Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

January 30, 2017
by leesensei
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Using Proficiency Levels With Students? I NOW Get Why! (Or “You Don’t Play Video Games Just to Play Do You?”)

I will totally admit – as I did in my last post – that I never was on the ACTFL ‘proficiency’ bandwagon in class. Not that I didn’t get ‘proficiency’ but I didn’t get why I had to focus on the levels with my students. Nope, didn’t think it was necessary in my classroom. Every time it came up on #langchat as a discussion item I listened…but I didn’t buy in to using them with students. Why? Well I didn’t think it was that motivating. Really – I expected my students to care, to want to get to ‘Novice High’? I thought they’d react with all the enthusiasm of a request for them to complete 100 questions from a workbook. I mean – “Whoo hoo I’m Novice High!”. Couldn’t see it.

I was wrong. I get it…I really do – after time spent at #tellcollab in Seattle, listening to Thomas Sauer and all the great teachers who were sharing, it suddenly clicked. Specifically, when Alyssa Villarreal said “Kids don’t want easy – they aren’t afraid of ‘hard’…just look at video games…” the proverbial penny dropped.

What do I mean by this? Consider that our kids play, and replay a game trying to get to the next ‘level’ for a new challenge, a new reward or a new option to play. They will play and replay a level trying to get enough points to move up. They will play solo and against each other. They will (as I do with Angry Birds!) seek out cheats on YouTube to help them accomplish tasks they can’t seem to get. And they will do it over and over again until they get there.

What I have been doing in class has been like asking students to play a video game without the reward of being able to ‘achieve’ those levels. You see, I’ve been big on meeting the expectations in my class. Students know, and can repeat ad nauseam, what it means to be meeting or fully meeting expectations in class. They know that ‘meeting’ means you are delivering the current unit items well and that ‘fully meeting’ means you are not only able to use the current items well but you are bringing in past learning effectively too. They can pre-mark work and point out where and how they do so. But that’s it. I see it now – I’ve been asking them to play the video game over and over but I have failed to validate this but giving them a ‘new level’ to achieve. I’ve been asking them to improve but not ‘rewarding them’ for achieving and giving them the next ‘level’ to shoot for.

You know if you asked me to do the same thing over and over, but didn’t give me the satisfaction of achieving something beyond “you did that level well” I’d give up. If you didn’t clearly lay out not only where I was in the ‘game’ but what I would have to do to get to the next level (and provide tips/a path – okay the ‘cheats’ to do so), at some point I would ask myself why I was doing this? At some point I would give up trying to improve. At some point I’d stagnate in my learning.

So thank you …thanks to Alyssa for that ‘nugget’ from her workshop, thanks to all the #langchat proficiency promoters who have shared ‘how they share’ with their classes. Thanks also to my fellow ‘rebel’ colleague Connie who, along with me, is starting to lead the ‘proficiency’ charge in my department because we know it is the right way to go.

I get it…going to use them with my students…looking forward to seeing them more ‘in the game’….

Colleen

 

January 24, 2017
by leesensei
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TellCollab Day 2 – Know Your Goals & “Fail Forward” As You Model Learning!

Day 2 of the #TELLCollab continued my exploration of what an effective language teacher is – and my look at how effective I am/can be as a language teacher. It was a tough call to try to tweet and curate what Alyssa Villarreal shared with us! Needless to say it was also fab to hear her – rather than just read her 140 character tweets. If I could summarize what I took away from her talk it would be in the series of tweets that I sent out…a few standouts for me are my takeaways from this session:

“Fail Forward” and “Practice Makes Progress” – Alyssa reminds us that we spend too much time telling kids what they didn’t do correctly and not enough celebrating their risk in trying something new.  Too much is spent on ‘marking what isn’t right’. Where is the acknowledgement of growth – of improvement? Kids, she says,  are not afraid of something that is “hard” – just look at all the time they spend on video games!  What they want to know is that they can risk and try in a ‘safe’ environment…And why are we questing for perfect? If it is ‘perfect’ then they are not trying, growing and risking. I love this and it is my new mantra for my classes. I always ask them “do you know more than you did yesterday? Are you growing?” Validation that this is a way to go!

