Language Sensei

Thoughts on Teaching Languages and Integrating Technology

May 28, 2015
by leesensei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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May 19, 2015
by leesensei

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


Image source:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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May 7, 2015
by leesensei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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April 26, 2015
by leesensei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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April 21, 2015
by leesensei

My 4 Low-Tech Indispensable ‘Classroom Supplies’

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

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

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

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

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

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



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April 14, 2015
by leesensei

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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April 13, 2015
by leesensei

“Minimal Lines” – Vocabulary Review With A Pencil!

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

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

What you need:

Big piece of paper – I use recycled large newsprint paper

Pen or pencil

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

Kids in partners or small groups

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

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

Now – down to business!

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

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

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

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

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

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




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April 6, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

“What Was Your Challenge? How Did You Overcome It” – Student Responses and What I Learned…


In my last post I wrote about my goal of ‘traction’ for my students. But the key for me is “Is the lesson on how to communicate/what to do if there are challenges?” getting through.

My Year4’s do a group interactive oral based upon a taste test. In the past I would not have been too strict on it but this is the new me and I asked that they do their 2-day preparation for the activity all in the target language (gasp! yes – I didn’t used to think they could!). It took some time – and some work to give them what they needed – and many ‘support/needed phrases’ went up on the whiteboard. Afterwards I asked them to reflect on how it went using my usual activity rubric. More importantly I first asked them to write their answer to the following prompt: “What were the challenges in doing this – and how did you overcome them (or did you?)”. Their answers tell me that many of the skills we try to acquire to communicate are there… and also that there is some work to do.

“Personally I do not think that I completely overcame the challenges I faced, but the use of hand gestures and examples helped me through…”

“Speaking Japanese for the whole time was a big challenge. I wasn’t sure how to connect the words to make sense at items but I tried to use language that we had learned in the past. This totally helped me to go on and talk with my partner.”

“I honestly got stuck several times with my partner – at a loss for vocabulary – but I got through this by (like Lee Sensei said) finding other words to get out of the ‘hole’ and use words I do know.”

“We used body language to express what we were trying to say (when we didn’t know) and to be honest its a good thing to do – it worked!”

“It was a challenge to ask something that the other person would be able to understand – I overcame this by testing sentences until they understood what I wanted to say.”

“To overcome this I tried to use similar words, and then rephrasing to make my point get across.”

“Yesterday when I was stuck I resorted to English – but today we learned from yesterday’s mistakes and used actions and simple words – instead of English to overcome the language barrier.”

“I can converse in a conversation but planning I tend to need to use more complicated sentences and that was more difficult. I tried to overcome it by trying out different sentence starters, rewording as I needed to..”

“When my partner and I worked together I felt more comfortable to overcome the challenges of not knowing certain words”

“It was very uncomfortable at first but I focused on only using Japanese and it worked okay and I gained some confidence (in using it)”

“I think we didn’t really have a clear strategy in not using English except that we both tried our best not to and that really helped us overcome the challenge of not using it! In the end it was the effort that did it!”

“It was difficult to talk completely in Japanese – we used our unit book notes etc. to help – but it was do-able.”

And what did I learn from this?

I learned that all the work we do with assisting, circumlocuting and rephrasing is sinking in.

I learned that they will commit to using the TL only if they think it is worthwhile to do so.

And I learned this should be the norm – they should be able to plan (and do) in the target language (do I see the influence of PBL @sraspanglish?). BUT this means I start them doing this in earlier years – with lots of language support they will need. Then I can scaffold up my expectations of their language use as we ‘raise’ the bar in their TL use while planning/preparing.

It was a great to see them ‘digging in’ to do this and to learn how I can support them more as they try to move forward with language use.





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April 3, 2015
by leesensei

The Key (for me) is “Traction” not “Grit”

Photo Source:

There’s a lot of discussion about ‘grit’ these days in education. I am unclear where it originated, and for what purpose, but the chatter has moved beyond the educational idea realm and even entered the ‘political’. Some feel it is even a negative term implying a ‘failure’ of the part of students or their negative attitudes/attributes that hinder learning. I must admit I’ve never seen the word as ‘negative’ but the more we talked about it on #langchat last week the more I feel it isn’t the right word for me. I’m not looking to develop students with grit I discovered. The word that describes what I want to build in my students is “traction”. It can be defined as:

the ability of a wheel or tire to hold the ground without sliding” *

Yes – I want my students to have traction. To not ‘slide back’ when the going gets tough; to not get ‘stuck’ when the road gets a bit muddy. What do they need to be able to ‘stick’ to the language-learning road?

