Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

April 26, 2015
by leesensei

Marking On-line with Kaizena Mini in Docs – How It Went & What I Learned

kaizenaI’ve been wanting to try marking online – not just by using colours (previous post) but by trying out a nifty program called Kaizena. In part I am excited as they are Canadian (like me!) and in part because I am always looking to improve feedback with my students. Kaizena is its own website (with inbox/outbox) but I chose to use their add-on Kaizena Mini in Google Docs.  There’s a bit of a learning curve and here’s what I gained from the experience (and what I learned):

Submitting – I do not come from a 1:1 school etc and want to embrace choice in how students do work – so this was an option for them. In addition, and due to privacy concerns, I cannot demand they use Google Docs — unless I seek parent permission. Students who wanted the online marking submitted in one of two formats – a link to their Google Docs document or an email with an attached Word file that I then uploaded into Docs. What I forgot to do was to remind them that any Docs link sent to me should have file ‘edit’ permissions – and I had to go back to several to get them to turn that on so that I could mark up their document.

Add the Add-On to Docs – easily done and easy to ‘turn on’. What I forgot to do was tell students that they would have to load on the Kaizena Mini in their Google Docs as well in order to get the feedback – lesson learned. Kaizena automatically puts a note in the document header to remind the student to use the add-on to get feedback. Sometimes this didn’t show up (see email note below) and so what I ended up doing is that I copied and pasted it into a header that I created in the document.

Giving Feedback and To Whom – Whenyou open a piece to mark and turn on the Kaizena add-on it asks if you are ‘giving’ or ‘getting’ feedback. Then it asks who you are sending this too. I don’t have a lot of my student emails (and it only trolls your gmail contacts) so I would ‘paste’ in their emails often. For some reason this was a bit troublesome and I was unsure if, when marking was completed they would get an automatic message that it was done. What I ended up doing was sending the link to them. What I forgot to do was to ensure that the link that I was sending back was an ‘edit’ link – not just ‘view’ (default) and I had to re-send a few times.

Feedback/Marking Options – there are 4 options – Tag, Text, Link and/or Comment. You can do all 4 for one thing. Here’s how I will use them in the future:

Tag – This allows you to tag and ‘rate’ at the same time on a point scale – which is great if you are marking on a ‘scale’ for an element such as ‘metaphor’ – you can say “hey this is a 3 out of 5 on our scale”. What I ended up doing is that I used the tag in this round to identify consistent errors in an ‘element’ – in other words with a grammar focus. I also used it to tag frequently misspelled words.  In the future I may use it to ‘tag’ for mastery – tagging some focus point with a “2” for done well and a “1” for not yet correct.

Text – This is, for me, the quick written note section – especially if I want a student to “see” something – such as a grammatical construction. It is nice to be able to have the chance to see it right there on the page and what I ended up doing was using it much like I would if I was marking by hand.  At the end of the document I used it to send back their ‘mark’ based upon the rubric we were using.

Link – This allows you to link to a webpage and for a couple of students – who clearly were struggling with something – what I ended up doing was  linking to a video review of the concept that I had done before.

Comments – Verbal comments are a great option. Students said that they found it a powerful way to receive even more feedback. What I ended up doing was using it for comments when I wanted to suggest an alternative way of saying something. I also used it when I wanted to stress a point – a repeated error  or even encouragement.  Finally I used it on the last sentence in the piece to give my overall comments on what they had done. What I learned was that it picks up any ambient noise so doing this is in a quiet location (if you are using the internal built-in mike) is key!

Due to a learning curve it was, at first, a bit ‘slower’ than hand marking especially as I was figuring out how to use the features, and how I wanted to use them, as I was going along. What I will do next time is plot out how I want to use features, especially tags before I sit down to give feedback. And, honestly by the end I had a real rhythm down…and it wasn’t taking any longer.

My students loved the comments – and especially appreciated hearing me ‘talk to them’ as part of the feedback. I will use this again – especially as more and more of my students are submitting on-line. There is lots of support in learning to use it both from Kaizena itself and via posts to YouTube (just search it). What I will also try next time is having them submit to my ‘Kaizena’ in-box so that I can try out the product in a more robust way. Onward!


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!



