Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

April 19, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

The “Level Up” Writing Workshop Class…

HKnRUEcMI’ve been using descriptors instead of numbers for a while now. It’s going well but I have felt like there is a piece missing. It wasn’t until I read Amy Lenord’s post about a writing ‘workshop’ (where would my teaching be without her!) for students. It was then that I realized that I have been good about describing how well students are meeting expectations but not doing enough to show them how to improve. A class like this – dedicated to showing/helping students increase their written output – was long overdue.

I found the perfect opportunity to try this with my Yr4’s. We had been exploring a mini-health unit and had looked at ‘sick notes’ that I claimed to have received from various students in my Yr4 class from last year. You know the ‘I missed the last 3 days because I was playing soccer, hurt my leg etc etc’ kind of note. For a take-home I asked students to prepare a ‘basic’ note in the style of the ones they had been reading.

On workshop day I talked with them about the purpose of the class that day. They were given a copy of the writing rubric – and I went over with them what I feel a ‘minimally meeting’, ‘meeting’ in each category meant. Then I talked with them about their writing. The fact that when they write, they often don’t stop to think to include, to ‘show’ me what they know. I used a ‘making a cake’ analogy and said if many of them made a cake like they wrote they would do the following: know they had to make a cake, gather a few ingredients, stir them up, throw it in the oven and say to themselves ‘gee I hope it’s a delicious cake’. I wanted to impress upon them that, without stifling creativity, they also have to be conscious in their writing, of showing their reader (me) what they know. They have to consider the ‘ingredients’ of the writing as much as the outcome. They have to, to borrow a phrase from Japanese, be conscious of trying to ‘level-up’ their writing. I saw some heads nodding in the room…on to the practical demonstration of what I meant we went…

Then we began the actual exercise. They each received a big (11×17) piece of paper (you could save the planet and have them write use their own) with one of the sick notes, line by line on it. I am not a ‘grammar’ formula teacher but for this they also received a ‘technical sheet’ as I called it – a sheet detailing in English (then TL structure & example in use) the ‘kinds of things that we have covered in Yr3 and 4’.  I reviewed (just in English) the types of things they have in their writing tool-box. Many were surprised to see the extent of what we have covered as far as ‘technical grammar’ goes. I asked them to look at the opening line of the note “I have been away from school since last Wednesday” and I invited them to use the technical sheet to rewrite the first sentence with a ‘level up’ added. They they shared that new sentence with the 3 other people at their table. On to the other sentences we went in the same way. For at least one of the sentences I asked for 2 level-ups to be added. For another I asked them to take 2 shorter sentences and use level-ups to combine them. One student said “If we wrote every sentence this way every time it would be hard to read!”. He is correct, and we talked about judicious use of them in writing. At the end of the exercise they read their complete ‘new’ note to their partner. Then, borrowing from my ‘oral worksheet‘ focus, they had 15 minutes to visit with other students to read (not show) their note with them. Their work for that night was to re-write their basic note using the same idea that I had modelled in class.

After we were done – many smiles and nods as they considered their edits of the note. Students said that they found this a very effective exercise. My first glance at their notes indicates that many looked to inject level-ups into their writing. I will do this again and more often with all my levels.  How do you help students ‘level-up’?


February 24, 2016
by leesensei

“Say and Pay” – A Strategy Encouraging New Structure Use in Communicating

I am constantly trying to push my students – and to see them push themselves – to work to incorporate our ‘new learning’ into their conversations. No matter how comprehensible your input is, no matter howDSC_0045 perfectly your task may sync up with the input, no matter how supported your output goals are there is still an issue for many students: How do you get them to remember to, to want to, to try to use the ‘new stuff’ in their oral interactions?  Although we may like to think that our teaching ‘style’ and choices will naturally lead to new output sometimes it doesn’t. So I needed a way to encourage kids to see/find a way to make their learning part of their speaking. In prepping for an oral evaluation I stumbled on what I call “Say and Pay”.

