Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

April 28, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

When You Ask For Their Feedback – Empowering You and Them in Class

recap self grading rubric

The ‘original’ participation tally handout

It started with good intentions. I frequently do a class ‘recap’ of a reading and I wanted to encourage my students to say more, give more during this process. I am a big believer in letting a rubric or other such tool set & guide expectations. However finding one for this purpose had eluded me. Suddenly timely posts by Carrie Toth on her independent reading yielded a class discussion participation sheet. Perfect I thought. With credit to Carrie, I took her original idea and modified it to what I wanted. By ‘what I wanted’ I mean to include descriptors of the kind of language that I expect, and know, my students are capable of producing and how they corresponded to expectations.

Admittedly I sprang this on them. They were not warned in advance of this addition to the activity and I was okay with that as I wanted to encourage spontaneous, not prepared, depth and detail. I introduced the ‘recording sheet’ and reminded them to keep track of the types of answers they were giving. I also reviewed how those answers would ‘rate’ in meeting expectations. So we started. Wow it was amazing. My students really worked to try to add in detail, depth and breadth to their answers. I was almost in tears hearing what I was hearing. Lots of props, thumbs up and smiling from me. They were fantastic. Then – perhaps I sensed something but really I’m not that tuned in – after the activity I asked them to reflect not on their work but on the success of using this type of tally to spur participation. They were sincere in their comments – I collected and read them and was ‘floored’ by some of the comments. They felt:

  • intimidated by others
  • ‘compared’ to other students
  • that they were not warned
  • confused by the process itself
  • it made them less likely to try
  • demeaned because their answers weren’t ‘as good’
recap pptn rubric modified 2016

Participation Sheet 2.0 (after student feedback)

Not good. Not what I intended and not what I value in my classroom. To quote Paolo Jennemann, “We needed to talk”! The next day I acknowledged to them what had I read. I posted on the board what my intentions were and, more importantly, were not(!) in using this tool to help them participate more. I explained that this tool was for them, to encourage them and that clearly it hadn’t done that and that I needed their help. And then I set them to the task. I wanted their own opinions on this so I chose to have them work with their partner. They were given a copy of the tally sheet from the day before and ask to ‘make it into a better tool to encourage them in this activity’. Wow – 20 minutes of talking intently, honest feedback on the form (and I mean honest!) and suggestions. They shredded the original document and provided me with ‘Participation Sheet 2.0’. The new sheet tells me so much about my classes and what they value in learning:

They believe in “I can” as a motivator – It’s been a couple of years and this crop of Yr3 started in Yr1 when I started to use ‘I can’ statements on the first page of my unit book. And apparently this is making an impact. More than one group turned the ‘statement’ of what they said into a representation of what they ‘can do’. Wow. They like the sense of accomplishment and they like to be able to articulate what they are capable of.

They want to challenge themselves/set their own expectations for how they will do – I’ve worked a lot on the pre-setting expectations both by me and having themselves set them and apparently they like to do this. The new sheet now starts with a ‘predictor’ or a setting of expectations but the student themselves.

They want to see if they meet their own expectations – They like the ability to set a bar and rise to it. I’ve never yet seen it as an excuse for just wanting to minimally meet. They like the setting of goals and several groups wanted them to not only be able to record how many items they offered a type of answer but also to be able to ‘check’ off the category as we they went along.

They want to reflect about the process after – This was my favourite. One group’s critique included a rather incredulous “What? No reflection?!!!” comment about the lack of opportunity to process the activity. So I combined this with a statement in which they get to say how well they met expectations. They know that the “That went…” starter demands both a statement about how they felt about it and, more importantly, reasons why they feel as they do.

They value when they take risks in using new items they are learning – They get that to meet expectations for a unit they are going to have to show that they can understand and use current unit items. They also realize that using new items requires them to risk. I loved this “I step out of my comfort zone…” statement one group suggested. It means that they know that they have to not be content with the ‘old’ but take what they know and layer on – expand – it with the ‘new’.

