Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Category: Classroom Reflections (Page 1 of 2)

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

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

Where I’ve Come From and Where I’m Going Next

It feels strange to reflect on the end of Cohort 21 while I am on March Break and still feel squarely in the middle of my action plan; however, the school calendar waits for no one, so here we are.

Cohort 21 became part of my teaching journey at the exact moment when I most needed it. I was beginning to feel disheartened, fearful of change, and generally a bit down on myself as a teacher. This year, I’ve learned that I’m probably doing better than I think I am. This feels ridiculous to type, but I believe it’s an important lesson. I’ve learned that there is power when diverse educators come together, reflect deeply, and open their doors. The support I’ve sought and the encouragement I’ve received from C21, my administration, my colleagues, and even teachers outside of CIS has been invaluable in helping me rediscover my love for teaching French as a second language. I feel inspired, excited, and grateful to have discovered an experience and group of people so positive and so action-driven to best support educators, students, and our shared future learning.

Below is a slide deck that illustrates my action plan story, as it stands right now. I now truly understand the term “the end of the beginning.” I’m excited about the new energy in my classroom, and I can’t wait to experiment further with these ideas.

Additionally, you can hear me “thinking out loud” about my How Might We question and action plan on @ckirsh‘s Teaching Tomorrow podcast here.

As for Cohort 21, this is not goodbye. I am looking forward to our fourth Face to Face session in a few weeks, and I’m hopeful to continue working with Cohort 21 next year (even if I have to sneak in!)

Jenn

 

Interactive Oral Communication in the FSL Classroom

When I was reflecting on what I learned during Cohort 21 this year, the number 1 answer I have is that I learned so much about interactive oral communication.

I have spent a good amount of time reflecting on when my students speak French in class and when they don’t. I realized that they speak with me in French a great deal, and they find success in orally presenting projects they’ve completed. What were missing were opportunities for my students to speak French to each other.

 

With this realization in mind, I redirected my how might we question to focus on how I can support and encourage my students to build this skill.

What’s exciting about this realization is that it falls entirely in line with the trend in second language education in Ontario towards the CEFR (Common European Framework for Reference). In its simplest form, the CEFR encourages language learning via authentic situations vs grammatical drills and vocabulary lists. Interactive communication thrives in the CEFR.

Instead of worrying about what my students know about a language, I needed ask myself what can they do with a language. (source) And this meant that I had to increase my expectations of my students.

To help me with this, I spent the day with a teacher whom I know is rocking interactive oral communication. Richard Smith teaches Grade 7 and 8 Core French in Ottawa and is passionate about getting middle school students to speak in French.

He reminded me that we are the model for our students. We need to be excited about speaking French in class, and speak French as much as possible.

As I watched him teach and thought about my own lessons, I realized that I often structured my lesson as:

1. a teacher-directed thing – 30 mins

2. time for individual or partner work/discussions (the latter which often shifted into English) – 20 mins

I was asking my students to do the hardest part at the end of the lesson.

French is not easy. It’s a tough subject and a tough sell for a lot of middle school students. But they can do it. And we can sometimes forget that most of them want to do well and enjoy it.

However, we have to structure our lessons for success. I needed to move the hardest part of their 50 minute period to the beginning. If they are going to be speaking to each other, I need to get to them while their momentum for the class is still high.

Now my lessons look like this:

1. 2 or 3 grammar raps and a handful of oral review questions connected to the raps to warm everyone up. (see www.aimlanguagelearning.com and www.educorock.com for the best grammar raps) – 5 mins

2. Interactive oral communication activity or oral discussion. (Language teachers in the house – bookmark this Google Slide presentation. It’s Richard’s bank of communication learning activities and on its way to being my most visited website of the year.) – 15-20 mins

3. a teacher-directed thing either from CEC or AIM  (often, but not every day) – 15 mins

4. individual or partner work time (usually reading/writing) 10-15 mins

So far, it’s going well. There is still lots of room to grow. There are moments when we still need to use some English in the classroom; however, my students are all generally pretty excited about the new energy and new learning activities in the classroom. For example, my grade 7 students love the “Last Letter, First Letter” challenge with teams creating lists of 30, 40, and up to 46 words in 7 minutes!)

