Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

February 9, 2020
by leesensei

A “Feedback For Learning” Dialogue – Student Self-Corrections

To correct or not to correct? It’s an ongoing discussion among my colleagues both in school and on line. Is it of any use? Do students learn anything from us doing it? What to do?

In keeping with my attempts to provide more feedback – and ‘dialogue’ with students about their work – I abandoned the ‘teacher correct’ model a couple of years ago. I also looked to this move to help strengthen student accountability for their own work (and their role in their learning).

In my class it goes like this – students generate sentences or chunks depending upon our focus. They hand in (or can submit online). If there are no issues they get the Shiba Inu ‘okay’ stamp. (if you are unfamiliar …this a Japanese breed and I happened upon this set of stamps at a local Japanese store). In my mark book I indicate this with a happy face (yes a happy face). An online submission gets the JPG attached when I return it.

If there are any issues I will indicate things that I want the student to look at again. Sometimes it’s just spelling. Sometimes something is missing. And at other times the structure I am looking for is not used correctly. My feedback for their corrections can be a simple notation (such as ‘sp!’ or ‘missing…’). At other times it’s a reminder..(remember this is one of those that…). Often it leads to a quick discussion one on one as in “Sensei, I’m not sure …” or “Sensei, is this supposed to be…?” Then they resubmit for me to take a look. In my mark book this is indicated with a ‘circle’ (handed in but awaiting correction) Once it looks fine – the stamp goes on (or admittedly in a rush my scribbled ‘okay’) and I put a check mark in the circle in my book.

Now students know that there are no ‘marks’ attached to this beyond completing. They know that they don’t ‘have’ to do this. But they also know that their choice not to do them means that they miss out on growth, on learning and on raising their level of language. Yes there are students who don’t do this and who choose to ignore this input for improving. Sometimes they are then asked to (or required to) come in for mandatory assistance during our school support block. Their lack of engagement in their learning is also noted in a comment when reporting to parents. In the end ‘does this count towards my mark?’ is answered in the quality of the unit assessment and their proficiency level (reflecting accuracy and consistency). I feel that I see stronger more accurate language as a result of this process.

Please note that I am lucky to work with several neuro-diverse students. Their feedback is just as deep as other students’ is but I adjust the ‘correction’ idea to fit their individual strengths (for example ‘recognizing a correct answer’ instead of self-generating one or putting in a part of the answer with me giving the rest.)

I like this idea of a ‘dialogue’ for each student and the discussion it sparks around the language…and I like that they demonstrate an interest in improving their understanding…




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January 12, 2020
by leesensei

“Pick 10 Jenga!” – Jenga With An Opening Twist

I have really enjoyed using Jenga in my classes. It was such a great addition that I blogged about it – from how to prep/label the blocks to what kinds of things you can do with it. But…..I have had one frustration. This is when I am using it for reviewing a structure/form etc and not necessarily when they are responding to a question prompt.

You see I have larger classes so I have kids playing in teams of 4. This is a great number but, what with 4 turns per round – and the long time it takes some kids to actually choose a block to try to take out – they don’t get the number of reps that I want them too. What to do?

Enter “Pick 10 Jenga”. Before they construct the game they have to pick 10 blocks . They must answer those 10 questions on their response sheet (see my original post) and check their answers. Once everyone is completed (and corrected) then they can play the game. Sure they might get a block they’ve already done – wow – and they do it again. Moreover, their partners will already possibly know the answer before they do and can help out (or chirp!) because they do.

I like this because…

  • There is a preview before they get into the game of what they will be doing
  • I can assist if there are any questions about “how do I..?”
  • They get more opportunities than just in the regular game taking turns

Okay you can call it whatever you want and choose any number you want…but it might be a “twist” that works for you…


PS I will say that today some of my kids even opted for ‘no game – just get the answers’ and didn’t stop with 10. I always say my kids have choice in what works best for them…they aren’t the biggest Jenga fans so…great that it worked for them!

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January 6, 2020
by leesensei

The “Challenge Sentence” Start of the Year (or Mid-Unit) Activity…

I’m always working on providing formative feedback for my students. For that reason I rarely announce a structure ‘quiz’ but choose to see how well kids are doing with a “pop check in“. And in another change from the start of my teaching career, I don’t do a ‘review’ any more…I jump right into the first unit with the idea that some ‘review’ may occur while we are working on the new material.  And for this purpose I began to use the the “Challenge Sentence” activity. In it I ask a student ‘how might we communicate…?”

