Language Sensei

Thoughts on Teaching Languages and Integrating Technology

August 24, 2015
by leesensei

My Rubric Descriptor Quandary….Questions And Maybe An Answer


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With 2 weeks to go before I return to the classroom I am starting to think about what needs to be worked on before the year begins – what do I need to have in place for Day 1. This is one of them!

Rubrics- they are the cornerstone of how I evaluate and I have developed many – for all of the grades I teach and the modes that I am accessing. To me they are how I both lay out expectations for what students ‘can’ do and also encourage them to push themselves when they do it. It’s the reason my Yr2 writing rubrics contain an emphasis, for example, on ‘transition words’ – because I really want them to begin to thoughtfully use them. I started my rubric journey with 3 basic rubrics. However, unlike many teachers perhaps, I am someone who is constantly ‘tweaking’  and they have expanded, and morphed, beyond just these first attempts.

My latest issue is ‘descriptors’  When the rubrics first came on the scene I used numbers for each category – but the ‘5-4-3-2-1′ I did not like. Then I moved on to ‘words’ to describe the categories – as I did not like the focus on the numbers. For my interpersonal self evaluations this means things like ‘comfortable’, ‘not so comfortable’ etc. But in the rubrics that I am using to provide direct feedback this has meant – traditionally the following:

  • Not Yet Meeting – you are not yet meeting expectations in this area
  • Minimally Meeting – you are ‘just there’ in what is expected
  • Meeting – you are doing what is needed to do – beyond the minimum
  • Fully Meeting – rich and varied and showing depth — you have pushed to go beyond what you were asked to do
  • Exceeding –you are way beyond what is expected

However as the year went along I began to dislike these descriptors.  There were too many categories I realized and, as a result, I saw too many students who were in the minimally meeting/meeting and too few who ever reached exceeding. A rubric should clearly show a student where they are – and mine weren’t.

So for next year I have pulled back from ‘exceeding’ and will concentrate on the NYM to FM range.  They will still be able to be ‘between’ descriptors and this will generate the “+/-” ratings such as “MM+” on their way to “Meeting”.  And what of the student who is exceeding.?Well they are going beyond what I would describe as ‘fully meeting’ and for me that will by “FM+” – because they are ‘exceeding’ what I consider to be fully meeting. I am still working out the ‘how’ this will translate to percentages/lettered grades. I hope that this will allow students to more clearly understand the difference between categories – and allow me to feel more comfortable with where they are. Of course if I didn’t need to translate this to percentage ‘grades’ my descriptor quandary would be lessened.

This is definitely a work in progress….and may change by the time I start. A rough look at my rubric is here…and comments are welcome!


PS Why not check out the most amazing proficiency rubric ever (!) from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell on her Musicuentos site!

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June 24, 2015
by leesensei

What’s a ‘Verb’? Eliminating the “Grammar Words” in My Teaching



I actually heard a world language teacher say this last year “If he doesn’t know the parts of speech he can’t pass my class”. And I was stunned…really…if you don’t know what an “adverb” is you can’t communicate?

Now I know that there are lots of views out there. There are those who subscribe to all kinds of theories  and techniques to teach. First up – I still care about grammar. I care that my students construct their communication (written/oral) correctly so that they are understandable to anyone they might interact with.

I used to ‘teach grammar’ and now I teach with ‘pop-up’ and ‘less explicit’ embedded grammar. As this change has set in so has my view on how I even ‘talk’ about it when I do talk ‘grammar’. So, what I don’t want to do  – what I experimented with this year- is any teaching with/using ‘grammar’ words.

And besides – I have kids who can tell me a part of speech – and talk the ‘grammar talk’ but in reality not use it correctly at all. You know – the student who tells me that ‘hamburger’ is the object of the verb but when I ask what an ‘object’ is they can’t tell me  – or use it correctly when they speak/write.

