Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

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.





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