Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

February 9, 2018
by leesensei
1 Comment

Kaguyahime: An #AuthRes Story Activity to Support Script Learning in Japanese

Although I rarely write specifically about my subject – this is one of them! A post on using an authentic resource to reinforce script recognition. If you don’t teach my TL maybe something here will resonate with you too!

I teach Japanese in a Gr9-12 semester-system high school (in Vancouver, BC Canada). Several years ago I made the decision to stop using romaji with my beginners. I never liked using it, it was tough to wean kids off it and it didn’t seem natural to me. Instead we start with all ‘oral’ work boosted by key visuals to remember. We repeat, we find new partners, we repeat again. At the same time (and on the first day) I start introducing script – just the first 5 characters on day 1…but enough to start them on their journey. As they learn all their characters we begin to write words we have learned.

It is also my habit to start every new semester with a story for my classes.  I like that it gets kids reading again and seeing characters and hopefully sparks/taps previous learning. Typically I use graded reader stories for my older students (Momotaro, Urashimataro etc.). But for my new first year students I have a board-book copy of the classic “Kaguyahime”. It’s a lovely tale, the script is big, as are the pictures, and the target audience is for children so there isn’t a lot of text on the page. I don’t expect my students to be able to ‘understand’ the story on the page. Here’s how I use it…

  • I don’t introduce the story until we are well on our way with learning characters – that is after we have seen あーも (and ん). I continue to introduce script in class but I feel at this point they have a good ‘chunk’ to work with
  • Each day I pick out5- 7 key words from the story and write them on the board; ‘words such as むかし, おじいさん, たけ etc. Under each I write the English meaning.
  • Students work with their partner (this is key – that they work together) and chart to figure out how to say them. Then we review out loud. I don’t lead them through the words initially because I want to begin the practice of ‘recognizing’. Note: this is a great way to introduce sound combinations like しゃ or the use of the small つ (けっこん). These I do ‘pre-teach’ before I ask them to try to read them…
  • I ask them to choose any 4 words and write them on the back blank page of their hiragana booklet (writing practice!)
  • They look at the text (copied) and work to find the words on the page. It’s also an introduction to reading traditional text (right to left/top to bottom)
  • I read the page and recap in English

I do a page a day for the next few pages in this manner until we come to part where the 5 princes are issued a challenge to find something (in order to marry Kaguyahime). We approach the page the same way – key words that day include vocabulary  for the desired items. At the end of the reading I ask the students to talk with their partner and predict who will be successful in their quest and why (they have to write down their prediction). They are quite engaged in this and all sorts of interesting reasoning.  The next day we go over the items being searched for in English on the board. If you know the story – you know the quests are not successful so our words to read this day are the Japanese for ‘fake’, ‘ship sunk’ and ‘grievous injuries’. They practiced saying them and when I read out an asked-for item in English they guessed – in Japanese – what happened. “Quest for the jewel from the dragon’s throat?” “Ship sinks” they all yelled in Japanese! Then they searched for the words on the page…I read and they learned the  young men’s fate.

For pages after this in the story I ask them to do a different task each day per page including:

  • Select one line and put a check mark beside characters you already recognize
  • Select one line and, using your chart, look for and say out loud all of the characters in the line
  • Select 3 lines and see if you can find a combination sound or a small つ word

The story time is about 15 minutes of my 75 minute class. My book is about 10 pages and it’s a great way to introduce a classic story and also engage students in reading script. Two good outcomes from one authentic resource!



January 26, 2018
by leesensei

Implementing a “Gradebook à la Mode”…..Lessons Learned In The Change

Note: This post is a cross-posted on the Path2Proficiency site.

I took a look at my gradebook at the end of last year. My tasks were all jumbled together and still classified in the traditional  4 language skills: reading, writing, listening. I had evolved to using descriptors instead of numbers, but nothing else had changed. I couldn’t easily tell you how proficient a student was in any particular skill – in part because the information wasn’t easy to find. It certainly did not reflect my journey down the proficiency path.