They don’t value a ‘points or expectation value’ on contributions – Many groups said  to ‘ditch’ the expectation indicators. Some said that any contribution at all was valuable and shouldn’t be discounted for a perceived value. Others said that they ‘know’ what is expected and what ‘meeting expectations’ involves so you don’t have to have it on there. And still others said that if they delivered the majority of the tupes of contributions they know they would be meeting expectations anyway. Gone.

They know that what they think/do matters – I will be presenting this updated sheet to them in the next few days. They already know that I value their choices and learning goals in the room. Now I am taking their feedback and working it into the document – and demonstrating their role/importance in the learning environment.

They have voices – and they matter. After all it’s all about their learning (not my teaching). What a process – what a powerful process.








April 19, 2016
by leesensei

The “Level Up” Writing Workshop Class…

HKnRUEcMI’ve been using descriptors instead of numbers for a while now. It’s going well but I have felt like there is a piece missing. It wasn’t until I read Amy Lenord’s post about a writing ‘workshop’ (where would my teaching be without her!) for students. It was then that I realized that I have been good about describing how well students are meeting expectations but not doing enough to show them how to improve. A class like this – dedicated to showing/helping students increase their written output – was long overdue.

I found the perfect opportunity to try this with my Yr4’s. We had been exploring a mini-health unit and had looked at ‘sick notes’ that I claimed to have received from various students in my Yr4 class from last year. You know the ‘I missed the last 3 days because I was playing soccer, hurt my leg etc etc’ kind of note. For a take-home I asked students to prepare a ‘basic’ note in the style of the ones they had been reading.

On workshop day I talked with them about the purpose of the class that day. They were given a copy of the writing rubric – and I went over with them what I feel a ‘minimally meeting’, ‘meeting’ in each category meant. Then I talked with them about their writing. The fact that when they write, they often don’t stop to think to include, to ‘show’ me what they know. I used a ‘making a cake’ analogy and said if many of them made a cake like they wrote they would do the following: know they had to make a cake, gather a few ingredients, stir them up, throw it in the oven and say to themselves ‘gee I hope it’s a delicious cake’. I wanted to impress upon them that, without stifling creativity, they also have to be conscious in their writing, of showing their reader (me) what they know. They have to consider the ‘ingredients’ of the writing as much as the outcome. They have to, to borrow a phrase from Japanese, be conscious of trying to ‘level-up’ their writing. I saw some heads nodding in the room…on to the practical demonstration of what I meant we went…

Then we began the actual exercise. They each received a big (11×17) piece of paper (you could save the planet and have them write use their own) with one of the sick notes, line by line on it. I am not a ‘grammar’ formula teacher but for this they also received a ‘technical sheet’ as I called it – a sheet detailing in English (then TL structure & example in use) the ‘kinds of things that we have covered in Yr3 and 4’.  I reviewed (just in English) the types of things they have in their writing tool-box. Many were surprised to see the extent of what we have covered as far as ‘technical grammar’ goes. I asked them to look at the opening line of the note “I have been away from school since last Wednesday” and I invited them to use the technical sheet to rewrite the first sentence with a ‘level up’ added. They they shared that new sentence with the 3 other people at their table. On to the other sentences we went in the same way. For at least one of the sentences I asked for 2 level-ups to be added. For another I asked them to take 2 shorter sentences and use level-ups to combine them. One student said “If we wrote every sentence this way every time it would be hard to read!”. He is correct, and we talked about judicious use of them in writing. At the end of the exercise they read their complete ‘new’ note to their partner. Then, borrowing from my ‘oral worksheet‘ focus, they had 15 minutes to visit with other students to read (not show) their note with them. Their work for that night was to re-write their basic note using the same idea that I had modelled in class.

After we were done – many smiles and nods as they considered their edits of the note. Students said that they found this a very effective exercise. My first glance at their notes indicates that many looked to inject level-ups into their writing. I will do this again and more often with all my levels.  How do you help students ‘level-up’?


