Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

January 1, 2016
by leesensei

My 2016 #OneWord – “Acceptance”

6F6A3033Every year I like to think of a key word that will guide my teaching practice. Two of my past words have been ‘Applicable‘ and ‘Opportunity‘. But in light of personal and professional changes this year I have decided that my guiding word for 2016 will be “Acceptance”. This year I accept that:

I can’t hit it out of the park every time. There’s a lot of pressure that I put on myself now to be new, innovative and engaging in every lesson. I am not content to just do ‘what I used to’. But all this trying to innovate does not necessarily mean it works. I threw myself into an authentic resource lesson last year with my Year 2’s. And it bombed. Big time. I was bothered…but now I accept that on my journey to improve my teaching there will be, have to be, ‘duds’. Those lessons mean that I am risking. And with risk comes the possibility of the ‘miss’. As it turns out I revamped my dud lesson this year with a new approach and guess what…an engaging student centred lesson. So I accept that to gain, to grow, to change – I will not always be successful.

Some days the ‘learning’ I’ve planned isn’t what my students need. I need to let them guide my practice and not the other way around. Yes, it’s my job to have my eye on the broad themes and goals of what they are learning. It’s my job to keep my focus on the big picture. But it isn’t my job to determine all of what/how they are learning. I need to be flexible when an activity isn’t working, and open enough to change quickly when an idea or activity particularly engages them. This year I had planned a certain approach to a lesson and in the middle realized that my students faces, voices & level of palpable excitement were telling me that there was another lesson there. So I scrapped ‘my plan’ and went with theirs. And it was way better and took them way deeper into learning than my initial approach could have. So I accept that I must be flexible and attuned to what really engages and meets my students’ needs.

Life is more important than the perfect resource/lesson/approach. I think it is so easy to spend way too much time questing for the perfect lesson – to the detriment of having a fuller more meaningful life. I got married four years ago for the first time – at the age of 50. Up until that point I spent a lot of time on my teaching and professional development. I could. I could eat, sleep and breathe teaching.  It has been an adjustment for me – to carve out time for teaching/professional growth around my personal life rather than trying to squeeze a life around my teaching.  So I accept that to be the teacher that I really want to be, and who will best serve my students’ needs, I must be the person I need to be first.

I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that this new year will bring. And I accept that it will be one of growth – both personally and professionally. Hello 2016!


January 2, 2015
by leesensei

My 2015 #OneWord – “Applicable”

MP900398869 Last year I focused on the word “Opportunity” and the ways in which I could provide students the opportunity to interact with authentic materials and deliver their work in Japanese. Laura Sexton has already provided a great post on  the benefits of “Less”  – one I will be keeping in mind in 2015.

And for me? I tossed around a few ideas. At first it was ‘Recycle’ – in allowing students to take what they know and re-use it in new challenges and situations. Not quite what I wanted though. Then I moved on to “Stretchy” – that being the ‘stretch’ past what students are comfortable doing (and not the ‘stretchy pants after over-indulging in holiday eating’ meaning). Nope. But I think I’ve found it now…and that word is “applicable”. Not terribly flashy but really relevant. Applicable is defined by Merriam-Webster as “capable of or suitable for being applied; appropriate” and for me this is perfect. So this year I will strive even more for the “applicable” – in the topics students will explore, the words that they will use to explore them, the structures that they need to express themselves and even in learning what they already can do.

Applicable topics – A 5 week teachers strike and a vastly shortened semester have really helped me to hone in on what is great, and what isn’t, in my current course topics. When I was faced with reducing the units that I taught in Grade 11 it was really easy to chuck one – the one that really was more of an ‘exercise’ than a learning opportunity. Interestingly when I surveyed my peer tutors in the course about what was the least relevant unit for them – it’s the one that they picked as well. This also means that I will work to take out the weaker units and add applicable ones in courses as my time (and the opportunity) allows. This is really relevant for me as I return to teaching a ‘cram course’ (2 semesters in 1 essentially) this spring. Keeping what we explore applicable to what they need will be key….

Applicable vocabulary – Ah…that Amy Lenord. What she did to my nice stable world of ‘lists’ when she set out to challenge us to let go of those lists. It made me really think about what students were wanting to say and not what I, or the book!, thought they should.  I do still have a ‘list’ for each unit – but its a “base list” only.  This year I will root out the words from the ‘base list’ that aren’t working and add in the ones that they really want  – as they ask for them. I will also continue to work on my vocabulary non-tests (from the inspiring Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell) keep a record of this by looking, at the end of my course – at what students put in their “Stuff We Want to Know” vocabulary section in their unit handout.

Applicable structures – Carol Gaab made this so clear to me at #ACTFL14 – shelter the vocabulary and not the grammar.  Or as I tried to explain to a colleague “Who cares if they don’t know how to ‘construct’ it – give it to them to use it (they’ll learn how later)!”. So I will continue to add the structures that students need to do what they want to do. I’m not trying to add to what they know – and place more of a burden on them. I’ve found that students will take in, and retain, what is meaningful to them  – when they are ready to have it. And if they want to know the ‘how’ of what they’re asking for a quick “pop-up” 5 minute grammar lesson helps them to see (I’ve found that those who don’t want the ‘how’ don’t tend to take it in at that time – they’ll get it when they’re ready to use it).

Applicable in Other Situations –  This is one area that I want to continue to work on with my students. The awareness, when they encounter a something new of what they already have that is applicable in this new situation.  In other words what tools, in their current language toolbox, can they already use? I want students to have this “I already know…” mentality and a real awareness of their toolbox. We will continue to build their “awareness” of their knowledge and  I’ve even started an experiment around this in my written summative evaluations (more on this later).

And finally I hope to continue to apply the great lessons I learn every day from the #langchat community. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t find something “applicable” to my classroom and my teaching journey. What a joy to work with such great colleagues.

Happy 2105!


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