Category Archives: Reflections

And so, we have arrived as (planned) at a parting of the ways

So, what’s been happening in my little experiment? I have a few less than ideal things to tell about my own experience learning along with my students, but I’ll save that news for later. And besides, I think I have that all worked out.

Without going into the details of each lesson, here has been the structure overall

Week 1: Everyone did the same work, exercises, activities.

A mix of getting to know you, orientation, etc.

Week 2: Everyone did the same work, exercises, activities.

A bunch of stuff happened.

Week 3: I dropped the bomb
Everyone started with a common discussion and other work, then I started releasing them to more independent work. I set up short orientation readings and prep work for two entirely different tasks. The whole class read both sets of instructions and materials.

1. Half the class did an online Nation Vocabulary size test and then a free vocabulary size test from V-Check. Gotta know your baseline if you are going to set some goals, right?

2. The other half of the class did an online Extensive Reading placement test.

The vocabulary test takes longer so once Group 1 were all set and working away, Group 2 had found their levels. So, I left the room.

Well, not by myself.

I took the ER group upstairs to select books. Possible with a group of 12 or 14, but just barely, but not a whole class. And, I just left the Vocabulary test students to do their work. I said, “Hey. We’ll be back soon, just keep going.” A few looks like, “Whut?” But by the time we got back they had all completed and logged (Google Forms) at least one test and some had completed both.

Wrapped up by pairing them off and having the ER group show off their new books, and the Vocabulary people groan about the tests.

Homework: Flip. So, the Vocabulary people had a slow class but easy homework. And, the ER group had a more “fun” class, but homework that was work. Life isn’t always fair but it all comes out in the wash eventually.

What was the point of this?

  • I needed to manage resources–space in the self-access center.
  • I wanted to introduce the idea early that I wouldn’t always be around to help.
  • The whole class didn’t do the same thing or study the same way. We did two different things. And, some of them did them on their own.

My sinister plot was beginning to take shape…

Week 4: Three, three choices!

Sesame Street's Count von Count holds up three fingers in his new "Number of the Day" segment, in the show's 33rd season. [PNG Merlin Archive]
You see where I’m going with this. In Weeks 1 and 2 everyone got used to Google Sites and Forms, and Quizlet, and  some brief self-assessment. And, we got to know each other a bit, too. And we got everyone started with tools like Quizlet. In Week 3, we gathered some self-assessment data about vocabulary and started ER. So, we had tools for reading, vocabulary, and monitoring.

Week 4 was listening skills. I set up three different online listening choices: more fluency and expression centered at a higher level, content and vocabulary focussed news, and something very easy and basic.

Hey everybody. Pick one. Use it. We’re in computer room with decent headphones. And, while you do, your teacher will watch and see how everyone goes about it. Who really engages with the tasks, and who still needs a little more coaching. Then, come back do the obvious, “What did you listen to?” But, also some ratings about ease and interest. Try to get everyone on something they like. Get some recommendations, and try again.

I asked for feedback (as we do every week) and specifically asked for them to comment on this “everybody do their own thing” mode of learning. How did this go over? Just swimmingly, of course. They are first-year students right out of high school. Everything new in university is new. Shiny! Isn’t it great! (Actually, they seem like a pretty nice bunch of students who are interested and interesting.)

Feedback questions like “How do you like this new thing?” pretty much deliver positive feedback. We’ll get to some requests for specifically negative comments in a later class, but for now. Here is about the worst I got.

“I think today’s class is not easy.
I am not good at English, so I need help!”

Some of this is false-beginner and very common language anxiety. But, she does need help. I do some very brief pre- and post- class “How are you doing?” (Not so much how was class?) And, this learner needs help. That’s OK. She knows and I know. And, I hope she will know that I know.

Now here is why I asked for comment in any language.


Pardon my translation, but something like:

“We did different things, so I didn’t have anyone to turn to to ask when I didn’t understand and I think that was hard. But, you I had to think on my own, so I guess I was forced to think.”

OK. I cherry picked the best semi-negative comment. But, there it is. That’s the goal.

Week 5 (tomorrow): Everyone picks what they are going to study and how (within reason, and with some guidance, and after some appropriate warm up and shared discussion.)

But, we’re on our way. In a few weeks, I hope to have a group of learners who are comfortable in a class where they make many decisions about their own learning. Then, comes the real challenge–making better decisions, harder decisions, and trying to keep track of it all.

It’s all about the culture! Well, and love.

