Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

November 17, 2019
by leesensei
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A New Lens….Am I Just “Testing Memory” Or Seeing How Well They Can “Use” The Language?

I have been undergoing a great change in my teaching, an evolution in my practice – one that is propelled by my work with kids with IEPs, our new provincial curriculum. my discussions regarding assessment with fellow self-reflective colleagues and my frustrations in how I felt I was not supporting my students at both ends of the achievement spectrum. So what has changed with this new ‘lens’ on how I view assessing in my classroom?…

Yes I Ask Them To “Learn and Remember” – This is not to say that I don’t ask them to ‘learn’, remember and demonstrate their knowledge.  Our learning checks  (what you might call a ‘quiz’) can be the traditional “know how to write these words”. But now I also give checks that show that they can ‘recognize words’ instead of just write them. This is especially key for vocabulary that will be used in oral interpersonals. So I ask them to “match” (TL & English) or listen and indicated the order that they heard a word. I also don’t announce ‘structure’ quizzes. Instead I use pop-check-ins which allow me to see how well a concept is being understood. Sometimes this results in my ‘re-teaching’ because clearly no one is getting it. Often it results in one-on-one coaching with those that clearly are not sure.

Summative Presentational Writing– As I tell my students “I don’t want to know what you remember as much as how well you can use what we have been learning.”  I figure that in real life and in any job you’d have notes, guides, logbooks or access to references in crafting your communication. Why am I asking kids to write only what they ‘remember’ in a foreign language? This is not to say that there is no memory involved. That they haven’t “learned” anything (above).  What is key for me is how they will be assessed. You can’t fully meet in my class unless you utilize current and past learning effectively. And if you add in those little things we mention, the asides, the ‘in additions’, the things that I might refer to once you can push to ‘exceeding’. And all of this end or unit writing is done ‘with notes of some kind’.

What I find here is, that having notes, any student can respond. Often my weakest kids are the ones who don’t know how to prepare, have minimally met on learning checks and haven’t ‘figured out how’ to prepare for this kind of assesment.  This new approach allows them to be able to write more than what they ‘remember’. Often, as well, they get supports for their writing.  It allows them to show more of what they actually can understand.

Many teachers (even in my department) are concerned about the ‘fairness’ of this – that a student who did ‘nothing’ has the same advantage as a diligent student who has tried to master everything during the unit work. This worry implies that a student is unfairly being helped/rewarded for not learning. This has never played out in what I see or what my students have written. The students who have internalized/’learned’ the vocabulary/structures don’t need to spend time looking them up and  they have time to go deeper and really expand on what they are writing. They are using their notes not to look up the basics but to create rich, meaningful responses. The kids who haven’t internalized the words/ideas have less time for more expansive writing – but they are able to write something instead of almost nothing.

As for the writes – sometimes the notes are provided by me (a collection of Quizlets that I have prepared for units as a sort of ‘dictionary’ for example). Sometimes they are ‘open book’ allowing them to use any of their notes in a timed write – but no dictionaries. Other times this can resemble an English essay write – with rough copies, peer or teacher editing and then a final write (and a maximum of 6 words they’ve looked up – they have to use circumlocution for the rest).

Presentational/Interpersonal Speaking – I’ll admit that I do very little presentational speaking in front of the class. Yes there are the two skits (one each in Gr 9 and 10). But beyond that students only present to another student via interpersonal fairs.  Even in this case they can have ‘notes’ in English about what they want to say but have to have ‘learned’ how to communicate this in the TL. We even practice circumlocuting so that if they forget what they wanted to say they can still communicate their message. Some kids can’t do this and will need ‘notes’. This reduces their ability to meet expectations but it still allows them to participate and feel a certain level of achievement. The same goes for their interpersonals. Referring to notes may allow full participation as opposed to being able to ‘say nothing’ and if you don’t need anything to participate you may, depending on what you say, be on your way to fully meeting/exceeding.

