Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Author: Jennifer Bairos (Page 1 of 3)

Dipping My Toes Into Equitable Classrooms and Social Justice Education in FSL

Like many of us, I am taking a hard, uncomfortable look at my curriculum and the resources in my classroom. What is missing?  What needs to be removed? What work do I still need to do?

In an effort to begin learning what I need to learn, I took two courses over the summer: Designing for Equity from the Global Online Academy and Social Justice from the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages.

GOA states that they are “deliberate amateurs” in this work, and I feel similarly.  I am trying to be intentional, but I am a beginner, and I am making mistakes.

I’m a list person. Lists help me think clearly. I know the deep DEIJ work in our classrooms is messy and very un-list like, but, as a beginning place, I would like to share affirmations I learned about the work I already am doing and new ideas that have me thinking about my next steps.

Designing for Equity (GOA)

Affirmations:

  • Relationship matter. Getting to know your students each year is essential. Tell your students you love them. Make it weird.
  • Teach students to love themselves.  As yourself, “How does our curriculum and instruction help students to learn about themselves or others?”
  • Help students identify what they can do in our subject areas.
  • Project Zero Thinking Routines
  • How can we use assessments to empower learners to see/choose their next steps?
  • Include student interests in assessments as much as possible.
  • Stop assessing for deficit.
  • Check in with students regularly. (What did you learn? How did you know? Include a spot for students to identify an actionable next step.)
  • Replacing the term “exceeding expectations” with something else. Try exemplary, exceptional, distinguished. The article Why The Label Exceeds Standards Doesn’t Work helped me solidify my thinking with this idea.
  • What is the power dynamic in your classroom and in what capacity are you willing to share that power with your students? Students deserve great teaching no matter what.

New ideas:

  • What stereotypes exist about French culture? How might we explore these?
  • Look for more opportunities for guest speakers.
  • Reflect on our resources. Who is missing? What new resources do we need to find?
  • What can we do to reduce a student’s cognitive load?
    • Formatting notes: .gifs can be harmful to learners with photosensitivities, italics can be harder to read, highlighted text can be missed by colourblind students (try a call out box instead or use bold text.)
    • Link notes: Try to make links more descriptive. Instead of “click here”, try Video or Resource.
  • Is your physical space welcoming? What classroom decor can you bring into the space? Is there room for student thinking? Is there something that represents your school?
  • Creating a “playlist” as an introduction to a new unit. Example of a Grade 8 French playlist.
  • When preparing for an assessment and a student is feeling anxious or low try, “This is not a quiz about you. This is a quiz about __________ French skill.”
  • The power of specific peer feedback!

Social Justice in the Language Classroom (ACTFL)

Affirmations

  • Language teaching is linked to colonialism. It makes claims about where a language is spoken and is not spoken. It sets the rules for “correct” use of language. We need to eliminate the idea that language learning is an exotic journey.
  • The most important thing we can do is let students express their ideas and engage with each other organically and spontaneously in the target language without fear of attention to their mistakes.

New ideas

  • Global competence: the ability to communicate with someone with respect and cultural understanding in more than one language.
  • Where are the opportunities for action. What can we empower students do, even in the act of reflection:
    • What did you think about ___________?
    • If you have experience with ____________, describe your own perspective.
    • If you don’t have experience with _____________, what do you think would be rewarding about it? Challenging?
    • When did you have to ______________? Why was it important to you?
  • Examining vocabulary lists: Are there stereotypes? Are there assumptions? What is missing? How is this list teaching more than just words?
  • Learning facts and content is essential but not sufficient. Having diverse resources in the room is not sufficient. What will the student action be:
    • Express empathy
    • Recognize their responsibility
    • Make decisions
    • Speak with courage
  • Where are there opportunities to introduce students to more #ownvoices French speakers when discussing a particular topic? For example, the Belgian singer Stromae has spoken about his struggles with anxiety.
  • Classroom decor matters: introduce non-binary French pronouns.
  • For current events, find a newspaper front page in the target language.
  • When thinking of essential questions and final tasks, ask yourself, “What are the important understandings related to social justice that I want students to be able to take with them as they continue their study of this language and culture?”
  • When examining classroom resources:
    • Who benefits from this resource?
    • Who wrote/created this? Why?
    • Who is included/excluded?
    • What is another perspective?
    • Why is this relevant?
    • What are the assumptions?
    • Do students see themselves?
  • Ideas for the language classroom:
    • When discussing hobbies and sports. look at access to sports in Haïti.
    • When exploring the home, compare bedrooms around the world. Là où je dors is great for this.
    • When describing people, teach hair texture and skin colour.
    • When teaching music, explore how it can represent oppression.
    • When discussing family, choose instead to have students share their Circle of Care (French version) .
    • Rather than focusing on “famous people who speak French”, might you include French speakers who are advocates for different social justice issues?
  • When you are showing the target culture, make sure you aren’t always showing it as deficient.  Can you connect a global issue such as environmentalism?