It has meant I’ve had to say au revoir to other pieces of our program (some of which I love so hard), but I know what we’re doing now is important and what my students most need at this time.

Jenn

I feel like my teaching life is a hot mess right now, but I kind of love it

If my professional learning has done anything this year, it has turned me into a hot mess. A good hot mess. But a hot mess just the same.

Last year I was organized. I knew what lesson came next in my unit. I knew which Google Docs to use and when to use them. I knew which resources to have at the tips of my fingers in my classroom. I had my timing for lessons, learning activities, and projects down to the minute.

This year, while I’m keeping many of the overall learning goals for my classroom the same, the path to which we achieve these learning goals is changing.  And I don’t always know my next step.

Which leads me to this…

I feel like a hot mess teacher this year, but I believe my students are better off for it.

In December and January, my Cohort 21 Action Plan had very clear goals. I generated a meaningful list of items I could check off a to do list.

And check them off I did.

You see, I’m really good at organization.

I surveyed my students. I visited and observed a teacher I admired in Ottawa. I reviewed some old materials I want to start using again. I read a book. I started making changes in my classroom with new technology.

But I’ve finished all of the “things” on my list and now I’m testing out what I’ve learned. I’m living in a phase of experimentation, and it’s messy. It’s absolutely not organized.

Initially, I had this great idea that I would give myself permission to only experiment with one class. If I’m only playing around with one grade, I’d save myself from this exact feeling of hot mess-ness everywhere in my day.

But (unfortunately? fortunately?) I kept learning new ideas that were perfect for each of my different classes, and I was too excited to wait. I wanted to test them all, so I decided if I was going to play with my program and my teaching practice, I’m going all in.

It’s exciting and fun, and I kind of love it. It’s make me more flexible as a person, that’s for sure.

However, my Cohort 21 Action plan for February to April has pretty much two things on it. Try out new interactive oral communication learning activites in the classroom. Decide which ones work and do them again.

This is not what I thought the end of my Cohort 21 year would look like. I’m sure by April, I’ll still be in this experimentation phase: Discover/Create new ways to get my students speaking to each other in French. Try them out. Repeat.

In a future post, I plan to share exactly what I’ve learned about interactive oral communication in the FSL  classroom and what learning activities have, so far, been successful in my classes.

For now, it’s been a learning curve for me, a person who craves a plan, to live in this space of the unknown. This phase of testing things out. It’s ironic that while I feel a bit less certain of what we’re doing, because much of it is new to me, my students are building their confidence with language.

I can already tell some of our experiments are working. Many of my students are speaking more French in class than they have in a long while.  We moved into a new classroom a few weeks ago, and I think that has helped as well. It was a fresh start in a different, new space with different, new expectations.

I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to try out so many new things in my classroom all at once if I didn’t have such wonderful support from my Cohort 21 team, my Montcrest colleagues, and our school administration. Their encouragement that I’m on the right track definitely keeps me going on days where I’m feeling particularly hot mess-y.

Jenn

The Best PD I’ve Done In Ages (other than C21 obvs)

Every fall, I meet with my assistant head to discuss my own professional learning goals for the year. This year, I’d like to shift my classroom routines and lessons to focus more on oral communication. During our discussion, I told her about a teacher I know of, Richard Smith, who took the potentially drastic step of removing desks his Grade 7 and 8 core French classroom because his focus is so high on oral communication that he doesn’t feel he needs permanent desks. (He uses whiteboards around the room and clipboards for each student when they do writing activities and assessments.)

Since my school operates with a 1:1 laptop program in its middle school, which I love, I don’t know that I’d ever remove desks entirely, but my questions were these: What oral communication learning activities is he doing with his 7s and 8s each day? How can I incorporate some of them into my own classroom?

In my chat with my assistant head, she encouraged me to plan a visit to see him teach. I’d seen Richard speak at various conferences in the past; however, being able to spend time observing him directly would be even more meaningful. Richard was graciously open to having me visit for the day; however, he is in Ottawa, and I’m in Toronto. Not exactly a day trip. To make this work, my husband and I booked a family trip to Ottawa one weekend in December, and we planned to stay an extra day, so I could see Richard teach.

