Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

April 28, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

When You Ask For Their Feedback – Empowering You and Them in Class

recap self grading rubric

The ‘original’ participation tally handout

It started with good intentions. I frequently do a class ‘recap’ of a reading and I wanted to encourage my students to say more, give more during this process. I am a big believer in letting a rubric or other such tool set & guide expectations. However finding one for this purpose had eluded me. Suddenly timely posts by Carrie Toth on her independent reading yielded a class discussion participation sheet. Perfect I thought. With credit to Carrie, I took her original idea and modified it to what I wanted. By ‘what I wanted’ I mean to include descriptors of the kind of language that I expect, and know, my students are capable of producing and how they corresponded to expectations.

Admittedly I sprang this on them. They were not warned in advance of this addition to the activity and I was okay with that as I wanted to encourage spontaneous, not prepared, depth and detail. I introduced the ‘recording sheet’ and reminded them to keep track of the types of answers they were giving. I also reviewed how those answers would ‘rate’ in meeting expectations. So we started. Wow it was amazing. My students really worked to try to add in detail, depth and breadth to their answers. I was almost in tears hearing what I was hearing. Lots of props, thumbs up and smiling from me. They were fantastic. Then – perhaps I sensed something but really I’m not that tuned in – after the activity I asked them to reflect not on their work but on the success of using this type of tally to spur participation. They were sincere in their comments – I collected and read them and was ‘floored’ by some of the comments. They felt:

  • intimidated by others
  • ‘compared’ to other students
  • that they were not warned
  • confused by the process itself
  • it made them less likely to try
  • demeaned because their answers weren’t ‘as good’
recap pptn rubric modified 2016

Participation Sheet 2.0 (after student feedback)

Not good. Not what I intended and not what I value in my classroom. To quote Paolo Jennemann, “We needed to talk”! The next day I acknowledged to them what had I read. I posted on the board what my intentions were and, more importantly, were not(!) in using this tool to help them participate more. I explained that this tool was for them, to encourage them and that clearly it hadn’t done that and that I needed their help. And then I set them to the task. I wanted their own opinions on this so I chose to have them work with their partner. They were given a copy of the tally sheet from the day before and ask to ‘make it into a better tool to encourage them in this activity’. Wow – 20 minutes of talking intently, honest feedback on the form (and I mean honest!) and suggestions. They shredded the original document and provided me with ‘Participation Sheet 2.0’. The new sheet tells me so much about my classes and what they value in learning:

They believe in “I can” as a motivator – It’s been a couple of years and this crop of Yr3 started in Yr1 when I started to use ‘I can’ statements on the first page of my unit book. And apparently this is making an impact. More than one group turned the ‘statement’ of what they said into a representation of what they ‘can do’. Wow. They like the sense of accomplishment and they like to be able to articulate what they are capable of.

They want to challenge themselves/set their own expectations for how they will do – I’ve worked a lot on the pre-setting expectations both by me and having themselves set them and apparently they like to do this. The new sheet now starts with a ‘predictor’ or a setting of expectations but the student themselves.

They want to see if they meet their own expectations – They like the ability to set a bar and rise to it. I’ve never yet seen it as an excuse for just wanting to minimally meet. They like the setting of goals and several groups wanted them to not only be able to record how many items they offered a type of answer but also to be able to ‘check’ off the category as we they went along.

They want to reflect about the process after – This was my favourite. One group’s critique included a rather incredulous “What? No reflection?!!!” comment about the lack of opportunity to process the activity. So I combined this with a statement in which they get to say how well they met expectations. They know that the “That went…” starter demands both a statement about how they felt about it and, more importantly, reasons why they feel as they do.

They value when they take risks in using new items they are learning – They get that to meet expectations for a unit they are going to have to show that they can understand and use current unit items. They also realize that using new items requires them to risk. I loved this “I step out of my comfort zone…” statement one group suggested. It means that they know that they have to not be content with the ‘old’ but take what they know and layer on – expand – it with the ‘new’.

