Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

August 30, 2017
by leesensei

Read, Reflect, Respond…Or…No Reading the Syllabus on The First Day of Class…!

It’s almost my first day…and I am excited to see my students again. I enjoy the first day – especially since I made the decision to NOT spend any time reading the syllabus (or outline as I call it). I got this idea from the amazing Martina Bex…and this year I have updated/altered my questions to suit the new style of syllabus that I have designed. It’s an all ‘graphic’ syllabus now…including a Path to Proficiency and my recent “Skills You Develop in Language Class” infographic as well.

So what do I do with this ‘piece’ of paper that is a syllabus? Well…I ask them to take it in hand…read it and answer some questions that require they ‘reflect’ on what they read… This email assignment also ensures that they know how to contact me! (After all they have to do this to complete this!)

Here’s what I ask my 2nd and 3rd year students to consider….








I’m looking forward to their replies…


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!


January 18, 2017
by leesensei
1 Comment

And now…a short teaching break!

I am 6 working days away from time off. For the second time in my career I have put salary aside (over 4/5 years) to take a self-funded leave for 1 semester.  Yes – from Jan 30 to the start of the school year in September I will be giving myself some time. What to do? Oh there is the planned cruise with my husband & family (never been on one!) and the potential to sleep in past 5:30am. But there is more…there is time to relax, to unwind and most importantly to think, to reflect, to alter what I don’t like.

Just before I take my time off I’m heading to the TellCollab in Seattle. I’m so excited to learn what I can from this experience. Although I won’t be taking what I learn back to the class right away, I will have time to think about implementing what I learn. I will continue to blog when I want to sort something out – or when I have something to say to myself! I will try to learn some new skills like Movie Talk and the idea behind better story-telling in class. If the Canadian dollar doesn’t totally crash (we’re at 75cents vs. the US$) I hope to go to ACTFL in Nashville.

I am very lucky to work in a district where self-paid time off is possible. I am very lucky to have the time to really sit back and think about how the last 5-6 years of my teaching career is going to look. I am really fortunate to be a teacher who wants to keep getting better. And I am most grateful for the #langchat and wider teaching community who continues to share and inspire…

Look for me on #langchat, I’ll see you via the blog and I’ll be back in the trenches sooner than later. In the meantime ….meanwhile I’ll get used to being able to, if only for a little while, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee in the morning…


December 30, 2016
by leesensei

Top Posts of the Year – #1 – All About The Interpersonal Proficiency!

I don’t think it is surprising the most read posts of the  year were about something we are all looking to help our students improve – their proficiency in Interpersonal Activities. The post below is a combination of several new and older posts…and my collection of ideas in helping my students be more eager & confident speakers!
Group of Friends with Arms Around Each OtherSupporting Interpersonal Interaction in Class – What Helps Them Stay In The TL? What allows you to walk out of the room, run to the copier and come back and still have them talking? What allows you to send them out to record a conversation and know that they won’t script? What is it that makes them confident to use and sustain a conversation in the Target Language? If you know – please share! This is an ongoing quest for all of us. I have been trying, as you all have over the years, to imbue in my students the ‘confidence’ to risk, to try, to talk.  Here’s a few of my ideas on what helps them out.. what I find helps them want to not only talk, but to sustain their talking in the Target Language….Read more…

Thank you again for your input, and eyes, on my posts. I’ll return in the New Year with more things I am thinking about on this language teaching journey!


December 22, 2016
by leesensei

Top Posts of the Year – #3 – What Is An “Oral Final”

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”.

58db2d0e2c1397f19cc3fd65bcffa2daThis post generated some interesting comments – and almost deteriorated into what I don’t like – the “There is only 1 way to teach” argument. Some disagreed with the idea that ‘imperfect’ language is okay and thought that I should be involved (as the ‘perfect’ language???) in the mix. Others took issue with the ‘real world’ idea. For me the ‘real world’ is them using the language in casual conversation with someone…not in a classroom and certainly not with a teacher there. I think the misunderstandings may also have stemmed from readers not seeing that this post was about my oral FINAL – not orals in general. So if this is a new post to you – again  – this is my FINAL…. 🙂

What should an oral final look/sound like? I’ve been thinking about this as I continue to try to take away the ‘unnecessary’ – and get to the necessary – in my classroom.  And I’ve thought a lot about what the ‘summative’ part means. This is the ‘last’ oral interaction – especially for some of my juniors (not going to Yr4), and all of my seniors, that they will have in the Target Language. This is a significant moment and I want the legacy of this moment – the impact of it – to be felt by them. I want them to leave my program with the confidence to take an opportunity to use, or further develop, their skills and choose to act upon them. It may be the end of their class journey but I hope it’s not the end of their learning. So I’ve rethought what a summative oral should be and I’ve gone in my thinking from ‘testing what they know’ to ‘establishing what they will hopefully do…’…’ Read more…

December 16, 2016
by leesensei

Top Posts of the Year: #4 – Note to Self – You Are Doing Enough

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”.