To say my day with Richard was valuable would be an enormous understatement. He was so passionate, thoughtful, and generous that I spent the whole day furiously taking pages of notes. He made sure that each lesson he taught that day was unique, so I could see as many different activities as possible. He also shared many of his resources with me (yeah for the ease of Google Drive!)

Richard reminded me that I am the model for my students. They will mimic the energy for and use of French that they see.

He also said to me that his goal is for 80-90% of each class to be in the target language. This was actually a relief to hear because I’d seen Richard speak so many times that I’d built up in my head that he was conducting all of his Grade 7 and 8 core French classes in the target language 120% of the time, and that seemed like such a mountain to climb from where I feel some days. Knowing that, even with the best teachers, there is wiggle room is comforting.

I’m so grateful to Richard for sharing his classroom with me, and I strongly encourage you to find another teacher in your field and check out what they’re doing. It’s so energizing! As Seth Godin  says, “Most of the time, we adopt the scarcity model of pizza. ‘I don’t have that much, and if I share it with you, I won’t have any left…’ But in fact, the useful parts of our life are better characterized as, ‘If I share it with you, we’ll both have it.’ An idea shared is more powerful than one that’s hidden.” 

Jenn

Quiet by Susan Cain

On the first day we met Face to Face as a cohort, I was in the initial phases of formulating the questions and challenges I wanted to take on this year. I knew I wanted my focus to be somehow connected to oral communication.  As a second language teacher, I spend a good part of my day encouraging people to speak. To take risks. To make mistakes in front of their peers. For my students, I recognize that this is not easy and it is not for everyone. So, how do we do it anyways?

My coach, @acampbellrogers, told me I’d probably be interested in reading Quiet by Susan Cain. This book describes what life is like for introverts and how we can harness the power of those who aren’t often the loudest speakers in the room.

I consider myself a velocireader, so I’m always happy to take on new book recommendations. I immediately borrowed a copy from a co-worker and started reading.

Quiet really has me asking myself what speaking fluidly means and has shifted my perspective. Speaking slowly doesn’t mean that a student is not speaking fluidly. Additionally, the medium is not always the message. If the message is thoughtful, there is room in second-language education to acknowledge this, even if it is “easier” to evaluate errors that are right and wrong. And my students who are fluent and don’t speak extensively in class are still fluent. As I enter report card season, this is something I am keeping in my mind much more than I ever have before.

Another interesting point is that the rise of social media and the Internet has given introverts a “voice”, especially with writing. My question is, “How can I transfer this to oral communication?” Flipgrid is a start.

Being mindful of seating was something else that I had never thought of before. Don’t seat quiet students in “high-traffic or high-interaction” areas. It will increase anxiety, decrease concentration, and they won’t actually speak more.

And finally, never underestimate the power of empathy. I’d like to find more opportunities to check in with my introverted students before presentations. To encourage them. To tell them that I also get nervous, but it does get easier with time. I loved reading how we should teach our students the importance of rehearsal and practice. This is a concept I’ve been hammering home with my students more recently, and it’s validating to read that I’m on the right track with this one.

I’d definitely say that Quiet is a  must-read for second-language teachers. It certainly gave me quite a bit to think about!

Jenn

Increasing Student Confidence and Competence in FSL – An Action Plan

A few weeks ago, I had another powerful Face to Face session with my fellow Cohort 21 class. Our goal for the day was to think about our learners, their challenges, our challenges, and begin to create an action plan that connected to a How Might We…. goal/question.

This is certainly a lot to pack into one day, and now that I’ve had a few weeks to sit with it all, I think I have some ideas and next steps ready for action!

My goal for my students is this: How might we increase student confidence and competence with respect to oral communication in the classroom?

This sounds very lofty, but what I truly wish for my students is simple. I want them to build their oral language conversational skills and I want them to have confidence that they do know how to say things in French.  As a middle school French teacher, it’s not uncommon to hear, “I suck at French.”  Students at this age tend to see things in black and white. There are the students who can speak French and the students who can’t and there is no movement between those groups. I want them to see the whole grey space in the middle!

