Language Sensei

Thoughts on Teaching Languages and Integrating Technology

January 28, 2016
by leesensei

The Feedback Series: Implementing, Reporting & Reviews

file891303951862I never set out to write a series on my attempts to improve my feedback with/to students – but apparently, like so much of my teaching, it just appeared. What I wanted to do was talk about what I felt was a real weakness of mine – and a real frustration for many teachers – feedback. I also wanted to address what I felt was lacking in my classroom – the students’ ability to articulate where they are in proficiency/achievement without needing the teacher to ‘tell’ them. This post is a collection of those 3 previous posts and looks at the ‘process’ I am still undergoing as I develop this skill further:

Changing How Students “See” Their Achievement Reported: In “My Evolving Gradebook” I wrote about my frustration in a gradebook that was all ‘numbers’ and gave no indication of how students were actually doint. It chronicles my attempts to remove numbers from student achievement and use proficiency descriptors (of my own making). It also focussed on my actual ‘recording’ in the required gradebook and how I developed the codes that students see (instead of numbers). Read more…

Improving and Expanding on Formative Feedback: My weakest link and one I am trying to get better at – the idea that we need to provide many ways for students to learn/identify ‘how they are doing’. In “How Am I Doing? I Know How!” I looked at ways I have tried to add to my formative feedback in my room. From pop “check ins”, to improved rubrics it is certainly a work in progress. Read more…

Asking Students’ What They Think: It’s all well and good to make a change that you think is right – but is the message getting through? And more importantly, do students able to do what I wanted in the first place – to be able to speak about their own learning and articulate their own level of profieciency? In “Proficiency Descriptors Not Numbers: Students React to the Change” I ask my 3 classes how they felt about this new approach. Read more…

A specific thank you to the Tell Project, Sarah-Elizabeth Cottrell/Musicuentos, and the #langchat community who continue to lead in challenging teachers to improve in their practice – in a positive and inspiring way.


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January 25, 2016
by leesensei

Proficiency Descriptors Not Numbers – Students React To The Change

DSC_6868This is the year that I began the switch and took a new path. As I’ve written previously I am now ‘talking ability/proficiency’ and not numbers with my students. It has meant changes in how I provide feedback and also how I record in my gradebook. Most importantly – this is a switch that I know will take some time/adjusting to get right …if I ever do.

It is my custom to ask students to reflect both in the middle, and at the end of term. This year I wanted to see how this change in feedback and marking proficiency is going over with them. So I asked them – 3 classes worth (90 students in all in grades 9,10 & 11). I kept in mind that some might tell me what I want to hear but I believed that all the work we do in self-reflecting would mean that they would be honest with me about this. The question on the form was “I made a switch to ‘meeting expectations’ grading instead of ‘numbers’ in order that you understand how well you are doing. What is your feedback on this style of grading?” And the responses came…

The Negative (12% of respondents). Most of the number-preferring students were older (grade 10 or 11) and have been in this kind of grading system a long time. What is interesting to me is the belief among these students that a ‘number’ is more accurate and precise. It reflects what they see as achievement.  I noted that none of the responders who favoured numbers mentioned their ability to use the language or how this in any way showed them how proficient they were. This is a call to me to work with students to ‘bust’ the idea that a “77/100″ tells you how well you can do something.

  • Personally I prefer numbers. The new system for me sometimes feels vague or misleading.
  • I feel that it isn’t precise…with numbers its easier to see why classmates did better than you on something
  • The new way is sensible but I think my Mom prefers numbers  (ah – communication with parents is going to be key!)
  • Numbers still tell me what I have to do to bring up my average
  • Numbers are a more straight forward way to visualize our ability to do things
  • Numbers are more precise and accurate and more explicitly tell me how I am doing
  • Not a fan as students are more used to numbers

The Ambivalent  (2% of respondents). There were few of these kinds of responses and came I think, as one student correctly noted, because I still have to translate the proficiency grade into a number grade anyway.