So this year I changed my wording…basically going with the ‘explanation’ instead of the grammar word itself. That meant that instead of traditional terms I substituted – using things like:

  • Verb – What You Are Doing
  • Adjective – Describing Word
  • Adverb – How we are doing something or the ‘~ly’ word
  • Noun – People/ Places/ Things
  • Subject – Who/What We’re Talking About
  • Object – What Specifically We are Doing, Eating, Wearing etc
  • Grammar Use – How You Say What You Want To Say or How You Put It Together

How did it go? Well – I can say that it don’t go any worse than when I was using the ‘grammar’ words themselves. Perhaps it was just a ‘moral victory’ on my part. But  I like this trend. I like the focus away from the ‘parts’ of the language and on to the idea of communicating.

I’ll continue to tweak this …but I think I’m sticking with it!





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June 7, 2015
by leesensei

Journey On – Lessons Learned This Year In My ‘Changing’ Classroom…



Another year is almost done for me – classes officially ending June 19 – and as usual it has been a year of professional growth and classroom change. Inspired by John Cadena’s awesome post, I want to reflect on my own experience.. and indulge in a little reflection on what the changes that happened in my classes – and in my teaching.

Organic language needs a good recording system:  As I work to give students more of what they need to express themselves I know I won’t always have what they want in the resource package. So photos of my boards are key.They tell me what I didn’t think of and more importantly what I want to remember for next time. So for me my phone – and my Evernote account – are key. This year as I taught I course I had not taught in 8 years I found myself taking photos of my boards after almost every class. It’s my hope that I will (a) know for next time what I did and (b) adjust my planning/input based upon what showed up on the board as we did it.

No Text – No Problem: I think I used the text once or twice – and then only for small stories that fit with the themes we were exploring. And you know what? The students didn’t miss it. Not a bit. Instead they were involved in the developing story of the Yr2 character Nonki and his quest to win the heart of Miss Kawaii (and by the end of Yr2…he has…).  They wrote their own extended endings to stories and had a ball sharing them with classmates. They saw language in context – comprehensible and easy to learn – and they learned it too. Oh we will still use the textbook – but mostly to put under papers as something hard to write on when they are moving about the room talking to each other.   For next year I will work to develop more stories for each year – including a continuous story-line for Year 1 as well….

Script Taught Naturally – Not Forced As “Character Learning”: Or, to put it another way, teach it like they’d acquire it as L1 speakers: Big big revelation to me that script (we have 3 to teach in Japanese) should be introduced naturally. Again John Cadena, Kathryn Tominaga and I chatted a lot about this. My decision this year was to introduce script naturally – with support  – right away and avoid the ‘romaji’ (Eng. alphabet) that no Japanese child would ever use anyway. I wrote about this earlier in the year and, again, John’s post sums it up well. Big big revelation.

Chuck What You’ve Never Liked & Find New Great Units: Our semester was shortened by a week due to job action earlier in the year. Perfect. It was perfect as it allowed me to the opportunity to really look at concepts/units that I taught in the past ‘because the text said to’ and when/how grammar elements were introduced. So this year I threw out some ‘not favourite’ units – and you know, no one missed them. I have to admit this was done in consultation with students who had already completed the course. When asked to identify the least meaningful/useful unit – they identified the ones that had been bothering me too. In Yr4 this meant introducing the month-long story unit (part 2 of the unit here) and they loved it.

Just Because It’s Authentic Doesn’t Mean It Will Engage: I had a great resource for my year 2’s – or so I thought. But 1/2 way through the lesson I realized it was a dud. Not the resource, my lesson. I’d forgotten that the ‘authentic resource’ isn’t any use if the task, motivation, purpose is not relevant to what we are engaged in. This isn’t to say that my increasing attempts to incorporate authentic resources did not have resounding successes. Indeed there were some great ones. But the dud lessons – the ones where the resource was so great but the activity wasn’t – reminded me that no matter how great the tool is – it can’t repair a bad lesson.

#langchat Rocks As My Go-To Source Of Inspiration/How-To’s: I will say it again as I said in a previous chat “#langchat is my go-to for those who have done what I want to do – or on the journey with me as we all try to do it.”  I would not be the teacher I am today, and the teacher that I am becoming tomorrow without this group. I am inspired daily by the knowledge and sharing of folks like Amy Lenord, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Laura Sexton, Thomas Sauer, Wendy Farabaugh and more. They lead by example and share willingly their successes and failures. I also have found new colleagues – and who knew they were in Texas and Australia – to work specifically on Japanese-language issues. Thanks John Cadena and Kathryn Tominaga and I look forward to more collaborating in the future!

