Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Taking the Time to Ask “How’s it going?”



As teachers we’re often so concerned about finishing a class in time that sometimes we forget how far we have come. This year has started a new emphasis for me on reflective learning. As I take the time reflect on my learning via my blog and interact with my PLN, I want my students to develop a self awareness of who, and where, they are as learners.

I started this year with a set of opening day questions for my returning students. The idea came courtesy of Martina Bex (@martinabex) and was a set of questions designed to find both what works for them in class -and what their challenges might be. The emailed responses were very enlightening both as an insight into how my students see themselves as learners but also what class materials supported their learning. As we came through our first half of the course (I teach on semester system -so Nov is mid-way) I thought it would be nice to check in and see how class is going – and how students are feeling about their learning.

The reflection form asks students to initially consider their success in class.  The responses show what they value – and if what I value (risk, stretching, communicating) is resonating with them. “What have you done really well?” and “What have you improved on?” brought a wide variety of answers. Many talked about overcoming initial hesitations – especially about communicating with peers – and their increasing comfort in working in the target language.

“One thing that surprised me about class” gave me a real insight into how class is going for them. I was surprised to have so many focus on the pleasant surprise of our oral challenges – be they daily interactive with their peers or the class summative assessments. One grade 12 student remarked on how ‘freakishly committed’ the class seemed to be – in preparing work and participating in class activities. A great number of students mentioned that they never thought learning a language could be ‘fun’ – imagine that?

I put a question on the sheet this year about preparing for tests – keeping in mind that ‘test’ refers to any of our summative (and some of my formative) assessments. Most of my seniors used this to reiterate how they prepare – and that it a successful strategy for them. I have worked a lot this year with my new Grade 9’s in evaluation skills. Many of them talked about ‘preparing for the evaluation we’re going to have’ as a change – that is practicing reading for a reading piece, and writing for a written evaluation. A large number commented on how they used my “power 7” idea (short bursts of concentrated study) – even now in other classes.

After the reflective piece I also wanted students to ‘project’ into the future – the second half of the course. “A challenge for me will be…” is really a chance for students to set out what is important to them going forward. A large number talked about their wish to keep doing what they are doing now (because it is working). A portion of students also talked about what hadn’t been going so well for them – and used this answer to articulate what they wanted to change or improve going forward.

Asking students ‘something they want to know more about’ – lets me see if I am hitting the right ‘notes’ with the scope of what they are being introduced to. My grade 9’s were very big on ‘more conversation’ and, as I hadn’t done it yet, it was a perfect opportunity to work with them to create a ‘phrases’ sheet that they use in peer to peer conversations and more.

I plan to revisit this type of questionnaire at the end of the course. It’s valuable to my students not only to have them realize where they have come from – but also in asking them to articulate actions going forward. It’s value to me is summed up in my favourite Grade 9 response:

“I didn’t like Japanese at first – It was hard, especially when I was trying to learn my characters.    But look at me now, I’m reading and talking with my partner and it’s great!”

Enough said.



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