This has been delayed, but the time lapse won’t make too much difference. A couple weeks ago, I asked the group of first-year French majors in my class about why they chose to become French majors, and here it is.

A couple of points to keep in mind:

  • Quite a few of these errors are really keyboarding skills. Many of them are not yet used to typing on a computer instead of a phone. This is interfering with some of their output.
  • I didn’t give as much time to edit as they needed. Still getting to know this group, and so much to do!
  • I expect many of them would give richer answers in Japanese (of course) rather than in their second language. But it’s an English course.

So, for your edification and mine, some basic motivations for young people in Japan taking the less obvious and less travelled route, and choosing to study French in university. Images are my addition, but I should ask them to gather some for another lesson.

“Why I become a French Major? Because in the future,I will become Flight atendant in France. Why I become it in France? Because I love Camiile Lacourt who is French swimmer. If I become Flight atendant, He might ride airplane my riding. I want to meet him someday, and talk with him in French.”


“Because, I am interesiting culture of french, and to learn cultures, I want to grow up in my knowlegde about it.”

“My dream is to work in international company. To come true this dream, I study hard in this university.”

“Because I have studied French in high school. I was interested in French and France. I want to continue studying French more deep.”

“I want to go to France someday and want to visit to Disney land Paris.”

“I used to studied French for 2 years in my high school life. However, I couldn’t take French lesson in 12th grader, but I wanted to study more. This is the reason why I decided to become French major. I don’t have dream in my feature yet but want to get a job that I can make good use of French.”

“I want to visit France,and then I want to speak a franch person
I think Franch is difficult. But now, I’m Franch class,so someday I want to speak franch fluentry.”

“I want to be a flight attendant. My couson is a fight attendant.She is very cool.
So I have to study hard.”

air france

“I want to study French. Because I want to go to Frsnce. And I am interested in French culture. So I want to learn a lot about France.”

“I want to learn the connection between France and Olynpic. I love sports ! (especially figure skating). I want to suport people playing sports. So I want to work at tokyo-tochou.”

“I wont to sutady about french and stage art. Becouse when I watos three years old, I start ballet. I like ballet ,dorama,opera,and so on. Some day I wont to go to France to see the drama stage. In the future, I will work in French.
Thank you.”

“Because i want to speak french.I am interesting in france’s town and food.I like building like the Eiffel Tower. And,i have a friend who is french.His father is sooooooo cool.I want to speak with he.”

“I think that we should spread good point of French culture. Because France has great culture,for example,sweet and movie and picture. If everybody know them, everybody like France!!! And I am sure that everybody like France so that everybody want to study french.”

“Because I want to speak French. And I interested in France. Because My grandmother and grandfather like overseas trip and I have been saw many Franch photos. When I saw French photo first time,I was impressed and I want to go there someday!”

“If I speak French,I want to go to Paris. Because I like museum and art museum,there atomosphere like for some reason or other. One of my hobbies is visiting museum and art museum. So I want to vist Louvre Art Museum. Some famous work of art and others look with my own eyes.”

“in the future, i will speak french better than now. i like the fantom of the opera so if i can speak french , i want to go to france and watch opera musical. and i like french dishes ,so i want to eat french dishes in france. and i want to go to the famous french places.”

“If I learn French, I want to visit France and comunicate with french people.
Another reason is I love the book of “”Le petit prince””. And I want to eat French food.”

“I want to study French and to read French books. If I learn French I will speak French people and I want to eat delicious food in french!”

“I interested in French culture,such as building, art, music, fashon,food, and so on. French culture is very beautiful for me. So I think that I would like to live in French sometime for long time. This is why I become a French major. I have dream that talking with French peaple when I visit French. So I have to study about French very hard in Gakushuin Univercity!
Thank you!”

“I will want to study French very hard to communicate with people who use French. It is natural to learn French for me, but, in addition , I want to learn about cultures of France because I am interested in them. For example, movies, literatures, foods,and so on. I want to study French because I hope I will work at foreign countries.
Thank you.”

“I think If I can understand French,I can study in France for my dream.My dream is becoming a patissier.There are many great patissiers in France.So I want to study about cooking sweets in France someday.”

“Why I majored French? Because I want to learn about french culture. Particurar friench art! Paris is sometime called “”geijutunomiyako”” I know there are vearious art culture. So, I want to go Paris and sutudy about art! To learn about french art… I need sutudy french. HARD!”


