Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Inspiration and Validation…ACTFL 2014


2014ACTFLImagine going to a conference on your own. Imagine trying to figure out who is key to listen to and who you should seek out. A daunting task at best. Then try going to a conference as someone who participates in the #langchat PLN. You may not have met these people in the flesh – but faces are familiar and everyone is so darn happy to meet other people – its like you’re there with a crew! My first ACTFL – WOW.  I was talking to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell before she started her session and I said “Inspiration and Validation” and that’s what it’s meant to me. The chance to see, listen to and talk with so many great people. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on ACTFL 2014:

Inspiration  – Shelter the Vocabulary – Not the Grammar – the awesome Carol Gaab continued to build upon ideas that Amy Lenord has been sending my/our way (no Vocab lists) by pounding home the idea that we should be sheltering the vocabulary – not the way to express it that they need. Carol said to focus on high-frequency vocabulary and use an appropriate text to keep reintroducing those words to allow students to make connections. But – if they need the grammar to communicate – give it/use it. After all, who ever said to a 4 year old  “sorry but you can’t learn/use that until next year and I’ve explained how to construct it!”?  If they need it, can use it – let them have it!  I’ve already taken this idea in a new unit with my Yr 1’s and concocted 3 mini-stories for my students to use in exploring their current unit – using a class character that we love to put into interesting situations.

Inspiration  – Throw Out the Vocabulary Quiz – When a room is packed out at 5:15 on a Saturday you know this is a hot topic. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (a #langchat moderator) challenged us to think about the usefulness of the traditional “Here’s a word now write it in the Target Language” quiz. Really – how many times has a kid been able to produce it on the Friday quiz but never really use it/learn it after that. It is, Sara-Elizabeth emphasized, the myriad of connections to a word that makes it meaningful and useful to us. Instead of asking for the word for black – give a more open question “what colour is a panda?” I tried this already with my Yr2’s on various town locations. I asked “where can you hang out with friends?”  – and got responses that were meaningful to my students. I have a full post coming on my first experiments with this!

Inspiration  – Untextbooking – This was a recurrent theme in more than one presentation and,  judging by the attendance, a movement that is growing. I even tweeted that I wouldn’t be investing in textbook futures if I had seen the enthusiasm in many rooms for this. Why? Those who advocated for it did not shy away from the fact that leaving the textbook can initially mean more ‘work’ for the teacher. But the benefits  – flexibility, choice, relevance and more – seem to far outweigh what it takes to convert. I will admit that many of my units, and initial structures I taught, came from textbooks – but ‘untextbooking’ seems to be a way to go beyond someone else’s definition of ‘what a student should know. I’m getting there!

Validation – Focus on Summative Learning –  a fast paced presentation from Sam and Steve in  Alpine SD in Utah. They snuck in a clip of comedian Gerry Dee’s show (who was a teacher) and his ‘marking system’ for good measure – loved the home-grown Canadian touch (honestly I dare you to watch the clip and not see a bit of yourself in it). What was the validation – that the key and the goal should be “can they do what I want them to be able to do?”. They score a lot but only grade the summatives. Their freedom to innovate in their  middle school environment is enviable but there are definite take-aways for me. I note that this year there is most of my weight on the summative evaluations and not much weight on the formative – I liked their rationale – I’m on the right path.

Validation – Focus on Interactive Purposeful Communication – Carrie Toth, a nominee for Teacher of the Year, made even more impressive for me with her admission that her district/school has no tech – and that their tech guy doesn’t want them to use it (think computers with floppy disk drives!). What her presentation validated for me is the focus on communication – and the ‘real’ student to student interaction. One example that she used was that of a debate. It was the way that she structured the time – similar to how I do in my debate unit. She provided many examples of how she has her students use the language to accomplish a task – not just to ‘speak it’. This is also my goal in class – ‘language to ‘do’ rather than to ‘study’ – an awesome presentation (link here)

langchat team in action

The #langchat team selfie!

Validation – #langchat – When ACTFL Board Member Thomas Sauer crashes your session, stands up before the group and says “#Langchat – listen to these people” – you know that you are on to something good!  What a privilege to actually meet and interact with almost all of the #langchat moderators and thank them for the role that they have played in my teaching. We presented to a great group – sharing the ‘why’ and ‘how-to’ of belonging to the #langchat community. The other validation #langchat provided wasn’t about the presentation itself. I don’t know if this conference would have been the same without #langchat – the PLN. Although I traveled to this on my own, I got the chance to connect with so many fellow #langchat-ers that it felt like I was attending with a whole group. It was so awesome to put real faces to Twitter profiles and get a chance to meet (and thank) those I share with daily on Twitter. If you are thinking of attending a big conference such as this you’ll be surprised how many #langchat-ers you will get to see (and wearing the Tshirt doesn’t hurt!)

Finally I leave you with 2 of my other biggest lessons learned at ACTFL 2104. One – Comfortable shoes! You will walk and walk and walk – and run sometimes – to sessions to get into the room! Be prepared! Great shoes will be a necessity in your bid to make it to a workshop on time. The second lesson? Twitter rocks! I found people, shared ideas and learned about sessions I couldn’t attend all through the great tweeting of so many attendees. Many are part of the #langchat PLN (see above!). Twitter – get on it and get using the #langchat hashtag – you won’t regret it!

I may not make San Diego (budgeting etc) but I am aiming for a return visit ASAP. Thanks ACTFL!


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