Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

August 7, 2017
by leesensei
2 Comments

Thanks For Taking My (Fill in Language) Class – Here’s What You Are REALLY Acquiring…

Hi there – thanks for registering in my course. I know you’re here in my Japanese class because you:

  • have an incredible interest in learning a foreign language & know it will open you up to some amazing opportunities
  • need a Gr 11 language credit for direct university entrance (my province)
  • have a parent/guardian/key figure in your life who said it was important for some reason
  • want to talk with someone (family member/neighbour/cute person) who already speaks the language
  • are the biggest anime/cos-play/manga/game fan ever …and so why wouldn’t you take Japanese?

I hope that you enjoy your time in here and meet your goals. But there’s something you might not think that you are learning. Something that is (gasp) more important than the apparent skill that you are supposed to acquire. Here’s my pitch on what skills you are REALLY learning in my classes…:

Risk-Taking – In my classes you will learn to risk, to try, to fail and forge ahead. You will be supported as you set out to learn and use new material. You will not be in alone in this. You will be asked to put your new learning into use. As one of my past students said you will learn to “not panic. I’m the kind of person that stresses on being perfect…but this class has taught me how to let go of that…and to relax..because in the future things won’t always go as I plan them to go..” Most importantly then I hope that you will develop the ‘courage to try’.

Initiative – You will be meeting unit challenges to demonstrate a skill set (set out by your teacher) and, more importantly, personal challenges (set out by you) prior to activities. These skills you are being challenged to acquire will lead towards meeting proficiency goals in class. Your choice, your initiative, will be needed to meet them – I can’t do that for you.

Reflective Self-Awareness – When we set out these challenges (ones set by me or you) you will be asked to reflect on how you felt/met/didn’t meet the goal. It could be a quick “How Did That Go?” after an activity or a more detailed reflection at the end of a unit. You will be asked to evaluate and reflect upon the experience. You will ask what you were most proud of or what a stumbling block was. You will develop the ability to self-reflect and assess, to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses (and how to improve upon them).

Group Work – you will be learning to negotiate work with partners & groups. You will work with some who are as strong as you, and those that are stronger. You will learn what it takes to set a goal & how to meet it (or how not to – a valuable lesson a well). You will develop an idea of group dynamics. With the support of your teacher (and group rubrics) you will learn perhaps to lead and also when it is key to allow others to shine.

Communication Skills – You will be learning how to speak and more importantly how to listen. You will learn that active listening requires effort & your participation to be done well. You will learn that being a supportive listener is often more important than being a ‘talker’. You will have to clarify when asked and learn to ask for clarification when you don’t understand. As another one of Grade 12’s put it  you will be acquiring “strategies for communication…diversifying how I communicate and being thoughtful of others during conversation is critical…“.

These skills will take you into that all important college or job interview and allow you to respond easily and with concrete examples when you are asked “So…you say you are a risk taker, can you give me an example of when you demonstrated this?” And this ability to speak confidently giving concrete examples about your ‘people and personal skills’ is the real value of my class to your future. Well that and the ability to read your manga in the original language!  (Note: after writing this post our national newspaper’s business section published an article outlining skills undergrads should be working on to prepare for a career – almost all of them as above!)

C

PS – I don’t rely on my students to hopefully become aware of the above. I talk openly and explicitly about these so-called ‘soft skills’ with my kids (I think they are the ‘hardest’ to learn!). I tell them that universities/employers are looking for more than a GPA and why all of the above help flesh out their application. I give this talk every year to every grade to encourage them to go beyond the ‘3rd semester required for direct admission to university’ course and take a full 4 years. This is also what I want students to be able to articulate to others as to why they are studying Japanese (in my case) and what value it brings to them as people. I encourage you to take time and tell your students what skills your class helps them acquire….hopefully they’ll then spread the word too!

July 26, 2017
by leesensei
0 comments

“I see the Path…But Am Lost At The Starting Line!” (So Here’s How I’m Going to Get Going!)

One of the best things for my teaching that I did last year was attend the #tellcollab held in Seattle. It was inspiring, chock full of resources & a huge ‘rethink’ for me. Day 1 told me I was moving in the right direction….Day 2 gave me lots to consider..and brought a huge revelation about using proficiency levels. Then I returned to work and promptly took 5 months off on a pre-planned self-funded leave.