So this fall my colleague Connie and I decided that if we were implementing proficiency then we also needed to fully make the jump to modes. And if we were going to use modes of communication in class, our gradebook had to change as well. At the start of the year I put my new gradebook together with 4 separate pages: Interpersonal, Presentational, Interpretive and  “Out Of Class Prep” (our take on what work at home really is). Doing this led to some revelations about my practice, some surprises and, ultimately, necessary changes.

Interpersonal – We set these tasks as anything requiring a possible negotiation of meaning between two (or more) students. Wow – if you had asked me BEFORE this I would have told you that this was the major part of my classes. That interpersonal exchanges were weighted the heaviest in my ‘gradebook’ and that this is what my class is built on. That my class was ‘full’ of evaluated interpersonal activities. And then I saw…not. While my students have a great deal of time to talk and interact, I found that I was completely lacking in feedback for these times. Absolutely none. Apparently the only Interpersonal up to this point that I have had is a summative oral. It was humbling to notice my lack of feedback. What I have learned from this is that I need to find ways for more formative feedback during interpersonal work time in class.  And I also need to see if I can work in interpersonal written work (completely non-existent) as well.

Presentational – For us this meant any ‘one-way’ writing or speaking that required no negotiation of meaning. I learned that I have a lot of this one-way work in my classes – which I should. I learned that this is the main area where I provide feedback – and they get a lot of it. I liked that this ‘mode’ also made me reconsider the value in presentational speaking. Traditionally I have associated it with the ‘before the class’ speech (for example) but I added Flipgrid to allow them the chance to speak with me (and get feedback as well). What I learned from this is that there is more than one way to be in this mode – and I needed to find more variety in the opportunities that I offered.

Interpretive – For me this mode encompasses anything that requires them to show understanding.  (I may not exactly line up with what ACTFL considers this task to be). This means it is, for me, anything from reading a piece and filling in a table/answering questions about it to listening to something at home or in class and completing a task based on that. And yes, gasp, for me this can even includes traditional workbook ‘listening’ exercises too. And of course there are still  ‘summative’ evaluations too… What I learned is that this is my major go-to especially in my novices and that I did more than of this than I thought. It also meant that I needed to add a ‘comprehension’ section to many of my created stories (many of which I just used to figure they would ‘get’) so that they could see that they did understand. I’ve also added more ‘at home’ opportunities to practice listening.

Out of Class –  This used to be a huge component of my gradebook. The traditional ‘homework’ section. But when you switch to modes most of this is not needed. I learned that although they were prepping work outside of class time – even if they were, for example, coming up with 3 truths and a lie about what they did after school (for classmates to guess) it was indeed presentational writing. What I learned is that preparation is preparation in a particular mode. I had very few things in this category…which is a good thing.

And finally this move required me to shift how I ‘weight’ things in my gradebook. For me this is especially important for my novices. It means that, for them, more value is placed on Interpretive (35% now) than Interpersonal (now 30%) and Presentational (30%). Out of class is minimal but still key so it holds at 5%. As they move up in proficiency Interpretive will give way to more emphasis on Interpersonal work (once I add more feedback!)

Moving to modes has been a great way to really take stock of how I help students learn – and where I am supporting, or not, in the process. And ultimately this will make my classes a richer and more meaningful experience for students and myself.


January 12, 2018
by leesensei
1 Comment

Adding Detail In Writing…Learning to Accessorize to Add Flare!

One of my Yr2’s came to see me at lunch. She is creative, energetic and outgoing – everything that I ask and very sincere in trying to improve her language skills. But she has been disappointed lately that she is not finding the ‘fully meeting’ in her presentational writing pieces.

“Sensei – I’m trying to hard to get to put in more details – but I keep getting ‘mixed up’ and feel jumbled in my thoughts.” She felt that she was so busy trying to ‘push her level of detail that what she was writing was not making sense. “How do I start?” she asked.

I struggled for a tip, a simple way to help her to understand how. Now I will add that this student is also a snappy dresser who melds her love of cos-play with her everyday wear. And it struck me that, like putting together an outfit, writing was a matter of adding ‘layers’ to basics too. So we talked about getting dressed. “Do you”, I asked, “put on your earrings, bracelets, jacket etc before you choose your basic outfit?” “No,” said my student, “I get dressed first.”