How It Works….

On the board I will put 3-4 sentences in English and say to students ‘Here’s some Challenge Sentences…How might we communicate these in Japanese?” (horrified people who may consider this translating stop reading now!). Then below the English sentence I actually put the vocabulary words that a student would use – in random order. The students find a blank spot in their unit book and see if they can put the challenge sentence together.  As they are working on it I gradually write out a possible answer on the board. After all are done…we debrief – especially if there are ‘options’ or ‘choices’ in how it can be written. I often use it each day of the first 5-6 days of a new semester to quickly review ‘past’ structures needed for the new unit. (Sometimes I also want to see if, in the middle of a unit, a concept is ‘there’ for a student and I will use this instead of a pop check-in.)

Why We Like It …

It’s gentle, personal , instant feedback for a student. It checks to see if they are ‘okay’ with a structure and putting a particular style of sentence together. It doesn’t punish a student for not remembering a word.  It can be used when you want to have kids check if they are getting a current concept. My students tell me they like it because it is private and personal. They get to see what they already know and where the gaps are or if they ‘have it (and I’ve learned that kids like to know when they do get it).

It’s really not a new idea…but somehow the name “Challenge Sentence” makes it seem more intensely “fun”…!


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December 8, 2019
by leesensei

Dear “I Just Want To Meet Expectations” Student…I’m Sorry…

Meeting Expectations…You demonstrate knowledge & use of some current unit concepts & language structures and some evidence of previous learning. You make errors that sometimes detract, but your work is generally understandable. You tend to stick to the basic vocabulary and your work may lack details and personalization.

Dear “Meeting”,

Thank you for being in my class. You are a consistent presence in my room, come every day, do work as required and work in the TL with your classmates. In every unit you put effort into learning what we are working on. I’ve worked to change my classroom over the years. And one way has been to introduce the idea of ‘choice’ as in how much you choose to meet expectations.

But I’ve noticed things are a bit out of kilter lately. And quite frankly it comes down to me. You see I’ve been off and running in class – so busy trying to give students ways to “fully meet” and go beyond the unit items that I’ve forgotten about you.  I’ve been busy with the “you could say this, or try to add on this, or even take the structure and extend it to this’ that I realize that I’ve been muddling you up. I’ve been pushing opportunity but sacrificing the comfort you get in knowing that you have “got it”. And, quite frankly, I’ve been so busy giving options I’ve forgotten to give you something to hold onto.  It’s been a ‘sea of choice’ when you really don’t want just want to learn what I’m asking you to…

I’ve also forgotten that if I help you see that you are ‘meeting’ you will be more confident. And, if you are more confident, you might want to add more to what you do. But you will most definitely not be comfortable in the ‘stretch’ if you don’t feel that you’ve got the basics.

So I promise to make sure to support you. That in giving a variety options I clearly identify what ‘meets’ the expectations. That I use that language in my teaching with you – that you will hear “this will meet my expectations” as a ‘goal’ more and not as some kind of ‘minimum’ it might imply. That I will honour your wish to show me that you ‘have it’ and show you that I value what you are doing in meeting. That I will thank you for meeting my expectations more explicitly. I have always said that the ‘achievement’ in my classes isn’t the goal but the learning is… but I fear that the steadiness of ‘meeting’ has been perceived as seemingly less important than ‘fully meeting’ of late and it shouldn’t be.

Thank you again for continuing to take my class and I hope to meet your expectations a bit more clearly and effectively in the future.

Your teacher….



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November 26, 2019
by leesensei

Using a Song Lyric Strategy…For a TL AuthRes Video Activity…

I like to use songs in class and one of my favourite activities is the ‘listen and organize the lyrics’ activity. You probably do the same kind of thing; chop up the lyrics into strips and have kids put them in order as they hear the song. It’s one of many ways I use music...and and great fun. And finally I realized that these activities are great for any time I ask them to listen…

My challenge was around the idea of weather. The students had already done a reading about seasons in Japan which included some basic weather terms. But I wanted to challenge this group so I went to the Japanese national broadcaster NHK. Every day they post their weather forecast in video on their site. I used a screencapture program (many exist like Snagit) to get the broadcast. Then I listened for key vocabulary used throughout the broadcast. I put the words into Quizlet and used their ‘print flashcard’ option to create my key vocabulary flashcards. (I can’t say enough about the ease of using Quizlet to create ‘sets’ of words, and even images, into card format.)

