Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, Then One Step Forward Again

One thing I’ve learned so far though the Cohort 21 process is that design thinking is not easy. It’s messy, there are inspiring and unique ideas coming at you from everywhere, and sometimes you can even lose sight of your initial goals.

At our last Face to Face session, while I was chatting with my group about building student confidence in my class, I brought up language portfolios. I’ve dabbled with them in the past, but they always fall to the wayside because there never seems to be time to maintain them. Someone in my group brought up trying oral portfolios. I loved this idea! I’d never heard of it before, and since our school is relatively tech-savy, I thought this could be something I might really  like to dive into.

So, at the end of the day, I landed on this How Might We…..? question:

How might we increase student confidence and competence with respect to oral communication in the classroom?

What I especially loved about the oral language portfolio ideas is that it would be an excellent “thing” to show everyone (and I don’t even know what I mean by everyone) at the end.

I had this idea in my head that I needed to have a “thing” when I finish this year with Cohort 21. No one has ever said this to me. It was an expectation I made for myself, so I could prove that this year was worthwhile.

Which led me to head down a rabbit hole about digital language portfolios. Not that digital/oral language portfolios are a bad idea. I still think having students go back and listen to themselves from months or years past might be a powerful tool in helping middle school students recognize the skills they do have and identify their areas of growth. But what I realized was that I simply don’t have the time to investigate them and still focus on increasing the actual oral communication in my classroom at the same time. And what I really want for my students right now, what my students really need right now, is to be speaking more in French. To me and to each other.

I looked at my HMW question and decided it’s too big. I needed to make my focus smaller. One thing at a time, right? @lmustard answered my call for help on Twitter, and chatting with her this week was so helpful. I wanted to refocus my efforts and time back to finding ways to help students speak more French in class, but I was worried that if I took a showable “thing” off the table that maybe I’m not doing enough? Would I still be getting everything out of Cohort 21 that I could? She reassured me that going through the design thinking process, following our action plans, and trying new ideas out in the classroom is absolutely enough. That Cohort 21 will bring us to the end of the beginning, but there is still so much more that can follow.

So, I’ve changed my HMW question, and I’m much happier with it.

How might we support our students while increasing interactive oral communication in the FSL classroom?

I feel like this is exactly what I want to think about and tackle right now, and my action plan from the fall still fits.

Thanks again to @lmustard for the holiday coaching session!



  1. Nicole Davies

    Hi Jenn,
    I think your reflection process to narrow your HMW question is a wonderful example and reminder for us all that it can take much thinking and experimenting with ideas before we figure out what we are really after. I relate with you how this process can feel as if a step has been taken back. Sometimes, it can even feel like we are starting over. But in reality, the process actually continuously moves us forward to the place we want to be. I also believe that this reflection process helps us to grow and improve our practice more than we realize.
    Thanks for sharing this, Jenn!

    • Meagan Hamilton

      I agree with you Nicole! I think that sometimes when we shift our focus, we (or at least I) tend to internalize this as a sense of failure for not getting it right the first time around. In reality, this is just design thinking in action and you’ve considered stakeholders, their wants and needs and you’re iterating on the process. All great learning!

      On another note Jenn, although I don’t teach French, (I teach Social Science and English), I think your emphasis on building confidence in oral communication is so so SO important for all classes. I’m constantly trying to get students to voice their opinions in class, and support their ideas with reference to the text. I’ve been testing out the Harkness model in some of my classes but now I’m also wondering if there’s an opportunity to incorporate some of your ideas about oral portfolios. I also think this could be a powerful tool for students to reflect on their growth and develop confidence. Perhaps there’s a way students could take ownership of this process, which might also help alleviate some of the pressure and time constraints teachers are already feeling.

      • Jennifer Bairos

        Thanks Meagan. If you end up trying out oral portfolios, please let me know how it goes, both the good and the bad. And I will do the same!

  2. Vanessa Wade

    Hi Jenn,

    I think the fact that you have amended your HMW so that you can have time to do what you feel is important in the classroom is a GREAT IDEA. And as the wise @lmustard said, you still will be getting a lot out of the Cohort experience, irrespective of what your HMW is.

    See you at the next F2F.

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