 

Students Need To Know What Their Target Is For Class and For Proficiency – this was also a focus of Thomas Sauer‘s session from Day 1 and it really hit home. There should not be any mystery or guessing as to why students are doing something in class. They should know what the daily goal is. They should also know what the target – proficiency – is for them in the course. They want to know how to be successful. Going back to the video game – they know what level they will achieve if they are successful. That’s why they are playing that game over and over trying to get better. Why am I not spelling out the goal. I do set out my expectations but what I have not done is linked that to what the ‘level’ of achievement will be. Truth be told I’ve never really seen the big deal of telling kids about ‘proficiency’ and what level they are. “Whoop de doo..novice” I thought. But now I am seeing it. The power in the hands of the student to see levels of proficiency in meeting the ‘goals’ not just the expectations for class. I’ve had the expectation but not the explicit goal that they are trying to attain. My goal was just what I expected them to do…not something concrete they could work on to ‘achieve’.  I’m going to work to implement them in my classes – even just starting next year with my incoming students (a gradual implementation for sanity!).

Model and Check More! – I like to think that I have modeled enough – but I realized that this includes all that incidental language I use. “Where is my pen?”  and why am I not muttering out loud in the TL. I will be now! Alyssa also made a powerful statement that if we model, we use the TL and then switch to English we do nothing for out students. That the minute a student knows that the teacher will move to English they just begin to ‘wait them out’ until they do. If we are going to model language use then we model it! This doesn’t mean 90% TL necessarily (no guilt please!) but it DOES mean that we are consistent (to me) in how we use the language in class. And once I model, I need to check more with students before the ‘practice with your partner’ part. More feedback from them – even non-verbally – that they are getting it before I ask them to use it….Duly noted.

And my final takeaway – I need an honest look at what/how I am operating in the classroom. I need to invite an administrator in, ask a colleague to observe or (gasp) get my students to give feedback on how I am doing in my goals for my classroom. Because if I am truly going to ask for risk-taking, fail-forward, goal-focused students then I better be that kind of teacher too. 

Thanks again to the organizing committee of the #tellcollab in Seattle, Thomas Sauer and Alyssa Villarreal for the great weekend of ‘learning’…

C

 

January 21, 2017
by leesensei
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TellCollab Seattle Day 1 – I’m On The Right Path With Lots of Stuff to Learn!

I have journeyed to Seattle – a country away (okay a 2 1/2 hour drive)- to participate in the 2-day TellCollab workshop presented by the TELL Project. Excitement & trepidation all at once. Am I okay with what I do? What am I doing that others are doing? Am I on the same page as others? What are their concerns, hopes, frustrations? Are they like mine?

Day 1 began with a ‘meet’ of everyone attending (so glad to see fellow #langchat-er Catherine Ousselin & meet (in person!) Alyssa Villarreal) – who we are (name/language/where from) and what – in 3 words – we think effectiveness looks like in a language teacher. Three words – that’s it – Thomas Sauer knows his audience (we are language teachers – we like to and can talk!) and in confining us to 3 words we each get down to the essence of what we think ‘effective’ is. For me it is “Confident reflective communicators”.  It’s amazing to hear what everyone thinks and most of what they say I think “I could have said that”.

After some background on the Tell Project we are asked to look at a lesson and rate it for effectiveness. We look, listen and each silently rate. We report out and – not surprisingly – we have graded it from a 2/5 to a 5/5. Imagine – we are a group of ‘motivated’ teachers (we’re there at TellCollab aren’t we?) and we can’t agree on what effective is. I’m sensing though that I am not going to be “told” an answer….that I will have to find and develop an answer for myself (am I right?).

