Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

December 7, 2016
by leesensei

Adding Choice Options for Novices – The “Meeting/Fully Meeting” Options

file0001801120400Choice. It’s a key tenet of many teachers’ approach to language teaching. Spurred on by #langchat colleagues such as Amy Lenord, I have worked hard to provide choice in the vocabulary that my students use. Although I maintain a ‘base set’ of words for each unit – after that it’s up to them. Our motto is “you can use any word you want – as long as you can help someone else understand it.” To support this we practice expressing not understanding and how to assist someone when they don’t.

But I’ve also been thinking about choice in early presentational writing and initial interpersonal speaking. How do I give choice options, beyond just the ‘words’? How do I also begin to build an awareness of achieving expectations? How can a student start to develop a feel for ‘fully meeting’ and ‘meeting’?  This is not easy with lower novices who have, really, basically memorized language at their disposal. (Keep in mind that my Japanese students have to learn a completely new orthography so it’s not a case of just learning to ‘put the words together’. This takes time and a great deal of ‘literacy’ work as many learn to read something not written with ABC’s.)

This semester I’ve tried something with my Yr1’s (the ‘never had any of the TL before’ group).  In the early months of the course they are speaking and writing with mostly memorized phrases, substituting their information into the structures. On the second unit test preparation sheet I gave them the type of questions they needed to be able to respond to, both in writing and in speaking. Then I gave them a sample answer to look at – and gave them a “M” (meeting) and “FM” (fully meeting) option.  It looked a bit like this…

  • Where are you from?        M= “from Korea”        FM= “I am from Korea.”
  • What do you think of sushi?”    M= “it’s good”   FM= “I think it is really good.”
  • How often do you drink tea?   M= “often”    FM= “I drink it often.”

I stressed to them that they could choose what/how they wanted to express themselves and it is their choice in trying for the FM option. We also discussed that you could get ‘in-between’ with your answer. The choice in achievement became theirs. Some just wanted to get the basics. Others went for the more FM option – and the vast majority of those did so successfully. In subsequent units I have introduced these M/FM choices – some without much fanfare – and see some gravitate to the more ‘complex’ option.

Why do this? I want to:

  • build in an awareness of choice in expression
  • provide a challenge to those who are seeking to extend or push their learning/expression
  • establish for them that there are always options in expressing themselves
  • ultimately have them be aware of the concept of  ‘meeting’ or ‘fully meeting’ as they continue on in their learning

Today we were working on a ‘choice’ writing piece. One of my more hesitant students called me over to ask about one of her sentences. She had used the unit book resources and opted to use some FM phrases. These actually involved a complex piece of grammar  “I like to listen to music” instead of just “I like music.” (for Japanese teachers おんがくをきくことがすきです。 instead of おんがくがすきです。) . It was perfect – and she was proud that she took the risk to try the fully-meeting option. And I am pleased that providing options allows students to ‘choose’ and that in that choice they are beginning to develop a feel for ‘meeting/fully-meeting’ expectations…


August 10, 2016
by leesensei

Evolving Teaching – Evolving ‘Outline’…

Teaching is a constant work in progress – as I have repeatedly said “I’m busier in my 20th+ year than I thought I’d be”. And as my teaching evolves so does how I present information about my course on the first day. A few years ago I started using an ‘infographic’ style of presentation. This year, spurred on by #langchat colleagues Wendy Farabaugh and Kris Climer – I have used Piktochart to create an outline that is as updated in look as it is in reflecting my teaching. What does it provide for students?

part 1Class Information – Basics at the start about the course, who the teacher is and how to contact me/connect with the website. I don’t have Google Voice (not in Canada) but if I did my number would be there too! I don’t use Twitter or Instagram with students at this point but there’s always room to add that on if I decide it would be useful!

What We Will Do? – For my absolute rookies it’s a summary of the various unit “I can’s” that they will work to master (eg. You will learn to ask about/tell about …). For my more senior students I use this as a quick introduction to the types/focus of the units we will experience – each with an integrated task at then end of the unit.

japanese-12-2 copy2Our Focus – Why you are here – what you can expect that class will be about. In my case it is about communicating. I want to establish that we will be working on communication skills of various types at all times. I also want them to know both making errors and not understanding someone are natural parts of the process of learning/using a language.

There are also gentle reminders of the ‘rules’ in the room – purposeful phone use, getting help, missing class and more. Quick and easy and quite honestly they all could probably tell me what they are any way!

How Are Our Tasks Organized? – Straight up – I may not use the ACTFL modes as you do. This is my japanese-12-2 copy3first year, first dip into organizing tasks into a more meaningful way. I got tired of the 4 skills (read/write/listen/speak) and decided to use a modified form of the mode descriptions. My biggest deviation is probably in the interpretive but I am willing to be a little ‘loose’ on that as I work to implement this way of ‘grouping’ my tasks.

What? No “Homework”?! – No, I banished that word. What is homework? I don’t assign ‘homework’? What I do assign is something that will be needed for next day’s class. So I have changed the wording to “Next Day Preparation”. Why? Because if I choose to assign something that’s what it is – something I need a student to do to use in the next class. (I sense a future dedicated post on this to come!)

japanese-12-2.png 4Evaluation – How Well Am I Meeting Expectations? – Okay this is what they all care about. I have blogged extensively on going to descriptors in my gradebook. It has taken a lot of tweaking and editing. What you see here is my latest iteration of both describing the descriptors and then ‘how’ I translate them into our school-required percentages. I wanted just ‘one line’ for each major descriptor and selected what I usually find myself saying when I quickly remind students, throughout the semester, what they describe.

What Isn’t There? – Proficiency descriptors. Okay we talk about them a lot, a lot on #langchat. I’m just not convinced at this point that it’s a ‘driver’ for student engagement. That is, I’m not sure I want them on my outline as they are more of a ‘where are you now’ snapshot of progress. In some ways I think they are more of a classroom thing than an outline one. Feel free to disagree…

I also add in an FAQ section (answers to the typical ‘any questions?’ question) and my ‘digital use contract’ (borrowed with permission from Amy Lenord). You can see the entire outline here!

I have 3.5 weeks left until I return to the classroom (yes Sept 6!) but, as the updated outline shows, I’m looking forward to a new year of their, and my, learning….


PS – the ‘cute’ pictures? From my favourite free Japanese-themed site Irasutoya!


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