Language Sensei

Thoughts on Teaching Languages and Integrating Technology

September 15, 2014
by leesensei

Cool Tools – My Favourite Browser Extensions, Add-Ons and Docs Extras

MP900387935We use a lot of tools, apps and other on-line resources in our teaching. I had to work on a browser the other day – which required me to re-enable the add-ons and extensions for it. It got me to thinking about my ‘go to’ tools that I use with both Firefox and Chrome. So I put together a collection of my favourites – probably some of yours as well.

Kaizena – Google Docs: a free tool that you can integrate with your Google Drive account to leave voice comments on the documents that students share with you. With Kaizena authorized to access your Google Drive account you can highlight portions of your students’ work and add voice or text comments to it. Haven’t used it much yet – going to this year.

Texthelp Study Skills – Google Docs: I use Texthelp’s Highlighting Tools to highlight key areas of  student’s documents. I’ve written before about my ‘colour coded feedback‘ – and this allows me to do so online.  You can also collect all the highlighted parts of a document to create a ‘feedback’ page (by color or location) for a student  to review. Love it!

Rikaichan- Chrome/Firefox: This could be a GAME CHANGER for my classes in working with authentic resources. I’ve written about the challenges of teaching a character-based language in the past. Then I discovered this Rikaichan add-on that allows a student to ‘hover’ over the Chinese characters Japanese uses – and get both the way to say the word – and a general translation of it. Oh My Goodness – Equality of Access! Works with Japanese to English/German/French/Russian dictionary. Don’t forget to download the necessary dictionaries for the add-on to work with the languages you want!

Tweetdeck – Chrome (Twitter): Following a Twitter chat like #langchat can be a challenge. Tweetdeck  (a Twitter product) works with Chrome and is a social media ‘dashboard’. Essentially it allows me to customize my view of Twitter. I have a column for an individual hashtag, another for specific references to me all at the same time. It makes it easy to focus on that one hashtag and quickly respond to comments/questions to me personally. I couldn’t do #langchat without it! Edublogs offers a short primer on it here.

Evernote Webclipper- Chrome/Firefox: I’ve blogged a lot before about my shift to using Evernote to curate my teaching life. One of the most indispensable tools for me is the Evernote Web Clipper. It allows me to send full articles, parts of hte article or just the URL right to my Evernote account. More importantly it sends it to the notebook I want – and allows me to “tag” it before I send it – and for me ‘tagging‘ means I’ll actually find the article again.

KeepVid – Chrome/Firefox: Ever had a great clip you want to show from YouTube or another source and  – bam – the internet goes down in your class. Or its slow….and keeps buffering. If a video clip is key to my teaching I have to be able to use it without relying on the speed or availability of the web. I’ve used a couple of methods and KeepVid Video Downloader is a pretty reliable one. It is a free web application that allows you to download from sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch.Tv, Vimeo,etc.  All you need is the URL of the page that has the video you want to download. Videos – Chrome (YouTube): Sometimes I do show a YouTube clip in class – and stream it. At that point I just want to show the clip – and not worry about any questionable ads or other ‘sidebar’ issues. So I use Cleanr is a browser extension that strips out the ads, sidebars, comments, buttons etc from YouTube videos. If I haven’t downloaded the video to keep for future reference – then this is the way to ensure that the video is all that I’m showing!

Hola Unblocker – Chrome/Firefox: US-based colleagues won’t understand but frequently clips/streaming from BBC, Hula, Pandora and  other networks are blocked by region locks and unavailable to me in Canada.  Well I can – using Hola Unblocker – a browser extension that removes region locks and allows you to watch BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Hula, Pandora, and more regardless of where you live. They try to get you to pay at some point – but works for free (and lets me watch “Downton Abbey” way before we get it here in North America!)

There are a lot more add-ons, extensions and web tools out there – I haven’t even mentioned Diigo which I am starting to work with either! What are your favourites?


