Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Category: DEIJ

An Introduction to Gender-Inclusive Language in the French Classroom

As a teacher of a gendered language, one of the urgencies in my classroom this year is creating space for gender-inclusive language. My students are being more open than ever before with their identities, and one of my biggest fears is that they will sit in my classroom, look at the French language, and then decide the language does not include them. To that end, I have become a student myself, learning as much as I can about gender-inclusive language, so my students feel safe and welcome in my classroom. I am very early on in this journey, and here is where I’ve begun.

Classroom Signs

Firstly, I bought this sticker for my laptop from Classroom Yogi. My favourite moment with this sticker so far has been when one student asked to take a picture of it because she and her dad are trying to learn as many different LGBTQ+ flags as possible. šŸ’•


Next, I finally got to have a classroom again (yeah!), and these are the new posters I was excited to put up. My students have enjoyed learning how to use the gender-neutral pronoun iel in their work.

French Subject Pronoun Posters (Free on TPT)

LGBTQ+ Posters ($3 on TPT)

La vide des noirs compte Posters (Free on TPT)

Identity Chat Mats

I have started using chat mats more and more in my classroom. Amy Lenord shares on Twitter the different ways you can use chat mats in your language classroom, and this was an easy, safe way for me to introduce the pronoun iel to everyone. I started by giving my students (Grade 7 Core French) a copy of the chat mat and projecting it on the board. I modeled my answers and ask students to share their answers if they were comfortable sharing with the whole class. Then they worked in pairs asking and answering different questions. The next day, we revisited the chat mat again, and this time they wrote sentences on whiteboards.

Here is a shared Google Drive with the Chat Mats inside. (As a note, sometimes they print better as a JPEG rather than a PDF….mystery šŸ¤·ā€ā™€ļø.)


Introducing Adjectives

Inspired by this Tweet from CĆ©cile LainĆ©, and the learning I’ve been doing from Dr. Kris Knisley, I felt ready to introduce my students to non-binary adjectives. Dr. Knisley has this straightforward handout for educators, but I wanted to narrow my introduction even further for my students in our first lesson. I created this slide deck and this handout for us to start making observations and practising the new language.

Next, my students were given a piece of paper with their own cartoon monster and an opportunity to describe them using non-binary language. I am so proud of their first attempts, and it has really given me a picture of what my next steps might be.

So that’s where I’m at for now. Suggestions and feedback are always welcome. My next step in this area is to look for more authentic ways to use non-binary vocabulary in the classroom, starting with vocabulary for family members.

I honestly feel like I could do a whole post on people to follow who are doing excellent work in the area of teaching social justice in language education. For now, my gratitude goes out to Dr. Kris Knisely who has been a resource to which I often return in my own learning on the intersection of LGBTQ+ communities and the French language.


The Journey of My How Might We Question

My How Might We question has already been through a few iterations this year, but I kind of feel like that’s how I know I’m doing it right.

I knew that I wanted to explore social justice education in FSL. I took a few courses about this topic earlier this year, and I know this is an area of interest to my students.Ā  It feels right to find classroom opportunities to weave language learning and social justice together where I can. To that end, my first question was “How might we encourage students to see language learning as the ability to communicate with someone with respect and cultural understanding?”

After our second Face to Face session with Cohort 21, I realized I needed to narrow my focus. I loved my question; however, I knew it was a huge one. This fall, I have had quite a few students come out as non-binary, gender-fluid, or trans, and it has become urgent that I learn alongside my students to help them talk about themselves and show them that there is room for them in a gendered language. My second attempt at a question was How might we amplify the theme of identity in the FSL classroom to support LGBTQ+ students as they talk about themselves and to make connections with others in order for everyone to feel seen and valued?Ā 

I then decided it was too wordy, and my current iteration (and I think my last) is, How might we amplify the theme of identity in the FSL classroom to support LGBTQ+ students as they talk about themselves in order for everyone to feel seen and valued?Ā 

I have found Twitter to be a great resource to help guide me with this learning. Dr. Kris Knisley is doing excellent work in this area and has many resources to share on their website.

I also want to be sure to talk to my students, if they are willing to share. I want to know what questions they have, what feels important to them to learn, and later on, what was helpful and what was missing.

Two of my next steps are to read over this blog post, Gender-Inclusive Language in the French Classroom: How it Looks in 2021, and to explore this Padlet on Gender inclusive language in the languages classroom.

This year, I intentionally introduced the pronoun iel to my students, and some of them have been using it in class already, which is so encouraging to see. It fuels me to keep going, so that they know there is a place in French for them.


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?Ā  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.Ā  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)


  • 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.Ā  Ask 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)


  • 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 HaĆÆti.
    • When exploring the home, compare bedrooms around the world. LĆ  oĆ¹ 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.Ā  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,


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