Whew! So much to think about! My head has been swimming all summer. This year, I am able to have a French classroom again, so I started with classroom decor.

One of my main challenges, particularly with social justice teachings in the language classroom, is to be able to dive into these topics at the correct language level for my students. I primarily teach learners who are still novices, and, with limited time to see them, I want to maximize the use of French as much as possible in class. Some teachers give themselves permission to address these topics in English in their classroom, and that doesn’t feel like the right path for me. Others maintain that these issues are too pressing, and we can’t wait for their proficiency level to always match the material available, and that doesn’t feel quite right either. I am hoping to find my own path this year. I want to keep in mind the importance of curriculum and meeting students where they are at and find the opportunities for cultural and social justice learning within that space.

On y va,

Jenn

I Didn’t Want Any Professional Growth This Year But It Happened Anyways

I sit at my remote teaching space at home. My husband is working in the room beside mine. My son is doing remote learning down the hall. In many ways, it feels like time is frozen in April 2020, but in so many other ways, it has been the longest year of our lives.

When I was asked in September to think of a How Might We question/professional development goal for the year, I struggled to settle on one. I still struggle. Part of me was instantly resentful at the question to begin with. How can anyone think we need so much structure around professional growth this year? Why all the check-ins? How can one possibly be a teacher in 2020 and not be growing every single minute of every single day?  Can everyone please just honour this and leave me alone? Am I an awful teacher for even thinking this?

Yet, I know there is benefit to goal-setting and especially to connecting with others who may share points of your journey.  This is what kept me going on my meandering path.

What learning did I want to accomplish this year?

My number one goal for the past year was explore strategies to connect with and engage remote and in-person learners simultaneously.  This goal was very much about surviving this school year. And it came with so. many. questions.

How might we build relationships with remote learners?

How might we engage students in meaningful French language instruction with limited opportunities for authentic oral communication?

I also wondered how my language program was going to be affected by a significant cut the hours of instruction and mask-wearing. How would not being able to see my mouth and facial expressions affect my students’ comprehension?  What could I do to support them with this? How do I decide what curriculum is most important when I have less time to teach it? What gets cut? What needs to be developed? And especially, how to I make sure my students are mentally well while we are managing all of this together? How do they see themselves in my classroom? Is there space for them? Do they feel safe?

See what I mean? So many questions.

Bitmoji Image

 

What did I learn in the process? 

Good enough is good enough. Be okay with letting things go. Celebrate what worked well. Here are a few tools that were big wins in my French classroom this year:

