Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

June 23, 2014
by leesensei

A Year of Change…. A Year of Choice (End of Year Reflection Part 1)

Eating CaterpillarWhat a year! It started with the usual rush in September and is currently ending with a province-wide teachers strike. Despite this unusual end to the year it has been one of amazing change – dare I say ‘metamorphosis’ for my classroom. And most thrilling for me is the almost organic way that the changes have come. I will confess that I didn’t plan my year to go this way – but I am thrilled with how it turned out. It has been a year of big changes in class – and I wanted to highlight a few of the key areas that emerged for me:

Words To Use: The resources and ideas shared by the #langchat PLN, led by Amy Lenord’s pointed blog posts, meant that I no longer felt comfortable with set vocabulary  as the ‘entirety’ of what my students should know. I still believe that a basic vocabulary is key – but as a ‘touchstone’ from which individual expression can come. My vocabulary choice journey is outlined in two posts from earlier in the year – one as I began to change – and an update on how it was going

Putting It Together: I got away from the word ‘grammar’ this year – instead changing my phrasing to ‘how you put your words together’ along with backing down from words like ‘adverb’ or ‘adjective’  After all – how many times do I use technical grammar words like ‘adverbs’ or ‘negative past tense’ in my daily interaction in English? I realize that the more I used ‘technical’ words – the more my students were learning ‘about’ the language rather than how to use it.With this shift came my need to give them what was required for the task at hand. I could no longer in good conscience not give them what they needed in order to do what I asked them to do. Letting go of the control of how they expressed themselves resulted in much more natural language in their interpersonal communication.

Showing Learning: I got rid of the word ‘homework’ this year. Instead in my markbook it became ‘out of class’ work or ‘practice’. And what that work was changed for me. As much as possible I got rid of worksheets and the workbook. Non-meaningful repetition of something seemed to be, well, pointless for me. Yes there is a time/place to ‘practice’ key items but I found that best done as a game, with partners or a group – rather than as a ‘homework’. I found that offering options for showing what they know – and sharing it – was far more meaningful for them. The Sketch/Share, Phone conversations and Story Game posts are examples of the infusion of choice in demonstrating learning.

Handing It In: If I am giving more choice in ‘what’ students are learning I also made the commitment to allow them choice in how they submitted work. This year any ‘hand in’ assignment became “online or on paper” – whatever worked best for them. I got a wide variety of submissions. About 30% of my students are now solidly ‘on-line’ people. They complete work on their computers or phones and submit via email. My rule is that I return it as I receive it – so if it is marked online – it is returned the same way. It took a bit to figure out ‘how’ I was going to to organize my on-line marking – and my thoughts were put into an initial and follow-up post.

I cannot thank the #langchat PLN for challenging me, supporting the change, and cheering the journey – special thanks to Amy, MP900314068Sara-Elizabeth, Laura and Catherine for their frequent input!  Oh there’s more change to come when school resumes….and I’m looking forward to it!



December 10, 2013
by leesensei

The Quick Sketch & Share – Interactive Homework Review

photoOkay, yes – I give homework. But I’m happy to say that my view of what constitutes homework is evolving. As much as possible I am trying to inject some choice into ‘what’ students express. Lately I have also been experimenting with the ‘how’ they choose to express themselves. I want to be quick and say that I am not an artist but I do know the value of a visual – even a basic one. I often use a quick picture: the one to the left is to help students studying the variety of uses for verbs of giving and receiving in Japanese.

Now I have been asking my students to do something similar to demonstrate their learning. For practice I ask them to come up with 5-6 examples of the concept in use – and to draw a quick sketch to match each of their examples. This is the ‘out of class’ portion of the work. There isn’t a student in my class who can’t come up with a drawing – and a ‘stickman’ is the standard.

The next day is the ‘interactive’ portion – and the one that I find brings the most value. Prior to working with others, students have the chance to check out their work with their partner. They show them their sketch and see if their partner can come up with what the caption would be. This also allows them to check that the concepts illustrated, and in their caption, are used correctly.

Then it’s on to the ‘interacting’. I ask them to meet and challenge 4 classmates to come up with the captions to their pictures. They can meet with any 4 people in the room, the only stipulation is that all of their interacting/reacting is in the target language. If the person guessing doesn’t do so correctly they use culturally appropriate gestures/phrases to indicate that they aren’t correct.

photo 3Suddenly the room is alive with noise and students are unaware that they are practicing 20-24 times. They enjoy seeing everyone’s visuals and the element of ‘guessing’ ups the energy.

The ‘sketch and share’ option really gets students helping each other to show their learning – and any opportunity for them to do this works for me!










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