The Journey Continues: I think if my students hear me say “It’s the journey that’s key” one more time they will all, simultaneously roll their eyes and groan. But I really believe it. I believe it for them – as they learn that their learning and doing is, many times, more important than finishing. And I believe it for me. I am more toward the end than the start of my career and yet the evolution of my teaching really seems to be picking up speed now.  I am looking forward to the summer – and the chance to rest and recharge. And then I look forward to the journey continuing…


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May 28, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

Colour-Coded Visual Cards…Vocabulary Learning & Sentence Building With Ease!

sentence cards This year I took on the challenge of a course – Japanese Beginner’s 11 – that I had not taught for 8 years . Wow has my teaching changed. It’s a unique course designed for students that don’t have a foreign language credit who suddenly need one. It tries to cover 2 semesters of language learning in 1 semester – and when you consider that in Japanese that includes 3 orthographies – yikes!

One of my goals this year has been to help students learn and use vocabulary more confidently.  So for this I have set out to develop flashcards for each unit. Not just word flashcards – those are easy to make (thanks Quizlet) but rather ‘picture only’ flashcards.  Yes you can add visuals in Quizlet but it is a paid upgrade.

Visuals for the Cards (and in the Stories) – for each unit I like to have a basic set of vocabulary that gives us a ‘common’ language to interact in. So for each word I sought out a clip art (it photocopies best) picture to try to encapsulate the meaning. I use a lot for this – to ensure that I am not using copyrighted material. I use the same pictures to supplement our stories that we read – good repetitions. The technical support comes via our office photocopier which has a ‘combine 8 pages onto 1′ option – and voila – easy to see small cards.  I keep them in smaller envelopes ready to put into student baskets on the table to be ready to go.  So at the end I have small card flashcards and the original large pictures to put on the board.

bag coverColour-Coding By Area – the other key for me is colours. Yes we still have access to coloured paper at our school (I know not everyone does). So I code based upon content area. For the “What I Did…” unit that meant ‘white- actions’, ‘pink – places’, orange – ‘time frames’, green- ‘describing words’ and purple ‘transport’.  Okay – it takes a bit to cut out and fill the envelopes but once it’s done – they are ready to go.

Adding on the Fly/Adding to Subsequent Units – It’s my first run through this and I discover as I go along that I do sometimes need to add pictures. The other thing I find myself doing is reusing certain pictures – especially the ‘actions’ as I don’t want to isolate vocabulary but build on it.

Easy to Practice by Group – Wow – this has made short snappy review of key words easy. “Take out your orange cards….” and they are away. I like the ease of doing this and the ability to focus on one area. Perfect 1-2 minute prep for an activity.

Sentence-Building With Ease – Love this for l¥practicing putting sentences together. Students can easily start with simple sentences such as “I play baseball at the park”. Then they can pull in another card group – and they are now “I played baseball at the park yesterday.”. It is easy to swap vocabulary groups in/out to target certain structures. For Japanese in particular this is a great way to reinforce particle use – for example in practicing “Place で 〜ます。” vs. “Place に  Transportで いきます。”.

Colour coding visuals is new for this course but is already invaluable for me student learning. I look to expand this idea to other classes.



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May 19, 2015
by leesensei

The New Story Unit Part 2: Independent Story Reading – The Process & Reviews


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I’ve introduced a new story unit to the Year 4’s. This grew out of a need to replace a unit I disliked and also wanting to make use of the large collection of Japanese-language graded readers that I have – but never did anything with!  I learned a lot as I went through this process – some of it went well and some needs refinement for next time!

Pick Your Partner (or not) – We read our class story in partners but for this I wanted to offer options. Students could choose to read solo (about 4 did) or with a partner (the rest of the 26 picked this method). I even had group of 4 develop as 2 groups of boys banded together to work through the reading.