  • “I don’t think there’s much difference either way”
  • Not much of a difference but it does show what you are looking for
  • It doesn’t make a difference to me either way
  • You still translate it into percentages so there’s not a big difference

The Positive (85% of respondents). Wow – they like it, they really do.   One common reaction is that it is more accurate in showing how them how they are doing.  This means that my shift in message, and in wording ‘you will be fully meeting expectations if…’, is getting through. Others said that it was a great way to show them how they can improve which affirms that my message about ability/proficiency is clear and understandable to them.  Some cited that they found the system “less harsh and more supportive”. I take this to mean that they see that they are on a continuum of learning and that they are encouraged to continue to move forward. They know that, on a particular task/skill, they might have met ‘minimal expectations’ which means they are getting credit for what they can do – not being penalized for what they can’t. Finally many used the word ‘ability’ or the phrase ‘can do’ in their responses. Awesome – it means that my message and effort to re-frame how we measure ‘achievement’ in my classes is bearing fruit!

  • It’s more accurate about how I am doing and is way better in showing me what I need to improve
  • I like it because I wasn’t marked by numbers but the ability to do the work
  • It doesn’t pressure me to be perfect and is less ‘harsh’ when you are still learning
  • It’s great and the notes under them (checklists) tell me what I need to do for next time
  • It’s more informative
  • It’s more forgiving than numbers
  • It gives you a more gentle push towards improvement
  • It pushes a student to try harder
  • Numbers can’t express how I am doing
  • There is less comparing between students this way
  • It helps me to understand the criteria more than numbers do
  • It’s a more accurate way to describe how you are doing in a language
  • It outlines what I need to improve on
  • It encourages me to do better
  • It’s less stressful
  • It’s more forgiving for anyone who doesn’t receive high marks …lets them know they are on the right track
  • It is more accurate (than numbers) and I know what to improve on
  • It’s a more accurate reflection of what you can do
  • I like it because with numbers are you all concerned about is your letter grade
  • I love it. It is less intimidating and give you a more genuine understanding of why you are where you are

The responses, and my own feeling about making this switch, means I will continue down this path…future posts to come I’m sure!


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January 20, 2016
by leesensei

“How Am I Doing? I Know How!” Improving Formative Feedback

YOne of the reasons I am making a big shift from numbers to proficiency/expectation descriptors is to ensure that students don’t wait for me to tell them how they are doing – but rather that they will know and be able to articulate for themselves. With this shift comes more challenges in improving feedback and learning opportunities for students. I am by no means good at this – but, as a believer in ‘small tweaks lead to big changes’ I have been experimenting with additional ways to provide feedback. I think I’ve been really weak on this in the past….so my ‘small tweaks’ this semester included:

Pop Check-In – born out of the frustration of students being able to do things for a quiz but not 10 minutes later, and a desire to see if they are really ‘getting it’, I introduced the concept of the “Pop Check-In”. These are not announced beforehand and focus on a particular skill/structure we may be working on. As my students know – and can repeat back to me – this is a chance to see ‘what is in their heads’ now. It is not ‘for marks’ but rather is for learning and feedback for them on how well they are internalizing a concept. More here….

Rubrics With Feedback – Ah Amy Lenord – where would I be as a teacher without the amazing sharing (and challenging) that you do! I realized after reading a piece by Amy that my rubrics needed to be reinforced with some ‘great job/for next time’ comments. And Amy’s amazing post on this inspired me to make a change to my rubrics too. With attribution, I have added her checklist to my oral interpersonal rubric – fabulous and so easy to use when I am grading students. Extending beyond that I decided that my writing rubric needed it as well. This is my first draft of this and I know it will evolve but I am looking forward to using it in the future!

Completion Required – I am taking in more small pieces of writing this semester. I realized in the past that I left too much to the final summative writing piece. My twist on feedback is not to do the corrections for them but to highlight areas of weakness and ask them to work on them. They get an ‘incomplete’ in my evolving grade-book until that is done and the piece is then marked as ‘complete’. In order to be able to do the corrections I often include hints or reinforcement of the concept via a written comment, a chat with me or pointing them to one of my on-line reviews.

