Working with Groups – Josette Leblanc

Josette Leblanc

Gallery Walk: Collaborative, Creative, & Versatile – Josette LeBlanc

You walk into an art gallery where mesmerizing and perplexing pieces of art await your viewing. As you walk to each piece, your curiosity is ignited. You stop at one. If you are with a friend, you discuss the artist’s possible intention, as well as the meaning behind the creation. Then you move on to the next work of art, and follow the same process.

Your classroom is also a gallery

You can also turn your classroom into a gallery by taking your learners on a “gallery walk”. A gallery walk is a versatile collaborative and cooperative class activity, which can be done in small groups or as a whole class. The basic premise is that learners put up their “art” (short stories they have written, posters they have created, questions they are posing…) at “stations” (desks, walls…), and everyone else has a task to accomplish while viewing the work.

When we think of asking students to work in groups we often think of groups of four or five working together at a desk, or maybe we think of group competitions. Gallery walks ask learners to step away from their desks to share information (language) in collaborative and cooperative ways.

Let’s visit a few of these galleries. Please remember that in these galleries, you are encouraged to touch the art.

Gallery walks for ice-breakers

This is one of my favorite ways to use a gallery walk. You may know the popular activity, Two Truths, One Lie where learners need to share two truthful facts about themselves and one lie. It’s everyone else’s job to find out which one is the lie. On the first day of class, I like to ask my learners to write their truths and lies on a colorful piece of paper. They then paste their Truth/Lie posters on the wall. Next, I turn on some background music, and with pens in hand, learners move from poster to poster putting check marks next to the sentence they think is a lie. Groups or pairs often end up meeting at a poster where they naturally begin discussing what the lie might be. When they’ve put all their check marks, it’s finally time for the artists to reveal their lies. Everyone is eager to find out if they guessed correctly.

Gallery walks for working with texts

This next example is a small twist on the traditional cooperative reading strategy called, jigsaw. Each group is assigned a different part (ie: part 1, part 2, part 3…) of the same article or story (ie: Story A), and they are responsible for creating a poster that represents that part. They have creative freedom over how they want to represent the text (ie: charts, drawings, words, no words…). Before making the poster, learners need time to individually read their assigned text (ie: part 1), and then discuss it with their group. Once they have a solid understanding, they start designing the poster. When each group has finished their posters, it’s time for a gallery walk. They put up the posters, and each group walks around trying to understand the details of what came before and after their part of the text. Groups then explain their posters, just as an artist would explain their work of art. By doing this, everyone gets the full picture. (See this post I wrote a few weeks ago about doing this activity with my class.)

The same can be done with everyone reading the same text. Each group will have a very different artistic perspective on the text from which other groups will learn. Ask students to find similarities and differences between the ways they chose to represent the text.

Gallery walks for discussions

As a pre-reading task, I like to put up different quotes that relate to the topic. In groups of three, learners discuss what the quotes mean and if they agree with it. For example, a few weeks ago we read a text about heroes. This is one of the quotes I put on the wall:

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of course this could be done at any point in the lesson for any type of language focus. Instead of quotes, you could put pictures or words. Teachers can put up questions or learners can ask their own. The possibilities for discussions and sharing in a gallery walk are endless.

Make gallery walks your own

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gallery walks. You can do anything you want with them. Just remember the basics: learners work together to create and contemplate a “piece of art”, and artists move from one work of art to the other in order to accomplish a task. With this in mind, you can make your own creatively collaborative classroom.  ~ Josette LeBlanc

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Learning to See – Josette

Questions on The Reflective Journey  — Josette LeBlanc


The beauty of questioning is that it helps you look deeper into yourself. Questions ask you to investigate, to doubt, to grow, and to change. Questions help you learn to see.

But some people don’t want to see. For some people, there is no beauty in this concept at all. Questioning is unpleasant and scary, and something to be avoided. Questions may ask us to admit we’re wrong or bring light to the fact that we made a mistake. It is much safer to hold on to beliefs and usual ways of doing than it is to change.

