Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

April 26, 2017
by leesensei
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Got Minimal EdTech Resources/Access? Tech Ideas/Tools For Supporting Learning

Note: Currently I am on a self-funded leave until September 2017 – so I am not blogging regularly. Language Sensei will be back – refreshed & ready to go – with new posts in late summer. In the meantime….

I have documented, occasionally moaned, about my access to using technology in my classroom (we did not have wifi for student use in classrooms until this semester) and apps and 1:1 devices are still a dream. But a query from Joe Dale (one of the first people who I followed on Twitter!) made me realize that, no matter what your ‘access’ situation, technology is always available to support your teaching. Below is a collection of blog posts documenting  the variety of edtech tools that I have used to support learning in my Japanese language classes…in my edtech-minimal school. Each includes the title, tools highlighted/used and a link to the post!

The ‘Virtual Trip’ 3 days in Tokyo – using Quicktime, Inanimate Alice, TripAdvisor Japan, the Rikai-chan/Rikai-kun kanji reading extension, Google street view and more….

3 Small But Vital Tech Bits for my classes – TinyScanner, Export to Video (Keynote), SaveFromNet downloader:

Marking online/Oral Feedback with Kaizena – Kaizena Online Marking/Feedback add-on,  Google Docs:

Flipping a Lesson – Instant Feedback with Flubaroo – Google Forms, Flubaroo Automatic marking:

Cool Tools – My Favourite Extensions etc – Kaizena Docs Add-on, Rikai-chan/Rikai-kun, Evernote Webclipper, Texthelp Study Skills docs add-on, Clea.nr  Videos add-on and more:

Using/Making A Unit Slideshow/Video – Keynote, Quicktime video: Using Their Info To Make

Generating Your Own Authentic Resources Using Student Data – Google Forms:

Collaborating & Team-Building With Kahoot:

There are more – and more being added all the time. As for me ..next up is to implement Seesaw so students can curate their learning online..I’m looking forward to it!

C

April 12, 2017
by leesensei
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Goodbye #EdTech-Envy…Realizing “What” Happens in the Room Is More Key Than “How” It Happens…

Boy I have struggled with ‘#edtech envy’. One on one, class iPad sets, Google Classroom approval for use, apps galore, reliable WiFi (well we finally have that!) , Google Voice access and no need to worry about provincial privacy laws (parent permission required for any app holding personal information outside of Canada)…my dream world. It doesn’t exist in my province, school or classroom. And every time something is shared by the great #langchat community I will admit I have used it as a time to ‘sigh’ and complain and say “If only…” and to blame outside factors for my inability to use more in classes; a broken “but not at my school…” record.

I’m not saying that I don’t/haven’t used it at all. My Year 4’s use some when they ‘visit’ Tokyo. I use Kaizena for online marking & oral feedback. I have downloaded many clips for offline viewing and created resources for class using iMovie, Quicktime and more. Our classes play group Kahoot and use Quizlet Live…and we would be nowhere without the dictionaries students have on their phones. But I always felt that I wasn’t using enough and in not doing so was somehow not a ‘modern progressive’ teacher.

And then I realized something. I realized what many of you already have. That the push for ‘edtech’ has not only created angst for me – but has not necessarily promoted proficiency in my classroom. In fact kids staring at screens or recording something isn’t a top priority at all. Why? Because it has nothing to do with ‘using’ the language if that’s all we do. That if the end result is just someone ‘viewing’ something and more is put into the creating of it than using it – is it really what I need for learning in my room?

Hear me out. This is not about ‘tech is not useful’. This is not about ‘I don’t want to/need to use it’.  This is not about in any way diminishing the tremendous impact that tech-savy teachers like Catherine Ousselin and EdTech leaders like Joe Dale have had on me and our network (follow them if you aren’t already). Thomas Sauer once tweeted (I paraphrase) that ‘if a student tells you they can’t do their oral because their partner is away then it’s not interpersonal’. I feel the same way now about using #edtech. If my lesson falls apart due to a technical issue – then maybe I don’t really have a lesson at all.

So what is important? That it is available. That it provides authentic opportunities. That it can be accessed or used if I need it to support learning but not because I “need to use it to and if not learning will not occur”. That it is an ‘option’ for students and for me (I still have students with no home computer). What is important is that it supplements what I do. I do know that I will be moving to use it more as a curation device. That I am liking what I see in programs like Seesaw for this (and it will be worth asking parent permission to have my kids use this).