April 15, 2016
by leesensei

Why Write When You Can Talk? – The Oral “Worksheet”

file791271781089Worksheets. I’ve been thinking, and rethinking, about them a lot lately. I believe that teachers use them with good intentions. We want them to practice something. We want them to “learn” and show understanding of a new language point or vocabulary group. We want them to reinforce what is going on in class. These are great intentions for using them. Unfortunately they also serve as ‘filler’, a required bit of homework and, for me, are not very ‘communicative’. Perhaps, more importantly, students increasingly see them not for the good intentions we may have employed them, but as something that must be ‘completed’ – rather than learned. Don’t get me wrong – I am someone who still uses a strategic paper worksheet here and there  (there I said THAT) so let’s get over the sheepish ‘I still use worksheets’ feeling. These days though, instead of handing out the worksheet, I’ve been trying to employ activities that hit the best of what we intend a worksheet to be – with the best of what I want my classes to be. Enter what I call the “Oral Worksheet”. This is really focused practice and involves anything that gets students interacting with (a) new language elements and (b) their peers in class.

Prior to Oral “Worksheets” what has to be in place? In my class you need two things – the confidence to ask/tell when you don’t understand and how to handle that (we work on that a lot) and the understanding that we are not ‘lazy listeners’ but, rather, active ones who will assist/correct/help in a gentle and supportive way when they hear an ‘error’ in use or have someone who can’t remember a word/phrase. I agree this can be a delicate thing – no one wants someone correcting them all the time – but we work on it from day 1 and they are effective in how they do it. Students also have to be used to activities where they frequently change partners and understand that they work with everyone in class – not just their friends.

Example 1 – Picture/Story Tell “Worksheet” : My goal was to introduce various ‘health’ terms/issues as part of a greater unit. I used clip art pictures and told a story told via QAR about a class where only 1 student showed up because everyone else was sick. We went over and over via questioning and then the students read a similar story. The “Worksheet” – pictures from the board story were in an envelope on their tables. In pairs they retold the story (not reading it/re-telling it) matching the pictures and the symptoms. On the board was a reminder of some key phrases we had used with ‘new language elements’. Then they had 10 – 15 minutes to re-use the pictures to make up a story about a character’s terrible horrible day  (the story was oral only – no notes!). Students then had 30 minutes to visit with other pairs telling their story and hearing others. As students listened to a story they were also allowed to ask questions “He cut his finger? How” which required the pair. How was it a ‘worksheet’? Well for 40 minutes they heard the vocabulary and language elements over and over. They helped each other out when they weren’t sure. They corrected appropriately and gently when they needed to.

Example 2 – Sketch/Share “Worksheet”: My goal in the lesson was to practice a particular element related to the use of giving & receiving action words (simple/complex). We had built up knowledge via practice/story the day before. Their ‘homework’ was to come up with 6 pictures with captions that demonstrated their understanding of how to use the concept (something I call the ‘sketch & share’). The next day in class they initially showed their partner the pictures and told them what the caption was (note – they ‘told’ they didn’t have their partner read it). This ‘check in’ also provided a chance to alter/edit as necessary. The “Worksheet” – After their partner check,  on  to the “oral worksheet” which involved 20 minutes of challenging others to see if they could provide a caption for the pictures that the student had drawn. The result? for 25 minutes they heard, reviewed and interacted with the material. Yes some ‘errors’ may have slipped through but I catch those when they hand in their pictures after the activity.

After the Oral Worksheet – Did they ‘get it’?: Do these kind of  oral ‘worksheets’ do the same job as a paper worksheet? I think so. My pop check-ins tell me that they ‘get it’ as much after these as they do with paper ones. And I think they get so much more – in the negotiating of meaning, the listening for understanding and the oral interaction with classmates. What are your written worksheet alternatives?



