Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

October 13, 2017
by leesensei

Keeping My Eye On A New Path….

As I’ve always said blogging is my way of discussing my thoughts, ideas and more with myself. It is heartening when it also resonates with others. I am happy to be asked to be part of the group blogging with Path To Proficiency and will be posting with P2P as well as on this blog. This is a cross-post of the same article that appeared on the P2P site on October 12.

After a long time, and an ‘aha’ moment, I’m introducing proficiency this year as a key part of my students’ learning. I’m using it fully with my Yr1&2’s this semester. There’s been much thinking and reworking of ideas with great help from Connie Santos (my ‘newly on the path’ colleague at school), the resources on P2P and the ever-generous #langchat PLN.  I know that when making changes sometimes the hardest part is sticking to the new direction..and here’s how I’m keeping my eye on this new path:

Posting An Easy to See Path To Refer To – Nothing helps you talk about proficiency more than having the levels visible in the room. Many like to put their path around the room above whiteboards and bulletin boards. However, I chose to put them down low – on one bulletin board – specifically because they are new to me (and my students). I notice that the descriptors catch my eye when I am talking or giving feedback meaning that I refer to them more often. It allows me to take that opportunity to walk over and point to the levels as I refer to them and really focus the kids on what I am referring to. For me the fact that the levels are down low & in sight means that they are top of mind.

Adding The Path To My Syllabus/Site – I added a Path handout to my students’ syllabus in easy to follow language. I used the classic ‘road’ template from but any program should let you put one together. Many have used the ‘taco chat’ or ‘sushi talk’ sheets shared by colleagues on #langchat. For me – with 4 levels – I made my own. I referred to the path on the first day of class, the various levels too and explained to them why I was now using levels. There were no ‘in-class’ time dedicated to proficiency exploration at this point – but I did ask students to reflect upon the difference between Novice/Intermediate – as they saw it –  as part of their first day syllabus reflection. I’ve also updated my class site to include the ‘what’ and ‘why’ for parents and other educators/administrators interested in what I am doing.

Adding Proficiency Expectations to My Rubrics –  Adding proficiency to my classroom means that I want to add it – as a level of achievement to my class rubrics. So I’ve created a pdf that I can cut/paste and add to rubrics as I use them.  It has two blanks to fill in  – “Proficiency Expectations For This Task” and “Your Level of Proficiency on this Task” and a copy (just like the bulletin board) of what the basic level descriptors are. I was thrilled to hear a student who received their evaluation on their first interpersonal say “Hey I got a Novice Three!”

Finding/Seeking Out Support – I would be nowhere on this journey without a colleague (or two or an entire PLN) there for support. This is proficiency model is new in my school and it is great to have Connie is on this new journey with me. The ability to have someone in my department to consult with, get feedback from (and confess to) is invaluable. I can’t say enough as well about my ‘virtual’ PLN – especially colleagues like Natalia DeLaat and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell who answered key questions at critical times. Knowing that I am no alone on this path, and that I can call upon those farther down the road, is so key for me.

The path may be new …but I feel that I have set out on my journey with resources to keep me firmly on route..and fantastic people to travel this road with. Onward.


Note: You will note that my colleague & I went with the  AAPL descriptors as our base. The 4 levels in each grouping seemed to provide a bit more opportunity to both show growth & provide a more ‘accurate’ assessment. The number descriptors seemed to us to be more ‘forgiving’ than labels ‘low’ or ‘high’…again our choice.


September 16, 2017
by leesensei
1 Comment

I Believe I Might Have Flipgrid Fever – My “First-Timer” Review

Entranced by all the tweets, and with the promise of #langchat super-colleague (and Flipgridder supreme) Wendy Farabaugh‘s support, I entered the Flipgrid ‘grid’ game this week. It was an interesting learning time for me – with much hand-holding (via Twitter’s DM) by Wendy…Here’s how I did it, my reaction and frustration, and my suggestions (golly this is rather forward for a first-time user) for the Flipgrid developers…

Free Basic Grid  – No I don’t have a ‘paid’ subscription yet (I took advantage of Flipgrid’s ‘one grid free’ offer)…but I think that I might because I can see myself using this repeatedly and I’d like to have a grid for each grade level. I know that there are other ‘paid’ bonuses but right now I haven’t explored them beyond apparently going ‘paid’ so that students can record for more than 90 seconds and being able to upload rubrics to use (will they let me use descriptors and not numbers? I’ll find out I guess!)

No Student Account Creation Required – Canadian privacy laws are tough – and for many programs that ‘hold’ data – especially not having that data in Canada – I have to seek parent permission to use it. But Flipgrid requires no login – no registration – and this was a big ‘plus’ for me. I could try it without asking kids to ‘create’ an account and all the issues – at least here in Canada – that that entails.