Reflective Responses From Me – I am very keen on collecting reflections from students especially after they self-evaluate an activity. I used to read them but this semester I added what I thought was a missing component which is my comment on that reflection. So now – especially after a summative oral that has been self-assessed (yes – I do those!) I take the time to read and respond to their comments. Then they receive that back with their ‘unit summative’ sheet and I make sure to attach it so that they see the comments that I have made. I notice that they take the time to read and note them.  I also do an ‘end of course’ reflection and take the time to write, or orally respond to each as well. They get this back at the final exam – a nice way to end I think.

Unit Summative Sheet – I usually don’t have students keep a summative writing piece but have always felt that they should retain something at the end of the unit to chart their progress. So this semester I introduced their unit summative sheet (brightly coloured so its easy to find). On it are two rubrics that I have filled out – their writing/oral pieces with checklist feedback (see above) showing how they are doing in meeting expectations. I also attach the pre-oral rubric they fill out – so that they can see how they felt about how they would do going into the oral. I am also looking to incorporate a space on that for them to include a reflection about what worked for them in learning in that unit and a place where they can articulate how they felt about their learning during that course of study (based upon a piece from the TELL project). I saw many students voluntarily take these out as we were preparing for finals to help them prepare.

Oh there’s so much more I think that I can do…but with these small steps I hope I’m moving in the right direction….



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January 11, 2016
by leesensei

My Evolving Gradebook: From Numbers to Descriptors…

The Disclaimer: First up and straight out I am still required to submit ‘percentages’ that translate into a letter ‘grade’. Secondly I do not grade on the ACTFL continum yet of labelling proficiency from novice low to intermediate and beyond. Thirdly I still look at the ‘four’ skills – reading/writing/speaking/listening but my summative assessments are oral interpersonal, presentation writing and interpretive reading.

The Problem: What does a 6/6 mean? Why do kids ask “How do I get an A?” and not “How fully am I meeting expectations?” and even more key – why are they asking me how they are doing? Don’t they know? Can’t they articulate where they are in meeting expectations for a unit?  Why does my gradebook look like this?

THE OLD - part 1

And More Pressingly…. How do I meld the desire to address student goals and achievement with the requirement of keeping ‘grades’ in my province.

So…it started with removing all numbers from my rubrics. Big step. Removing the ‘calculation’ from the task.Now I find myself saying “In order to be fully meeting…” and students are catching on. In fact I have gone a step further and ask them to complete the rubric for the assignment/task in advance to set up/establish where they think they are in addressing expectations. Then after my evaluation they get ‘both’ back to see how their perceptions, and mine, line up.

But how to represent this in my gradebook and still come up with a grade?  My solution is not mine but rather is taken from work done with an amazing colleague, Connie Santos, in my school’s English department. She developed a grid to translate the descriptors to ‘marks’.  This is still a work in progress for me but the maximum that a student can achieve is “Fully Meeting +” and this is my 100%. The descriptors and % are here… Fully Meeting


Now my gradebook is a real combination that is beginning to reflect my shift from ‘numbers’ to descriptors. I have created a series of ‘special scores’ that work as a percentage of the ‘score’ of the task. So the O-FM code is a special score of 95 – meaning that it translates to 95% of whatever the assignment is out of

Now what students are seeing is:

THE OLD part 2Some details as to what you are seeing:

Numbers – quizzes on items that students have had at least 1 formative assessment with feedback in. Any achievement here is ‘re-doable’ upon student request to show further mastery – at their request.

C/Incl/NHI – pop-check in corrections, written work feedback and ‘homework’ (such as it is) completion

MM-….FM+ – Writing  – a major piece or summative assessment in writing.

O-NYM ….O-FM – Oral evaluation – either by me or by them for class speaking/interpersonal activities and tasks

P-NYM….P-ME – Project/Out of Class Work – This is generally a ‘meeting/minimally meeting/not yet meeting’ mark for ‘project work

This experiment is definitely a work in progress. And I understand that I run the risk of ‘confusing’ readers (almost as much as I am as I try to refine and use this). But I am really pleased with where this is heading…and hoping, just hoping, that one day I will be allowed to enter descriptors on report cards…and not a percentage!