I am a fan of technology. I am a fan of incorporating it in my teaching. But I am no longer worried that I am not incorporating enough and fearing that this makes me any less of  a modern teacher…. I am a teacher who now realizes it is “what” happens in the room that is bigger than “how” it happens. Many of you are nodding and saying “Yes Colleen…what took you so long?” Thank you for your patience!

C

PS – Just a reminder that I am on a self-funded sabbatical this semester (!) so posts on the blog are less frequent at this time! Back to it more regularly in September!

December 15, 2015
by leesensei
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Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 3 (Key Tech ‘Bits’)

As I count down the ‘Best of…’ this year it strikes me that the top posts – like our teaching practice – reflects a combination of the old and new. The top post drew on a classic game, and the second most popular on a philosophical shift in my ‘practice’. The third draws, not on major technological changes, but three small tech bits that work well in my class…and perhaps yours.

 Three “Small But Vital” Tech Bits for My Language Classroom

freeimages.co.uk techonology imagesThere are lots of technology ‘tools’ and ‘apps’ out there to make our teaching lives easier – and enrich the learning experience for our students. As I was uploading a file to my Evernote yesterday I thought about 3 ‘tech’ bits that are vital in my classroom.

Tiny Scanner App for my Phone –  I admit that I got this because Joe Dale posted that the “pro” version was free one day on his amazing blog. Wasn’t sure I’d use it but if Joe says its good – you get it. Well – with my use of Evernote for my school planning it has been an absolute winner. I use TinyScan to take pictures of my board before/after class. Often I don’t need a full ‘photo’ but really am just looking for a ‘record’ of what happened. Tiny Scanner turns my phone into a portable scanner. It will upload directly to my Evernote in formats from ‘photo’ to ‘black & white’ and can also directly link to other ‘cloud’ storage programs. It is an essential app in my daily teaching. (Joe has already let me know that if you are an Office user then Office Lens might be a more ‘seamless’ app for you to directly integrate with the Office suite of products.)

Keynote Export to Video (even HD!) option – I’m big on unit slideshows. I use them for teaching/repetition of ideas all the time. But a nifty feature I have been using more and more is the ‘export’ to video function. An example of its impact is going on right now in my class – we review ‘class language’ at the start of the year. I use my Keynote slideshow for that as I take kids through our key phrases. I also have the video file (set to about 8 seconds per slide) ready to go – it plays before class starts, it plays while the are completing work…it rolls whenever I need it. It’s a great way to reinforce key points, or introduce ideas in an indirect way. You can even export the audio from a presentation to the video as well. And yes you can also create videos via PowerPoint….

SaveFrom.Net – Easy Youtube Downloading –  When the internet at school is shaky – or even non-existent – you can’t stream anything in class. So downloading a video from YouTube or another source becomes key. There are some great programs out there – including KeepVid.com – but my current fave is SaveFrom.Net. Why? Because you don’t have to copy/paste the YouTube URL to use it. Just type “ss” between the ‘www.’ and the ‘youtube’ in the URLusethis  – then hit ‘enter’. When you do this you go directly to their site. Don’t click on any links there for other products – but download your video when it shows up as ready to go! It will handle YouTube, Vimeo and many more formats. No more ‘buffering’ …..

What are your ‘small but vital’ tech bits that enhance your teaching life?

Colleen

September 19, 2015
by leesensei
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Three “Small But Vital” Tech Bits for My Language Classroom

freeimages.co.uk techonology images

Image: Morguefile.com

There are lots of technology ‘tools’ and ‘apps’ out there to make our teaching lives easier – and enrich the learning experience for our students. As I was uploading a file to my Evernote yesterday I thought about 3 ‘tech’ bits that are vital in my classroom.

Tiny Scanner App for my Phone –  I admit that I got this because Joe Dale posted that the “pro” version was free one day on his amazing blog. Wasn’t sure I’d use it but if Joe says its good – you get it. Well – with my use of Evernote for my school planning it has been an absolute winner. I use TinyScan to take pictures of my board before/after class. Often I don’t need a full ‘photo’ but really am just looking for a ‘record’ of what happened. Tiny Scanner turns my phone into a portable scanner. It will upload directly to my Evernote in formats from ‘photo’ to ‘black & white’ and can also directly link to other ‘cloud’ storage programs. It is an essential app in my daily teaching. (Joe has already let me know that if you are an Office user then Office Lens might be a more ‘seamless’ app for you to directly integrate with the Office suite of products.)