They don’t value a ‘points or expectation value’ on contributions – Many groups said  to ‘ditch’ the expectation indicators. Some said that any contribution at all was valuable and shouldn’t be discounted for a perceived value. Others said that they ‘know’ what is expected and what ‘meeting expectations’ involves so you don’t have to have it on there. And still others said that if they delivered the majority of the tupes of contributions they know they would be meeting expectations anyway. Gone.

They know that what they think/do matters – I will be presenting this updated sheet to them in the next few days. They already know that I value their choices and learning goals in the room. Now I am taking their feedback and working it into the document – and demonstrating their role/importance in the learning environment.

They have voices – and they matter. After all it’s all about their learning (not my teaching). What a process – what a powerful process.

Colleen

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2, 2016
by leesensei
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Building Student Responsibility For Learning: Pre-to-Post Oral Activity Ideas

DSC05583The ideas in this post deals with oral interpersonal activities in my classes. However I think many of them can be used for presentational and interpretive activities as well.

One of the big things that I have learned, and continue to learn, in my teaching is that, in order for learning to occur, my students need to be as aware of/involved in it as I am. Increasingly I’ve been building in opportunities for them to take on responsibility for their learning and provide feedback for themselves (and me) on the process. I’ve done a variety of posts in the past on parts of these but thought I would put it all together in one post that spans the ‘pre to post’ activity process.

Pre-Activity – Setting Our Expectations – I’ve learned that I can’t just set out ‘what’ we will be doing, but, in building in self-responsibility I also have to address ‘how’ and ‘why’ we will be doing an activity. With that in mind I now employ a range of pre-activity strategies (sometimes I use all of these at once, sometimes just a few) including:

  • Rubric in advance – Wow have I learned how powerful a rubric can be in establishing expectations. But what I have also learned is to use it to see if they both understand the expectations and their impression of how they are meeting them. So now I often ask them to mark the rubric before we do the activity so that I can see how they are expecting it to go.
  • Intention and/or Post Reflection Starters on board- new for me this year is to put either the ‘intention’ of the activity  or the actual post-reflection sentence starters on the board in English (or both!). In reading out the intention it gives an opportunity to remind my students why they are doing the activity. “Today we will discuss our favourite activities with partners. The focus is on communication and understanding – not on finishing quickly.” I’ve also experimented with writing the post-activity ‘reflection starters’ on the board – another way to set/build expectations.
  • Checks/Smile – Again a new one for me this year that expands beyond just having students read the rubric in advance. I am seeing results in using “Checks & a Smile” in the reflective comments of students afterwards.
  • Sharing with partner – We know that if we share a journey of change and growth with someone it helps us to make the change/take a risk. In a quick ‘share a challenge with your partner’ students share, and often learn, that everyone, regardless of perceived ability, has areas that they can still grow in

During Activity – Focus On Communicating – The goal during any activity that’s interpersonal is ‘good communication’. We work a lot in class on this. What does it for students to be good communicators in class? Students know that top ‘marks’ go to those who:

  • Are as good at listening as they are speaking
  • Don’t confuse good communicating with dominating/making speeches
  • Say when they don’t understand & help out when someone doesn’t
  • Asks a variety of appropriate related follow-up questions
  • Know that it isn’t about ‘finishing’ it’s about participating

Post Activity – Reflecting and Evaluating: Yes there is a rubric to fill out. It may be a simple ‘how did that go‘ or a more complex one specifically designed for the activity.  But before they fill it out students know they will also be writing. And they know that I will be reading these reflections and responding to them. Some of my favourite post-activity starters include:

  • That went ….because…
  • I am most proud that….
  • A challenge that I set out for me was to …and I met/didn’t meet it because…
  • My work in class today reflected/did not reflect our year level because…
  • One challenge for me for next time is…because…
  • We should do more/less of this type of activity because…

It’s taken time, and the great support of my #langchat PLN for me to realize that it’s what my students think/know/feel about their learning counts the most.