September 10, 2014
by leesensei

What #langchat Means to Me (And To You?)

frontWhen did you (have you) discover #langchat? It started for me as a hashtag I noticed in a tweet from Joe Dale (@joedale) about language teaching. I was new to this whole twitter thing and, as a language teacher, looking for some insight and inspiration for my teaching. Then, after following a woman named Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@secottrell) I learned about the Thursday #langchat hashtag chat. I began, as many do, by lurking, watching and reading. Eventually I took the plunge to start tweeting in. I haven’t looked back.

I thought the other day about what #langchat means to me and why both the hashtag (for daily tweeting) and the chat (Thursdays) are so key in who I am as a professional today. What do I like about #langchat?

#langchat- the hashtag -  is my daily dose of learning & discovery – Have a question? Want a resource? Looking to discover something new. I learn every day via tweets sent out with the #langchat hashtag. Teachers using it are generous, supportive and quick to offer up ideas, opinions and resources that I would never find on my own. Checking in on the #langchat stream is a must for me – and it’s never let me down in answer a query or offering up a suggestion when I’ve needed it. There are those with whom I interact, collaborate and plan more often than I do simply on a professional day – for me now every day is a day to learn

#langchat- the chat – reaffirms that I am on the right track: Teaching can often be a ‘solitary’ pursuit. The chance to be observed or network with fellow staff can be few and far between. But during a chat I often find that I am indeed doing things, and choosing approaches that others are too. It’s nice to know that in my ‘isolated’ classroom I am on target, or not!,  for how to deliver my language program.

#langchat  – the chat – offers approaches/ideas/resources on a specific topic: Chats are really focused with a weekly theme voted on by participants. What a great way to have some concentrated work on one area. It may be pedagogical one week, and class ‘management’ the next. It can be about new trends or a ‘brush up’ on existing challenges. In all cases it is timely, lively and a real challenge to me to focus on my teaching practice.

#langchat  – the hashtag & chat – gives me a look into the future:  Many of my #langchat colleagues are in districts or positions that are ‘leaders’ in their field. Although my school may not be at that point, I get tips on where we might be headed. It also allows me to be a ‘leader’ in my school – challenging the status quo and assisting in change.

Quite simply I would not be the teacher I am today without it. I wouldn’t be striving to be the teacher I want to be, pushing, stretching, questioning my practice without it. My #langchat PLN is my key go-to for my Professional Development. The other day my sister-in-law phoned. It was 6:05pmPT on a Thursday and my sister-in-law’s opening was “Oh it’s Thursday – I’m not interuppting #langchat am I?”  And that’s when I knew how important it was to me!

And now a favour to ask of you! Have you benefited from #langchat? What has it meant to  you? #langchat will be presenting “#Langchat – Your Always-There Professional Learning Network” at ACTFL 2014. If you would be kind enough to share (via a comment) – we’d like to share some of your thoughts with those who are coming to learn more.


September 8, 2014
by leesensei

Coping in a Tech-Challenged School ( & Dealing with 1:1, BYOD Envy!)

Concept of Hand with Electronic FingerprintsThere are lots of schools that are rich with technological resources. My school – due to priorities and budgets – is not rich in that area. Add onto that strict Canadian privacy laws and the difficulty of using online resources is compounded. I wonder how many others in this ‘tech rich’ era that we are in are in a similar plight? So how do I cope and use what I can to offer challenges and choice to my students?

The situation in my school: 6 ‘labs’ full of desktop computers – not always available for regular class use; reliable WiFi but not the capacity to have everyone online at once; issues with streaming anything; no 1:1 or iPad initiative. The only BYOD occurs when a student chooses to bring it from home.

The situation in my classroom:  A personal Macbook Pro as my main instructional technology (with an LCD and an add-on graphics tablet). A desktop computer (Windows) issued by the school but only allowed to run Firefox or Internet Explorer (not Chrome). Three iMacs – older but capable of running WiFi (can’t hook into the network as I bought them independently from district tech sources) and any phones or devices students may have on them that day

The wrinkle: I live in Canada and it has stringent privacy rules. Therefore, parent permission must be sought for any student to use any online program/app that requires giving any personal data in registering, or has any personal info that may be held outside of Canada. That means the required use of any Google Docs, Edmodo etc must be signed off on. It also means that apps such as ‘Remind’ are not authorized as data is held in the States.