Part of the desire to avoid questions comes from the fear of being judged by others and by the self.  This is something I have struggled with as a teacher and as a trainer.  When I was a new teacher I’d sometimes tell myself I wasn’t good enough, and that shouldn’t be an English teacher. As a teacher trainer, I often hear in-service teachers talk about themselves in the same way. They also talk about the fear of being judged by their colleagues. In Korea, English teachers must compete against each other to gain professional points. School administrators observe lessons in a way that is more focused on finding out who has the most dynamic class than on helping teachers improve. If a teacher comes from such a space, then any question asked will understandably feel like a judgment.

But these questions are so important! If I don’t question, I risk getting stuck in the world of judgments. In that world, I can’t make room for new possibilities. I become blind to my students’ creative potential or even my own. Without these questions I may not see that making a small change could have a huge impact (see John Fanselow). I limit myself to a narrow view of the world.

So how can we wake up to being curious about our teaching and ourselves without giving in to the fear of judgment?


Take a step back and ask yourself what happened. What did you see? What did you hear? What did you feel? Don’t interpret. Just imagine you are watching a scene on TV. Just describe the moment. Write it in a journal or share it with someone. Stay with the description and don’t interpret…just yet.

When we deal with observed facts, it is harder to get defensive. It’s just something that happened instead of an attack.

“The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgment.” – J. Krishnamurti

This is the first point I learned in my conflict resolution studies (see Nonviolent Communication). Creating the separation between observation and interpretation increases the chances that the person I am talking to, who can also include myself, will be open to listening to what I have to say next.

From this place of non-defensiveness I’m ready for questions. I’m ready to get curious and explore in the ways John Fanselow wrote about in his last iTDi blog post, Breaking Rules.  I start to look into the “why” and generate as many explanations as possible. I expand the possibilities of this “why” to my students, the context, the content, the environment, and the relationships in between. I imagine and interpret what may have happened during the moment I’m looking into. From here I can chose a new point of departure for my next experience.

From description to interpretation to your next plan of action: this is a process you can go through on your own via your blog or a reflective journal, or it’s a process you can go through with your reflective community (see my blog post, Our Reflective Community). Whatever medium I choose, through this process of reflection, I learn to see myself.

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Connections and Influences – Josette

Learning Lightness Through Photography 

& Gratitude – By Josette Leblanc

Josette Leblanc

Photography and gratitude are two practices I have come to see as inevitably intertwined and necessary in my life. They compliment each other in the sense that they are both based on beauty and celebrating life. They have given me the ability to look at the world through the eyes of wonder.

This is something I used to do easily until one day realize I had lost it. How do you lose this ability? For me it started seeping away when I began taking life much too seriously.  I only became aware of this after months of being in what I called “a funk”. This isn’t the funky kind of funk. This is the kind of funk that brings you and the people around you down. Funk also found me in the classroom. Life got a bit too discouraging, and so did my outlook on education.

Trying to get myself out of this funk, I spent some of my free time listening to Tara Brach’s podcasts. Her teachings on mindfulness are insightful, humorous and practical. In her podcast “1000 serious moves” it seemed like she was speaking directly to me. She explored ways to help people see life with greater lightness. One of the ways was to find a gratitude partner. The concept is simple: email a friend every night with 5 things you are grateful for. Intellectually understanding how gratitude could brighten up my life, I emailed my dear friend Anne Hendler (check out her insightful reflections on learning and teaching at Living Learning) to see if she wanted to embark on this journey with me. We’ve now been gratitude buddies since September 2012, emailing each other with five moments of gratitude almost everyday. Here was in one of my latest gratitude lists:

  • I feel grateful that my body sends me clear signs of when I’m going too far and that I am now able to recognize that.
  • I feel grateful for that little photography boost this morning.
  • I feel grateful that some of the teachers wrote narratives that can serve as examples to those who didn’t really get the theme.
  • I feel grateful for the laughter in today’s French lesson (a shock language lesson to help the teacher-trainees see the language learning process through the eyes of a beginner).
  • I feel grateful that my French lesson did what it was supposed to do: plant seeds.