Source: Morguefile.comOf all the posts this year this one was the one that garnered a lot of activity. It was shared on Facebook a number of times – which I take to mean that people shared it as a personal thing – not a professional item per se. It certainly was personal to me….and I am amazed that in my 22nd year of teaching it still is something I am worried about…

“I’m not doing enough!!!!” Learning to Say “Yes I Am…” – Oh I love Twitter and #langchat. It has revolutionized my teaching. Really it has. It has challenged me, helped me and sometimes (okay more than sometimes) pushed me to ‘stretch’. But with growth comes, I’ll be frank, panic. Sometimes I feel very very inadequate compared to what other people are sharing, advocating, leading on #langchat. Sometimes I feel like there are not enough hours in the day to ‘change everything’. Sometimes I feel that I am not doing “enough”. That some teachers are way ahead of me in how they teach. That some teachers appear to “know” when I don’t.  Read more…

Next Up – #3 – An “Old” Standby – Defended…


November 14, 2016
by leesensei

Formative-Summative Shift Break Down – A Lesson Learned In Changing My Practice

Shifting your practice is an exciting time. It’s also a great time of ‘learning’ – not only for students but for the teacher trying to put it in place. I’ve been working to provide more feedback/more formative assessment in my classes. The idea in the shift for me was to really allow time to learn/reflect/grow before having students show their skills in a summative situation. I have tried all sorts of things to improve the feedback that I give from involving students in the ‘why’ of what we are doing, to pop-check in’s, oral consultations, writing workshops (and beyond). I’ve got rubrics with checklists, I’ve talked over and over about expectations and what it means to meet them. Wow –  aren’t I just all that in making this shift? Wonderful. Until…it became clear that my shift to more formative assessment had failed to include one key piece…the student perspective/voice.

My Yr4’s participated in a summative oral that involved a ‘taste test‘ activity. As part of the evaluation I ask them to write a ‘marketing report’ about what they learn. They are given guidance in what I want to see and allowed to bring in, in English, the results of what they learned in the test. They were also allowed a ‘list’ of key structures – not in ‘how’ to do make them but a list in English of the kinds of things that we have learned how to say/use to aid in their writing. All of the new unit structures had been introduced and used in class. They had all been given feedback on how well they could use them. They had time for corrections and consultation about them. The day of the report they came, they wrote for 45-60 minutes solid. Wow.

Until…I started to read them. Holy cow. Errors all over the place – errors in what I considered basic structures that we had gone over. Errors in things that seemed so ‘easy’ to me. It was not an easy read. Not because I couldn’t figure out what they were trying to say, but because I was realizing that they were not comfortable in what they were trying to communicate. It was paper after paper of barely meeting my expectations.  There comes a time – after the ‘what is wrong with these kids? why are they not doing what we did in class in this paper?’ when you realize it might not be “them”. Maybe, just maybe, it’s “me”.

So what to do? I realized that this failure to live up to expectations was probably a lot on me. So I started the next class (I’ve taught these same kids for 4 semesters), handed out the papers and said “Let’s talk”. I talked about how the writing didn’t match my expectations and, by their faces, didn’t match theirs. Then I humbled myself (oh great ‘formative feedback’ person) and asked them what I hadn’t done for them? Was there something that we could have done in class that would have made them more confident in their language use? These are kids who are in the middle of my formative/summative push – and they told me what they needed. They wanted:

  • some direct ‘grammar’ structures work (gasp a worksheet for example) to make sure they felt good in knowing how to put things together.
  • some time in class to ‘consult’ before a write to ask questions.
  • a review video of key unit points (I have these for other classes) because they felt that this helped them personally to review.
  • a bit more guidance, ‘hand-holding’ they called it, because they were learning to make that shift from teacher driven to student driven

They also wanted to admit that they hadn’t also hadn’t done their job to a certain extent. That in making this shift from ‘everything is for marks’ to formative/summative they dropped the ball in their responsibility to prepare. And I realized then – that this shift I am making – requires time on my part for them. To help them learn to make the shift from passive learner to active controller of their learning.

In the end we called the problem ‘a bit of you/a bit of us’. I will make the shift and include things for them that they feel they need. I will listen and ask more about how they are feeling in this learning journey. So often we worry about ‘our practice’. This was a valuable lesson in learning that changes in my practice also will bring changes in their ‘learning’ and that my ability to shift my practice quickly doesn’t mean they can shift their learning at the same pace…. A humbling time of growth for me…lesson learned.



October 6, 2016
by leesensei

The “Pre-Oral” Consult – Another Formative Feedback Opportunity

whyAsking if they need assistance. We all do it and for me this is especially true before interpersonal orals. We have them involved in an activity or practice to help set them up for the evaluation. We walk around, ask “any questions?”, respond to the few we get. But I am trying to provide more feedback and, specifically, more meaningful feedback this year. Feedback that encourages growth in their language.

