Unique Ways to Use Extempore #4: Student Reflections / Unit Previews

Ever want to hear your students' thoughts on a lesson or unit without their classmates viewing it? Try using Extempore for student reflection and unit previews / reviews.

For a reflection, give students a simple prompt, reminding them of what was taught and learned in the unit as well as its main objectives. Talk about the language structures and vocabulary, as well as how this language was used during the unit. Ask open-ended but specific questions that elicit authentic responses (in either native or target language, depending on level), encourage metacognition, and facilitate introspective reflection. Such reflections will reveal valuable information to instructors on student progress, attitudes towards a course and its content, confidence levels, and the next logical steps in a course. Before getting into how to do this though, let's first understand why reflections are so important.

Why use reflections?

Reflections give students a chance to step away from constant content and actually think about what they are learning. In turn, students construct more meaning out of their learning experiences. Just like how us teachers need to reflect on our own progress and performance, students need to understand the depth and progress of their own learning. Without encouraging students to reflect on their own learning experiences, we put them at risk of simply going through the motions and achieving, at best, superficial knowledge of the content area. Finally, reflection has value outside of the language classroom. Nattress (2006) argues that "being able to locate information, critically consider its relevance and usefulness, and evaluate one’s own relationship to this information are skills that our students can use their whole lives." We reflect to look at not just what we learned but how it's impacted us. When we ingrain this skill in our students, we are helping them learn how to respond to the world they experience, even after they leave our classrooms.

Designing Reflections on Extempore

When designing a reflection on Extempore, I like to divide it into three parts. First, students answer a basic, open-ended question on the overall unit. This allows them to collect their thoughts and reflect on their learning as a whole, before diving into more specific topics.

Open-ended reflection questions

In the second set of questions, students focus on their linguistic development during this unit. Here, they can look back at what parts of the language they struggled with, which parts came easy, and which parts they are finally starting to understand. This section can also serve as an opportunity for students to reflect on linguistic goals, milestones, or other noteworthy successes they’ve achieved in the unit.

  • Consider asking students to reflect on their overall linguistic progress over a given period of time. It’s always interesting to see how students feel about their growth since day one in the language.
  • Students should reflect on the nature of class as well. Have students evaluate your own teaching strategies and assess which ones they prefer and don’t prefer.
  • The beauty of languages is that there are often words or phrases that don’t translate directly to English or other native languages, and it’s these lexical anomalies that give languages uniqueness and character. At the same time though, such phrases can prove difficult to grasp and leave students confused. In the event that your unit contains some of these linguistic rich points, they are great starting points for student reflection.

Outside of vernacular rich points, many languages will also have grammatical concepts that don’t exist in English (or other L1s). Linguistic case, grammatical genders, and double negatives are all examples of grammatical concepts that are mostly nonexistent in English.

Example questions to encourage linguistic reflection

Cultural points also serve as valuable reflection topics, and these represent the third set of questions I provide students. When we discuss and observe aspects of the target culture, there are opportunities to compare, analyze, and learn about the values between the target culture and our own. In my own experience, these questions normally receive the most unique student responses.

  • Rich points can be found in culture as well! Focus on the unique differences between cultures, particularly those found in practices and perspectives.
  • These practices and perspectives will always lead back to cultural values: ideas that members of these cultures feel are important and play a significant role in their lifestyles. Encourage students to derive value from recently learned cultural topics.
Examples questions to encourage cultural reflection

Unit Previews

Likewise, you can use Extempore to reflect on what you're about to learn too. By previewing upcoming content, whether cultural or linguistic, students can share their initial thoughts about certain topics and make educated guesses about new language structures. These previews are valuable opportunities for students to challenge themselves to derive meaning, even when they haven't necessarily learned the content.

For example, if you want to introduce the past tense in Spanish, you could provide a text that uses past tense verb structures. Given that students have learned words that can indicate past action like "yesterday," "last week," or "two days ago," they will be well-equipped to guess new verb forms.

Example sentence to encourage students to guess new verb tenses

At the same time, instructors can easily introduce cultural topics. Perhaps upload a picture, show a promotional video, or take a screenshot of an online newspaper in the TL. With whatever media you choose, give students an open-ended question that, like end-of-unit reflection questions, will get them thinking about the overall topic. Even for one topic, there's a variety of questions you could ask. Looking at Bastille day as an example, here are some potential questions:

  • Why do you think this holiday is important?
  • How do you think French people celebrate Bastille Day outside of France?
  • What does patriotism mean to you?
  • How do you think this holiday might differ from our independence day?
  • What items / traditions do you commonly associate with independence day?
Example image to encourage student preview of new cultural topics

Reflecting on Reflections and Unit Previews

Reflecting on the act of reflecting is meta indeed, but it's actions like this that build metacognition, a skill that certainly has its place in the classroom. In the language classroom, reflection allows students to look back at their linguistic progress and at the same time analyze how they have developed intercultural competence. Likewise, unit previews activate students' prior knowledge and encourage them to ask questions, considering the linguistic and cultural differences of the world. These reflections are what make us grow as humans, and they are what give language classes their undeniable value.

Works Cited: Nattress, J. (2007) Learning Through Reflection: Student Self-Assessment in Language Education. (2007) Language and Culture Studies, 26(2), 165-183.

Grant Castner joined Extempore as Community Manager in August 2020. While managing social media and creating content with Extempore, he also teaches high-school level Chinese in Minnesota. An avid user of Extempore for language assessment, he’s always on the lookout for ways to improve his teaching practice. Have a question on how to adapt Extempore for your class? Just need help teaching? Contact Grant anytime at grant.castner@extemporeapp.com.

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Unique Ways To Use Extempore: #4 Student Reflections