Pick Your Book – The first story we read, as a group, was from  “level 3″ and designed for those reading with a 2500-5000 word vocabulary. So for the “pick your own story” option there were choices at level 2 (1500-2500), level 3 and level 4 (5,000-10,000). I laid out all the options and allowed students 20 minutes to look at the story books. Not one group dropped down a level – all choose stories at level 3 or above. (To me this meant that the group read process had made them confident to continue!) They received a ‘copy’ of the story as I didn’t have class sets of originals. The stories on offer were varied and the most popular choices were – at Level 3 – かぐや姫、魔獣、かげのこいびと and at Level 4 – 雪女、はしれメロス. What I will do next time: On the back of these books is a brief blurb – which I hadn’t initially noticed. For next time I will copy these and offer them up to help choice – as many students chose based upon the pictures or the title with little info beyond that to inform them.

Pick Your Reading Pace/Location – This is a new unit so we discussed, as a class, how long they should have to read. Most of the stories were 20-30 pages – not terribly text dense though  – and with pictures to support reading. However, unlike the previous story, they would have no provided grammar/vocabulary information – they would have to look up/figure out what they encountered. We decided on 5 class periods with the understanding that we could adjust as we went along. In the end that turned out to be the perfect time  – the majority finished on day 5. In their ‘reflection’ many students said that they liked that they could read at their own ‘pace’ – and didn’t feel pressured to skimp on reading for details in a rush to finish more quickly. Students who were done did not go into the project right away but had a day to work on other academic items while they waited for their peers to finish.  Students also chose where they read – some read in the hall (quieter with so much reading aloud!), in our class and even in nearby empty classrooms. This contributed to a more relaxed reading atmosphere.

Pick Your Supports for Reading – It became clear as they went along that four items were essential to aid in reading. One was an electronic dictionary – which was faster and offered more choices than a traditional paper one. The second was the audio of the story – I only offered this up on day 3 of reading and, as it turns out, should have offered it sooner. The third was the teacher who took on the role of grammar coach – frequently putting key ‘bits’ of language up on the board to assist in meaning. The fourth was in attitude. There are a lot of Chinese characters in these books (with furigana reading) and in the class story I provided the definitions. So in their own stories they had to look up via the reading what they didn’t know – and relax about all the kanji on the page. For next time I will offer up the audio sooner than day 3.

Pick Up Your Reading Log – They used the first page of the log to note key vocabulary that kept coming up over and over again in the story – and would become part of their project on the story. Students also filled in a reading log at the end of each day responding to key questions in both the TL and English (TL questions/answers & Eng questions/answers). I would post the questions on the screen so that it allowed us to come together at the end of reading time as a group. Next time I may alter the TL and English question balance to more TL.

Pick Your Project to Show Understanding – I wanted to offer up a couple of ways for students to show their understanding of the stories. So I pulled from the group story project – a graphic organizer –  and offered a video review project as well (info and rubric here). In both cases the criteria reflected the need to show complete understanding of the story. Students had 3 days to complete the project in class. (Although the video pairs took an extra day). We didn’t show the videos in class unless the students’ involved said ‘okay’ (one group did/one didn’t) For next time I think I will ask for a couple of the ‘beyond the page’ questions to be in the TL instead of just English.

Pick Your Retelling Day Partners – Students engaged in a 1 hour class of ‘telling about their story’. They had a day with their partner to prepare for this and many used the pictures from their stories to do so (see the Carrie Toth idea in my previous post). Then on story day they circulated among themselves giving a summary of their story and recommending it to others (or not). Note that I did no evaluation on this day – to me this was a day to share only – and celebrate the accomplishment! For next time I will provide key pictures from each story for this instead of asking them to talk without support.

The reviews on doing this from students were so positive and enthusiastic about reading. Many spoke of their pride in reading actual stories, as well as in the freedom that they were given to learn in their own way. Others said that they never really knew they were learning to communicate in another language until this accomplished this. Still others said “do this in earlier grades with less difficult readers!” (and I will). What a fantastic unit it turned out to be for my students’ confidence in using the TL. More to come – more reading for this group – and more of a chance to read at the lower levels!