Using an online video clip?  Download it off of the internet via Keepvid or other convertors – so you don’t rely on a dicey connection that may or may not be as fast as you need on the day. Not sure how to download what you have – google a ‘how to download a (name type) video”  – it’s how I learned.

Contacting Students via Texts? There are a couple of solutions for me – one surprising one was our school attendance software. It can be programmed by class to do a call-out. It’s a clumsy workaround for me but just may work if I need it. The other option for me is Edmodo (with parent permission) – as I start to transition all my classes to it, I have learned that students may choose to be contacted via email or text with updates I send out on Edmodo. It isn’t a great solution but it will work for me. At any time there is also my traditional class website – with links to clips, reviews and the homework uploaded each day!

Few Devices/Machines – Many students?  Groups, Stations and Headphone splitters. When we play an online game such a Kahoot, I’m conscious of students who don’t have a phone, or are not wanting to use a lot of data minutes. So we’ve always played as teams – at least 2 students (and sometimes 3). Generally this means I give a little longer to answer questions (consultation is requried) but its a sneaky way for them to review too. Stations are a great way to ‘spread the tech around’ and with my new resources I will try to balance the paper with the tech for each. Making it a lot easier for many students to use 1 machine is the ‘headphone splitter’. Kristy Placido alerted me to these and I now have 4 Belkin Rockstar Splitters (5 sets of headphones at a time) for my room – that’s 15 kids on 3 machines/devices.

Recording Conversations? The Phone/Hand-held Digital Recorder – I know there are lots of online resources and apps but I continue to make use of the phone. Not all students have phones so what it is used for is never required. Dictionaries online are okay – but I also have the paper ones and it is a good ‘tool’ to learn to use. Any recording is most often done in pairs. Additionally I purchased a hand-held digital recorder for students who don’t have a phone. I love to use phone recorded conversations to demonstrate proficiency!

Handing in Work? Choice! I don’t require students to hand things in on-line. Some prefer to do that – and it is marked and returned on-line as well. Others like to handwrite and some don’t have a computer at home. So I give options. Those that enjoy using a keyboard (or their phone) are welcome to do so – and those that are more traditional in their supply use don’t suffer. The issue for me is consistency in how it is marked. At least once or twice I offer Japanese keyboard orientation for students to learn some tips and tricks!

Video Reviews?  I do a series of video reviews for each unit. They are not fancy – I use Snagit (an upgraded version of Jing) to ‘talk’ and write my way through concepts. There are lots of apps/programs out there to use. All of the videos are uploaded directly from the program to my YouTube channel – and grouped by grade as a playlist. Remember to make sure the videos are made public (and I disable comments – really – I don’t need those!). Students can access the videos via the school computers in open labs or the library if they don’t have a computer at home.

Being in a tech-challenged school means that you have to think a little more about what you are using and how you will use it. What are your favourite workarounds in a low-tech environment?






September 2, 2014
by leesensei

Participation – Expected Not Evaluated

Girls with Heads Together HuggingParticipation – it’s a hot topic in language-teaching circles these days. Specifically the old chestnut – the ‘participation’ mark. I can see why it is popular with some. Its a reward for a student who chooses to engage in the class – using the class material. It represents a view that if marks are attached even the most reluctant student will be so concerned that they will push their shyness and/or hesitancy out the window because they want a mark! But, for me, the inherent failure in this is that I was controlling the evaluation of participation – if the ‘teacher’ saw it then it counted.  I’ll admit I used to think that I had to attach the mark to ensure their buy-in. But no more….

When I was asked if I marked for participation I found myself answering “No, because in my class it is expected that you are participating.” This led me to think – what are the key things happening in my class that lead my students to participate…despite no ‘marks’ being on the table.

SetUp – How my classroom is set up is one way that encourage participation. I wrote about my ‘light bulb’ moment about the importance of set-up when I was visiting with Catherine Ousselin and her classes. My students now sit in tables of 4 facing each other. The board (and me) are at the side of the room. The focus is on their group, their table. And its hard not to participate when just 4 people are at the table, and no one else is looking on!  The advantage of the small tables is also that it sets up work with 3 possible partners – and that means the ability to test and try out language in a more supportive setting.