May 5, 2014
by leesensei

Online Marking Using Docs – The Update (Or Tips You Might Find Helpful)

Google_docsI’ll admit that when I first started I thought it was taking way more time to mark online than it was on paper. So, as more of my students opt to hand things in electronically, I’ve been working on streamlining my online marking. I’ve found a few things that help me along – and garnered a few tips from the #langchat PLN and thought I’d add an update to my first online marking post to share what I’ve implemented.

Organizing By Name and Class: I’m much more organized now. One of my worries was to be able to find a document quickly (with so many coming in). So I’ve worked both on how the document is named – and where it’s put.

Changing the Name – It doesn’t take long but when I need to find something it’s much easier for me now. Each document is named for the student/assignment such as “Sick Note – Jenny”. I don’t have to guess based upon what my students have called it and it’s easier to find a ‘group’ of items.
Course Folders – Each of my courses/classes has its own folder and once the individual paper is marked, or a group are done, I move them to the appropriate folder.  Then when I need to find an item quickly – it’s there – and all organized for me

Marking/Feedback Ideas: I recently blogged about streamlining my feedback to students using colours and the Text Help Study Add-On.

Using Colour – Colour Keying using Text Help Study Add-On – In feedback post, I outline how I have standardized to two consistent colours using the Add-on. This allows me to reserve 3 others colours for items that may be specific to an assignment – or items that I feel need to be added as a regular comment.
Header space for comments/edits – I use the header space for comments to my students. Sometimes it’s a standard explanation of the colour coding, and often it includes personal feedback just for them. The header area is a great space because it is actually ‘in’ the document and doesn’t appear to be limited by length.
Document for Comments – Sometimes I need to include standard information for students in the header area. Not only do I not want to type it over and over, but I may use the same comment for different assignments. So I’ve created a “Comments”  document in Docs. When I start marking I open it up and  copy/paste as needed. I also add new ‘repeated’ comments there for next time.
Upload the Rubric – There’s two ways to incorporate the rubric after you’ve uploaded it. One is to copy/paste it onto the end of the document and mark it there. Another is to copy it for each student using the ‘assignment/name’ idea.  I add comments to the header of the rubric and use the highlighting to mark out where a student’s work falls in it. When I finish I send the document back to the student – with the link to the rubric in the header.


Group Document: Laura Sexton uses a form for her students – which is a fabulous idea that I have tried as well. The only issue for me is that it doesn’t generate a private report for each student. However it works really well if you’re having a group “find the error/correct it” session.
Individual Reports: I find that the header/highlights/rubric (outlined above) works best for me. A new option may be the “Collected Highlights Report” that comes as part of the Text Help Study Add-On. This allows you generate a report based upon either the colour code, or the order that the errors appear. I’ve yet to fully use this but I may see a future use!

Sharing the Marked Document: Just remember to reset the privacy on the document – which defaults to ‘specific person’ – to “anyone with link”. I’ve tried to find a way to change this default but can’t locate it! So I automatically change it each time.

I know that there will be more to learn on this marking online journey – and that I’ll probably change things again and again. Stay tuned! In the meantime – what’s your best online marking tip?



April 21, 2014
by leesensei

Improving Feedback for Students: Colours, Consistency, Corrections

Single Tree in a Green FieldI’ve been working to refine the way that I give feedback on written work. My efforts focus on both easily identifying a student’s issues and increasing their responsibility for their own learning. With that in mind my feedback now focuses on three things – Colours, Consistency and Corrections.

Colours as Codes: I’ve played around with various ways to identify errors or miscues in a piece of writing. Although I like the idea of ‘codes’ – they just don’t seem to be as quickly meaningful. A coded paper has to be ‘read’ to see where mistakes may be. I am a visual person and I want a quick glance at a marked paper to show a student which area requires reworking/improvement. So I’ve settled on two colours – blue and green.

Blue – You have made an error in your choice of/spelling of a word/words
Green – You have made an error in your choice of grammar to use/how you have used it

I highlight/underline the area with a problem. Sometimes I add a sample correction or suggestion if I feel its necessary. Ultimately it’s easy to tell if the student’s main issues are vocabulary or grammar related – or both!

Consistency -On-line/On Paper: I am all for student choice as to ‘how’ work is handed in. Some students are more comfortable composing on their phone, or on a computer than they are writing with a pen/pencil. No matter how a student chooses to hand a piece I want the feedback to be consistent across all of the options.