Moderated Grid with  NO PUBLIC videos! – This was my biggest worry about using Flipgrid. Although some teachers seemed to love that ‘everybody in the class can see everyone’s video’  I have noticed that many of my students are reluctant to be ‘seen’ on video. Heck – I hate seeing myself on video so why should a student feel any differently? I am also really uncomfortable with the focus these days by kids on ‘quest for likes’ and ‘views’ and ‘clicks’ – and the popularity contest it implies. I wondered how to deal with that. So I promised my students that I would moderate the responses so that no one else would see them. I even showed them the ‘moderated’ word on the recording button so they would know. My biggest fear was that I would actually accidentally release their videos to be viewed by others. This seemed rather likely when I received a message that I had a new video and it needed to be ‘activated’. Wendy’s calm reassurance that I didn’t need to activate helped in this moment of ‘what should I do?’  Suggestion for Flipgrid  – add a ‘caveat’ here that if you are not making videos public you don’t need to ‘activate’ the video.  It’s a confusing moment when you have selected ‘moderated’ to be told to ‘activate’ without knowing what that means! Will I ever have public videos? I can see me doing this with my Yr 4’s – when I have had them, talked to them & developed the supportive atmosphere that I think this would need. Until then – moderated only.


Minimal Instructions! – okay I like to have written instructions – and written instructions with visuals too. I couldn’t find this easily on the site or the web.  Suggestion for Flipgrid – add a basic step by step one page text/visual instruction sheet for the rookie teacher (Flubaroo, for example has a great walk-through to do this) or that a kid can have at home – or a teacher can upload to a site. Lacking one I could crib from another source I created my own…(see right – and yes I ‘m going to have to add a ‘recorded on your phone?’ part.)

This is Going To Be Easy – Or So I Thought – It all looked so easy to me when I tested it (and really it is NOT difficult to use). I recorded a video and uploaded via my computer but noticed they could ‘upload’ one too. I thought this was for any recorded video but I was wrong which led to…. Issue One – I didn’t see that if students recorded on their phone they had to upload via the APP. Learned that one the hard way.  And then…Issue Two – How do they get to it –  is it the Link to the topic or the Code for the grid or what do you give them? I was confused.  Thank goodness #langchat amie Natalia DeLaat read my tweet & replied. I learned that the code worked best with the free app…but to make it easy I linked my topic to my website – they just had to click on the link to find the topic to respond to. As for how they recorded their response – curiously (or not?) – 95% of my kids used their computers not their mobiles for this.  Suggestion for Flipgrid – tell me which to use the code or the link…it’s confusing to see the ‘code’ for grid and the ‘link’ for the topic and not know which to give kids. Could you add a quick link “What is this” at least near the code so I know what to do?

Give A Basic Prompt – I wanted to test this out with something easy for kids to do. So as a review I asked students to tell me two things that they did on the weekend and how it went. The 90 seconds allowed under the Free Flipgrid was fine for this. I liked hearing from them and that most (even if they practiced) just ‘told’ me what they did. I liked seeing them too…it was great.

Feedback…and the BIG (soon to be solved) Asian Font problem – I was so gung-ho for this part. Until….the ‘practice’ (and I suggest the first time you use this you test it out for  yourself  – the whole process recording to sending/receiving a response). I recorded my own response and gave myself feedback. But…even though Flipgrid allowed me to type in suggestions in my TL – Japanese, when I received the feedback email the Japanese didn’t show up. I must offer my Thank You Flipgrid message here. They were very fast when contacted about this and assured me they were ‘all over it’ and should have a ‘fix’ for this in 2-3 business days. (As I write this I await…but I don’t doubt that they will – update as of Sept 27…it appears to be ‘Japanese language’ friendly now!)  Once I got rolling on the feedback it was super easy – and I am considering the paid because I’d like to give rubric based feedback too. Suggestion for Flipgrid – you have ‘recording’ capacity built into your program. Why not let me ‘record’ audio feedback (not video just audio) so the student can hear my response (like they do when I use Kaizena)?

A Quick Check on A Concept – As a teacher in Canada without access to Google Voice (yes – apparently we don’t rate that north of the border), Flipgrid offers me the ability to quickly check if a student has grasped a concept and – this is great – see them/hear them as they do it too. I am heartened that they did not hold up a paper and just read. I believe that with longer time, and more in-depth topic starters, that they will be less concerned with an ‘answer’ and responding more naturally & that’s what I want to hear. And it allows for timely feedback too.