Colleen

 

March 18, 2016
by leesensei
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Encouraging Risk/Rewarding Growth with “Checks And A Smile”

How do we encourage students to risk? How to we encourage them to ‘stretch’ and try something new? It’s a big challenge in the world language classroom. I have been using rubrics a lot to find out about how something went for a student, but it took until this year for me to use them to ‘prepare’ students to interact.  I realized that the rubric (and it’s construction/labels etc) is one way that we communicate class expectations. So why don’t we ask them, prior to the activity, to set up/predict/plan how they willSource: morguefile.com work to meet them?  This post focuses on interpersonal speaking but the concept may also be adapted for writing as well.

Initially I started asking students, prior to starting the activity, to select their ‘challenge’ (the ‘extra push’) – and check off (on the rubric) what they wanted to focus on doing/improving. Then I asked them to share that challenge with their partner to build in a bit of accountability. Then we moved on to the activity. It seemed to work well – they sincerely considered their ‘extra push’ in the interaction. But for me it wasn’t enough. It felt a bit focused on the ‘what I am not doing’ and not acknowledging ‘what I can already do’. Clearly, I needed a more balanced approach.

Lately I’ve been trying to acknowledge/encourage via “checks and a smile“. Prior to the activity the students select the ‘challenge/push’ for the activity – that gets the check. For my novices I generally have only 1 check, but in my upper level courses I source: openclipart.orgexpand that to 2 challenge/push areas. Then I ask them to select something that they already feel that they do well – what they are proud that they already incorporate into their interpersonal work. That gets the happy face.  I like how this combination gives a personal pat on the back for something already accomplished and still sets out something for them to reach for in their work.

When I ask students to reflect, as I always do, they are ready to tell me how they well they felt they did in meeting their checked challenge. Increasingly, with the equal focus on a strength, I see reflective comments about what they are ‘proud’ of  as well. And that is a happy face for everyone!

Colleen

 

March 9, 2016
by leesensei
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The New Feedback Rubrics – Part 2: The Interpersonal Oral Rubric

As I mentioned in my previous post, my rubric journey has been a long and winding one. In the previous post I talked about how I have developed (and continue to) my presentational writing rubric – with the goal of both providing guidance for what is expected and feedback on how a student is doing. Again – and especially for this rubric, I owe a huge debt on these to Amy Lenord who first developed the checklist idea. Stop now and go read her post first – it sets the stage for the ‘feedback’ checklist portion of the rubric.

The Interpersonal Oral Rubric:  Again this rubric is still evolving – and I continue to tweak the descriptors to fit what I am hearing and what I want my students to push 301276952-Oral-Interpersonal-With-Checklist-2015-1towards.  At Fully Meets a student is using current knowledge and tapping previously learned items. They are not giving speeches or talking in very long complex (and often memorized) sentences. Rather the detail and complexity shows itself in the what kind of information they are trying to communicate and how effectively they are doing that.  A student in this category is using follow-up questions often and effectively to dig for details and their choice of questions indicates how well they are listening to their partner. Errors can, and will occur, but a student in this category is often self-correcting – which for me is not an ‘error’ at all. The Fully Meeting student is at ease in the interaction and is an ‘equal’ – not a dominating partner. We work hard to make sure that students are comfortable when they don’t understand something in my class and so ‘facilitating’ can mean explaining a word – or helping a partner to find one – in the target language.   Minimally Meets for me is the ‘unit’ items – and at this level the student is showing me what they have mastered from the current unit but is generally not drawing heavily on past knowledge. This student is often the ‘follower’ in the conversation and they minimally meet expectations by recognizing what their partner is saying – but not necessarily generating as much as they are.  A student, for me, generally falls between Minimally and Fully – and I usually find they have items selected from one or more columns.  At this point – with selections out of several columns I often use a +/- to show where they are. For example a “Meeting+” means that you are moving out of “Meeting” and starting on your way to “Fully Meeting”. A “Fully Meeting-” would be ‘not quite there but definitely out of the “Meeting” area. I believe that the +/- also serves to encourage/show students that they are ‘on a continuum’ of skill building.