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May 7, 2015
by leesensei

The New “Story Unit” Part 1 – Establishing An Environment for Successful Reading

testI really hated the ‘clothing unit’ I used to do in Year4 – the one that I did it because it was in the text I used to use. And I just.couldn’ So what to add in. At the end of the course I used to do a 1 day story read. But….I wanted to incorporate it more into the course. So this year out with clothing and in with a story. The story is from a graded reader series in Japanese – and it’s a fun tale of a restaurant that (we learn in the end) eats the customers that visit there. Just enough ‘scary’ and ‘interesting’ to capture their attention and designed for readers with a vocabulary of 2,500-5,000 words.

I’ve taken lots of inspiration from my #langchat colleagues in setting this up…and I am pleased with the first pass

What Did They Read?  The story is called “注文の多い料理店” (The Restaurant of Many Orders) and is at the gold level of readers provided via White Rabbit Express in Japan.  The book contains a mix of text and key photos that aid in following the story. The text does not shy away from using Chinese characters with ‘furigana’ provided for each on how to read them.

How Were They Supported? This is was my students first foray into a text heavy ‘story’ and the key for me was to inspire confidence and spur them to want to read more. So ensuring success was my key ‘mandate’.

Grammar/Vocabulary Support: The story contains grammar and vocabulary students had not yet encountered. Because I wanted them to be successful and experience confidence in reading I provided a reading guide. It contained two key items – information on unknown vocabulary on a page by page basis as well as links to brief grammatical notes. In truth there wasn’t much on the grammar side they hadn’t seen and what they hadn’t was repeated enough to allow them to become familiar with it. Two key pieces of grammar were reinforced via a flipped lesson (read on!).

Pair Reading: I asked them to read with their seat partner – and to follow our typical “two and talk” practice – each reading a short amount and then stopping and talking about what they read.

Flipped Lessons for Two Key Grammar Areas: I first saw this in action during a visit with Catherine Ousselin in Mount Vernon – the combination of video and google forms to check understanding. I wanted to reinforce two grammar points that occurred over and over in the story. Students had also heard these items before but never looked at their technical construction. I am the first to admit that the videos (produced via screencasting program Snagit) are not anything but me annotating notes. Once uploaded to my YouTube channel students could view and then they were directed to a link to a google form ‘quiz’ that tested their understanding. The form was in turned tied to Flubaroo to provide instant feedback. My full post on this is here.

Graphic Organizer: Using a recurring item in the story, in this case “doors” the characters encountered. I created a large (11 x 17″ both sides) graphic organizer for the students. As they read  – and encountered the doors – they were asked to fill in ‘characters’, ‘setting’ and then the stages of the story. Students filled this in in the target language. I also added strategic questions – in English this round but I will TL them the next time I do this – asking them to go ‘beyond the page’ and show deeper understanding. The organizer was used after reading as the students used it to initially ‘recap’ the story.

Audio Support: I am lucky that these graded readers also come with audio of the story. So after finishing reading we read the story again as we listened along to the reading. A great way to re-hear the story.

Time to Read: Students were initially given 4 1/2 class periods to read the story (about 25 pages). They were not asked to meet any particular schedule other than finishing by the set date. As this was the first crew to do this, we all agreed to review the time requirements as we went along and indeed found that the time worked for them – this ensured that they would give themselves permission to read for understanding and not feel pressure to ‘finish’ that might compromise comprehension.

Teacher as Coach: I was not the reading leader during this process. Instead my job was to ‘float’ and ‘coach’ as needed. It worked well. I think it taught students to ask for help as needed and not to be concerned that they were checking something out that they felt they might not be understanding (and more often than not they were ‘getting it’!)

Oral Recap – a la Carrie Toth: I loved this idea when I first saw it and was determined to use it. Once students were done readingIMG_2292 (1) we had a ‘recap day’. Instead of ‘key words’ from the story, as Carrie did, I chose to use images from the book (there was almost one per every two pages of story).  I copied the images from the story and laid them out in the hall and my classroom (1 set/14 students). Then students had 90 seconds at each picture to talk about what was happening in the story at that point. It was really successful and a great way to recap what happened.

