Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

September 20, 2016
by leesensei

“I’m not doing enough!!!!” Learning to Say “Yes I Am…”


Oh I love Twitter and #langchat. It has revolutionized my teaching. Really it has. It has challenged me, helped me and sometimes (okay more than sometimes) pushed me to ‘stretch’. But with growth comes, I’ll be frank, panic. Sometimes I feel very very inadequate compared to what other people are sharing/advocating/leading on #langchat. Sometimes I feel like there are not enough hours in the day to ‘change everything’. Sometimes I feel that I am not doing “enough”. That some teachers are way ahead of me in how they teach. That some teachers appear to “know” when I don’t.

And then I have to sit back and take stock. This is a pep talk for me. This is to tell myself that I am adapting and changing because I am inspired to. That I am shifting away from the textbook, am writing my own CI stories, am attempting to add TPRS to my teaching, am working on more formative feedback and more. This is me doing all this BUT I also need to have a life. I need to sleep. I need to make time for my husband, family and friends. I need to be a person.

Could I be doing ‘more’? Yes. Quite frankly I could rewrite everything and never sleep. But I can’t. I know that I am not at my best when I am tired and stressed. I know that my classes are not at their optimal learning when their teacher is worried more about ‘how’ we are doing something and not why.

So this is for me remember. The fact that I am worried about not ‘changing’ my practice for the better means I am actually changing my practice for the better. If I wasn’t worried, if I didn’t question the why/how of my teaching, if I didn’t make any changes then to me that would be a sign of ‘no-growth’. I know I am not that…so, to me the panicked person, I say:

“It’s okay not to be ‘all that’ right now….Remember the adage that slow and steady wins the race? Well that’s okay for you as you grow your teaching!”

So I will continue to share and be inspired by my amazing #langchat colleagues. But I will also take time and not panic if I think I’m not doing ‘enough’. And maybe you’ll realize that that’s okay for you too!

Yours in change – but “I can have a life change”,


May 24, 2016
by leesensei

My Philosophy of “Teaching”? The Opportunity to “Learn”…

IMG_2341One of my favourite #langchat colleagues – Natalia DeLaat – asked me to complete a questionnaire regarding language teaching. It was interesting to be asked about my “philosophy” and how I viewed various aspects of teaching. And, as usual, I learned more about me, what’s important in my classroom, what’s key for my learners, than maybe Natalia will learn in reading it. You may not agree with how I present everything but I hope it causes you to think about what is key for you. I wanted to share it in a post because it shares what I think is common for many teachers – the struggle to find the ‘best’ way to teach.

It started with Natalia asking…”What particular strategies do you find most successful in terms of teaching…”

