Tag Archives: critical thinking

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 Padlet.com, 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 https://drdmd.wordpress.com – 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!