Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

February 19, 2013
by leesensei

Independent…Directed…Finding the Balance

As the organizer of a  modern languages program I always look to providing opportunities to expand my program, and the options for students. A few years ago students, who had completed their 4th year of study (the highest course there is) were looking to extend their study. My offering of AP Japanese never fills enough to warrant a class (minimum 20 in my school).

My province offers an ‘independent directed’ studies option and I have used this to craft a post-4th year course. For Japanese IDS I work to allow the ‘independence’ of learning with opportunities to demonstrate competence. Every year I tweak and alter. This year, with 10 students, I have a chance to refine my vision. What is my IDS course?

Self-Paced Yet Calendar Driven – My IDS students have 10 days to complete a unit including  3 ‘in-class’ days every second week. On the first day they have time to play a game, work with flashcards or another pair activity to practice concepts. They also have time to preview and practice the upcoming oral task. Tasks are ‘real life’ based. On the second day they come to record their orals – I set the pairs and they record on their phones. On day three they have a short multiple-choice test and a writing piece to complete .

On-line Organizing via Edmodo – I need a way to ‘meet’ with students and Edmodo is my solution. The messaging ability allows me to provide exclusive support for the students as well as conduct our on-line discussions (one per term). I don’t use Edmodo for my other classes as yet – but find that keeping it ‘exclusive’ for my IDS helps in my personal class managing.

Required Content – as I don’t ‘teach’ this class I needed to provide some area for content and structure. IDS is the last to benefit from my new commitment to authentic resources so I will confess that we currently use a textbook with thematic units/workbook to ensure content mastery. Students have an assigned number of exercises that they must do and self-check. It’s not pretty but at this point it helps them to see ‘grammar’ in context.

Individual Interests– each term in the semester the students are asked to complete a 12-15 hour project on a topic – related to Japan-  that interests them. For each there is a ‘presentational’ and reflective element. Projects are handed in electronically. Some topics are suggested – a public service announcement on honourific speech, marketing a student trip to Japan etc. Others allow the students to teach a lesson to the 4th year class or dive into an area of interstest to them. All are marked on rubrics allowing students to know how they are evaluated.

Making Use of Technology – We make big use of the mobile phone in IDS. Students record their oral tests and send to me (later so data minutes aren’t used up). They can participate in Edmodo discussions as well using their phone. Word lists are available in Quizlet and we use a couple of on-line grammar sites to assist in learning.

Many of my IDS students continue to study Japanese in university – and I am thrilled that the majority, after interviews or tests, enter into 2nd year classes. I dream of 20 students and the promised ‘class’ but until then I will work to refine and modify my IDS course.





January 14, 2013
by leesensei

Thoughts on the “Video Project”…

What better way to use technology in the language classroom than in a final class video. For example, each year my Gr12 students do a group ‘drama’ video project. Students use their own cameras, or borrow from the library, to film and are given several days in class to coordinate. Often I fit a weekend in before the due date. So what is key in assigning the ‘video’ projects in my classes?

Content – My basic rule is  ‘would your grandmother be happy and/or comfortable viewing this?”  It amazes me at times what kids think is appropriate for the classroom. On the project  – as on all items – students are aware that all content must fit within our District’s “Code of Conduct” guidelines. We often go over them together to ensure that they understand what they have agreed to abide by. Many groups often include ‘bloopers’ as well – often more entertaining than the main presentation!

Script – What script? I’m not a fan of word-for-word scripts. Typically one take-charge kid writes it and forces the others to memorize their lines. My rule is ‘if you know it you’re not writing it out in the TL’. The students work from ‘key word’ scripts written in English and the TL. Each student is responsible for writing their own notes out – so they aren’t reading someone else’s writing.  Yes there may be errors – but it is the group’s job to be as accurate as possible – and the occasional error will creep in. Not a big deal. And above all are you using grade appropriate vocabulary/grammar in presenting what you are.

Can we hear you? – One of my requirements on my rubric is ‘audio quality’. That is – can I hear you? In my Gr12 course they have previously done a shorter project and some experience problems being heard. I ask them to play the video for themselves and if they can’t hear it – neither will I.

Due the day before viewing – Things happen and often a video needs to be copied again or reloaded. To save heartache the projects are due the day before they are viewed. They can hand them in via a USB in one of two approved formats, use my ‘inbox’ online or even upload to YouTube under a funny title (After I ‘download’ it they get an email telling them to remove it!)

Rubric marking – My students are used to seeing ‘what’s important’ by looking at the rubric marking criteria. My rubric for the video project hits many areas mentioned above and  also incorporates a ‘teamwork’ assessment – filled in after the group has evaluated each member’s contributions. And, as this is a second language class – there are no marks for fancy transitions or editing!

I don’t assign a lot complex video-based projects. However, when I do I am confident that the technology supports the demonstration of language skills – and not the other way around!



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