“Well,” I told her “This is just the same as writing – you ‘get dressed’ with a basic sentence – then you add some accessories.””But what  would I add?”  she asked.”What do you do when you choose an outfit?” “I accessorize” she said…Then I asked “What are our ‘accessories’ when we communicate?”…All of a sudden I saw it dawn on her. “Our follow-up questions...”.

And it dawned on me too. It’s not just enough to write on the rubric and say “try adding more detail.” I had to help them to do this in a logical and ‘understandable’ way. I had to more explicitly link what we do with ‘Wheel Of Detail‘ for interpersonal speaking to their writing too. With this in mind I went back to the entire class and talked about adding details using our follow-up questions as a guide.  We started with a simple idea (and written) sentence:

Kenji watched a movie.

If this is what Ken said he did, I asked, what would you want to know? And their follow-up questions included (1) why? (2) when? (3) who with? (3A) what are they like? (4) how? (5) where at? (6) how did they watch? Gradually the expanded sentence emerged.

(1)Because he really likes them, (2) last week on Tuesday at 4pm, (3A) tiny but cute Kenji and (3A) really funny (3) Naomi (6) quietly watched a (3A) very interesting movie (5) at a movie theatre in Shinjuku.

They then practiced in pairs – coming up with their own ‘accessories’ for another sentence and we debriefed them as a group. I saw many have a “I can do this…” or “Oh this is how…” moment.

Making more detailed and interesting sentences should not be hard. I had neglected to help them see the link from the questions we use when we speak to the written text. My students often talk now about ‘accessorizing’ their sentences…and as they emerge out of novice it has also led to more interesting written pieces…with more detail than before!


January 5, 2018
by leesensei

Top Posts of 2017 and What They Tell Me….

Ah the best of intentions – I had them. Two weeks of holidays at Christmas and I’d finally get those 4 posts done that have been sitting there – sitting there waiting for a break in the action. It has been a rich and fulfilling term with time I’d usually spend blogging now used for the changes in my room that I simply must make! And then of course – the winter vacation cold. On the mend now and with some time (okay 3 days) until I return to school I took a look at the top posts on Language Sensei of 2017. And here’s what I learned…

Proficiency is a new – and popular – path to be on…Three of the most popular posts related to proficiency and more specifically to my ‘why’ and ‘how’ to get on to the proficiency path. It appears that many are looking to include proficiency in their teaching and working to find rationales, and aids, to both stay on the path and explain why they are on it. Of all of my newer proficiency posts these three resounded the most:

  • Keeping My Eye On a New Path…my first post for Path To Proficiency and my own ‘how to’ of introducing proficiency to my classes in a doable (and survivable without working 22 hours a day) way…read more
  • Using Proficiency Levels with Students – Now I Get It….my realization that like video games – we need to keep giving kids levels to strive for…read more
  • Skills Give You Talking points  Proficiency Gives You A Goal …a post that stressed the ‘link’ for me between the post-classroom skills that I believe language study provides and how proficiency goals play into that…read more

Articulating the Value of Language Study Is Key For Us. We are often looking to advocate for language study and it’s benefits beyond “I can order a coffee in the TL country”. Finally I put down on paper (and included in every syllabus) the skills that I believe language study promotes. These are key skills – transferable skills and ones that I think we must explicitly share with students so that they too can articulate the value of second language study. The infographic from this post continues to be routinely shared – and thanks for the credit when you do…

  • Thanks for Taking My (Fill in Language) Class – Here’s What You are Really Acquiring…read more

Students in Our Classes are More Diverse Than Ever…and we are all working to meet them where they are at. My post about working with kids with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) really hit home for many. I wrote it to expand on the ways that my teaching and working with ALL my students has been improved due to the presence of IEP students in my classes. It’s due to them that I made changes in how I ask kids to show understanding/knowledge and mastery…I’ve learned so much from them..

So yes those 4 posts are coming – more posts on this blog and for Path To Proficiency – I promise. In the meantime Happy 2018! See you under the #langchat hashtag for another great year!