Japanese specific – Chinese characters (Kanji) – This is a Japanese-specific observation – it is the language that I teach. Kids often struggle with Chinese characters. They can’t memorize how to write them perhaps. They are frustrated. They can adopt a negative attitude towards them.  I try to teach the characters in context, with a story to go along with how it is constructed. I ask them to see it like ‘lego’; composed of individual parts rather than a complex solo item. Now I am experimenting with two styles of learning checks. If you want to meet my expectations I will give you the characters – you tell me how to say them and what they mean. For fully meeting – I will give you the reading and you write them in Chinese characters and give me the meaning. I see some kids actually relax – they may not be able to write them well but when it comes to interpretive reading they know what they are reading.

Adaptations to Show Learning – Ultimately I am always considering what my provincial curriculum refers to adaptations. This is not reducing expectations but adapting so that any kid can show learning. This is not just for students with IEPs. In my province adaptations are there for any student that might need them. This means that kids can access the audio for any reading assessment or can ‘talk’ me through vocabulary that they can’t remember how to write.

My new lens asks me to consider what I am really assessing – and how I am giving students the opportunity to show what they know. As I evolve in my teaching I hope the focus on this is becoming clearer and clearer…

C

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November 13, 2019
by leesensei
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Changing Seating/Changing Teaching – What My 2019 Classroom “Set Up” Now Says…

Teaching ClassI wrote the first part of this post in 2014….when I was making what I knew was a huge first step in my classroom environment. Today in November 2019 – as the last ‘student desk’ came out of my room I took another step. So I thought I would repost & update this for my new space…and my evolved classroom.

I looked out at my room the other day – the same room I started to teach in when it was a new school in in 1997. The blackboard is now a whiteboard, the screen is there for my computer…and wow – is that the same old TV in the corner for video announcements? (Yes!) But even more interesting for me is what has really changed. There is a big difference in ‘how’ my students use the room – how they sit, what they do, and where the focus on learning is. It took me a minute to connect the change in my room setup and my changing educational practice.The journey mirrors the evolution of my teaching…

Single Rows – Focus: Teacher at the front of the room:  Those first few years, with their long nights of prepping material and me trying to wrap my head around what I was ‘teaching’. Note the word ‘teaching’. With my students in rows, facing the front, it was clearly a ‘teacher as the driving force’ kind of space. And in those early years, as I worked to discover who I was as a teacher, and even what kind of things I wanted my students to explore it probably needed to be this way. The first few years can be chaotic, challenging and oh so much fun…and clearly, if you looked at my desk arrangement, I was the one ‘in charge’.

Pairs – in a “U” shape – Focus: Teacher at the  front of the room/another student: Gradually my room saw a change – from single rows to pairs – and, daringly, not even in rows. This coincided with my degree of comfort in the what and how that I was teaching. Notice again though that the focus was on me and the front of the room. Yes, I thought it had to be as that is where the screen for the overhead – replaced by computer/LCD is located. My degree of comfort in ‘letting them go and interact’ was growing – and I injected lots of partner/interactive time into the class. But clearly the setup still said ” ‘Focus on the teacher – and then shift to practicing with your partner’ (but remember who is in charge! )

“Tables” 4 desks- all facing each other – Focus: Fellow Students/Teacher when needed: And this year – another change for me – and another ‘leap’ in my style of teaching. I had tried the group of 4 in the past – but hadn’t made the permanent shift. But the changes in my teaching, and a visit to Catherine Ousselin (@catherineKU72) and her ‘table setup’ did it for me. If I was going to let my students, and a communicative/interactive focus be a priority, I needed to put my ‘desks where my teaching philosophy is’. So now they sit – pods of 4 desks – a partner to talk to beside them – and pair across the table for broader consultation/interaction. It’s a challenge at times – but remarkably easy to pull them all together for the ‘coaching’ moments at the screen/board. I don’t even think of it as the ‘front’ of the room any more – the focus is now on the students – and my teaching, okay my language coaching – is improving because of it.

