Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

September 20, 2016
by leesensei

“I’m not doing enough!!!!” Learning to Say “Yes I Am…”


Oh I love Twitter and #langchat. It has revolutionized my teaching. Really it has. It has challenged me, helped me and sometimes (okay more than sometimes) pushed me to ‘stretch’. But with growth comes, I’ll be frank, panic. Sometimes I feel very very inadequate compared to what other people are sharing/advocating/leading on #langchat. Sometimes I feel like there are not enough hours in the day to ‘change everything’. Sometimes I feel that I am not doing “enough”. That some teachers are way ahead of me in how they teach. That some teachers appear to “know” when I don’t.

And then I have to sit back and take stock. This is a pep talk for me. This is to tell myself that I am adapting and changing because I am inspired to. That I am shifting away from the textbook, am writing my own CI stories, am attempting to add TPRS to my teaching, am working on more formative feedback and more. This is me doing all this BUT I also need to have a life. I need to sleep. I need to make time for my husband, family and friends. I need to be a person.

Could I be doing ‘more’? Yes. Quite frankly I could rewrite everything and never sleep. But I can’t. I know that I am not at my best when I am tired and stressed. I know that my classes are not at their optimal learning when their teacher is worried more about ‘how’ we are doing something and not why.

So this is for me remember. The fact that I am worried about not ‘changing’ my practice for the better means I am actually changing my practice for the better. If I wasn’t worried, if I didn’t question the why/how of my teaching, if I didn’t make any changes then to me that would be a sign of ‘no-growth’. I know I am not that…so, to me the panicked person, I say:

“It’s okay not to be ‘all that’ right now….Remember the adage that slow and steady wins the race? Well that’s okay for you as you grow your teaching!”

So I will continue to share and be inspired by my amazing #langchat colleagues. But I will also take time and not panic if I think I’m not doing ‘enough’. And maybe you’ll realize that that’s okay for you too!

Yours in change – but “I can have a life change”,


August 10, 2016
by leesensei

Evolving Teaching – Evolving ‘Outline’…

Teaching is a constant work in progress – as I have repeatedly said “I’m busier in my 20th+ year than I thought I’d be”. And as my teaching evolves so does how I present information about my course on the first day. A few years ago I started using an ‘infographic’ style of presentation. This year, spurred on by #langchat colleagues Wendy Farabaugh and Kris Climer – I have used Piktochart to create an outline that is as updated in look as it is in reflecting my teaching. What does it provide for students?

part 1Class Information – Basics at the start about the course, who the teacher is and how to contact me/connect with the website. I don’t have Google Voice (not in Canada) but if I did my number would be there too! I don’t use Twitter or Instagram with students at this point but there’s always room to add that on if I decide it would be useful!

What We Will Do? – For my absolute rookies it’s a summary of the various unit “I can’s” that they will work to master (eg. You will learn to ask about/tell about …). For my more senior students I use this as a quick introduction to the types/focus of the units we will experience – each with an integrated task at then end of the unit.

japanese-12-2 copy2Our Focus – Why you are here – what you can expect that class will be about. In my case it is about communicating. I want to establish that we will be working on communication skills of various types at all times. I also want them to know both making errors and not understanding someone are natural parts of the process of learning/using a language.

There are also gentle reminders of the ‘rules’ in the room – purposeful phone use, getting help, missing class and more. Quick and easy and quite honestly they all could probably tell me what they are any way!

How Are Our Tasks Organized? – Straight up – I may not use the ACTFL modes as you do. This is my japanese-12-2 copy3first year, first dip into organizing tasks into a more meaningful way. I got tired of the 4 skills (read/write/listen/speak) and decided to use a modified form of the mode descriptions. My biggest deviation is probably in the interpretive but I am willing to be a little ‘loose’ on that as I work to implement this way of ‘grouping’ my tasks.

What? No “Homework”?! – No, I banished that word. What is homework? I don’t assign ‘homework’? What I do assign is something that will be needed for next day’s class. So I have changed the wording to “Next Day Preparation”. Why? Because if I choose to assign something that’s what it is – something I need a student to do to use in the next class. (I sense a future dedicated post on this to come!)

japanese-12-2.png 4Evaluation – How Well Am I Meeting Expectations? – Okay this is what they all care about. I have blogged extensively on going to descriptors in my gradebook. It has taken a lot of tweaking and editing. What you see here is my latest iteration of both describing the descriptors and then ‘how’ I translate them into our school-required percentages. I wanted just ‘one line’ for each major descriptor and selected what I usually find myself saying when I quickly remind students, throughout the semester, what they describe.