The Feedback:  Here is where the real value is for me – the quick and easy way to add extra comments to the piece. This is Amy’s checklist and fully credited to her.  It is general enough to provide a ‘guide’ for a student and has room to allow me add specific points as well.

Student Self-Evaluation First: This year I also started having the student participate in this process. For the Oral this comes prior to the evaluated interaction. We use the checklist for this in what I call “2 Checks And A Smile”. The students select two descriptors that are to be their ‘challenge’ or focus on including/improving in their conversation. These are the “Checks”. The “Smile” is a happy face put next to something that they already feel that they are doing well. It’s a reaffirmation of a skill/strength they already have.

As I wrote in the previous post, the rubric language is still not fully what I want – there are areas to improve it and make it more clear. But I like the mix of the ‘how you met’ and the ‘here’s some feedback’ that it provides.  The link to the rubric is here – and if you are inspired by it please credit myself and Amy for what you use.

Colleen

 

March 2, 2016
by leesensei
3 Comments

The “New” Feedback Rubrics – Part 1: Presentational Writing

My rubric journey has been a long and winding one. What started with rubrics modified off the French DELF program have now come a long way. Gone are the number descriptors – and now in their place – words to describe how fully meeting expectations the student work is. Also I have refined how I use the rubric. As I worked to implement more of them I realized  (in one of the ‘duh!’ moments) that the rubric is not only an effective way to communicate how a student has MET expectations but also as a way to give feedback and reinforce WHAT is key.

I owe a huge debt on these to Amy Lenord who first developed the checklist idea. Stop now and go read her post first – it sets the stage for the ‘feedback’ checklist portion of the rubrics.

Presentational Writing – The Rubric:  This is still evolving. I continue to tweak it to try to pull out what I want students to show me that they can do – and encourage them to do more. Fully Meets Expectations is my top criteria for 99% of mWriting-With-Checklist-Jan-2015-Copyy class, with “Exceeds” there for my heritage writers and the very cream of the second language crop. At Fully Meets a student is using current knowledge and tapping previously learned items. They are expressing themselves in a complex and varied style – pushing for subtlety and detail in their writing. Errors are still allowed to occur – a point that I feel encourages risk in writing.  A student who Fully Meets my expectation produces a piece that is easy to read, whose writing ‘flows’ (in a second language context) which means that transition devices and organization fully support the piece.  Minimally Meets for me is the ‘unit’ items – and at this level the student is showing me what they have mastered from the current unit but is generally not drawing heavily on past knowledge. A student, for me, generally falls between Minimally and Fully – and I usually find they have items selected from one or more columns.  At this point – with selections out of several columns I often use a +/- to show where they are. For example a “Meeting+” means that you are moving out of “Meeting” and starting on your way to “Fully Meeting”. A “Fully Meeting-” would be ‘not quite there but definitely out of the “Meeting” area. I believe that the +/- also serves to encourage/show students that they are ‘on a continuum’ of skill building.

The Feedback:  Here is where the real value is for me – the quick and easy way to add extra comments to the piece. Generally I found that I was writing the same comments over and over – and, borrowing from Amy’s idea, wondered if I could put together a written checklist. It is general enough to provide a ‘guide’ for a student and has room to allow me add specific points as well. Some of the checklist points reflect specific Japanese language items (such as ‘form’ – the difference between plain/formal forms for example) and others are more generic. I wanted to have the ‘For Future Pieces’ portion to be encouraging in nature which is why used words like ‘try’ and ‘review?’ to hopefully encourage the student to seek out assistance in these areas.

The rubric language is still not fully what I want – there are areas to improve it and make it more clear. But I like the mix of the ‘how you met’ and the ‘here’s some feedback’ that it provides.