An Amazon Japan “Review”: What would be more natural these days then to ask for ‘reader reviews’ of the story. I did a mock-up of an Amazon Japan page for the book for this. Students were asked to provide a star-rating, a summary of the story, and their review – recommending that a person should/shouldn’t read the story.

This was great! Students were engaged in reading and their confidence grew daily during the process. It was the perfect setup to their own ‘independent’ read (new post on this to come!). Thanks again to my #langchat colleagues for their sharing of ideas, and input, as I developed this unit!



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April 26, 2015
by leesensei

Marking On-line with Kaizena Mini in Docs – How It Went & What I Learned

kaizenaI’ve been wanting to try marking online – not just by using colours (previous post) but by trying out a nifty program called Kaizena. In part I am excited as they are Canadian (like me!) and in part because I am always looking to improve feedback with my students. Kaizena is its own website (with inbox/outbox) but I chose to use their add-on Kaizena Mini in Google Docs.  There’s a bit of a learning curve and here’s what I gained from the experience (and what I learned):

Submitting – I do not come from a 1:1 school etc and want to embrace choice in how students do work – so this was an option for them. In addition, and due to privacy concerns, I cannot demand they use Google Docs — unless I seek parent permission. Students who wanted the online marking submitted in one of two formats – a link to their Google Docs document or an email with an attached Word file that I then uploaded into Docs. What I forgot to do was to remind them that any Docs link sent to me should have file ‘edit’ permissions – and I had to go back to several to get them to turn that on so that I could mark up their document.

Add the Add-On to Docs – easily done and easy to ‘turn on’. What I forgot to do was tell students that they would have to load on the Kaizena Mini in their Google Docs as well in order to get the feedback – lesson learned. Kaizena automatically puts a note in the document header to remind the student to use the add-on to get feedback. Sometimes this didn’t show up (see email note below) and so what I ended up doing is that I copied and pasted it into a header that I created in the document.

Giving Feedback and To Whom – Whenyou open a piece to mark and turn on the Kaizena add-on it asks if you are ‘giving’ or ‘getting’ feedback. Then it asks who you are sending this too. I don’t have a lot of my student emails (and it only trolls your gmail contacts) so I would ‘paste’ in their emails often. For some reason this was a bit troublesome and I was unsure if, when marking was completed they would get an automatic message that it was done. What I ended up doing was sending the link to them. What I forgot to do was to ensure that the link that I was sending back was an ‘edit’ link – not just ‘view’ (default) and I had to re-send a few times.

Feedback/Marking Options – there are 4 options – Tag, Text, Link and/or Comment. You can do all 4 for one thing. Here’s how I will use them in the future:

Tag – This allows you to tag and ‘rate’ at the same time on a point scale – which is great if you are marking on a ‘scale’ for an element such as ‘metaphor’ – you can say “hey this is a 3 out of 5 on our scale”. What I ended up doing is that I used the tag in this round to identify consistent errors in an ‘element’ – in other words with a grammar focus. I also used it to tag frequently misspelled words.  In the future I may use it to ‘tag’ for mastery – tagging some focus point with a “2” for done well and a “1” for not yet correct.

Text - This is, for me, the quick written note section – especially if I want a student to “see” something – such as a grammatical construction. It is nice to be able to have the chance to see it right there on the page and what I ended up doing was using it much like I would if I was marking by hand.  At the end of the document I used it to send back their ‘mark’ based upon the rubric we were using.

Link - This allows you to link to a webpage and for a couple of students – who clearly were struggling with something – what I ended up doing was  linking to a video review of the concept that I had done before.

Comments - Verbal comments are a great option. Students said that they found it a powerful way to receive even more feedback. What I ended up doing was using it for comments when I wanted to suggest an alternative way of saying something. I also used it when I wanted to stress a point – a repeated error  or even encouragement.  Finally I used it on the last sentence in the piece to give my overall comments on what they had done. What I learned was that it picks up any ambient noise so doing this is in a quiet location (if you are using the internal built-in mike) is key!