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January 4, 2016
by leesensei

The #authres Infographic & Digging for Information On Cultural Practices/Attitudes


xmas600It starts with an authentic resource…and this one from Yahoo Japan about the top 20 Keyword searches related to Christmas via (an awesome source for Japanese language infographics!). Yes we have touched on the typical “holiday in (fill in country)” but I want them to use the information to infer about what the Japanese really feel about this celebration (a non-holiday) in the country. The lesson is applicable to any county/celebration. Key note – This was a ‘first day back‘ after holidays activity and we used the information to guess/infer in English about what we learned reading the infographic. For other times/units we would use the target language. Here’s how I set it up.

Pick the ‘meatiest’ part: I decided to concentrate on one specific part of the infographic – the actual top 20 terms as searched for on home-based and mobile devices . It’s easier to print out part of the graphic and is the piece of information that I found the most relevant.activityChristmas

Step 1 – Establish some prior/new vocabulary knowledge. This is where any new vocabulary (or in my case ‘characters’) was placed. Students read over the list with their partner first (no dictionaries) and guessed/filled out words that they already knew. Then they used resources to find ones they did not. We then discussed this as a class – which allowed me to clarify meaning and identify any cultural implications of using the word.

Step 2 – Reading/Understanding the Information. I gave them the ‘actual’ piece of the infographic in Japanese (above/right). But the small print is hard to read and so I replicated the lists on another – typed out (and with furigana reading for the Chinese characters). Their instructions were to read through the lists and NOT to translate them.(That is not to write the English meaning directly beside the Japanese). If they had a word they had to look up they could write that out there (as they are using the lists for later questions). After reading with their partner they should be able to understand the words/phrases on both lists.

Step 3 – The “Deeper Thought” Exercise. I didn’t want a ‘list’ or a ‘regurgitation’ of the information. So they were asked to answer 5 questions (with their partner) in English about what they read. The KEY for me were questions 1 and 5 – with questions 2, 3, 4 setting them up for the final one.

  1. If you went only by internet searches given here …what are 5 key elements/components of a Japanese Christmas (and why did you choose them)?
  2. Is there anything in the top 1-10 for home computers that is not there in the 1-10 for mobile devices?
  3. Is there anything in the top 1-10 for mobile devices that is not there in the 1-10 for home computers?
  4. Is there anything in the 1-20 lists for the home computers or mobile devices that is NOT there for the other at all?
  5. Why do you think there are differences in the rankings between the two? What about when/how each device is used might influence that?

As I indicated the key questions are the first/last ones. We discussed as a class what emerged as the key elements and how it related/didn’t to the Canadian Christmas experience. When it got to ‘why’ the home-based/mobile device searches might be different students came up with great ‘thoughtful answers’ that touched on demographics, timing, personal privacy, convenience and more. The students told me they really enjoyed the exercise because it used something ‘real’ and they especially liked the ‘deep thought’ questions as opposed to just ‘find the answer’.  Several tables even ended up in spirited discussions about ‘why’ the lists were different.

This was a great ‘first day back’ activity for me, meaningful for the students and a way for them to use real authentic information to learn about the TL country and ‘culture’.

A win! Welcome Back!


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January 4, 2016
by leesensei

A “Meaningful” Review Using an “Authentic” Cultural Component

file000742939575There’s a lot of talk about review. Do you review specifics? Do you review ‘everything you did the year before’ you start the new one? I have shifted lately from an overall review to activities at the start that remind students ‘how’ we operate in class.  If you teach on a semester system you can encounter students who have not had the language for a year (!) and something must be done. Although this review style features something specific to Japanese – I think that the ‘culture’ or ‘real authentic use’ component could be adaptable to any language.