What Isn’t There? – Proficiency descriptors. Okay we talk about them a lot, a lot on #langchat. I’m just not convinced at this point that it’s a ‘driver’ for student engagement. That is, I’m not sure I want them on my outline as they are more of a ‘where are you now’ snapshot of progress. In some ways I think they are more of a classroom thing than an outline one. Feel free to disagree…

I also add in an FAQ section (answers to the typical ‘any questions?’ question) and my ‘digital use contract’ (borrowed with permission from Amy Lenord). You can see the entire outline here!

I have 3.5 weeks left until I return to the classroom (yes Sept 6!) but, as the updated outline shows, I’m looking forward to a new year of their, and my, learning….


PS – the ‘cute’ pictures? From my favourite free Japanese-themed site Irasutoya!


June 27, 2016
by leesensei

The Year End – What Was, What Wasn’t, What Will Be…

side-viewLike Seuss’ “Horton Hears A Who” I am saying “I’m still here!”. With 2 days left it’s time to sit and reflect for a bit on the past year. It was a year in which I dove off the deep end in terms of changing how I reported progress, re-examined what was key in my class and looked to enlighten my students as to ‘why’ we were doing things to hopefully involve them more in their learning. So on to the ‘was’, the ‘wasn’t’ and, looking ahead, the ‘will be’.

What Was:

More Formative Assessment – I was less about the ‘marks for if you’re getting it’ and more about the formative assessment. I don’t know as yet if it worked for my students? Did the more ‘casual’ less grade-based pressure work? I think it worked in letting them give themselves permission to take their time in acquiring a skill – that is in knowing that if they didn’t get ‘it’ right away that was okay. I employed more pop ‘check-ins’ and more self-generated language (not worksheets) to provide formative feedback. This will continue.

Purposeful Learning/Intentions – I tried to let my students ‘in on the why’ this year. That is I purposely, and in English, put the intentions of a major activity – and sometimes a minor one on the board. Calling their attention to the why would, I hoped, increase their commitment to an activity. I followed that up often by asking them if they met the intentions set out. At the start I put the intentions on the board but by the end of the semester I was asking them what they thought the intentions of the exercise should be. And not surprisingly they seemed to really get the why and I feel that this increased the commitment to the task and the target language.

#Forget the Fluff – Born out of my lack of planning (time-wise) I learned to really drill down to what is key in an activity/task/class. Why do we ask students to ‘make’ or ‘do’ something that is really not key to the learning outcomes. In my case it was a complete re-work of my Yr4 travel fair – stripped down to what is key I saw the best communication work yet by the students. I will continue to search out the necessary and trash the ‘fluff’ next year.


What Wasn’t:

‘Grade Weighting’ – Not a great year for this. It was my intention, as I told my students, that the ‘importance’ of items in a unit would be weighted towards the ‘end’ of the unit (things should build to the summative). By extension, the skills students demonstrated should count more towards the end of the class than at the start of the semester. I don’t feel that I did a good job in this – and that I didn’t up my expectations (and communicate those to the students) as well as I could have. And, as I am forced to keep a number-based gradebook, I don’t think I did a good job in weighting the items as I could have.

Planning – I must admit I lost track of time a few times. I found that I was more willing to ‘go with the class’ on what we were doing and less intent on ‘following my schedule’. As a result I took more time for units than usual (and I ask myself ‘is this a bad thing?’). I didn’t like this kind of ‘lost’ feeling I had in a unit as far as how long it should take to accomplish it. I didn’t like not having some sort of ‘timeline’ for the unit. Maybe this is a natural thing when you are changing your practice but for me, it was uncomfortable.

Guiding ‘Growth’ – I think I was good at providing an explanation for students as to where they were in meeting expectations. But what I wasn’t so good at was giving specific guidance, examples, focussed work on how to improve. I think this means more ‘samples’ of what different levels of achievement might look like. It means time spent specifically focusing on a particular skill. It means that I can’t just report how they are doing but perhaps have individual discussions during the year with students about where they are and how they can improve. Hm..


What Will Be:

Streamlined – I will continue to look for ways to drill down to what is key in the language work that we are doing and remove the ‘fluff’ from my units. I will ask/involve students in this process as well – what is it that they see as key?

Risk-Community-Reward – I will continue to support students in risk – by giving them the tools to be confident in their interactions, especially around the fear of not understanding or making a mistake.

Better Planned – I will try to set out a basic ‘plan’ (the number of weeks etc) for each unit to keep me on track. But if something comes up I will not be afraid to ‘deviate’ from the plan.

Achievement – I will develop a plan to effectively record and weight achievement so that the mark reflects what students can do at the end of units and the course more accurately. I will also clearly identify on my course outline what it means to be at which level of meeting expectations.