Kids initially found and matched the vocabulary that they knew. Then there was some great ‘guessing’ using previous knowledge (and some hints on the board) for the rest. I came to check for each group as they indicated completion. They could also consult a list, included in the flashcard package, helped them at the end to ensure that they were correct. They reviewed all the cards a couple of times (see English say in TL – see the TL and say in English) and then put the English portion away and spread out the TL cards in front of them. Their task would be to listen to the broadcast and put the TL vocab words in the order that they heard the word.

Then I began to play the broadcast – at real-time speed. I played the first minute several times and as they heard a word they grabbed it and began to organize. I probably played it about 5-6 times…and we ran out of time in the period. The next day they came in and reviewed the outstanding cards…and we listened 3-4 times. The majority of kids had the majority of the weather forecast in order. We then went over the order the words appeared and they listened one final time – putting their finger on the word as they heard it. At the end I asked if they could each find 4 or 5 key words that they might want to use again and they said “we’d like them all!” My students typically work in pairs and they said, after this activity, that this was a great partner thing to do.

I’d never considered using the idea from a song activity for an authentic resource video. Why hadn’t I? Now I’m casting around for other ways to use my various song activities for other ways I ask them to interact with audio in class.


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November 17, 2019
by leesensei

A New Lens….Am I Just “Testing Memory” Or Seeing How Well They Can “Use” The Language?

I have been undergoing a great change in my teaching, an evolution in my practice – one that is propelled by my work with kids with IEPs, our new provincial curriculum. my discussions regarding assessment with fellow self-reflective colleagues and my frustrations in how I felt I was not supporting my students at both ends of the achievement spectrum. So what has changed with this new ‘lens’ on how I view assessing in my classroom?…

Yes I Ask Them To “Learn and Remember” – This is not to say that I don’t ask them to ‘learn’, remember and demonstrate their knowledge.  Our learning checks  (what you might call a ‘quiz’) can be the traditional “know how to write these words”. But now I also give checks that show that they can ‘recognize words’ instead of just write them. This is especially key for vocabulary that will be used in oral interpersonals. So I ask them to “match” (TL & English) or listen and indicated the order that they heard a word. I also don’t announce ‘structure’ quizzes. Instead I use pop-check-ins which allow me to see how well a concept is being understood. Sometimes this results in my ‘re-teaching’ because clearly no one is getting it. Often it results in one-on-one coaching with those that clearly are not sure.

Summative Presentational Writing– As I tell my students “I don’t want to know what you remember as much as how well you can use what we have been learning.”  I figure that in real life and in any job you’d have notes, guides, logbooks or access to references in crafting your communication. Why am I asking kids to write only what they ‘remember’ in a foreign language? This is not to say that there is no memory involved. That they haven’t “learned” anything (above).  What is key for me is how they will be assessed. You can’t fully meet in my class unless you utilize current and past learning effectively. And if you add in those little things we mention, the asides, the ‘in additions’, the things that I might refer to once you can push to ‘exceeding’. And all of this end or unit writing is done ‘with notes of some kind’.

What I find here is, that having notes, any student can respond. Often my weakest kids are the ones who don’t know how to prepare, have minimally met on learning checks and haven’t ‘figured out how’ to prepare for this kind of assesment.  This new approach allows them to be able to write more than what they ‘remember’. Often, as well, they get supports for their writing.  It allows them to show more of what they actually can understand.

Many teachers (even in my department) are concerned about the ‘fairness’ of this – that a student who did ‘nothing’ has the same advantage as a diligent student who has tried to master everything during the unit work. This worry implies that a student is unfairly being helped/rewarded for not learning. This has never played out in what I see or what my students have written. The students who have internalized/’learned’ the vocabulary/structures don’t need to spend time looking them up and  they have time to go deeper and really expand on what they are writing. They are using their notes not to look up the basics but to create rich, meaningful responses. The kids who haven’t internalized the words/ideas have less time for more expansive writing – but they are able to write something instead of almost nothing.

As for the writes – sometimes the notes are provided by me (a collection of Quizlets that I have prepared for units as a sort of ‘dictionary’ for example). Sometimes they are ‘open book’ allowing them to use any of their notes in a timed write – but no dictionaries. Other times this can resemble an English essay write – with rough copies, peer or teacher editing and then a final write (and a maximum of 6 words they’ve looked up – they have to use circumlocution for the rest).