April 10, 2016
by leesensei

Teaching? To Me It’s Kind of Like Golf…

4538570185What is it like to teach? What makes a ‘good’ teacher? What is ‘good teaching practice’? What ‘method’ is the best?I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I watch the #langchat community grapple with the rise of the “(fill in method) teacher” and the staunch defense by some of one ‘method’ over another…There are many teachers leading the charge these days to find the ‘common’ among all of these schools of teaching thought. I thank Martina Bex, Thomas Sauer, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Lisa Shepard and Amy Lenord among those leading a spirited discussion on line about this.

And it led me to wonder what language teaching, or teaching in general, is like?  Now it may not be golf season for you but here in my corner of Canada we can (you may not believe this) golf outside year round. So allow me the analogy when I say that teaching, to me, is like golf. It is because…

I have a lot of clubs in the bag – As a golfer you don’t go out and play with just one club. And I don’t teach like that either – but rather I borrow/use/try a variety of approaches in order to enhance my students’ learning. Truth be told I experiment because I like variety. With 30 kids in class I realize that employing one kind of teaching style may not be allowing all of my students to learn in the way they like or need to. So I mix it up and use different ideas, approaches and styles as it suits. That’s not to say that, like my trusty 7 iron, I don’t have go-to strategies and activities that work for my students but I’m always looking to add to me repertoire.

I play the club for the lie I have – In golf you have to learn to pay attention where you are – and choose your club accordingly. In the classroom, in the past I admit there were days, lessons, where I ignored where I was in pursuit of an activity. It wasn’t working, it didn’t meet my students’ needs but I was so enamored of the activity I pushed ahead. And yes, the lesson bombed. I’ve learned to pay attention to the individuals in the room and adjust (or not use) things as needed. In teaching you are most effective when you pay attention to the room.

The club may differ but the swing is the same – No matter what approach or activity I choose my principle goals remain the same. (1) Teacher not as leader but coach (2) a “can do” learning environment that prepares students for success (3) proficient students aware of and driving their own learning (4) learning that prepares students for beyond the classroom.

Sometimes I make birdies, and sometimes bogies – It’s nice to hit a lesson or unit out of the park. But what is most important for me is to realize that it won’t always go well. I remember an authentic resource lesson I was so keen on. It really used the resource but ultimately it stank! It wasn’t until I looked at how I was using it that I was able to re-jig it and it was much more successful. I think the bogies are more important than the birdies though – because they tell me that I am risking and trying new things.

I may play the same course over & over – but fortunately I’ll never play it the same way twice  – In golf you rarely duplicate a round and its the same in the classroom. We know that every class will be different. Their skills and their needs, we learn, dictate the how/why of the approaches we choose.  However, this isn’t just about a different mix of students each time. I also think it speaks to teacher growth. As a teacher you are constantly reflecting on your class work. How did it go? What didn’t work? What did? What changes can I make?

I have a great caddy on the bag  – Okay in real life I’ve never had the chance to use a caddy, so my choices in clubs and approach to each hole are mine alone. But as a teacher I have a great caddy in the #langchat PLN. This amazing group of teachers offers mentorship and support that is so needed to by all of us on our teaching journey. #langchat allows me to share my successes, and offers advice and direction when things don’t go so well. It is an inspiration to me, and a guide to improving my teaching game.

Thanks for indulging me in this analogy….what is teaching like for you?




April 2, 2016
by leesensei

Building Student Responsibility For Learning: Pre-to-Post Oral Activity Ideas

DSC05583The ideas in this post deals with oral interpersonal activities in my classes. However I think many of them can be used for presentational and interpretive activities as well.

One of the big things that I have learned, and continue to learn, in my teaching is that, in order for learning to occur, my students need to be as aware of/involved in it as I am. Increasingly I’ve been building in opportunities for them to take on responsibility for their learning and provide feedback for themselves (and me) on the process. I’ve done a variety of posts in the past on parts of these but thought I would put it all together in one post that spans the ‘pre to post’ activity process.