I’m sure there is much more that went well and much more to improve. But right now…I’m ready for summer!



June 21, 2016
by leesensei

Setting Them Up For the Real World: What Should An “Oral Final” Be?

58db2d0e2c1397f19cc3fd65bcffa2daWhat should an oral final look/sound like? I’ve been thinking about this as I continue to try to take away the ‘unnecessary’ – and get to the necessary – in my classroom.  And I’ve thought a lot about what the ‘summative’ part means. This is the ‘last’ oral interaction – especially for some of my juniors (not going to Yr4), and all of my seniors, that they will have in the Target Language. This is a significant moment and I want the legacy of this moment – the impact of it – to be felt by them. I want them to leave my program with the confidence to take an opportunity to use, or further develop, their skills and choose to act upon them. It may be the end of their class journey but I hope it’s not the end of their learning. So I’ve rethought what a summative oral should be and I’ve gone in my thinking from ‘testing what they know’ to ‘establishing what they will hopefully do…’

It Should Mirror A Future Real Life Situation

Our goal in the future is to hopefully have students, in some way, continue their interest in the TL. And what will this most likely involve? Using it – using it in conversation, using it to find out information, using it to get something done. So their summative oral should leave them with the confidence that they have the skills (basic or more developed) to do this. I watched students in our cafeteria – sitting around…talking….interacting with their peers and I thought “This is what I want…”

It Should Capture All You Hope Their Learning Should Be

 For me that means its isn’t memorized, it involves choice in expression and it is communicative. The summative has to allow students to put into use what we have spent the time in class ‘developing’. Providing detailed information, asking when you don’t understand & being able to help others understand, and asking follow-up questions are the three big skills we work on in oral interaction. I want my students to be confident communicators no matter what their level. So the oral summative must draw upon these and be a ‘test’ of these skills. Can they communicate and provide details, can they say when they don’t understand & explain what someone doesn’t understand them and finally can they ask for information using great follow-up questions? This is what I want their summative experience to be.

It Should Not Involve The Teacher

Barring a job interview or maybe a university opportunity the majority of my students will actually use their TL skills in other ways. So why would I insert myself into their conversation? I have also come to realize that, if at all possible, I should not be present for this. Yes – I won’t be there in the future will I? They won’t choose to speak with someone for ‘marks’. So if at all possible I want them to see that they can do this on their own and don’t need a ‘monitor’ or ‘input provider’ or the ‘presence’ of an evaluator to do this.

So what is my intention now in a summative oral? I wrote it on the board for my students to keep in mind:



This year I held my breath, trusted my students, trusted the process we have gone through and sent them off to do all of the above. We had some in-class preparation around the basic prompts but they didn’t know who they would be working with, or ‘how’ this would be done (they thought it would be in front of me). On the day of the oral I talked with them about what I feel the oral should be, then I told them they would be doing this in teams of 4, without me there, with people they knew. Armed with 2 phones (a back up recording) they went in 4’s to empty rooms, turned on the the voice recording memo feature and talked.

In Yr4 they started with a key item that is important to them. A chance to ‘show & tell’ but so much more. Most groups talked for about 25 minutes –  explaining, lots of questions, inclusive of all, and supporting their peers in this. Amazing detail, use of language and most of all – relaxed conversation. Yr3 took some prompts…basic ‘find out about’ designed to allow them to use what we had explored, and talked for about 15+ minutes. No notes, no ‘re-do’s’, no worrying about ‘what if I make an mistake or don’t understand’. I am listening to them now. Yes there are errors, misunderstandings and some are not as confident as others. But I am listening to 4 students converse & share detailed information in a relatively relaxed manner using the TL.  I believe I’m also listening to students who, in the future, are going to take that chance to use the language again.





June 14, 2016
by leesensei

“The Courage To Try” – Students Tell What They Learned In Language Class

8d4d7f0ab0b83ace80c036194be2da93My Yr4’s are just 10 days away from the end of school…and as always I am asking for them to reflect on their learning. They are a fantastic bunch of students who have worked their hearts out this semester – despite having the class at 8am. So at the end of their summative travel fair last week I asked them about their experience in class. I didn’t ask them what they learned in/about Japanese. Instead I asked them to look forward and reflect on what skills, if any, they might carry forward into the big world they are now entering. I should note that I did not prep them in any way for this nor go over with them what I wanted to hear from them. Some students just reflected on the immediate oral they had just completed. But it’s the answers of those who really reflected and thought that I find insightful. The prompt was:

“Language class teaches skills for life. One ‘life skill’ that I have developed/improved on during my classes is…….and this skill will be important for me in the future because..”

