Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

September 10, 2017
by leesensei
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Skills Give You Talking Points…Proficiency Gives You A Goal…

It’s been a quick start to the year. I’ve made few promises of instant ‘change’ beyond Learning Targets for all classes this fall and the idea of a soft introduction of proficiency goals with my Year 2’s.  The other ‘change’ has been the inclusion in the syllabus of skills that a student acquires beyond the language itself in our classes.  I have to add that these changes have been made so much easier for me because I have a great colleague in my school who is making these changes with me (what a blessing to have someone to ask, reflect & struggle with). Let me talk briefly about how the inclusion of proficiency and skills has altered my experience already with students.

Skills: To be honest this is the big surprise for me. I talked with my students about the skills page that I included in their course outline. That they will be developing their risk-taking, reflective, initiative-taking, group and  They were very honest in their personal responses to me about their perceived skills and their strengths and weaknesses. But the real value has been to me is in having me use these words when framing or encouraging in an activity. I found myself saying things like ” this is a great place for you to use your initiative” or “I am asking to take that risk and…”. Wow.  It’s going to be a great semester-long reference point for us for all activities!

Proficiency: My colleague Connie & I have had a lot of talks about including proficiency, the reasons for and the how prior to the start of the year. I am going all in with my Yr 1”s and 2’s as I feel they are closest to lower Novice for them to really see the proficiency progression.  My students listened as I talked about goals and we went over what their target for the semester is. I asked them to think about this goal as part of their reflections on the course outline. Many of them had great ways to describe what they saw as the difference between novice and intermediate and my favourite was the student who said “A novice is a robotic speaker…an intermediate is a robot with developing AI abilities to do their own thing”. The idea of ‘creating rather than competing’ came through in many of their observations. Talking about and using proficiency will allow me to consistently remind students to try to challenge themselves ‘push’ to ‘go beyond’ to ‘create’ with what they are learning. It adds such legitimacy to what I have always been trying to do.

Two changes that seemed actually quite ‘small’ but already two big impacts in my classroom interaction with my students!

C

 

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!

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