  • Concepts – I’m all over the map on this. Sometimes I am very direct – especially with cultural things in which we will talk about ‘why’ in English. For example we don’t have a word for “must” – it’s actually a double negative and we talk about ‘why’. As for word order it’s not so key especially in lower level Japanese as long as the correct ‘particle’ (indicating ‘subject’, ‘object’, ‘time’, etc) is attached to the word. But I don’t like that term so I call them ‘signals’ that show what/why the word is in the sentence. As for grammar – I tend to introduce in ‘use’ then look as to ‘why’ ‘how’ the rule is being used. Sometimes I ask my students to figure it out discreetly, sometimes we just ‘use it ‘til we get it’. But I always do a review explanation in English – I don’t want any ‘doubts’ – that is in common understandable ‘non-grammar word’ language.
  • Vocabulary   – When we first start students cannot read the language at all and we rely heavily on picture cues for words.  Now, I like to teach a base set of vocabulary for each unit. I know many are into ‘student selected’ but I also think we need an agreed upon amount that we all understand. We always have a section in our unit book for ‘things we want to know’ to allow for choice & variety. I introduce a lot of vocabulary via picture cards. We may see some in a story (with pictures) that they read, we may see some via a more TPRS story that I tell and then they re-tell with pictures. When I ask students what helps them to learn most many say ‘the picture cards!’.
  • Grammar  –  Often done via story – with the ‘rule’ either explicitly up there for referral or implicitly taught via questioning and expanding on the point with students. “Nonki likes to do what?” “Ah he likes to ski.” “Do you like to ski?”…etc I do know that my biggest thing in teaching grammar is not teaching ‘grammar’. I have worked to refine how I teach to ‘describing word, action word, who we are talking about, ~ly word’ etc.. I now test a lot of these concepts, after we’ve worked with them, via a pop-check in that sees ‘what they have in their brain about a concept’ and is marked only for completion after (of corrections). But I will confess to doing some practice via old ‘workbook’ exercises – just a few to see that we all ‘get it’. Yes I admit that…. 🙂
  • Reading/Writing – The Skills –  I have to teach my students how to read as they must master 3 scripts for Japanese. I have changed a lot in my approach to this. In Yr1 for the first orthography I used to teach & discreetly test the ‘chart’. Then for the words that used a script we didn’t introduce until Yr2 I would use English letters to phonetically spell that out. Why?????? NOW I do not have my students read or write until they have a bank of phrases/words that they know how to use well orally. Our first unit is Yr 1 is ‘All About Me’ and there is minimal reading/writing until they know a fair number of Q/A’s for this. So then reading becomes a discovery of what we already know. Now I teach the script and ‘test’ it via them writing out phrases we have already learned to say. As for the 2nd orthography – I introduce it as soon as we have the first one down (putting it overtop of the 2nd orthography to read it) so that they see it used naturally. As for the 3rd script, Chinese characters, we introduce those slowly in a kind of ‘isn’t this exciting it’s like pieces of lego that you put together to make a picture’ kind of way. Keep in mind over 50% of most of my classes are immigrants from a Chinese background so the stress for me is on equity.
  • Reading text – authentic documents – I do not use a lot of true authentic documents unless they are ‘reachable’ by all students in my classes in an equitable way. There are 1900+ Chinese characters that can be used in Japanese and we study about 400 in my Yr 1-4 classes. By equitable I meant that my students from a Chinese character background (who can see a character, know the meaning, but not know how to say it) can’t have the advantage. So in using #AuthRes I either use only the parts that I can, or modify the resource. I also create my own from authentic student info. We also use ‘graded readers’ – adapted stories adapted by Japanese for Japanese learners.  So for me ‘authentic’ is ‘authentic as I can get to ensure that all students experience success in using the language’.
  • Communicating – speaking & listening together – The key is ‘do-able’ and the focus in my courses is on communicating information.
    • Speaking- Speaking is always done in a small group – at the minimum a partner – that is sometimes chosen by me and sometimes by them. This is to encourage risk, support more hesitant learners and build skills. I do almost ‘no’ presentational speaking to the ‘group’ but a lot of it to a single person or 3 other people. If we are speaking as a ‘group’ students are called upon (after they have had a chance to prep with a partner) and always given a chance to ‘come up with the answer’ (I expect them all to be ready to go and don’t often ask for volunteers). That requires essential skills such as follow-up questions, rephrasing and circumlocution. It also involves developing the confidence to know when you know don’t and be able to ask for assistance in understanding. We work a lot on all of these aspects. There’s a lot of learning that can happen as you use the same skills to work with 5-6 people in a room in a controlled amount of time. We start in short bursts with the Yr1’s and work up from there to Yr4 where students are expected to sustain and develop their skills in much longer periods of time. Speaking is always evaluated as to meeting/fully meeting expectations and students are well aware, before a formal evaluation, of what each level of achievement entails.
    • Listening – discrete – most of my listening comes in the form of either ‘listening’ to others and responding/reacting appropriately or, yes wait for it, listening to a conversation or exercise for discreet reasons. I don’t do a ton of ‘authentic listening’ in the early years as students have not learned the ‘casual’ form or the highly ‘honorific’ form of the language used either in regular shows or on more formal broadcasts. No matter what we are ‘listening to’ the student knows that they will receive the information more than once or, in the case of conversations, have the opportunity to ask/clarify to understand. If we are listening for an evaluation students will always be listening in the TL and ‘answering’ in English
  • Writing skills – I used to be really focused on written skills especially formal piece written skills – because we had a provincially mandated exam that was writing based. Now I do far less formal summative writing than I used to do and I am working to help them improve their writing. I do a lot of oral activities (draw & share) involving concepts that also ask them to ‘write’ the concept and then I mark for correctness (they have to correct it and when done it gets a completed mark) I’ve started doing the occasional ‘workshop’ day (thanks Amy Lenord!) where we focus specifically on this skill. On written evaluations I allow them to bring in a list of ‘concepts’ in English that we have looked at (drawn from our “I can” statements). I feel that I am testing their ability to ‘use’ the language not to remember what we know how to say. I try to provide rubrics that explicitly assist a student in understanding what ‘meeting/fully meeting etc’ entails. I have gone to several ‘in class’ writes that are done ‘open book’. I’m trying to change it up and not just ‘test’ writing one way. The summative writing that I do is almost always tied to information gained in the oral (interactive) or used in an interpersonal oral – but asking them to expand, go deeper, explain why etc.. I guess for different ways to ‘test’ writing….formative and summative.