Keynote Export to Video (even HD!) option – I’m big on unit slideshows. I use them for teaching/repetition of ideas all the time. But a nifty feature I have been using more and more is the ‘export’ to video function. An example of its impact is going on right now in my class – we review ‘class language’ at the start of the year. I use my Keynote slideshow for that as I take kids through our key phrases. I also have the video file (set to about 8 seconds per slide) ready to go – it plays before class starts, it plays while the are completing work…it rolls whenever I need it. It’s a great way to reinforce key points, or introduce ideas in an indirect way. You can even export the audio from a presentation to the video as well. And yes you can also create videos via PowerPoint….

SaveFrom.Net – Easy Youtube Downloading –  When the internet at school is shaky – or even non-existent – you can’t stream anything in class. So downloading a video from YouTube or another source becomes key. There are some great programs out there – including KeepVid.com – but my current fave is SaveFrom.Net. Why? Because you don’t have to copy/paste the YouTube URL to use it. Just type “ss” between the ‘www.’ and the ‘youtube’ in the URLusethis  – then hit ‘enter’. When you do this you go directly to their site. Don’t click on any links there for other products – but download your video when it shows up as ready to go! It will handle YouTube, Vimeo and many more formats. No more ‘buffering’ …..

What are your ‘small but vital’ tech bits that enhance your teaching life?

Colleen

April 26, 2015
by leesensei
0 comments

Marking On-line with Kaizena Mini in Docs – How It Went & What I Learned

kaizenaI’ve been wanting to try marking online – not just by using colours (previous post) but by trying out a nifty program called Kaizena. In part I am excited as they are Canadian (like me!) and in part because I am always looking to improve feedback with my students. Kaizena is its own website (with inbox/outbox) but I chose to use their add-on Kaizena Mini in Google Docs.  There’s a bit of a learning curve and here’s what I gained from the experience (and what I learned):

Submitting – I do not come from a 1:1 school etc and want to embrace choice in how students do work – so this was an option for them. In addition, and due to privacy concerns, I cannot demand they use Google Docs — unless I seek parent permission. Students who wanted the online marking submitted in one of two formats – a link to their Google Docs document or an email with an attached Word file that I then uploaded into Docs. What I forgot to do was to remind them that any Docs link sent to me should have file ‘edit’ permissions – and I had to go back to several to get them to turn that on so that I could mark up their document.

Add the Add-On to Docs – easily done and easy to ‘turn on’. What I forgot to do was tell students that they would have to load on the Kaizena Mini in their Google Docs as well in order to get the feedback – lesson learned. Kaizena automatically puts a note in the document header to remind the student to use the add-on to get feedback. Sometimes this didn’t show up (see email note below) and so what I ended up doing is that I copied and pasted it into a header that I created in the document.

Giving Feedback and To Whom – Whenyou open a piece to mark and turn on the Kaizena add-on it asks if you are ‘giving’ or ‘getting’ feedback. Then it asks who you are sending this too. I don’t have a lot of my student emails (and it only trolls your gmail contacts) so I would ‘paste’ in their emails often. For some reason this was a bit troublesome and I was unsure if, when marking was completed they would get an automatic message that it was done. What I ended up doing was sending the link to them. What I forgot to do was to ensure that the link that I was sending back was an ‘edit’ link – not just ‘view’ (default) and I had to re-send a few times.

Feedback/Marking Options – there are 4 options – Tag, Text, Link and/or Comment. You can do all 4 for one thing. Here’s how I will use them in the future:

Tag – This allows you to tag and ‘rate’ at the same time on a point scale – which is great if you are marking on a ‘scale’ for an element such as ‘metaphor’ – you can say “hey this is a 3 out of 5 on our scale”. What I ended up doing is that I used the tag in this round to identify consistent errors in an ‘element’ – in other words with a grammar focus. I also used it to tag frequently misspelled words.  In the future I may use it to ‘tag’ for mastery – tagging some focus point with a “2” for done well and a “1” for not yet correct.

Text – This is, for me, the quick written note section – especially if I want a student to “see” something – such as a grammatical construction. It is nice to be able to have the chance to see it right there on the page and what I ended up doing was using it much like I would if I was marking by hand.  At the end of the document I used it to send back their ‘mark’ based upon the rubric we were using.

Link – This allows you to link to a webpage and for a couple of students – who clearly were struggling with something – what I ended up doing was  linking to a video review of the concept that I had done before.