They need to know where they are going – It’s hard to hold course when you aren’t sure of the destination and easy to get lost or distracted. Students need to know the destination – the ‘why’ of what they are doing. It may be as simple as putting the day’s objectives on the board. Sometimes it’s that moment in the lesson when you stop and do a quick pop-up grammar reminder. It may also include “I can” statements on unit plans (something I finally have started doing – why did I wait so long?!).  In any case if students don’t know where they are going – they are less likely to stay on the road to successful learning.

They need to know how to drive for the varying road conditions - I don’t think of this as the ‘road’ changing as much as helping students to acquire the skills to deal with increased variability – that is “choice” – in the language classroom. The more I give up the control and allow for that choice (and the amazing benefits it brings) the more I see the need for skills to negotiate meaning – to ensure that all students can communicate to/with each other. My rule has become “you can use a word as long as you can get its meaning across to someone who doesn’t know it”. We are spending time, more time than before, on practicing circumlocution skills. For my beginners it means starting them out with phrases like “For example…” and ” a __like __”. For my seniors it means time during a unit where they get time to practice ‘how’ to explain what their chosen words mean.

They need to know what to do if their tire goes ‘flat’ –  There will be times when maintaining traction is more difficult because students will occasionally ‘go flat’ – and try to ‘give up’. In these times I want them to be able to look for assistance to get going again. From the first day of class I try to let students understand that ‘not understanding’ isn’t their fault. They should be able to ‘ask’ for assistance from their partners, or me – without feeling like this is a bad thing. So we practice not understanding – we practicing saying it, and we practice screwing up! The idea is that when it actually happens – and it will – they are equipped to both ask for assistance (and/or give it).

Traction then is my alternative to idea of developing ‘grit’. After all  I want my students to move forward along the road of their language-learning journey…and not slide backwards…


*Definition Source:   Cambridge Online Dict. (spelling changed from ‘tyre’ to ‘tire’)

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March 30, 2015
by leesensei

New To Twitter Tips #2: Organizing Your Twitter Stream By Listing!

Business woman standing outside in front of office building, using mobile phoneMany teachers are still finding out about the benefits of Twitter for 24-7 Pro-D and resources. So I wanted to ‘re-run’ a post about ‘lists’ that made it easy, very easy, for me to manage my Twitter ‘feed’. Maybe the ‘list’ will help you to organize as well!

Twitter has been amazing for me especially to see who I have followed, what their interests are, and more importantly who their contacts have led me to.  But even judicious building of a PLN can lead to a large, and unwieldy stream of tweets. Especially as many of those I find key to my learning often participate in their own chats.  So how to get that right ‘hit’ of #edtech or #langchat or #mfltwitterati?

My key to maintaining my control of my learning network is the list.  If the Twitter stream is the filing cabinet of my PLN then the List is the “label” on the drawer (the person I follow is the “file”). The list, then, is my way to organize HOW I use Twitter. In my case it is a simple list of categories such as “Edtech” or “Langchat”. Instead of viewing my Twitter stream as a ‘whole’ – which can be overwhelming – I tend to use the lists for the ‘hit’ that I feel that I need. If I am looking for Edtech ideas then that list is where I go. MFL/Language issues are my “Langchat” group. And, as many of us are not just one dimensional, its nice to be able to put them on as many lists as I like.

In an ideal world you would have created your lists categories before building your network. That way when you are following 400 people listyou won’t have to take time to ‘re-list’ them. Mine certainly didn’t work that way and I did have to go back and add a certain number after the fact. Now as I add people, I try to remember to list them at the same time. As for the categories themselves – I answered the question “why am I following this person?” and they quickly became evident. You can access/create your lists from your profile page.  Twitter has a great tutorial on creating/using lists as well.

Lists are the quick way to find professional development ideas, encouragement, connections and even a laugh on a topic that you have created for you – with content (people) that you have put there for you – and if that isn’t Personal Learning  via a Network of people – I don’t know what is.


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