Thank you again for asking Natalia…I learned a lot…and mostly that I have more to learn!




April 10, 2016
by leesensei

Teaching? To Me It’s Kind of Like Golf…

4538570185What is it like to teach? What makes a ‘good’ teacher? What is ‘good teaching practice’? What ‘method’ is the best?I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I watch the #langchat community grapple with the rise of the “(fill in method) teacher” and the staunch defense by some of one ‘method’ over another…There are many teachers leading the charge these days to find the ‘common’ among all of these schools of teaching thought. I thank Martina Bex, Thomas Sauer, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Lisa Shepard and Amy Lenord among those leading a spirited discussion on line about this.

And it led me to wonder what language teaching, or teaching in general, is like?  Now it may not be golf season for you but here in my corner of Canada we can (you may not believe this) golf outside year round. So allow me the analogy when I say that teaching, to me, is like golf. It is because…

I have a lot of clubs in the bag – As a golfer you don’t go out and play with just one club. And I don’t teach like that either – but rather I borrow/use/try a variety of approaches in order to enhance my students’ learning. Truth be told I experiment because I like variety. With 30 kids in class I realize that employing one kind of teaching style may not be allowing all of my students to learn in the way they like or need to. So I mix it up and use different ideas, approaches and styles as it suits. That’s not to say that, like my trusty 7 iron, I don’t have go-to strategies and activities that work for my students but I’m always looking to add to me repertoire.

I play the club for the lie I have – In golf you have to learn to pay attention where you are – and choose your club accordingly. In the classroom, in the past I admit there were days, lessons, where I ignored where I was in pursuit of an activity. It wasn’t working, it didn’t meet my students’ needs but I was so enamored of the activity I pushed ahead. And yes, the lesson bombed. I’ve learned to pay attention to the individuals in the room and adjust (or not use) things as needed. In teaching you are most effective when you pay attention to the room.

The club may differ but the swing is the same – No matter what approach or activity I choose my principle goals remain the same. (1) Teacher not as leader but coach (2) a “can do” learning environment that prepares students for success (3) proficient students aware of and driving their own learning (4) learning that prepares students for beyond the classroom.

Sometimes I make birdies, and sometimes bogies – It’s nice to hit a lesson or unit out of the park. But what is most important for me is to realize that it won’t always go well. I remember an authentic resource lesson I was so keen on. It really used the resource but ultimately it stank! It wasn’t until I looked at how I was using it that I was able to re-jig it and it was much more successful. I think the bogies are more important than the birdies though – because they tell me that I am risking and trying new things.

