Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

April 24, 2013
by leesensei

A Web Quest That Asks Them To Think…

I have always struggled with the traditional web quest. You know the kind where there are questions and the students go to a site, or various sites, to get the answers. It seems that I am not exposing them to anything new when I do this but rather just teaching them that a ‘blank’ is there to be filled. The quest then becomes not the answer but a completed sheet. Find, write (or paste) and go onto the next.

Each year with my Japanese 11 students we read a story set in Kyoto. It is an amazing city full of world heritage sites, traditional tea shops and the chance of spotting a geisha on the street. I want my students to be able to have various sites in mind when they read the story – and so thought a web quest – for it’s visual element especially – would be a good idea. My first one was a dud – basically a ‘what, where’ sheet that I myself found boring. What to do?

Talking to our school librarian, who sees lots of these activities, she challenged me to have my students use the information they find – in a way that would not become just a copy/paste exercise. So I imagined a tourist – pressed for time – who has 1 day in Kyoto and 6 possible places that they could visit (all from our story). Students have to find out what these places are, where in the city they are located, why a person would go there and finally rank them in order of visiting preference. It’s amazing to look at the results and find out what would appeal to them and why. Often we have a class discussion after in which they talk with each other, in Japanese, about the results.

Kyoto also has an interesting dialect so I send them to a site to ‘hear’ what it would be like to be on the streets. Finally I ask them to comment on the websites themselves – what they found appealing or what they think could be improved.

So now its not a web quest for me but rather a task that uses some websites. A link to my exercise – never fear its mostly in English! – is here if you wish.

What kind of web quests do you do?


March 25, 2013
by leesensei

Just One Thing At A Time – My Mantra for Change

It’s spring break here in my district and during my time off I thought I would revisit a post that I keep as my touchstone in my teaching transformation – the ‘one at a time’ philosophy to updating my teaching practice. Happy Spring Break whenever you have yours!

I have  attended a lot of conferences this year,  through fabulous PLN teachers who are generous in tweeting information (and comments) as they participate. From #flipcon to #iste and #pbl, the array of opportunities out there for me to enhance my teaching is huge. So why lately have I been filled with feelings of inadequacy about my teaching and classroom practices?  How can I ever put this all into action. The answer is, of course, that I can’t…but I can begin to transform how I do things – which is what I tried to do this year:

Transform a Class  –  I am intrigued by flipped learning however am still wrapping my head around how it would work in my foreign language classroom. I committed to try a ‘flipped’ class for each course that I teach and next semester will do it for all my classes.  My students used video/worksheet at home and came ready to participate in the learning activity – it worked! I have the basic tools and the small step of trying a class can give me the confidence to do more and eventually take the ‘full course’ step

Transform a Project  – They can get so routine. Once we find a good ‘project’ do we ever change it? This year I really looked at my Grade 11 course and the final task focus/effectiveness. Is it doing what I want in pushing my students to communicate, to be engaged? Is it ‘real?’. I vowed to banish the poster so this year a project went from presentational to inter-personal.  Students required to get information that would help them on the unit test by talking  – not reading silently. They loved it.

Having transformed a class and a project this year – I can see where I am headed. Next semester I will transform a unit in each of the three grades I teach. For me slowly tweaking what I do is a manageable way to fundamentally alter how I teach. And as is often said..”Slow and steady wins the race!”


October 15, 2012
by leesensei

Tagging with Evernote – No spray paint required!

This is one in a series of posts on my year-long Evernote experiment.

I have used a multitude of systems over the years to try to keep track of useful online resources. From catchy bookmarked titles, to stand alone  web-based. Many of you probably use similar tools. But somehow I would also lose track of things. Perhaps the breadcrumbs I left to find them (“what title was that?”). For me Pearltrees seemed to be a solution for a while. But I got tired of arranging, and rearranging content in “trees”. One of the reasons that I first ever looked at Evernote was a colleague talking about the ability ‘clip’ websites to “tag” them.  Suddenly I had a system at my fingertips that worked like my brain did (and my sometimes faulty memory).

Multiple Tagging  – “Didn’t I see something to do with Twitter tools for educators?” – Answering the question is easy with the tag search ability. I am able to type in my request in my account and find it. I think that I will probably reorganize tags at a later date but they reflect the ‘big areas’ that I am thinking about.” I like that I can go back at a later date, find the article, and then visit it directly – or send it on to someone else.

Clipping right from my browser – the WebClipper utility is great. I use it for both Firefox and Chrome. Just hitting the button next to the URL and ‘saving & tagging’ at the same time is so fast. When I clip the site – I tend to clip the URL more that the article (the default)

Modifying the title of the tagged site – I often modify the title of the clipped site to help me remember why I saved it. Generally the titles of the articles are self-explanatory but I do like being able to alter at will.

Our school, like many, can sometimes fall victim to a student’s need to ‘tag’ a wall or spot. But for me tagging is a great way to remember why I found something interesting – and remember it several ways.  Even if you don’t use Evernote for anything else – the tagging option may be of use to you.




