Category Archives: PBLL

Thinking about Student Voice and Choice

This note refers to an article posted on Edutopia at this link. It originally was posted on the P21 Bloagazine.

My friend from #LangChat and ACTFL conferences, Marilynn Mansori, has posted a great article on Edutopia! I recommend it to you. The link is posted above.

A quick summary of her note follows.

These four ideas can help teachers start building student voice and choice into language learning.

  1. Use an inquiry approach to language instruction.
  2. Employ personalization strategies that allow students to see themselves in what they learn.
  3. Make the learning relevant to the students.
  4. Invite students to make local and personal connections with the language they study.

To these four points, I would add a 5th, which Meriwynn agreed, is also important for an inquiry-based approach to language learning.

#5. Choose themes of global importance.

Students want to know that they can make a difference in the world. How can we create units which shift the traditional WL curriculum from the typical units of family, food and sports, to more challenging global themes such as world hunger and nutrition, or healthy living in diverse communities?

I love the power of collaboration. Thanks Meriwynn for an inspiring post!


learner centered George


Upon further inquiry on the topic of voice and choice, I came across this excellent infographic by George Couros, and a blog piece by him at this link, on his website, The Principles of Change.

George states:

As I think that leaders should be able to describe what they are looking for in schools I have thought of eight things that I really want to see in today’s classroom.  I really believe that classrooms need to be learner focused. This is not simply that students are creating but that they are also having opportunities to follow their interests and explore passions.  The teacher should embody learning as well.

George advocates for a new kind of classroom interaction and learning, one in which these eight characteristics are visible and normal:

  1. Voice
  2. Choice
  3. Time for Reflection
  4. Opportunities for Innovation
  5. Critical Thinkers
  6. Problem Solvers/Finders
  7. Self-assessment
  8. Connected Learning

That’s what PBLL looks like, and why I love it! I recommend these resources, and there will be more to come. Stay tuned!




Going deeper with PBLL planning

This question was posted recently on Edutopia

Dear Don,

Thank you for your article. I am a French teacher at the American School of New Delhi and I am currently preparing a COETAIL program (Certificate of educational technology and information literacy) . As part of my last course, I have decide to implement a PBL task. I am teaching a beginner group and our next unit is about ‘food’. I have been inspired by your article to ask the students to set up a restaurant in a francophone country. As a novice with PBL, I would be really grateful if you could give me some advice to ensure a succesful and enjoyable experience for my students : do you give your students any vocabulary or structures beforehand? how do you make sure that they communicate with each other in the target language (considering that I have a beginner group, they might use more English than French)? How do you assess them along the way? How do you track individual’s participation in the group? I’ll appreciate any advice, rubrics, resources I could use to help me set up that project. Merci beaucoup!


Hi Julie – you have some GREAT questions! Well done on experimenting with PBLL (project-based language-learning) as well.

I usually introduce a PBLL-aligned unit with some form of comprehensible input in the form of a story related to the learning targets and including a driving question for inquiry. For example, for this “food unit,” the driving question(s) is/are: How can we help to preserve the rich culinary heritage of the Francophone world? The learning targets are formulated in “I can statements” = I can + language function + theme. For example:

  • I can describe how to prepare a recipe from the target culture.
    I can ask and answer questions about the foods of the target culture.
    I can help someone select a dish from a menu.

My story will model all these learning targets. I include key vocabulary and structures (not grammar! but syntactical relationships, or sentence frames) as a model of the language they will learn and produce. My story may have episodes as well, to break it down into segments, as all at once could be overload. I do not provide lists of words, I ask students to share out new words they are learning, and we create a word wall – usually on, but also the walls of the classroom. I am not keen on a “defined list” – I want students to own their vocabulary. There can be choices here.

Students work in groups of four ideally. More is too many, three is the least. They have assigned roles (decided by the group) to ensure everything is done well – project manager, secretary, questioner/clarifier, producer…). I help scaffold interpersonal communication between students with sentence frames – on Padlet and on paper. I also circulate around the room constantly, checking in with groups as they do their research. I ask and answer questions in French, and support their use of the target language. Students are encouraged to use target language as much as possible, but they are not required only to speak French.