Our only ‘led’ session of the day for me is about looking at objectives. I learn that I am clear on my  ‘performance objectives’ for the end of the unit , even what the performance indicators will be to assess  but whoa …I’m not so consistent or great at each lesson objective. Three big ‘revelations’ for me: We then look at the ‘wording’ of those “I can…” statements. Oh I’m all about writing those. I can write them well I think…but maybe not…I see now that I will be revising many of them. Why?  They are either not ‘function’ oriented – ‘say’ and ‘write’ are not functions or they are not student friendly (Who actually uses the word ‘hobby’ these days asks Thomas!)  We look at a series of “I Can” and I’m getting a feel for how I can make them more ‘effective’ and meaningful (another post on this to come!).

Our breakout sessions are determined by our ‘post-it’ notes about what we want to learn. We are also encouraged to take charge of our learning. If a session isn’t hitting what we need we are to use our two feet to take us to one that is. This does not, surprisingly lead to people leaving from sessions willy-nilly. But it does allow us to change tables to really get to something we want to know if we want to – I like having that permission. I wanted to look at my own target language use in class. It’s something I don’t think I do well. Secretly, as someone who is not a native speaker, its something that I fear; that I don’t always think I CAN do well. I either run into something that I want to say that I am not sure of, or (yes) can’t,  or I ‘give’ too easily and revert to English in instructions.  I met teachers who hard-core refused to use any English. I met another who gave me hope – who talked about “how” she stayed in the TL even if her beginners asked questions in English. I learned that I am going to need to think my lessons through more closely for the language that I will need to use to instruct in. I realized that I can make use of my love of visuals in helping to facilitate staying in the TL. I have admitted my personal fear to myself (of not being ‘good enough’ in the TL) & through listening & learning have started to commit to ‘do more’ and have some ideas ‘how’ to get this done.

I’m not going to say I learned ‘oh my goodness this changes it/answers it all for me’ at both my afternoon tables. I’m also going to admit that in 1 table I could have two-footed it away and should have as it was moving in a direction that didn’t match my needs in that area.  But what did this all do for me? What were my end of day takeaways? It was interesting as teachers shared theirs that I kept thinking “I wrote/thought that too!” My ‘understandings for the day were:

  • I am on the way but not there yet – and that’s okay – I’m on the ‘road’….
  • We are all struggling to engage kids to use the TL
  • We are all trying to be “more effective” teachers but what that is is personal and unique to the teacher that we are
  • (And..I know what Thomas Sauer sounds like….I’ve spent a day hearing him actually speak – not type 140 character thoughts!)

What a feeling of empowerment and validation to be in a room with a group questing to be more effective but not thinking in any way that they have the exclusive answer on ‘how’ to be. End of day 1……! Looking forward to Day 2!!!

Colleen

January 18, 2017
by leesensei
1 Comment

And now…a short teaching break!

I am 6 working days away from time off. For the second time in my career I have put salary aside (over 4/5 years) to take a self-funded leave for 1 semester.  Yes – from Jan 30 to the start of the school year in September I will be giving myself some time. What to do? Oh there is the planned cruise with my husband & family (never been on one!) and the potential to sleep in past 5:30am. But there is more…there is time to relax, to unwind and most importantly to think, to reflect, to alter what I don’t like.

Just before I take my time off I’m heading to the TellCollab in Seattle. I’m so excited to learn what I can from this experience. Although I won’t be taking what I learn back to the class right away, I will have time to think about implementing what I learn. I will continue to blog when I want to sort something out – or when I have something to say to myself! I will try to learn some new skills like Movie Talk and the idea behind better story-telling in class. If the Canadian dollar doesn’t totally crash (we’re at 75cents vs. the US$) I hope to go to ACTFL in Nashville.

I am very lucky to work in a district where self-paid time off is possible. I am very lucky to have the time to really sit back and think about how the last 5-6 years of my teaching career is going to look. I am really fortunate to be a teacher who wants to keep getting better. And I am most grateful for the #langchat and wider teaching community who continues to share and inspire…

Look for me on #langchat, I’ll see you via the blog and I’ll be back in the trenches sooner than later. In the meantime ….meanwhile I’ll get used to being able to, if only for a little while, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee in the morning…

Colleen

December 30, 2016
by leesensei
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Top Posts of the Year – #1 – All About The Interpersonal Proficiency!