September 18, 2012
by leesensei

My New Evernote Notebook Stack…

Three weeks into my Evernote experiment and the organizing of my life ‘on line’ is underway. Perhaps the area that required the most thinking for me was my ‘notebook stack’. How would I put it all together?

Notebooks follow my interests – I am not just interested in technology and language teaching for me, but in the introduction of tech into education in general. My notebooks that have sprung from this reflect the first ‘thought’ that comes into my head when I see an article or site. “Ah – technology in the classroom’ sends it right to “Tech”. Then I use the tags I apply to help to refine what exactly it relates to. Some broad topics get their own notebooks – such as Flipping Class or PBL. “Other Subjects” allows me to save, and pass on, neat things I find that I can’t use but someone else in my school could. One top tip I did learn via Twitter was to have an @inbox notebook. It serves as my holding tank for anything that I send to Evernote – and allows me to categorize it later. A great idea.

The core of my stack are my course notebooks. As I teach  a language – and multiple levels at a time – organizing by course is the best for me. In any one notebook I include not only my unit plan but also my daily lesson plan. Those are prepped the night before class and edited – either text or audio comment – after the lesson. For each I also add any .pdfs or small audio files used that day.  If there is one thing that teaching shows us – a plan may not always go as it should and my records have to show that.

I know that my Evernote use will evolve. I am looking forward to see further refinement of my notebook stacks – and what they might look like by the time the year ends.

Now if I can only be brave enough to try some IFTTT’s!


September 6, 2012
by leesensei

Giving a Voice to My Lesson Plans…

It’s the first week of classes for me – and every year it seems that I make it more difficult by trying a new way to review previous material. On top of that, after 18 years of teaching my scribbled plans for a day are often not what actually ends up happening. For me a plan is somewhat organic. Ideas or different strategies can pop into my head changing, not what we are doing, but how we are doing it – sometimes on the fly. It has been a challenge to sometimes keep up with what actually happened so that I can perhaps try it again at a future date. Facing the challenge of updating my language classes through flipping and authentic activities things are not necessarily going ‘as they have been written’.

As I have mentioned before I am trying Evernote this year. I will admit that I am struggling with how to record and organize lesson plans. Do I do one note/plan per day per course? Do I save them by date or course? It is still a work in progress. But what I have found really useful is the ‘audio’ option on a note.

At the end of classes today I went back to my lesson plans. Instead of ‘manually’ trying to change my plan, and record in detail what happened I actually talked about it. For each class there was a rundown of what occurred. If I didn’t follow the plan exactly I noted it. Adjustments that might be needed for the future are noted. It is like my ‘report’ to myself on how the day went. I’m not  sure that it will be needed for every lesson plan every day – but when I’m trying to implement new things, I think my future self will find the comments to be useful.

Using audio for the lesson plan in the note is my way to capture what happens ‘organically’ in my class on a particular day. It’s a new twist in my lesson plans but one I hope will help in the future!



August 20, 2012
by leesensei

Website? Get Students Using It Week 1…

While teacher websites appear to be more popular, I have many colleagues who lament the fact that, halfway through a semester, many of their students have never found it. In order to ensure that my students at least know mine is there and how to find it, I have several ‘homework’ assignments that rely on them personally going to the site.

Student Information Form – Can I get this information from our school’s student information system? Yes.  But…to reduce time spent on administrivia, and have useful data for me accessible from anywhere, I now have students complete their student information from a Google Docs form embedded in my site. It is required first night homework, can be accessed from school computers and must be done in order to gain entry into class the next day.

Photo/Email Assignment – I generally put up a page of interesting photos related to my subject. You can find many that are in the public domain. I choose photos from my last trip to Japan. Students are required to email me (we await Google Voice and the ability to call/text here in Canada) with their favorite photo and why. I learn a bit about them – but most importantly – I now have an email address for them.

Web-Posted Homework – Once in the first 5 or 6 days of class I announce that the homework will be posted on the website ONLY. I ensure that it is already up there by the end of class so students can easily access it from school computers.

Practice Tests/Quizzes –  I frequently will post a practice test prior to assessing student’s knowledge. In my area of languages this can be an audio clip, a reading multiple choice test or a straight ‘paper’ quiz. Students know that I do this. To reward those that find it I sometimes use the practice quiz as the real one. I may only do it once a semester, but students learn that practice can make (almost) perfect.

“You have a site?” is one question that I don’t hear from my students. Requiring them to use it in Week 1 means that they know it is there!  If you’re curious, you can find mine at Lee Sensei’s Site.


June 29, 2012
by leesensei

I blog because…

It’s been 4 months since I launched Language Sensei…and at the end of the year (it’s our last day here in Vancouver) the perfect time to sit back and reflect on this relatively new experience. A lot of teachers are blogging and even more aren’t. For those who don’t yet, or think they have nothing to say I say do it….