Pre-Activity – Setting Our Expectations – I’ve learned that I can’t just set out ‘what’ we will be doing, but, in building in self-responsibility I also have to address ‘how’ and ‘why’ we will be doing an activity. With that in mind I now employ a range of pre-activity strategies (sometimes I use all of these at once, sometimes just a few) including:

  • Rubric in advance – Wow have I learned how powerful a rubric can be in establishing expectations. But what I have also learned is to use it to see if they both understand the expectations and their impression of how they are meeting them. So now I often ask them to mark the rubric before we do the activity so that I can see how they are expecting it to go.
  • Intention and/or Post Reflection Starters on board- new for me this year is to put either the ‘intention’ of the activity  or the actual post-reflection sentence starters on the board in English (or both!). In reading out the intention it gives an opportunity to remind my students why they are doing the activity. “Today we will discuss our favourite activities with partners. The focus is on communication and understanding – not on finishing quickly.” I’ve also experimented with writing the post-activity ‘reflection starters’ on the board – another way to set/build expectations.
  • Checks/Smile – Again a new one for me this year that expands beyond just having students read the rubric in advance. I am seeing results in using “Checks & a Smile” in the reflective comments of students afterwards.
  • Sharing with partner – We know that if we share a journey of change and growth with someone it helps us to make the change/take a risk. In a quick ‘share a challenge with your partner’ students share, and often learn, that everyone, regardless of perceived ability, has areas that they can still grow in

During Activity – Focus On Communicating – The goal during any activity that’s interpersonal is ‘good communication’. We work a lot in class on this. What does it for students to be good communicators in class? Students know that top ‘marks’ go to those who:

  • Are as good at listening as they are speaking
  • Don’t confuse good communicating with dominating/making speeches
  • Say when they don’t understand & help out when someone doesn’t
  • Asks a variety of appropriate related follow-up questions
  • Know that it isn’t about ‘finishing’ it’s about participating

Post Activity – Reflecting and Evaluating: Yes there is a rubric to fill out. It may be a simple ‘how did that go‘ or a more complex one specifically designed for the activity.  But before they fill it out students know they will also be writing. And they know that I will be reading these reflections and responding to them. Some of my favourite post-activity starters include:

  • That went ….because…
  • I am most proud that….
  • A challenge that I set out for me was to …and I met/didn’t meet it because…
  • My work in class today reflected/did not reflect our year level because…
  • One challenge for me for next time is…because…
  • We should do more/less of this type of activity because…

It’s taken time, and the great support of my #langchat PLN for me to realize that it’s what my students think/know/feel about their learning counts the most.



March 21, 2016
by leesensei

The Song Lyric “English First” Reading Activity

We use songs a lot in our world language classes – they are an amazingly authentic resource – and often just downright fun to listen to. file000564987721#Langchat has done more than one chat on this subject and I have written about my ‘song of the week‘  and the variety of ways I use it (among other ideas) in the past.

This past month I stumbled on a new aspect of the song activity. Keep in mind that this initially came as part of a bigger activity but it emerged as a fun interpretive add-on. In a nutshell it involves using the English version of the TL (target language) song lyrics as well as the TL ones.

What you need – a copy of the English lyrics and the TL lyrics (you can almost always find them online). Please note that I get my songs from iTunes (I believe its important to pay the artist).

What you doTo start, I put the lyrics side by side on a piece of paper (trying to match up the lines) and have the students fold them to only initially see the English version. You could put them on two separate pieces and only hand out the English first. Then play the song 2-3 times with the students looking at the English lyrics as they listen. I don’t worry too much about “understanding” – I want them to be listening and ‘reading’ the meaning. Next ask them to choose 5 words (or phrases or lines depending on their level) in the English that they want to see ‘what they are’ in the TL. Finally, once they have them I then ask them to look and search for the key phrases. Nope – no dictionaries at this point – they have to use the original English lyrics, position in the song etc. I then allow them to look up the words in the dictionary to see what they ‘mean’ in the original language. Finally we share out 1 key word each (on the whiteboard) that they found and think they will use again!