“To not panic. I’m the kind of person that stresses on being perfect…but this class has taught me how to let go of that…and to relax..because in the future things won’t always go as I plan them to go..”

“The most important are strategies for communication…diversifying how I communicate and being thoughtful of others during conversation is critical…especially in the future when I work in team situations.”

“Communication and understanding (of what is really being said) are key…I want to be a teacher and these skills will be key in dealing with students…”

“Asking for help when I need it and not being afraid to admit that I don’t know something…important in the future so I won’t be afraid to ask for input – and possibly lose my job!”

“Taking risks, approaching people you don’t know and speaking comfortably ….and accepting/coping with errors will be important future communication skills”

“To explain clearly what I mean and help others in understanding – especially important if I become a boss in the future!”

“Listening carefully…”

“That speaking confidently inspires confidence in me and in how others perceive me…I may be nervous but appearing calm will help me get my point across more!”

“Being able to adapt to different situations…you never know what is going to come up!”

“To communicate more freely and in a more relaxed way with people who I don’t know well…”

And my favourite…

“The courage to try….because nothing will happen if we don’t attempt…”

So in the their own’s about courage, risk and communication….





June 6, 2016
by leesensei

#forgetthefluff – My Most Important Classroom “Tech Piece”? Still The Pencil…

ytpBK2ScYes.  After all this…the pencil. First up I am a big fan of technology use in classes – technology not for tech’s sake (honestly for many of us initially the LCD projector/computer combo was just a fancier overhead) but technology that integrates, and propels, learning. But there is  also a reality, one I live with everyday in my school. We lack great access to WiFi. My district isn’t a BYOD one and my school leadership (unlike others in the district) hasn’t decided to ‘go for it’ and do it anyway. It is tough to get access to the web for all via the computer labs (yes we still have these..) and mobile carts of Chromebooks are more than a wish away. Despite my district going all in with Microsoft and Office 360 they are still rolling out wireless web capacity and this is more than 2 years away. Compounding that is the issue of equality of access – as I don’t want to ask students to use parent-paid data to get information off the web via their phones. I allow students to use any kind of tech they want to record/produce notes and in my class I have a myriad of laptops, phones and paper/binders…they have the choice but as a teacher I feel incredibly limited in what I can compel students to do.

But really this is all unimportant when I look at what continues to be a valuable tool for me and my students. The pencil…here’s 3 examples why…

It Records Changing Progress/Mastery of Concepts – I’ve gone all in for grading moving from numbers to descriptors. And as such have moved on to way more formative assessments. Not as many ”for mark” quizzes but way more formative assessment such as the “pop check-in“. So I need the pencil – because students’ achievement, their mastery of things, their proficiency can be a moving target. When I am checking for mastery I always start with a ‘dot’ in the corner of the box. This says to me “I’ve seen something but it’s not quite there yet”. The student see’s either a dot or a circled part on their piece. Often I refer them to me for review, sometimes I send them to see a follow-up video and many times a student looks at it and says “I know what I wasn’t getting/missed”. When I see the piece in the mastered form I erase the dot and put in the “C” (complete) or the “M” for meets. So the pencil allows me to easily record these changes in progress…

It Allows Students To Create Their Own Practice – Yes I do worksheets – but my worksheets are mostly ‘student chooses example’ to show learning practice. From the ‘Oral Worksheet‘ to the “Sketch and Share” students are using a quick visual, linked to the concept in use, to demonstrate learning. Some students choose to use ‘clip art’ (it’s always an option) but most use an 11×17′ piece of paper and a pencil. I set the criteria I want “I need to see you show me you know the difference between the X, Y and Z use of…” and they prep a drawing on the front with matching caption on the back. The key for this is the quick use of the pencil leads to great targeted practice between students. Practice that is relevant to them because they chose what they wrote. They interact/use/talk for about 20 minutes. I get to see the writing after and it is marked for ‘completion and correctness’ – some students are great the first time, others have small changes to make. The pencil let’s them create to interact…

It Allows Students to Record What They Learn & Use That Information Later – I am very big on interactive orals – and the key to these is that students record (in English) what they learn during whatever style of fair they may be doing. This requires them to focus on clearly understanding meaning and negotiate with someone when they don’t. The pencil is used to record the information that they get. In our Yr4 Travel Fair it records details of the areas that they learn about. In the Yr 1 Club Day they are learning about possible school activities. The Yr3 School Fair replicates what actually occurs in Japan when students opt to attend different high schools. Students use a pencil to record information and, key for me, then use this information gathered in some form for their summative write. In Yr 4 the Travel Fair info becomes a long moaning complaint to a friend about a ‘boring’ tour they were dragged on. The Club Day for Yr 1 is an in-class open book write about themselves and why certain clubs appeal. The School Fair asks students to past tap knowledge on which school they want to attend because of how it relates to them. Throughout the pencil serves as both a tool to record and inform…

I’m dedicated to removing the ‘fluff’ – the non-essential – from my classes and teaching. I’ve eased back on some tech options because I realized that’s what they were – a nifty thing that had nothing to do with language learning & use. Oh I dream of the day that technology is so accessible to my students that I am not using paper and graphite…when I can truly use technology accessible for all. But until then I’m happy to sharpen my students’ knowledge via the pencil.