Now….Round and Wavy Moveable Tables, Camping Chairs and a Sofa – Focus: Comfortable, More Natural Communication: Loved the pods of desks – the square 4 set that allowed my kids to face each other. But…my needs, and more importantly, my students needed more. They needed to be able to move, to get away from being at a desk and be in a place that made it easier to talk. So initially in came the camping chairs. You can see them in the photo below – under the window, near the front of the room on both ‘sides’ of the board. They cost under $10 each and are light and extremely moveable. With clipboards from the dollar store they are a place kids can do a learning check or assessment and  easily be moved to suit what they need. I often use them when we conference and I love how relaxed you feel in them. And then…the desks had to go!

With the support of my colleague (who took the ‘take the desks out’ leap first) I scrounged a couple of round tables and out went a few desks.  And then my principal stepped up.  In came 2 more round tables and the wavy tables you see on the right. These are great – they are easily wheeled around and, if I need more room, the tops flip up and I can move them almost completely out of the way. My principal even encouraged me (and paid for it!) to get ‘whiteboard’ tables. Kids love it when they can practice/write/think on them. And I’m sourcing large whiteboard squares for the round tables so that they can too.

I also put in a sofa (you can’t see it) which is immensely popular – maybe it’s the large Hello Kitty stuffed animals they like to hold while they talk. I encourage students to ‘move to where you are comfortable’ for almost every task. One of my grade 11’s said today “When we started in Grade 9 there were desks…now there are none..and I like it!!”

I hope that my room now says to my students “the focus here is on you and I’m encouraging you to be comfortable as you are using your language skills to communicate.” What does your setup say about what you value in your class?

Colleen

 

 

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November 5, 2019
by leesensei
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The Evolution of My Class Interpersonal Orals….

How can I evaluate an interpersonal conversation in a way that is not super stressful for my students? How can I listen to them just “talk”?  When I first started I used to have them do the conversation in front of me. They had to talk and I sat there with my rubrics and evaluated.  They were nervous to speak in front of me and worrying about how well they are doing. I was trying not to make them nervous, to just listen and not write too much (they equated writing with mistakes) and then had a split second to record impressions before the next set. So then I moved on to recording. “Just go out and record you and your partner speaking.” What a great idea! Despite the issues of quality, and sometimes the ‘obvious clicks’ of a recording pausing I thought this was better. Then I’d spend a long time listening to the audio files…But I still didn’t like it – too stilted and  too ‘staged’. They found it nerve-wracking saying they felt a pressure to perform and be right on a recording or they’d want to record it again. A great colleague Connie Santos, who is an awesome department collaborator, had been experimenting with a new style of oral…and I was willing to test her ideas out too…The new ‘orals’ began.

Before the Oral Discussion – What They Are Doing

Generally I have two partial periods for them to prep before the orals. They are brainstorming ideas for themselves to use as a basis for the orals. Just like before they are chatting with partners as they prepare. They are speaking, and listening and practicing supporting. They are reviewing how to say when they don’t understand and how to assist someone who isn’t understanding them. They are using supports as they need to. They are asking questions of me and trying to say what they want to say.  They are exploring ways to address the topic(s) to be discussed and what fully meet, or meet, would sound like (we do have a rubric for this to guide them).

Before the Oral Discussion – What I Am Doing

I am working with them to give them any supports that they need. I am taking some time to ask them to target specific structures during a preparation session. I am listening and giving some feedback. I am actually walking around with a clipboard to get them used to what I will have during the oral. I am asking them to not understand something on purpose to practice both asking for and providing assistance. I am working with them in any way they ask me to from “how would I say…?” to “is there another way I can…?” to “am I saying …. correctly?”.  I am also modelling what I will be doing during their oral – walking around, looking like I am taking notes, stopping to listen…and reinforcing that what I am/will be writing is what I am hearing not writing down a list of ‘mistakes’.

During the Oral Discussions – What They Are Doing

They are speaking with a partner for a set period of time. If they need supports they have them although they know they can’t fully meet expectations if they do. They are listening, and speaking, and clarifying and questioning. They are talking the entire time – addressing the topic and going beyond when they have other things to discuss. They are telling their partner when they don’t understand and helping out when they are asked to. At the end of the alloted time (my Grade 11’s first oral was 11min per partner) they are thanking their partner and moving on to another. They are speaking with 8-9 people over the almost 2 classes this will require.