Due to a learning curve it was, at first, a bit ‘slower’ than hand marking especially as I was figuring out how to use the features, and how I wanted to use them, as I was going along. What I will do next time is plot out how I want to use features, especially tags before I sit down to give feedback. And, honestly by the end I had a real rhythm down…and it wasn’t taking any longer.

My students loved the comments – and especially appreciated hearing me ‘talk to them’ as part of the feedback. I will use this again – especially as more and more of my students are submitting on-line. There is lots of support in learning to use it both from Kaizena itself and via posts to YouTube (just search it). What I will also try next time is having them submit to my ‘Kaizena’ in-box so that I can try out the product in a more robust way. Onward!


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April 21, 2015
by leesensei

My 4 Low-Tech Indispensable ‘Classroom Supplies’

blog picI was looking out at my class today – and suddenly I realized that it isn’t about having the latest tech bells and whistles. Well that would be nice. But there are the little things – the small items – that just make a class hum. Here’s my top 4 – without which I would not function as well…

Small Coloured Sticky Notes – They are useful for reminders for students (and the occasional game prize!). I have one class with 3 students with identified learning issues. They can’t ‘remember’ to see me about something – so the bright blue post-it on their desk is their (and my) reminder that we need to talk/do something for class.

Table Signs (framed) – With frames courtesy of a sale at Ikea – they are easy to see on a table in a crowded and busy room. Inside I have basic numbers – but sometimes I swap those out for phrases. In a ‘debate’ situation the words may be ‘I agree’/’I don’t agree’. I use the numbers for my ‘station days’ and even as a ‘barrier’ when students write quizzes. Easy to store and set out!

Headphone Splitter (& extension cord) – The ‘Belkin Rockstar’ headphone splitter is key for me. With 3 old computers in my room – it allows up to 15 students at one time to listen in. This year I also added an ‘extension’ cord for the splitter (the cord from the jack to the splitter is quite short) so that students can sit and listen more comfortably.  I have a bunch of $2 headphones from the dollar store for use as many students don’t have their own in class.

Table Baskets – They sit in the middle of a table of 4. Inside there are scissors, extra pens/pencils, erasers, dice for games and more. Often, before class, I’ll put the envelopes for a game, or a practice sheet in the basket as well – easy for students to find and get going on. Things we use repeatedly – like ‘follow up questions’ or certain character sets remain in there, in small plastic ziplock bags, as long as we need them.

In this technological day and age its nice to have some simple items that are just as key as the latest gadget. What are your ‘small’ items that make your class hum?



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April 14, 2015
by leesensei

Flip, Flubaroo and Fly….. Reinforcement with Instant Feedback…

flipI’m starting a new story unit this week and experimenting with ‘flipping’ the small grammar points that are new, but occur over and over in the text. I admit that the idea of flipping came to me after much angst about how much time I was going to need to introduce the points in a TPRS-style story before having them read their actual story. So – whether you agree with flipping or not – I wanted to use the ‘flip’ as a pop-up grammar lesson. But I wanted to go further and see ‘if’ they were getting the concept and ‘how well’ they were getting it. Oh – and I wanted them to know right away as well if they were on the right track. I remembered something about automatically marking items and the word ‘Flubaroo’ had stuck in my mind (and my Evernote ‘tech’ notebook). This might be, I thought, the perfect  chance to try it out. Here’s how I did it.


Make or Find the Video: Using my tablet/computer I used Snagit (my district has a license for it) to record me annotating/talking about the point - it’s not exciting in any way (keep in mind they have heard these words before but not looked at ‘how’ they are made). I then uploaded this to my YouTube channel – Snagit will do it directly but if that doesn’t work you can do this from YouTube.

Link to a GoogleDocs Form: To see if the students were ‘getting it’ I wanted a quiz to reinforce the points. I created a multiple choice GoogleDocs form in the target language. Remember to ask students to input their first name and an email contact (this will be critical for later). Make sure this is the form you want – in the form you want – as once you activate Flubaroo you can’t change it. Once my form was done I went to ‘view live form’ and copied the url. Then in the “basic info notes” section of the video (you can access this by video manager) I included a message for students with a link to the form.