Pair Work – I do a lot of work in pairs – even at the tables of  4 that I now have. I believe they are a powerful tool in class. Students in my class have a ‘partner’ for each unit and who that person is is mostly determined by me. The partner is their ‘base’ for class – students will interact and work with others, but their partner is where they will start and end each day. I work hard to find good ‘matches’ for my students so that their partner complements, and challenges, them to be involved. As I’ve written in the past – pairs are a great way to encourage risk and yet a ‘safe’ way to do so. It’s hard not to participate when you only have to deal with 1 other person. (I should note that once a semester I allow my students to choose their ‘pair’ partner – what great chaos!)

Activity Rubrics/Self Evaluation – I use activity rubrics and self-evaluation a lot in my class. What’s on the rubrics are what I consider to be  great ‘attributes’ of an active language students. Students evaluate their ability to work with others, accomplish the task and maintain TL.  We do go over the rubrics when we first start using them, but then as they are consistently used – they work to build an expectation in students of ‘how’ they should be participating in class. What helps to reinforce this participation is the idea to ask at least one ‘written reflection’ question prior to the activity rubric. Comments from students who complete questions such as “Today I am proud that I…” often refer back to their choice to risk and try – and that’s what participating is all about.

Encourage Risk/Ask for Speaking!  I always tell me students that I will not ask them to do or try something they don’t have the tools for. This doesn’t preclude challenges but it does mean that students are confident that the activity or task is do-able. Knowing you will be able to complete something is huge in being able to step out and do that task. I also work to give chances for my students to interact – I think we often ask students to ask/answer questions of each other – and assume they know how to do that. So we practice (and support) the interaction that occurs between partners but starting a lot of classes with ‘ask your partner’ and having ‘follow up questions‘ handy to continue the conversation. Then, when we move into a larger group or class activity students are equipped with the skills to participate. Not only that – they are eager to help each other out – and if they are talking and working together – they are participating.

If the setup, the expectation and the task all require that a student participate in their learning – then participation will be the natural outcome! What are other ways you support students in participating in class?



August 25, 2014
by leesensei

Lessons Learned in Prepping for the “Unknown” Start Date

MP900405396I had another post planned for this week – but somehow this one seemed to be the one that wanted to be written. It is an anxious time for me, and 40,000 other teachers, right now in this province. Currently we are in a labour strike, with both sides jockeying for position and public support. The upshot is that instead of being anxious – the good anxious – about the start of the year – classes, opening activities, set-up etc. – I am anxious about when the start of the year will be, and how I will handle the semester once we begin. If rumour holds we could be losing a month of school (I know!) which hurts especially hard if you teach in a semestered system and orthography needs to be taught as well. So, with a program at risk, and the feeling that you can’t quite settle into prepping something, what do you do? This week I’m learning how to cope when outside forces impact my best practice intention.

The same or less? – So, do I scrap the extras? Or do I do what I ‘usually’ do but just less of it? My preference is to keep the extras – the song of the week, the time for conversation, even the interactive orals etc. These are the activities that bring the most fun and learning connections in the room. What I will do is use this unusual start to look for opportunities to hit key learning points in a different time than I typically might. It even lets me take a good hard look at my course and say “Do we really need that unit” – and eliminate the weakest element of the course!  I may hit one less ‘unit’ but there’s no way that I can’t get them the language they need in the time I have.

More purposeful – Less ‘practice-able’ – A shortened time frame means that every activity, every opportunity must be real and purposeful. What an opportunity! I’m going to have to ask myself – is this a purposeful thing for my students to be engaging in? Or is it a legacy of my old program and can easily be dropped – like the conjugation charts (such as there are in Japanese) or the workbook homework. I envision less class repetition and more class collaboration and communication. Not a bad side effect of the later start at all!

It’s about the communication – and building great language student skills – This will be my planning mantra as I prep during this unknown time. At the heart of any language course is that fact that language is used to communicate – and that’s what my students will be doing. This shortened time will ask me to maximize the interpersonal opportunities for them. Communicating with each other when they aren’t as prepared as I think they might be will require them to develop great second language skills – risk, guessing, supporting their partner and circumlocuting when needed. At the end of the semester they may not have had every unit students had in the past – but they will be great language learners with the skills needed to succeed in subsequent courses.