Comments – Verbal comments are a great option. Students said that they found it a powerful way to receive even more feedback. What I ended up doing was using it for comments when I wanted to suggest an alternative way of saying something. I also used it when I wanted to stress a point – a repeated error  or even encouragement.  Finally I used it on the last sentence in the piece to give my overall comments on what they had done. What I learned was that it picks up any ambient noise so doing this is in a quiet location (if you are using the internal built-in mike) is key!

Due to a learning curve it was, at first, a bit ‘slower’ than hand marking especially as I was figuring out how to use the features, and how I wanted to use them, as I was going along. What I will do next time is plot out how I want to use features, especially tags before I sit down to give feedback. And, honestly by the end I had a real rhythm down…and it wasn’t taking any longer.

My students loved the comments – and especially appreciated hearing me ‘talk to them’ as part of the feedback. I will use this again – especially as more and more of my students are submitting on-line. There is lots of support in learning to use it both from Kaizena itself and via posts to YouTube (just search it). What I will also try next time is having them submit to my ‘Kaizena’ in-box so that I can try out the product in a more robust way. Onward!

Colleen

April 14, 2015
by leesensei
2 Comments

Flip, Flubaroo and Fly….. Reinforcement with Instant Feedback…

flipI’m starting a new story unit this week and experimenting with ‘flipping’ the small grammar points that are new, but occur over and over in the text. I admit that the idea of flipping came to me after much angst about how much time I was going to need to introduce the points in a TPRS-style story before having them read their actual story. So – whether you agree with flipping or not – I wanted to use the ‘flip’ as a pop-up grammar lesson. But I wanted to go further and see ‘if’ they were getting the concept and ‘how well’ they were getting it. Oh – and I wanted them to know right away as well if they were on the right track. I remembered something about automatically marking items and the word ‘Flubaroo’ had stuck in my mind (and my Evernote ‘tech’ notebook). This might be, I thought, the perfect  chance to try it out. Here’s how I did it.

THE TECH STUFF:

Make or Find the Video: Using my tablet/computer I used Snagit (my district has a license for it) to record me annotating/talking about the point – it’s not exciting in any way (keep in mind they have heard these words before but not looked at ‘how’ they are made). I then uploaded this to my YouTube channel – Snagit will do it directly but if that doesn’t work you can do this from YouTube.

Link to a GoogleDocs Form: To see if the students were ‘getting it’ I wanted a quiz to reinforce the points. I created a multiple choice GoogleDocs form in the target language. Remember to ask students to input their first name and an email contact (this will be critical for later). Make sure this is the form you want – in the form you want – as once you activate Flubaroo you can’t change it. Once my form was done I went to ‘view live form’ and copied the url. Then in the “basic info notes” section of the video (you can access this by video manager) I included a message for students with a link to the form.

Activiate the Flubaroo Add-On: First I suggest that you complete the form for yourself – this will be your answer key for the ‘quiz’ you have created. Then from the forms section go and get the Flubaroo Add-On. This is a GoogleDocs add-on – and easy to activate. Once activated I chose to ‘mark’ and used my answers as the key. There are several options for how feedback is sent. I chose to not send the correct answers to students. I then went back to the live form and did a sample answer, as a student and I received feedback in my inbox almost instantly. As a teacher – I could go to the bottom of the response spreadsheet and click on the ‘grades’ tab – to see how individual students did (and what was still an issue for all – requiring some more teaching attention from me).

THE RESOURCES TO DO THE TECH STUFF:  I used Sylvia Duckworth’s awesome tutorial and the excellent Flubaroo site to walk me through the steps. Easy to follow and duplicate!

THE REACTION

Students loved the ability to watch the video several times – and the instant feedback. They asked if they could ‘re-do’ the quiz after revisiting the video – and asking questions of me if they still didn’t understand. We decided that they would get two attempts at it – before I marked it for completion. I note that most students did attempt a second time – showing improvement in how they did. To be honest I want them to check sources (and each other) to try to improve their understanding – this isn’t a ‘test’ – it’s all about mastery!

This is not my typical style of teaching and I don’t like to rely on explicit grammar teaching but in this case its a useful alternative to help to deliver the material. So if you are interested in trying to ‘flip’ a lesson and ‘assess’ how it goes based on student feedback this might be a an alternative. Merci encore Sylvia for your support!