During the Oral Discussions – What I Am Doing

I am walking around with a clipboard and stopping to listen. Often who I am looking at is not who I am listening to. (I’m getting good at looking one way but listening to another to try to reduce their anxiety!) I am making notes on what I hear. “At grade level” “clarifies” “unit structures” “adding details” “says when doesn’t understand” “effective follow ups” and more in a shorthand that allows me to make notes more quickly “agl”  “clfy”, “Unit” “dets” “asks help” “eff f-up” etc. If there are serious issues I am making a brief note too. I am making multiple passes listening to kids more than 1 time. I am leaning in when I need to to hear the quiet ones. I am constantly checking that I have ‘enough’ and when I feel I have enough for a student checking them off and listening to those kids I need more on. I am moving, listening, moving, recording over and over.

After the Oral Discussions – What They Are Doing

Student Evidence Sheet

They are reflecting on the oral. They are assessing how they feel about how well they have met expectations. They are considering my question “What did you hope that I heard” and are offering up evidence of the kinds of things they said on the topic. They aren’t using notes or dictionaries to do this so it’s coming from what they actually said. And I’m not worrying as much about spelling/correct forms as I am looking at what they said. They are providing evidence of how they participated. On my last Grade 11 orals I gave them room to provide 4-5 sentences on the three topics areas they touched on.

After the Oral Discussions – What I Am Doing

Teacher Response Sheet

I’m also reading their evidence to see what they highlighted – and seeing if generally what they report they said reflects what I heard. I’m looking at my notes generated when I listened to them. I am preparing my feedback for them – not on everything but on key items. My response sheet (feedback sheet teacher) is divided into “Things That Were Noticed..”  – the positive things I say/heard them doing and “For Next Time” – advice on how to step up and sometimes corrections. I write out my notes for each…and eventually clip it to their response sheet.

What They Like About This…

They like the multiple partners. They like that it takes more than one period so they don’t feel rushed. They like that they are, depending on who they talk with, sometimes more the helper, and sometimes more the “helpee”. They like the idea that they get, with multiple partners, a  kind of do-over and they also get the chance to pick up extras from others. They like how ‘natural’ it feels…

What I Like About This….

I like seeing kids in a room – on the couch, in the camping chairs, at tables talking.  I like seeing kids engaged, listening to each other and actually having conversations. I like to see them reasonably relaxed during the process. I like to see the kids who aren’t so confident able to speak and actually interact. I like to see the really nervous kids relax and sit on a couch and just talk. I like that, although it’s my job to hear them,  they are asked to play their role in the evaluation process too.

It took a bit to get comfortable with this  style – and every time I do one I get better at it. But I like this…I like what I see and, most importantly, I like what I hear…

C

 

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October 19, 2019
by leesensei
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Scaffolding UP: Learning To Support The “Less Confident” Writer

We do a lot to help our students  to raise their proficiency in presentational writing.  And based on what we do many kids do. They add detail, expand with reasons, try to explain and move beyond just writing statements. But for some, writing – and growing their writing – is not easy and I’ve struggled to help them to improve.

I am fortunate to work with a wide range of students and I currently have a 2nd year student who has difficulty organizing her thoughts and getting down to work. In the first unit the assignment was to re-tell a story in the past tense and based upon what I saw after the first day of work I realized that I was failing her. Our great support teachers in our school worked with me to see that my student needed a way to organize  – to start small and then gradually expand what she is writing. So I created a format using an fill in the blank/add a sentence strategy. For the summary it went like this – Step 1 fill in a past tense form:  “A long long time ago there _____an old man (was).” Step 2 – add a related sentence:  “Now add one piece of information about the old man  (in a sentence).”  For each part of the story she filled in the ‘past tense’ verb then added an extra detail sentence. When she completed it she had a basic summary and participated in peer feedback using it. A copy of the assignment: kobutori retell scaffolded write

