Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

October 30, 2012
by leesensei
1 Comment

The “Uncomfortable” Classroom

  The other day a colleague, looking at my QR codes for my student video/vocab links said “I’m so glad that I’m retiring in 3 years so I don’t have to do any tech etc.  in class!”.

I was dumbfounded. It’s my 18th year of teaching and my prepping and updating has never kept me busier. My classroom is not a place of comfort for me ….it’s uncomfortable and that’s good. Why do I love my uncomfortable classroom?

My students are learning to ‘do for themselves’ – When students direct their learning – materials and resources need to come from a variety of sources. I am using Quizlet, Snagit, YouTube, QRcodes, my own Quicktime audio files etc. These take time to set up. It’s not comfortable for me – as each unit brings up new requirements but once done – they are there.

My students are not just learning in class – I am amazed to see how and when they access material. Review videos at 2am, vocabulary on their phone ..these are just two tech changes that require me to be up to date. Flipping my classroom is not a permanent venture for me – but I am using the idea at least once or twice per unit – this requires time for me to prep items for them to use.

Teaching has changed – My language MFL classroom is focused more and more on communicative interactive activities.  Therefore, I no longer ‘stand and deliver’ content and what I used to do just doesn’t cut it any more. This means  more hours revising to make sure that activities fit into this new style.

Risk is not comfortable. I am risking by trying new things and revamping old items. Doing this in front of, and with,  my students in the classroom is not comfortable. But choosing to eschew ‘comfort’ in my classroom I am seeing growth and learning like I never have before. My students are more involved and responsible learners…and their language use is soaring.

Comfort? No thanks!




October 15, 2012
by leesensei

Tagging with Evernote – No spray paint required!

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

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

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

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

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

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




October 1, 2012
by leesensei

The “New” Lesson Plan – Pre and Post class!

Have you ever gone back and looked at your ‘daybook’? For me it was always on paper in a red covered planner. Static, words only, hardly a way to describe what is going to happen, and what does happen, in my class. With my focus on technology, and a quest to reduce my paper footprint, I have been diligently using Evernote to record my lesson plan, and adjusting it during class.

So what does my evernote lesson plan look like?

Print – After teaching for 18 years the file contains my basic plan for the day- entered into Word at this point and uploaded by date.  I follow along and modify at the end of class – did I do what I planned to do? What changed? Any paper-based quizzes etc are also here.

Audio – If I am doing a listening exercise with a pre-made clip, or a song, or something else I also upload the audio that I added to the lesson. As I carry my text’s audio file on my computer I don’t include that…it’s at my fingertips.

PSD/PDF files – As a Mac user from way back I started to use a tablet and photoshop to upload and annotate my pdfs. Any special psd’s are there. Yes I know that there are now other options for annotating pdfs – I’ll get to that! I also include any notes that I gave in .jpg format – the same ones I publish on my site.

Photos – yes I still sometimes use a board – and often the ‘end of the process’ is key. So when needed I take a picture of what happened. A great reminder of what I did.

As I move along on my lesson plan compilation I am curious to see what else I will add!  What do you include?


September 18, 2012
by leesensei

My New Evernote Notebook Stack…

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

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

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

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

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


September 6, 2012
by leesensei

Giving a Voice to My Lesson Plans…

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

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

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

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



August 28, 2012
by leesensei

A Year with Evernote…A rookie begins…

  This is the year that I show a commitment to using tech not only to deliver my course, but also to organize myself. When a colleague of mine initially showed me Evernote I was intrigued but sceptical. After all, beyond my mobile,  I don’t use a lot of ‘tech’ outside of the classroom. It seemed like an unnecessary complication in my daily teaching life. It took me a while, and many blog readings, to wrap my head around how I might use it. So I decided that this year I will commit to using it.

What swayed me to try it for the year?

Website Tagging – It’s nice to be able to automatically add a useful website to Evernote with ‘one click’ using the Web Clipper extension in my browser. As I ‘clip’ I can also assign one or more tags to the site. Because I create the tags, finding sites relevant to a topic is faster – as I don’t have to remember why I bookmarked a site.

Anywhere Access – I have all my files beautifully organized in my document folder on my school’s server. And there they sit. If I need access suddenly – unless I have it loaded onto my home laptop  – it is nearly impossible to do. Organizing my files on-line means that I will.

Notes in Any Form – I am loving the ability to record ideas in any form – print, audio etc. I input a ‘lesson’ or ‘pro-d’ idea and then add an audio note to flesh it out. The ability to use my mobile to do so means that ideas are captured when I think of them.

Practice What You Preach – My role in my school may change and as I act more as a teaching technology support person and I should model what that looks like. In addition, our province is committed to more personalized learning for students and using Evernote gives me a great look at, and experience using, a digital portfolio.

Look for periodic updates in my Evernote journey – it will be interesting to see where this leads me.


PS   I have elected to use the  paid “Premium” version – in order to test the maximum capabilities for me.





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