August 14, 2019
August 14, 2019
November 2, 2018
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…
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.
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!
May 17, 2018
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…
May 4, 2018
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!
April 29, 2018
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…
April 14, 2018
One of my goals this semester has to provide more ‘personal’ feedback on speaking. I am giving non-graded feedback on more conversations done during class as well as recorded quickly on a mobile phone. Another new tool for this (no Google Voice in Canada!) is Flipgrid. There are teachers out there doing amazing things with it – check out Laura Sexton’s blog if you want ideas for using it.
I loved Flipgrid when I tried it…and I still do – and my original post outlined my steps/tips as a newbie to the app. I liked the possibilities for an alternate way to give focused feedback on a particular concept like “tell me three things you have to do on the weekend” or “tell me two things you did yesterday and how they were”. Students, once they were assured others would not see their video, responded to the prompt and the majority were spontaneous and not reading from a paper or memorized (and if they did – it’s still ‘presentational’ to me and it’s the feedback on the concept that’s key.)
So what to do. After some discussion with my colleagues, and my principal I looked to what it was that Flipgrid provided. Video recorded snippets for focused feedback and a quick ’email link’ to send that instant reply. My ‘Flipgrid App-hack’ was then born. We now do something very similar and we call it “Video Selfie”.
- I set out the ‘prompt’ based upon a structure/concept we’ve been working on including in class.
- Students take a selfie using their phone. They are allowed to apply any fun filters that they want but I must see their lips move!
- They email me their video (next year I may be using Microsoft’s Class Notebook and would then do this via that)
- I watch and send back the feedback
- (No phone?: Students without access to a cell phone come see me at lunch and use mine to record)
It’s not slick, it doesn’t have a cool app but it is doing the job. They love adding filters and don’t worry about others seeing their videos. I don’t have to worry about issues with privacy laws….and that’s something everyone is a little more aware of these days!
February 9, 2018
Although I rarely write specifically about my subject – this is one of them! A post on using an authentic resource to reinforce script recognition. If you don’t teach my TL maybe something here will resonate with you too!
I teach Japanese in a Gr9-12 semester-system high school (in Vancouver, BC Canada). Several years ago I made the decision to stop using romaji with my beginners. I never liked using it, it was tough to wean kids off it and it didn’t seem natural to me. Instead we start with all ‘oral’ work boosted by key visuals to remember. We repeat, we find new partners, we repeat again. At the same time (and on the first day) I start introducing script – just the first 5 characters on day 1…but enough to start them on their journey. As they learn all their characters we begin to write words we have learned.
It is also my habit to start every new semester with a story for my classes. I like that it gets kids reading again and seeing characters and hopefully sparks/taps previous learning. Typically I use graded reader stories for my older students (Momotaro, Urashimataro etc.). But for my new first year students I have a board-book copy of the classic “Kaguyahime”. It’s a lovely tale, the script is big, as are the pictures, and the target audience is for children so there isn’t a lot of text on the page. I don’t expect my students to be able to ‘understand’ the story on the page. Here’s how I use it…
- I don’t introduce the story until we are well on our way with learning characters – that is after we have seen あーも (and ん). I continue to introduce script in class but I feel at this point they have a good ‘chunk’ to work with
- Each day I pick out5- 7 key words from the story and write them on the board; ‘words such as むかし, おじいさん, たけ etc. Under each I write the English meaning.
- Students work with their partner (this is key – that they work together) and chart to figure out how to say them. Then we review out loud. I don’t lead them through the words initially because I want to begin the practice of ‘recognizing’. Note: this is a great way to introduce sound combinations like しゃ or the use of the small つ (けっこん). These I do ‘pre-teach’ before I ask them to try to read them…
- I ask them to choose any 4 words and write them on the back blank page of their hiragana booklet (writing practice!)
- They look at the text (copied) and work to find the words on the page. It’s also an introduction to reading traditional text (right to left/top to bottom)
- I read the page and recap in English
I do a page a day for the next few pages in this manner until we come to part where the 5 princes are issued a challenge to find something (in order to marry Kaguyahime). We approach the page the same way – key words that day include vocabulary for the desired items. At the end of the reading I ask the students to talk with their partner and predict who will be successful in their quest and why (they have to write down their prediction). They are quite engaged in this and all sorts of interesting reasoning. The next day we go over the items being searched for in English on the board. If you know the story – you know the quests are not successful so our words to read this day are the Japanese for ‘fake’, ‘ship sunk’ and ‘grievous injuries’. They practiced saying them and when I read out an asked-for item in English they guessed – in Japanese – what happened. “Quest for the jewel from the dragon’s throat?” “Ship sinks” they all yelled in Japanese! Then they searched for the words on the page…I read and they learned the young men’s fate.