Like many languages, Japanese has a variety of ‘politeness levels’ and students in high school typically master the regular ‘formal’ and the more vernacular ‘plain’. In Year 3 my students acquire the plain form – and in Year 4 need to ensure that they start with a clear grasp of it – ready to use at any time. With 2, 6 or even 12 months since the Yr3 course ended how can I a) review the plain and in doing so not b) just make it a march through rules. I want a ‘purpose’ beyond “we need to remember how to…”. I needed a ‘hook’…

And then it came to me. A ‘mini-unit’ that I sometimes did in Year 3 but now, with more expanded time on other units, have not been able to do recently. A cultural exploration of a literary genre that, because it emphasizes/relies on brevity necessitates the use of this plain form. Yes – the Haiku. The traditional 5-7-5 poem already familiar (in English) to my students.  So this year my Yr4’s will begin their course with an exploration of the Haiku. They will look (in English) at the history, requirements, styles of haiku. They will read/analyze in both English and Japanese. They will, as great haiku masters have done, select a pen name to sign their haiku with (and have to explain in Japanese why they chose what they did). And they will write haiku using the required elements and forms. They will share their haiku with the class via a ‘poetry book’ we will put together. And finally they will take up the brushes and experience, many for the first time, writing their haiku using traditional brushes/ink/calligraphy paper.

I am looking forward to this – to the ‘review’ that this exploration provides. It spurs me on to think of other opportunities that I may have to ‘place’ a required review into an authentic context. What natural forms of expression in your Target Language might allow you to do the same?


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January 1, 2016
by leesensei

My 2016 #OneWord – “Acceptance”

6F6A3033Every year I like to think of a key word that will guide my teaching practice. Two of my past words have been ‘Applicable‘ and ‘Opportunity‘. But in light of personal and professional changes this year I have decided that my guiding word for 2016 will be “Acceptance”. This year I accept that:

I can’t hit it out of the park every time. There’s a lot of pressure that I put on myself now to be new, innovative and engaging in every lesson. I am not content to just do ‘what I used to’. But all this trying to innovate does not necessarily mean it works. I threw myself into an authentic resource lesson last year with my Year 2’s. And it bombed. Big time. I was bothered…but now I accept that on my journey to improve my teaching there will be, have to be, ‘duds’. Those lessons mean that I am risking. And with risk comes the possibility of the ‘miss’. As it turns out I revamped my dud lesson this year with a new approach and guess what…an engaging student centred lesson. So I accept that to gain, to grow, to change – I will not always be successful.

Some days the ‘learning’ I’ve planned isn’t what my students need. I need to let them guide my practice and not the other way around. Yes, it’s my job to have my eye on the broad themes and goals of what they are learning. It’s my job to keep my focus on the big picture. But it isn’t my job to determine all of what/how they are learning. I need to be flexible when an activity isn’t working, and open enough to change quickly when an idea or activity particularly engages them. This year I had planned a certain approach to a lesson and in the middle realized that my students faces, voices & level of palpable excitement were telling me that there was another lesson there. So I scrapped ‘my plan’ and went with theirs. And it was way better and took them way deeper into learning than my initial approach could have. So I accept that I must be flexible and attuned to what really engages and meets my students’ needs.

Life is more important than the perfect resource/lesson/approach. I think it is so easy to spend way too much time questing for the perfect lesson – to the detriment of having a fuller more meaningful life. I got married four years ago for the first time – at the age of 50. Up until that point I spent a lot of time on my teaching and professional development. I could. I could eat, sleep and breathe teaching.  It has been an adjustment for me – to carve out time for teaching/professional growth around my personal life rather than trying to squeeze a life around my teaching.  So I accept that to be the teacher that I really want to be, and who will best serve my students’ needs, I must be the person I need to be first.

I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that this new year will bring. And I accept that it will be one of growth – both personally and professionally. Hello 2016!


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December 17, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015 – Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 5 (a tie!) (Questions/Cultural Stations Day)

A tie…yes..between two very different activities. One is focussed on oral communication – and actually practicing/teaching students how to communicate. The other was my first attempt at a station day that solely focused on an aspect of Japanese culture (but adaptable to any TL). Enjoy!

MP900262685Developing Conversation Skills: The “Follow Up Question” Game

We work hard in my class on developing an ease at conversing. It isn’t natural for many people, including me I’ll admit, so why would we expect it to be so for our students? This semester I have a new crop of Grade 10’s, 30 students who are in my class for the first time. When I asked what it is they want to many of them wrote ‘have a regular conversation in Japanese.” My job is to have them meet that challenge. I’ve written before about extending conversation skills using ‘follow-up questions’ and this group needed a way to jump-start their ability in this area. So I invented the ‘Follow Up Question’ game….my fancy title for essentially practicing conversations!