I blog because:

It makes me stop, reflect and report out on what happens in my room

I want to talk about something new I have tried – and how it went

Others do and they inspire me to contribute my ‘two cents’

I don’t want my Pro-D to be just on specific days of the year

Writing (concisely) requires me to get right to a key point or insight

Other teachers  will know that what they may think or feel is not ‘just them’

It teaches me that educators are people keenly interested in learning new things

I just may have learned something worth sharing in 18 years of teaching

It models for my students what I ask them to do – try, reflect, evaluate

It makes me a better teacher, colleague, educational leader

What might it teach you?

Enjoy the summer



May 10, 2012
by leesensei

“Guerilla Pro-D” Subversively Introducing EdTech

How do you show people that adopting Educational Technology (edtech) is easier than they think? How do you convince others that doing something they already do, but with a new 2.0 tool IS worth their time? All too often barriers are put up, not because people aren’t interested but because they are told to be interested. What we forget is to treat the introduction of edtech with staff like we would in leading students into a new area; show relevance, build upon previous knowledge, inspire risk-taking. So completely on our own initiative a small group in our school has embarked on “Guerilla Pro-D”.

Who Are We? – We’re really keen on introducing edtech to our lessons, and on spreading the ideas and activities that incorporate these new tools. We are a mix of more seasoned teachers and younger ones.  We are not ‘evangelicals’ but people who are cast as ‘problem solvers’. Most of all none of us has a technology-related title. We are simply teaching colleagues.

Why Are We? There can be a resistance to technology, and I understand that. Too often the ‘tool’ has been forced on teachers as the ‘solution’. By regrouping and sharing resources that help a teacher do a better job at what they already do, the technology they resist resumes its rightful place. Hence this  “Guerilla”, or perhaps, less hip title “Indiret” Pro-D.

How Are We? – Quick presentations during Pro-D have worked well. As an ‘aggregator’ for staff we send targeted emails with links to 2.0 tools or to useful sites for that department. Sometimes we share with a colleague about what we have done in our classes. In another case we took a common activity in a subject and volunteered to ‘help’ a senior department teacher who we know has influence over others.

Our subtle, yet not really subversive, campaign is starting to inspire a desire for edtech in our school ….Viva La Revolution!!


April 23, 2012
by leesensei

Let’s Discuss – Online of Course!

Online class discussions are a way to extend the course beyond the page – and for my Japanese classes to put what they are learning into action. Having never done a discussion I found the prospect of organizing one daunting – I should have realized that, with the assistance of my PLN, it was an ‘easy to organize’ great activity.

Platform choice –  What you use depends on your resources and goals for the activity. For my Japanese class discussions I was looking for a specific platform that could be used ‘out of class’;  many of my students don’t have smart phones and our school’s wireless capability in my room is dicey at best. I also wanted a secure ‘non-public’ platform. Thanks to  @joedale who led me to Edmodo. As it is ‘invitation only’ the security was there for me. I could  alsohave my students discuss as a group of 30 or break them into smaller groups for a more personal discussion experience.

Defined Timeframe/Participation Levels – the discussion is a two-part process. In stage one they are given 24 hours to respond at least twice. For one they must give their opinion on the topic, for the other they must respond to a classmate’s point (eg. @Julie…) Part 2 of the discussion – usually an extension of the original topic – continues for 48 hours. Students participate in this only if they have met the minimal requirements for Part 1. If the student hasn’t – they are set to ‘read only’ and are out of the activity. In Part 2 they are asked to respond/give their opinion at least 5 more times.

Easily marked – I selected rubric marking for both Part 1 and Part 2. The rubric relies not only on a minimal number of responses but also the quality of the discussion. Students know that it is not enough, for full marks, to just participate but that they must bring also incorporate class concepts into their responses. You can find all sorts of rubrics on line to aid you.

My first discussion group of 8 Japanese Honours students generated more than 88 entries in discussing whether school uniforms were a good idea or not. They cited the ability to participate at any time of day, and via cell phone, as benefits of this activity. If you wish to see the entire assignment just let me know and I’d be happy to share!





April 4, 2012
by leesensei

My Tech Setup…(“More with Less!”)

Although I am passionate about integrating technology in my work you may be surprised how much I personally have access to in my classroom. Funding priorities in my school and district have not expanded as quickly as my desire to be more tech-savy. So it’s a surprisingly simple setup…

  Macbook 2007:  Yes you read that   correctly. My interest in expanding my ‘tech footprint’ didn’t coincide with any funding from my school/district. Along with 10 other teachers in my school we decided to forge ahead anyway and use our personal laptops. Curiously we are all Mac users….

Wacom Tablet: When you can’t afford a tablet computer you make one yourself. Investing in a medium Wacom tablet, and using Photoshop and .pdf’s of documents,  I can review work, make videos of my lessons, create class notes for my website etc. Next up – Google docs for everything?

Logitech Speakers: Under $75 at the time…. playing Japanese pop-tunes, YouTube clips and whatever we need to hear…

Benq LCD projector: Funded 3 years ago by school funds, it’s old but it works for anything from the wide variety of programs I use, for polls, Google Earth tours of Kyoto, Quicktime clips etc..

I dream of a class set of iPads and enough enough bandwidth to allow kids to access their computer wirelessly in my room. But I don’t let that hold me back…

Doing more with less,



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