“Because I instesd in French culture. I learn classic ballet. All the ballet terms are french. I want to understand french words. And I like to eat French food. Especially I love sweets. French sweets are very good. In the future,I want to visit France and eat french sweet.”

“Ⅰ think universities force students to lrearn Franch the secand additional language class, or study franch caluture. For exsample , food,fashion,sports.
For free,do franch enngeki tickets.
thank you,”

“I should think that every contry studies French.
French culture spread all over the world.
For example,French food is delicious.
I think that I should make French restraun in japan.
so.many people know French culture.
thank you.”

“I like eating. I want to study French food and that culture.”

“I want to study abroad for France. My dream is speaking with French person in French. So,I will be hardest studying French ! English too!”

“French people are studing another language. I think studying French.
Majoring in French is culture. I want to visit to French. I acquire the ability to speak French. French is love because beautiful.”

i heart paris

There you have it.

I started to comment about each of their responses, but I think they actually speak for themselves. But what did I learn from this?

  • I think I like these people. They are interesting. Art, culture, and gourmet food. My kind of people. I have to find a way to tap into that (without stepping into the territory of the French department).
  • We are in a computer room. Ugh. But I have to resist the temptation to do all writing work on the PC. Or, should I? They need to develop these skills, and typing in English is different from typing in Japanese.
  • Many of them have high aspirations. A few of them could clearly articulate a future L2 self with vision, as Dornyei would call it.
  • For many of them, it’s all about people. No surprise there, but it needs more investigation. Some of those people are abstract, but in other cases they are very specific individuals to meet or emulate.
  • What does this attraction to culture, and French culture in particular, say about their images of themselves? I must say, they are a pretty stylish bunch by and large. This class actually looks different from my other classes. They are signalling something about themselves.
  • In my next feedback exercise, I encouraged at least some response in English, but allowed them to use Japanese as well. I needed some more abstract and complex information from them. More on that next…

What was easy today? Nothing (7 responses)

Written before class, but not posted until after. Because I could just back date the “published date” on the blog anyway, so why not just admit it?

Before class

So last week happened, and it did not go as well as I hoped, but it didn’t go as badly as it could have. The test will be this morning as we get started with the second class meeting. How will everyone feel? Will the energy still be there? How did they feel at the end of last class? What did they know about the course at the end of last week? What did they learn?

My guesses

The class seemed happy at the end of last class. But, they’re first-years. Everything is new and exciting. Don’t have too much of that free energy to ride on. And, of course they seemed happy. Pretty low bar.

I think they did not know enough about the course. They got some idea of how I teach and what I expect by doing the tasks last week, but I haven’t explained it well enough yet. How important is that in the first week? They know me a bit, but I know them less well. No surprise there based on the class size and my self-introduction activity. They know that we will be using technology. Some of them know I will be learning with them. They began to learn how to use Google and a web browser and a little bit about how to use Quizlet.

Unfortunately, I do not know the specific answers to those questions because we did not get to the Wrap Up activity for … reasons.

I let one activity run long. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes that is a good thing, but probably not in this case, even if it meant good discussion. Discussion isn’t the only point. Becoming better learners is the goal.

It took inordinately long to accomplish what is normally a simple task. Getting everyone a Gmail address took forever. Several things failed; some my fault, some not. But all my responsibility in the end.

Activities that worked well with one group of learners did not this time around. That happened. Class size is part of it, but can’t explain everything.

Google forced all to use authentication by phone. Voice authentication started to fail. Surprisingly (my error of expectations) many students could not receive email on their mobiles. Many did not even seem to understand that their phones had email addresses from their provider. Tech has moved on. It used to be that new students didn’t “get” pc-based email and only knew mobile email. Now they just know text, LINE, and Instagram. Mobile phone mail is so plagued by spam that some first-years never use it.

The lack of information about enrolled students and no LMS or other system available made making that first online connection tough. Reduced to writing a URL on the whiteboard and asking students to type it in wasted several minutes. Email sign up many more. But the worst is over. On the other hand, I lost some precious “first day of school” energy to IT bullshit.

Next time around with a whole 200 student cohort (in smaller classes) we will have to either get the institutional infrastructure in place, or break this task out for guided independent work (i.e., homework, “flipped,” and/or drop-in tutorial sessions). That is possible when they are “our” students instead of someone else’s.