What You Need

  • Question Cards- a set of follow-up questions in the Target Language. I input the phrases I want into Quizlet – then print out thefollow up quest ‘large’ flashcards on coloured paper and cut them out . My initial ones are shown on the right.
  • Students – in pairs – initially of your choosing then eventually their own
  • An ‘emergency sheet’ (list) with the questions/answers already matched (upside down on the desk)

Initial Round (First Day)

  • These words are not new to them so I have students match the English and TL cards – then mix them up and spend 3-4 minutes quizzing each other.
  • Have the students separate the cards again into two piles – and select the TL pile (put the English aside)
  • Student 1 begins with a simple phrase such as “I’m going shopping”
  • Student 2 pulls a card from the pile such as “When?” and Student 1 thinks of an answer that fits
  • Student 2 then pulls a second card – perhaps “Where at?” and it continues
  • Students run through the ‘stack’ of question cards then switch roles
  • They will run through this with 3 or 4 different partners – experiencing asking/answering a number of times – and be encouraged to change their ‘starting phrase’ a couple of times

Recognizing Appropriate Questions – Sometimes the follow-up question a student draws doesn’t work. For example if you are shopping at the mall then “Where to?” isn’t appropriate. Students know that if a question is not usable they are to tell their partner that. It sharpens skills and awareness around the questions – and to be honest they love it when they say “No – that one won’t work!” in the target language.

Assisting in Comprehension – Not every student will remember all of the questions initially. So we also practice helping each other understand. If the question is asked and it isn’t understood then the student asking knows that, if they understand it, they are to try to assist by giving a sample answer. For example if their partner doesn’t understand/know how to answer “Who with?” they can use “For example ‘with a friend’ ‘by yourself'” to help their partner clue in. If the both students don’t understand they can peek at the emergency sheet.

Later Round (Second Day) – I employ the same strategy, and start with a quick warmup with the cards. Then they are paired with new partners, but now use the pile of cards in English. Again we rotate through 3 or 4 partners. Students are encouraged to change up their ‘starting phrase’ at least once during the time of the activity.

Later On (Third Day etc) – Again we start with a partner and a quick warmup. Then the cards are put away (an emergency sheet is on the desk if needed). We rotate through 2 or 3 partners, switching up the starting phrase. At the end of the time students have an opportunity to record the questions on their conversation phrase sheet that they keep in their binder.

Finally –  No cards are provided at all (the questions are on a sheet the student knows how to access). Instead of the student providing the initial phrase students may start the class with a question on the screen (from me) like “Ask your partner what they are doing after school? Where? When? Why…etc!” And they are off – with great questions that allow them to dig for details. As the semester progresses we find new questions to add to our ‘follow-up’ list. Taking the time to help them develop their questioning skills pays off when the room is alive with conversation. My job at that point is to get out the way and let them talk!



A “New” Cultural/Target Language Station Activity Day…

This post seems at first just to be for Japanese teachers – but I believe that the ideas – not the content – make it useful for anyone contemplating adding more ‘station’ work in their classes. I have written before about my quest to put more into my units. This was my first “not at the end of a unit – review & extra items” station experience. No this was all about a visual/audio/reading work focused on one topic: Sumo wrestling. Students would be exposed to both authentic resources, adapted resources and TL/English videos.

My class has 30 students in it – so I had 8 stations on the go. We were at each for 15 minutes.. and if they ended early they worked on a station activity (reading) that they might not have finished – or they talked. This took just over 2 whole periods to do  (or you could space this out and do a couple a day while doing other things.)

Each station – has a table number and resources for the station. The viewing stations used my 3 class computers and my laptop. They all had a headphone splitter and extra headphones (dollar store) if students didn’t have their own. The reading stations had extra copies of the vocabulary needed for the readings.

Each student – received a readings package, a handout booklet – with the activity/instructions for each station. Students moved sequentially from table to table with their current table partners.