November 1, 2017
by leesensei

Pop Check-In…Pop Coaching: Improving My Formative Feedback

Please note: This is a cross post with my blog for Path To Proficiency…

“They know it for the quiz and then 15 minutes later they can’t use it properly.” How could they score so well on a scheduled quiz and then not use it correctly in a spontaneous classroom interaction? How could I make a more accurate appraisal of where they really are in acquiring a concept? How could I offer formative assessment on what they truly understand/know?

And so this year I began the “Pop Check-In”. When I first announced one in my Year 3 class there were looks of horror. “A pop quiz? You hadn’t warned us! A quiz? For marks?” So I explained what the ‘pop check in’ is and isn’t:

  • It is a chance to see what you have in your head ‘right now’
  • It is not ‘for marks’ but it is ‘for learning’
  • It’s a chance for me to see if I have further teaching to do regarding this concept

Typically I “mark” the check-in that evening by putting a coloured dot next to response that needs another look  and the next day ask my students to look at/correct the problem. They receive a ‘complete’ mark when this correcting is done. Those students requiring extra attention then get it that second day.

This works well but one day I returned them the same class and noticed the effect of this more timely response. I realized that I should be opting for immediate feedback and immediate coaching, especially for those students who have still not mastered the concept. In other words if I could pop-check then I should pop-coach. So now I find myself 5 minutes during the class – 5 minutes to quickly look over the check-in and return them that very class. For some it’s a quick look and often “I know where I went wrong!”. But for the others it’s a great time to revisit the concept. When students are working quietly I take a moment to individually help those who need the extra support.

Students tell me that they like this approach. That it really shows them what they know and some are surprised that they didn’t really understand the concept as well as they thought they did.  They also say that it is a way to check in on their learning without a fear of it reflecting on their mark (their concern as always).  For others it gives the confidence to know that they are expressing themselves appropriately and correctly. And I’m finding the quick coaching moments to be more effective because they occur right away.

The other day I announced a pop check-in and one of students turned to his partner and said “I told you we’d have one! She’s checking to see if we’ve got it!”  And that’s formative feedback I’m happy to provide!



October 13, 2017
by leesensei

Keeping My Eye On A New Path….

As I’ve always said blogging is my way of discussing my thoughts, ideas and more with myself. It is heartening when it also resonates with others. I am happy to be asked to be part of the group blogging with Path To Proficiency and will be posting with P2P as well as on this blog. This is a cross-post of the same article that appeared on the P2P site on October 12.

After a long time, and an ‘aha’ moment, I’m introducing proficiency this year as a key part of my students’ learning. I’m using it fully with my Yr1&2’s this semester. There’s been much thinking and reworking of ideas with great help from Connie Santos (my ‘newly on the path’ colleague at school), the resources on P2P and the ever-generous #langchat PLN.  I know that when making changes sometimes the hardest part is sticking to the new direction..and here’s how I’m keeping my eye on this new path:

Posting An Easy to See Path To Refer To – Nothing helps you talk about proficiency more than having the levels visible in the room. Many like to put their path around the room above whiteboards and bulletin boards. However, I chose to put them down low – on one bulletin board – specifically because they are new to me (and my students). I notice that the descriptors catch my eye when I am talking or giving feedback meaning that I refer to them more often. It allows me to take that opportunity to walk over and point to the levels as I refer to them and really focus the kids on what I am referring to. For me the fact that the levels are down low & in sight means that they are top of mind.

Adding The Path To My Syllabus/Site – I added a Path handout to my students’ syllabus in easy to follow language. I used the classic ‘road’ template from but any program should let you put one together. Many have used the ‘taco chat’ or ‘sushi talk’ sheets shared by colleagues on #langchat. For me – with 4 levels – I made my own. I referred to the path on the first day of class, the various levels too and explained to them why I was now using levels. There were no ‘in-class’ time dedicated to proficiency exploration at this point – but I did ask students to reflect upon the difference between Novice/Intermediate – as they saw it –  as part of their first day syllabus reflection. I’ve also updated my class site to include the ‘what’ and ‘why’ for parents and other educators/administrators interested in what I am doing.