I may play the same course over & over – but fortunately I’ll never play it the same way twice  – In golf you rarely duplicate a round and its the same in the classroom. We know that every class will be different. Their skills and their needs, we learn, dictate the how/why of the approaches we choose.  However, this isn’t just about a different mix of students each time. I also think it speaks to teacher growth. As a teacher you are constantly reflecting on your class work. How did it go? What didn’t work? What did? What changes can I make?

I have a great caddy on the bag  – Okay in real life I’ve never had the chance to use a caddy, so my choices in clubs and approach to each hole are mine alone. But as a teacher I have a great caddy in the #langchat PLN. This amazing group of teachers offers mentorship and support that is so needed to by all of us on our teaching journey. #langchat allows me to share my successes, and offers advice and direction when things don’t go so well. It is an inspiration to me, and a guide to improving my teaching game.

Thanks for indulging me in this analogy….what is teaching like for you?




November 6, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

“It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” – Why Am I Even Busier In My 20th Year…?



It’s been 20 years of teaching for me this year. 20 years since I left a private sector job and completed my education degree. Wow. I’m not sure what vision I had of the type of teacher I would be back then – but I know the type of teacher that I am now. And that is a teacher who is more involved in ‘changing/altering’ my curriculum than I ever was at the start of my career…so why is it just as busy/busier for me now? I think it’s because I AM in my 20th year…and (for me) here’s why:

Experience to Be Able To Innovate – For me this is not about being an experienced teacher. No, this is about having the experience that allows you to innovate. Early in my career it is all about ‘survival’. Really – with new courses (sometimes every year) it is all about covering a basic set of skills. There’s not a long time to reflect on what is being done – to have the experience to see the ‘long range’ view of what we are teaching. But now, I do. I can improvise, edit and alter my lessons on a daily basis because I ‘know’ where the group of students should be heading in their language learning. Because I ‘know’ what has worked before, and more importantly what isn’t having the impact that I want it to have, I am not constrained as I was earlier in my career by just getting something ready. This gives me the freedom to move away from a stock/standard program and towards more open, freer and relevant content for my students. If I was earlier in my career I don’t think I would have this ability. And this shift takes more of my time…

A Shift From Teaching To More ‘Coaching’ – When I started I would tell you that I ‘teach Japanese’. But these days I will tell you that I teach ‘using Japanese’. I realized at the start of my career I was teaching more about the language than ‘in’ the language. In this shift I am making there isn’t a lot of room for a textbook. Instead I am creating more stories myself to make the learning more relevant – and this gives me that ability to include the language that my students want/need instead of having the textbook tell them what they should be learning. I am trying to find authentic resources for the students to learn from/with. I’m also working to provide more formative assessment to my students to assist them in their learning and more criteria-based rubrics to have them really understand where they are in that learning. More resources for them to use..more things that I need to provide support with. And this shift takes more of my time…

A “Leadership Group” That Leads Me On – Yes #langchat – I’m talking about you. Last week – as I was thinking about this post, I joking wrote a tweet in which I added the #curseyoulangchat hashtag. And I mean it. I mean it with much much love. I used to be in a textbook/workbook bubble. I used to be the ‘teacher’ on the stage – and marched my students through technical grammar lessons to ‘learn’ their language. And then one day I stumbled on #langchat. It opened my eyes to opportunities, challenged me to really look at my teaching and generally helped me to push myself in a new direction. #Langchat for me is not about being told that I’m not a ‘good teacher’ (I know I am). #Langchat is about opening my eyes to new opportunities/methods/strategies that – for all the time they take – make my teaching better for my students. My ‘old’ lessons are no longer what I want to teach. My old style of ‘textbook/workbook’ was no longer what I wanted. #Langchat colleagues showed me different possibilities and, most importantly, helped me/applauded me/supported me (and continue to do so) as I make changes. And this shift takes time…

Thank you Yogi Berra for your insight…it’s true that “It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over”.

I have 7 years until I retire and I suspect I’ll be as pressed for time then as I am now!