Presentational/Interpersonal Speaking – I’ll admit that I do very little presentational speaking in front of the class. Yes there are the two skits (one each in Gr 9 and 10). But beyond that students only present to another student via interpersonal fairs.  Even in this case they can have ‘notes’ in English about what they want to say but have to have ‘learned’ how to communicate this in the TL. We even practice circumlocuting so that if they forget what they wanted to say they can still communicate their message. Some kids can’t do this and will need ‘notes’. This reduces their ability to meet expectations but it still allows them to participate and feel a certain level of achievement. The same goes for their interpersonals. Referring to notes may allow full participation as opposed to being able to ‘say nothing’ and if you don’t need anything to participate you may, depending on what you say, be on your way to fully meeting/exceeding.

Japanese specific – Chinese characters (Kanji) – This is a Japanese-specific observation – it is the language that I teach. Kids often struggle with Chinese characters. They can’t memorize how to write them perhaps. They are frustrated. They can adopt a negative attitude towards them.  I try to teach the characters in context, with a story to go along with how it is constructed. I ask them to see it like ‘lego’; composed of individual parts rather than a complex solo item. Now I am experimenting with two styles of learning checks. If you want to meet my expectations I will give you the characters – you tell me how to say them and what they mean. For fully meeting – I will give you the reading and you write them in Chinese characters and give me the meaning. I see some kids actually relax – they may not be able to write them well but when it comes to interpretive reading they know what they are reading.

Adaptations to Show Learning – Ultimately I am always considering what my provincial curriculum refers to adaptations. This is not reducing expectations but adapting so that any kid can show learning. This is not just for students with IEPs. In my province adaptations are there for any student that might need them. This means that kids can access the audio for any reading assessment or can ‘talk’ me through vocabulary that they can’t remember how to write.

My new lens asks me to consider what I am really assessing – and how I am giving students the opportunity to show what they know. As I evolve in my teaching I hope the focus on this is becoming clearer and clearer…


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November 13, 2019
by leesensei

Changing Seating/Changing Teaching – What My 2019 Classroom “Set Up” Now Says…

Teaching ClassI wrote the first part of this post in 2014….when I was making what I knew was a huge first step in my classroom environment. Today in November 2019 – as the last ‘student desk’ came out of my room I took another step. So I thought I would repost & update this for my new space…and my evolved classroom.

I looked out at my room the other day – the same room I started to teach in when it was a new school in in 1997. The blackboard is now a whiteboard, the screen is there for my computer…and wow – is that the same old TV in the corner for video announcements? (Yes!) But even more interesting for me is what has really changed. There is a big difference in ‘how’ my students use the room – how they sit, what they do, and where the focus on learning is. It took me a minute to connect the change in my room setup and my changing educational practice.The journey mirrors the evolution of my teaching…

Single Rows – Focus: Teacher at the front of the room:  Those first few years, with their long nights of prepping material and me trying to wrap my head around what I was ‘teaching’. Note the word ‘teaching’. With my students in rows, facing the front, it was clearly a ‘teacher as the driving force’ kind of space. And in those early years, as I worked to discover who I was as a teacher, and even what kind of things I wanted my students to explore it probably needed to be this way. The first few years can be chaotic, challenging and oh so much fun…and clearly, if you looked at my desk arrangement, I was the one ‘in charge’.

Pairs – in a “U” shape – Focus: Teacher at the  front of the room/another student: Gradually my room saw a change – from single rows to pairs – and, daringly, not even in rows. This coincided with my degree of comfort in the what and how that I was teaching. Notice again though that the focus was on me and the front of the room. Yes, I thought it had to be as that is where the screen for the overhead – replaced by computer/LCD is located. My degree of comfort in ‘letting them go and interact’ was growing – and I injected lots of partner/interactive time into the class. But clearly the setup still said ” ‘Focus on the teacher – and then shift to practicing with your partner’ (but remember who is in charge! )

“Tables” 4 desks- all facing each other – Focus: Fellow Students/Teacher when needed: And this year – another change for me – and another ‘leap’ in my style of teaching. I had tried the group of 4 in the past – but hadn’t made the permanent shift. But the changes in my teaching, and a visit to Catherine Ousselin (@catherineKU72) and her ‘table setup’ did it for me. If I was going to let my students, and a communicative/interactive focus be a priority, I needed to put my ‘desks where my teaching philosophy is’. So now they sit – pods of 4 desks – a partner to talk to beside them – and pair across the table for broader consultation/interaction. It’s a challenge at times – but remarkably easy to pull them all together for the ‘coaching’ moments at the screen/board. I don’t even think of it as the ‘front’ of the room any more – the focus is now on the students – and my teaching, okay my language coaching – is improving because of it.