Relax…because they will take their lead from you – Ever said this? “I can’t believe the year is ending in __weeks and I’m so behind!”. Then there is that stress you feel immediately transferred to your students. Suddenly the focus in the room switches from ‘using’ language to ‘learning what we need to know’ or “construction not communication”. Well…I may have less time this fall but my students will not be receiving that message from me. If I relax and approach the course with excitement and enthusiasm that’s the vibe my students will feel – and hopefully take their lead from.

This is not ideal, this labour dispute is tough financially, emotionally and professionally. But the ‘gift’ that I am being given is the chance to look at my course and really discern what the key skills and learning points are.

Fingers crossed that September 2nd sees me back in the classroom!




August 18, 2014
by leesensei

Lose The Word “Chapter” – Gain a World…Freeing Yourself Up to “Change”

losing chapter word


It started with my Evernote daybook – I was editing and reviewing my classes and I thought “Why do I have units by ‘chapter’ and not theme?” Indeed – why? If you’re already here, and this is long gone in your teaching then these musings may cause more nostalgic thoughts than insight. If you are like me and gradually, sometimes it feels glacially, making lasting change in HOW you do things – then perhaps you have found what I found. What have I learned as I organized by ‘thematic unit’ and NOT by ‘number? Well…

You’ll See What Your Focus Has/Hasn’t Been – Wow – does my Yr 2 class need work. When I erased the chapter titles I saw that what I thought were ‘themes’ weren’t. Instead I had disparate grammar points held together by previous textbook/workbook support. Did I feel awful – all this talk about meaningful learning and it sure wasn’t here in this course. But – what I did have were some great interactive inter-personal orals – that I can see are the ‘emerging’ themes for this Yr2 class. For my other courses I did finally “see” my thematic units – now without a meaningless number in front of them – and it shows me that I am on the right track. I’m even abandoning a thematic unit I attempted in my Yr4 course in the past because I see how it no longer fits with my other units (and frees us up to spend more time on them!)

You’ll Open Yourself Up to “What They Really Need AND When They Need It” – So if you are no longer ‘bound by the book’ then you can give students what they need – when they need it . This is a great ‘aha’ moment when it happens and I wrote about it last year with regards to vocabulary. But this year it really allows me to look at all the incidental language my students asked for in a unit and work in pop-up grammar lesson points when needed. I started doing this last year as well but now with the words gone I’m free to add as it works and finally answer the question “Why can’t my students express an opinion until Ch. 7?”!

You’ll Find New Resources to Enhance Your Theme – So no more textbook to march through. I will still use some of the dialogues or stories in my teaching – in part as they provide reading with equal opportunity for student access in my character-based language (something Authentic Resources are challenging for as I’ve written before). But I’m now able to supplement with other visuals, video clips, infographics etc. It allows me to ‘step sideways’ from what the unit focus was dictated by the text to be – and really find the ‘hook’ that the unit should be.

You’ll Find More Meaningful Ways to Check For Learning – No textbook – and therefore – no workbook. Okay – there will be some use of some of the exercises, especially as my students learn any of the three orthographies we use in Japanese. I may also find some readings or listening parts that are ‘authentic’ and fit a theme but I decide when/how to use them – the ‘number’ doesn’t! It also means that I, okay we as a class, can get more creative, and more varied in how learning is demonstrated. Imagine a class where we decide as a group, or small groups, how understanding of something will be shown, do that, and share. Wow…and I’ll not need to write “Workbook Chapter 4 Exercise 2, 5, 9″ on the board ever again.

If you are moving along on the road to no textbooks, or workbooks, as I am – it can be an unsettling thing. Certainly the encouragement and leadership of the #langchat PLN has helped immensely. I look forward to the day when all of my courses, and classes, are where I want them to be. In the meantime I am revelling in, and feeling a little bit of ‘good nervous’ in erasing the word ‘Chapter’ from my class vocabulary. Onward!