Colleen

March 30, 2015
by leesensei
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New To Twitter Tips #2: Organizing Your Twitter Stream By Listing!

Business woman standing outside in front of office building, using mobile phoneMany teachers are still finding out about the benefits of Twitter for 24-7 Pro-D and resources. So I wanted to ‘re-run’ a post about ‘lists’ that made it easy, very easy, for me to manage my Twitter ‘feed’. Maybe the ‘list’ will help you to organize as well!

Twitter has been amazing for me especially to see who I have followed, what their interests are, and more importantly who their contacts have led me to.  But even judicious building of a PLN can lead to a large, and unwieldy stream of tweets. Especially as many of those I find key to my learning often participate in their own chats.  So how to get that right ‘hit’ of #edtech or #langchat or #mfltwitterati?

My key to maintaining my control of my learning network is the list.  If the Twitter stream is the filing cabinet of my PLN then the List is the “label” on the drawer (the person I follow is the “file”). The list, then, is my way to organize HOW I use Twitter. In my case it is a simple list of categories such as “Edtech” or “Langchat”. Instead of viewing my Twitter stream as a ‘whole’ – which can be overwhelming – I tend to use the lists for the ‘hit’ that I feel that I need. If I am looking for Edtech ideas then that list is where I go. MFL/Language issues are my “Langchat” group. And, as many of us are not just one dimensional, its nice to be able to put them on as many lists as I like.

In an ideal world you would have created your lists categories before building your network. That way when you are following 400 people listyou won’t have to take time to ‘re-list’ them. Mine certainly didn’t work that way and I did have to go back and add a certain number after the fact. Now as I add people, I try to remember to list them at the same time. As for the categories themselves – I answered the question “why am I following this person?” and they quickly became evident. You can access/create your lists from your profile page.  Twitter has a great tutorial on creating/using lists as well.

Lists are the quick way to find professional development ideas, encouragement, connections and even a laugh on a topic that you have created for you – with content (people) that you have put there for you – and if that isn’t Personal Learning  via a Network of people – I don’t know what is.

Colleen

March 19, 2015
by leesensei
3 Comments

New to Twitter? – Tips on the Journey from Lurking to Listing to Chat…

Twitter_bird_logoI have seen a lot of new faces in the #langchat discussions lately and its a reminder that educators are continuing to discover the benefits of what a Twitter Personal Learning Network can be. Learning to manage your PLN, can take some time – as you configure what works for you. I wanted to repost some tips that I gathered as I began my Twitter journey and hopefully they will be helpful to you too!

Who you are – I noticed that I followed people that shared a bit about who they were – and what they are interested in. I made sure my profile tells a bit of that. Also I quickly learned to get rid of the egg. If you don’t want to share your photo there are lots of publicly licensed images to draw from. People share a lot on twitter and your profile is an indication that you will too.

Who You Follow – As I began to build my personal learning network (PLN) I didn’t know a hashtag from a MT. But I knew something exciting was happening for educators on Twitter. So I began with a direct search (‘languages twitter teaching), then I learned about hashtags. I followed a few who seemed to have something to say. I also look to who they follow for more possibilities. Tailor your PLN to what you want easily this way. You may at times edit who you follow – and this is okay too as it shows you are becoming more purposeful in constructing your PLN.

Turn Off Retweets? – This is a personal choice decision. I was finding that my Twitter stream was crowded with tweets that were just simple ‘retweets’ (RTs) . I’m not talking about RTs that feature comments added by the people I follow. Just RTs with no context or comment. For me they clutter up my Twitter stream. So when I follow someone I choose to “Turn Off Retweets”. I get a lot of what is retweeted still – but with pertinent comments by my PLN – reasons, according to them, why I should look at what is being retweeted.

Go Public – Initially the temptation is to ‘lock’ your account – it allows you to determine who follows you. The control is initially key. But – and it’s a big but – it also locks you out from participating in general chats because only your followers will see what you tweet. Yes there will be spammers – those who follow you for reasons other than ‘learning’. All you need to do is click on the ‘wheel’ next to the follow button on their profile and ‘block’ them. The rewards of being public outweigh the annoyance of the occasional spam follower.

Listing – As you follow I recommend that you start to list. Make the lists based upon why you chose to follow in the first place – if you looked at the profile. Maybe you follow for more than one reason. As you follow more and more lists make it easy to cut through the noise and get a ‘hit’ of what you want. For me  – I visit my ‘edtech’, ‘langchat’, and ‘japanese teachers’ when I can and I love that my stream is sorted into these convenient categories.

