the French Caribbean.

This course builds student proficiency in interpersonal communication, presentational speaking, presentational writing and interpretive reading in French at the high intermediate through low/mid advanced level on the ACTFL proficiency scale. The content and teaching methodology of FR 301 is designed to adhere to the ACTFL national standards of foreign language education: Communication, Cultures, Communities, Connections and Comparisons (known as the 5 C’s).


Goals

Updated Jun 02, 2019

FRE 303 “Cultures of France and the Francophone World” is a biannual course taught in French that serves as a bridge between intermediate and advanced level French courses.  FRE 303 rotates every other year in our program with another advanced-level culture-based course entitled “Beyond the Hexagon” in which non-hexagonal cultures (that is, Francophone cultures outside of Metropolitan France) are taught on their own terms, with less emphasis on cross-cultural comparisons with either France or our own American cultures. 

Past regional foci for that course have included the French Caribbean islands, the Maghreb and Senegal.  Previous iterations of this course had a more central focus on Metropolitan France with a brief and selective introduction to the geography, history and cultures of the post-colonial Francophone world.  

In this newly-revised version of the course, greater emphasis has been placed on the influence of French history and culture in North America, cross-cultural comparisons between American and French national identities and exploration of the complexities of hybrid Franco-American identities such as Acadian/Cajun, Créole and Métis identities.  

Pre-requisite knowledge/skills required: 

FRE 303 has a pre-requisite of FRE 205: Intermediate French Language.  Prior to taking FRE 303, students should have demonstrated competent performance as measured by interpersonal, interpretive and presentational performance indicators in French at the mid-high intermediate level of the ACTFL proficiency scale. 

It is strongly recommended, though not required, that students also complete FRE 301: Advanced French Composition and Conversation before taking this course. Under Cornell College’s block plan calendar, the content and tasks of our FRE 301 course is comparable to that covered by the second semester of an intermediate-level French language course under a traditional academic calendar.

Since FRE 301 is not a pre-requisite for FRE 303, the focus on culture in this course is designed to meet the needs of students ranging from the mid-intermediate to advanced performance level in French.  Instructors teaching FRE 303 assume that this is the first course wherein students are exposed to writing longer papers in French (~10 pp) and giving research-based oral presentations; accordingly, these assignments are scaffolded and supported by multiple one-on-one conferences with students.

Overview of revised course:

Learning Goals:

This course supports the Educational Priorities and Outcomes of Cornell College through emphases on knowledge, inquiry, reasoning, communication, and intercultural literacy.

Dans ce cours, vous allez (In this course you will) :

  • acquérir, articuler et justifier les bases d’un lexique culturel en français/acquire the basics of a cultural lexicon in French (KNOWLEDGE, INTERCULTURAL LITERACY, COMMUNICATION)
  • approfondir vos connaissances de la France et du monde francophone: son étendue géographique, ses données historiques et linguistiques/deepen your knowledge of France and the Francophone world ; its geographical span, history and linguistic complexity (KNOWLEDGE, INTERCULTURAL LITERACY)
  • analyser et comparer des phénomènes socioculturels contemporains en France et dans le monde francophone/analyze and compare sociocultural phenomena in France and the Francophone world   (KNOWLEDGE, INQUIRY, REASONING)
  • faire une auto-évaluation de vos compétences interculturelles par rapport à la culture française/self-assess your intercultural literacy with regards to French culture [Resources consulted for assessment of intercultural literacy included the following: American Association of Colleges and Universities Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value RubricDéfinir la communication interculturelle, cinfoAmerican Association of Teachers of French Cultural Competency Scale]. (INTERCULTURAL LITERACY)
  • parfaire votre français oral et écrit/refine your spoken and written French (COMMUNICATION)

Activities

Updated Jun 02, 2019

Under the intensive One-Course-at-a-Time (OCAAT) block plan calendar at Cornell College, students take one course for 18 days. 

