Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

October 9, 2016
by leesensei

Who Is The Focus? From “Centre Stage” to “Coaching Corner”…

file000981898347I’ve worked a lot to “re-orient” my teaching over the past few years. This is not just in the ‘way’ I teach, the ‘how’ of assessment and the ‘what’ of the new content of my courses. There’s another way I have signaled my change in teaching and that is in the physical set-up of my room. It began with the seating – when I realized that I could talk all day about communication, but if I didn’t support my students by creating the environment then I was really just that – all talk. So I changed the seating and have not regretted a day since I did.

There has been another issue in my class – my ‘computer’ working desk. Before I go further we have limited wi-fi and are not a 1:1 school. I am tied to using my laptop computer/LCD in a traditional classroom setting. And I am further tied down by where my ‘screen’ was located. In that traditional place, smack dab in the centre of the room. Smack dab in the middle of the white boards. And that put me smack dab in the middle of all of the action. I have been increasingly uncomfortable with this; with all of the student desks oriented so that they could see me in the middle. I’m trying to get out of the way of my student’s learning. I’m trying to minimize the time that I am front and centre. I’m trying to model that I am the ‘coach’ and what coach makes it all about them?

Finally I could stand it no more. We have a new principal this year and I am grateful that he really ‘gets’ that we are in changing times. So I went to him and said that I was tired of being in the middle of the action. And that I wanted to make a physical gesture to my students that they are the focus – not me. My principal got right on it with a simple work order and faster than both of us imagined the change was made. room

I am so pleased with my ‘new’ setup. I have way more board space to put up information that students need. The room is actually more ‘roomy’ because the computer desk is no longer the physically there. But most importantly I no longer have to be in the middle. I’m now really the coach in the corner (Canadians – no Don Cherry references please!).

We can talk a lot about our philosophy of teaching. But I also think it is also the physical setup changes that hammer home to students that ‘things are different’ here.


September 30, 2014
by leesensei

Baskets on the Table: Supporting Students and Easing Transitions

basket Last year I made a big step and modified my classroom setup. The tables of 4 was a push for me to change the focus in the room – and I am happy to report that the ‘atmosphere’ is working. Students quickly focus on communicating with others – and are less focused “on the board”. It means though – that having items on a back shelf, especially with 30 bodies in the room, and easily moving can be challenging. After a few shares by other members of the #langchat PLN I am looking to push that ‘central’ idea a bit further this year. Enter the extremely low-tech ‘centre of the table basket’ – bought at my local dollar store. What’s in the basket?

Learning supplies for students – Never again the “I don’t have a pen”. I took my basket of left-behind pens, pencils, erasers etc and added some to each basket. Along with it there is a glue stick, some paper clips, a small post-it note pad, dice for games, scissors and a ruler. Amazingly they are used as needed but I haven’t had a wholesale loss of anything yet. I’ll have my volunteers who come to do my bulletin boards every 2 weeks check the baskets and replenish as needed.  The other constant in the basket are the white envelopes. Inside – a copy of my ‘follow up’ questions – on small cards in both English and Japanese. Whenever I ask students to speak they are there as a resource to spur on conversation.

Supplies for the day’s class – You can see some brown envelopes in the basket as well. They are there for my next class – the Year 1’s who are learning their characters. For my Year 2’s in 3rd period I’ll switch those out for different orthography cards, as well as a deck of cards for a game we are playing. Under the basket are a game sheets – I”ll be using those later with the Year 3’s. It makes quick work of getting out and returning supplies for me – as the items students need for that class are there and ready to go.

Easing transitions and improving the “flow” in my room help to make my classes a bit more organized. I know I’ll find more uses for the “baskets on the table” as the year goes on!


June 15, 2014
by leesensei

Quick To Make & Ready for Any Activity: Pre-made Table Signs…

go signThis year, I have changed my class setup to pods of 4 desks (here’s why) – and am really pleased with the energy and interaction in the room. I made my first set of signs (numbered 1-8) as I waded into ‘stations‘ – and, as I introduced new activities, I began to see how convenient they are to have, and am adding more sets to my “ready to use” collection.