The concept is easy enough to put into use. First our class brainstormed the types of things that we might want to see used in our oral task – what ‘old and new’ items fit with what we are doing. Then I took my bag of 100yen coins (tokens or pieces of paper would work as well) and gave each pair 12 or so. Prior to our first conversation round I looked at our class-generated list and picked off 4 items that I wanted them to try to work into their conversation. They each took 4 coins and I told them that when they chose to use that specific item – they were to put their coin on the table. And then they started talking. At the end of the round (3-4 minutes) I asked the class “Who has used at least 1/2 their coins?”.  Everyone put their hand up – and that’s as far as I went in seeking a public response. Then it was off to the next partner – this time with 5 items on our list. And so on. Although we kept rotating partners, I didn’t go beyond a total of 6 items – instead changing up the ‘what’ we were looking for instead of ‘how many’. It was easy to see – as I circulated – who was not using their coins – and an opportunity for me to provide some specific encouragement/support.

As one student told me – “I love to talk with my partner but this helped me remember to try to ‘level up’ what I was saying.”

It’s targeted – yes. It’s specific – yes. And for many of my students it helped them to try to work the ‘new stuff’ in. I’ll use it again.


January 4, 2016
by leesensei

A “Meaningful” Review Using an “Authentic” Cultural Component

file000742939575There’s a lot of talk about review. Do you review specifics? Do you review ‘everything you did the year before’ you start the new one? I have shifted lately from an overall review to activities at the start that remind students ‘how’ we operate in class.  If you teach on a semester system you can encounter students who have not had the language for a year (!) and something must be done. Although this review style features something specific to Japanese – I think that the ‘culture’ or ‘real authentic use’ component could be adaptable to any language.

Like many languages, Japanese has a variety of ‘politeness levels’ and students in high school typically master the regular ‘formal’ and the more vernacular ‘plain’. In Year 3 my students acquire the plain form – and in Year 4 need to ensure that they start with a clear grasp of it – ready to use at any time. With 2, 6 or even 12 months since the Yr3 course ended how can I a) review the plain and in doing so not b) just make it a march through rules. I want a ‘purpose’ beyond “we need to remember how to…”. I needed a ‘hook’…

And then it came to me. A ‘mini-unit’ that I sometimes did in Year 3 but now, with more expanded time on other units, have not been able to do recently. A cultural exploration of a literary genre that, because it emphasizes/relies on brevity necessitates the use of this plain form. Yes – the Haiku. The traditional 5-7-5 poem already familiar (in English) to my students.  So this year my Yr4’s will begin their course with an exploration of the Haiku. They will look (in English) at the history, requirements, styles of haiku. They will read/analyze in both English and Japanese. They will, as great haiku masters have done, select a pen name to sign their haiku with (and have to explain in Japanese why they chose what they did). And they will write haiku using the required elements and forms. They will share their haiku with the class via a ‘poetry book’ we will put together. And finally they will take up the brushes and experience, many for the first time, writing their haiku using traditional brushes/ink/calligraphy paper.

I am looking forward to this – to the ‘review’ that this exploration provides. It spurs me on to think of other opportunities that I may have to ‘place’ a required review into an authentic context. What natural forms of expression in your Target Language might allow you to do the same?


December 17, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015 – Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 5 (a tie!) (Questions/Cultural Stations Day)

A tie…yes..between two very different activities. One is focussed on oral communication – and actually practicing/teaching students how to communicate. The other was my first attempt at a station day that solely focused on an aspect of Japanese culture (but adaptable to any TL). Enjoy!

MP900262685Developing Conversation Skills: The “Follow Up Question” Game

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

What You Need

  • Question Cards- a set of follow-up questions in the Target Language. I input the phrases I want into Quizlet – then print out thefollow up quest ‘large’ flashcards on coloured paper and cut them out . My initial ones are shown on the right.
  • Students – in pairs – initially of your choosing then eventually their own
  • An ’emergency sheet’ (list) with the questions/answers already matched (upside down on the desk)

Initial Round (First Day)

  • These words are not new to them so I have students match the English and TL cards – then mix them up and spend 3-4 minutes quizzing each other.
  • Have the students separate the cards again into two piles – and select the TL pile (put the English aside)
  • Student 1 begins with a simple phrase such as “I’m going shopping”
  • Student 2 pulls a card from the pile such as “When?” and Student 1 thinks of an answer that fits
  • Student 2 then pulls a second card – perhaps “Where at?” and it continues
  • Students run through the ‘stack’ of question cards then switch roles
  • They will run through this with 3 or 4 different partners – experiencing asking/answering a number of times – and be encouraged to change their ‘starting phrase’ a couple of times

Recognizing Appropriate Questions – Sometimes the follow-up question a student draws doesn’t work. For example if you are shopping at the mall then “Where to?” isn’t appropriate. Students know that if a question is not usable they are to tell their partner that. It sharpens skills and awareness around the questions – and to be honest they love it when they say “No – that one won’t work!” in the target language.