June 3, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

#forgetthefluff – Failing Then Learning To Get To What Is Key….

This is me…me at 3:45am up & worried and trying to figure out how to  ‘fit it all in’ before the end of classes June 17th. This is me trying to do what I have always done – the same way….the same thing…This is me trying to fit in the final interactive IPA and prep for a department required oral final. This is me failing… IMG_2836You see I was trying to fit in the Yr4 Travel Fair and give them time to prep for the oral final. And it wasn’t working. I couldn’t get the ‘time to do the project that I always did’ and give them appropriate time for the department required final. And then it came to me…..#forget the fluff. Drill down to what is key… What is key in the travel fair? Is it the brochure they always wasted too much time making? The brochure they wouldn’t see any more in real life because they would see a webpage instead?  What is/was that brochure really for? It is for them to consolidate the information for a really good interpersonal oral exchange on areas in Japan to visit. That’s what is key. So I threw it out. I created a trip sheet that just asked them to organize their information in the TL – not ‘create a product’. The information they would share, explain and even learn about. The 90 minutes they will spend talking/listening/learning from each other. The communicating information part is what is key.

What about the ‘final’? You may find it an easy topic but the final is an interactive show and tell. It demands good listening, lots of follow up questions, thinking on your feet as you explain & answer. Typically I bring them in in 3’s and they have 15 minutes for this. But I have (see photo above) no time. And then it came to me. We have worked for 4 years to be students that are risk-takers, that know what to do when they don’t understand, that support/assist each other in communicating. I just need to hear that in action – I don’t have to ‘police’ it by being there. So forget that ‘fluff’ – they will go in teams of 4 to separate areas and record their conversations. They won’t feel the pressure of doing this in front of me – and I will trust/respect that they will go ‘all in’ to do this. Then they’ll get me the audio file. My being there? The fluff. The communication process. The key….

Next year – less fluff… everything….at every opportunity…less fluff and more of what is ‘key’….


And yes…I finished the puzzle too.




May 29, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

The “Music Mania/音楽マニア” Song Contest Activity!

After all of the great sharing from other teachers about their Music March Madness – thanks especially to Carrie Toth and Wendy Farabaugh – I decided to weigh in with my own version. Although March Madness is still very popular here north of the border, I’m using it for the last loooooong month of classes (we have our last class June 21)! So on to how I run 音楽マニア (music mania)!

The Physical Setup – Taking the advice of those who have already done this I went searching for a ‘bracket’ online. I found a 14 match bracket, and because I wanted 3 qualifying rounds too, added those on to the image. I was lucky to have one of tech-ed teachers volunteer a computer drafting student who made up the bracket and printed it on large paper.

Song selection – We use songs for a lot of activities in class and I wanted to put in a ‘mix’ of those familiar tunes. I also constrained the list to ones I had, because I only use legitimately purchased music from iTunes (see previous post on this). For 5 days before the contest I also invited student submissions via a Google Doc Form. That allowed me to ‘purchase’ those tunes in time for the activity. The student selections were all part of the ‘qualifying rounds’ – which allowed us to introduce them in a showcase way. Finally I added tunes that I had purchased but not used in class.

Filling Out the Brackets –  Songs on the bracket were initially paired via style – in the initial stages I wanted them to have to choose between two that were not radically different from each other. We also included a #1 seed – the song “Zutto” by Spicy Chocolate – a huge favourite especially with my Yr4’s. I  didn’t put all the songs on at once but rather in the days before we started I added 5-6 songs per day. This happened at the end of class so I had their attention and helped to build interest/excitement. I will note that after the brackets were set I made one change due to a mass outcry from my classes that no tunes from the group “Baby Metal” had made it into the contest! (I bend to their will!).

Playing songs – The song battle of the day is listed on my white board each morning. For playing, I use iTunes and have created a special playlist. Each day I drop the two songs into it and then play them once each while we all listen. After that, during class and in the background we ‘play on loop’. I learned that iTunes learns what you want and after having to edit the playing order in day one to alternate the songs, iTunes alternates the selections for me now automatically. I chose not to use ‘videos’ of the songs – the audio only. This allowed me to avoid the potentially inappropriate video problem or the ‘can’ t find the video’ issue that sometimes arises.