I don’t think it is surprising the most read posts of the  year were about something we are all looking to help our students improve – their proficiency in Interpersonal Activities. The post below is a combination of several new and older posts…and my collection of ideas in helping my students be more eager & confident speakers!
Group of Friends with Arms Around Each OtherSupporting Interpersonal Interaction in Class – What Helps Them Stay In The TL? What allows you to walk out of the room, run to the copier and come back and still have them talking? What allows you to send them out to record a conversation and know that they won’t script? What is it that makes them confident to use and sustain a conversation in the Target Language? If you know – please share! This is an ongoing quest for all of us. I have been trying, as you all have over the years, to imbue in my students the ‘confidence’ to risk, to try, to talk.  Here’s a few of my ideas on what helps them out.. what I find helps them want to not only talk, but to sustain their talking in the Target Language….Read more…

Thank you again for your input, and eyes, on my posts. I’ll return in the New Year with more things I am thinking about on this language teaching journey!

Colleen

December 27, 2016
by leesensei
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Top Posts of the Year – #2 – Novices – Learning to Add Details!

What a year it has been! A year of change and growth for me as a teaching professional (it never ends!). For the next few posts I am looking back at what resonated with readers of “Language Sensei”.

I am always trying to get my students to add more detail in their presentational writing and their oral interactions. For my novices I employ a brainstorming strategy that takes it’s cue from follow-up questions. Although this post is about my Yr1 Intensive course – I use this strategy right up my Yr4 classes – adjusting the ‘detail’ as the level dictates! So now the post I called “Wheel Of Detail….” With 2 months to go in the semester, my  Yr1 Intensive students (2 semesters in 1) are now using their language for communicating more than just “I went to the mall”. I am a big believer in using the idea of ‘follow up questions‘ to drive details – but it’s sometimes hard to encourage the ‘brainstorming’ required for this. As my students  were prepping for an oral I pulled out what I call the “Wheel of Detail”. Essentially its a modified mind map and I use it for both presentational writing and oral interpersonal activities.  I like it as it connects details to a central activity.   Read more…

C

December 22, 2016
by leesensei
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Top Posts of the Year – #3 – What Is An “Oral Final”

What a year it has been! A year of change and growth for me as a teaching professional (it never ends!). For the next few posts I am looking back at what resonated with readers of “Language Sensei”.

58db2d0e2c1397f19cc3fd65bcffa2daThis post generated some interesting comments – and almost deteriorated into what I don’t like – the “There is only 1 way to teach” argument. Some disagreed with the idea that ‘imperfect’ language is okay and thought that I should be involved (as the ‘perfect’ language???) in the mix. Others took issue with the ‘real world’ idea. For me the ‘real world’ is them using the language in casual conversation with someone…not in a classroom and certainly not with a teacher there. I think the misunderstandings may also have stemmed from readers not seeing that this post was about my oral FINAL – not orals in general. So if this is a new post to you – again  – this is my FINAL…. 🙂

What 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…’…’ Read more…

December 16, 2016
by leesensei
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Top Posts of the Year: #4 – Note to Self – You Are Doing Enough

What a year it has been! A year of change and growth for me as a teaching professional (it never ends!). For the next few posts I am looking back at what resonated with readers of “Language Sensei”.

Source: Morguefile.comOf all the posts this year this one was the one that garnered a lot of activity. It was shared on Facebook a number of times – which I take to mean that people shared it as a personal thing – not a professional item per se. It certainly was personal to me….and I am amazed that in my 22nd year of teaching it still is something I am worried about…

“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.  Read more…

Next Up – #3 – An “Old” Standby – Defended…

C

December 15, 2016
by leesensei
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Top Posts of The Year – # 5 – The “Feedback/Gradebook” Posts

file5381245784488What a year it has been! A year of change and growth for me as a teaching professional (it never ends!). For the next few posts I am looking back at what resonated with readers of “Language Sensei”. Curiously the top posts of the year can be grouped based on their common ideas….And here we go!

#5  The “Feedback/Gradebook” Posts – shifting my teaching also means shifting how students are evaluated. My classes are moving to much more formative feedback – and a change in how I communicate how they are doing. Gone is 73%. Here to stay is how well you are “meeting” expectations. More importantly students are now more able to articulate for themselves how they are doing (and why they are where they are).