Adding Proficiency Expectations to My Rubrics –  Adding proficiency to my classroom means that I want to add it – as a level of achievement to my class rubrics. So I’ve created a pdf that I can cut/paste and add to rubrics as I use them.  It has two blanks to fill in  – “Proficiency Expectations For This Task” and “Your Level of Proficiency on this Task” and a copy (just like the bulletin board) of what the basic level descriptors are. I was thrilled to hear a student who received their evaluation on their first interpersonal say “Hey I got a Novice Three!”

Finding/Seeking Out Support – I would be nowhere on this journey without a colleague (or two or an entire PLN) there for support. This is proficiency model is new in my school and it is great to have Connie is on this new journey with me. The ability to have someone in my department to consult with, get feedback from (and confess to) is invaluable. I can’t say enough as well about my ‘virtual’ PLN – especially colleagues like Natalia DeLaat and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell who answered key questions at critical times. Knowing that I am no alone on this path, and that I can call upon those farther down the road, is so key for me.

The path may be new …but I feel that I have set out on my journey with resources to keep me firmly on route..and fantastic people to travel this road with. Onward.


Note: You will note that my colleague & I went with the  AAPL descriptors as our base. The 4 levels in each grouping seemed to provide a bit more opportunity to both show growth & provide a more ‘accurate’ assessment. The number descriptors seemed to us to be more ‘forgiving’ than labels ‘low’ or ‘high’…again our choice.


September 29, 2017
by leesensei

Thank You for Having an IEP

One of the greatest gifts that I have been given as a teacher is a student in my class with an IEP. They have taught me so much about what true learning really is (and more too about myself as a person). They can be challenging & often go two steps forward one step back in the learning process. But they are the most valuable students that I can have in the classroom. As I take in new students with IEPs again this year I want to say  “thank you” for the privilege of working with them….

Thank you for issues with remembering – You have taught me that there is more than a ‘written vocabulary’ test to show what you know. You can point to the correct picture when you hear it. You can choose between two options when you hear them and tell me which is the correct word for something. You can tell me if the word I’ve asked about is the correct word for the object. And you have ensured that all students in the room get the opportunity to show they’ve learned words not just by writing them down. You also made me find key visuals and other supports – including more comprehensible input – to ensure that you ‘get’ what the words mean.

Thank you for not being a visual learner – This is especially true in teaching a langauge that does not use ABC’s. You have taught me that learning characters is not something that all students will do in 3-4 weeks as I used to ‘demand’. That you will be accessing your chart  throughout the term – not as a first option but rather after you have attempted writing some without using your chart. You made me realize that this is a ‘long term’ issue for not just you and that any student may still need occasional support throughout the semester. You also led me to record my ‘reading’ pieces that require you to decode information and that hearing & reading at the same time is a powerful way to tap into learning. You made me more attuned to varying paces of learning for all of my students.

Thank you for struggling with writing – You have made me look at how you demonstrate ‘composition’ in my class. Maybe you use the word & phrase bank that I provide for you to do that . Perhaps you use my peer tutor to scribe for you. Sometimes you dictate to me as well. Thank you for teaching me that you will attempt to write just as ‘all the other kids do’ but then you will also come and talk to me about what you want to say. You have taught me that written output is an option for some – and that if you can put together what you want to say in any way in the presentational mode – you are meeting my expectations. In fact it is because of you that I now use ‘modes’ of communicating and not the old-fashioned task categories of ‘reading/writing/speaking/listening’.

Thank you for your challenges working with others – You have made me really look at the value of teaching ‘how to communicate’ in all of my classes. You have helped me to see that all students need assistance in talking with others – from follow-up questions to basic eye contact, or not. You have taught your classmates that not everyone expresses themselves in the same way. You have also reminded me, and your more outgoing classmates, that finding partners or talking to new people is not an experience welcomed by all. So I have worked to have multiple ways to ensure that you, and all students, always can find someone to work with and when you do – you know how/what to do to keep the communication going.

