Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

April 12, 2017
by leesensei
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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!

C

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!

December 15, 2015
by leesensei
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Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 3 (Key Tech ‘Bits’)

As I count down the ‘Best of…’ this year it strikes me that the top posts – like our teaching practice – reflects a combination of the old and new. The top post drew on a classic game, and the second most popular on a philosophical shift in my ‘practice’. The third draws, not on major technological changes, but three small tech bits that work well in my class…and perhaps yours.

 Three “Small But Vital” Tech Bits for My Language Classroom

freeimages.co.uk techonology imagesThere are lots of technology ‘tools’ and ‘apps’ out there to make our teaching lives easier – and enrich the learning experience for our students. As I was uploading a file to my Evernote yesterday I thought about 3 ‘tech’ bits that are vital in my classroom.

Tiny Scanner App for my Phone –  I admit that I got this because Joe Dale posted that the “pro” version was free one day on his amazing blog. Wasn’t sure I’d use it but if Joe says its good – you get it. Well – with my use of Evernote for my school planning it has been an absolute winner. I use TinyScan to take pictures of my board before/after class. Often I don’t need a full ‘photo’ but really am just looking for a ‘record’ of what happened. Tiny Scanner turns my phone into a portable scanner. It will upload directly to my Evernote in formats from ‘photo’ to ‘black & white’ and can also directly link to other ‘cloud’ storage programs. It is an essential app in my daily teaching. (Joe has already let me know that if you are an Office user then Office Lens might be a more ‘seamless’ app for you to directly integrate with the Office suite of products.)

Keynote Export to Video (even HD!) option – I’m big on unit slideshows. I use them for teaching/repetition of ideas all the time. But a nifty feature I have been using more and more is the ‘export’ to video function. An example of its impact is going on right now in my class – we review ‘class language’ at the start of the year. I use my Keynote slideshow for that as I take kids through our key phrases. I also have the video file (set to about 8 seconds per slide) ready to go – it plays before class starts, it plays while the are completing work…it rolls whenever I need it. It’s a great way to reinforce key points, or introduce ideas in an indirect way. You can even export the audio from a presentation to the video as well. And yes you can also create videos via PowerPoint….

SaveFrom.Net – Easy Youtube Downloading –  When the internet at school is shaky – or even non-existent – you can’t stream anything in class. So downloading a video from YouTube or another source becomes key. There are some great programs out there – including KeepVid.com – but my current fave is SaveFrom.Net. Why? Because you don’t have to copy/paste the YouTube URL to use it. Just type “ss” between the ‘www.’ and the ‘youtube’ in the URLusethis  – then hit ‘enter’. When you do this you go directly to their site. Don’t click on any links there for other products – but download your video when it shows up as ready to go! It will handle YouTube, Vimeo and many more formats. No more ‘buffering’ …..

What are your ‘small but vital’ tech bits that enhance your teaching life?

Colleen

September 19, 2015
by leesensei
0 comments

Three “Small But Vital” Tech Bits for My Language Classroom

freeimages.co.uk techonology images

Image: Morguefile.com

There are lots of technology ‘tools’ and ‘apps’ out there to make our teaching lives easier – and enrich the learning experience for our students. As I was uploading a file to my Evernote yesterday I thought about 3 ‘tech’ bits that are vital in my classroom.

Tiny Scanner App for my Phone –  I admit that I got this because Joe Dale posted that the “pro” version was free one day on his amazing blog. Wasn’t sure I’d use it but if Joe says its good – you get it. Well – with my use of Evernote for my school planning it has been an absolute winner. I use TinyScan to take pictures of my board before/after class. Often I don’t need a full ‘photo’ but really am just looking for a ‘record’ of what happened. Tiny Scanner turns my phone into a portable scanner. It will upload directly to my Evernote in formats from ‘photo’ to ‘black & white’ and can also directly link to other ‘cloud’ storage programs. It is an essential app in my daily teaching. (Joe has already let me know that if you are an Office user then Office Lens might be a more ‘seamless’ app for you to directly integrate with the Office suite of products.)