In our second unit the task was to create an Instagram post of her dream room – and to write a long description of it. I needed a different way to help her as I didn’t know what she would design to be described. I came up with a ‘target structure/add a reason/add a detail’ sheet. In each she identified an item in the room (a total of 6) and wrote down – on separate lines –  the item “desk” its location “beside the bed” then put it together “The desk is beside the bed” and added what she did with it “Because I have homework” and finally  she put all the pieces together “Because I have homework, there is a desk beside the bed.” After creating her 6 main sentences her task was to go back and add 1 more piece of information to each sentence – for example “in the first sentence add a describing word for how the item looks” and “in the 3rd sentence add how often you use it”.  Now she has a description that meets expectations for using unit items. A copy of the assignment: room project scaffolded

It’s not just my students with IEP’s that can find this useful. In fact I’ve realized that this approach can assist any student who may need support in addressing a writing task. Yes – I finally realized this! In my grade 11 class I have students who are currently working on a write-up of an interview with a classmate. So I created a slightly less formulaic sheet – but one that helps them to express themselves in a more grade appropriate way by guiding them to create a basic grade-appropriate response then add some ‘extra’s’ around it including an opinion etc. A copy of the assignment: scaffold written interview paragraph

My 2nd year student loves this approach. “It works for my brain”, she says and beams when I tell her that working with her is helping me to help others to write. I’ll be preparing a scaffolding sheet for each of my tasks…and my students’ written expression will be the better for it.

C

PS – if you want more detail of what’s in the documents – and you don’t read Japanese – let me know and I’ll be happy to ‘translate’ for you!

 

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October 14, 2019
by leesensei
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Learning Engagement – Strengthening Students’ Understanding of Their Role In Their Learning

Engagement connects to…

Two years ago I made the switch to ‘modes’ in my gradebook and descriptors instead of numbers. What a valuable change that was – for both me and my students. By using modes I can easily see strengths and where support is needed. Descriptors help kids understand what they can do and how they might improve. More importantly I discovered that everything I do can be classified in terms of mode – including assigned preparation work (you might call it homework) had nothing in it because I am either asking them to do something presentational or interpretive or, sometimes, interpersonal for class. What a relief to be rid of that category in ‘grading’…However…

In addition to changing my focus on assessment to modes – I wanted to change my students’ view on their role in the classroom. If their teacher is no longer ‘marking’ them but rather ‘assessing’ their skills then they also need to recognize that they have a role to play in that outcome. I must admit I got tired of hearing “I got an 80” and I want them to see (and say!) that they ‘earned’ a particular assessment and that they had a key role in doing so. It isn’t about ‘participation’ – too often viewed as a subjective evaluation of their role in class. No it is about more. Long discussions with colleagues ensued and one day my great French colleague mentioned that she had been talking to other teachers about students being ‘engaged in their learning’. Revelation. Why weren’t we looking at engagement in the process. As a teacher I can often see who is ‘engaged’ but now I wanted to ask students to be aware of their role too. This shift in focus is also the direct result of changes in my provincial curriculum and the focus on Core Competencies which are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need in order to engage in deep, lifelong learning. Central to this is student self-reflection on their own strengths, weaknesses and learning.

So “Learning Engagement” became the fourth gradebook category. For me it is worth 5% of their overall achievement – small enough to let the modes be the majority of what is assessed, but significant enough to play a role in a ‘grade’ – especially those on the line between two possible marks. And this is not just be my judgement. My students also have to examine, reflect and report on their engagement before reporting periods. They are able to, as it were, to hold themselves accountable for their role in learning. So twice a semester now we engage in this process. Students assess themselves based upon criteria that we have discussed as a class  – they come up with the definition – including using the target language, positive influence in the class community, preparing for classes, choosing to respond to feedback and more (This years’ version of the form: engaged learner 2019 – of course the ultimate ‘evaluation’ is sensitive to every student, their unique needs and how they are ‘engaged’ to the class – ‘fully meeting’ looks different for every student. ). Then we conference about their view of their engagement. their current assessments and how the two may be linked (or not). When they set out a goal for the next term they often include aspects of engagement in these goals. Rarely do they ‘under’ or ‘over’ assess themselves and when they do it’s a healthy discussion to have. We then mutually decide on the final evaluation for the category. Please note that my neurodiverse students may receive an edited form more suitable to them – I want to stress this!.

