Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

July 26, 2017
by leesensei
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“I see the Path…But Am Lost At The Starting Line!” (So Here’s How I’m Going to Get Going!)

One of the best things for my teaching that I did last year was attend the #tellcollab held in Seattle. It was inspiring, chock full of resources & a huge ‘rethink’ for me. Day 1 told me I was moving in the right direction….Day 2 gave me lots to consider..and brought a huge revelation about using proficiency levels. Then I returned to work and promptly took 5 months off on a pre-planned self-funded leave.

As I start to think about my return I consider the changes that I want to make. And I am – as I tweeted earlier this month – almost paralyzed by what I COULD (and probably SHOULD) be doing…. It’s overwhelming to be honest. I have received so much input that, ironically, I don’t know where to begin. This is on top of changes to my provincial curriculum that are required next year as well. What to do? How to proceed? Well I decided to start small…slowly…and for maximum impact/minimum stress… So to change & survive I will:

DAILY LEARNING INTENTIONS for EVERY COURSE:  It’s amazing to me that students in my Yr3 & 4 often enter class and ask ‘What are we doing today?’ (TL of course). They like to know what class will focus on. In the past I’ve laid it out based upon ‘activities’ (eg. reading, convo circles…) but I realized that I was only listing actions and not WHY we are doing them! I really liked the daily learning intentions idea from #tellcollab. Not only will students know the ‘why’ of what we are doing but..I will have to face up to lessons that really serve no purpose.

PROFICIENCY TARGETS/FOCUS ON PATH – YEAR 1 & 2 ONLY: I’ll be implementing the proficiency path with my Yr 1 & 2 only. These are my newest students – the ones at or near the start of the path. They will be the ones to have the full ‘explanation’ (baptism?) into proficiency (and thank you to Meredith for her sharing of how she introduces it). My Yr1&2’s, as they proceed in learning, will ‘see’ themselves moving from Novice…to Intermediate lower levels to….a real positive path of progression.  I’m not ‘abandoning’ my senior grades but I am making the choice to ‘finish out’ with them without a firm focus on proficiency. It’s a choice based upon reading & learning I’ve done around levels says that ‘intermediate’ is loooong stage. To maintain enthusiasm & a focus on goals will be harder if my students ‘start’ somewhere in the Intermediate range. I don’t know that they will appreciate even subtle moves within one main descriptor. And, I do a lot to be ‘proficient teacher’ already with them – they will know where they sit in meeting expectations. And for the sake of my sanity that’s enough.

ONE UNIT/ONE COURSE AT A TIME … – I’m not redoing everything…at once. That would kill me. And I believe it would prove more chaotic for my students. So, just as I am spiraling up the proficiency focus and like we ‘spiral’ up our vocabulary I will add new CI/new stuff I want to try in a calm way. It will allow me to get a real handle on working more closely with everything new. It will allow me to take time to reflect on what is happening and seek guidance for what isn’t/what I don’t get – hello #langchat peeps?!  My Yr 1 course is in Sem 2 this coming year, I hope to get more than 1 unit done in their course.

CONTINUE TO READ/ASK/TRY/LEARN/GET NEW IDEAS ….#langchat…and “Path to Proficiency“‘s bloggers….and….hopefully a return to another #tellcollab.

And finally when I get down, when “it” doesn’t work, when I think that I am losing my way…I will read & read Maris Hawkins’ post about being kind to myself about what I am doing…and how far down the path I already am!

C

 

July 15, 2017
by leesensei
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“Translate” is not a dirty word…it’s just not a word we use in my class…

Please note prior to reading: It’s my choice in my classroom to be a teacher who uses different approaches in teaching. At times – often –  I am a “story-telling” teacher…but I am not a full-on-only-CI TPRS teacher. My choice. If you are a CI-TPRS exclusive teacher (and I count many as great colleagues) – awesome! I don’t denigrate, repudiate or value any less your choice in being so or your effectiveness as a teacher – as long as you respect my choice to be a more hybrid-technique teacher – and my effectiveness –  as well.

I mentioned in a tweet to Thomas Sauer recently that I have banned the word ‘translate’ in class. I don’t like the idea that we are ‘translating’ what is said. To me it implies ‘direct’, ‘word for word’ and does not result in natural communication of a meaning. Instead of asking what a phrase or statement is ‘translated’ into English I prefer to ask “What are they saying?”, “What is being communicated?” or, as Grant Boulanger suggested “What might that sound like in English?”. All of these get to meaning or more simply “what are they trying to say?”. To me it means that the overall ‘message’ is more important than the direct translation of the words.

What got lost in this on Twitter and then what emerged was an idea that I said that I don’t use or value the understanding of a word/phrase (and what it literally means).  Ironically, it seemed, that some reading my tweet looked to the individual words in the tweet…not the overall message I was trying to communicate.