My Evolving Gradebook – From Numbers to Descriptors: What does a 6/6 mean? Why do kids ask “How do I get an A?” and not “How fully am I meeting expectations?” and even more key – why are they asking me how they are doing? Don’t they know? Can’t they articulate where they are in meeting expectations for a unit? And More Pressingly…. How do I meld the desire to address student goals and achievement with the requirement of keeping ‘grades’ in my province….Read more

Descriptors Not Numbers – Students React to the Change: When you make the switch to descriptors what do the students think? The question on the form was “I made a switch to ‘meeting expectations’ grading instead of ‘numbers’ in order that you understand how well you are doing. What is your feedback on this style of grading?” And the responses came…Read more..

“How Am I Doing? I Know How!” Formative Feedback: One of the reasons I am making a big shift from numbers to proficiency/expectation descriptors is to ensure that students don’t wait for me to tell them how they are doing – but rather that they will know and be able to articulate for themselves. With this shift comes more challenges in improving feedback and learning opportunities for students. I am by no means good at this – but, as a believer in ‘small tweaks lead to big changes’ I have been experimenting with additional ways to provide feedback…Read more

Next up in my year in review #4 The “You Are Doing Enough” Pep-Talk…

C

December 11, 2016
by leesensei
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My “Oral” Failure: Assuming They ‘Get It’…And Learning They Don’t…

img_2348We don’t do a ‘novel’ through the course of Year 4. Instead we do a story unit – one in which we read a story as a group (it’s a graded reader story in Japanese) and follow this with a ‘select your own’ story to read. Both the ‘group’ and ‘self-read’ story have presentational pieces and, for the ‘self-read’ story a day where they tell others about the story they read.

But I wanted something that I could evaluate – wanted some sort of component in this whole story time where I heard from them. I settled on the idea of a presentational piece using the ‘group-read’ story.  I struggled to think what this, in a reading unit, could be.. Not sure what to do I purchased a teacher guide for a TPRS story by Kristy Placido to investigate (why purchase? I was looking for insight into using stories but I want the authors to get the royalties that they deserve). I introduced the idea of an ‘oral summary’ that was in the guide. I liked it for what I wanted – a chance to hear students give an oral summary that I could evaluate. Students would have 3 minutes to give the summary using pictures from it as a guide. The operative word in my mind was ‘summarize’. I wanted them to hit the highlights and show that they had grabbed the ‘facts’ and gained some insight into the story. Great idea…I prepared a sheet with pictures from the story…We practiced with partners. We did my favourite Carrie Toth “Yellow Brick Road” review down the main hall of our floor of the school …we were ready.

Until…student number 5.  To be honest I had started to be concerned around student 3…but it wasn’t clear to me until number 5 what was going on. In 3 minutes she didn’t get past the 2nd picture. She clearly understood the story…she gave great detail. So much detail that she was bogged down. She couldn’t get the idea of a summary…because she saw the word ‘detail’ in the rubric and that was what she thought she had to deliver. She thought if she didn’t tell everything about every part of the story it wasn’t a successful summary. And whose fault was that? Who didn’t walk them through what a summary might be? Who didn’t set them up for success? Me. I failed to go over what a summary was. I failed to involve them in discussing how you might summarize something using structures we already knew. I assumed. And I was wrong…

Like all classrooms mine is one of second chances. And I am grateful that there will be a second chance for them. I won’t ‘hear’ this second chance as a presentational oral – but they will – in their self-read story fair day – get to use their summary skills to tell others about what they read. And next time, next year, I will do what I didn’t do this year to set them up for summary success not only in what we do in class to prepare but also in the rubric that describes the goals of the activity – a link to my new and improved one is here.

What did I learn? Never assume they get it. Never ever give a brisk “and this is what you will do” and leave it at that. Check in with them. Help them. And above all, set them up for the success you want them to have. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing that their inability to do something that is directly caused by what you did, or didn’t do in the set-up. Lesson learned…

C

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