PS – I work a lot with an Evernote and my daybook in the cloud. I’ve put together a collection of my posts on using this to organize my teaching life if you are curious!

August 11, 2014
by leesensei

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…Innovating and Keeping My Sanity…*

blueprint  If only there were 48 hours in the day!  I don’t know if you are like me but I suddenly looked at my classes one day and thought “yes I must change ’cause I can’t go on with one more lesson like I used to’. I don’t know if you are like me but I can get lost in planning, changing, altering and updating and the almost limitless possibilities/options/materials that are out there to explore. And then…life knocks and says ‘what about me?’. So with change a definite for me, I’ve had to really look at how I can best make changes and still maintain a life for me, with my husband, and actually get some sleep. What do I keep in mind? How do I alter what I do to be congruent with the ‘new’ me? There are several things I keep in mind…

Accept that it will take time – I could do it all at once, every course, every class, but would I actually be the teacher for my students that I want to be? The amount of energy that would take would probably lead me to be less energetic, supportive and open to what my students want. So my biggest thought is to accept that this is, of necessity, a gradual process. It would be great to move every course, every unit to what I want it to be, but it’s not realistic. Ultimately, for the change to be real, effective and lasting, I had to learn to give myself permission to take it slow. After all if I don’t have time to change, try to alter as needed then, long-term, my students won’t see a benefit.

“Test the change” via 1 unit – My goal has always been to innovate small – with idea that it will eventually become ‘big’. So, in accepting that lasting change takes time, I’ve tried just to work with 1 unit.  When I was adapting to using a tablet in class, and shifting my resources to digital, I started with 1 unit in my Year 3 course. Why? Well I was teaching 2 sections of it in the semester and, voila, I was altering 50% of my unit teaching at that time. The unit approach also allowed me to reflect on whatever I was trying, in this case new technology, and evaluate how it worked for me and my students.  Knowing that I just had to find things for that 1 unit also allowed me to develop a “template” for change, that I knew, down the road, would let me attach a course, and ultimately my program.

“Grow the Change” via 1 course – It had been, for me, 5 years since last I taught the Yr1 course when I took it up again last year. The students in Yr1 received the benefit of my ‘go-slow, innovate by unit’ strategy I’d be testing in my higher level courses. When it came to the Yr1′s I was ready, I knew the what I needed to do to ‘change’ past approaches, and I could apply what I had learned (via my #langchat PLN) to the course as a whole.  It wasn’t as daunting or time-consuming as I thought it would be because I ‘knew’ how to do it. Now I look at them and realize that they are my students who will grow my more choice-based, authentic resource, comprehensible input, ‘no workbook’ strategy in Yrs 2-4. So next year, as my new Yr 2′s I will be able to deliver what I have always thought my Yr2 course should be. Then, in Yr 3, I can do it again. By Year 4 – voila – a revamped program ready again for new innovations in my teaching.

The pressure to ‘change everything all at once’ is huge. I still feel it. But when I do I take a deep breath and remember that lasting change in my classes, just like in my life, is more real and has more impact made in measured and do-able steps. To all of my #langchat colleagues making big changes – go for it – and remember to take time for you in the process!


*Credit to David Bowie (@DavidBowieReal) as writer for the lyric sampled



August 6, 2014
by leesensei

See It + Say/Hear It = Recall It (Ideas to Add Visuals To Aid Learning)

Beautiful EyesLanguage Sensei is easing back into a ‘new year’. It was great to take time off in July and I trust that the time away will bring new ‘inspiration’ for the upcoming semester. I was reminded today about a key lesson that I learned last year when I saw a tweet from Laura Sexton (@sraspanglish) regarding oral recall. After 72 hours students who only ‘heard’ language had 10% recall, but that zoomed to 65% if the language was accompanied by visuals.

This is a huge lesson that I learned last school year – one that I intend to make more use of in September. I thought that I’d pull together several of my past posts on using visuals in the foreign language classroom (and ease my way into a new year of blog posts as well!!).

Teacher Generated Visuals

Visual Cues/Visual Learning – When I committed to more authentic language learning this year I needed lots of visuals to spark speaking – especially as my students were learning characters and not writing at all at the time. What I didn’t know is how much it would aid students in recalling what/how to say something….and furthered my commitment to find visuals for every unit I teach.

