Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Category: Face 2 Face Sessions

Student Reflections – A Strategy

This year, I’ve been thinking about what my students really learn in class. I’m teaching a whole lot, but what are they learning? When I think about I’d fight to teach, is that the knowledge my students are truly walking away with ? What feedback are they remembering from one learning experience to another? How might I help them along this path?

To that end, I’ve tried a new strategy for student reflection inspired by an episode of the podcast Teaching Tomorrow: How to help students actually learn from your feedback and by our school’s own work with the Common Ground Collaborative.

I created a chart that we revisit in class after every project or unit: Reflection Google Doc.

We’ve been using it in Grade 7 and 8 French since late November, and here are some examples of the student reflections so far.

Grade 7

Grade 8 


The quality of student reflections certainly varies (I’ve chosen some stronger ones here), but I’m hopeful that with practice and time, students will build their capacity to articulate their learning and growth. Overall, I have loved reading their reflections, and it has helped me see from a student perspective, what has been the focus of their learning.

As an added experiment, I used these reflections during parent-teacher interviews last week, and the parents were very positive about this exercise!

What’s next? I’m not sure yet. Suggestions welcome.


5 Things That Worked For Me Last Year (and what I’m trying next)

Truth time – the outline for this post has been sitting in my drafts for months. I meant to publish it as a wrap up to the end of Cohort 21 last year, but here we are, rather as an introduction to this year.

Here are 5 things that were new to me and my French classroom last year. They were all well-received by my students and I’ve definitely kept them for our classes moving forward.

1. La question du jour

In the fall of 2021, the most important thing to me was getting my students speaking French in class. Oral communication was a top priority. This began our new classroom routine, la question du jour. With my Grade 8 core students, every day we began with a question. I use this slide deck From FLE avec MmeD. She also has a free version if you want to give this routine a test run. Early on, I’d have a few participants, but as the year progressed, every student was sharing their voice. When we ran out of questions, we then made up our own!

2. Le plan du jour

Another find from FLE avec MmeD was the idea of a Plan du jour. As I think about how I can reduce the cognitive load of my students (and myself), this has been an invaluable addition to my classroom routines. Each class, we begin by reviewing the plan du jour. Students see the objective, the homework, and the lesson for the day. They can get excited (or not 😂) about what we have planned for the day, plus I can embed all of my links for the lesson. I can also share this with students who are absent and want to keep up with our lesson for the day.

3. Manie Musicale

I have always loved sharing my love of French music with my students. We’ve had fun discussing our favourites and signing together in class. Last year, our middle school officially participated in Manie Musicale for the first time, and it was absolutely a highlight of the year. We voted, along with 3000 other schools from around the world, on our favourite francophone music videos from the past year. We learned about a wide variety of French singers from all corners of the globe, expanding their understanding of francophone communities and diving into the meaning of some of the lyrics. Mostly, we loved sharing our opinions and cheering together when our favourite songs won. The sense of belonging and togetherness in our classroom was stronger than ever.

4. A Circle of Care

It is not uncommon in French classes to have opportunities to talk about our families. In a course on social justice within the language classroom that I took from ACTFL, I was asked to consider shifting from talking about “families” to having students talk about their “circle of care”. It actually opened the door to so many more possibilities. Rather than having students thing about their families in terms of a traditional family tree, which isn’t inclusive for all, or can frankly be painful for students from broken homes, having students think about the people who care for and love them allowed them to talk about friends, coaches, family friends, pets, teachers, and more. Here are the resources in English and in French.

5. Exploring LGBTQ+-friendly language classrooms

This was the primary focus of my professional development learning last year, and if you’re interested in learning more about gender-inclusive ideas for the FSL classroom, here is my blog post on it.

So, what’s next?

I’m still very interested in incorporating the Social Justice Standards from Learning for Justice into my classroom when possible. What I am also quite curious about is the book Common Ground: Second Language Acquisition Theory Goes Into the Classroom by Florencia G. Henshaw and Maris D. Hawkins.

This book has been heavily praised on Twitter in the #langchat circles, and I’ve slowly started reading it. I want to take my time with it. Try out the different ideas, see  what meshes well with our middle school program, identify the areas for growth, weed the garden, and incorporate what helps my students continue to develop their confidence and communication in French.

I’m trying this idea tomorrow!


Dipping my toes into Social Justice + FSL – Where am I now?

Thinking about how to authentically integrate social justice elements into a language program is a necessary, but enormous undertaking. I am gathering ideas, and I am learning so much from educators who are further along on this journey, but I quickly realized I needed to pick one area of focus for the year and start there. I wrote about the evolution of my how might we question in a blog post (The Journey of My How Might We Question), and I landed on:

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? 

My main goal this year was to teach my students the non-binary pronoun iel and support them as they practised using iel along with other non-binary vocabulary such as family members and adjectives.