Keynote Export to Video (even HD!) option – I’m big on unit slideshows. I use them for teaching/repetition of ideas all the time. But a nifty feature I have been using more and more is the ‘export’ to video function. An example of its impact is going on right now in my class – we review ‘class language’ at the start of the year. I use my Keynote slideshow for that as I take kids through our key phrases. I also have the video file (set to about 8 seconds per slide) ready to go – it plays before class starts, it plays while the are completing work…it rolls whenever I need it. It’s a great way to reinforce key points, or introduce ideas in an indirect way. You can even export the audio from a presentation to the video as well. And yes you can also create videos via PowerPoint….

SaveFrom.Net – Easy Youtube Downloading –  When the internet at school is shaky – or even non-existent – you can’t stream anything in class. So downloading a video from YouTube or another source becomes key. There are some great programs out there – including KeepVid.com – but my current fave is SaveFrom.Net. Why? Because you don’t have to copy/paste the YouTube URL to use it. Just type “ss” between the ‘www.’ and the ‘youtube’ in the URLusethis  – then hit ‘enter’. When you do this you go directly to their site. Don’t click on any links there for other products – but download your video when it shows up as ready to go! It will handle YouTube, Vimeo and many more formats. No more ‘buffering’ …..

What are your ‘small but vital’ tech bits that enhance your teaching life?

Colleen

February 24, 2014
by leesensei
2 Comments

QR for Curiosity – Encouraging Students To Be Curious

qrtellagamiAs smartphone use/ownership among students rises – so has the use of the QR codes. I add them to unit packages for links for Quizlet sites or my YouTube channel  – hoping that the ubiquitous phone in the teenagers hand will help them find support outside of class time. Some educators use them as a required part of the lesson. I know that not all of my kids have smart phones capable of reading codes so I don’t require them. Even when I provide them for support I also provide a shortened link to the same material. In a previous post I wrote about a number of practical ways to use them but I didn’t really focus on another reason to use them in your teaching.

To me, the fact that they are a visual, and don’t come with any ‘words’ attached also means that we can use them to reward the curious. This year I am trying an ‘experiment’ in my room – just to see who is curious enough, or aware enough to want to know more. I won’t be giving out extra marks for this, but I will wait to see if any students comment on what I have done.

A QR code on my door – I used an app called “Tellagami”  to create a short animated video introducing who I am and what I teach. Then using a free QR code creator I generated a QR code (it’s the one at the start of  this post). It’s on window of my door – right where students might notice. If they are curious they will find out a bit about who I am. Almost as important to me is the message it sends “We try new things in here!”

A visual/QR code bulletin board – One of the reasons that I like QR codes is that they don’t come with any words attached. This semester I set up a bulletin board with areas in Japan – outside of the major cities. I dug up some older picture cards I had and put tbulletinboardhem together with a map. The only information provided is an arrow to a part of the map and a QR code. The code links to a page for the city or region. This bulletin board will come into play later in my grade 12 course but for now I notice kids looking, pointing and sometimes scanning.

A ‘What is This’?  – I receive a magazine a few times a year and one of its pages features objects/items that are photo(2)unique to Japan. In this case I have the picture/explanation but I remove the title (and black out the word in the text if needed). Instead I substitute an audio QR code. They are easy to make via the qrvoice website and available for many languages. Students can read about the object but won’t know what it is until they scan and hear the word.

If you need a code reader on your phone – search your appropriate app store – there are a lot of free ones there. Making QR codes is easy too – there are several sources out there including:

  • kaywa  – make sure you select “static” not dynamic for the easy creation
  • goo.gl  – it’s a url shortener and, if you click on ‘details’  create a QR code
  • qrvoice  – type your text, select your language and the code is generated

I’m hoping that the lack of information, and the ease of scanning the code, will reward the curious. And curious learners will, I hope, be more willing to risk in my classroom.

Colleen

 

February 3, 2014
by leesensei
2 Comments

Considerations As You Allow “The Phone”

Outrageous Phone CallAs a language teacher I find mobile phones are a great resource as a dictionary, a unique way to do homework and, for many of my students, an alternative way to take notes. I’ve been using them in my class for a while now and their presence is actually hardly noticed – so seamlessly is it a part of what we do. In working them into my class I’ve learned some things about how to introduce them that may help you if you just starting to allow them.

“Out on The Desk”  – The first few weeks of my class always starts with the call to “take out your phones – upside down on your desk”. So stunned are most students that you are allowing this that the phone carriers all do. As we work through class I make a mental note of who has them. If I don’t see it when I initially ask them to take it out they will often get a personal reminder to do so. Gradually the action becomes a habit and having it in plain sight makes it easier to use, and not to abuse.