10 Minutes to Make/The Unit Slideshow – Okay so I use a lot of clip art for my visual cues. It’s easy to find, designed to be printed in black and white and more clear to the kids in the rear of the room. But a post on The Creative Language Class challenged me to find more visuals that reflected my target language country (Japan).  And so I began to create the unit slideshow…and will be doing one for each unit to come!

A Picture for 1000 Words – Not a slide show to loop or go through that is thematic, or clip art. This is a collection of ‘people’ that I can use to spark questions and encourage recall. It contains celebrities, famous people from my country as well as my Target Language country and even the school principal. I use it in a variety of ways…and it always invites opinions from my students!

Student Generated Visuals

The Quick Sketch and Share -  This was my first foray into student-generated visuals. I should point out that we are not a 1:1 school, nor is our wireless access great. What is good about this is that my students can participate regardless of their technical skills, or computer knowledge. I try not to over-use this but it is a great way to spark interpersonal conversation!

The Self-Created Story Game Riff – Oh I learn so much from the Twitter PLN! This was sparked by a post from Martina Bex (@martinabex) based on Bryan Kandel’s post she’d read! It is a great way to reinforce vocabulary, teamwork and questioning skills! My students loved making up the stories, working with their partner on goofy details and asking questions to pull more information out of groups they were listening to.

There are so many ways to use visuals to aid learning – what’s a favourite of yours?


June 26, 2014
by leesensei

Developing A Reflective Classroom (End of Year Reflection Part 2)

Eating CaterpillarIn my previous post I wrote about the “choice” that I am trying to inject into my classroom. If choice is key – then it seems that I also need to make sure that what I’m doing in class, the choices I am offering etc, are effective. To that end my other stress this year was to develop a more reflective classroom. What were the key things that I found to establishing a culture of ‘reflection’ in my classes?

Consistent Expectations/Feedback – I don’t think that students can actively, or accurately, offer a reflection on how they are feeling about their learning without a solid understanding of what it is they are trying to master. To me that comes down to consistency – and two key areas are in what I expect from them and how I offer feedback.

Expectation – What I Value: I worked this year to try to align my expectations, and how I communicated them, through the use of various rubrics. I began with 3 basic rubrics taken from the DELF program, and began to alter and adjust to suit my classes needs. I removed all of the ‘numbers’ from them – that screams ‘mark’ to me – and instead tried to come up with a descriptor that might mirror my students’ language like “comfortable” or “pretty good”. I began to use an ‘activity rubric’ as well – not all the time – but enough that they might expect it to come. What’s on it is key to me for the type of learner I am trying to develop, as well as ‘how’ I hope they learn (such as  ‘not using English’ ‘working with partner to communicate’).

Expectation – Consistent Use (Reflecting Before You “Rubric”):  Another way for me to get my students thinking about their learning is to not allow them to use rubrics for an activity without ‘reflecting’ first. I wrote about this when I talked about my activity rubric but I use this strategy for almost any time that I use a rubric. The questions/leading statements that I ask them to reflect on may change but the idea that students are to ‘think before they evaluate’ does not.

Expectation – Consistent Feedback: My feedback to my students became more consistent this year as well. This isn’t about how often I offer feedback but the format that it came in – specifically for written work. I decided upon the idea of marking by ‘colour’. As my post explained, this allows students to quickly see where their challenges are, and I found that the corrections that I asked for in the writing also showed up in their oral communication. My challenge for next year is to possibly expand my colour codes to one more colour – focussing on using the correct form of the verb for specific grammatical constructions.

Pre/Mid/End of Term Formal Reflections – This is the first year that I did 3 ‘formal’ reflective exercises with my students. The information that I received and that they shared was invaluable. I’ll never not do this again!

Pre-Term: I started the year with an idea shared originally by Martina Bex.  This year my first ‘homework’ assignment was to read my class FAQ’s and complete a series of questions designed to get them thinking about class, their role as a language learner and what works for them. Several said they had never been asked before what worked for them in class – and as the emails came in I responded with 1 or 2 sentences that touched upon their information. It was a great way to establish both expectations and a relationship at that beginning of term.