Learning Engagement…it’s helping me to help them see the link between their participation in the learning process and their results..

Colleen

 

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October 9, 2019
by leesensei
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JuMpInG into JeNgA..!

We know that the teachers of #langchat always provide new ideas to try in the classroom. So when Jenga started popping up – okay Meredith White was tweeting all about it – I thought ‘hmmm’. Then more tweets followed and I thought..”I’m in”. More required Twitter reading and I had my plan…today was my first day using it in class and here’s what I learned.

Getting ready..

  • Order a coloured blocks version – you’re going to want to use this several ways and colours allows you to assign tasks by group. I ordered a 48 piece ‘knock off’ of the classic game and 7 sets (enough for teams of 4 or 5 – my max. class size is 30)
  • Take them out of the boxes and put them in labelled ziplocks – they are easier to hand out and collect that way.
  • Label the blocks in the middle of the block with a handy sharpie (“A1”, “A2″…) – this serves two purposes. One is to keep the set together. When you find a block under a chair after a session and it’s labelled “A24” you know it belongs in bag “A”. Also if you label it in the middle kids can’t ‘see’ the number until they remove the block…
  • Prepare some general instructions – believe it or not some kids have never played this – so I found a simple explanation online at ‘wikihow’ and prepped a one-page sheet (here’s mine: jenga rules student)

Decide ‘how’ you want to play – there’s a couple of options.

  • If you are using colours you can have students respond to a prompt based on colour. Over time I plan to also develop games with a ‘question’ per block – okay that’s 48 but if you teach a language that ‘conjugates’ imagine how easy that would be. Here are today’s prompts:

Prepare The Instructions:

  • Put the instructions for the activity and the game in a plastic report cover sheet to hand out – on one side the basic ‘how to play’ and on the other the instructions for the game that day. And I never have to make up that instruction package again!
  • Consider if you want them to ‘record’ their answers. I decided that kids should write down the ‘structure’ part of each answer they gave today (you can use it also for more feedback). Their sheet recorded their name and then the key part of the response…

Hand out the games/instructions to the teams (my kids played in 4’s)

  • Go over the basic way to play the game and how they will be playing this time (their task as it were)
  • And then tell them the “what to do on your turn rules”  – which for my class today were:
    • take out a block
    • say the answer to the question prompt (based on colour) and no repeats!!
    • put the block on top
    • write out the required part of what you said as another group member takes their turn
    • If your groups’ Jenga falls…start again!!!

Stand back and let them at it! Some kids asked if they could pull 2 blocks at a time and give 2 answers and I left the ‘yes or no’ up to the group. They played for about 40 minutes and had a ball. I plan to use it once a unit (at least!). If you are looking for information try searching “jenga #langchat” on Twitter and you’ll get lots of ideas. Oh I will use this again!

Colleen

PS : I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year on improving my practice – amazing professional development but not conducive to blogging. This year I’ve vowed to return to the blog and hope that sharing what I am doing perhaps resonates with others…

 

 

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November 2, 2018
by leesensei
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Word Sneak? Phrase Sneak!!!!! Oral Storytelling & Listening

A very detailed story waiting to be told!

Okay I needed an activity. I wanted to provide choice but reinforce key structures. Often if we have students ‘use’ something we are worried that it is being done correctly. How could I encourage creativity but ensure the structures were properly in use? I had seen lots on Twitter about the idea of ‘word sneak’ as a vocabulary game (a post by Catlin Tucker outlines the idea). But I didn’t just want ‘words’ – so ‘Phrase Sneak’ was born…here’s how it worked…

The ‘key’ phrases/words

First – I set out the key phrases/vocabulary  they needed in the story. I picked 8 and asked each pair what these would be in the TL. I gave them a small notecard to write them down. Then we reviewed as a class. I also use a lot of visuals in class and envelopes with some of those visuals and blank cards were in their baskets on their tables. You could do this just with blank cards. (I like the idea of visuals as keys to remember what to say.)