Voting – We are not a very tech-friendly school (don’t ask!) and I wanted to capture the voting right away. So I prepared voting slips for each day – a basic one where they would enter the two song names and then say why they chose the song that they did. But I wanted some accountability – some ‘participation by them’. So I asked my students and one of my great Yr4’s Abbey McLane, thought of a great idea. “Why not have us pick out two words we recognized as we listen?”. Great idea and one that all levels of my classes could do. I have the voting slips in the baskets on their tables of 4 and now they enter and automatically fill them out. I read all the voting slips and it is amazing the variety of words that they select. Voting occurs at the end of class after we have listened to the songs fully one more time. I note that one day my Yr3’s were called to an assembly so I loaded the songs online & included a Google Form link so that they could still participate.

The Final Four and Two – We are almost set with our Final Four and, to create some more interest I will be providing lyrics for all of the four remaning songs. Note that many of these songs the kids have heard before and/or used in class while learning a concept. But I thought it might generate an extra spark … And for the ‘Final 2’ we are going to show the videos instead of just listening, adding a twist to voting (I’m doing this because I have a copy of each and they have no inappropriate content!)

The Verdict – We have really enjoyed this foray into listening. And, with classes ending in late June it’s a great diversion at the start of class. Some kids are really into it…others just listen then move on. But today, as the 2 songs continued to play in the background, I looked across to see one of Yr4’s singing along with the tune. Loved it.  I may/will modify in the future but I will do Mania again. I’m hoping it will be one of those ongoing class traditions!


PS The Final Four? “Zutto” from Spicy Chocolate, “Nijiiro” from Ayaka, “Taiyou no Megami” from Ieiri Leo and “Kimigainakya damemitai” from Ooishi Masayoshi!


May 26, 2016
by leesensei

“Three Days In …..” – An Exploratory, Target Language Online Field Trip….

file5791299869525We are exploring travel in Yr4 – travel to our Target Language (TL) area of Japan. I have taken what was a one-day experience of street view (that I used to use to revise ‘directions’ – no, don’t do that any more!) and expanded it to a target language exploration of Tokyo. Now your language may not be Japanese but the ideas are applicable (and your access to resources probably similar).

It begins with….Tokyo Neighbourhood Pre-reading in TL. I use the White Rabbit Express level 4 reader about Tokyo called “東京歩こう”. Students are asked to select 5 areas of Tokyo and read/find information. This is a graded reader resource (for reasons outlined in many previous posts), written by Japanese for Japanese learners. Most importantly it  provides a super overview of Tokyo in the TL. Students had 2 – 80 minute classes (with some time taken for our on-going Music Mania – post to come). They read in pairs utilizing strategies developed in their just finished story unit. As they read they answered questions in the TL about the neighbourhood including “What ‘type’ of neighbourhood is it?”, “Where in Tokyo is it?”, “If you went there what things would you see/activities would you experience?” and “If you went what would you want to go see?”

Once the reading was done – off to the online field trip. Students are encouraged to have their own online resource (we did this in a lab because we’re a low-tech school) with a partner nearby to ‘consult’. It is designed to be done in any order – except that I think the Trip Advisor reading piece should be done before the ‘using’ activity. I sourced all of these online with the idea of giving students a chance to see and hear Tokyo and it’s adaptable to any place/language. (A link to their handout is here: Trip Handout.)

Street View – Iconic Tokyo Places: I love Google’s street view – because it puts students ‘on the ground’ in the place. I give pictures of 5-6 iconic buildings/areas in Tokyo and asked students to ‘go there’. Then once there – to go exploring. What do they see, what can they read, what’s there? This is the only requirement – nothing to write or record…just experience. (Note: some students had never used street view before…so it was a real learning experience).

Street View – Neighbourhood You Choose: Using the reading exercise we did I ask students to go ‘find’ some of the places they selected as “I want to see…” from their neighbourhood reading. That’s it…go explore and experience. They really enjoyed this – going to places, going into buildings, reading/viewing and ‘seeing’ the various areas…

Trip Advisor Hotel Information in TL: On to some more reading – I printed out the information on one hotel from Tokyo and ask them to use the information to complete a few questions. Some had not heard of Trip Advisor or even knew what you considered in booking a hotel – all good skills to acquire. This was done with a ‘paper’ printout and gives them a good first look at what this site is like. They answer questions in English based upon the information.