My intellectual understanding of this practice has now turned into a deeper understanding. Gratitude has led me to seeing things with greater lightness. Objects and moments I once passed without notice now become objects of curiosity. Through the lens of gratitude everything shines brighter. However, this isn’t only a metaphorical lens.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”  – Melody Beattie

I also see this gratitude through my camera’s lens. Most of my photography is based on seeing the beauty in ordinary, simple moments: fallen autumn leaves or cherry blossom petals; abandoned shoes; stray cats; sunbeams on brick walls. I may be walking to the subway, and a strange shape or bright color catches my eye. Or I may be walking through campus and the yellow gingko trees beg for me to capture them. When I take a closer look at what at first glance may seem unexceptional, I find quite the opposite. Through my view screen, I see magic.


Gratitude has a similar magical quality. When each day you have to find five things that you are grateful for, you start being surprised at all the magic that is already in your life. The more gratitude I explore, the more it comes out in my photography. The more beauty I see through my viewfinder, the more gratitude I have.

It’s hard to pinpoint how all this has directly affected my teaching, but one thing I sense is that a teacher filled with lightness must be easier to connect with than a teacher filled with darkness. I feel grateful to see glimpses of this lightness. To see see some of this gratitude for yourself, check out my personal blog, Private Mixture, or find me on Instagram. –  Josette Leblanc

Josette LeBlanc is an English language teacher and teacher trainer who currently teaches in Daegu, South Korea. She’s curious about reflective practice, compassionate communication, and teacher development done both online and offline. She believes learning, whether it happens in or out of the classroom, is a process of discovery and transformation.  Read more work from Josette on her always wonderful blog Throwing Back Tokens 

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Critical Thinking – Josette

Critical thinking in Korean education  by Josette LeBlancJosette LeBlanc

“How do you feel about learning how to write during this program?”

This is the question I ask each new English teacher who enters our in-service teacher training program. For the next five months not only will I be their trainer, I will also be their writing teacher. Without fail, the most common answer I get from these teachers ranging from age 27 to 52 is:

“I’m nervous because I haven’t learned how to write. Not even in Korean. I don’t know how to organize my ideas.”

You can imagine how compounded this anxiety gets when they start thinking about how they will have to start teaching writing in the next few years. These worries are completely understandable. Not only do most of these teachers teach to a test that promotes memorization, they were also raised in this system. In Korea, the College Scholastic Aptitude Test (CSAT), or suneung (수능), is king. It is the culmination of countless hours of rote learning, and your score determines if you will enter a university worthy of embarrassment or praise. In a country that honors such a pedagogical system, most educators have a hard time finding room for engaging their students in critical thinking: the process of observing, analyzing or questioning, and finally of coming to your own conclusions. And from what the teachers’ answer to my question about writing tells me, they might not even know where to begin.

LeBlanc image 1

I think there is great value in expressing what one thinks, in writing or otherwise. When we are given the chance to question and explore, we get a little closer to understanding ourselves and the world. Through this understanding we are better equipped to make decisions that will contribute to our happiness and to the well being of others. When I hear about the school violence or teen suicides in Korea, I wonder how a system that suppresses creative thought and glorifies competition contributes to these horror stories. (See Curtis Porter’s post, School Violence in Korea, for more on this topic.) I also wonder what a little more space for critical and creative thinking might do for these students.

This is the space our program tries to guide the teachers through. In writing class they analyze genres and different organizational patterns such as short stories, narratives or argumentative essays. Collaboratively, they discuss and debate topics that hit close to home: Should corporal punishment be banned from schools? Should English be removed from the CSAT? What would your dream school look like? The teachers explore grammatical or lexical structures that will help them express what they want to say. They go through the writing process. In the end, the majority of them are successful in organizing their ideas into a text I believe is quite powerful.

At the end of the five months, what they have to say about writing is along these lines:

“Not only have I learned how to write, I have learned how to think. It was a wonderful experience to think about myself as a teacher and as a person. I feel more confident about myself as a teacher and writer.”

LeBlanc image 2

There is no greater gift than knowing the pleasure and empowerment they got from exploring their thoughts. It gives me hope for their future and for the future of their students.

