Patterns of French literacy development among elementary students in Mali
The purpose of this study was to identify the patterns of French literacy development in the writing of elementary students in public schools of Mali. In Mali, French is acquired in school as a second language. In this West-African country, French used to be the sole medium of instruction through which elementary students were introduced to school literacy. But since 1987, a new methodological innovation, called Pédagogie Convergente, was introduced in the schooling system which enabled some schools to use a Malian national language together with French as media of instruction. This study proposes to investigate one Pédagogie Convergente school, which used Bamanankan and French as media of instruction, and one school that uses only French as medium of instruction. One 3rd grade and one 6th grade were chosen in each school to be the focus of the study. The data was collected over a whole school year, which lasted from October 2003 to June 2004.
The study was a descriptive qualitative study that used data from classroom observations, interviews, and document analysis to set the background of the study by describing the sites, the participants, the curriculum and the classroom instruction. In addition to those data, students were requested to write a story based on a picture prompt which was analyzed in order to identify the literacy patterns students developed in their writing in French. The patterns that were identified at the discourse and linguistic levels were compared across schools and across grade levels. Furthermore, the patterns in discourse were juxtaposed with the linguistic patterns to examine the linguistic features students mobilize to express themselves in writing.
The findings revealed that French remained the major language of instruction in both the Pédagogie Convergente and the Traditional French schools, at both grade levels. The classroom observations showed that the instruction remained teacher-centered and focused more on the teaching of French grammar, with little emphasis on the writing process. When students' performance on the writing test was examined, similar patterns were observed among all the students on both sets of discourse and grammatical dimensions. Specifically, findings indicated a global low performance of students on each criterion of the evaluation rubric, in discourse. The analysis of the discourse features in students' writing showed that students were able to provide comprehensible texts although they were unable to provide an adequate organizational structure for their stories. At the level of linguistic features, students recorded a low performance on verb agreement which constituted a major focus of instruction. In fact, students performed better in the use of articles with nouns than in any other grammatical item discussed.
Suggestions made from the study included the integration of writing across the curriculum, the organization of professional development workshops for teachers, the promotion of additive bilingualism and the anchorage of a bilingual education program in teacher training programs.