La fête des mères, or Mother’s Day, may not immediately jump to mind as a cultural celebration. I have treated it as such for a couple of years now, and this has become an event that I and my students look forward to every year.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion around students who have difficult relationships with their mothers, whose mothers may be absent at this time of year, etc., and I believe that they are completely valid. I approach this topic with sensitivity, and respect for students’ comfort levels. I never ask them to do something they don’t want to do, and if they would prefer to recognize or celebrate someone else who is important in their life, we have an open discussion at the beginning of the beginning of the activity about the names of all the important female relationships students may have in their lives. They choose to recognize moms, stepmoms, foster moms, aunts, grandmas… whoever they choose.
Using real life cultural comparisons
In all of my second language classes, I have a year-long focus on cultural similarities and differences. Mother’s Day is celebrated in Canada, but also in many other Francophone regions around the world, including France, Belgium, Vietnam, Côte d’Ivoire, the French Antilles, Haiti, Mauritius, Senegal, and Luxembourg, among others. (Complete list with dates of celebrations here.) This is an opportunity to connect an event that we celebrate in our culture, and to talk about the cultural similarities and differences between how we celebrate and how this event is recognized around la Francophonie, in a variety of cultures. With older students, it’s also an opportunity to look at portrayals of mothers and women in literature and the arts, to examine their roles in society, or even women’s equality in Francophone regions. To start the discussions in our classes, we used simple Google Slides activities, which were made by two other teachers in our department and then shared among department members. We went over some of the different dates and places where Mother’s Day is celebrated, how the celebrations happen in some of those places, and some examples of typical cards and gifts that kids in those places would give to their mothers or other women who are important in their lives. You can see the French slide show here, and the Spanish slide show here.
Hands on activities – making cards
This year at our school, we celebrated Mother’s Day in the Learning Commons (our school library), and I and 4 other teachers brought our classes to participate in card making, learning about typical greetings that would be used, and traditions around this celebration in la Francophonie.
I made a schedule using a shared Google doc to divide up our different time slots and allow 452 students to participate in making cards over 2 days. We had space for about 60 students at a time, and so most classes had 40 minute time slots at either the beginning or the end of our 80 minute blocks. My French 11 class had a surprise leadership role when another teacher was away for a day. They partnered up with the French 8 students in the other teacher’s class, and helped them to complete their cards.
Each student chose a blank card and envelope, some patterned paper, a decorative tag if they chose to use it, and some stickers. We had scissors, markers, and glue available for students to use as they created, and we teachers helped with the wording and adaptations of the sample greetings.
Building a community of learners
In addition to the learning that took place, there is something special that happens when classes and grade levels are mixed. Students working together will build a sense of community among themselves, recognizing that they are part of a larger group of second language learners. We mixed French and Spanish classes and different grade levels, and the level of engagement among all of our learners was some of the highest we’ve seen.
Hands on creation with physical materials is also important for students to experience regularly, and not just in art classes. The skills and abilities that they learn in art classes can serve as communication tools to help express ideas in other curricular areas as well. For this particular project, I shopped for a selection of patterned papers that could be used to represent almost all of the cultural backgrounds within our school community. We have a very diverse school population, with 50 individual languages spoken. Our students took great care to select patterns and colours that will appeal to their mothers, aunts or grandmothers, and often described to their peers what it was about that colour or pattern that made them choose it.
In addition to the speaking, reading and writing we did around this event, celebrations like this tie in directly with BC’s core competencies, and with the First Peoples Principles of Learning.
Social responsibility involves the ability and disposition to consider the interdependence of people with each other and the natural environment; to contribute positively to one’s family, community, society, and the environment; to resolve problems peacefully; to empathize with others and appreciate their perspectives; and to create and maintain healthy relationships.
The positive personal and cultural identity competency involves the awareness, understanding, and appreciation of all the facets that contribute to a healthy sense of oneself. It includes awareness and understanding of one’s family background, heritage(s), language(s), beliefs, and perspectives in a pluralistic society.
And from the First Peoples Principles of Learning:
Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.