For pages after this in the story I ask them to do a different task each day per page including:
- Select one line and put a check mark beside characters you already recognize
- Select one line and, using your chart, look for and say out loud all of the characters in the line
- Select 3 lines and see if you can find a combination sound or a small つ word
The story time is about 15 minutes of my 75 minute class. My book is about 10 pages and it’s a great way to introduce a classic story and also engage students in reading script. Two good outcomes from one authentic resource!
January 26, 2018
Note: This post is a cross-posted on the Path2Proficiency site.
I took a look at my gradebook at the end of last year. My tasks were all jumbled together and still classified in the traditional 4 language skills: reading, writing, listening. I had evolved to using descriptors instead of numbers, but nothing else had changed. I couldn’t easily tell you how proficient a student was in any particular skill – in part because the information wasn’t easy to find. It certainly did not reflect my journey down the proficiency path.
So this fall my colleague Connie and I decided that if we were implementing proficiency then we also needed to fully make the jump to modes. And if we were going to use modes of communication in class, our gradebook had to change as well. At the start of the year I put my new gradebook together with 4 separate pages: Interpersonal, Presentational, Interpretive and “Out Of Class Prep” (our take on what work at home really is). Doing this led to some revelations about my practice, some surprises and, ultimately, necessary changes.
Interpersonal – We set these tasks as anything requiring a possible negotiation of meaning between two (or more) students. Wow – if you had asked me BEFORE this I would have told you that this was the major part of my classes. That interpersonal exchanges were weighted the heaviest in my ‘gradebook’ and that this is what my class is built on. That my class was ‘full’ of evaluated interpersonal activities. And then I saw…not. While my students have a great deal of time to talk and interact, I found that I was completely lacking in feedback for these times. Absolutely none. Apparently the only Interpersonal up to this point that I have had is a summative oral. It was humbling to notice my lack of feedback. What I have learned from this is that I need to find ways for more formative feedback during interpersonal work time in class. And I also need to see if I can work in interpersonal written work (completely non-existent) as well.
Presentational – For us this meant any ‘one-way’ writing or speaking that required no negotiation of meaning. I learned that I have a lot of this one-way work in my classes – which I should. I learned that this is the main area where I provide feedback – and they get a lot of it. I liked that this ‘mode’ also made me reconsider the value in presentational speaking. Traditionally I have associated it with the ‘before the class’ speech (for example) but I added Flipgrid to allow them the chance to speak with me (and get feedback as well). What I learned from this is that there is more than one way to be in this mode – and I needed to find more variety in the opportunities that I offered.
Interpretive – For me this mode encompasses anything that requires them to show understanding. (I may not exactly line up with what ACTFL considers this task to be). This means it is, for me, anything from reading a piece and filling in a table/answering questions about it to listening to something at home or in class and completing a task based on that. And yes, gasp, for me this can even includes traditional workbook ‘listening’ exercises too. And of course there are still ‘summative’ evaluations too… What I learned is that this is my major go-to especially in my novices and that I did more than of this than I thought. It also meant that I needed to add a ‘comprehension’ section to many of my created stories (many of which I just used to figure they would ‘get’) so that they could see that they did understand. I’ve also added more ‘at home’ opportunities to practice listening.
Out of Class – This used to be a huge component of my gradebook. The traditional ‘homework’ section. But when you switch to modes most of this is not needed. I learned that although they were prepping work outside of class time – even if they were, for example, coming up with 3 truths and a lie about what they did after school (for classmates to guess) it was indeed presentational writing. What I learned is that preparation is preparation in a particular mode. I had very few things in this category…which is a good thing.
And finally this move required me to shift how I ‘weight’ things in my gradebook. For me this is especially important for my novices. It means that, for them, more value is placed on Interpretive (35% now) than Interpersonal (now 30%) and Presentational (30%). Out of class is minimal but still key so it holds at 5%. As they move up in proficiency Interpretive will give way to more emphasis on Interpersonal work (once I add more feedback!)
Moving to modes has been a great way to really take stock of how I help students learn – and where I am supporting, or not, in the process. And ultimately this will make my classes a richer and more meaningful experience for students and myself.
January 12, 2018
One of my Yr2’s came to see me at lunch. She is creative, energetic and outgoing – everything that I ask and very sincere in trying to improve her language skills. But she has been disappointed lately that she is not finding the ‘fully meeting’ in her presentational writing pieces.