  1. Nearpod: There is a playful PearDeck vs Nearpod rivalry out there, and I landed on the side of Nearpod this year. I loved this tool as a way to engage my roomies and my zoomies at the same time. Sometimes we did lessons live, and sometimes I assigned student-paced lessons. There is a lot here to play with. For example, in one lesson I asked my students to use the Nearpod Draw It feature to highlight all of the examples of the passé composé in a short article.
  2. Hyperdocs: @estewart introduced me to Hyperdocs this year, and I found that my students really loved them. Basically, it’s a thoughtfully curated Slide Deck that students work through for their learning with a certain topic. Hyperdocs are a ton of front-loaded teacher work, but the payoff is totally worth it. Instead of so much direct instruction, students can work at their own pace through their learning, and I can devote my time to supporting students along the way. These are by no means perfect, but this year we made hypderdocs for le passé composé, Exploring France and Belgium, and Exploring Haïti, Martinique and Louisiana.
  3. Flipgrid continued to be a lifesaver, especially for language learning. I posted about my love for that platform here a few years ago.
  4. Independent Reading: Typically, I start each of my classes with high energy chatting and music and some kind of oral communication activity. I noticed early on that this routine wasn’t going to work. I needed a few minutes to get set up in each room, and my students needed a few minutes to mentally transition from their previous class to French. So, to help with this, we began starting class with five minutes of independent reading. I use the AIM digital readers. The language levels work well for my students, and they sometimes lead to fun vocabulary discoveries like this 🙂

There are a few others. Jamboard and Blooket have also been essential tools I know I will continue to use moving forward.

I also can’t talk about my learning this year without talking about how I learned to care for my own mental health. Last summer I started seeing a therapist for anxiety, and it has been immeasurably helpful.  I don’t know that I would have made it through the year without her. Here are a few new routines that have been helping me:

  1. Going for a 10 minute walk during the work day. A year ago, if you had told me that 10 minutes would make a difference, I would have laughed at you. Now, a 10 minute walk is my go to strategy to reset. I really like listening to Morgan Harper Nichols’ podcast as I walk.
  2. Find what went well. I started keeping a journal and every day I write down three things that went well at work to remind me that there is alway something good that came out of the day.

Shout out to Greenspace Health for finding me a great therapist match. If you live in the GTA, they are a free matching service to hook you up with a therapist that will match your insurance and your specific needs. Like a dating service, but for therapy 😂.

What is my big take-away?

There are some days where I’m certain, if my students learned anything, it was entirely by accident. But, I showed up every class. I tried to be present for them, listen to them, and encourage them. I can confidently say that I tried my best and did my not-worst during the most challenging year of my professional career.

As I mentioned above, there are some tech pieces and personal routines that I will carry forward in my teaching practice. I know that I want next to explore more deeply the role of comprehensible input in the language classroom, as well as how I can meaningfully create more opportunities for cultural learning and integrate more BIPOC resources without falling into the second-language classroom traps of stereotyping different groups of people.

I read somewhere last year that enough is a decision, not an amount. And honestly, I think that’s my big takeaway. It’s not easy to explain or describe, but it’s a huge thought-shift for me. The pressure and judgement I have put on myself in the past has no place in a pandemic. It makes me emotional to think about this because I have been so hard on myself this year. There have been many tears. I don’t think you can work in a helping profession without a certain level of emotional investment in your work.  But I try to surround myself with messages and people that remind me that I’m not alone. That this is hard.

Ultimately, I believe that educators in 2020 and 2021 have grown in so many ways. Some of them are clearly evident in the classroom and can be written in a list or checked off in a PD chart. Others are unseen because they are deeply rooted in who we are, what we value, and frankly, how we process trauma while helping others to do the same. And I suppose that’s what made me feel so unsettled about professional growth this year. Because not all of it is visible to the outside world. But I know that work matters just as much.

Jenn

When Ignorance is Bliss

Throughout the summer, I saw a few variations of the tweet, “This coming September, we are all first-year teachers.” I love the sentiment behind this. We are all entering education faced with challenges not one of us has managed before.

Yet, when school year started, and I was back in the classroom, I couldn’t shake the pressure I felt. I have been constantly asking myself questions like:

“Am I prioritizing the right curriculum?”

“Are my remote learners feeling connected? Am I giving them enough attention?”

“Will my students be ready for high school?”

etc etc etc

Last week, I saw this tweet, and it captured how I have been feeling perfectly.

Teaching is strenuous when we are always feeling, “If I could only ______”.  As experienced educators, we no longer have that early teaching blissful ignorance.

