Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

Encouraging Risk/Rewarding Growth with “Checks And A Smile”


How do we encourage students to risk? How to we encourage them to ‘stretch’ and try something new? It’s a big challenge in the world language classroom. I have been using rubrics a lot to find out about how something went for a student, but it took until this year for me to use them to ‘prepare’ students to interact.  I realized that the rubric (and it’s construction/labels etc) is one way that we communicate class expectations. So why don’t we ask them, prior to the activity, to set up/predict/plan how they willSource: work to meet them?  This post focuses on interpersonal speaking but the concept may also be adapted for writing as well.

Initially I started asking students, prior to starting the activity, to select their ‘challenge’ (the ‘extra push’) – and check off (on the rubric) what they wanted to focus on doing/improving. Then I asked them to share that challenge with their partner to build in a bit of accountability. Then we moved on to the activity. It seemed to work well – they sincerely considered their ‘extra push’ in the interaction. But for me it wasn’t enough. It felt a bit focused on the ‘what I am not doing’ and not acknowledging ‘what I can already do’. Clearly, I needed a more balanced approach.

Lately I’ve been trying to acknowledge/encourage via “checks and a smile“. Prior to the activity the students select the ‘challenge/push’ for the activity – that gets the check. For my novices I generally have only 1 check, but in my upper level courses I source: openclipart.orgexpand that to 2 challenge/push areas. Then I ask them to select something that they already feel that they do well – what they are proud that they already incorporate into their interpersonal work. That gets the happy face.  I like how this combination gives a personal pat on the back for something already accomplished and still sets out something for them to reach for in their work.

When I ask students to reflect, as I always do, they are ready to tell me how they well they felt they did in meeting their checked challenge. Increasingly, with the equal focus on a strength, I see reflective comments about what they are ‘proud’ of  as well. And that is a happy face for everyone!



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