Video Stations – Each station involved viewing with questions before or after in the English or the TL.  One station called on them to answers questions to test their prior knowledge of Sumo (in English) and then watch a short history video to see how correct they were. Another showed an actual match with Japanese commentary – students viewed the match and answered questions in English about various information that appeared, in print, on the screen (the wrestlers, their rank etc). Another station showed a short National Geographic piece about the daily life of wrestlers and asked them to reflect on what they found most interesting.

Audio Station – an “interview with a sumo wrestler” taken from an older textbook resource I no longer use. It’s a nice piece with TL and cultural content so I continue to use it. Students listen/read along and answer questions in the TL.

Reading Stations – I had 4 TL-related reading stations all together. Two stations were short readings in the TL about Sumo’s history, rules, requirements to be a wrestler and daily life. These are ‘adapted’ pieces taken from graded readers designed for those learning Japanese. They are accessible, written by Japanese and in my books ‘authentic’. Students completed reading comprehension Q’s in Japanese.  The third station was a ‘catch up’ station for any readings that they had started by not completed. A fourth station was another TL reading that had them looking at a sumo-related recipe for  the high calorie/high protein stew – Chankonabe; finding the ingredients that goes into this famous dish. Then they watched a short video on the making of the dish.

Using the Information Gathered – Students have two activities designed to tap into what they learned during their station work. One is an oral discussion day – a conversation circle activity based upon questions that they answered at the reading stations. The second is an infographic produced in the TL by the partners. They can only use the information gathered during the sumo day and any ‘new vocabulary’ they encountered there is okay as well. The assignment is mostly in Japanese but the rubric gives a good idea of what I am looking for. They will have time on ‘graphic’ day to read/view the infographics. I just included an updated post on the activities in my latest post.

This was my first move to use stations to really explore/introduce a topic. It will undergo ‘refining’ in the future I am sure but I am pleased to have made my first foray into this ‘cultural’ target language learning activity.







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December 16, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 4! (Interactive Orals)

I am a big fan of using ‘interactive fair’ orals – when students work with each other (without a hovering teacher) to exchange information/learn from each other. I use them at every level. Often the summative writing piece draws on the information that they obtained during the fair. This post talked about my ‘first’ interactive oral that I introduce – for my novices – and their reaction to this sort of activity. It comes after much work using activity rubrics and other strategies (not understanding etc) so that they are ‘ready’ to do this. And so…the Number 4 most popular post this year…

club names“It Was Cool!” Their First Group Interpersonal Oral…

I am so proud of my Year 1’s. In one (strike-shortened) semester they have mastered one new orthography and are well on their way to a second. They are learning how to feel confident and communicate in a second language they’ve only experienced watching anime or looking at manga. And yesterday – for 40 fabulous minutes – they talked, laughed and communicated solely in Japanese.

The first interactive group oral of their language-learning journey is based on a simple premise: activities they like to do.  The students are also, by this time, becoming very comfortable with follow-up questions like ‘where at?’, ‘when’, and ‘who with’.  Whenever I am casting about for a suitable oral I like to think of ‘when’ the vocabulary/grammar would be used in real life. For me, tying in activities with their daily life led me to clubs.

The Task - The students are asked to create a club and select 3 activities that would be done there. Then they have to decide on meeting times, who they have formed their club with and where they meet. The students also had to think of reasons/ways to convince someone to join in with them.

The Preparation - The topic is introduced via a club that I created and put up on the screen. We worked through Q/A on the details of that club. Then they had, working as pairs, 2 classes to prepare – with part of one taken up with an ‘information gap’ (partner has information that I need, I have information for them) activity to practice asking/answering questions. They also had time to come up with their club sign which is worth no marks but still seems to be the most labour-intensive part of the whole task!