Then the instructions. They were given 30 minutes to construct a story (not written down – to be orally told) using a minimum of 6 of the 8 key structure items. And they had to include 3 that I designated as key (they’re the ones with the dots beside them in the picture). I recommended visuals for the key parts – and most used ones we had already (and supplemented with hand-drawn ones).  They were reminded that both partners had to participate in telling the story – that one partner could not do all of the speaking. That was the extent of the instructions. (Note: my colleague whose kids did quick sketches for every picture took much longer to prepare and will tell their tales in the next class).

Just before we set out to share each team got a post-it note. They were instructed that as they listened to a story, and heard the group use the key phrases in telling it, they were to record (a check mark) that they heard it..(They wrote the initials of the group that they were listening to and just put check marks as they heard). My peer tutor also suggested that, when students heard the required phrases, they could indicate that with a ‘star’ instead of a check – I like that extra level of listening.

A story waiting to be told!

Then they set out to tell. After each pair recounted their story they stood up and looked for another group that was done. Then they told it again. And again. Most groups retold the story at least 3 times. You could always do the retell the next day (and allow followup questions from the listeners if you wish. That would be a great extension).

It was a different way to reinforce structures, be creative and have some fun! I’ll do it again!

C

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May 17, 2018
by leesensei
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One Piece of Paper – Sketch, Share, Listen, Speak….Repeat…

I’ve written before about my use of what I call “Sketch and Share” – a way to combine visuals with sentences to practice a particular structure (and avoid the dreaded worksheet). My Year 1’s (Grade 9) have just finished using this in an expanded way…

Day 1: It started with the idea of adding details to a sentence – a day of the week, a person,  a person to go with and a place to go.  One one side of the paper the images that make this up (blue). A coin purse (Friday – character for gold), a person, Mom, and a restaurant.  On the other – the sentence (green). “On Friday, I go, with my Mom, to the restaurant.” 

Day 2: We worked through the structure points and each person checked their work (and their partners) for what needed to be in the sentences.  Then on to the “Share” part – a challenge to a partner to say the sentence. It’s also a practice asking if student’s don’t know what an image is (in TL). Students circulate and challenge 4 people to “say” 4 of your picture sentences.  Then it comes in for me for feedback with only a few needing any tweaking.

Day 3: A chance to work in transportation words. A story and practice ensued. Now students are asked to add a transportation word to their original picture and their original sentence. Circulate and challenge again. Then into me to double-check that you’ve added that element.

Day 4: We began to work on the difference between ‘to a place’ and ‘at a place’  (yes – it is a whole lesson for Japanese!). Again a story and related work in class. Students then were asked to add another sentence to the one they had already written. This time they were adding what they will do AT the place the original sentence went to.  Again this came to me for feedback.

One piece of paper. Four days – 4 chances to write, talk, listen and repeat key structures and obtain feedback…I like it…

C

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May 4, 2018
by leesensei
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Talking the Talk- Eliminating the Word “Test” from My Learning Environment

I’ve been working to reform my classroom learning environment. This is a long-term project, aided by a wonderful colleague in my department (who I won’t name – she doesn’t like the spotlight). We are working hard for students to see that the classroom is a learning and feedback environment. That we are not going to ‘mark’ your learning. That the only thing that is ‘assessed’ is what you have mastered at the end of a unit. I’ve altered my conversation around marks gradually – shifting from numbers to descriptors and adding proficiency descriptors. I’ve changed how I ‘grade’ work we do in our classroom. I’ve even altered how I evaluated using pop check in’s to help students assess if they have mastered an area or not.