During the first week of the block, this class focused on the culture and society of contemporary Metropolitan France using the textbook Alliages culturels: la société française en transformation  (Allen, Heather Willis and Dubreil, Sebastien. Heinle; Cengage Learning, 2014).  

This textbook was intentionally chosen for this revised version of the course for several reasons. It: 

  1. Presents key moments of French history that continue to impact contemporary French culture and identity;
  2. Foregrounds an intercultural approach to the study of French culture;
  3. Introduces American students to nuanced concepts of cultural identity, myths and biases that are informed by the disciplines of sociology and anthropology; and
  4. Includes separate chapters on Metropolitan France’s relationship with the wider French-speaking world and the International Organization of Francophonie and French-US history and relations that transition well into the final segment of the course.

During week two, the class segued from a focus on Hexagonal France to France’s historical and intercultural relationship with the US, the wider Francophone world and the European Union.  Selected chapters from the textbook Héritages francophones; enquêtes interculturelles focusing on Acadian and Cajun heritage, French history and influence in North America and Creole cultures provided background and useful angles of analysis for this course.  (Redonnet, Jean-Claude; St. Onge, Ronald; St. Onge, Susan; Nielsen, Julianna. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010)

In addition, research presentations on Francophone regions by the students themselves provided substantive content for this transitional phase in the course.  

From the mid-point of the second week through the end of the block, the class focused on key moments of intersecting French-American history that led to the emergence of hybrid identities in present-day North America: namely, exploration and trade in the 18th - 19th centuries of French Voyageurs and their relationships with native American communities; the deportation of the Acadian peoples from the present day Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island by the British government of Canada in 1755; and the emergence of a mixed Créole and Cajun culture in Louisiana.

Chapters from Héritages francophones and other textual and multi-media resources provided cultural content for this final segment of the course.


Dissemination Strategies

Students need guided support for developing research questions that result from their own process of authentic inquiry. I met individually with each student in the course at multiple points throughout the block to provide support, but will develop an in-class workshop for future iterations of the course that involves more peer-to-peer engagement.

A field trip or a guest speaker helps to enhance the impact of the Franco-American cultural content of the course.  We benefited from the campus visit and performance of a Cajun fiddler from Louisiana, Gina Forsyth; her performance showcased several songs that were traditionally sung by the Voyageurs. Students were able to experience directly how vestiges of French culture and language persevere through musical traditions in the US.


Resources and Materials

Teaching materials used for the course included the following:

1) Course syllabus for FRE 303: Cultures de France et du monde francophone

2) Guidelines for research projects/presentations

  • Final research projects (submitted in written form and presented orally to the class at the end of the term) constituted 35% of the final grade for the course.  Students were required to meet with me on multiple occasions throughout the course of the block to discuss their evolving ideas for and progress on the project. 
  • They were required to submit preliminary research plans, disciplinary definitions of culture and annotated bibliographies by the end of the second week of the term.  Final written projects with annotated bibliographies (20%) were due on the last day of the term and students gave 20-25 minute interactive oral presentations (15%) of the same project in class.

3) Guidelines for Francophone region presentations 

  • These presentations took place on Monday of the second week of the block.  Students selected their regions in consultation with me and were required to include an interactive teaching component to engage the participation of the class.

