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!

January 30, 2017
by leesensei
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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
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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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