Thank you for making me teach/play the ‘long game’ in my classes…Thank you for making me realize that teaching is not about finishing 5 units in a semester. And learning doesn’t happen because I say ‘well that should be enough for them to know it’. Thank you for showing me that learning is a ‘long game’ that takes time – more time for some than others – but time none the less and that it’s what you have accomplished by the end of the course that counts …not what you learned in my 3-4 week Sumo unit. Thank you for making me provide time for learning.

Thank you for teaching me to play to YOUR strengths as a learner – they make me honour the strengths & challenges of ALL my students.


September 16, 2017
by leesensei
1 Comment

I Believe I Might Have Flipgrid Fever – My “First-Timer” Review

Entranced by all the tweets, and with the promise of #langchat super-colleague (and Flipgridder supreme) Wendy Farabaugh‘s support, I entered the Flipgrid ‘grid’ game this week. It was an interesting learning time for me – with much hand-holding (via Twitter’s DM) by Wendy…Here’s how I did it, my reaction and frustration, and my suggestions (golly this is rather forward for a first-time user) for the Flipgrid developers…

Free Basic Grid  – No I don’t have a ‘paid’ subscription yet (I took advantage of Flipgrid’s ‘one grid free’ offer)…but I think that I might because I can see myself using this repeatedly and I’d like to have a grid for each grade level. I know that there are other ‘paid’ bonuses but right now I haven’t explored them beyond apparently going ‘paid’ so that students can record for more than 90 seconds and being able to upload rubrics to use (will they let me use descriptors and not numbers? I’ll find out I guess!)

No Student Account Creation Required – Canadian privacy laws are tough – and for many programs that ‘hold’ data – especially not having that data in Canada – I have to seek parent permission to use it. But Flipgrid requires no login – no registration – and this was a big ‘plus’ for me. I could try it without asking kids to ‘create’ an account and all the issues – at least here in Canada – that that entails.

Moderated Grid with  NO PUBLIC videos! – This was my biggest worry about using Flipgrid. Although some teachers seemed to love that ‘everybody in the class can see everyone’s video’  I have noticed that many of my students are reluctant to be ‘seen’ on video. Heck – I hate seeing myself on video so why should a student feel any differently? I am also really uncomfortable with the focus these days by kids on ‘quest for likes’ and ‘views’ and ‘clicks’ – and the popularity contest it implies. I wondered how to deal with that. So I promised my students that I would moderate the responses so that no one else would see them. I even showed them the ‘moderated’ word on the recording button so they would know. My biggest fear was that I would actually accidentally release their videos to be viewed by others. This seemed rather likely when I received a message that I had a new video and it needed to be ‘activated’. Wendy’s calm reassurance that I didn’t need to activate helped in this moment of ‘what should I do?’  Suggestion for Flipgrid  – add a ‘caveat’ here that if you are not making videos public you don’t need to ‘activate’ the video.  It’s a confusing moment when you have selected ‘moderated’ to be told to ‘activate’ without knowing what that means! Will I ever have public videos? I can see me doing this with my Yr 4’s – when I have had them, talked to them & developed the supportive atmosphere that I think this would need. Until then – moderated only.


Minimal Instructions! – okay I like to have written instructions – and written instructions with visuals too. I couldn’t find this easily on the site or the web.  Suggestion for Flipgrid – add a basic step by step one page text/visual instruction sheet for the rookie teacher (Flubaroo, for example has a great walk-through to do this) or that a kid can have at home – or a teacher can upload to a site. Lacking one I could crib from another source I created my own…(see right – and yes I ‘m going to have to add a ‘recorded on your phone?’ part.)

This is Going To Be Easy – Or So I Thought – It all looked so easy to me when I tested it (and really it is NOT difficult to use). I recorded a video and uploaded via my computer but noticed they could ‘upload’ one too. I thought this was for any recorded video but I was wrong which led to…. Issue One – I didn’t see that if students recorded on their phone they had to upload via the APP. Learned that one the hard way.  And then…Issue Two – How do they get to it –  is it the Link to the topic or the Code for the grid or what do you give them? I was confused.  Thank goodness #langchat amie Natalia DeLaat read my tweet & replied. I learned that the code worked best with the free app…but to make it easy I linked my topic to my website – they just had to click on the link to find the topic to respond to. As for how they recorded their response – curiously (or not?) – 95% of my kids used their computers not their mobiles for this.  Suggestion for Flipgrid – tell me which to use the code or the link…it’s confusing to see the ‘code’ for grid and the ‘link’ for the topic and not know which to give kids. Could you add a quick link “What is this” at least near the code so I know what to do?