In the past few weeks though I noticed a holdover from my ‘past’ teaching practice. The word “Test”. So many kids cite anxiety about a ‘test’. Teachers use it as a ‘hammer’ and a ‘threat’ in their belief that it will get kids to do work. “There’s a test” then becomes the impetus for kids to study and learn. And it is held up as the measure of how well they are learning a subject.  And yet I continued to use the word. It suddenly felt so wrong and so incongruent with my current teaching practice. For a while I settled on the word ‘evaluation’ as in “you’re learning will only be evaluated at the end of the unit”. It was a step up but still to me smacked of the idea of a ‘test’. So I put my attempt to eliminate the word ‘test’ out on Twitter to the #langchat crew. And the lovely Wendy Farabaugh replied that she uses the word ‘assessment’. Wow…assessment …great word.  A simple snapshot in time of their mastery of certain skills. Not a punishing ‘right/wrong’ list of what students can’t do but an assessment of what they can. We ask kids to self-assess and I constantly assess my teaching – and now I’m making sure that my work with them is viewed via that lens too. Update: After reading the post a great reply from #langchat amie Natalia DeLaat. She uses  “assessment” for more summative activities and “learning check” for smaller items – I’m going with that!!!!

So out with the words ‘quiz and test’ and in with the word ‘assessment’. It’s aligned with what I believe and what I am trying to practice. The only issue, beside my self-monitoring to make sure I no longer say the words, is the need to change the ‘wording’ on the cover of previous ‘tests’. And that’s an edit I’m happy to make!

C

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April 29, 2018
by leesensei
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Is This For Marks? Well…Let’s Talk About That…

So welcome to my class – I know you may not have been here before – and I know already you have asked me about how hard I ‘mark’ and if there is a final and more. You’ve even asked “is this for marks?” about something I’ve asked you to prepare for class…You’ve been well-schooled by the ‘if it has a mark attached it is important’ idea from your classes. So let’s just stop a moment and review ‘marks’ in my class…here we go…

Is this for marks? Will this count? Your class is a daily opportunity to learn and receive feedback on that learning. I know you may not get that yet. You’re expecting everything I ask you to do that has any ‘value’ to have a mark. So I’ll give you a mark for it. In fact everything you do, everything I ask you do prior to the summative is worth 0.5 marks. Yes. 0.5. Almost seems not worth it does it? I mean why not skip a class, why not choose not to do something for class? Why bother. It’s not worth much. But the sum of all those experiences, all those chances to learn, all the feedback you receive will ‘count’, will impact your summative assessments. Your summative assessment is worth ‘everything’ in the unit. It’s a look at where you are..at the end of all the learning, feedback, check-ins and more. Each summative also increases in value over the course of the year – so later summatives are worth more – more chance to slowly develop your skills and bring in your past learning as you add on new learning too..

You didn’t do what I asked you to do in preparing for today’s class? You just didn’t bother? You wonder if you can ‘make it up later’? Sure. Of course. You will not get a “0” for that. It will be recorded as ‘incomplete’ in my book until it is done. Oh but it was something I asked you to prepare to use in class and if you don’t have it ready….you won’t be participating in the activity until it is…Yes you could have done it…but you chose not to. So until you are ready you’ll be sitting this one out…and missing out on a chance to get feedback for your learning…

Did you really think you knew something but found out you didn’t. Well chances are you did it via a pop-check in. You were asked to show what is in your head about a concept – without ‘warning’ or ‘studying’. Did you not understand as well as you could have/thought you did? While after the check-in, while you were in class, I took the time to go over it with you, we talked about what you do understand and reviewed what you still aren’t sure about. And then you do your ‘revisions’ and hand it in for that whopping 0.5 point credit. But now you have shown more understanding than you did before…

You did something I actually ‘tested’ and it didn’t go so well? Was it a lack of understanding? Did you just have an off day? Would you like the opportunity to show me that you have learned the material. Yes you can. Life happens and sometimes you need another chance. (Sometimes…if we’re at every time we’re having a chat!). Please email me a request to do so telling me when you’d like to do that. Happy to provide that opportunity.

So sure ‘it’s for marks’….just not how you think it is…

C

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