Student Self-Evaluation First: This year I also started having the student participate in this process. At the end of the piece – be it a presentation or summative exam write – I ask the student to look at the rubric and check where they think the piece falls. I want them thinking about what I am looking for and evaluating how well they are meeting expectations. I find that most are quite aware of where there writing is and, using this style of rubric encourages growth in writing.

The link for the rubric is here if you wish – please credit based upon how much you borrow.

Next post – the Oral Interpersonal Rubric.

Colleen

 

 

 

 

November 19, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

Using the Rubric As A “Dialogue Starter” To Increase Student Awareness About Their Learning

IMG_1616I’ve done a lot of work with my rubrics in the past couple of years. This year my move was to eliminate all numbers from the rubric. I learned that no matter how great your criteria is – the minute you put a number on the rubric students will spend time ‘calculating’. I’ve made one other change this year as well. My goal is for students to really look at the criteria for how they are meeting/not meeting/exceeding expectations. With that in mind I now request that anything submitted (from projects to summative written pieces) come in with ‘checked’ by the student. Why this shift?

Students complete first because…

  • It makes them look at the criteria
  • Establishes what they think the expectations are
  • Allows them to ask the follow-up question of  ‘how do I get to….?’
  • Increases student awareness of where they are currently and where they might want to get to

Teacher completes second because….

  • I see what the student has ‘taken in’ as the expectations – Was I clear? Did I establish both a base of knowledge to accomplish the task and demonstrate knowledge?
  • Deal with any wildly differentiating opinions – Have I missed a chance to clarify what levels of achievement are? Is the student ‘missing’ something in what they think they are expected to do? Why did Johnny think he was fully meeting when he was only minimally meeting?
  • Student receives even more specific communication from me about where they are. And the more that I can increase this flow of information the better it is for learning.

This is a step in the journey to more student awareness of what level of language they have mastered. And its a great chance for me to make that I am providing those opportunities to demonstrate that.

Colleen

December 27, 2014
by leesensei
1 Comment

Best of 2014: No. 1 “How Did That Go?” An Oral Activity Feedback Rubric

MP900385751We talk a lot in the #langchat community about evaluation and feedback for students. One of my focus areas has been in developing a more reflective classroom – and for that purpose I began to work with a self-evaluation rubric for formative class activities. My post on the  “why and how” of using this was the most popular post this year…

‘I’ve always asked students to work in pairs, or small groups in class. But only lately have I started to ask for their feedback as to how it went. I’ve worked for a while on a quick feedback rubric – one that builds an expectation not only of what students should be doing when they are working in small groups – but also how they are to be working together.

The key for me in using it is the following:

Students Know What’s On the Rubric: They know that what is on the rubric – taking risks, not using English, working together, equals in an activity – are things that I value in my classroom. We have taken lots of time to practice how to support someone who doesn’t understand and, equally key, how to ask for assistance from a peer in understanding.

They Reflect Before They Select: They know that they will fill out the sheet after they have answered a reflective question (posed by me) in writing on the back. It can be anything from “During this I was most proud that I…”, “One thing that still is a stretch for me is..” or even, “I didn’t use English – here’s how I managed to do that…”. Once they turn to the actual rubric, students know that they are to select the phrases that match how they felt/what happened during the activity.

They Know It Will Be Used (Maybe Just Not When): They know that this feedback rubric can be used at ‘any time’ – and after any activity in which they worked with their classmates. They may know when they start the activity, or not know, that it will be used. It’s one way I build an awareness of what is key. If they know in advance they are often asked to ‘choose their focus’ prior to the activity and if what they want to work on is not there – they can add it.

It’s Always Ready: I keep a stack of these in a basket at my main teaching desk. Sometimes the decision to use is set well in advance but other times I choose to use it just because it feels like a good time to use it. In either case a supply is always there for me to use.

selfevaluation

I know that the contents – and the descriptors – are a work in progress. The rubric’s value is in the information that it provides to the students as they think/reflect on their learning. It’s also a chance for me to see ‘how it went’ and what to alter or support as they continue to work in the TL.