Now….Round and Wavy Moveable Tables, Camping Chairs and a Sofa – Focus: Comfortable, More Natural Communication: Loved the pods of desks – the square 4 set that allowed my kids to face each other. But…my needs, and more importantly, my students needed more. They needed to be able to move, to get away from being at a desk and be in a place that made it easier to talk. So initially in came the camping chairs. You can see them in the photo below – under the window, near the front of the room on both ‘sides’ of the board. They cost under $10 each and are light and extremely moveable. With clipboards from the dollar store they are a place kids can do a learning check or assessment and  easily be moved to suit what they need. I often use them when we conference and I love how relaxed you feel in them. And then…the desks had to go!

With the support of my colleague (who took the ‘take the desks out’ leap first) I scrounged a couple of round tables and out went a few desks.  And then my principal stepped up.  In came 2 more round tables and the wavy tables you see on the right. These are great – they are easily wheeled around and, if I need more room, the tops flip up and I can move them almost completely out of the way. My principal even encouraged me (and paid for it!) to get ‘whiteboard’ tables. Kids love it when they can practice/write/think on them. And I’m sourcing large whiteboard squares for the round tables so that they can too.

I also put in a sofa (you can’t see it) which is immensely popular – maybe it’s the large Hello Kitty stuffed animals they like to hold while they talk. I encourage students to ‘move to where you are comfortable’ for almost every task. One of my grade 11’s said today “When we started in Grade 9 there were desks…now there are none..and I like it!!”

I hope that my room now says to my students “the focus here is on you and I’m encouraging you to be comfortable as you are using your language skills to communicate.” What does your setup say about what you value in your class?




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November 5, 2019
by leesensei

The Evolution of My Class Interpersonal Orals….

How can I evaluate an interpersonal conversation in a way that is not super stressful for my students? How can I listen to them just “talk”?  When I first started I used to have them do the conversation in front of me. They had to talk and I sat there with my rubrics and evaluated.  They were nervous to speak in front of me and worrying about how well they are doing. I was trying not to make them nervous, to just listen and not write too much (they equated writing with mistakes) and then had a split second to record impressions before the next set. So then I moved on to recording. “Just go out and record you and your partner speaking.” What a great idea! Despite the issues of quality, and sometimes the ‘obvious clicks’ of a recording pausing I thought this was better. Then I’d spend a long time listening to the audio files…But I still didn’t like it – too stilted and  too ‘staged’. They found it nerve-wracking saying they felt a pressure to perform and be right on a recording or they’d want to record it again. A great colleague Connie Santos, who is an awesome department collaborator, had been experimenting with a new style of oral…and I was willing to test her ideas out too…The new ‘orals’ began.

Before the Oral Discussion – What They Are Doing

Generally I have two partial periods for them to prep before the orals. They are brainstorming ideas for themselves to use as a basis for the orals. Just like before they are chatting with partners as they prepare. They are speaking, and listening and practicing supporting. They are reviewing how to say when they don’t understand and how to assist someone who isn’t understanding them. They are using supports as they need to. They are asking questions of me and trying to say what they want to say.  They are exploring ways to address the topic(s) to be discussed and what fully meet, or meet, would sound like (we do have a rubric for this to guide them).

Before the Oral Discussion – What I Am Doing

I am working with them to give them any supports that they need. I am taking some time to ask them to target specific structures during a preparation session. I am listening and giving some feedback. I am actually walking around with a clipboard to get them used to what I will have during the oral. I am asking them to not understand something on purpose to practice both asking for and providing assistance. I am working with them in any way they ask me to from “how would I say…?” to “is there another way I can…?” to “am I saying …. correctly?”.  I am also modelling what I will be doing during their oral – walking around, looking like I am taking notes, stopping to listen…and reinforcing that what I am/will be writing is what I am hearing not writing down a list of ‘mistakes’.