Activiate the Flubaroo Add-On: First I suggest that you complete the form for yourself – this will be your answer key for the ‘quiz’ you have created. Then from the forms section go and get the Flubaroo Add-On. This is a GoogleDocs add-on – and easy to activate. Once activated I chose to ‘mark’ and used my answers as the key. There are several options for how feedback is sent. I chose to not send the correct answers to students. I then went back to the live form and did a sample answer, as a student and I received feedback in my inbox almost instantly. As a teacher – I could go to the bottom of the response spreadsheet and click on the ‘grades’ tab – to see how individual students did (and what was still an issue for all – requiring some more teaching attention from me).

THE RESOURCES TO DO THE TECH STUFF:  I used Sylvia Duckworth’s awesome tutorial and the excellent Flubaroo site to walk me through the steps. Easy to follow and duplicate!


Students loved the ability to watch the video several times – and the instant feedback. They asked if they could ‘re-do’ the quiz after revisiting the video – and asking questions of me if they still didn’t understand. We decided that they would get two attempts at it – before I marked it for completion. I note that most students did attempt a second time – showing improvement in how they did. To be honest I want them to check sources (and each other) to try to improve their understanding – this isn’t a ‘test’ – it’s all about mastery!

This is not my typical style of teaching and I don’t like to rely on explicit grammar teaching but in this case its a useful alternative to help to deliver the material. So if you are interested in trying to ‘flip’ a lesson and ‘assess’ how it goes based on student feedback this might be a an alternative. Merci encore Sylvia for your support!


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April 13, 2015
by leesensei

“Minimal Lines” – Vocabulary Review With A Pencil!

IMG_2268I first saw this activity done in a Gr.10 science class by educational consultant Faye Brownlie (here in my school district in Coquitlam). It was fascinating to see kids engaged in this and it worked really well to help them reinforce the key vocabulary for the unit – so I wanted to try it in my classes.

Its not full on pictionary! I know it’s a staple for many – and I like to play it with sentences too. No – It’s pictionary with a minimal twist. That is – how FEW lines does it take for you to draw that object? And it turns out its also a great way to reinforce vocabulary!

What you need:

Big piece of paper – I use recycled large newsprint paper

Pen or pencil

Word cards or photos or a list – I use flashcards from Quizlet – cut up and put into an envelope.

Kids in partners or small groups

Reminder of key Target Language words for ‘guessing’  – “I think it is…” “It might be…” etc

Warmup – explain you are wanting them to draw – with the fewest lines possible – the following objects. “What are the fewest number of lines it would take to draw a hamburger?” – Have them draw & share. Two lines? Three lines? Then ask them to draw a tree (or any other object you want to give) and compare with their table the number of lines it took.

Now – down to business!

The Process – Students select a vocabulary word and begin to draw. Their partner aims to get the word. When they do – how many lines did it take?  If they don’t – then give a hint (target language) to help them. Guessers can use any notes or support they need – we are reinforcing not quizzing! There was lots of great fun and interaction in the room. Students were busy trying to draw, and guess the word.

A Scoring Option –  In my class we actually counted the number of lines – keeping a running total – to see who could guess with the fewest number of hints between the two partners. This is totally optional – and I wouldn’t do it with every group but it does reinforce the ‘minimal’ idea.

You May Need Extra Target Language – We even had to stop to reinforce reaction and clarifying words because kids wanted to be able to comment on their own and their partners drawing and/or guessing skills.

It was all in good fun and most importantly they really did a thorough review. If enthusiasm flags try switching up partner – this lends new energy each time they begin anew.

Note: Reinforce that it’s the fewest number of lines possible. Some pairs just start to draw (and they are still reviewing) but most were really competitive in their ‘minimal’ approach.

I’ll use ‘minimal lines’ again – as an alternative to my Pictionary/Phraseonary activity. Great fun and learning too!




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