Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Journey On – Lessons Learned This Year In My ‘Changing’ Classroom…




Another year is almost done for me – classes officially ending June 19 – and as usual it has been a year of professional growth and classroom change. Inspired by John Cadena’s awesome post, I want to reflect on my own experience.. and indulge in a little reflection on what the changes that happened in my classes – and in my teaching.

Organic language needs a good recording system:  As I work to give students more of what they need to express themselves I know I won’t always have what they want in the resource package. So photos of my boards are key.They tell me what I didn’t think of and more importantly what I want to remember for next time. So for me my phone – and my Evernote account – are key. This year as I taught I course I had not taught in 8 years I found myself taking photos of my boards after almost every class. It’s my hope that I will (a) know for next time what I did and (b) adjust my planning/input based upon what showed up on the board as we did it.

No Text – No Problem: I think I used the text once or twice – and then only for small stories that fit with the themes we were exploring. And you know what? The students didn’t miss it. Not a bit. Instead they were involved in the developing story of the Yr2 character Nonki and his quest to win the heart of Miss Kawaii (and by the end of Yr2…he has…).  They wrote their own extended endings to stories and had a ball sharing them with classmates. They saw language in context – comprehensible and easy to learn – and they learned it too. Oh we will still use the textbook – but mostly to put under papers as something hard to write on when they are moving about the room talking to each other.   For next year I will work to develop more stories for each year – including a continuous story-line for Year 1 as well….

Script Taught Naturally – Not Forced As “Character Learning”: Or, to put it another way, teach it like they’d acquire it as L1 speakers: Big big revelation to me that script (we have 3 to teach in Japanese) should be introduced naturally. Again John Cadena, Kathryn Tominaga and I chatted a lot about this. My decision this year was to introduce script naturally – with support  – right away and avoid the ‘romaji’ (Eng. alphabet) that no Japanese child would ever use anyway. I wrote about this earlier in the year and, again, John’s post sums it up well. Big big revelation.

Chuck What You’ve Never Liked & Find New Great Units: Our semester was shortened by a week due to job action earlier in the year. Perfect. It was perfect as it allowed me to the opportunity to really look at concepts/units that I taught in the past ‘because the text said to’ and when/how grammar elements were introduced. So this year I threw out some ‘not favourite’ units – and you know, no one missed them. I have to admit this was done in consultation with students who had already completed the course. When asked to identify the least meaningful/useful unit – they identified the ones that had been bothering me too. In Yr4 this meant introducing the month-long story unit (part 2 of the unit here) and they loved it.

Just Because It’s Authentic Doesn’t Mean It Will Engage: I had a great resource for my year 2’s – or so I thought. But 1/2 way through the lesson I realized it was a dud. Not the resource, my lesson. I’d forgotten that the ‘authentic resource’ isn’t any use if the task, motivation, purpose is not relevant to what we are engaged in. This isn’t to say that my increasing attempts to incorporate authentic resources did not have resounding successes. Indeed there were some great ones. But the dud lessons – the ones where the resource was so great but the activity wasn’t – reminded me that no matter how great the tool is – it can’t repair a bad lesson.

#langchat Rocks As My Go-To Source Of Inspiration/How-To’s: I will say it again as I said in a previous chat “#langchat is my go-to for those who have done what I want to do – or on the journey with me as we all try to do it.”  I would not be the teacher I am today, and the teacher that I am becoming tomorrow without this group. I am inspired daily by the knowledge and sharing of folks like Amy Lenord, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Laura Sexton, Thomas Sauer, Wendy Farabaugh and more. They lead by example and share willingly their successes and failures. I also have found new colleagues – and who knew they were in Texas and Australia – to work specifically on Japanese-language issues. Thanks John Cadena and Kathryn Tominaga and I look forward to more collaborating in the future!

The Journey Continues: I think if my students hear me say “It’s the journey that’s key” one more time they will all, simultaneously roll their eyes and groan. But I really believe it. I believe it for them – as they learn that their learning and doing is, many times, more important than finishing. And I believe it for me. I am more toward the end than the start of my career and yet the evolution of my teaching really seems to be picking up speed now.  I am looking forward to the summer – and the chance to rest and recharge. And then I look forward to the journey continuing…



  1. I can’t tell you how many times I took pictures of the board this year and then e-mailed them to myself so I could store them with my lesson planning notes for next year!

    Thanks for another great post, as always. I feel so blessed to have you and our other #langchat colleagues to learn from.

  2. I think YOU’RE amazing, too! This blog has helped me so much. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  3. Many thanks for the kind words Kathy. I am happy that my thoughts on how/what I do in my room resonate. I am so thankful to be part of the great #langchat PLN. Thanks for being on the journey with me. Colleen

  4. I know! It has become an indispensable part of my teaching! It has been such a pleasure to ‘journey’ with the #langchat PLN. Thanks for being such a great part of it!

  5. leesensei, thanks for being such a great teacher for our students and a model for our teachers to look to. You continue to push your thinking and take risks all with the intention of creating better learning experiences and opportunities for students. Keep up the great work.

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