I have rubrics for several things: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and of course communication: oral and written, in the three modes of communication – interpretive, interpersonal and presentational. I am working on updates of my rubrics, including making variations for novice, intermediate and advanced level fluencies. The ones I have made are on my website at – see the tab labeled “PBLL” – note that this page is under construction, but there is a link to my old site where there is all I have posted so far. More to come on this! You will find a lot of resources there.

I am writing a “how to” book on PBLL, but it is in draft, not yet done. More to follow on this!

I hope this gets you started! Thanks for your post, and best wishes on your good work!


My PBLL Webinar on Infusing Culture for the NFLRC at University of Hawaii


5 Favorite Apps for Project-Based Language-Learning

This article first appeared on at:

5 Favorite Apps for PBL Language Learning | Edutopia.

If you have an inkling to try your hand at project-based language-learning (aka “PBLL”), you will need to stay organized, and help keep the students on track toward meeting our communication-based proficiency outcomes. Here are a few tips I have learned as a PBLL teacher.

1) Help! I need a management system!
My favorite app for managing the ebb and flow of communication between my students and me is Edmodo. There are other worthy options, but I have been using Edmodo for a number of years, and it feels like home now.

I post daily agendas on the Edmodo calendar, and I like that students can add notes to their own calendars as well. I post assignments, and assess them in the gradebook, leaving suggestions for improvement. I like to assign reflection prompts on a regular basis, so posting them on Edmodo means I don’t need to collect another piece of paper. What’s more, I can go home, sit in my comfy chair, read the reflections on my iPad, respond quickly to them, and keep students on track with their projects. I like that we can post students’ final products, and share them with our sister classes in Martinique and in Marseille, knowing that our friends will see them and post comments. They really enjoy seeing the comments in French from our friends!

I also appreciate that students can send me notes and questions via Edmodo; I have set up notifications to come to my phone, so I can reply when I wish, usually right away since it entails only a moment or two to do so. Edmodo has really helped me develop good relationships with my students. Parents can follow their students as well.

Did I mention that Edmodo is free? Yes, they have a few upgrades for which one can pay, but the most important tools cost nothing. Nice!

2) Reminders on Remind!
As I have reached the “mature” teacher stage of my career, I have become a bit forgetful! Luckily there is Remind (formerly known as Remind 101). I like that I can send a quick note to a whole class, or to just a few students at a time. Remind has added some nice new features as well, my favorite being that I can attach a file to the message, like handouts and the rubrics for our unit, and the students have them in hand right away. If a student says (s)he needs another copy, I simply send it via Remind. I like that I can send notes to help students prepare for presentation day, to bring their food items to share on holidays, or just to complement them for doing a good job. They like that the notices come right to their phones. Win win win! Did I mention that Remind is free? Yes indeed! Free.

3) Blending content on BlendSpace
I love to use lots of authentic resources in the target language. There is little need for textbooks when there are so many multi-media options available on the Internet (I still use textbooks, just not very often). Blendspace is a great tool for creating a playlist of resources: photos, videos, text… For each resource, I can add some text or a question or prompt to accompany the media. Students click on each resource, see the prompt, and contribute to a class discussion right in the playlist. Other students can post comments in response to others. Once the playlist is assembled, I can embed the playlist on my class website or on Edmodo. Did I mention that BlendSpace is free? I am starting to see a pattern here!

4) Bulletin boards on Padlet
I LOVE Padlet, and so do my students. I create a board, post a prompt with an accompanying image, link or document, and students post their replies, questions, or other contributions on the board.

We recently did a project on art and museums in Paris. To support students to learn to describe various types of artwork, I posted photos of paintings, statues, and other artworks on a Padlet board, and asked students to write descriptions. They were all engaged with their learning, and I had a document at the end as a formative assessment which helped me track their progress toward meeting the communication-based objectives of our unit. The next day, I provided workshops on various aspects of the target language or cultural content which needed clarification. The feedback helped students to improve their projects. Did I mention that Padlet is free? Yup, free, just like the others!