On-line: brought in to Google docs and marked up using the “Text Study Skills” add-on. I also use a copy of the rubric ‘copied’ and named for each student. At the top of the rubric is a reminder of what the colours stand for. I use header space for any additional comments. Then I use the ‘yellow’ highlighting colour to identify where the student falls on the rubric.
On Paper: I use either highlighters or coloured pens for this. In an attempt to save paper I will also try to photocopy the rubric onto the back of the submitted piece. It makes it more efficient – and no need to attach an extra page.

Corrections or Not?:  It’s my hope that students should want to know where they have gone wrong – but this isn’t necessarily the case. How to build towards that. I am shifting in how I approach this as well – looking to gradually build in a desire to know ‘where I went wrong’.

Year 1- 3: I often ask for corrections on a piece as we build toward summative assessment. The final mark (or completion mark) is not recorded until it is done. I review with a student as needed – but often they work together to find out where they have gone wrong.
Year 4: Typically students are not ‘required’ to do this kind of remedial work – and many come and ‘ask’ when they can’t see where they’ve gone wrong.

Feedback is as useful as it is easy to understand. As I work to streamline my way to give feedback I hope to make it easier for students to see where they need to improve. And, as always, corrections to this system may be needed to make it more relevant.



February 11, 2014
by leesensei

Marking Using Docs…A Newbie Wades In…


I am trying to expand choice in homework. At times this is in what you do to show/demonstrate your learning. The other way is in ‘how’ you choose to complete the work. This semester I am experimenting with my Japanese 12 students. I should point out that my district requires parent permission for the required use of any cloud-based tool  such as Google Docs due to privacy concerns. Therefore I do not require my students to submit or use Docs in class.   So,  when I give them choice in how they complete they have the option to submit as

  • a handwritten piece – like traditional homework
  • a piece typed on their phones and emailed to me (I paste into Docs when I receive)
  • a piece typed in Word and emailed to me
  • a piece typed in Google docs (student’s choice to use)

As more students elect to send a document to me I’ve taken some time to think about how I will handle marking them on-line in Google docs.  At this point I am not using my graphics tablet to circle/handwrite comments so I have concentrated on the setup needed to respond online. I took time to look around to other members of my PLN to see how they might handle it and many of their ideas are reflected in my initial set-up for online marking.

Teacher Gmail Account: I have my own personal Gmail Account but as I will be opening and editing student work I did not want to use that for marking. So I created a “teacher” account for me. I choose a name that included my title and school “pinetreeleesensei” so that students could quickly realize who the email is from.

Importing into Docs to edit – Not Drive!: Oh the confusion. When I was in Google Docs I would upload a word document a student had submitted and then try to edit. But I couldn’t find any of my editing tools that I wanted and didn’t understand why. It turned out that I was in Google Drive and not Google Docs. So…I selected File-Open With Google Docs. As it does this it even says “Opening in Google Docs for editing” on the bottom right of the screen. If your uploaded document doesn’t allow any editing – you’re probably in Drive not Docs!

Colour Use/Key: I have used the ‘colour’ option to highlight common problems – Because I am just starting out I wanted to keep the editing simple. So for me that is colours that highlight common errors. Yellow for a grammar error, Red for vocabulary issue and Green for incomplete sentences.  I can see that this may get a bit out of hand and unwieldy so I will have to keep the categories to a minimum and what is covered by them pretty loose in definition. It also means a seperate document (perhaps) to explain what they are for.

Comments in the “Header” Section: After much searching around at how to comment, and what to use, I settled on the ‘header’ section. It allows me to put in comments that students can see right at the top of their document.

Did a Student send a JPeg?: I have some students with tablets who choose to handwrite their homework but then submit electronically. It is easy to  copy/paste into a word processing document in Google Docs. When this happens then I just type below the picture. In the future I can see me using my iPad to circle/comment using a annotating app like Notability before I send it back.

There are more things to consider as you move to marking on line. Laura Sexton (@sraspanglish) has gone even further – with a Google Form to use for feedback for all submissions. I’m following her lead to develop my own one but in the meantime – check out her post on this! A great way to provide more feedback.

Looking forward to more choice ….



Skip to toolbar