What are they made of/Where are they?  In this day of easy technology I like the ‘old school’ feel of the paper sign. I chose bright yellow card-stock – regular 8 1/2″ x 11″, folded in half, that can stand independently in the middle of the 4 desk pod.  They are clipped together and hung them from a push-pin beside table signsmy white board. Easy for me to see and grab when needed.

What’s on them? My first set is simply a set of numbers. I have 7 ‘pods’ in my room so they are numbered 1-8. 8? With students away, or a different focus for activities I find that I can need more than 7 groupings – and so I always have an extra ready to go if needed. I have used these for review stations, for seating charts for kids to ‘find their table’ and for groupings for everything from review to pre-activity planning.

photo 1

“I think so…”

My second set says “I think so…” on one side, and “I don’t think so..” on the other. I’ve used them for discussions for readings, debate practice and anything where students can express an opinion on a point of view/topic. Last week they were used for the Yr3 “recycling is/isn’t important” debate as students moved table to table practicing arguing for either side with different partners.

My third signs are very basic – and used for my ‘split’ class that I teach. I see my IDS (Independent Directed Study) Group – a post-Yr4 class –  in class every 2nd week. As I’m often changing how I set up for any given activity – the signs set out where they will be sitting in the room.

My newest set is with one of the first three characters of one of our TL scripts  – “あ” , “い” and “う” .  If I taught a non-character language it would be “A”, “B” and “C”.  I have 3 of each – which allows several tables to be part of the same group. These allow me various grouping options. For example, it can let me easily set my students into groups for those I know “get” a concept (and can move into an activity) with those that may require some review prior to moving on.

Quick to make, easy to see and available whenever I see the need to group – my ‘sign’ collection is sure to grow! Do you use this kind of table label and what works for you?


April 15, 2014
by leesensei

Changing Seating/Changing Teaching – What My Classroom “Set Up” Says…

Teaching ClassI looked out at my room the other day – the same room I started to teach in when it was a new school in in 1997. The blackboard is now a whiteboard, the screen is there for my computer…and wow – is that the same old TV in the corner for video announcements? (Yes!) But even more interesting for me is what has really changed. There is a big difference in ‘how’ my students use the room – how they sit, what they do, and where the focus on learning is. It took me a minute to connect the change in my room setup and my changing educational practice.The journey mirrors the evolution of my teaching…

Single Rows – Focus: Teacher at the front of the room:  Those first few years, with their long nights of prepping material and me trying to wrap my head around what I was ‘teaching’. Note the word ‘teaching’. With my students in rows, facing the front, it was clearly a ‘teacher as the driving force’ kind of space. And in those early years, as I worked to discover who I was as a teacher, and even what kind of things I wanted my students to explore it probably needed to be this way. The first few years can be chaotic, challenging and oh so much fun…and clearly, if you looked at my desk arrangement, I was the one ‘in charge’.

Pairs – in a “U” shape – Focus: Teacher at the  front of the room/another student: Gradually my room saw a change – from single rows to pairs – and, daringly, not even in rows. This coincided with my degree of comfort in the what and how that I was teaching. Notice again though that the focus was on me and the front of the room. Yes, I thought it had to be as that is where the screen for the overhead – replaced by computer/LCD is located. My degree of comfort in ‘letting them go and interact’ was growing – and I injected lots of partner/interactive time into the class. But clearly the setup still said ” ‘Focus on the teacher – and then shift to practicing with your partner’ (but remember who is in charge! )

“Tables” 4 desks- all facing each other – Focus: Fellow Students/Teacher when needed: And this year – another change for me – and another ‘leap’ in my style of teaching. I had tried the group of 4 in the past – but hadn’t made the permanent shift. But the changes in my teaching, and a visit to Catherine Ousselin (@catherineKU72) and her ‘table setup’ did it for me. If I was going to let my students, and a communicative/interactive focus be a priority, I needed to put my ‘desks where my teaching philosophy is’. So now they sit – pods of 4 desks – a partner to talk to beside them – and pair across the table for broader consultation/interaction. It’s a challenge at times – but remarkably easy to pull them all together for the ‘coaching’ moments at the screen/board. I don’t even think of it as the ‘front’ of the room any more – the focus is now on the students – and my teaching, okay my language coaching – is improving because of it.

I hope that my room now says to my students “the focus here is on you and using your language skills to communicate.” What does your setup say about what you value in your class?




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