My students and I are finding a groove that works for us, and I have to trust that it’s enough. I have to have faith in the fact that I’m not a novice teacher, and that I can use my experience to make the right choices for my students with the circumstances I am given.

Jenn

I Don’t Want To Go To A Meeting Today

I have a meeting today, and I’m not exactly looking forward to it. Not because of the meeting agenda. The conversation planned is important and relevant.

It’s just that I feel like I’m being pulled in a million directions at work, and while I know it will eventually settle, when there is one. more. thing. on your schedule, it’s overwhelming. I also probably could easily not go, because it’s kind of optional-ish.

I’m in the middle of trying to grow my teaching practice in two different areas. I’ve been wondering a lot about assessment and also about student well-being; however, my time to do meaningful work between them feels split, and I often feel like I’m doing both of them crappily (yes, I’m making that word up).

I was speaking with @nblair about this at our third Face to Face session on Friday, and she gave me a helpful reframing. She said, “Instead if looking at it as two projects, try to see it as you’re exploring many elements of your teaching practice, right now.”

That reframing gave me permission to feel that baby steps in both of the areas are steps on the same path. Growth is messy and slow. And, importantly, growth doesn’t care about lining up with a school calendar. My goal need not be perfection.

I just want to try and do a little bit better than I did yesterday.

So, I’m going to show up to this meeting. I’m going to show up, because showing up is a baby step. I’m going to show up, because my students deserve it. I’m going to show up because I love my school. I’m going to show up because we can do hard things.

Sometimes I even succeed in this.

Cute shoes help.

Jenn

Middle School Matters by Phyllis L. Fagell

Did you realize that every middle schooler today was born after September 11, 2001?

Their world is completely different than the one in which we grew up. While much has remained the same (“Oh no! There’s the boy I like.” or “I’m not going to try out, because I know I won’t make the team.”), so much is different (“Should I vape with my friends?” or “She posted that picture on Snapchat just to make me jealous!”).

I don’t yet have a middle schooler of my own; however, I have spent the last 15 years teaching middle school. It certainly has its ups and downs, but I firmly believe in the importance of the middle school years in a child’s development. Students in Grades 6 to 8 need adults in their corner as they test boundaries, emerge from childhood, and discover who they are going to be in the next chapters of their lives.

However, if there’s one thing that’s predictable about middle school, it’s that it’s unpredictable! Phyllis L. Fagell is a licensed clinical professional counselor who works actively in schools and in private practice with parents and their children. She wrote Middle School Matters as a guide for parents (and educators) with the key skills we can help foster in our middle schoolers.

I found myself nodding along in the scenarios she described, as I have seen many of them in our day to day life at school. Fagell tackles shifting friendships, bullying, sexual health, anxiety, academics, and more. What I love most about this book is that throughout each chapter, she provides possible conversation starters you can use to speak to your children or students.

Since I teach middle school, my students all head off to high school after they’re finished with me, and then many of them plan to attend college or university. It’s easy for me to get locked into the mindset of preparing them for high school; however, I loved being reminded that the purpose of school isn’t to get into another school. Our purpose as teachers is to prepare them for their career and for their relationships with others as they grow. This resonated quite a bit with me.

I wonder about the middle schoolers who don’t have a supportive home life. How might we help them see their value in this world? How might we guide them during difficult moments in their lives? How might we build our relationships with these students in a meaningful way to be their safe space?

Middle School Matters is also must-read for parents with children middle school. I quite enjoyed it, and I suspect parents of middle school students will glean important insights and tips for all of the ups and downs that come along with this transitional period in their children’s lives.

Jenn

Why I Didn’t Do My Homework

I tried to do my homework. I really did. I’m a self-proclaimed goody two shoes, and I have always done my homework. Last year, parts of my Cohort 21 homework had graphs. But this time, I felt really stuck. I even tried to get @estewart to do my homework for me.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

But, hear me out.