Assisting in Comprehension – Not every student will remember all of the questions initially. So we also practice helping each other understand. If the question is asked and it isn’t understood then the student asking knows that, if they understand it, they are to try to assist by giving a sample answer. For example if their partner doesn’t understand/know how to answer “Who with?” they can use “For example ‘with a friend’ ‘by yourself'” to help their partner clue in. If the both students don’t understand they can peek at the emergency sheet.

Later Round (Second Day) – I employ the same strategy, and start with a quick warmup with the cards. Then they are paired with new partners, but now use the pile of cards in English. Again we rotate through 3 or 4 partners. Students are encouraged to change up their ‘starting phrase’ at least once during the time of the activity.

Later On (Third Day etc) – Again we start with a partner and a quick warmup. Then the cards are put away (an emergency sheet is on the desk if needed). We rotate through 2 or 3 partners, switching up the starting phrase. At the end of the time students have an opportunity to record the questions on their conversation phrase sheet that they keep in their binder.

Finally –  No cards are provided at all (the questions are on a sheet the student knows how to access). Instead of the student providing the initial phrase students may start the class with a question on the screen (from me) like “Ask your partner what they are doing after school? Where? When? Why…etc!” And they are off – with great questions that allow them to dig for details. As the semester progresses we find new questions to add to our ‘follow-up’ list. Taking the time to help them develop their questioning skills pays off when the room is alive with conversation. My job at that point is to get out the way and let them talk!



A “New” Cultural/Target Language Station Activity Day…

This post seems at first just to be for Japanese teachers – but I believe that the ideas – not the content – make it useful for anyone contemplating adding more ‘station’ work in their classes. I have written before about my quest to put more into my units. This was my first “not at the end of a unit – review & extra items” station experience. No this was all about a visual/audio/reading work focused on one topic: Sumo wrestling. Students would be exposed to both authentic resources, adapted resources and TL/English videos.

My class has 30 students in it – so I had 8 stations on the go. We were at each for 15 minutes.. and if they ended early they worked on a station activity (reading) that they might not have finished – or they talked. This took just over 2 whole periods to do  (or you could space this out and do a couple a day while doing other things.)

Each station – has a table number and resources for the station. The viewing stations used my 3 class computers and my laptop. They all had a headphone splitter and extra headphones (dollar store) if students didn’t have their own. The reading stations had extra copies of the vocabulary needed for the readings.

Each student – received a readings package, a handout booklet – with the activity/instructions for each station. Students moved sequentially from table to table with their current table partners.

Video Stations – Each station involved viewing with questions before or after in the English or the TL.  One station called on them to answers questions to test their prior knowledge of Sumo (in English) and then watch a short history video to see how correct they were. Another showed an actual match with Japanese commentary – students viewed the match and answered questions in English about various information that appeared, in print, on the screen (the wrestlers, their rank etc). Another station showed a short National Geographic piece about the daily life of wrestlers and asked them to reflect on what they found most interesting.

Audio Station – an “interview with a sumo wrestler” taken from an older textbook resource I no longer use. It’s a nice piece with TL and cultural content so I continue to use it. Students listen/read along and answer questions in the TL.

Reading Stations – I had 4 TL-related reading stations all together. Two stations were short readings in the TL about Sumo’s history, rules, requirements to be a wrestler and daily life. These are ‘adapted’ pieces taken from graded readers designed for those learning Japanese. They are accessible, written by Japanese and in my books ‘authentic’. Students completed reading comprehension Q’s in Japanese.  The third station was a ‘catch up’ station for any readings that they had started by not completed. A fourth station was another TL reading that had them looking at a sumo-related recipe for  the high calorie/high protein stew – Chankonabe; finding the ingredients that goes into this famous dish. Then they watched a short video on the making of the dish.

Using the Information Gathered – Students have two activities designed to tap into what they learned during their station work. One is an oral discussion day – a conversation circle activity based upon questions that they answered at the reading stations. The second is an infographic produced in the TL by the partners. They can only use the information gathered during the sumo day and any ‘new vocabulary’ they encountered there is okay as well. The assignment is mostly in Japanese but the rubric gives a good idea of what I am looking for. They will have time on ‘graphic’ day to read/view the infographics. I just included an updated post on the activities in my latest post.

This was my first move to use stations to really explore/introduce a topic. It will undergo ‘refining’ in the future I am sure but I am pleased to have made my first foray into this ‘cultural’ target language learning activity.







December 16, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 4! (Interactive Orals)

I am a big fan of using ‘interactive fair’ orals – when students work with each other (without a hovering teacher) to exchange information/learn from each other. I use them at every level. Often the summative writing piece draws on the information that they obtained during the fair. This post talked about my ‘first’ interactive oral that I introduce – for my novices – and their reaction to this sort of activity. It comes after much work using activity rubrics and other strategies (not understanding etc) so that they are ‘ready’ to do this. And so…the Number 4 most popular post this year…

club names“It Was Cool!” Their First Group Interpersonal Oral…

I am so proud of my Year 1’s. In one (strike-shortened) semester they have mastered one new orthography and are well on their way to a second. They are learning how to feel confident and communicate in a second language they’ve only experienced watching anime or looking at manga. And yesterday – for 40 fabulous minutes – they talked, laughed and communicated solely in Japanese.

The first interactive group oral of their language-learning journey is based on a simple premise: activities they like to do.  The students are also, by this time, becoming very comfortable with follow-up questions like ‘where at?’, ‘when’, and ‘who with’.  Whenever I am casting about for a suitable oral I like to think of ‘when’ the vocabulary/grammar would be used in real life. For me, tying in activities with their daily life led me to clubs.

The Task – The students are asked to create a club and select 3 activities that would be done there. Then they have to decide on meeting times, who they have formed their club with and where they meet. The students also had to think of reasons/ways to convince someone to join in with them.

The Preparation – The topic is introduced via a club that I created and put up on the screen. We worked through Q/A on the details of that club. Then they had, working as pairs, 2 classes to prepare – with part of one taken up with an ‘information gap’ (partner has information that I need, I have information for them) activity to practice asking/answering questions. They also had time to come up with their club sign which is worth no marks but still seems to be the most labour-intensive part of the whole task!

The Club Day – With a 30-student class I pulled out 1/2 of my desks and made a big circle around the room with the rest. Students sat on either side of the desks – the student on the ‘inside’ of the circle would be first to visit other clubs – the student on the ‘outside’ would be the club signmanager for that period of time and give out information. The signs stand up on the desk with the help of dollar store picture holders. Just before we begin we review what the purpose of the oral is – to practice speaking, to talk to our classmates and to relax and have fun. Then we begin – and students visit other clubs, asking questions in Japanese and recording in English (do they understand?). After they visited 6 or 7 clubs they switched roles with their partner. All in all about 35-40 minutes in the target language!

The Evaluation – It’s my practice to have this activity ‘self-evaluated’. It is also my practice not go straight to the rubric but to have students reflect on the process through written comments first.  They were asked to complete two sentences: “That was ___ because…” and “I am most proud that…”  Their comments showed their personal pride in completing the task:

“That was cool because we talked in Japanese for 40 minutes! When I started (class) I didn’t think that we would have learned that much!”
“That was fun because I learned from other people and got to know others better!”
“I am most proud that I didn’t use English during this activity.”
“I am most proud that I could tell others about my club!”
“That was awesome because I know that I’ve improved in my Japanese speaking and listening!”
“That was cool because I got to talk with my classmates without having a lot of pressure about messing up!”
“That was pretty cool because as I was speaking I was also realizing that I learned a lot this semester!”

But, after a semester of language learning and team building my favourite comment was:

“That was fun because I got to speak Japanese with my friends!” 

Job done!


A copy of the student portion of the task is here with task outline, fill in form and evaluation. If you find it useful – please do so with credit.

December 13, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 2! (No Grammar Words!)



It was a major move last year – eliminating the grammar ‘words’ from my teaching. This year my students, who were the first classes under this new approach, are also using words in class like “describing word” or “~ly word” when referring to using the language…This post seemed to resound with a lot of others too.

What’s a ‘Verb’? Eliminating the “Grammar Words” in My Teaching

I actually heard a world language teacher say this last year “If he doesn’t know the parts of speech he can’t pass my class”. And I was stunned…really…if you don’t know what an “adverb” is you can’t communicate?

Now I know that there are lots of views out there. There are those who subscribe to all kinds of theories  and techniques to teach. First up – I still care about grammar. I care that my students construct their communication (written/oral) correctly so that they are understandable to anyone they might interact with.

I used to ‘teach grammar’ and now I teach with ‘pop-up’ and ‘less explicit’ embedded grammar. As this change has set in so has my view on how I even ‘talk’ about it when I do talk ‘grammar’. So, what I don’t want to do  – what I experimented with this year- is any teaching with/using ‘grammar’ words.

And besides – I have kids who can tell me a part of speech – and talk the ‘grammar talk’ but in reality not use it correctly at all. You know – the student who tells me that ‘hamburger’ is the object of the verb but when I ask what an ‘object’ is they can’t tell me  – or use it correctly when they speak/write.

So this year I changed my wording…basically going with the ‘explanation’ instead of the grammar word itself. That meant that instead of traditional terms I substituted – using things like:

  • Verb – What You Are Doing
  • Adjective – Describing Word
  • Adverb – How we are doing something or the ‘~ly’ word
  • Noun – People/ Places/ Things
  • Subject – Who/What We’re Talking About
  • Object – What Specifically We are Doing, Eating, Wearing etc
  • Grammar Use – How You Say What You Want To Say or How You Put It Together

How did it go? Well – I can say that it don’t go any worse than when I was using the ‘grammar’ words themselves. Perhaps it was just a ‘moral victory’ on my part. But  I like this trend. I like the focus away from the ‘parts’ of the language and on to the idea of communicating.

I’ll continue to tweak this …but I think I’m sticking with it!





December 11, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year – Number 1! (Pictionary/Sentence-onary)

As many teachers who blog – the end of the year is a time to look back and reflect. Although I blog mainly to talk to myself & curate my ‘learning’, I like to see what resonated with others. Today is the top post from the previous year – a twist on an old classic!

Class Activity Fun: Pictionary! Phrase-onary and even Sentence-onary!

MP900341508Take 30 Yr1’s and 25 minutes to go in the period and a game is needed!  We’ve done the bingo and jeopardy to death and I am without a Kahoot ready for this. So I go back to an old favourite – Pictionary – but “whole class” Pictionary. And not just pictures…eventually phrases and sentences. It’s structured to be a review time if needed and fun/competitive enough to involve them in the spirit of the game. And best of all it draws upon teamwork to succeed.

The Game Rules:

Team Set-Up: I like to play in teams of 5-6 students. They will all be taking a turn drawing – and answering and it gives enough ‘mass’ to work well. I allow one set of notes – upside down in the centre of their table (answers there if they are needed….). They are required to think of a team name in the target language (with 14-year olds this can take 10 minutes!)

Everyone Answers – We’ve all had that one Hermione Granger (Harry Potter reference) – the kid who knows it all (I loved her by the way!). But in my pictionary world it is the team that is key. As soon as you answer for your team you are ‘out’ until everyone else on the team has answered. Of course a student can give an answer to someone on their team – that’s fine. But no putting up your hand until all are called (I often note names for teams to avoid the “But Sensei I haven’t answered yet – really” claim).

The Drawing: No pressure to be a Picasso! Drawing takes place on my whiteboard at the front of the room. All ‘drawers’ are doing so in front of all the teams. Who cares if you can’t draw well – everyone can see all of the pictures – and someone else’s may provide the clue for your team! You don’t need a lot of room – I had 6 teams working on a double board…If you don’t have a lot of board space then large sheets of paper would work I think. “Send up your drawers” – and the students come forward. I give them the word – in English – so the pressure is on the team, not them, to know the word. They aren’t allowed to write words but I do allow ‘am’ ‘pm’ and characters for ‘month’ and ‘day’. Students get the word – get into position and I call ‘start’ and watch for hands going up.

The Progression:

This is the key part for me. We start with individual words – usually a quick few rounds to get them used to the game – and have everyone give an answer. Typically I give 1 point for each but the points don’t matter. Then I start to progress. From a basic word “TV” to “watching TV yesterday” to “I watched TV yesterday with my friends at my house.”  As we move up I will give clues like “This is a phrase” or “its a sentence”. It’s a great review time as, in Japanese, it hits some technical grammar points (particle use) particularly well. As kids guess I will encourage with “close” or “think about…” and other clues. Often the need to have a new ‘answerer’ each time means that they are working together to solve the picture puzzle. We keep going team to team until the correct answer comes out. Of course I add outrageous point values to try to keep it fun!

Pictionary/Phrase-onary/Sentence-onary is a fun alternative for part of a review class, or any other time when you just feel that you ‘need’ a game…








November 25, 2015
by leesensei

“That Could Have Been Better”: Dealing With The ‘Not Good Enough’ Feelings..

up_stairsAs I watched my Yr3’s in their summative write for the School Fair I found myself thinking “I should have done more..” I should have done more formative feedback in writing, I could have provided more support prior to the interactive oral, we could have taken more time…” Have you ever found yourself in this position? That it could have, should of, had to have been better? I have that a lot. It comes when I forget something in the plan, when an activity isn’t going well, or at the end of a unit when I look back at how it went. It comes when I am tired, it comes when I read inspiring blogs and it comes in the middle of the night when I wake up, start thinking of school and can’t get back to sleep.

There are some in my school who mistakenly think I am some sort of ‘super teacher’. That what I do in my class is so great it is intimidating to them. I am flabbergasted when I hear that. Many days I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants. There are days when the lessons aren’t so great, when I am tired, when I’m not inspired and when it just goes sideways. There are days when students in my class might even be – okay – are bored.

How do you deal with the doubt, the stress, the ‘it wasn’t good enough?’. How do you work to implement change and yet keep a hold on your own health? In a recent #langchat someone mentioned ‘time’.  And yes – they are on to something. I think you need to think about ‘time’. The fact that ‘time’ is lacking for many of us. That we could, if we could, spend unlimited time on the ‘quest’ for the perfect lesson.

When the doubt comes, when the lesson bombs, when you think about what you ‘could’ have done I encourage you to take a step back. What were you doing when you weren’t ‘improving and innovating’?  What were you doing with your time? Were you taking a walk, talking with a loved one, watching something fun, surfing the net?  Because that time is important too. For me I have to be rested, to be engaged in “my” world to have the time to be innovative. I have to be rested to have the energy. I have to be expanding my own horizons in order to work to expand my students’.

Change is hard. It’s necessary and its vital and it keeps my head in the ‘teaching game’. Without it I would have given up on this 20 year career long ago. But I am learning to ‘take my time’. Yes that unit could have been better. Yes I might have tried something different. Yes – it’s a long slow walk to try to be better and NO it will never be perfect.

So, as we approach some time off – I encourage you to take time for yourself….it’s an investment that will pay off in your classroom in the future…


September 28, 2015
by leesensei

“I Figure I’ll Try One Thing” – Presenting Tech Options as Opportunities Not Necessities

Source: Creative Commons

On Friday last week I was lucky to present to a small group of staff interested in on-line and tech options to enhance their classrooms. I was surprised any came as the person who put out our Pro-D agenda wrote ‘Technology’ for my session. And if there’s anything that seems to turn many on my staff off it’s the idea that ‘technology’ is now needed/ useful for their classroom. The group that I presented to was really varied real – in both years of teaching experience (2-25 years) and subject matter (Home Ec to PE to Math).

I presented ideas that would allow teachers to enhance kids learning even when they were not actually in class. This was not a hands-on presentation – by choice. I find people are often pushed into a technological tool with no idea how it will really be useful for them. So instead I wanted to ‘sell’ them on these tools – that is ‘sell’ in its purest form – find a need that they have and meet it with something that I was offering. These included (and my handout is here):

  • Vocabulary Reinforcement/Review with Quizlet
  • Video Review/Enhanced Learning via curated YouTube Playlists
  • Video review by making your own videos with Snagit
  • Self Paced Learning/Checking in with Educanon
  • Learning, Self-Testing and Feedback with Google Forms/Flubaroo (my original post on using it here)

In addition I focused on the 3 tech tools that I had outlined in a previous post. What was key was not to leap into using ‘technology’ but rather – to really find out what a teacher wanted/needed in their room. For example, every one of these teachers, regardless of subject, have students who need to interact with vocabulary – and Quizlet is the ‘tool’ (not the goal) in helping them to do that.  Another key for me was to clearly show just how long a process this has been for me. It starts with a lesson, then a unit, then a course…one course …not everything changing at once.

After the presentation I spent some time visiting each teacher who had attended and offering further clarification/support. One teacher said that she had always been hesitant with options on-line – as they had always been presented with the focus on what it was –  not what it could do for her. She said “You know, that Quizlet is one small thing that I think I could use.” We have an appointment set aside to talk further about it.

As someone who has been quick to adopt new tools and has been frustrated for/with those who view it as ‘technology’ and not just a new ‘tool’, I learned it is more key to “sell” the service it can provide, not the ‘tool’ itself. Equally key is one-on-one followup to offer more explanation and support. And finally, I cannot stress more and more that those adopting new tools only do one at a time. It is more key to take a step than paralyze a teacher with all that they ‘could do’.

Baby steps…big payoff…



April 6, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

“What Was Your Challenge? How Did You Overcome It” – Student Responses and What I Learned…


In my last post I wrote about my goal of ‘traction’ for my students. But the key for me is “Is the lesson on how to communicate/what to do if there are challenges?” getting through.

My Year4’s do a group interactive oral based upon a taste test. In the past I would not have been too strict on it but this is the new me and I asked that they do their 2-day preparation for the activity all in the target language (gasp! yes – I didn’t used to think they could!). It took some time – and some work to give them what they needed – and many ‘support/needed phrases’ went up on the whiteboard. Afterwards I asked them to reflect on how it went using my usual activity rubric. More importantly I first asked them to write their answer to the following prompt: “What were the challenges in doing this – and how did you overcome them (or did you?)”. Their answers tell me that many of the skills we try to acquire to communicate are there… and also that there is some work to do.

“Personally I do not think that I completely overcame the challenges I faced, but the use of hand gestures and examples helped me through…”

“Speaking Japanese for the whole time was a big challenge. I wasn’t sure how to connect the words to make sense at items but I tried to use language that we had learned in the past. This totally helped me to go on and talk with my partner.”

“I honestly got stuck several times with my partner – at a loss for vocabulary – but I got through this by (like Lee Sensei said) finding other words to get out of the ‘hole’ and use words I do know.”

“We used body language to express what we were trying to say (when we didn’t know) and to be honest its a good thing to do – it worked!”

“It was a challenge to ask something that the other person would be able to understand – I overcame this by testing sentences until they understood what I wanted to say.”

“To overcome this I tried to use similar words, and then rephrasing to make my point get across.”

“Yesterday when I was stuck I resorted to English – but today we learned from yesterday’s mistakes and used actions and simple words – instead of English to overcome the language barrier.”

“I can converse in a conversation but planning I tend to need to use more complicated sentences and that was more difficult. I tried to overcome it by trying out different sentence starters, rewording as I needed to..”

“When my partner and I worked together I felt more comfortable to overcome the challenges of not knowing certain words”

“It was very uncomfortable at first but I focused on only using Japanese and it worked okay and I gained some confidence (in using it)”

“I think we didn’t really have a clear strategy in not using English except that we both tried our best not to and that really helped us overcome the challenge of not using it! In the end it was the effort that did it!”

“It was difficult to talk completely in Japanese – we used our unit book notes etc. to help – but it was do-able.”

And what did I learn from this?

I learned that all the work we do with assisting, circumlocuting and rephrasing is sinking in.

I learned that they will commit to using the TL only if they think it is worthwhile to do so.

And I learned this should be the norm – they should be able to plan (and do) in the target language (do I see the influence of PBL @sraspanglish?). BUT this means I start them doing this in earlier years – with lots of language support they will need. Then I can scaffold up my expectations of their language use as we ‘raise’ the bar in their TL use while planning/preparing.

It was a great to see them ‘digging in’ to do this and to learn how I can support them more as they try to move forward with language use.





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