Esha Bhardwaj’s experiential education placement was the offshoot of a leadership opportunity that should open some doors for her as she pursues the next steps in her career.
Bhardwaj, a fifth-year York University student who will graduate next year from the Concurrent Teacher Education program with both a BA (Spec. Hons.) in history and minor in French, and a BEd, is the co-founder of the Brampton East chapter of Canadian Parents for French, a non-governmental organization that promotes bilingualism in English-speaking Canada. She spent nine months last year doing a volunteer placement for the organization as part of the course “Studies in Community and Their Schools.” Once a week, Bhardwaj spent five hours tutoring Grade 4 and 5 students (primarily) in French and helping them with their French-language homework.
“A lot of students had homework, but they kept coming even if they didn’t,” Bhardwaj said. “I created activities for them.
“I showed them that French is fun and that it’s spoken all over the world. I wanted students to have pride in where they came from. For example, many students who were of African descent did not know that French was the national language of many African countries. When they learned of this, they felt a sense of pride that they belonged to countries where French was spoken.”
Bhardwaj believes that, as Canadians, being fluent in French is a real asset and can provide students with many opportunities, such as future jobs with the federal government.
“French is an asset for me and, as a future teacher, I hear that there are many job opportunities if I can teach it,” she said.
Taking part in this placement was an excellent learning experience for the future teacher. Bhardwaj and her York University supervisor worked together to come up with ideas for enjoyable French learning activities.
“I learned how to create lessons that teach students while making them fun and relatable,” Bhardwaj said. “I also learned more about what students wanted to learn and made my curriculum fit their needs. I tried to incorporate things they would use in their everyday lives.”
Her novel approach to learning was very popular with the students. “I created a scavenger hunt using audio aids, so the kids would listen to what I said in French as an audio clue and would have to find the item,” she said. “They loved it. It was amazing.”
She and her students met at the public library, where she led sessions focusing on learning colours and greetings and other basic information they would find useful. Sometimes, the weekly theme focused on holidays, and Bhardwaj used those occasions to illustrate diversity.
“Not everyone celebrates Christmas, so I made sure to give my lessons in a way that everyone felt included,” she said.
Although her placement technically finished at the close of the university semester, Bhardwaj carried on for another month because she enjoyed the experience so much. The demands of the current academic year don’t leave her time to tutor another group, but the chapter that she helped found continues to thrive.
“I feel very proud of the impact I’ve had,” Bhardwaj said.
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus