Choice boards: the project that simultaneously accounted for all language skills as well as differentiation. It was also the answer to my Thursdays in a hectic year.
What is a choice board?
Choice boards are exactly as they sound: The Bingo-like board give students varying options in regards to content theme and what platform they will present out for the end project. Here is what I drafted on a plane, which was eventually transferred to a Google Doc.
How it works: a breakdown
As you can see, I separated the project areas into reading, writing, listening, speaking, and cultural comprehension. I assign via the “Make a copy” option under Google Classroom so that students can edit the document. Students have the freedom to choose a box (their project), that could last anywhere from two to four weeks, depending upon the student’s own pacing. I require at least one project to be completed within a six-weeks marking period, but students can move onto another box as soon as they finish the previous. Here are my set guidelines:
Choose wisely! If you start a box, you must finish all three levels.
When you finish a box, change the color to show that it is complete.
Turn in your project via the “Turn it in” Google Classroom option. (Some students directly pasted links, etc., in the box of the chosen project.)
All projects must be in French.
Online translators are not permitted under any circumstances.
All writing must be completed in class, not at home.
Have an outside the box idea? Run it by Mme Gatewood!
Within each box are three levels, all of which must be completed before moving onto another project (another box). Students must complete “L1” (level one) before moving onto the other two levels. Here are more examples for the choice board given to French 1-3:
Thursday takeaways – keep these in mind
Check in for progress and accountability: While this is intended to be a self-paced project every Thursday, certain students certainly require more attention than others. Thursdays are also when I conduct weekly speaking assessments so, at first, I was not as actively monitoring the students’ progress on their choice board project. I am now mindful to check in during their speaking assessment to see their progress and help tease out ideas for their project.
Don’t wait until the end to grade! I felt like I had made a rookie mistake when I collected a majority of the projects all at the same time, coinciding with the end of the marking period. (Talk about a nightmare.) I strongly suggest giving students a grade for each level as the projects come in, staggering your workload. I use Middlebury Writing and Speaking Rubrics.
And most importantly…student enjoyment: Students had the option to choose their project, not set to a specific theme or grammar area. I had favorable feedback from students who enjoyed their opportunity to express creativity in varying forms. Whether they were designing French t-shirts and accessories for their store’s Google Site or planning an itinerary for the perfect trip to their chosen destination, students walked in on Thursdays with ideas in hand, ready to show off their creation to classmates.
This was an answer to a prayer of differentiating even further while peaking student interest. After all…it’s all about student engagement, isn’t it?
Many people think of Padlet as an online Post-It board for thoughts and discussion, an excellent visual. You can choose a template or a blank slate to create beautiful boards, documents, or webpages independently or with several other collaborators. People can add content, comment, like other comments, and make edits in real-time, making a virtual discussion easy to launch in your classroom. Check out below for more ideas!
A quick overview:
Once you have followed all of the standard account setup procedures on the Padlet homepage, you will be ready to explore the numerous features Padlet has to offer. Here are some highlights:
User-friendly setup and platform.
Changes are autosaved.
Quick sharing links for easy collaboration. Sign-up not required for contributors.
Available in 29 languages (and intentions to add more).
Updates are live, instantly appearing across all devices.
Various editing permissions, such as read-only, write, moderate, or admin access.
Padlets support almost any file type to be uploaded and can be exported as PDFs, CSVs, Images, or Excel Files.
Padlets can be embedded on a website or blog.
Padlets have a variety of privacy settings (see below).
Upgrade to Premium to create private networks, manage users and monitor their activity, store bigger files, create a custom domain, and have access to more wallpapers and themes.
Let’s dig deeper.
What can be added to a post? Collaborators can add photos, documents, web links, video, and music to their posts, creating an incredibly vivid discussion or page.
Special feature! Afraid of the text that might appear on your screen when in the throes of discussion? Enable the “Filter bad words with good emojis” under the Settings menu.
Can I change the wallpaper that automatically appeared when I created a padlet? Absolutely! Go to the Settings menu (cog wheel icon) and click “Wallpaper.” You will be able to change to other available options or upload your own. Here are Step-by-Step Padlet Wallpaper Instructions for more help.
What are reactions?Teachers and peers can grade, star, upvote/downvote, or like posts on Padlet to give immediate feedback. Each Padlet can only have one reaction type, as designated by the Padlet owner. If reactions are turned on, users can react to their own post or other posts. Users are limited to one reaction per post but unlimited on reacting to all posts on the Padlet. Users can also change and delete their reactions. Enable reactions under the Settings menu and choose your reaction type!
What privacy settings are available? Click on the Share menu (top right) and then “Change Privacy” to modify your padlet’s viewability. Here are your options:
Private – completely hidden from the public.
Password – hidden from the public; password required if I choose to share the padlet with other people.
Secret – hidden from the public but accessible by those with the padlet link.
Public – anyone can see the padlet.
Creative Padlet uses for the classroom
The number one reason to use Padlet? Collaboration. Wait – creativity. No, wait – self expression. Have I made my point? There are too many reasons to pin down the best.
Introduce yourself – Ask students to create a board introducing themselves at the beginning of the year. This could also be a great option for a world languages family vocabulary unit.
Warm-ups and exit tickets – When students respond to the padlet, all of your answers are automatically in one place for you.
Exchange experience with another school – Post topic discussion questions and have students reflect upon their experience in their own culture regarding that topic. Let the two classes explore and compare cultural differences based on responses.
Live questions – Leave a padlet up on the board to see students’ questions come in during the lesson.
Online student portfolio – Students can contribute to their personal padlet over the course of the year.
Student-designed curriculum – Ask students to contribute their i.e., debate topics or current events to be discussed throughout the unit.
Classroom newsletter – Share information with your students and parents in one centralized location.
Brainstorming – Set the topic and let students’ ideas flow.
Philosophical chairs – Post the discussion topic to allow students to analyze and logically form their arguments for debate.
Book Shelfies – Students take a picture of a book they read and write a review.
Story starters – Students complete the story that you begin, whether via opening text or a picture.
Eulogy for a sandwich – My students ran with this serious yet funny writing assignment.
Messages from parents – Parents can leave their child a message for the first day of school.
Icebreaker and emotional check-in – Post a question, i.e., how students are feeling about the upcoming school year. When answers are anonymous, students may feel more secure after seeing other students with the same fears or desires.
Visual vocabulary board – Assign a word to each student on a collaborative padlet. Each student must define the word, use it in a sentence, and add a visual.
Collaborative review – Students must write in a true/false or multiple choice question based on content learned during the week. The teacher can then create a review game (i.e., Quizizz, Kahoot) based on student’s padlet questions.
Padlet is an excellent visual discussion-promoting tool that can make your lessons come alive. Furthermore, it saves student work to one location, making ideas, projects, collaborative vocabulary boards, etc., easily accessible and organized. Try it out today!
I had the perfect opportunity…and I failed. One hundred percent missed the mark and failed as a teacher.
There is a class that I will always look back on and think, “It could’ve been so much better.” I was blessed with a French 3 class of four students (yes, I said “four”). While I had tried abandoning the textbook once in the past, it had been daunting. At the time, I was a young teacher who put more work into the units than the students and I still wasn’t satisfied. I had not attempted it again but realized a few years back that something had to change.
My class of four was bored. They were bored. I was bored. It felt like the longest seventy minutes of every day. They were polite and did their work but no one was excited or fully engaged. I tried every tactic in my teacher toolbox and felt like everything fell flat. It was not that way in my other classes, however, I was noticing a complete lack of listening skills across the board. Writing was strong, reading and speaking were mid-level, with the exception of the few that had consistently raised their hands to answer questions since their early days of French 1. Things had to change.
Step 1: Take the plunge.
A few years ago, students and I rejoiced when I made the move to not be chained to chapters. I had some ideas but also the fear that it would turn out to be the same as my original experience. Fortunately, experience and planning quickly made it seem like the perfect answer. While this will always be a work in progress, the level of student engagement and ownership of their work was immediately noticeable. That was certainly the best payoff of all.
Step 2: Develop a plan.
I had a lot of activities that I thought would be great for a non-textbook setting but quickly realized that a lack of organization could make this experience disastrous. I focused on the basic language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), and structured my units from there. I also crave routine so, for example, by regularly scheduling speaking assessments on Thursdays, I had consistency across all levels. This helped me check all my boxes by the end of the week that each skill had been addressed.
Develop a plan:
How will you determine units?
How will you determine sub-themes within each unit?
How will vocabulary be organized when they no longer come from a photocopy?
What grammar and cultural content will be included?
In what formats will I present materials if I don’t have a textbook?
What resources will I draw on and give to the students?
Again, routine works for me so I tend to have a similar pattern of how I approach each unit. Unit lengths average two weeks but sometimes lend themselves anywhere from one week to maximum three weeks.
Deciding units and sub-themes:
I always have a starting unit in mind so that I am ready for the beginning of the semester.
Students write their interests on paper and I compile them into a Poll Everywhere to narrow down units or vote which one we will embark upon first. There tend to be common interests but when I have several varying topics, I use Google Forms for students to vote on their top three.
Each unit begins with brainstorming sub-themes in partners or small groups. Whiteboards fill up faster than you can say “Allez!” so limit the time before you go down a rabbit hole of sub-categories.
Common sub-themes along with student votes for or against help start to shape the unit. You will also need to help your students realize that some of their extremely specific sub-themes may not have a place in this unit. But don’t restrict all their fun. When the sub-theme “bizarre foods from around the world” literally has your students bouncing in their chairs and saying, “Oui, Madame! Pleeeaase…,” you let that one in.
Developing a vocabulary list:
I use semantic mapping, a tool strongly recommended by AP CollegeBoard throughout all levels, to brainstorm unit sub-themes and the vocabulary list. Students work in pairs to develop an English list of words they would like to know based on the sub-themes. I input the English words into a collaborative Quizlet and students divide and conquer to add their French terms. Make sure to double-check their spelling and accents!
How to create a class Quizlet: Add a study set –> Create a new set –> Only editable by me (top right), change to “Certain Classes” and choose the correct class. Your students will now be able to edit the set so you can divide and conquer the list. Make sure to double check their spelling and accents!
Developing grammar and culture:
I maintain the same grammar as I normally would for each level. I use Google Docs to create guided notes that can either be printed or used digitally. Students can use their own digital copy (made under Google Classroom) and edit via i.e., Google Docs or Notability.
Cultural content is dependent upon the determined units, pursuing that topic in the Francophone world via literature, news articles, France24 or RFI publications, YouTube, etc.
This is where I put in too much time and effort on my first attempt at throwing away the textbook. Let them research and use different forums to present!
This is my Weekly Speaking Assessment (Master Template). It is a collaborative doc where students contribute an original question for each sub-theme. These are the weekly Thursday speaking assessment questions. No hiding the ball and there is complete student ownership (with a little proofing par moi.)
Impromptu speaking presentations: A Level 3 music unit required daily group presentations outlining a French or Francophone artist, a brief biography, his/her influences and who he/she has influenced, and a sample song link posted to the shared class Google Doc. Students worked in groups of two to three and had ten minutes to prepare their brief presentation.
Create Google Slides to guide discussions and maintain focus. (This is very helpful to give background and prompt discussion for the between units movie weeks.) When you are without a textbook, it is easy to bounce around and lose students in the process. Alternately, have your students create and present their own Slides for an engaging class discussion.
Throw Away Your Textbook – This site was created by a Spanish teacher who felt frustrated after seven years of teaching with a textbook. There are a variety of resources for inspiration as well as “True Stories from the Trenches.”
Common Sense Media – A major concern that might cross your mind when sourcing supplemental resources is if they are school appropriate. This website vets materials for you with a page for teachers and parents.
Google will change your world: If you’ve not already dove into the world of Google, make this your New Year’s resolution. Being a Google Certified educator, I understand how easily Google can 1) organize my life (emails, docs, classroom, quizzes…you name it), and 2) the creativity and ownership I can promote in my students.
A future post to come about all things Google and how to become certified!
Let’s not forget the abundance of resources out there (Nearpod, Edpuzzle, Flipgrid, Seesaw, Book Creator, etc.) that can help create engaging activities or help you write a quick reading exit ticket.
Step 3: Enjoy the process.
Plan but don’t overplan. Make your students do the work! After everyone adjusts to the idea of learning without a textbook, your students will take ownership of and pride in their work. There will be increased learning with more engagement and an overall more meaningful and enjoyable experience for everyone. Isn’t it worth trying at least once?
Music. Música. La musique. No matter how you say it, the word “music” will undoubtedly ignite emotions, memories, and connections in ways only possible by rhythm. Not only is there an emotional connection with music, but a strong cognitive one, too, that takes a stronghold in our memories. How many times have you heard a song from your childhood twenty years later and still remember almost every lyric? How is there so much power in music?
Studies show that the gray matter’s preference is aligned with your own. Different parts of the brain will light up based on your personal preferences. Music preferences trigger a circuit called the default mode network in the brain, which is involved in focused thought, empathy, and self-awareness. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that music memories do not fade, even in Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s patients in the late stages tend to be unresponsive except when it comes to music. When their favorite music is played, they come to life, and the effect can sometimes last up to ten minutes after the music is turned off. Music has consistently proven beneficial for health in a number of ways for all ages and all walks of life. (Image source: http://www.ucf.edu)
My point? Music is powerful. I think that is undeniable. Now, let’s take a look at how we can implement it into the classroom.
YouTube and then some…
Here are a number of activities you can do with an original video:
My personal favorite: One student has their back to the screen, the other facing the screen. Play the video without sound the first time. The partner facing the screen describes the video in the target language or a blend of target language and English. After the first round, ask the listeners what they are envisioning at that moment! The entire class watches the video with sound the second time and allow time for further discussion.
Provide students with a lyrics sheet that is missing words. I give a word bank to the lower levels and listen to the song at least twice before we review the missing lyrics.
Search “apprendre le français en chantant” (“learn French by singing”) in YouTube and a wealth of resources will appear.
Music journals: Students were asked to discover a new artist each week and reflect in their journals, giving basic info about the musician. Create a playlist based on student interest to play in class.
Impromptu presentations: I provide the class with a collaborative Google Doc that has a template of information they need to fill out in groups. Each group must choose a different artist and has ten minutes to prepare information about the artist, including name, brief biography, personal influences, how he or she influenced music, music genre, famous songs, and their opinion of the artist’s music.
Music soundtracks: Create (or have your students create) a soundtrack for each unit.
Have an end-of semester karaoke competition! Find the subtitled videos on YouTube.
Learn the song then learn to dance! (Salsa, anyone?)
Host an international day or week celebration with performances by classes or language clubs in addition to any outside talent.
One Spanish teacher at my former school taught Christmas Carols and her students serenaded classes throughout the day.
I have always loved music. It was the very first thing I would put on when I entered my college apartment (after taking out my earphones from the walk, of course). It gives a calm and peaceful background or can make you feel compelled to get up and do.
Apart from playing French artists in class, I regularly play film scores. They are my favorite. I receive quite a few odd stares at the beginning of the year (“Why is she playing Superman?”) but then the conversation turns into, “Wait, is this Superman?” “No, it’s Batman.” Students like to guess the score and complete their warm-ups, bopping their heads to the tune of Darth Vader’s Imperial March. While music tastes vary, there is a certain bond that happens when everyone at the table knows the tune of Indiana Jones swinging from his rope.
Another benefit? It is the signal that tells students to work. Even when the warm-up is on the board, you have explained it, and said “Go!” some students still don’t budge. I have found that when they hear the music, they know it is time to get down to business.
I have created playlists and follow some artists (for example, “This is Zaz” on Spotify). I exclusively speak French to my daughter and have created this playlist that may come in handy if you teach the younger levels: Pour les Petits (Spotify). At less than two years old, she was already clapping her hands and singing half the lyrics of some of the songs!
Yabla is a website with upgraded subscription plans to watch videos with a variety of options. You can choose from their full library or a limited selection if you are under the free version. You can slow down the speed of the audio, loop the video, and have subtitles in the target language, English, both, or none. In the bottom right corner, the blue “Games” button allows for vocabulary review, dictation, fill in the blank, multiple choice, and tracking scores. If you click on one of the subtitled words, target language-English dictionaries will appear on the righthand side. You can also bookmark a video in the top right or leave a comment about the video (subscribers only). Access to Yabla’s growing library containing over 1,950 videos costs $12.95 per month. Currently, Yabla offers videos in Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, German, and English.
LyricsTraining is a website and mobile app that helps anyone learn languages through song. Their are currently thirteen available languages, ranging from English to Japanese. When you select a language and choose a video, you can choose your skill level within that video. This may be my favorite option with LyricsTraining, allowing for varying levels in the classroom and not having to find separate videos for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students.
Music is also separated by genre, allowing you or your students to even further personalize their experience. Game mode allows for multiple choice and fill in the missing lyrics, while the app also has a karaoke option. LyricsTraining can be completed as a class when projected on the screen – shout out answers or students write their answers on white boards – or individually if they are able to download the app. I personally love how it helps keep me up to date with the latest French music as LyricsTraining stays fresh and current.
To close, music is powerful. Music is timeless. Music has a huge place in our hearts and everyday lives so why not incorporate it into our classrooms? Many of us already do! There’s no such thing as too many great ideas. How do you use music in the (World Language) classroom? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your ideas!
We all have our strengths when it comes to the classroom. You receive students from other teachers and realize that there must have been a heavy writing emphasis when you see the students’ beautifully written paragraphs. Perhaps those students speak very well but are lacking in their written sentence structure. My weakest link? Listening. Except I did not realize this for too many years because I was not inheriting students from other teachers.
French teachers: Yes, I’m talking to you.
This post is intended for every (World Language) teacher, but yes, French teachers tend to be “on an island,” as I have so often referred to myself, typically the only French teacher in the department. I would not trade it for the world. The autonomy is liberating and I develop a deeper relationship with my students because I have them for minimum two years and potentially up to four. The pitfall of this scenario is that when you do not have outside perspectives to acknowledge student and teacher progress based on the content, you cannot see what you lack. I did not truly address my weakness in the classroom until I was faced with preparing my students for Le Grand Concours, the National French Content, when I moved to a new school.
The audio played and the panicked looks appeared faster on the students’ faces than you can say “Bonjour.” The results were no better. I realize that students tend to freeze at the sound of authentic audio because 1) it tends to be spoken more quickly, and 2) they are not accustomed to hearing French outside of their teacher’s voice. I thought discussion would prove that they had heard more than they thought, that they just had to pull out key words and we could piece it together as a class.
At this point, I felt like a complete failure of a teacher. Yes, my students were skilled writers, but were they going to walk the streets of France with a pen and paper at all times? Certainly not. Something had to change.
In the last four years, I have incorporated at least one formal listening exercise each week, confronting the reality that listening to my French and overhearing other students in French was not nearly enough. I also start every class, regardless of level, with 1 jour, 1 question, short enjoyable videos (less than two minutes) that address questions of almost any topic. I did not think that these short videos would make much of an impact on their listening skills, but I have been presently surprised. They are engaging and most students look forward to them at the beginning of class, missing them when I’m out with a substitute. (They are now a regular part of sub plans.)
Over time, my intentional plan started to make small chips in the boulder that was blocking the road toward better listening skills. While I had not realized it at the time, I was implementing my now favorite 1% rule – that several small changes would make a difference.
My call to you in this post? Stop and acknowledge your weakest link. While classroom management is important, look at the skills you want students to acquire when leaving your classroom. When I confronted my lack of listening reinforcement, it also forced me to address creating a more balanced skills-based class. Are your tests framed for ease of grading or a true reflection of the students’ knowledge? Thursdays are now intended for speaking assessments based on student-created questions. Writing is constant but does not overshadow other skills. Students read a weekly story on Flipgrid from a short stories packet I created in addition to regular short cultural passages from the textbook.
Do not feel like a failure, as I did. Be realistic with yourself and truly confront what needs to change in your classroom. Take steps to improve then embrace your wins. The truth of the matter is sometimes we do not practice what we preach. Teachers want their students to grow but what are we doing to improve our teaching? Constant self-reflection and taking action upon those lacks will help you grow and not remain stagnant. Little changes lead to huge accomplishments. So, I ask you…