Trip Advisor for Your Neighbourhood in TL: Students are asked to go back to their reading and select one neighbourhood. Then, using Trip Advisor’s Japanese site, find a hotel, a restaurant and 3 things to do in that area. Note – for Japanese online the Chrome add-on Rikaikun (Rikaichan on Firefox – is a ‘game-changer’. It allows a student to roll over Chinese characters on a site and gives the reading/meaning. Essential for my students as they do not learn all 2000 characters Japanese use in class!). They waded in finding hotels, exploring menus, commenting on the prices (!) etc. Great experience and ‘real world’.

Tokyo Metro/Tokyo Neighbourhoods (in TL): I found 4 commercials online that promoted 4 areas of Tokyo. Note that I ‘download’ from YouTube so I can have future access to them. I then uploaded to Dropbox (providing a quick link) and also had them on USB to load onto a device. Students are to watch the 4 commercials and answer specific (and more general questions) for each. General questions are designed to encourage them to really look/listen at the pieces such as “3 things I observed or noticed in the commercial were…” and “I wonder….”. I also included a link to the audio of one of the ‘theme’ songs for the commercial and students listen and comment on how well it ‘fit’ the commercial and what ‘words/phrases’ they may have recognized from listening to it.

Inanimate Alice Journals…an interactive visit to several areas in Japan: There is an amazing on-line interactive episodic story called “Inanimate Alice”. It is produced in various languages including Japanese. The site also links to 3 ‘journals’ that document the main characters trip to Japan. It is written in a combination of Japanese and English. For this piece I ask the students to go through each of the journals and read, view, listen and even take the embedded language quizzes. They then send me an email commenting on what the most interesting thing they saw was, and where they would like to go that Alice went. It’s a great resource for this and the first time I have used it in class. It also introduces them to the episodic story that they can experience on their own time!

Debrief...after the field trip is done we will spend a portion of the class sharing our findings/thoughts/observations with others. This can be done in the TL or not – I think it’s a preference of what you going for – reaction and/or language use.

After the field trip we focus on ‘travel’ as we build to our Travel Fair that explores lesser-known areas of Japan. I’m excited about where this activity is, and more importantly, what tweaks and extending activities I can build into it!




May 24, 2016
by leesensei

My Philosophy of “Teaching”? The Opportunity to “Learn”…

IMG_2341One of my favourite #langchat colleagues – Natalia DeLaat – asked me to complete a questionnaire regarding language teaching. It was interesting to be asked about my “philosophy” and how I viewed various aspects of teaching. And, as usual, I learned more about me, what’s important in my classroom, what’s key for my learners, than maybe Natalia will learn in reading it. You may not agree with how I present everything but I hope it causes you to think about what is key for you. I wanted to share it in a post because it shares what I think is common for many teachers – the struggle to find the ‘best’ way to teach.

It started with Natalia asking…”What particular strategies do you find most successful in terms of teaching…”