4) Study-Guide for Final Exam

  • A week in advance of the final exam, given in class on the fourth Monday of the block, I communicated the general four-part format of the final exam to the class.  Part A:  cultural lexicon including names, dates, events and key terms; students would need to identify/define each item and then provide 3-4 additional details that would situate the item in a cultural context and explain its relevance.  Part B:  geography section wherein students would be asked to locate items on maps.  Part C:  a short-answer section that focused on specific knowledge about French culture gained from their course textbooks.  Part D:  Analytical essay
  • Students met independently for one afternoon at the end of week 2 and discussed their ideas for each section.  They put their ideas in a Google document that was then shared with me and we met again as a class to discuss their ideas for each section of the exam.  
  • The collective process of writing the study guide for the final exam proved to be a valuable learning opportunity for the class.  Students debated, synthesized and prioritized what they learned. For the section on geography, they discussed not only what they should be responsible for locating on maps, but why.  They also made decisions about balancing content between Metropolitan France, North America and the wider Francophone world in a way that reflected the course’s emphasis on intercultural learning.
  • This process also provided me with a valuable learning opportunity for I was able to assess the parts of the course that were most and least impactful from the students’ perspective.  It was gratifying to see them apply the “big ideas” of the course to their own version of the final exam study guide. 
  • In the end, the final exam turned out to far more challenging than in previous iterations of the course.  Students appeared to be more invested in demonstrating to themselves and others what they had learned.  Overall, performance on the exam was above average across the board.

5) Guidelines for final reflections

This final reflection constituted 10% of the final grade.  It was assessed based on thoughtful completion of responses to all the given prompts.  It was intended to provide students with a structured opportunity to articulate both for me and for themselves how their learning in the course had impacted their understanding of French culture(s) and of their own culture(s).

Daily reflections and discussion questions

  • In order to foster a student-centered classroom, I asked students to submit daily reflections and questions for discussion in French to a course management page (Moodle) prior to coming to class. These daily responses, which constituted 10% of the final grade, were visible to all members of the class. 
  • I used them as a springboard for class discussion and prompted students to elaborate on their ideas and respond to the ideas of others.  These prompts served to make students more accountable for completion of the reading and gave quieter students more of a voice in daily discussions.

6) Reading List


Outcomes and Significance

FRE 303 Learning Objectives:

Acquire the basics of a cultural lexicon in French. 

  • Assessment: Students collectively compiled a list of key terms/figures/dates on which they were to be tested.  Their ability to define and explain the cultural relevance of the cultural lexicon was assessed in the final exam for the course.

Deepen your knowledge of France and the Francophone world ; its geographical span, history and linguistic complexity.

  • Assessment: Students’ knowledge was assessed through oral presentations, a final research project and a comprehensive final exam.

Analyze and compare sociocultural phenomena in France and the Francophone world.

  • Assessment: Evidence of students’ ability to achieve this objective was assessed in final research project.

Self-assess your intercultural literacy with regards to French culture

  • Assessment: Students’ self-assessment was evidenced in the final written reflection for course in which they self-assessed the impact of their learning in FRE 303 on their own cultural identities.  This required integrating academic knowledge with their personal experience and worldviews.  Metacognitive reflection on one’s own learning process and inherent biases encourages critical thinking about how knowledge is created and transmitted to others.  Students were obliged to articulate how their own understanding and experience of French culture has been filtered by their own cultural lenses and backgrounds.  Further evidence of students’ gains in intercultural literacy was evaluated in their final research projects, oral presentations and final exam.

Parfaire votre français oral et écrit/refine your spoken and written French.

  • Assessment: Students’ oral and written French was assessed through daily discussion and reflections, their oral presentations, the final research project and the final exam.

General Assessment of higher-order thinking skills-Application, Analysis and Synthesis of knowledge about different cultures:

This course obliged students to make cross-cultural comparisons between France, the US and the wider Francophone world based on information from reliable sources.  Through a process of authentic inquiry, students formulated their own culture-based research questions for final projects that were also presented to their classmates. Students were required to locate and embed a discipline-based definition of culture in their analysis; this definition proved to be a useful tool that helped them to articulate their research questions and the broader cultural implications of their chosen topics.

In this student-centered classroom, students were tasked with initiating discussion questions each day and were encouraged to critically assess the design and content of the course itself, particularly with regards to the respective time and weight given to different parts of the French-speaking world over the course of the block.  This led to insights and discussion regarding how centralization and privileging of Metropolitan French identity has shaped French and Francophone cultures. 