Give A Basic Prompt – I wanted to test this out with something easy for kids to do. So as a review I asked students to tell me two things that they did on the weekend and how it went. The 90 seconds allowed under the Free Flipgrid was fine for this. I liked hearing from them and that most (even if they practiced) just ‘told’ me what they did. I liked seeing them too…it was great.

Feedback…and the BIG (soon to be solved) Asian Font problem – I was so gung-ho for this part. Until….the ‘practice’ (and I suggest the first time you use this you test it out for  yourself  – the whole process recording to sending/receiving a response). I recorded my own response and gave myself feedback. But…even though Flipgrid allowed me to type in suggestions in my TL – Japanese, when I received the feedback email the Japanese didn’t show up. I must offer my Thank You Flipgrid message here. They were very fast when contacted about this and assured me they were ‘all over it’ and should have a ‘fix’ for this in 2-3 business days. (As I write this I await…but I don’t doubt that they will – update as of Sept 27…it appears to be ‘Japanese language’ friendly now!)  Once I got rolling on the feedback it was super easy – and I am considering the paid because I’d like to give rubric based feedback too. Suggestion for Flipgrid – you have ‘recording’ capacity built into your program. Why not let me ‘record’ audio feedback (not video just audio) so the student can hear my response (like they do when I use Kaizena)?

A Quick Check on A Concept – As a teacher in Canada without access to Google Voice (yes – apparently we don’t rate that north of the border), Flipgrid offers me the ability to quickly check if a student has grasped a concept and – this is great – see them/hear them as they do it too. I am heartened that they did not hold up a paper and just read. I believe that with longer time, and more in-depth topic starters, that they will be less concerned with an ‘answer’ and responding more naturally & that’s what I want to hear. And it allows for timely feedback too.

Cautionary Technology Note – It’s 2017 and I naively assumed all kids would have (a) access to a computer with a camera & microphone or (b) a smart phone. They don’t. And I worry that I caused some embarrassment to those who didn’t want to tell me that they didn’t. My solution going forward – I will give a ‘range of days’ to complete the assignment. And I will offer up in-school options for them. I will try to do a deal with both our IT department for access to ‘recording/camera ready’ computers and a quiet place to do this. I am also going to see if my old iMacs (that I use in my classroom mainly for videos for stations days) can be used. That way all kids can access this. Another note – I had one student who tried and tried to upload. We tried the web-based Flipgrid. We tried the app. Didn’t work for her (don’t ask why) – so she just sent me the audio! Bottom line – be sensitive & adaptable!

Will I use it again? Yes. Do I think it is a useful tool for quick checks. Yes – for what I want to use it for it does.  Yes ….I believe I have the fever.


September 10, 2017
by leesensei

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!



August 30, 2017
by leesensei

Read, Reflect, Respond…Or…No Reading the Syllabus on The First Day of Class…!

It’s almost my first day…and I am excited to see my students again. I enjoy the first day – especially since I made the decision to NOT spend any time reading the syllabus (or outline as I call it). I got this idea from the amazing Martina Bex…and this year I have updated/altered my questions to suit the new style of syllabus that I have designed. It’s an all ‘graphic’ syllabus now…including a Path to Proficiency and my recent “Skills You Develop in Language Class” infographic as well.

So what do I do with this ‘piece’ of paper that is a syllabus? Well…I ask them to take it in hand…read it and answer some questions that require they ‘reflect’ on what they read… This email assignment also ensures that they know how to contact me! (After all they have to do this to complete this!)

Here’s what I ask my 2nd and 3rd year students to consider….








I’m looking forward to their replies…


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