I’d like to dive into student-teacher relationships, and specifically how I might foster these relationships in a second language with middle school students. I want to learn more about how my students feel and what my students need when it comes to these relationships; however, I worry that directly asking my students about this myself puts them in an uncomfortable position. They are kind people, and I know that openly asking my students to share extensively about their personal experiences feeling safe in my classroom might not yield the most honest results, because I’m sure they’d be worried about my feelings. Or maybe they’d be worried about how I judge how they feel. It feels extremely personal.

Instead of chatting with my students, I’ve been speaking with other teachers at my school about student-teacher relationships. @estewart has been a great resource. Additionally, I’ve joined a book club at my school where we are reading a chapter a month from the book The Third Path by Dr.David Tranter, Lori Carson, and Tom Boland. The goal of this book, and our book club, is to figure out how we can weave together both student-teacher relationships and curriculum in our classes.

At our first meeting, one of my colleagues said that since she’s done training in The Third Path, whenever she feels conflict with a student, she often pauses to ask herself, “Is this going to build the relationship?” and I like that thinking. It certainly feels like it will create more peaceful days to let some things just go.

I also had each of my students write a Take Care of Me Letter at the beginning of the year. They wrote this letter in English; however, it was a really wonderful “get to know you” activity, that helped me quickly learn about my students in September.

So, I’m trying. I didn’t do my homework, but I’ve tackled this question from a few other angles, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can learn and try next, hopefully using French more often than English.

See you Saturday!

Jenn

world's best try-er

A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott

If you’re looking for some Indigenous non-fiction for yourself or your classes, A Mind Spread Out On The Ground may be a title to check out.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is award-winning Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott’s debut essay collection that holds back nothing as she shares her thoughts on the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada.

These essays are thoughtful, controversial, and absolutely necessary. Part-memoir, part historical exploration, Alicia Elliott opens up about her own trauma and abuse while simultaneously examining the systematic roots of oppression Indigenous people in Canada faced throughout history and continue to face today.

“We know our cultures have meaning and worth, that that culture lives and breathes inside our languages. Canada knew that, too. Which is why they fought so hard to make us forget them.”

 

She tackles the issues of mental health, abuse, language, culture, residential schools, racism, colonialism, poverty, belonging, cultural appropriation, and body image. Additionally, she calls out Canadian political parties (both past and present) for what they have and haven’t done to help mend these relationships, so healing in these communities can begin.

“No one should have to feel thankful that their child isn’t dark-skinned.”

 

While these essays examine how racism continues to be fed in Canadian society today, Alicia Elliot offers hope for us to be thoughtful about our own voices and choices moving forward. If you’re interested in learning more about a modern perspective on Indigenous relations and history, I highly recommend this coming of age collection by a wonderful writer. It’s available now from your favourite bookseller.

xo

Jenn

Disclaimer – I received a complementary copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

I Cried During P.D. Week

I cried during PD week this year.

You see, as our school continues to strive for excellence in creating a caring and nurturing environment for our students, we devoted much of our P.D. week before school began talking about relationships. We looked at Dr. Tranter’s philosophy of The Third Path and the 8 conditions necessary to teach through a strong student-teacher relationship.

According to this perspective on education, the first condition necessary is safety. “Students need to feel emotionally safe in order to explore and learn.” (www.thirdpath.ca) . Afterwards comes regulation, belonging, positivity, engagement, identity, mastery, and meaning.

Of course, I want my students to feel safe in my classroom, but part of me is already questioning whether, even after 15 years of teaching, I can even truly say I have figured out step 1 of 8 on this path. I teach French to middle school students. I love it, and I love them; however, I know this subject is a tough sell to many. My students take risks every single time they speak in my class. How do I make sure they know it’s safe to try? That no one is judging what they can and cannot say in French. How do I make sure that’s true?

I also know this means my relationships with my students matters even more.

But this only brings me more questions. How do I get across to my students that I value who they are and what they think? How do I build my relationships with my students in a more meaningful way? And, most importantly, how do I do this all in a second language?