5) Flipping for FlipGrid!
I have one more tool to share. It is, and although it isn’t free (sorry!), it isn’t expensive either, not for what you get. FlipGrid costs 65$ a year, and for that, I get a great tool to help my students gain confidence with their speaking skills. I post a prompt or question, and students record a video reply. They can view their video before they submit. If they want to, they can re-do their video reply as many times as they like, until they submit the final response.

I have a lot of students who are deathly afraid of speaking in front of an audience. FlipGrid allows them, and the others who are more brave, to submit a speaking assignment which represents their best work. They are happy because they can do it even on their phone if they want. I am happy because I finally have an EASY tool to use to collect speaking assignments, and assess them on my iPad in that comfy chair I mentioned earlier. SO much more fun than grading those old grammar tests I used to give so very long ago. It may not be free, but it is well worth it to me, especially when I see the results. Priceless!

What about you? What other tools have you found useful for your language classes? I would love to hear about them and share ideas about how you are using them to support your students to communicative-proficiency in the language you teach. Hope to see your comments soon!

Best wishes,

Reflecting on How to be Innovative with PBLL

This article also appears on Edutopia at this link

As I have sought to implement project-based learning in my French classes, I have often set aside time to reflect on the units I have designed in order to modify them for various reasons. Sometimes, it has been to make the pathway of inquiry more accessible to the diverse range of my students’ abilities and skills. Often, it has been that my students have had great suggestions on how to alter the unit, making it more engaging and interesting for them — that is particularly rewarding, because it is tangible evidence that they are hooked! Other times, it is because I have discovered that what I thought was important, turned out to be not as much so for my students. I have wondered how can I ensure that my project plans are innovative enough to capture students’ attention in such a way as to make them the drivers of the PBL wagon, and not me.

In my mind, one of the most important benefits of PBL (and which won me over, as it were) is that students are actually engaged in their own learning of significant content as they acquire the skills they need to be successful in life. For many years, my biggest struggle as an educator has been to battle apathy! My own driving question has been this:

How can I, as a World Language teacher, engage ALL my students in meaningful work that demonstrates all of the following:

  • linguistic proficiency in three modes, oral and written: interpretive, interpersonal, presentational
  • cross cultural sensitivity and appreciation of the diversity of humanity
  • global and digital citizenship
  • their own real-world learning journey

Tall order? Probably, But I suspect many teachers have high expectations of themselves to deliver quality learning opportunities to their students.

My next step is to review all my pbl-aligned units to see how well they line up with my DQ (i.e., driving question). I wonder how I am doing in my own inquiry? I also wonder how I can be more innovative than I have been so my students can also be more innovative? For example, in world languages, we always have one or more units connected to food and culture – how can one separate those?! ≪C’est impossible!≫ However, I don’t want to settle for a simple food project. How can I make that unit more meaningful and significant?

I decided that we should to a project on world hunger and food distribution, a topic of inquiry which is very meaningful in the Francophone world, since three of every five native speakers of French live in Sub-Saharan Africa, where hunger is a real life or death issue. The question is why is that so, and how can we, as globally aware individuals in North America, help to solve this problem? How can we make a difference? How will it change us as well? How can we contribute to healthier living, for ourselves and for others?

My aim is to be much more innovative so my students can also be innovative, as they seek to engage in important work. I am excited to see how we can achieve that goal!

How about you? What are some ways you are looking to innovate your units for the new school year? I would like to invite you to discuss this with me and with others as we take time to reflect this summer. I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Using Project-Based Learning to Teach World Languages

This post first appeared on Edutopia at this link.

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest blogger is Don Doehla, French teacher and instructional coach at Vintage High School in Napa, California. Don recently stepped up to become the new facilitator of our World Languages group. He’s got some great ideas for teaching world languages, including the use of project-based learning. He shares a few of these tips today. We hope you’ll join him in the World Languages group as well. 