I think building a growth mindset around French in particular is challenging with middle school students. Many of them know they “just need to make it to Grade 9” and then they can drop French. I want them to see that we’re not biding our time here. We have lots to learn and lots we can learn. And it doesn’t have to be painful!

Some logistical background

We use AIM Language Learning as the main program in our FSL classes from SK – Grade 5. My students come to me after many years of storytelling and plays and choral speaking and song. It’s a wonderful program that works well for primary and junior grades.

By Grade 6, our students tend to get AIM fatigue, so we move into the C’est parti!/Odyssée programs as our jumping off points for language learning. The topics are engaging for our middle school students and the reading/writing components are quite strong.

My action plan!

One thing I’ve noticed about my students when we transitioned away from AIM in middle school is that while our new program had so many strengths, it didn’t have the same power as AIM in the area of oral communication. I want to bring this back, but at an age-appropriate level. So here’s my plan

December Goals:

  • Visit Richard Smith and watch him teach for a day (a fantastic Grade 7/8 teacher in Ottawa who focuses primarily on oral communication in his classes)
  • Revisit our old Grade 6, 7, and 8 level AIM teacher guides and tab all of the activities that I could still incorporate into my program. Try some out in class.
  • Watch this Ted Talk: Learning a language? Speak it like you’re playing a video game. Maybe show it to my students as well!
  • Try something on Flip Grid.
  • Speak only French in class myself!
  • Share my how might me question and action plan with my students.

January Goals:

  • Investigate Quizlet
  • Wonder about oral language portfolios. What tech could I use? How often do we revisit it? Try it!
  • Pick one idea from Richard Smith’s class and try it out.
  • Bring more songs and raps into Grade 6 and 7 French. Make lists for each grade. (They love DJ DELF!)
  • Try using the “On Bavarde” sections from the C’est Parti and Odyssée lessons (that we always skip because there’s never enough time at the end of class) as oral review at the beginning of the next class.

Whew!

We’ll see how far I get on all of that, but I am hopeful that after I try all of these experiments, I’ll be able to see which ones work best for my learners and what we will move forward with long-term!

Jenn

@sthompson @mneale @eimrie

Confirming My Wonderments

I recently wondered about the three most urgent needs of the students in my classroom. This is what I came up with:

  1. Improved conversational French skills
  2. Larger classroom space + headsets with microphones
  3. Open and positive mindset about learning French

A new classroom is on its way (yeah!), so, this year, I’m hoping to motivate and support my students with one main goal: speaking more French in class.

I wanted to make sure I was on the right track (plus it was my Cohort 21 homework this month!), so I interviewed three of my students to get their thoughts and ideas. These are the questions I asked them:

  • Can you tell me about a time you had a lot of fun speaking French in class?
  • What makes it easier to speak French in class?
  • What do you need from me to help you speak French more often in class?
  • What prizes would be fun to earn with your group?

The students were kind, thoughtful, and delighted to be given a voice. Each student I spoke with agreed that speaking French in class is the right place for us to focus next. When I read over all of their responses, I am taking away these three insights:

  1. Students like talking about things that feel authentic and fun. Students want to believe that what they are learning will apply to them in “real life”, for example, ordering at a restaurant. Skits and games are highly-popular.
  2. Students want opportunities to practise.  Since I stopped using AIM as my primary program in Grades 6-8 a few years ago, I’ve noticed I miss the “pleasant repetition” that was so naturally built into the AIM lessons and activities. It was interesting to me to see that some of the students seem to miss this as well. I feel there are ways to apply this philosophy into the new program we’re using. I need to speak less during lessons and help my students speak more. The people who are doing the speaking in the classroom are the people who are doing the learning. As one of my students said, “..the more we do it, it will become more natural.”
  3. Free time is a great reward. When my students participate in class, they earn points for their monthly group. We’ve moved away from using food as rewards and prizes in classrooms, and my students said they are too old to be interested in small items from the dollar store, so today I tried out a new prize – free time. 10 free minutes at the end of class for the winning group was a huge hit!

So, that’s our starting line. You can see how I had a quick check in with all of my Grade 7 students about oral communication in the classroom here. I feel like I have a big task in front of me, but I’m so excited, and I know that there is some excellent growth ahead, for both me and my students!

Jenn

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