At crossroads of music, March Madness and language, Lenox students have fun while learning French

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LENOX — It was a form of musical March Madness, with a French twist.

All seventh- through 12th-graders studying French at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School took part for the first time in an international educational program, "Manie Musicale du Mars" (Musical Madness of March), by voting for the best French music video of the year. The contest was modeled on the recent bracket-based NCAA basketball championships.

"Music is a form of communication, a powerful tool that crosses borders, goes over walls and enters our homes via the internet," said World Languages Department Chairman Sam Harb. "When we listen to a song and view the video, we get immediate insight into the culture, language and social issues of a people. I can't think of a more effective way to bring language and culture to my students."

The 16 videos forming the tournament's brackets were viewed in classrooms and in homes starting March 19. The contest ended Tuesday, with a winning video chosen by weekday online voting, not only by Lenox students, but by more than 10,000 in 687 schools across the U.S. and internationally.

The winning song, "La Meme" by Maitre Gims, had peaked at No. 1 on the French Singles streaming and download chart.

"Using the classic American tradition of a bracket was an entertaining and fun way to learn about French culture," said ninth-grader Benjamin Heim.

"The kids come to class singing songs that they have listened to on their own," said French teacher Anne Dupuis. "They are adding them to their playlists. I love hearing them sing in French, and they don't realize how much it is improving all aspects of their language learning."

The winners of the contest at Lenox were eighth-grader Thomas Leger and seventh-grader Ryan Alderton. Each winner receives an iTunes gift card.

"The competition is a great mixture of cultures," said Logan Weibrecht, a sophomore. "With everything going on in the news and with all the negativity, it's nice to see kids from all over the world coming together and bonding over music."

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"Manie Musicale," now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of French teacher Stephanie Carbonneau at York (Maine) Middle School and Michelle Fournier, who teaches French at Falmouth Middle School, up the coast just north of Portland. They teamed up to create the website and the ground rules for the competition.

"I came across this program while taking an online course this past summer," Harb said. "It was a course on using technology in the world language classroom offered by the University of Minnesota. I researched it and decided to include it this year in our program. I shared this discovery with Ms. Dupuis and she jumped right in."

The organizers in southern Maine noted that each student votes once for their favorite song from the daily contest playlists on YouTube and Spotify. Students are urged to vote for the song they like bast, rather than video. The videos are age-appropriate for middle-schoolers as well as high school students, and many of the performers are teenage pop stars.

Carbonneau said the playlist for the bracket was based on top 10 lists and students' suggestions, followed by screening of the songs for appropriateness.

"Language learning is hard and you need to make it fun, engaging and appealing to your audience," Carbonneau told the York Weekly newspaper. "So, these are middle school students with earbuds in their ears and music is a logical connection for them. If I can get them to learn some of the language through music, then we are heading in the right direction."

For many schools, including Lenox, March is challenging with lots of classroom and standardized testing, no vacation and no days off.

"`Manie Musicale' keeps the doldrums at bay," Carbonneau pointed out. "Doing this is in our best interest, because a lot of these kids are in sports and are connected to March Madness, so this helps us find success in the classroom."

After 22 Maine schools added the program to their curriculum, Carbonneau and Fournier decided to take it international. Now, it has been enlivening the school day for French classes in Canada, Greenland, Bermuda, Australia, New Zealand, five African nations (including Algeria and Ethiopia), Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia and South Korea.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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