Last year, I used my Cohort 21 action plan to dive deep into encouraging and supporting more interactive oral communication in the classroom. I was (and continue to be) so excited about what I learned, and the new routines and learning activities I brought into my classroom. Speaking in French became our number 1 priority, and I spent many hours thinking and rethinking lessons and learning activities to encourage my students to speak more. And they did it. It was a great year.

As I embark on my next step growing as an educator, am I going to lose what I have gained? How do I strengthen my relationships with my students without feeling like I’ll have to do this in English, and therefore give up some of the progress we made last year? What does meaningful relationship building look like in a second language?

And, as I talked this all out with a colleague in the middle of our gymnasium, I cried. I was overwhelmed with these questions and the feeling that I am in front of a battle I may not win. And I was scared. Anytime we open ourselves up to relationships, the possibility for rejection exists. Then what?

All of this sets the stage for what I’m hoping to think about this year in C21. I have honestly no idea in which direction my action plan will go, but I’m looking forward to seeing both familiar and new faces at our first Face to Face session this Saturday. I’ll be the one carrying the Kleenex.

xo

Jenn

Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim – Book Review

Seeing yourself in a book is such a gift. The moment you read a passage and instantly feel validated or less alone is powerful. More than once, I’ve reread sentences, paragraphs, and even whole pages because the author was able to put into words exactly how I felt about something. However, this feeling doesn’t come around with the same frequency for everyone.

Well-Read Black Girl is an essay collection of Black women writers reflecting on how they found themselves in literature, how certain pieces of work guided them through childhood and adolescence, and how the words of others inspired them to write as well. It was born from Glory Edim who created the @wellreadblackgirl community on Instagram.

Well-Read Black Girl is small but mighty. I was introduced to so many authors, playwrights, poets, and titles I’d never heard of before. My formative years were vastly different than the women in this book, so reading this collection for me was eye-opening and reminded me how reading can be a powerful act of empathy to learn about others.

As an educator, I firmly believe that it is important for both children and adults to be able to connect with the texts they are reading, and this essay collection reaffirms that we need to ensure that young readers have a wide-range of books at their fingertips. You never know which book is going to connect with which reader, and it is important for them to read about and reflect upon the experiences of others, as well.

Highly recommend!

Jenn

Disclaimer – I received a complementary copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada to read and review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart – A Second Language Teacher’s Perspective

Sometimes I find reading educational books as a French teacher to be challenging. There are always so many wonderful, inspiring ideas, but how do I harness them in a second language and remain true to prioritizing use of the target language in my classroom?

The language barrier is a big area of tension for me. How do I engage high-level thinking using a beginner/intermediate-level of vocabulary while also keeping our learning meaningful and engaging for young teenagers? It’s a lot to hold at once!

I haven’t found the magic answers yet; however, Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart gave some ideas to mull over. The sections on prioritizing what is absolutely the most important in our classrooms resonated with me the most. I loved his question, “If you had your students for only six weeks, what would be the single most important thing you would want them to understand? ” (Ritchhart, Creating Cultures of Thinking, p.100.)

My answer would certainly be that I’d want my students to understand how to communicate orally for a purpose, which reaffirms much of the work I’ve been exploring over the past year.

The other idea I really loved was about how teachers, “have to weigh the importance of accuracy against the goal of developing independence.” (Ritchhart, Creating Cultures of Thinking, p. 209.) This is something I’ve been thinking about for the past few years in my teaching, especially with written tasks my students complete.

I used to spend ages giving feedback on every single grammatical error, but I’ve learned that I need to shift my thinking around written feedback. I do not need to edit all of these errors. The students do not need to correct all of these errors. Not only is it, I’m sure, discouraging to see such a high volume of edits on  your work as a student, but perfection is not actually our goal. I want to assess students not for the number of mistakes they make but, rather, for the clarity of their ideas. This idea is certainly still a work in progress in my classroom and in my teaching, but it’s where I’m hoping to move more and more in my assessments.

There were plenty of other great ideas in his book as well. I’d recommend any teacher pick it up!

Jenn

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