Colleen

June 26, 2014
by leesensei
0 comments

Developing A Reflective Classroom (End of Year Reflection Part 2)

Eating CaterpillarIn my previous post I wrote about the “choice” that I am trying to inject into my classroom. If choice is key – then it seems that I also need to make sure that what I’m doing in class, the choices I am offering etc, are effective. To that end my other stress this year was to develop a more reflective classroom. What were the key things that I found to establishing a culture of ‘reflection’ in my classes?

Consistent Expectations/Feedback – I don’t think that students can actively, or accurately, offer a reflection on how they are feeling about their learning without a solid understanding of what it is they are trying to master. To me that comes down to consistency – and two key areas are in what I expect from them and how I offer feedback.

Expectation – What I Value: I worked this year to try to align my expectations, and how I communicated them, through the use of various rubrics. I began with 3 basic rubrics taken from the DELF program, and began to alter and adjust to suit my classes needs. I removed all of the ‘numbers’ from them – that screams ‘mark’ to me – and instead tried to come up with a descriptor that might mirror my students’ language like “comfortable” or “pretty good”. I began to use an ‘activity rubric’ as well – not all the time – but enough that they might expect it to come. What’s on it is key to me for the type of learner I am trying to develop, as well as ‘how’ I hope they learn (such as  ‘not using English’ ‘working with partner to communicate’).

Expectation – Consistent Use (Reflecting Before You “Rubric”):  Another way for me to get my students thinking about their learning is to not allow them to use rubrics for an activity without ‘reflecting’ first. I wrote about this when I talked about my activity rubric but I use this strategy for almost any time that I use a rubric. The questions/leading statements that I ask them to reflect on may change but the idea that students are to ‘think before they evaluate’ does not.

Expectation – Consistent Feedback: My feedback to my students became more consistent this year as well. This isn’t about how often I offer feedback but the format that it came in – specifically for written work. I decided upon the idea of marking by ‘colour’. As my post explained, this allows students to quickly see where their challenges are, and I found that the corrections that I asked for in the writing also showed up in their oral communication. My challenge for next year is to possibly expand my colour codes to one more colour – focussing on using the correct form of the verb for specific grammatical constructions.

Pre/Mid/End of Term Formal Reflections – This is the first year that I did 3 ‘formal’ reflective exercises with my students. The information that I received and that they shared was invaluable. I’ll never not do this again!

Pre-Term: I started the year with an idea shared originally by Martina Bex.  This year my first ‘homework’ assignment was to read my class FAQ’s and complete a series of questions designed to get them thinking about class, their role as a language learner and what works for them. Several said they had never been asked before what worked for them in class – and as the emails came in I responded with 1 or 2 sentences that touched upon their information. It was a great way to establish both expectations and a relationship at that beginning of term.

Mid-Term: Just before the first report card I asked for a mid-term reflection from students. As I read each I made comments on their sheet – offering support and suggestions before handing it back to them. This was, for me, a student generated ‘report’ and a chance to further dialogue. After reading all of the “I’d like to learn more..” I made sure to speak about what I learned from them – and talk about how I would be incorporating their suggestions into second term.

End of Term: Finally, and just before finals, I asked again – the same form as the mid-term with only a change to the last question – asking them to give 2 pieces of advice to a student taking this course next. They gave great advice that I’m going to use to start my classes with in September.

The final piece that, for me, starts to build a culture of ‘reflection’ in class is mine. I cannot in good conscience ask my students to reflect on their learning journey without doing the same. My participation in the #langchat PLN and this blog are, for me, my way that I do that.MP900314068 The twitter chats force me (in 140 characters) to really see what is important to me as a teacher for any given topic. This blog is a way that I can ask key questions and, in writing a post, answer them first and foremost for myself.  And if you have not yet jumped into #langchat or blogging, I urge you to take that step!

Colleen

 

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