For many of these teachers, this writing experience becomes a faint memory, drowned in the test-focused system. However, some have managed to convince their principals to allow them to teach after hours writing classes. A rare few have even implemented writing skills in their curriculum. Perhaps writing itself does not always equal critical thinking, but it is a first step. I know these teachers are trying to give their students a voice. They recall the feelings they had about writing and they want their students to feel the same. I am excited to see where these seeds of thought will spread.

For more on the topic of critical thinking in Korean education, I recommend these links and articles:

Professional Goals for 2013 – Josette

Josette LeblancWrite It Down and Make It Happen

Josette 1.13.14

A year ago, I wrote the above professional goals on a sheet of A4 paper, and they have been on the wall next to my computer ever since. I can’t say that I looked at these goals everyday, but every once in a while, when daydreaming, I’d glance over and ponder the possibilities. What’s been fun to notice is that this two-year plan has mostly become a one-year reality. As it turns out, when we write down our goals, we manifest dreams.

Going to Costa Rica

Part of this dream-come-to-reality will begin next weekend, when I’ll get on an plane to San Jose, Costa Rica, with the final destination being Centro Espiral Mana, a learning center near La Fortuna. This center was created by Mary Scholl, a teacher educator I had the fortune of learning with during an online course she was giving via the SIT Teacher Training Institute called, Compassionate Communication (based on the communicative principles of Nonviolent Communication, which I wrote about in my first iTDi post). After finishing this course, I knew I had to come to her center to take the first step in finishing the SIT TESOL trainer process I had started a few years before. This is when Mary and her course became part of my two-year-goal plan.

Luckily Mary’s month-long training course corresponds with my program’s winter holidays: the perfect synchronization for dreams to become real. By doing this course, I’ll gain more insight into how compassionate communication can manifest itself in teacher education. This is extremely exciting, since it has been a passion of mine ever since I began my MA studies. Although I do my best to learn and practice this form of communication, I struggle with knowing how I can integrate it into the teacher-training curriculum I’ve designed for our in-service training course in Daegu, South Korea. My hope is that by combining compassionate communication with the learning-centered, experiential training component of Mary’s course, I’ll come out being able to answer my own question. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to move more confidently toward my goals of helping teachers connect compassion to their teaching.


The other two goals on my plan involve writing. Writing gives me the space to make sense of all the ideas that seem to swirl around aimlessly in my mind. It is my creative outlet, and as a blogger, it is also a way to connect to others. For these reasons, writing grounds me. When I combine my need to write with my teaching experiences and ideas, I fulfill another need: getting a deeper understanding of teaching and learning.

This is why I am happy to be on my way to achieving another goal: writing an article for a journal. If all goes well, an article on the topic of reflective practice that I’m co-authoring with Tony Gurr (teacher-trainer based in Turkey and prolific blogger at All Things Learning), should be in the 2013 Spring Issue of the English Teachers Association Switzerland (ETAS). This opportunity is made possible thanks to the support of iTDi friend and colleague, Vicky Loras (if you’re interested in writing for ETAS, just talk to her). Both Vicky and Tony are teachers I’ve never met face-to-face, and had only chatted with on Twitter a handful of times when I stuck my plan up on the wall a year ago. Twitter has definitely been part of my dream-realizing process on more than one occasion (see this post for more dreams).

The next goal has yet to come true, but the possibility is budding. Last year I put my name in to be a registered blogger for the Glasgow International IATEFL Conference. After that inspirational experience, I thought I would like to either present, attend, or blog during the 2013 Liverpool International IATEFL Conference. Not having the time or space to go to Liverpool, I’ve decided that I’d like to try blogging again, so last week I inquired about this on the IATEFL Facebook page. I discovered that anyone interested in blogging for the conference should be finding out more details in the next few weeks.

Adding to the plan

With all these goals becoming reality, I’m excited about adding a few more to the plan. One thing I’ve learned from all this is that if you have dreams, write them down; your dreams are just waiting to be born, and may surprise you with an early appearance.