The world may be small and flat, but it is also multilingual, multicultural, and more and more, it is an interconnected world. Consequently, cross cultural communicative competencies are increasingly important for mutual understanding and cooperation – how is that for some alliteration?! Our students’ need to be able to communicate with their neighbors, here and abroad, is increasing with every moment which passes! The borders separating our countries are diminishing in importance as the global culture emerges. The definition of who my neighbor is has changed as well. No longer are we isolated from what is happening across the globe. Recent events demonstrate this quite well! Examples abound for everyone on the planet. We must be able to communicate well and proficiently across the kilometers which separate us.

The Challenges

Like other World Language teachers, I am constantly trying to focus on the essentials in order to create a standards-driven, communication-based curriculum for my students. I am also keen on addressing the necessary skills students must acquire for the 21st century as outlined in the wonderful document from the Carnegie Institute available at How can I know whether I have achieved my desired objective? I need authentic assessments to evaluate target language proficiencies, while offering opportunities for greater engagement, for working in collaborative teams, for developing critical thinking skills, for managing precious time and resources, for emphasizing global themes, and for preparing students toward the new AP exam in French starting next year! On top of that, I want them to learn how to use proficiently the wonderful technology tools now available. Sound familiar? We work hard as teachers! Darn hard! Oui, monsieur, dur, dur!

The Rationale for PBL

And so I come to project-based learning as a way of bringing it all together. Projects provide opportunities for students to engage in real life communication, in context, with real people, and across the globe. I try to align my projects according to the California WL Standards, and the fluency stages of the Language Learning Continuum found in chapter 2 of the California World Languages Framework. I also keep the 21st Century skills in mind, along with the more familiar five C’s from ACTFL, and the many things I have learned about literacy, and cross-cultural issues. I have found that the projects address all these things and more. I have tried to make sure that they also offer students the opportunity to be creative and to explore their potentials and aspirations. It is a lot of fun to see this in action. How about some examples?

Stage 1 Fluency Example: The Menu Project

In this project, students play the role of a restaurant owner who needs to develop and create a menu for his/her restaurant established in one of the target language countries of the world. Their menus must have at least five categories, and twenty-five items, all authentic dishes of the target culture of their choice within the Francophone world. They must decide on an appropriate name, create an address, phone number, website and twitter account name, consistent with examples they find on-line from authentic restaurants of the target culture. Their menu items must be priced in the local currency, converted in an appropriate manner for the target culture. The students then do a speech either in small groups or for the whole class in which they speak to the group as the restaurant owner, suggesting good dishes, specialty items, etc. They must say at least 15 sentences, and can either present live or on video. I have a rubric for the menu and one for the speech, and am looking for Stage 1 fluency, namely, formulaic language (memorized chunks of discourse combined with lists of works). I find that the kids learn a lot about a country of their choice, while having fun being creative!

Stage 2 Fluency Example: The Children’s Story Book

We refer to stage two fluency as created language. The premise here is that students take the formulae that they have learned so well in stage one, and combine them together into their own created sentences. These statements no longer sound like memorized sound bites given back in the same formula, but rather in individualized, self directed expressions of thoughts and ideas. The sentences are frequently complex, but do not contain subordinate clauses of the kind requiring specialized verb forms. They also do not necessarily have to be strung together in a particular order to make sense – if we were to reorder them, they would make just as much sense in the new order. In other words, these are lists of sentences, but the order of the lists are not significant.

I have developed a project to measure this stage of fluency which I call the Story Book project. Students create a set of characters who live in one of the target language countries. They write the story as if the main character were describing his life when he was five years old (which requires the imperfect tense in French). The students then describe a big event which occurred in the life of the character, such as his first day of school, and then the things which happened in that day (requiring the use of the passé composé in French). They need to research what a child’s life is like in the target culture and create an authentic and visually rich situation for the story’s setting. I usually ask students to write about 5 sentences per page, and about ten pages total. They do rough drafts and peer editing. I also look at the drafts and highlight what is correct, and make some suggestions for corrections. The editing process is a learning experience of its own.