Cautionary Technology Note – It’s 2017 and I naively assumed all kids would have (a) access to a computer with a camera & microphone or (b) a smart phone. They don’t. And I worry that I caused some embarrassment to those who didn’t want to tell me that they didn’t. My solution going forward – I will give a ‘range of days’ to complete the assignment. And I will offer up in-school options for them. I will try to do a deal with both our IT department for access to ‘recording/camera ready’ computers and a quiet place to do this. I am also going to see if my old iMacs (that I use in my classroom mainly for videos for stations days) can be used. That way all kids can access this. Another note – I had one student who tried and tried to upload. We tried the web-based Flipgrid. We tried the app. Didn’t work for her (don’t ask why) – so she just sent me the audio! Bottom line – be sensitive & adaptable!

Will I use it again? Yes. Do I think it is a useful tool for quick checks. Yes – for what I want to use it for it does.  Yes ….I believe I have the fever.


September 10, 2017
by leesensei

Skills Give You Talking Points…Proficiency Gives You A Goal…

It’s been a quick start to the year. I’ve made few promises of instant ‘change’ beyond Learning Targets for all classes this fall and the idea of a soft introduction of proficiency goals with my Year 2’s.  The other ‘change’ has been the inclusion in the syllabus of skills that a student acquires beyond the language itself in our classes.  I have to add that these changes have been made so much easier for me because I have a great colleague in my school who is making these changes with me (what a blessing to have someone to ask, reflect & struggle with). Let me talk briefly about how the inclusion of proficiency and skills has altered my experience already with students.

Skills: To be honest this is the big surprise for me. I talked with my students about the skills page that I included in their course outline. That they will be developing their risk-taking, reflective, initiative-taking, group and  They were very honest in their personal responses to me about their perceived skills and their strengths and weaknesses. But the real value has been to me is in having me use these words when framing or encouraging in an activity. I found myself saying things like ” this is a great place for you to use your initiative” or “I am asking to take that risk and…”. Wow.  It’s going to be a great semester-long reference point for us for all activities!

Proficiency: My colleague Connie & I have had a lot of talks about including proficiency, the reasons for and the how prior to the start of the year. I am going all in with my Yr 1”s and 2’s as I feel they are closest to lower Novice for them to really see the proficiency progression.  My students listened as I talked about goals and we went over what their target for the semester is. I asked them to think about this goal as part of their reflections on the course outline. Many of them had great ways to describe what they saw as the difference between novice and intermediate and my favourite was the student who said “A novice is a robotic speaker…an intermediate is a robot with developing AI abilities to do their own thing”. The idea of ‘creating rather than competing’ came through in many of their observations. Talking about and using proficiency will allow me to consistently remind students to try to challenge themselves ‘push’ to ‘go beyond’ to ‘create’ with what they are learning. It adds such legitimacy to what I have always been trying to do.

Two changes that seemed actually quite ‘small’ but already two big impacts in my classroom interaction with my students!



August 7, 2017
by leesensei

Thanks For Taking My (Fill in Language) Class – Here’s What You Are REALLY Acquiring…

Hi there – thanks for registering in my course. I know you’re here in my Japanese class because you:

  • have an incredible interest in learning a foreign language & know it will open you up to some amazing opportunities
  • need a Gr 11 language credit for direct university entrance (my province)
  • have a parent/guardian/key figure in your life who said it was important for some reason
  • want to talk with someone (family member/neighbour/cute person) who already speaks the language
  • are the biggest anime/cos-play/manga/game fan ever …and so why wouldn’t you take Japanese?

I hope that you enjoy your time in here and meet your goals. But there’s something you might not think that you are learning. Something that is (gasp) more important than the apparent skill that you are supposed to acquire. Here’s my pitch on what skills you are REALLY learning in my classes…:

Risk-Taking – In my classes you will learn to risk, to try, to fail and forge ahead. You will be supported as you set out to learn and use new material. You will not be in alone in this. You will be asked to put your new learning into use. As one of my past students said you will learn to “not panic. I’m the kind of person that stresses on being perfect…but this class has taught me how to let go of that…and to relax..because in the future things won’t always go as I plan them to go..” Most importantly then I hope that you will develop the ‘courage to try’.

Initiative – You will be meeting unit challenges to demonstrate a skill set (set out by your teacher) and, more importantly, personal challenges (set out by you) prior to activities. These skills you are being challenged to acquire will lead towards meeting proficiency goals in class. Your choice, your initiative, will be needed to meet them – I can’t do that for you.