Why I like this – There’s so many ways that we use songs and I must admit that this type of approach was an afterthought during a more traditional ‘use the song’ activity. But I found that I liked it because:

  • It reinforces that we don’t directly translate from one language to another – it’s so much more than that – we have to consider not what they are saying but what they are ‘communicating’.
  • It’s personal – students are finding words/phrases that appeal to them
  • It’s interpretive – they are using guessing, inference, and more to try to find the match
  • It’s different – we almost always go to the TL lyrics first – so it’s a twist

Students enjoyed this ‘song’ option and I heard more than one “hey I was right!” comment during the time. I’ll try it again with other songs in the future!








March 18, 2016
by leesensei

Encouraging Risk/Rewarding Growth with “Checks And A Smile”

How do we encourage students to risk? How to we encourage them to ‘stretch’ and try something new? It’s a big challenge in the world language classroom. I have been using rubrics a lot to find out about how something went for a student, but it took until this year for me to use them to ‘prepare’ students to interact.  I realized that the rubric (and it’s construction/labels etc) is one way that we communicate class expectations. So why don’t we ask them, prior to the activity, to set up/predict/plan how they willSource: work to meet them?  This post focuses on interpersonal speaking but the concept may also be adapted for writing as well.

Initially I started asking students, prior to starting the activity, to select their ‘challenge’ (the ‘extra push’) – and check off (on the rubric) what they wanted to focus on doing/improving. Then I asked them to share that challenge with their partner to build in a bit of accountability. Then we moved on to the activity. It seemed to work well – they sincerely considered their ‘extra push’ in the interaction. But for me it wasn’t enough. It felt a bit focused on the ‘what I am not doing’ and not acknowledging ‘what I can already do’. Clearly, I needed a more balanced approach.

Lately I’ve been trying to acknowledge/encourage via “checks and a smile“. Prior to the activity the students select the ‘challenge/push’ for the activity – that gets the check. For my novices I generally have only 1 check, but in my upper level courses I source: openclipart.orgexpand that to 2 challenge/push areas. Then I ask them to select something that they already feel that they do well – what they are proud that they already incorporate into their interpersonal work. That gets the happy face.  I like how this combination gives a personal pat on the back for something already accomplished and still sets out something for them to reach for in their work.

When I ask students to reflect, as I always do, they are ready to tell me how they well they felt they did in meeting their checked challenge. Increasingly, with the equal focus on a strength, I see reflective comments about what they are ‘proud’ of  as well. And that is a happy face for everyone!



March 10, 2016
by leesensei

Mash-Up: Interpretive Reading Meets Interpersonal Activity!

Photo via White Rabbit ExpressInterpretive reading is a new ‘push’ of mine and I’ve been making full use of my supply of graded readers for this. My Yr4’s are currently working in a food unit and I tapped the “Sushi” reading for this purpose. It is from a lower level than my students can handle but perfect for this read/use activity.(Just a note that due to extensive kanji (Chinese character) use in ‘real’ authentic resources, and a class composed of 50% character readers, I’ve been using the ‘created by Japanese/adapted by Japanese for language-learners’ stories).

Day 1 – the pair ‘Interpretive Reading/Question-Making Activity’: I designed a series of questions designed to tap their prior knowledge (and in our area of the world it is extensive) about sushi. They worked in partners for this – with a mind to the ensuing activity. The rule in the reading activity is, of course, no dictionaries but rather using picture and word clues to find the information.  They tackled this quite easily but it did require careful reading. I noted partners correcting each other’s answers/ideas and pointing to parts of the text to make their point. Well done! We did not go over the answers in class as I checked in with each group and prompted changes when needed. Everyone had the information they needed to proceed to next part of the activity.

Now on to the key part of the interpretive reading – the ‘Challenge Quiz’ questions! Students were asked to come up with 10 questions/answers (in a variety of formats – multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank) about the sections read, in the Japanese.  From the assignment: You will challenge other teams – but you will ‘read’ your questions so they should not be long/complicated.  Answers must be ‘easily’ found in the text and not based on the ‘fine print’ or knowledge of kanji. Your questions must not require dictionaries to understand – they are to be understood by your classmates. Students worked hard on their questions (in fact I dropped the requirement to 8 due to time constraints) and came to class ready for Day 2.