Mid-Term: Just before the first report card I asked for a mid-term reflection from students. As I read each I made comments on their sheet – offering support and suggestions before handing it back to them. This was, for me, a student generated ‘report’ and a chance to further dialogue. After reading all of the “I’d like to learn more..” I made sure to speak about what I learned from them – and talk about how I would be incorporating their suggestions into second term.

End of Term: Finally, and just before finals, I asked again – the same form as the mid-term with only a change to the last question – asking them to give 2 pieces of advice to a student taking this course next. They gave great advice that I’m going to use to start my classes with in September.

The final piece that, for me, starts to build a culture of ‘reflection’ in class is mine. I cannot in good conscience ask my students to reflect on their learning journey without doing the same. My participation in the #langchat PLN and this blog are, for me, my way that I do that.MP900314068 The twitter chats force me (in 140 characters) to really see what is important to me as a teacher for any given topic. This blog is a way that I can ask key questions and, in writing a post, answer them first and foremost for myself.  And if you have not yet jumped into #langchat or blogging, I urge you to take that step!



June 23, 2014
by leesensei

A Year of Change…. A Year of Choice (End of Year Reflection Part 1)

Eating CaterpillarWhat a year! It started with the usual rush in September and is currently ending with a province-wide teachers strike. Despite this unusual end to the year it has been one of amazing change – dare I say ‘metamorphosis’ for my classroom. And most thrilling for me is the almost organic way that the changes have come. I will confess that I didn’t plan my year to go this way – but I am thrilled with how it turned out. It has been a year of big changes in class – and I wanted to highlight a few of the key areas that emerged for me:

Words To Use: The resources and ideas shared by the #langchat PLN, led by Amy Lenord’s pointed blog posts, meant that I no longer felt comfortable with set vocabulary  as the ‘entirety’ of what my students should know. I still believe that a basic vocabulary is key – but as a ‘touchstone’ from which individual expression can come. My vocabulary choice journey is outlined in two posts from earlier in the year – one as I began to change – and an update on how it was going

Putting It Together: I got away from the word ‘grammar’ this year – instead changing my phrasing to ‘how you put your words together’ along with backing down from words like ‘adverb’ or ‘adjective’  After all – how many times do I use technical grammar words like ‘adverbs’ or ‘negative past tense’ in my daily interaction in English? I realize that the more I used ‘technical’ words – the more my students were learning ‘about’ the language rather than how to use it.With this shift came my need to give them what was required for the task at hand. I could no longer in good conscience not give them what they needed in order to do what I asked them to do. Letting go of the control of how they expressed themselves resulted in much more natural language in their interpersonal communication.

Showing Learning: I got rid of the word ‘homework’ this year. Instead in my markbook it became ‘out of class’ work or ‘practice’. And what that work was changed for me. As much as possible I got rid of worksheets and the workbook. Non-meaningful repetition of something seemed to be, well, pointless for me. Yes there is a time/place to ‘practice’ key items but I found that best done as a game, with partners or a group – rather than as a ‘homework’. I found that offering options for showing what they know – and sharing it – was far more meaningful for them. The Sketch/Share, Phone conversations and Story Game posts are examples of the infusion of choice in demonstrating learning.

Handing It In: If I am giving more choice in ‘what’ students are learning I also made the commitment to allow them choice in how they submitted work. This year any ‘hand in’ assignment became “online or on paper” – whatever worked best for them. I got a wide variety of submissions. About 30% of my students are now solidly ‘on-line’ people. They complete work on their computers or phones and submit via email. My rule is that I return it as I receive it – so if it is marked online – it is returned the same way. It took a bit to figure out ‘how’ I was going to to organize my on-line marking – and my thoughts were put into an initial and follow-up post.

I cannot thank the #langchat PLN for challenging me, supporting the change, and cheering the journey – special thanks to Amy, MP900314068Sara-Elizabeth, Laura and Catherine for their frequent input!  Oh there’s more change to come when school resumes….and I’m looking forward to it!