Reflective Self-Awareness – When we set out these challenges (ones set by me or you) you will be asked to reflect on how you felt/met/didn’t meet the goal. It could be a quick “How Did That Go?” after an activity or a more detailed reflection at the end of a unit. You will be asked to evaluate and reflect upon the experience. You will ask what you were most proud of or what a stumbling block was. You will develop the ability to self-reflect and assess, to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses (and how to improve upon them).

Group Work – you will be learning to negotiate work with partners & groups. You will work with some who are as strong as you, and those that are stronger. You will learn what it takes to set a goal & how to meet it (or how not to – a valuable lesson a well). You will develop an idea of group dynamics. With the support of your teacher (and group rubrics) you will learn perhaps to lead and also when it is key to allow others to shine.

Communication Skills – You will be learning how to speak and more importantly how to listen. You will learn that active listening requires effort & your participation to be done well. You will learn that being a supportive listener is often more important than being a ‘talker’. You will have to clarify when asked and learn to ask for clarification when you don’t understand. As another one of Grade 12’s put it  you will be acquiring “strategies for communication…diversifying how I communicate and being thoughtful of others during conversation is critical…“.

These skills will take you into that all important college or job interview and allow you to respond easily and with concrete examples when you are asked “So…you say you are a risk taker, can you give me an example of when you demonstrated this?” And this ability to speak confidently giving concrete examples about your ‘people and personal skills’ is the real value of my class to your future. Well that and the ability to read your manga in the original language!  (Note: after writing this post our national newspaper’s business section published an article outlining skills undergrads should be working on to prepare for a career – almost all of them as above!)


PS – I don’t rely on my students to hopefully become aware of the above. I talk openly and explicitly about these so-called ‘soft skills’ with my kids (I think they are the ‘hardest’ to learn!). I tell them that universities/employers are looking for more than a GPA and why all of the above help flesh out their application. I give this talk every year to every grade to encourage them to go beyond the ‘3rd semester required for direct admission to university’ course and take a full 4 years. This is also what I want students to be able to articulate to others as to why they are studying Japanese (in my case) and what value it brings to them as people. I encourage you to take time and tell your students what skills your class helps them acquire….hopefully they’ll then spread the word too!

August 5, 2017
by leesensei

IIS it Quality Oral Interpersonal Communication?

Do you ever sit through something and wonder “What’s the point of this?”  I know that I often do. It pushed me to share with students why we are doing what we are doing. It will also assist me in my goal of implementing daily learning intentions for each class. So it a goal of mine to have students learn to/start to/be able to articulate what makes their interpersonal interactions rich & interesting. What makes it what I call ‘quality communication’? I ask my senior (3rd & 4th semester) students this often and finally I’ve found the acronym that I am looking for. So for me the purpose of their interactions can be summarized with the phrase “Quality Communication ISS….”

Informative – for us this means “Are you providing details & extended information?”  Are you including descriptors, connecting ideas, giving reasons, describing ‘how’ you do something and more? This is always related to the level of proficiency of the students. But it is a push to have them try to maximize the amount of the information that they provide….and I find it spills out into their presentation speaking/writing as well (helped along by including it my rubrics). One exercise that we use to help build this in the earlier years is a brainstorming “Wheel of Detail“. I find then as we employ this strategy my Yr3&4 students add can start to do this ‘on the fly’ as well.

Inquiring – communication is not a one-way street. Are you asking the all important follow-up questions? Are you extending the conversation by asking questions related to what is being said? Are you digging for details that you are not hearing? We start purposefully with this in Yr1 in a ‘question game‘ because quite frankly I don’t believe many of us are ‘natural communicators’ and include it in all of my interpersonal rubrics because I consider it so key. If you are not asking questions…if you are not looking for details then you are letting  your side of the communication down….

Supportive – this is a ‘dual purpose’ question for my classes. It speaks to the ability to help someone understand what you are saying. The idea that you can use any word/concept you want as long as you can get your meaning across. But it also requires students to have the confidence to say when they don’t understand. Again I start this in Yr1 and my students practice both sides of this supportive communication. I find that the ‘nerves’ around speaking are then lessened when “what if I don’t understand?” is not an issue. Students relax & know that it doesn’t matter who they are speaking with, no matter their level of proficiency, because their partner(s) will be supportive of them. In fact I often pair those of ‘varying’ levels to ensure that they develop, and practice, these supportive skills.

It’s taken time for me to articulate what I hope quality communication will be for my students….and support them in pursuing it both in and out of class…


July 26, 2017
by leesensei

“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!



July 15, 2017
by leesensei

“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.


April 26, 2017
by leesensei

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,  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 up is to implement Seesaw so students can curate their learning online..I’m looking forward to it!


April 12, 2017
by leesensei

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!


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

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’….



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