“Silent/Upside Down” –  In the first few weeks of class I start each class the same way by asking them to take out their phone, place them face down on their desks and set to “manner mode” (‘mute’ as it’s called in Japanese).  I warn them that sometimes we all  forget to mute it and it will ring and usually tell a story on myself of how my mother likes to text or phone me at all hours of the day. Then I talk what to do if your phone goes off – apologize, mute it, don’t check it and continue on with what you were doing.  By the way inevitably my mother does call, my phone isn’t on mute and my students hear the ring, look at me and say “your mom?” (target language of course!)

“Use It As They Do” – My phone is out, on my computer table during class. It is upside down and set to ‘mute’. I have blogged before about the usefulness of recording what happens in my classes. So I use my phone in front of them. The first few times I do it I tell them what I’m up to but eventually they don’t even notice. What am I doing? I take photos for me of my boards if I have been using them. I will often upload it (after converting it to a pdf or grey-scale photo) to my website – in front of them – for those without phones who want the visual as well.  I update my website with it – in front of them. If we’re searching for a word I’ll use the dictionary app. For my Japanese classes I also use it to show them how to look up characters using ‘hand drawn’ input.  Using it yourself is a powerful tool for you – and a great way to model it’s proper use.

“Consequences When Needed” – Okay there are still occasional slip ups. It’s not hard to notice the furtive glances or an attempt to key in a quick text. Generally I call out the offender with a “really?” and it doesn’t happen again. Students know it is a privilege to use the phone in my room – and that that privilege can be removed. It’s only ever happened once – a student who kept using their phone inappropriately. After 3 warnings they were asked to hand it over – each day at the start of class for 3 weeks. I kept a post-it on my computer desk to remind me to ask. Three weeks later, when the phone was returned, it was never misused again.

So go ahead – release the phones. If you set the ground rules, model what you want and monitor it a lot at the start they will learn to use it positively in class. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll unleash its potential benefits for you as well!

Colleen

 

January 1, 2014
by leesensei
0 comments

Language Sensei: Most Popular Posts of 2013

MP900289582Language Sensei is a forum for me to explore both teaching an MFL (modern foreign language) and work to integrate/explore technology both in my classroom and for personal development. It has been my project for the past 2 (almost) years and it is the contact into the greater PLN that I have enjoyed the most. The people who take the time to comment, Tweet and Facebook ‘like’ only serve to confirm to me that we, as teachers, are at our best when we collaborate to learn (and share with others).  So what were Language Sensei’s most ‘popular’ posts of the year?

MFL/Foreign Language Teaching:

No. 1 Conversation Circles…or “I spoke in the TL for 45 Minutes?!” – ideas/tips for conversation circles in class

Runner Ups:

Edtech/Twitter:

No. 1 Homework? A Quick Phone-Recorded Conversation Please! – using smart phones/digital recorders to demonstrate learning

Runner Ups:

I am looking forward to where Language Sensei will take me in 2014 and welcome the comments/suggestions that come from my PLN. If you want to connect more as a modern foreign language teacher why not join in on #langchat? We ‘meet’ Thursday at 8pm and information on the how and when can be found here.

Happy 2014! I’m looking forward to another great year.

Colleen

 

 

 

Two Ways To “Power” Up MFL Students’ Learning

Visual Learning – Visual Cues

 

October 28, 2013
by leesensei
0 comments

“Connected”? Let Me Count The Ways…

MP900382822As “Connected Educator” month draws to a close – I reflect on the importance of, and variety of ways, that an educator makes connections and ‘is’ connected. I know that the opportunities have never been more varied – but in order to ensure quality connections the way that one makes those is still very personal. For me the opportunity to connect has come in new ways – and one rather old-fashioned one.
My jump into ‘connectivity’ started with a blog. I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it, but something compelled me to start one. What a valuable experience. Blogging has done two things for my connections. In an obvious way it has led to conversations with those who have found and read what I have posted. These connections have served to reinforce or support what I have written and occasionally asked me to rethink things as well. The other connection it has forged is with me.  Blogging is ultimately for me a dialogue with my professional self and it has truly helped me understand who I am as a teacher. What do I really believe? What insights have I developed? What growth have I shown? The blog has answered these questions for me and more.

