Embracing Belonging in Language Communities by Focusing on Kindness
If we want our learners to use kind words when they speak to and about one another, we need to get intentional. I was inspired by a speaker named Houston Kraft who was interviewed on this episode of a podcast for educators by Morgane Michael. Houston is the founder of Choose Love and a co-founder of Character Strong which is a curricula designed to help cultivate a culture of character and develop social emotional skills. There is a significant body of research suggesting French language learners lack confidence (and expertise) in the social-emotional aspects of expression. As such, I am always seeking opportunities to boost this learning through practice.
The whole episode is worth a listen, but the part that got my language teacher brain ticking was just a small mention about one strategy to teach kids to give compliments. Houston shares his fundamental belief: “People want to be good, they just don’t always know what good looks like, and so the more opportunities we put in front of them to practice good, the more likely we are to take it and build the habit of kindness in our life.” He went on to share about @complimentcreations – an Instagram handle run by students which posts “fill in the blank” style compliment stems. Immediately, I began thinking about what stems I could create in French and how they might work with my young language learners.
Houston spoke about the idea that people need to get comfortable with level 1 compliments before we can expect them to give level 5 compliments. I found this comment to be really encouraging. It makes sense. In the past, I would have been discouraged by the « J’aime ta chemise » type compliments. Now, I can see that this is building a muscle for speaking with kindness. The skills we are trying to develop include having the vocabulary for giving compliments, in addition to the vulnerability to express yourself and shine light on the gifts we see in others.
The first time I introduced the compliments circle image, we did some popcorn style sharing as I introduced the compliment stems one by one. Now I display the image on the projector and on a regular 8.5×11 page. Before we begin a compliments circle, we read through the starters together. Instead of being disappointed about the level 1 compliments, I felt encouraged and optimistic. After just a week or two of practice with the compliments (which I have been calling “gentils mots”), my learners are starting to share higher level compliments such as: « (nom), tu étais une bonne amie pour moi quand tu aider moi avec la vidéo. » I can feel a positive shift in the warmth, and sense of belonging felt by my learners in the classroom since I introduced this practice.
This is the document I created to support our practice in giving compliments. I found it was grounding and helpful both for me, and my learners, as a tool to guide our thinking and speaking. This intentional focus on lifting one another up goes a long way towards creating a culture of care in the classroom. Please feel welcome to use this document in your own classroom.