  • Concepts – I’m all over the map on this. Sometimes I am very direct – especially with cultural things in which we will talk about ‘why’ in English. For example we don’t have a word for “must” – it’s actually a double negative and we talk about ‘why’. As for word order it’s not so key especially in lower level Japanese as long as the correct ‘particle’ (indicating ‘subject’, ‘object’, ‘time’, etc) is attached to the word. But I don’t like that term so I call them ‘signals’ that show what/why the word is in the sentence. As for grammar – I tend to introduce in ‘use’ then look as to ‘why’ ‘how’ the rule is being used. Sometimes I ask my students to figure it out discreetly, sometimes we just ‘use it ‘til we get it’. But I always do a review explanation in English – I don’t want any ‘doubts’ – that is in common understandable ‘non-grammar word’ language.
  • Vocabulary   – When we first start students cannot read the language at all and we rely heavily on picture cues for words.  Now, I like to teach a base set of vocabulary for each unit. I know many are into ‘student selected’ but I also think we need an agreed upon amount that we all understand. We always have a section in our unit book for ‘things we want to know’ to allow for choice & variety. I introduce a lot of vocabulary via picture cards. We may see some in a story (with pictures) that they read, we may see some via a more TPRS story that I tell and then they re-tell with pictures. When I ask students what helps them to learn most many say ‘the picture cards!’.
  • Grammar  –  Often done via story – with the ‘rule’ either explicitly up there for referral or implicitly taught via questioning and expanding on the point with students. “Nonki likes to do what?” “Ah he likes to ski.” “Do you like to ski?”…etc I do know that my biggest thing in teaching grammar is not teaching ‘grammar’. I have worked to refine how I teach to ‘describing word, action word, who we are talking about, ~ly word’ etc.. I now test a lot of these concepts, after we’ve worked with them, via a pop-check in that sees ‘what they have in their brain about a concept’ and is marked only for completion after (of corrections). But I will confess to doing some practice via old ‘workbook’ exercises – just a few to see that we all ‘get it’. Yes I admit that…. :-)
  • Reading/Writing – The Skills –  I have to teach my students how to read as they must master 3 scripts for Japanese. I have changed a lot in my approach to this. In Yr1 for the first orthography I used to teach & discreetly test the ‘chart’. Then for the words that used a script we didn’t introduce until Yr2 I would use English letters to phonetically spell that out. Why?????? NOW I do not have my students read or write until they have a bank of phrases/words that they know how to use well orally. Our first unit is Yr 1 is ‘All About Me’ and there is minimal reading/writing until they know a fair number of Q/A’s for this. So then reading becomes a discovery of what we already know. Now I teach the script and ‘test’ it via them writing out phrases we have already learned to say. As for the 2nd orthography – I introduce it as soon as we have the first one down (putting it overtop of the 2nd orthography to read it) so that they see it used naturally. As for the 3rd script, Chinese characters, we introduce those slowly in a kind of ‘isn’t this exciting it’s like pieces of lego that you put together to make a picture’ kind of way. Keep in mind over 50% of most of my classes are immigrants from a Chinese background so the stress for me is on equity.
  • Reading text – authentic documents – I do not use a lot of true authentic documents unless they are ‘reachable’ by all students in my classes in an equitable way. There are 1900+ Chinese characters that can be used in Japanese and we study about 400 in my Yr 1-4 classes. By equitable I meant that my students from a Chinese character background (who can see a character, know the meaning, but not know how to say it) can’t have the advantage. So in using #AuthRes I either use only the parts that I can, or modify the resource. I also create my own from authentic student info. We also use ‘graded readers’ – adapted stories adapted by Japanese for Japanese learners.  So for me ‘authentic’ is ‘authentic as I can get to ensure that all students experience success in using the language’.
  • Communicating – speaking & listening together – The key is ‘do-able’ and the focus in my courses is on communicating information.
    • Speaking- Speaking is always done in a small group – at the minimum a partner – that is sometimes chosen by me and sometimes by them. This is to encourage risk, support more hesitant learners and build skills. I do almost ‘no’ presentational speaking to the ‘group’ but a lot of it to a single person or 3 other people. If we are speaking as a ‘group’ students are called upon (after they have had a chance to prep with a partner) and always given a chance to ‘come up with the answer’ (I expect them all to be ready to go and don’t often ask for volunteers). That requires essential skills such as follow-up questions, rephrasing and circumlocution. It also involves developing the confidence to know when you know don’t and be able to ask for assistance in understanding. We work a lot on all of these aspects. There’s a lot of learning that can happen as you use the same skills to work with 5-6 people in a room in a controlled amount of time. We start in short bursts with the Yr1’s and work up from there to Yr4 where students are expected to sustain and develop their skills in much longer periods of time. Speaking is always evaluated as to meeting/fully meeting expectations and students are well aware, before a formal evaluation, of what each level of achievement entails.
    • Listening – discrete – most of my listening comes in the form of either ‘listening’ to others and responding/reacting appropriately or, yes wait for it, listening to a conversation or exercise for discreet reasons. I don’t do a ton of ‘authentic listening’ in the early years as students have not learned the ‘casual’ form or the highly ‘honorific’ form of the language used either in regular shows or on more formal broadcasts. No matter what we are ‘listening to’ the student knows that they will receive the information more than once or, in the case of conversations, have the opportunity to ask/clarify to understand. If we are listening for an evaluation students will always be listening in the TL and ‘answering’ in English
  • Writing skills – I used to be really focused on written skills especially formal piece written skills – because we had a provincially mandated exam that was writing based. Now I do far less formal summative writing than I used to do and I am working to help them improve their writing. I do a lot of oral activities (draw & share) involving concepts that also ask them to ‘write’ the concept and then I mark for correctness (they have to correct it and when done it gets a completed mark) I’ve started doing the occasional ‘workshop’ day (thanks Amy Lenord!) where we focus specifically on this skill. On written evaluations I allow them to bring in a list of ‘concepts’ in English that we have looked at (drawn from our “I can” statements). I feel that I am testing their ability to ‘use’ the language not to remember what we know how to say. I try to provide rubrics that explicitly assist a student in understanding what ‘meeting/fully meeting etc’ entails. I have gone to several ‘in class’ writes that are done ‘open book’. I’m trying to change it up and not just ‘test’ writing one way. The summative writing that I do is almost always tied to information gained in the oral (interactive) or used in an interpersonal oral – but asking them to expand, go deeper, explain why etc.. I guess for different ways to ‘test’ writing….formative and summative.

Thank you again for asking Natalia…I learned a lot…and mostly that I have more to learn!




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