Also, last week I just didn’t spend enough time getting to know the students. Class was a bit too much on me, procedures, etc. but that is sometimes the nature of start of term. Insert self-serving justification Right? This week has to be much more about them, and it will be. Tasks will be more open ended, and have to make the fact that we’re all seated at computers not become too much the over-riding factor in the environment. I wish it was BYOD like planned for next year. Because that will fix everything. Right.

Let’s see what I learn about these interesting French majors next class.

After class

Much better. They seem to be “getting it.” And the energy was still there. I used a very simple Google Form with the following items on it to gather feedback at the end of class.

How is your study energy level now? 1 “I cannot study at all” 10 “I am super motivated to study”
What was easy today?
What was interesting today?
What was difficult today?
How was your effort level today? 1 “I did almost nothing” 10 “I tried pretty hard.”


How is your study energy level now? 7.4 at the end of class (min 5 max 10)
How was your effort level today? 6.9 (min 3 max 10)

Now, I know those are somewhat leading questions, but the point is less the results for me to look at than for the learners themselves to think about it. If they fib to butter up the teacher, I don’t care that much. Just as long as they know what their ratings are.

The open ended is more interesting. Selected for awesomeness. Well, most of them were awesome.

What was easy today?

* To answer, My favorite SNS is twitter! (attendance question)
* You spoke slowly so I could understand at all.
* “I felt easy today’s test. Because I like remwmbering English word.” well on her way to self-directed learning.
* Nothing (7 responses) (Maybe they aren’t concerned about making a good impression.)

What was interesting today?

* I think I talked with everyone in my group
* Thinking about france with friends.
* many people know some briringual people.
* “I write Engulish in Internet at first. So,I’m intersting! But little difficult.”

What was difficult today?

* typing
* “It is all !!!! But, I study hard !!”
* Why study French
* access this page…(><)
* Nothing (3 responses)

Comment or question, please!

Lots of Thanks yous or blanks. We were running out of time at the end.

Looking forward

Last, they are beginning to get my plan to walk the walk with them. I promised to do the same homework assignments and projects with them. To that end, as they wrote about why they chose to become French majors, I attempted to write why I am studying Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesian!

“Selamat pagi! Saya bisa bicara bahasa Indonesia. Makanan enak. Saya mau pergi ke Komodo. Indonesia pantai bagus. Panas. Terima kasih!”

I read this aloud to them and they were astounded! Wait until they find out that that just about exhausted my Indonesian abilities. Then, they laughed when I translated it into English.

“Good morning! I can speak Indonesian a little. Food delicious. I want to go to Komodo. Indonesia nice beach. Hot. Thank you!”

I hope that went some way towards breaking down the barriers and exhibiting a willingness on my part to make (language) mistakes.

Their motivations for studying French next….


Now what?

This year will be changes, experiments, planning and waiting, and hoping that everything goes well. Everything. This starts a project that will probably take at least ten years to begin to understand how well it worked. This post is one small collection of thoughts before it all kicks off. Let’s see how it goes.


Starting next year, I will be responsible for a full year required course taught in English called “Self-regulated Learning.” This course will build on teaching and learning experiences over the past several years teaching small groups of learners in elective classes about setting language learning goals; selecting tools, practices, or resources; recording and monitoring progress; and trying to understand their own progress as language learners. Big task, but one that can be fun while it grabs and holds my interest.

The next iteration of my wrestling with this starts tomorrow. The faculty I will be teaching in does not yet exist, so I have a few classes to teach in a foreign language center. One is first-year communicative English for French majors. They will be my guinea pigs collaborators this year as I have one last chance to try out ideas and sharpen my skills before I have to roll this out for 200 learners and several teachers in 2016.

This time I’m really going to walk the walk with my students. As I present them with prompts, tasks, and choices to make in their English learning, I will do all of the same tasks. After some thinking and input online, I rejected Japanese, French, or Spanish and chose to study Bahasa Indonesia side-by-side with my learners. It will be a big experiment. And, this space will be part of it.

So, tomorrow…

I may have overestimated the language proficiency of these learners. I hope not. But it’s that uncertainty that nags. On the other hand, it shouldn’t matter. I chose this class in particular as ready for an English course where the content is the experience and practice of  learning languages partly because of this comment by someone who knows this set of students better than I do.

French majors tend to be quite switched on regarding language, and on the odd occasion I’ve taught them I’ve found them delightful.

But, it all depends upon each class of students–and on how I can connect with them. The ride starts tomorrow and it will last all year. And, just one more to add to the mix; what happens this year will inform how I introduce this course to new adjunct faculty and new students. No pressure.