As I start to think about my return I consider the changes that I want to make. And I am – as I tweeted earlier this month – almost paralyzed by what I COULD (and probably SHOULD) be doing…. It’s overwhelming to be honest. I have received so much input that, ironically, I don’t know where to begin. This is on top of changes to my provincial curriculum that are required next year as well. What to do? How to proceed? Well I decided to start small…slowly…and for maximum impact/minimum stress… So to change & survive I will:

DAILY LEARNING INTENTIONS for EVERY COURSE:  It’s amazing to me that students in my Yr3 & 4 often enter class and ask ‘What are we doing today?’ (TL of course). They like to know what class will focus on. In the past I’ve laid it out based upon ‘activities’ (eg. reading, convo circles…) but I realized that I was only listing actions and not WHY we are doing them! I really liked the daily learning intentions idea from #tellcollab. Not only will students know the ‘why’ of what we are doing but..I will have to face up to lessons that really serve no purpose.

PROFICIENCY TARGETS/FOCUS ON PATH – YEAR 1 & 2 ONLY: I’ll be implementing the proficiency path with my Yr 1 & 2 only. These are my newest students – the ones at or near the start of the path. They will be the ones to have the full ‘explanation’ (baptism?) into proficiency (and thank you to Meredith for her sharing of how she introduces it). My Yr1&2’s, as they proceed in learning, will ‘see’ themselves moving from Novice…to Intermediate lower levels to….a real positive path of progression.  I’m not ‘abandoning’ my senior grades but I am making the choice to ‘finish out’ with them without a firm focus on proficiency. It’s a choice based upon reading & learning I’ve done around levels says that ‘intermediate’ is loooong stage. To maintain enthusiasm & a focus on goals will be harder if my students ‘start’ somewhere in the Intermediate range. I don’t know that they will appreciate even subtle moves within one main descriptor. And, I do a lot to be ‘proficient teacher’ already with them – they will know where they sit in meeting expectations. And for the sake of my sanity that’s enough.

ONE UNIT/ONE COURSE AT A TIME … – I’m not redoing everything…at once. That would kill me. And I believe it would prove more chaotic for my students. So, just as I am spiraling up the proficiency focus and like we ‘spiral’ up our vocabulary I will add new CI/new stuff I want to try in a calm way. It will allow me to get a real handle on working more closely with everything new. It will allow me to take time to reflect on what is happening and seek guidance for what isn’t/what I don’t get – hello #langchat peeps?!  My Yr 1 course is in Sem 2 this coming year, I hope to get more than 1 unit done in their course.

CONTINUE TO READ/ASK/TRY/LEARN/GET NEW IDEAS ….#langchat…and “Path to Proficiency“‘s bloggers….and….hopefully a return to another #tellcollab.

And finally when I get down, when “it” doesn’t work, when I think that I am losing my way…I will read & read Maris Hawkins’ post about being kind to myself about what I am doing…and how far down the path I already am!

C

 

April 12, 2017
by leesensei
0 comments

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!

January 30, 2017
by leesensei
4 Comments

Using Proficiency Levels With Students? I NOW Get Why! (Or “You Don’t Play Video Games Just to Play Do You?”)

I will totally admit – as I did in my last post – that I never was on the ACTFL ‘proficiency’ bandwagon in class. Not that I didn’t get ‘proficiency’ but I didn’t get why I had to focus on the levels with my students. Nope, didn’t think it was necessary in my classroom. Every time it came up on #langchat as a discussion item I listened…but I didn’t buy in to using them with students. Why? Well I didn’t think it was that motivating. Really – I expected my students to care, to want to get to ‘Novice High’? I thought they’d react with all the enthusiasm of a request for them to complete 100 questions from a workbook. I mean – “Whoo hoo I’m Novice High!”. Couldn’t see it.

I was wrong. I get it…I really do – after time spent at #tellcollab in Seattle, listening to Thomas Sauer and all the great teachers who were sharing, it suddenly clicked. Specifically, when Alyssa Villarreal said “Kids don’t want easy – they aren’t afraid of ‘hard’…just look at video games…” the proverbial penny dropped.

What do I mean by this? Consider that our kids play, and replay a game trying to get to the next ‘level’ for a new challenge, a new reward or a new option to play. They will play and replay a level trying to get enough points to move up. They will play solo and against each other. They will (as I do with Angry Birds!) seek out cheats on YouTube to help them accomplish tasks they can’t seem to get. And they will do it over and over again until they get there.