Lurking – Most of us start as ‘lurkers’…watching the stream, finding out information. Initially maybe I wasn’t sure that I had much to say. I was excited to see what was out there – so I watched, found people to follow, expanded my PLN gradually and thoughtfully. Lurking is the first step as you take time to learn more about what Twitter can offer. I know many who right now only lurk – but I’ll be eventually they will be confident enough to begin to share!

Chat – The scheduled ‘chat’, for me #langchat, is the most powerful pro-d I know of – each week something new to learn and discuss. We often work in isolation and the chat gives us a community to share and learn from. I use Tweetdeck or Tweetchat during these to allow me  to follow the stream exclusively. Introduce yourself and your reason for being on the chat. Some chats are huge and the stream flows – but keep with it and gradually you’ll find your voice in the discussion. Many chats will publish a digest – like #langchat does – that allows you to see the ‘big’ takeaways from the time. If you find yourself noticing certain tweets more than others that just may be someone to follow!

It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…I encourage you to dip your toe into Twitter and begin constructing a PLN – your teaching will be the better for it!

Colleen

December 4, 2014
by leesensei
0 comments

Best of 2014 – Number 5: Conversation Skills, Kahoot & Cool Tech Add-ons

MP900385755(1)Looking back at the most popular posts on Language Sensei in 2014 I am always surprised at what resonates. I am pleased when something ‘hits home’ for others because, truthfully, I write for one person – me. Blogging has helped me to clarify – for me – what I value and, more importantly, where I am headed as an educator. So for the month of December I’m going to take the lead from one of my favourite #langchat colleagues – Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and her Musicuentos blog and re-publish some of the most popular posts. And wouldn’t you know it – a 3-way tie for 5th place!

Developing Conversation Skills – the “Follow Up Question” Game: We work hard in my class on developing an ease at conversing. It isn’t natural for many people, including me I’ll admit, so why would we expect it to be so for our students? This semester I have a new crop of Grade 10′s, 30 students who are in my class for the first time. When I asked what it is they want to many of them wrote ‘have a regular conversation in Japanese.” My job is to have them meet that challenge. I’ve written before about extending conversation skills using ‘follow-up questions’ and this group needed a way to jump-start their ability in this area. So I invented the ‘Follow Up Question’ game….my fancy title for essentially practicing conversations!  Continued…..

Fun, Team-building & Reinforcing Learning: Using Kahoot! In Your Classes: I’ll admit that in the past I have shied away from online class games. Our school is limited in WiFi availability and I have not wanted to either single out students who didn’t have phones, or ask them to use data to play. But the #langchat community is big on the Kahoot! – and I just had to join in. Basically you create a multiple choice quiz. When you start the game students see a ‘game code’ – they go to the web site and enter that code – create a team name – and you begin. I’ve tried to use it in my classes to both increase teamwork and minimize data use. Why do I like it and how do I use it in my classes? Continued…

Cool Tools – My Favourite Browser Extensions, Add-Ons and Docs Extras: We use a lot of tools, apps and other on-line resources in our teaching. I had to work on a browser the other day – which required me to re-enable the add-ons and extensions for it. It got me to thinking about my ‘go to’ tools that I use with both Firefox and Chrome. So I put together a collection of my favourites – probably some of yours as well. Continued…

Colleen

November 22, 2014
by leesensei
0 comments

Inspiration and Validation…ACTFL 2014

2014ACTFLImagine going to a conference on your own. Imagine trying to figure out who is key to listen to and who you should seek out. A daunting task at best. Then try going to a conference as someone who participates in the #langchat PLN. You may not have met these people in the flesh – but faces are familiar and everyone is so darn happy to meet other people – its like you’re there with a crew! My first ACTFL – WOW.  I was talking to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell before she started her session and I said “Inspiration and Validation” and that’s what it’s meant to me. The chance to see, listen to and talk with so many great people. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on ACTFL 2014:

Inspiration  – Shelter the Vocabulary – Not the Grammar – the awesome Carol Gaab continued to build upon ideas that Amy Lenord has been sending my/our way (no Vocab lists) by pounding home the idea that we should be sheltering the vocabulary – not the way to express it that they need. Carol said to focus on high-frequency vocabulary and use an appropriate text to keep reintroducing those words to allow students to make connections. But – if they need the grammar to communicate – give it/use it. After all, who ever said to a 4 year old  “sorry but you can’t learn/use that until next year and I’ve explained how to construct it!”?  If they need it, can use it – let them have it!  I’ve already taken this idea in a new unit with my Yr 1’s and concocted 3 mini-stories for my students to use in exploring their current unit – using a class character that we love to put into interesting situations.