During the Oral Discussions – What They Are Doing

They are speaking with a partner for a set period of time. If they need supports they have them although they know they can’t fully meet expectations if they do. They are listening, and speaking, and clarifying and questioning. They are talking the entire time – addressing the topic and going beyond when they have other things to discuss. They are telling their partner when they don’t understand and helping out when they are asked to. At the end of the alloted time (my Grade 11’s first oral was 11min per partner) they are thanking their partner and moving on to another. They are speaking with 8-9 people over the almost 2 classes this will require.

During the Oral Discussions – What I Am Doing

I am walking around with a clipboard and stopping to listen. Often who I am looking at is not who I am listening to. (I’m getting good at looking one way but listening to another to try to reduce their anxiety!) I am making notes on what I hear. “At grade level” “clarifies” “unit structures” “adding details” “says when doesn’t understand” “effective follow ups” and more in a shorthand that allows me to make notes more quickly “agl”  “clfy”, “Unit” “dets” “asks help” “eff f-up” etc. If there are serious issues I am making a brief note too. I am making multiple passes listening to kids more than 1 time. I am leaning in when I need to to hear the quiet ones. I am constantly checking that I have ‘enough’ and when I feel I have enough for a student checking them off and listening to those kids I need more on. I am moving, listening, moving, recording over and over.

After the Oral Discussions – What They Are Doing

Student Evidence Sheet

They are reflecting on the oral. They are assessing how they feel about how well they have met expectations. They are considering my question “What did you hope that I heard” and are offering up evidence of the kinds of things they said on the topic. They aren’t using notes or dictionaries to do this so it’s coming from what they actually said. And I’m not worrying as much about spelling/correct forms as I am looking at what they said. They are providing evidence of how they participated. On my last Grade 11 orals I gave them room to provide 4-5 sentences on the three topics areas they touched on.

After the Oral Discussions – What I Am Doing

Teacher Response Sheet

I’m also reading their evidence to see what they highlighted – and seeing if generally what they report they said reflects what I heard. I’m looking at my notes generated when I listened to them. I am preparing my feedback for them – not on everything but on key items. My response sheet (feedback sheet teacher) is divided into “Things That Were Noticed..”  – the positive things I say/heard them doing and “For Next Time” – advice on how to step up and sometimes corrections. I write out my notes for each…and eventually clip it to their response sheet.

What They Like About This…

They like the multiple partners. They like that it takes more than one period so they don’t feel rushed. They like that they are, depending on who they talk with, sometimes more the helper, and sometimes more the “helpee”. They like the idea that they get, with multiple partners, a  kind of do-over and they also get the chance to pick up extras from others. They like how ‘natural’ it feels…

What I Like About This….

I like seeing kids in a room – on the couch, in the camping chairs, at tables talking.  I like seeing kids engaged, listening to each other and actually having conversations. I like to see them reasonably relaxed during the process. I like to see the kids who aren’t so confident able to speak and actually interact. I like to see the really nervous kids relax and sit on a couch and just talk. I like that, although it’s my job to hear them,  they are asked to play their role in the evaluation process too.

It took a bit to get comfortable with this  style – and every time I do one I get better at it. But I like this…I like what I see and, most importantly, I like what I hear…



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October 19, 2019
by leesensei

Scaffolding UP: Learning To Support The “Less Confident” Writer

We do a lot to help our students  to raise their proficiency in presentational writing.  And based on what we do many kids do. They add detail, expand with reasons, try to explain and move beyond just writing statements. But for some, writing – and growing their writing – is not easy and I’ve struggled to help them to improve.

I am fortunate to work with a wide range of students and I currently have a 2nd year student who has difficulty organizing her thoughts and getting down to work. In the first unit the assignment was to re-tell a story in the past tense and based upon what I saw after the first day of work I realized that I was failing her. Our great support teachers in our school worked with me to see that my student needed a way to organize  – to start small and then gradually expand what she is writing. So I created a format using an fill in the blank/add a sentence strategy. For the summary it went like this – Step 1 fill in a past tense form:  “A long long time ago there _____an old man (was).” Step 2 – add a related sentence:  “Now add one piece of information about the old man  (in a sentence).”  For each part of the story she filled in the ‘past tense’ verb then added an extra detail sentence. When she completed it she had a basic summary and participated in peer feedback using it. A copy of the assignment: kobutori retell scaffolded write