“Sensei – I’m trying to hard to get to put in more details – but I keep getting ‘mixed up’ and feel jumbled in my thoughts.” She felt that she was so busy trying to ‘push her level of detail that what she was writing was not making sense. “How do I start?” she asked.
I struggled for a tip, a simple way to help her to understand how. Now I will add that this student is also a snappy dresser who melds her love of cos-play with her everyday wear. And it struck me that, like putting together an outfit, writing was a matter of adding ‘layers’ to basics too. So we talked about getting dressed. “Do you”, I asked, “put on your earrings, bracelets, jacket etc before you choose your basic outfit?” “No,” said my student, “I get dressed first.”
“Well,” I told her “This is just the same as writing – you ‘get dressed’ with a basic sentence – then you add some accessories.””But what would I add?” she asked.”What do you do when you choose an outfit?” “I accessorize” she said…Then I asked “What are our ‘accessories’ when we communicate?”…All of a sudden I saw it dawn on her. “Our follow-up questions...”.
And it dawned on me too. It’s not just enough to write on the rubric and say “try adding more detail.” I had to help them to do this in a logical and ‘understandable’ way. I had to more explicitly link what we do with ‘Wheel Of Detail‘ for interpersonal speaking to their writing too. With this in mind I went back to the entire class and talked about adding details using our follow-up questions as a guide. We started with a simple idea (and written) sentence:
Kenji watched a movie.
If this is what Ken said he did, I asked, what would you want to know? And their follow-up questions included (1) why? (2) when? (3) who with? (3A) what are they like? (4) how? (5) where at? (6) how did they watch? Gradually the expanded sentence emerged.
(1)Because he really likes them, (2) last week on Tuesday at 4pm, (3A) tiny but cute Kenji and (3A) really funny (3) Naomi (6) quietly watched a (3A) very interesting movie (5) at a movie theatre in Shinjuku.
They then practiced in pairs – coming up with their own ‘accessories’ for another sentence and we debriefed them as a group. I saw many have a “I can do this…” or “Oh this is how…” moment.
Making more detailed and interesting sentences should not be hard. I had neglected to help them see the link from the questions we use when we speak to the written text. My students often talk now about ‘accessorizing’ their sentences…and as they emerge out of novice it has also led to more interesting written pieces…with more detail than before!
January 5, 2018
Ah the best of intentions – I had them. Two weeks of holidays at Christmas and I’d finally get those 4 posts done that have been sitting there – sitting there waiting for a break in the action. It has been a rich and fulfilling term with time I’d usually spend blogging now used for the changes in my room that I simply must make! And then of course – the winter vacation cold. On the mend now and with some time (okay 3 days) until I return to school I took a look at the top posts on Language Sensei of 2017. And here’s what I learned…
Proficiency is a new – and popular – path to be on…Three of the most popular posts related to proficiency and more specifically to my ‘why’ and ‘how’ to get on to the proficiency path. It appears that many are looking to include proficiency in their teaching and working to find rationales, and aids, to both stay on the path and explain why they are on it. Of all of my newer proficiency posts these three resounded the most:
- Keeping My Eye On a New Path…my first post for Path To Proficiency and my own ‘how to’ of introducing proficiency to my classes in a doable (and survivable without working 22 hours a day) way…read more
- Using Proficiency Levels with Students – Now I Get It….my realization that like video games – we need to keep giving kids levels to strive for…read more
- Skills Give You Talking points Proficiency Gives You A Goal …a post that stressed the ‘link’ for me between the post-classroom skills that I believe language study provides and how proficiency goals play into that…read more
Articulating the Value of Language Study Is Key For Us. We are often looking to advocate for language study and it’s benefits beyond “I can order a coffee in the TL country”. Finally I put down on paper (and included in every syllabus) the skills that I believe language study promotes. These are key skills – transferable skills and ones that I think we must explicitly share with students so that they too can articulate the value of second language study. The infographic from this post continues to be routinely shared – and thanks for the credit when you do…
- Thanks for Taking My (Fill in Language) Class – Here’s What You are Really Acquiring…read more
Students in Our Classes are More Diverse Than Ever…and we are all working to meet them where they are at. My post about working with kids with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) really hit home for many. I wrote it to expand on the ways that my teaching and working with ALL my students has been improved due to the presence of IEP students in my classes. It’s due to them that I made changes in how I ask kids to show understanding/knowledge and mastery…I’ve learned so much from them..
- Thank You For Having An IEP…read more
So yes those 4 posts are coming – more posts on this blog and for Path To Proficiency – I promise. In the meantime Happy 2018! See you under the #langchat hashtag for another great year!