What I have been doing in class has been like asking students to play a video game without the reward of being able to ‘achieve’ those levels. You see, I’ve been big on meeting the expectations in my class. Students know, and can repeat ad nauseam, what it means to be meeting or fully meeting expectations in class. They know that ‘meeting’ means you are delivering the current unit items well and that ‘fully meeting’ means you are not only able to use the current items well but you are bringing in past learning effectively too. They can pre-mark work and point out where and how they do so. But that’s it. I see it now – I’ve been asking them to play the video game over and over but I have failed to validate this but giving them a ‘new level’ to achieve. I’ve been asking them to improve but not ‘rewarding them’ for achieving and giving them the next ‘level’ to shoot for.

You know if you asked me to do the same thing over and over, but didn’t give me the satisfaction of achieving something beyond “you did that level well” I’d give up. If you didn’t clearly lay out not only where I was in the ‘game’ but what I would have to do to get to the next level (and provide tips/a path – okay the ‘cheats’ to do so), at some point I would ask myself why I was doing this? At some point I would give up trying to improve. At some point I’d stagnate in my learning.

So thank you …thanks to Alyssa for that ‘nugget’ from her workshop, thanks to all the #langchat proficiency promoters who have shared ‘how they share’ with their classes. Thanks also to my fellow ‘rebel’ colleague Connie who, along with me, is starting to lead the ‘proficiency’ charge in my department because we know it is the right way to go.

I get it…going to use them with my students…looking forward to seeing them more ‘in the game’….

Colleen

 

January 24, 2017
by leesensei
0 comments

TellCollab Day 2 – Know Your Goals & “Fail Forward” As You Model Learning!

Day 2 of the #TELLCollab continued my exploration of what an effective language teacher is – and my look at how effective I am/can be as a language teacher. It was a tough call to try to tweet and curate what Alyssa Villarreal shared with us! Needless to say it was also fab to hear her – rather than just read her 140 character tweets. If I could summarize what I took away from her talk it would be in the series of tweets that I sent out…a few standouts for me are my takeaways from this session:

“Fail Forward” and “Practice Makes Progress” – Alyssa reminds us that we spend too much time telling kids what they didn’t do correctly and not enough celebrating their risk in trying something new.  Too much is spent on ‘marking what isn’t right’. Where is the acknowledgement of growth – of improvement? Kids, she says,  are not afraid of something that is “hard” – just look at all the time they spend on video games!  What they want to know is that they can risk and try in a ‘safe’ environment…And why are we questing for perfect? If it is ‘perfect’ then they are not trying, growing and risking. I love this and it is my new mantra for my classes. I always ask them “do you know more than you did yesterday? Are you growing?” Validation that this is a way to go!

 

Students Need To Know What Their Target Is For Class and For Proficiency – this was also a focus of Thomas Sauer‘s session from Day 1 and it really hit home. There should not be any mystery or guessing as to why students are doing something in class. They should know what the daily goal is. They should also know what the target – proficiency – is for them in the course. They want to know how to be successful. Going back to the video game – they know what level they will achieve if they are successful. That’s why they are playing that game over and over trying to get better. Why am I not spelling out the goal. I do set out my expectations but what I have not done is linked that to what the ‘level’ of achievement will be. Truth be told I’ve never really seen the big deal of telling kids about ‘proficiency’ and what level they are. “Whoop de doo..novice” I thought. But now I am seeing it. The power in the hands of the student to see levels of proficiency in meeting the ‘goals’ not just the expectations for class. I’ve had the expectation but not the explicit goal that they are trying to attain. My goal was just what I expected them to do…not something concrete they could work on to ‘achieve’.  I’m going to work to implement them in my classes – even just starting next year with my incoming students (a gradual implementation for sanity!).

Model and Check More! – I like to think that I have modeled enough – but I realized that this includes all that incidental language I use. “Where is my pen?”  and why am I not muttering out loud in the TL. I will be now! Alyssa also made a powerful statement that if we model, we use the TL and then switch to English we do nothing for out students. That the minute a student knows that the teacher will move to English they just begin to ‘wait them out’ until they do. If we are going to model language use then we model it! This doesn’t mean 90% TL necessarily (no guilt please!) but it DOES mean that we are consistent (to me) in how we use the language in class. And once I model, I need to check more with students before the ‘practice with your partner’ part. More feedback from them – even non-verbally – that they are getting it before I ask them to use it….Duly noted.

And my final takeaway – I need an honest look at what/how I am operating in the classroom. I need to invite an administrator in, ask a colleague to observe or (gasp) get my students to give feedback on how I am doing in my goals for my classroom. Because if I am truly going to ask for risk-taking, fail-forward, goal-focused students then I better be that kind of teacher too. 

Thanks again to the organizing committee of the #tellcollab in Seattle, Thomas Sauer and Alyssa Villarreal for the great weekend of ‘learning’…

C

 

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