In our second unit the task was to create an Instagram post of her dream room – and to write a long description of it. I needed a different way to help her as I didn’t know what she would design to be described. I came up with a ‘target structure/add a reason/add a detail’ sheet. In each she identified an item in the room (a total of 6) and wrote down – on separate lines –  the item “desk” its location “beside the bed” then put it together “The desk is beside the bed” and added what she did with it “Because I have homework” and finally  she put all the pieces together “Because I have homework, there is a desk beside the bed.” After creating her 6 main sentences her task was to go back and add 1 more piece of information to each sentence – for example “in the first sentence add a describing word for how the item looks” and “in the 3rd sentence add how often you use it”.  Now she has a description that meets expectations for using unit items. A copy of the assignment: room project scaffolded

It’s not just my students with IEP’s that can find this useful. In fact I’ve realized that this approach can assist any student who may need support in addressing a writing task. Yes – I finally realized this! In my grade 11 class I have students who are currently working on a write-up of an interview with a classmate. So I created a slightly less formulaic sheet – but one that helps them to express themselves in a more grade appropriate way by guiding them to create a basic grade-appropriate response then add some ‘extra’s’ around it including an opinion etc. A copy of the assignment: scaffold written interview paragraph

My 2nd year student loves this approach. “It works for my brain”, she says and beams when I tell her that working with her is helping me to help others to write. I’ll be preparing a scaffolding sheet for each of my tasks…and my students’ written expression will be the better for it.


PS – if you want more detail of what’s in the documents – and you don’t read Japanese – let me know and I’ll be happy to ‘translate’ for you!


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October 14, 2019
by leesensei

Learning Engagement – Strengthening Students’ Understanding of Their Role In Their Learning

Engagement connects to…

Two years ago I made the switch to ‘modes’ in my gradebook and descriptors instead of numbers. What a valuable change that was – for both me and my students. By using modes I can easily see strengths and where support is needed. Descriptors help kids understand what they can do and how they might improve. More importantly I discovered that everything I do can be classified in terms of mode – including assigned preparation work (you might call it homework) had nothing in it because I am either asking them to do something presentational or interpretive or, sometimes, interpersonal for class. What a relief to be rid of that category in ‘grading’…However…

In addition to changing my focus on assessment to modes – I wanted to change my students’ view on their role in the classroom. If their teacher is no longer ‘marking’ them but rather ‘assessing’ their skills then they also need to recognize that they have a role to play in that outcome. I must admit I got tired of hearing “I got an 80” and I want them to see (and say!) that they ‘earned’ a particular assessment and that they had a key role in doing so. It isn’t about ‘participation’ – too often viewed as a subjective evaluation of their role in class. No it is about more. Long discussions with colleagues ensued and one day my great French colleague mentioned that she had been talking to other teachers about students being ‘engaged in their learning’. Revelation. Why weren’t we looking at engagement in the process. As a teacher I can often see who is ‘engaged’ but now I wanted to ask students to be aware of their role too. This shift in focus is also the direct result of changes in my provincial curriculum and the focus on Core Competencies which are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need in order to engage in deep, lifelong learning. Central to this is student self-reflection on their own strengths, weaknesses and learning.

So “Learning Engagement” became the fourth gradebook category. For me it is worth 5% of their overall achievement – small enough to let the modes be the majority of what is assessed, but significant enough to play a role in a ‘grade’ – especially those on the line between two possible marks. And this is not just be my judgement. My students also have to examine, reflect and report on their engagement before reporting periods. They are able to, as it were, to hold themselves accountable for their role in learning. So twice a semester now we engage in this process. Students assess themselves based upon criteria that we have discussed as a class  – they come up with the definition – including using the target language, positive influence in the class community, preparing for classes, choosing to respond to feedback and more (This years’ version of the form: engaged learner 2019 – of course the ultimate ‘evaluation’ is sensitive to every student, their unique needs and how they are ‘engaged’ to the class – ‘fully meeting’ looks different for every student. ). Then we conference about their view of their engagement. their current assessments and how the two may be linked (or not). When they set out a goal for the next term they often include aspects of engagement in these goals. Rarely do they ‘under’ or ‘over’ assess themselves and when they do it’s a healthy discussion to have. We then mutually decide on the final evaluation for the category. Please note that my neurodiverse students may receive an edited form more suitable to them – I want to stress this!.

Learning Engagement…it’s helping me to help them see the link between their participation in the learning process and their results..



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