Connectivity increased with starting a Twitter account. I can’t believe how I learn so much from the generosity, and honesty, of educators around the world. When you start as a ‘lurker’ you may not realize how great it can be. It wasn’t until I started tweeting that the depth of connections grew. Nothing is more invigorating as that moment you leave the ‘lurk’ and become a participant in your PLN. I have collaborated on rubrics with @natadel76 in Wisconsin, got edtech advice from @joedale in the UK and am hoping to visit with @catherineKU72 at her school. Following the #langchat hashtag led me to the weekly Thursday chats and eventually to being asked to join the moderating team (find them all here!). I would not part with the 140-character professional, and personal, connections I have developed.

In this day of modern technology there is also a traditional way; the old-fashioned ‘face to face’ connections. Despite being incredibly connected to the world outside, my school still provides the daily social and professional connections that continue to energize me. I am so privileged to have my colleague Cara Babson teach next door. The amount of sharing, planning and professional growth that has occurred simply as we wait for students at our classroom door is amazing. Cara and I share our snippets  of what is happening in our classes, new projects, frustrations etc. Almost always at lunch my professional conversation continues with other valued friends – we debrief, problem-solve, console and laugh. In this day of ‘connectivity’ it is important to me to maintain these relationships.

How do you ‘connect’ professionally? I suspect your ‘network’ is composed of fibre-optic cable, and face-to-face conversations too!

Colleen

August 20, 2013
by leesensei
0 comments

“Let Me Check My List” – A Tip To Manage Your PLN

Business woman standing outside in front of office building, using mobile phone One of the greatest boosts in my teaching career has been the development of my Twitter PLN/ALN (as per a previous post – mine isn’t just “Personal” it’s an “Active” Learning Network). It has been amazing for me to see who I have followed, what their interests are, and more importantly who their contacts have led me to.  But even judicious building of an ALN/PLN can lead to a large, and unwieldy stream of tweets. Especially as many of those I find key to my learning often participate in their own chats.

So my key to maintaining my control of my learning network is the list.  If the Twitter stream is the filing cabinet of my PLN then the List is the “label” on the drawer (the person I follow is the “file”). The list, then, is my way to organize HOW I use Twitter. In my case it is a simple list of categories such as “Edtech” or “Langchat”. Instead of viewing my Twitter stream as a ‘whole’ – which can be overwhelming – I tend to use the lists for the ‘hit’ that I feel that I need. If I am looking for Edtech ideas then that list is where I go. MFL/Language issues are my “Langchat” group. And, as many of us are not just one dimensional, its nice to be able to put them on as many lists as I like.

In an ideal world you would have created your lists categories before building your network. That way when you are following 400 people listyou won’t have to take time to ‘re-list’ them. Mine certainly didn’t work that way and I did have to go back and add a certain number after the fact. Now as I add people, I try to remember to list them at the same time. As for the categories themselves – I answered the question “why am I following this person?” and they quickly became evident. You can access your lists either via the gear icon on the drop down menu (top right – navigation bar) or from your profile page.

Lists are the quick way to find professional development ideas, encouragement, connections and even a laugh on a topic that you have created for you – with content (people) that you have put there for you – and if that isn’t Personal – I don’t know what is.

Colleen

August 7, 2013
by leesensei
2 Comments

What If Your Bulletin Board Could Speak? QR Codes in the Classroom….