@hfransen and I collaborated on creating a slide deck to introduce non-binary pronouns to our students. I tried it with my Grade 7s in the fall and then just this week with my Grade 8s. The student response has been very positive. This week, I heard my students say “I have learned so much in just the first few minutes of our class!” and “This lesson was a big W, Ms Bairos.” That immediate and positive feedback is so motivating and inspiring to me. It tells I am on the right track.

I also noticed some of my grade 7s using non-binary pronouns when they were writing descriptive paragraphs about each other, and when they were writing about themselves.

Movie Talks have also been a really easy, yet powerful, way to incorporate more discussions about identity. Richard Smith is an FSL teacher in Ottawa, and he is compiling a slide deck of movie talks that span a wide variety of topics (Slide Deck: Richard’s Movie Talks). Movie Talks can also be a great way to talk about how we presume gender.

After I blogged about my initial reflections and wonderings connected to social justice in the FSL classroom (read it here), I was invited to present a session on this topic with the Ontario Modern Language Teacher’s Association spring conference, so I am excited to share my learning further with others later this month.

I have learned so much, and I continue to seek out and learn new ideas and perspectives regularly. I’ve compiled many of my “go to” resources in a Google Doc (DEIJ Resources for French Teachers).

Here are a few that are most connected to my how might we question this year:

One of my main takeaways has been that incorporating social justice elements into a classroom does not mean creating new units. There are opportunities to within the content we are already doing in our classrooms and view it with a social justice lens. In a novice language classroom, I have found that some easier entry points are the themes of identity and diversity.

I still wonder how I might go deeper into this work. I have had some lingering timing challenges from the pandemic at my school this year, and I am hopeful they will be resolved next year.  I would like to build in more time and opportunities for student reflection, especially with how they might connect to the Social Justice Standards by Learning for Justice.

In true Cohort 21 fashion, this really feels like it is only the end of the beginning.


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.  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? 

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? 

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.


How do I decide what’s important when everything feels urgent?

In our first face to face session with Cohort 21 this year, we were presented with The Eisenhower Matrix. Since the single biggest pressure on educators at the moment is arguably time (see the post from @bblack The Biggest Issue Facing Educators), how might we best use our precious minutes to to reflect what is urgent and important?

I love a to do list. Fancy notepads and electronic sticky notes bring my heart joy. Yet, although I am an organized person, I have often struggled with how to best use my time. I have often had the feeling that if I could just finish the things on my to do list, everything would be fine, and I could finally begin. Begin what? I’m not sure, but the feeling was there nonetheless.

I once heard author Emma Straub say ““The idea that we will at one point ‘arrive into our lives’ and everything falls into place is a myth.” We are here. This is it.

We must give ourselves permission to have hard days. We are managing deep trauma coming out of a pandemic. That is urgent. That is important.  We also need to recognize that if we’re living in the mindset of simply “what’s next?” we’ll never stop to enjoy what is. The truth is our to do lists will never actually end, so we need to carpe the wonderful moments of our day when they come to us. Even, and maybe especially, amidst the chaotic pace of a school. These moments of joy will not appear on our to do lists, and they cannot be attained only when “everything else” is finished. They almost always appear organically. They are important.

@ddoucet recently wrote about the question “What do you need to say yes to?” and I already have it on a sticky note in my dayplans. Frankly, this week, I need to say yes to my marking because our parent-teacher interviews are coming up, but long term, I need to say yes to helping my students find their French voices in my classroom again. Now that we are back in the classroom after 18 months of remote and hybrid learning, that feels urgent. That feels important. This was a focus of mine back in Season 7, and I am diving back into some of the strategies I used then. One of the new ways I’m hoping to do that is through some DEIJ work in my FSL classroom.

It isn’t always easy. I teach sections of Grade 7 French and Grade 8 French. One grade has settled well. I’ve got them, and we are on a great path for the year. The other grade, well, let’s just say we’re still finding our way.

I am hopeful. It’s amazing what happens when you look through the lens of urgent and important. It’s so easy to see the extra. The unnecessary. The things we have outgrown. It seems a bit easier to notice what we know we can say yes to. To notice moments of joy.

Time will definitely be my biggest pressure point. More than ever before in my career. I know we all feel it, and it comforts me to know we are in this together.


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.


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!


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.


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!


@sthompson @mneale @eimrie

First Posts Are Always Scary

Welcome! I’m a reader, mama, and middle-school French teacher. I’ve been blogging personally for six years at A Splendid Messy Life, and this space is a new educational blog where I will share pieces of my teaching journey with you. I hope to tell you about educational books I’ve read and loved (or maybe not!) and learning activities that I’m trying in my classes (that may or may not fail). I love all things French (especially wine – wink! wink!), and I love helping my students learn and love French language, culture, and history as well. This year, I’m participating in Cohort 21 to help me shake up my teaching practice! Here we go!


Welcome to Cohort 21

c21_logo_mediumWelcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.


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