Vincent Lam remembers Stephen Durnin
Yvonne Dufault likes to draw on students' personal experiences and current events to make learning as relevant as possible. She also encourages and facilitates extracurricular volunteer activities to promote character education and encourage global awareness and compassion.
Dufault has taught French, Special Education and ESL to elementary and secondary students in the York DSB for more than 25 years. She is currently at Langstaff SS in Richmond Hill, teaching Grade 9 Core French and three French Immersion classes (language and literature).
Confidence and engagement
The accommodation of varied learning styles and students' individual needs are common considerations for teachers today, and Dufault is aware of the need for multiple approaches in engaging her students. Teaching French within a predominantly English-language culture adds another element to the challenge.
She wants students to see that French is not just a school subject but a language for play and fun and life. So, she's worked with students and local public libraries to set up French-language programs on Saturdays. The activity-based programs – including musical kinesthetic activities, drama, arts and crafts and storytelling – allow students to integrate what they learn into the world outside of school.
The young children enjoy the activities. “They go home and teach the songs to their siblings and friends.” The older students fundraise and volunteer as leaders.
Tech and talk
Dufault feels that boys in particular often need special help in French. “Boys tend to get weeded out of French Immersion very young,” she says.
She adds, “It's a passion of mine – partly because my own son had some problems with language and reading.” She discovered that computer games were great motivators for strengthening boys' language skills and confidence.
She now has a number of grammar-based interactive games on her web site and students get to pick the ones they like. “They love them. Getting the right answer is like winning a prize.”
Dufault says that research into the ways that boys' minds work suggested to her that computer games could allow the boys who are less likely to speak up in class to focus. The games engage them in a way that makes them more comfortable and confident.
Acknowledging that she is lucky because all her students have access to computers and the Internet at home, she posts lessons on the classroom's web site. Assignments can be e-mailed and homework completed online, and parents and students always have access to class schedules and activities. This means that students can keep up, even when they must be absent.
In class this year, several students used Dufault's smart board to give presentations; others used video or conducted interviews via satellite during class.
Still, she doesn't depend simply on the buzz of technology. To help build personal confidence and language skills, she draws on her experience with Toastmasters International to teach public speaking, and sees this as an important element in her repertoire.
“They get so engaged when they are encouraged and feel confident. They become more willing to take risks when they see their classmates doing the same. Being appreciated and applauded by their peers is very empowering,” Dufault explains.
“Madame Dufault is unconventional,” says Alexandra Russell, who was in Dufault's Grade 11 class last year.
“We learn more with her. It's always about participation, oral presentations and having fun while learning.”
Fair and flexible
“I'm firm, fair and consistent but I'm also flexible,” says Dufault, summarizing her approach with students.
“My experiences have shown me that it's not the assignments, tests or marks they will remember. It's how we make them feel in their hearts. It's the hope we inspire in them to reach for dreams and explore possibilities. They carry that with them always. That's what's most important to me.
“They know I truly care about them.”
Dufault often refers to “speaking from the heart” and says that this guiding value arose from her exploration of aboriginal culture and traditions. She shares this interest with her students and has invited Mid-Day Star – a mentor, Korean War veteran and Ojibway elder – to share the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers with hundreds of students over the years.
“He says our greatest power is the ability to gently change how people think so that, like the eagle hovering in the sky, they have a clearer view of the horizon and yet appreciate the details.”
Mid-Day Star visited her Grade 8 class at William Berczy PS in Unionville in 1997.
“It was hot in the portable so we went outside to hear his stories of the teachings and watch him as he reverently held his eagle staff.” To everyone's amazement, four hawks circled overhead for the 90 minutes the elder spoke.
When she runs into former students who were there that day, they often ask, “Do you remember that day the birds came?”
“When students understand the benefits of embracing their responsibilities as well as their rights, it helps them to learn, and ultimately, to be happier and more productive members of society.”
Dufault began involving her students in volunteer programs in the early 1990s. Dancers for Harmony was a group bringing together past and present students from Doncrest PS, William Berczy PS, Langstaff SS and Bayview SS. They performed at environmental and racial harmony events, canvassed for donations and volunteered for community organizations that served children and families in need. That organization became Kids Who Care and eventually Teens Who Care and Les Jeunes Altruistes.
She contends that young people need meaning in their lives. And since students must complete a mandated 40 hours of volunteer community service to graduate, she asks: “Do you want to do your 40 hours and that's it or do you want to get more involved, have fun and really make a difference?”
Students at Pierre Elliot Trudeau SS in Markham wanted to do more and she helped them set up a bilingual Octagon Club in September 2002 – encouraging immersion students to pursue volunteer opportunities while speaking French.
“Our students learn much more from who we are than from what we profess. The key for me has been to help students lead by example.
“If we haven't touched the heart we have missed the mark.”
It seems Dufault is right on target.
In October 2006, Dufault received an Award for Teaching Excellence from the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP). In November she received a McGillivray Award from the Ontario Chapter of Canadian Parents for French, in recognition of her outstanding efforts in the promotion of French as a Second Language (www.cpfont.on.ca).
OTIP Awards are announced each year on World Teachers' Day. They are sponsored by OTIP and administered by the Ontario Teachers' Federation. They recognize teachers who use innovative methods, enthuse and engage students, reflect the multi-ethnic heritage of Ontario and encourage the creative use of technology in the classroom, among other criteria.
For more information or to nominate a teacher visit www.teachingawards.ca.