Today for the first time I stepped out to try to do that. In my Yr3 class we have explored the world of Anime and Manga. Their task will be to discuss their favourite characters with an unknown (until the oral) partner in a 5-6 minute conversation. We debriefed the rubric, we talked about what ‘meeting expectations’ would look like. They set out practicing/preparing for what they will have to do including specific circumlocution practice for the vocabulary they selected to use. And then…I added my new piece. One by one I called them out of the room for a quick personal one-on-one ‘consult’. I asked them if they had any questions. Any questions about the process? Anything they are worried they aren’t expressing correctly? Anything they might not be sure how to use if they wanted to include.  The questions they had for me were wide-ranging from ‘What do I do if my partner…” to “I still don’t get how to do/use ….” and even to “So, if I don’t understand something they say I am allowed to tell them that? (yes!)”. Some students had nothing that was pressing. Others had several detailed things they wanted to know. The 60min it took to talk to each of my 30 students was, to me, invaluable. I saw and heard their specific needs, I could provide support and clarification. My goodness – I put my ‘words’ into practice and offered more actual formative feedback!

This was a personal ‘big step’ and win for me. And a confirmation  AGAIN that when we take the time to add formative feedback (in any shape/way we choose) it is time well spent in developing our learners…. I will make time for this in all of my classes….


June 3, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

#forgetthefluff – Failing Then Learning To Get To What Is Key….

This is me…me at 3:45am up & worried and trying to figure out how to  ‘fit it all in’ before the end of classes June 17th. This is me trying to do what I have always done – the same way….the same thing…This is me trying to fit in the final interactive IPA and prep for a department required oral final. This is me failing… IMG_2836You see I was trying to fit in the Yr4 Travel Fair and give them time to prep for the oral final. And it wasn’t working. I couldn’t get the ‘time to do the project that I always did’ and give them appropriate time for the department required final. And then it came to me…..#forget the fluff. Drill down to what is key… What is key in the travel fair? Is it the brochure they always wasted too much time making? The brochure they wouldn’t see any more in real life because they would see a webpage instead?  What is/was that brochure really for? It is for them to consolidate the information for a really good interpersonal oral exchange on areas in Japan to visit. That’s what is key. So I threw it out. I created a trip sheet that just asked them to organize their information in the TL – not ‘create a product’. The information they would share, explain and even learn about. The 90 minutes they will spend talking/listening/learning from each other. The communicating information part is what is key.

What about the ‘final’? You may find it an easy topic but the final is an interactive show and tell. It demands good listening, lots of follow up questions, thinking on your feet as you explain & answer. Typically I bring them in in 3’s and they have 15 minutes for this. But I have (see photo above) no time. And then it came to me. We have worked for 4 years to be students that are risk-takers, that know what to do when they don’t understand, that support/assist each other in communicating. I just need to hear that in action – I don’t have to ‘police’ it by being there. So forget that ‘fluff’ – they will go in teams of 4 to separate areas and record their conversations. They won’t feel the pressure of doing this in front of me – and I will trust/respect that they will go ‘all in’ to do this. Then they’ll get me the audio file. My being there? The fluff. The communication process. The key….

Next year – less fluff… everything….at every opportunity…less fluff and more of what is ‘key’….


And yes…I finished the puzzle too.




May 12, 2016
by leesensei

“Why We Are Doing This?” – Intentions Set Expectations For the Interpersonal


Yr3 (Gr 11) prior to the school fair….

j12 story fair retell day intentions

Yr4 (Gr 12) prior to story re-telling day

Why are we doing this? What’s the point of doing this? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we set our students up for success especially in interpersonal activities – the ones where they are interacting without someone ‘watching’. We hand out rubrics, we talk about what we want to see in the language piece, we (may) show examples, we practice and we give feedback. But when they set out on their interpersonal oral how do we keep them ‘focussed’ on the real goal of the time? (Hint – it’s not just to get something done). This year I have been experimenting with explicit intentions – reminders we review – prior to doing the activity. I used them for recent Yr 3 and Yr 4 interpersonal oral work You can see the intentions in the photos – intentions that reflect the purpose of the activity and directly tie to the evaluation rubric elements. I reminded students about these prior to starting and then set them on their interpersonal fair activity (For Yr3 it was the school fair and Yr4 story re-telling as part of their story unit). After this kind of work I like to ask reflection questions. I’ve learned to make the link to these intentions and ask at least one reflection question that relates directly to them such as “Today I met the challenge of ____by ____.” Their responses to this were powerful as they referenced something specific and how they worked to meet it. Responses like “Today I met the challenge of quality conversation by taking the time to really listen to my partner.” or “Today I met the challenge of ensuring my partner understood me by providing help when they indicated they didn’t understand.” I’ve always had goals/purpose – intentions – in the activities I plan. But now I’ve learned that its important to communicate this to my students. And in doing so I help increase their commitment to using and working in the target language.

What ways do you help students to understand why they are doing something?





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