Inspiration  – Throw Out the Vocabulary Quiz – When a room is packed out at 5:15 on a Saturday you know this is a hot topic. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (a #langchat moderator) challenged us to think about the usefulness of the traditional “Here’s a word now write it in the Target Language” quiz. Really – how many times has a kid been able to produce it on the Friday quiz but never really use it/learn it after that. It is, Sara-Elizabeth emphasized, the myriad of connections to a word that makes it meaningful and useful to us. Instead of asking for the word for black – give a more open question “what colour is a panda?” I tried this already with my Yr2’s on various town locations. I asked “where can you hang out with friends?”  – and got responses that were meaningful to my students. I have a full post coming on my first experiments with this!

Inspiration  – Untextbooking – This was a recurrent theme in more than one presentation and,  judging by the attendance, a movement that is growing. I even tweeted that I wouldn’t be investing in textbook futures if I had seen the enthusiasm in many rooms for this. Why? Those who advocated for it did not shy away from the fact that leaving the textbook can initially mean more ‘work’ for the teacher. But the benefits  – flexibility, choice, relevance and more – seem to far outweigh what it takes to convert. I will admit that many of my units, and initial structures I taught, came from textbooks – but ‘untextbooking’ seems to be a way to go beyond someone else’s definition of ‘what a student should know. I’m getting there!

Validation – Focus on Summative Learning –  a fast paced presentation from Sam and Steve in  Alpine SD in Utah. They snuck in a clip of comedian Gerry Dee’s show (who was a teacher) and his ‘marking system’ for good measure – loved the home-grown Canadian touch (honestly I dare you to watch the clip and not see a bit of yourself in it). What was the validation – that the key and the goal should be “can they do what I want them to be able to do?”. They score a lot but only grade the summatives. Their freedom to innovate in their  middle school environment is enviable but there are definite take-aways for me. I note that this year there is most of my weight on the summative evaluations and not much weight on the formative – I liked their rationale – I’m on the right path.

Validation – Focus on Interactive Purposeful Communication – Carrie Toth, a nominee for Teacher of the Year, made even more impressive for me with her admission that her district/school has no tech – and that their tech guy doesn’t want them to use it (think computers with floppy disk drives!). What her presentation validated for me is the focus on communication – and the ‘real’ student to student interaction. One example that she used was that of a debate. It was the way that she structured the time – similar to how I do in my debate unit. She provided many examples of how she has her students use the language to accomplish a task – not just to ‘speak it’. This is also my goal in class – ‘language to ‘do’ rather than to ‘study’ – an awesome presentation (link here)

langchat team in action

The #langchat team selfie!

Validation – #langchat – When ACTFL Board Member Thomas Sauer crashes your session, stands up before the group and says “#Langchat – listen to these people” – you know that you are on to something good!  What a privilege to actually meet and interact with almost all of the #langchat moderators and thank them for the role that they have played in my teaching. We presented to a great group – sharing the ‘why’ and ‘how-to’ of belonging to the #langchat community. The other validation #langchat provided wasn’t about the presentation itself. I don’t know if this conference would have been the same without #langchat – the PLN. Although I traveled to this on my own, I got the chance to connect with so many fellow #langchat-ers that it felt like I was attending with a whole group. It was so awesome to put real faces to Twitter profiles and get a chance to meet (and thank) those I share with daily on Twitter. If you are thinking of attending a big conference such as this you’ll be surprised how many #langchat-ers you will get to see (and wearing the Tshirt doesn’t hurt!)

Finally I leave you with 2 of my other biggest lessons learned at ACTFL 2104. One – Comfortable shoes! You will walk and walk and walk – and run sometimes – to sessions to get into the room! Be prepared! Great shoes will be a necessity in your bid to make it to a workshop on time. The second lesson? Twitter rocks! I found people, shared ideas and learned about sessions I couldn’t attend all through the great tweeting of so many attendees. Many are part of the #langchat PLN (see above!). Twitter – get on it and get using the #langchat hashtag – you won’t regret it!

I may not make San Diego (budgeting etc) but I am aiming for a return visit ASAP. Thanks ACTFL!

Colleen

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