March 22, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

What Kind of Teacher Are YOU? I am…

What Kind of Teacher Are You-I am taking up Laura Sexton’s challenge – her latest post looks at the ‘changes’ she has undergone as a teacher through her responses to a series of questions (repeated each 5 years).  We talk a lot about working to produce reflective students and I think it is equally important to take these opportunities to reflect on our own teaching practice. With thanks to Laura for sparking this post….my answers to the @sraspanglish reflection challenge.

1. I am a good teacher because I reflect, change, adjust (and throw out stuff) as I learn more about teaching – and what good teaching is.

2. If I weren’t a teacher I would put my MBA to use and be in marketing or advertising.  I like the challenge, both intellectual and creative, that this area of business presents.

3. My teaching style is a work in process but much much looser than it used to be. I’ve eased up a lot on the ‘control’ and have become more of a guide than a dictator!

4. My classroom is busy, loud and colourful with students sitting at tables of 4. I’ve been in the same room for 15 years so the Hello Kitty decorations and anime posters help with the Japanese ambiance! 10 years ago my students sat in rows facing the whiteboard – and me.

5. My lesson plans are less ‘concrete’ than I would sometimes like. Some days they are detailed and others  – not so much. They are more of a ‘weekly plan’ – recognizing that there are objectives but allowing for more/less time to focus on things as needed.

6. One of my teaching goals is to explore all the acronyms – PBL, TPRS and more – and add them to my repertoire.

7. The toughest part of teaching is also the most exciting – the fact that you are never ‘done’.

8. The thing I love most about teaching is that magic moment when my students are in the zone and fully engaged – and I’m standing on the side essentially just watching it all happen.

9. A common misconception about teaching is that still that good teaching is ‘stand and deliver’ in a classroom that is quiet with all students focused on the teacher. A common misconception about language teaching is that we spend our days ‘doing grammar’ and that if you don’t understand ‘grammar’ you can’t be a successful language learner.

10. The most important thing I’ve learned since I started teaching is to relax and give up the control. Honestly! The less it is about me – the more it is about the most important people in the room – the learners.

Thanks again to my wonderful #langchat amiga Laura for this idea. She encourages you to either blog your answers to her post – or reply in her comments section – What would your answers be?




January 4, 2014
by leesensei

Evernote – A Teacher Learns from a Year in the Cloud

evernoteLast year I spent time converting my ‘teaching life’ to the cloud. My aim was to increase my ability to access class information and improve the way(s) that I record what goes on in the room. I posted throughout the year – my observations, frustrations and outcomes. Many other teachers are expressing an interest in cloud based organizing so I thought I’d group all of my posts together for those looking at this option.

I must point out that I don’t use Evernote with my students as yet – my district requires parental permission for that and I’m not ready to ‘require’ it and deal with all of the issues that may arise.

A Year with Evernote…A rookie begins…  the start of my year in the cloud (setting up/rationale etc)

Giving a Voice to My Lesson Plans… – using the audio recording function in Evernote

My New Evernote Notebook Stack… – figuring out how to organize my class notebooks

The “New” Lesson Plan – Pre and Post class! – using photos etc (uploaded to my notebooks) to record what happens in my classes

Tagging with Evernote – No spray paint required! – one of the most useful Evernote features – tagging websites (and successfully finding them when you want to!)

Evernote “Growing Pains”..the journey of an newbie to on-line organizing continues… – the challenge continues

Documenting Learning – Mine Not Theirs! – more thoughts on recording the what/how of classes

A Year with Evernote – Update #3 – an update on the journey

Printing Out My Evernote Daybook…My Solution… – the ultimate Evernote challenge and my solution for it

My Year With Evernote Experiment Take-Aways… – what I learned – and why I still use it!

My Storage Solution: Using a Photo to PDF app  – saving storage space by converting photos to pdf  before you upload

If you need any further information or have any ideas to share please let me know and I’ll share what I can!


Skip to toolbar