Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

A Year of Change…. A Year of Choice (End of Year Reflection Part 1)


Eating CaterpillarWhat a year! It started with the usual rush in September and is currently ending with a province-wide teachers strike. Despite this unusual end to the year it has been one of amazing change – dare I say ‘metamorphosis’ for my classroom. And most thrilling for me is the almost organic way that the changes have come. I will confess that I didn’t plan my year to go this way – but I am thrilled with how it turned out. It has been a year of big changes in class – and I wanted to highlight a few of the key areas that emerged for me:

Words To Use: The resources and ideas shared by the #langchat PLN, led by Amy Lenord’s pointed blog posts, meant that I no longer felt comfortable with set vocabulary  as the ‘entirety’ of what my students should know. I still believe that a basic vocabulary is key – but as a ‘touchstone’ from which individual expression can come. My vocabulary choice journey is outlined in two posts from earlier in the year – one as I began to change – and an update on how it was going

Putting It Together: I got away from the word ‘grammar’ this year – instead changing my phrasing to ‘how you put your words together’ along with backing down from words like ‘adverb’ or ‘adjective’  After all – how many times do I use technical grammar words like ‘adverbs’ or ‘negative past tense’ in my daily interaction in English? I realize that the more I used ‘technical’ words – the more my students were learning ‘about’ the language rather than how to use it.With this shift came my need to give them what was required for the task at hand. I could no longer in good conscience not give them what they needed in order to do what I asked them to do. Letting go of the control of how they expressed themselves resulted in much more natural language in their interpersonal communication.

Showing Learning: I got rid of the word ‘homework’ this year. Instead in my markbook it became ‘out of class’ work or ‘practice’. And what that work was changed for me. As much as possible I got rid of worksheets and the workbook. Non-meaningful repetition of something seemed to be, well, pointless for me. Yes there is a time/place to ‘practice’ key items but I found that best done as a game, with partners or a group – rather than as a ‘homework’. I found that offering options for showing what they know – and sharing it – was far more meaningful for them. The Sketch/Share, Phone conversations and Story Game posts are examples of the infusion of choice in demonstrating learning.

Handing It In: If I am giving more choice in ‘what’ students are learning I also made the commitment to allow them choice in how they submitted work. This year any ‘hand in’ assignment became “online or on paper” – whatever worked best for them. I got a wide variety of submissions. About 30% of my students are now solidly ‘on-line’ people. They complete work on their computers or phones and submit via email. My rule is that I return it as I receive it – so if it is marked online – it is returned the same way. It took a bit to figure out ‘how’ I was going to to organize my on-line marking – and my thoughts were put into an initial and follow-up post.

I cannot thank the #langchat PLN for challenging me, supporting the change, and cheering the journey – special thanks to Amy, MP900314068Sara-Elizabeth, Laura and Catherine for their frequent input!  Oh there’s more change to come when school resumes….and I’m looking forward to it!




  1. I’m glad this school year was filled with so much positive change for you! It was a major one for me too, and while I’m pleased with what “I was” (in reality my students were) able to accomplish, I already have my sights set on big projects for next year. One of my largest goals for next year is to begin implementing your “exhibition”-style interpersonal assessment (like you use with the blind taste test, school fair, etc.). I don’t know if we’ll get to the point of using it for the final summative unit assessment, but I at least want to start building my students toward that goal. I have been talking this idea up to my colleagues in our district — their eyes light up when I explain it to them! I may be e-mailing you in the future to ask some questions about how you initially introduce this type of activity/assessment to your students.

    Thank you for all of your hard work in sharing your ideas and experiences, both through #langchat and here on your blog. You are a huge inspiration and source of ideas to me. = )

  2. Thanks so much for your kind comments. If you have any questions please let me know. We could try a google hangout with your group to assist etc. I will be coming to ACTFL in November and presenting with the #langchat team at that time on the benefits of working with the PLN. I know that the group as a whole has inspired a lot of what I do. In the meantime – small steps lead to big changes! Colleen

  3. Wonderful! I am so happy and lucky for ACTFL to be in my hometown this November, especially since I am currently working towards implementing meaningful, impactful changes in my program. I can’t wait to meet you and the rest of the #langchat team! John

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