Day 2 – the ‘Interpersonal’ Pair Challenge – I gave the students some time to review their questions as well as become familiar with the phrases for question types (how do you say “this is a multiple choice question” in your target language?).  I also introduced them to the points system they would be using. Essentially a team got a 1-point for answering correctly without using the text, 1/2-point for having to find the answer in the text and 2 points if the answer the questioning team gave was wrong! We also reviewed potentially useful language like ‘guessing’ (“I’m pretty sure the answer is…”) and ‘you’re right/wrong’. Then they paired up opposite another team and began. There was lots of intent listening and laughing (as well as a few well placed insults).  They spent about 35minutes in the TL asking/answering and many were upset they didn’t get more questioning time.

Student Feedback/What I Will Do For Next Time – I asked my students for feedback on this activity specifically on how they liked it/didn’t like it, what they needed that they didn’t have to do it and if we should do it again. They loved the activity for the ‘spontaneity’ it required in asking. For next time I will include ‘debrief’ time as many students wanted to hear ‘the most interesting questions’ that teams asked. Students asked for ‘arguing’ phrases (and mild ‘joking’ ones) to use against their partners. I only used parts of the reading for this activity and many wrote that they wanted to read the whole thing (yeah!)

I like the idea of this kind of ‘mash-up’ and the noise, laughter and ‘arguing’ in the room tells me that it was an effective way to encourage speaking/listening. More please!



March 9, 2016
by leesensei

The New Feedback Rubrics – Part 2: The Interpersonal Oral Rubric

As I mentioned in my previous post, my rubric journey has been a long and winding one. In the previous post I talked about how I have developed (and continue to) my presentational writing rubric – with the goal of both providing guidance for what is expected and feedback on how a student is doing. Again – and especially for this rubric, I owe a huge debt on these to Amy Lenord who first developed the checklist idea. Stop now and go read her post first – it sets the stage for the ‘feedback’ checklist portion of the rubric.

The Interpersonal Oral Rubric:  Again this rubric is still evolving – and I continue to tweak the descriptors to fit what I am hearing and what I want my students to push 301276952-Oral-Interpersonal-With-Checklist-2015-1towards.  At Fully Meets a student is using current knowledge and tapping previously learned items. They are not giving speeches or talking in very long complex (and often memorized) sentences. Rather the detail and complexity shows itself in the what kind of information they are trying to communicate and how effectively they are doing that.  A student in this category is using follow-up questions often and effectively to dig for details and their choice of questions indicates how well they are listening to their partner. Errors can, and will occur, but a student in this category is often self-correcting – which for me is not an ‘error’ at all. The Fully Meeting student is at ease in the interaction and is an ‘equal’ – not a dominating partner. We work hard to make sure that students are comfortable when they don’t understand something in my class and so ‘facilitating’ can mean explaining a word – or helping a partner to find one – in the target language.   Minimally Meets for me is the ‘unit’ items – and at this level the student is showing me what they have mastered from the current unit but is generally not drawing heavily on past knowledge. This student is often the ‘follower’ in the conversation and they minimally meet expectations by recognizing what their partner is saying – but not necessarily generating as much as they are.  A student, for me, generally falls between Minimally and Fully – and I usually find they have items selected from one or more columns.  At this point – with selections out of several columns I often use a +/- to show where they are. For example a “Meeting+” means that you are moving out of “Meeting” and starting on your way to “Fully Meeting”. A “Fully Meeting-” would be ‘not quite there but definitely out of the “Meeting” area. I believe that the +/- also serves to encourage/show students that they are ‘on a continuum’ of skill building.

The Feedback:  Here is where the real value is for me – the quick and easy way to add extra comments to the piece. This is Amy’s checklist and fully credited to her.  It is general enough to provide a ‘guide’ for a student and has room to allow me add specific points as well.