To me understanding individual words is important and therefore meaning is important. I establish meaning. But what I want to stress with my students is how we use the words/structures we ‘know the meaning of’ to communicate an idea. How the words we choose communicate something beyond the literal words. How the choices in words/structures communicate something beyond literal meaning.  How the building blocks have led to the whole.

However what is also key to me is the building of independent language skills. I want my students to infer, to guess, to not confront every new word and run to the dictionary in a panic. I don’t want them to think that they must understand every word INITIALLY in something that they encounter. (please note the caps). I want to develop those independent learning/reading/language skills as well. So that they can have skills to ‘stretch’ their own language outside of class. So that they recognize that I am a ‘coach’ and not the only way they will encounter the language. That they won’t always be provided with ‘meaning’ before they attempt to understand. I want to build on that too.

A real life example of this idea in action is a book I’m working through right now. I am trying to keep my language up this summer and have been enjoying a great book called “Read Real Japanese” edited by Michael Emmerich. It’s great for me as I find my language has become perhaps a bit stale & limited by high school teaching. It’s stretching me. It gathers contemporary short stories and puts the English/Japanese side by side. Sometimes I am surprised by the ‘meaning’ of something – as it’s not what I thought was written. I am enjoying the discovery of my language strengths (and limitations). What is most interesting to me are the ‘translators’ notes offered at the back. Insight into not just the construction of particular phrases/sentences but the reason why something was both written in Japanese as it was and ‘translated’ into the English that it was. It is fascinating to read the ‘notes’ of someone who is helping someone understand what message is being communicated by the author.

As I look to going back into the classroom after a semester off I will once again bring the idea of ‘message being communicated’ to my students…and to do this requires that we/they understand the underlying meaning. Most often I will establish that prior/during their working in the language. Sometimes they will have to infer, guess or find that on their own. But..what you won’t hear in my class – or see written anywhere in what I hand out – is me asking my students to ‘translate’ something….nope …you won’t.

Colleen

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!

January 30, 2017
by leesensei
4 Comments

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
0 comments

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

December 27, 2016
by leesensei
0 comments

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 15, 2016
by leesensei
0 comments

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 7, 2016
by leesensei
2 Comments

Adding Choice Options for Novices – The “Meeting/Fully Meeting” Options

file0001801120400Choice. It’s a key tenet of many teachers’ approach to language teaching. Spurred on by #langchat colleagues such as Amy Lenord, I have worked hard to provide choice in the vocabulary that my students use. Although I maintain a ‘base set’ of words for each unit – after that it’s up to them. Our motto is “you can use any word you want – as long as you can help someone else understand it.” To support this we practice expressing not understanding and how to assist someone when they don’t.

But I’ve also been thinking about choice in early presentational writing and initial interpersonal speaking. How do I give choice options, beyond just the ‘words’? How do I also begin to build an awareness of achieving expectations? How can a student start to develop a feel for ‘fully meeting’ and ‘meeting’?  This is not easy with lower novices who have, really, basically memorized language at their disposal. (Keep in mind that my Japanese students have to learn a completely new orthography so it’s not a case of just learning to ‘put the words together’. This takes time and a great deal of ‘literacy’ work as many learn to read something not written with ABC’s.)

This semester I’ve tried something with my Yr1’s (the ‘never had any of the TL before’ group).  In the early months of the course they are speaking and writing with mostly memorized phrases, substituting their information into the structures. On the second unit test preparation sheet I gave them the type of questions they needed to be able to respond to, both in writing and in speaking. Then I gave them a sample answer to look at – and gave them a “M” (meeting) and “FM” (fully meeting) option.  It looked a bit like this…

  • Where are you from?        M= “from Korea”        FM= “I am from Korea.”
  • What do you think of sushi?”    M= “it’s good”   FM= “I think it is really good.”
  • How often do you drink tea?   M= “often”    FM= “I drink it often.”

I stressed to them that they could choose what/how they wanted to express themselves and it is their choice in trying for the FM option. We also discussed that you could get ‘in-between’ with your answer. The choice in achievement became theirs. Some just wanted to get the basics. Others went for the more FM option – and the vast majority of those did so successfully. In subsequent units I have introduced these M/FM choices – some without much fanfare – and see some gravitate to the more ‘complex’ option.

Why do this? I want to:

  • build in an awareness of choice in expression
  • provide a challenge to those who are seeking to extend or push their learning/expression
  • establish for them that there are always options in expressing themselves
  • ultimately have them be aware of the concept of  ‘meeting’ or ‘fully meeting’ as they continue on in their learning

Today we were working on a ‘choice’ writing piece. One of my more hesitant students called me over to ask about one of her sentences. She had used the unit book resources and opted to use some FM phrases. These actually involved a complex piece of grammar  “I like to listen to music” instead of just “I like music.” (for Japanese teachers おんがくをきくことがすきです。 instead of おんがくがすきです。) . It was perfect – and she was proud that she took the risk to try the fully-meeting option. And I am pleased that providing options allows students to ‘choose’ and that in that choice they are beginning to develop a feel for ‘meeting/fully-meeting’ expectations…

C

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