Language Sensei is on summer break until I return to school September 3rd. Just as I spend time rethinking my teaching and learning anew, Language Sensei will be revisiting past posts concentrating on professional change and ‘easy to implement tech’.
We are, as teachers, always looking for a unique way to either engage a student, or facilitate their learning. Linking to a piece of text, a website or even an audio clip, one of my most useful tools is becoming the Quick Response (QR) code.  Easily scanned by any smart phone, iPod Touch or tablet with a free reading app, these codes provide a new ‘tool’ in getting information to students but also empowering them to seek information themselves.
What if your bulletin boards could speak? Imagine a group of students armed with a device in a vocabulary lesson treasure hunt. Pictures for words or phrases with a code below that provides audio information. No dictionary, just learning by experiencing.  You can even practice verb conjugations – with a picture of people doing a particular action and a code that correct verb form – in short audio clip or as a text-based message.
What if you could put video or an actual website on your worksheet? Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words – or at least not visiting the dictionary.  I typically hand out my unit book on the day of the previous unit’s exam. For my Japanese 12 class a unit on travel includes the code for the National Tour Organization right on the schedule – students had already visited the site, and were primed for the work prior to my even beginning the section.
What if your student’s work could be seen and heard? Are your students encouraged to introducing themselves in the target language? Magnify the impact by placing a code below a student’s picture to allow classmates learn more about each other. By experimenting with longer audio clips students could narrate a story about their daily routine. Another possibility is to use the code only – as a ‘mystery student of the week’ – students listening or hearing about someone and guessing who it is.
What if you found a way to help kids access more information on a topic?  Learning new verbs in class and need a quick review – then scan the code to be taken to a video (selected by you the teacher) that reviews the content. One student finally accessed assistance because “I didn’t need to type in that long url”. In my class each unit handout includes codes that take students directly to ome of my YouTube video reviews and the Quizlet vocabulary cards.
I know that all students do not have access to this technology. For my classes any ‘QR’ use is done in groups and the key is not reading the code – but what happens with the information it provides. All codes are accompanied by a corresponding ‘shortened’ link for the same information – easily accessed on one of our school library computers. How might you use them in your class?
Want to know more? Visit the link here for my ‘how-to’ presentation for codes/shortened links.

June 11, 2013
by leesensei
2 Comments

My Year With Evernote Experiment Take-Aways…

evernoteIt’s been 10 months since I started my journey with Evernote.  In September it was my goal to document my units/lessons as I went along and, hopefully, end up with my courses ‘consolidated’ in one location. I chose to use the “Premium” option to ensure that I got full access to what Evernote could do. At this point I know that I don’t use Evernote to it’s greatest capacity but so far I am really pleased with what it has offered me:

notebook and notesAll Organized and Easy to Follow: For me, its an incredible organizational tool. All my units, lesson plans, handouts, audio, video etc in one place. I’m a person who likes to ‘see’ a unit laid out before me and with each lesson labelled “Unit X – Day Y” it gives me a sense of direction. I learned early on to not only organize by day but also to put a brief description of what I cover in the title. It is easy to see how long a unit typically takes me and what I cover each day. If I deviate from a past lesson I either change the entire note or create an “alternate” lesson note for that day.

Cross-platform and Multiple Device access: To me this is the huge advantage for trying this program. My schoolnote data has a desktop PC stuck in my classroom and I use my personal MacBook Pro for my lessons etc. With Evernote I can take audio of class activities and photos of my boards etc and upload directly to the appropriate note from my iPhone using the app.  I can preview lessons from home using my laptop and transfer files created on my school PC directly via Evernote Web. Of course it’s equally handy to use to grab files I created ‘on the fly’ for my classes and uploaded via the Web function so they can be stored/backed up using my school server.

Tagged Sites Using “Clipper” Add-On: This has been a great tool for me combining my use of Twitter etc with the organizing ease of Evernote. Being able to click on the ‘clipper’ icon on my browser (Firefox for me ) and then tag the site for future reference is so useful. When I finally get my iPad this summer I will be able to search my tags for all of the iPad info I have found along the way. Tagging sites has meant they are much easier to find and actually use.

What I Learned to Do:  Back Up –  Okay – the great Evernote password scare made me learn to do this. I did learn that files created in a non-local notebook are always on your computer and in the Evernote cloud but I wanted to make sure I was protecting all my data. I don’t use a third-party company for it as I didn’t like the cost. I do use Time Machine to back up my MacBook so now when I am prompted to back up my Mac, I back up Evernote (exporting the notes in the .enex format to both my Mac and Dropbox). Yes I know that I can’t just go retrieve one lost note but I do like to know that all of that hard work is now securely stored elsewhere

My Two Wishes: While it may seem to be counter to my paperless purpose – I would like to be able to print out a unit ‘plan’ in the form of all the lessons (notes) for that unit. I have yet to try merging them all and printing but wouldn’t it be easier just to be able to highlight several notes and hit “print”?  My other wish would be to be able to put the items in the note where I want them – not where either my cursor is or Evernote wants them to be.

I don’t use Evernote with my students at this point (School District issues of privacy etc. there) but I’m sure that ‘s where I am headed next. Meanwhile if you know of a way to print those multiple notes…let me know!

Colleen

 

 

 

 

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