As students write their stories, they cannot help but compare their own lives with those of the characters they have created. The compare and contrast paradigme creates a good context for created language. It also allows students to try out their knowledge of how to narrate in past time frames, and demonstrate that they know how to use the various past tenses typical of the second year language curriculum. We often find that students reach what we call “linguistic breakdown” as they use various verb forms, but they do not necessarily do so at the syntactic level. They are able to make the sentence structures fit together well, even when their verb forms are not always correct. Frankly, I think this is great! When my focus is on the fluency stage, and not on distinct verb forms, I find that my students are actually progressing very well in their journey toward language acquisition. In time, they will perfect their use of verb forms, but in the meantime, they are clearly able to communicate at a higher level of fluency even if their accuracy is not yet up to par. We do want accuracy, of course, but in terms of fluency, this is a lesser problem for communication than is the sentence structure.

Stage 3 Fluency Example: The ABC Book Project

In stage three fluency, the text type I am aiming for is planned language, ie, paragraphing, in which there is a topic sentence, supported by concrete details and commentary, and a concluding sentence to sum up the important ideas. In French, this requires that students know how to create complex sentences, using main and subordinate clauses, requiring the subjunctive, or “if/then” type sentences, requiring imperfect/conditional tenses, among others (other languages may require knowledge of other paradigms as well). I have done this project over the course of a whole semester, breaking it down in smaller parts over time, and with the focus being Québec. We study many different aspects of Québécois culture: short stories, poems, song lyrics, historical texts, current events… The students do smaller projects along the way, but as a result of their inquiry, they write a page on each topic of their choice. I have them write 20 pages, one for each of 20 letters of the alphabet, according to their choice. An example page might look like this in English:

Q is for Québec City (title sentence). Québec is the capital city of the province of Quebec, and sits on a bluff overlooking the Saint Lawrence River (topic sentence). It seems to me that the people of Québec have much for which they may be proud (detail). It is necessary that they invest wisely in the maintenance of their historical monuments, because it preserves the diversity of their historical heritage (commentary). If I were to visit Québec, I would want to look out over the Saint Lawrence from the Terasse Dufferein so I could enjoy the beautiful view of the river and of the Ile d’Orléans (commentary). If I went to Québec in winter, I would go during the Carnaval so I could participate in the many activities (commentary). It is interesting that the local accent is different in Québec than in France. (commentary). If I go to Québec, I will practice speaking French with the local people and hope that I will be able to understand their accent without any problems (conclusion).”

This is a fair amount of work for one page, let alone twenty, so I provide a page template for students to use to be sure they keep on track. I have them do rough drafts of each page. When they turn in the drafts, I highlight what is correct and return the pages. The students may resubmit the pages with corrections until they have perfected their work. In this way, I am reinforcing their own editing process, and helping them to focus on the details they might otherwise overlook. This project has proven to be great fun, and I have found that by the end of the semester, they have mastered complex sentences and paragraphing quite well.

Future Plans

Next year, I plan to augment my project-based approach by connecting my classes with classes in 3 Francophone countries – France, Canada, and Sénégal. I want the students to collaborate with their peers across the world in writing digital stories which they will post on the web for their friends to read, and so they can offer comments and engage in conversations about the stories. I plan to have the students explore many story genres, including comic strips, manga, short stories and poems, and other kinds of writing as their interests are piqued. The many web 2.0 applications which are now available will be a big help in giving students the tools they need to write and create their stories. I expect the project to provide greater opportunities for engagement, creativity, problem solving, and collaboration ? ie, they will learn to communicate in French while learning 21st century skills!

Let’s have some fun, too! Join the conversation. Post an idea on the Edutopia WL group. Need an idea? Got a question? Found a cool website, app or tool? Let’s collaborate as well! Shall we get started? Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas ? together is better!