The Club Day – With a 30-student class I pulled out 1/2 of my desks and made a big circle around the room with the rest. Students sat on either side of the desks – the student on the ‘inside’ of the circle would be first to visit other clubs – the student on the ‘outside’ would be the club signmanager for that period of time and give out information. The signs stand up on the desk with the help of dollar store picture holders. Just before we begin we review what the purpose of the oral is – to practice speaking, to talk to our classmates and to relax and have fun. Then we begin – and students visit other clubs, asking questions in Japanese and recording in English (do they understand?). After they visited 6 or 7 clubs they switched roles with their partner. All in all about 35-40 minutes in the target language!

The Evaluation – It’s my practice to have this activity ‘self-evaluated’. It is also my practice not go straight to the rubric but to have students reflect on the process through written comments first.  They were asked to complete two sentences: “That was ___ because…” and “I am most proud that…”  Their comments showed their personal pride in completing the task:

“That was cool because we talked in Japanese for 40 minutes! When I started (class) I didn’t think that we would have learned that much!”
“That was fun because I learned from other people and got to know others better!”
“I am most proud that I didn’t use English during this activity.”
“I am most proud that I could tell others about my club!”
“That was awesome because I know that I’ve improved in my Japanese speaking and listening!”
“That was cool because I got to talk with my classmates without having a lot of pressure about messing up!”
“That was pretty cool because as I was speaking I was also realizing that I learned a lot this semester!”

But, after a semester of language learning and team building my favourite comment was:

“That was fun because I got to speak Japanese with my friends!” 

Job done!


A copy of the student portion of the task is here with task outline, fill in form and evaluation. If you find it useful – please do so with credit.

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December 15, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 3 (Key Tech ‘Bits’)

As I count down the ‘Best of…’ this year it strikes me that the top posts – like our teaching practice – reflects a combination of the old and new. The top post drew on a classic game, and the second most popular on a philosophical shift in my ‘practice’. The third draws, not on major technological changes, but three small tech bits that work well in my class…and perhaps yours.

 Three “Small But Vital” Tech Bits for My Language Classroom techonology imagesThere are lots of technology ‘tools’ and ‘apps’ out there to make our teaching lives easier – and enrich the learning experience for our students. As I was uploading a file to my Evernote yesterday I thought about 3 ‘tech’ bits that are vital in my classroom.

Tiny Scanner App for my Phone –  I admit that I got this because Joe Dale posted that the “pro” version was free one day on his amazing blog. Wasn’t sure I’d use it but if Joe says its good – you get it. Well – with my use of Evernote for my school planning it has been an absolute winner. I use TinyScan to take pictures of my board before/after class. Often I don’t need a full ‘photo’ but really am just looking for a ‘record’ of what happened. Tiny Scanner turns my phone into a portable scanner. It will upload directly to my Evernote in formats from ‘photo’ to ‘black & white’ and can also directly link to other ‘cloud’ storage programs. It is an essential app in my daily teaching. (Joe has already let me know that if you are an Office user then Office Lens might be a more ‘seamless’ app for you to directly integrate with the Office suite of products.)

Keynote Export to Video (even HD!) option – I’m big on unit slideshows. I use them for teaching/repetition of ideas all the time. But a nifty feature I have been using more and more is the ‘export’ to video function. An example of its impact is going on right now in my class – we review ‘class language’ at the start of the year. I use my Keynote slideshow for that as I take kids through our key phrases. I also have the video file (set to about 8 seconds per slide) ready to go – it plays before class starts, it plays while the are completing work…it rolls whenever I need it. It’s a great way to reinforce key points, or introduce ideas in an indirect way. You can even export the audio from a presentation to the video as well. And yes you can also create videos via PowerPoint….

SaveFrom.Net – Easy Youtube Downloading –  When the internet at school is shaky – or even non-existent – you can’t stream anything in class. So downloading a video from YouTube or another source becomes key. There are some great programs out there – including – but my current fave is SaveFrom.Net. Why? Because you don’t have to copy/paste the YouTube URL to use it. Just type “ss” between the ‘www.’ and the ‘youtube’ in the URLusethis  – then hit ‘enter’. When you do this you go directly to their site. Don’t click on any links there for other products – but download your video when it shows up as ready to go! It will handle YouTube, Vimeo and many more formats. No more ‘buffering’ …..

What are your ‘small but vital’ tech bits that enhance your teaching life?


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