Student Self-Evaluation First: This year I also started having the student participate in this process. For the Oral this comes prior to the evaluated interaction. We use the checklist for this in what I call “2 Checks And A Smile”. The students select two descriptors that are to be their ‘challenge’ or focus on including/improving in their conversation. These are the “Checks”. The “Smile” is a happy face put next to something that they already feel that they are doing well. It’s a reaffirmation of a skill/strength they already have.

As I wrote in the previous post, the rubric language is still not fully what I want – there are areas to improve it and make it more clear. But I like the mix of the ‘how you met’ and the ‘here’s some feedback’ that it provides.  The link to the rubric is here – and if you are inspired by it please credit myself and Amy for what you use.



March 2, 2016
by leesensei

The “New” Feedback Rubrics – Part 1: Presentational Writing

My rubric journey has been a long and winding one. What started with rubrics modified off the French DELF program have now come a long way. Gone are the number descriptors – and now in their place – words to describe how fully meeting expectations the student work is. Also I have refined how I use the rubric. As I worked to implement more of them I realized  (in one of the ‘duh!’ moments) that the rubric is not only an effective way to communicate how a student has MET expectations but also as a way to give feedback and reinforce WHAT is key.

I owe a huge debt on these to Amy Lenord who first developed the checklist idea. Stop now and go read her post first – it sets the stage for the ‘feedback’ checklist portion of the rubrics.

Presentational Writing – The Rubric:  This is still evolving. I continue to tweak it to try to pull out what I want students to show me that they can do – and encourage them to do more. Fully Meets Expectations is my top criteria for 99% of mWriting-With-Checklist-Jan-2015-Copyy class, with “Exceeds” there for my heritage writers and the very cream of the second language crop. At Fully Meets a student is using current knowledge and tapping previously learned items. They are expressing themselves in a complex and varied style – pushing for subtlety and detail in their writing. Errors are still allowed to occur – a point that I feel encourages risk in writing.  A student who Fully Meets my expectation produces a piece that is easy to read, whose writing ‘flows’ (in a second language context) which means that transition devices and organization fully support the piece.  Minimally Meets for me is the ‘unit’ items – and at this level the student is showing me what they have mastered from the current unit but is generally not drawing heavily on past knowledge. A student, for me, generally falls between Minimally and Fully – and I usually find they have items selected from one or more columns.  At this point – with selections out of several columns I often use a +/- to show where they are. For example a “Meeting+” means that you are moving out of “Meeting” and starting on your way to “Fully Meeting”. A “Fully Meeting-” would be ‘not quite there but definitely out of the “Meeting” area. I believe that the +/- also serves to encourage/show students that they are ‘on a continuum’ of skill building.

The Feedback:  Here is where the real value is for me – the quick and easy way to add extra comments to the piece. Generally I found that I was writing the same comments over and over – and, borrowing from Amy’s idea, wondered if I could put together a written checklist. It is general enough to provide a ‘guide’ for a student and has room to allow me add specific points as well. Some of the checklist points reflect specific Japanese language items (such as ‘form’ – the difference between plain/formal forms for example) and others are more generic. I wanted to have the ‘For Future Pieces’ portion to be encouraging in nature which is why used words like ‘try’ and ‘review?’ to hopefully encourage the student to seek out assistance in these areas.

The rubric language is still not fully what I want – there are areas to improve it and make it more clear. But I like the mix of the ‘how you met’ and the ‘here’s some feedback’ that it provides.

Student Self-Evaluation First: This year I also started having the student participate in this process. At the end of the piece – be it a presentation or summative exam write – I ask the student to look at the rubric and check where they think the piece falls. I want them thinking about what I am looking for and evaluating how well they are meeting expectations. I find that most are quite aware of where there writing is and, using this style of rubric encourages growth in writing.

The link for the rubric is here if you wish – please credit based upon how much you borrow.

Next post – the Oral Interpersonal Rubric.






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