The inclusion of French heritage content that has shaped cultures and identities in the US was intended to provide students with the opportunity to defamiliarize themselves with their own American identity and landscape. Discovering less widely-known and studied French histories and mixing with Native American communities led to further engagement with how Native American history/experience is simultaneously visible (via geographical place names, symbols of sports team mascots and tv/film representations, etc.) and invisible in contemporary American life.

Sample excerpts from students’ final intercultural reflections for course:

Student #1: This course has not only taught me more about the cultures and impacts of cultures in varying francophone countries around the world, it has also allowed me to reflect on my own culture and the similarities and differences my culture as a white Midwestern United States citizen has with other cultures around the world. This course has also given me the tools to be able to talk about culture both with new vocabulary and with learning how to learn about culture.

Student #2: The concept of challenging ourselves as a class to explore and discover identities and values of other communities previously impacted by French colonization has influenced me on a personal note. After realizing how complex it truly can be to recognize how societies, communities, or identities have been created, it has inspired me to question my own self-belonging.

Student #3: In learning so much about the cultures of France and other francophone countries I have thought more about my own culture as well. This course has opened my eyes to more of the differences and similarities between those cultures and my own. I also learned more about the influence the French had on the world we live in today, even being in the US. Learning about Acadia and how that influenced Louisiana was also interesting because, even though I’ve never been to Louisiana, it’s a part of the country I live in, and I had never really learned about it as much as some other parts of the country.

Student #4:My learning in this course has shifted my understatnding about the Francophone World by giving me specific details where I had previous only had vague notions. I knew beforehand of the global presence of the French language, but was unaware of how many African countries, like Burkina Faso, have French as their sole official language. I knew that France’s colonial past was on five continents, but had no idea of the scope of influence they had on North America, let alone my home region of the Midwest. The coursework and class discussions showed me how much bigger France’s global influence was than I had thought. I liked the focus on present day results of historical actions. It was helpful to contextualize our learning by talking and reading about people for whom this is not just a chapter in a book. A good example of this was watching the short documentary about Michif. The readings had lead me to believe it was an archaic language lost to time and repressive government practices, but watching an Elder speak about her experiences in school and being taught her language was wrong and unfavorable reminded me that there are people alive today that do not see this history as being in the past.

Student #5: Before taking this course I had no idea the amount of influence French culture had on the rest of the world.  I knew that they had colonized a lot of countries but I really didn’t understand how that affects them still today.  After our numerous discussions on culture I feel as though I have a better idea on how France’s colonial rule not only had effects on the colonized countries, but also on France itself. 

I was also very impressed when I learned about how the French interacted with the native americans when they arrived to North America.  For example, the way the voyageurs and the coureurs de bois would learn the native languages and cultures and form mutual relationships with the natives.  This course has really made me question my roots.  Throughout this course I feel as though there has always been this question of what is culture, what is my culture, and where do I stand? 

The readings we read in class have really made me think about these questions at a much deeper level.  Before taking this class had I been I asked these questions I wouldn’t have even faltered when answering.  Culture is something you believe in, my culture is American, and I stand in the same culture as all other Americans.  I now know that I would have been completely wrong had I made that statement.  For starters, what does it even mean to be American? 

Do people who live in the busy city of New York have the same definition of what it means to be American as people who live on a ranch in rural Texas?  Probably not, but they are both American.  Secondly, it is very hard (nearly impossible) to find just a single culture that you belong to.  Truthfully you are a combination of lots and lots of cultures put together.

Before taking this class I had never taken a sort of historical/cultural learning class before because I had never had much interest in the material but now my interests have been peaked.  I also hope to learn more about international relations after learning about how mixed our societies and cultures really are. 

Lead Partner
Devan Baty
Professor of French, Cornell College
dbaty@cornellcollege.edu
ACM Program Funding
SAIL
Award
-
Funding Cycle
2017-2018
Project Duration
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