Monday, November 23, 2015

ACTFL 2015 reflections

As I am on the plane on my way back home, I can't stop thinking about all of the great sessions and conversations I was a part of at ACTFL. There is something so special about being together with thousands of World Language teachers who, like me, are looking for ways to continue to improve and be a better teacher for our students.

The best place to start my reflection is from the most basic question, which was posed by Amy Lenord in her session this afternoon - "Why should we teach in the target language?". The question sounds so simple, but was really a fantastic way to revisit why we were all there. What are we trying to accomplish? How can we best accomplish our classroom goals? Why is it important to never give up on reaching for that 90%? The answer to her question was clear - students cannot and will not learn a language in a vacuum. It needs to be modeled and encouraged by us, their teachers.

I am thinking about the yearly goals I have my students write down at the beginning of the school year. They can write anything, they just need to focus on what they want to do, not a grade they want to achieve. I then post what they write in the wall. Their comments are all about communication. They want to speak more fluently, they want to be able to talk about their past, they want to be able to communicate with someone when they are on vacation in México. Nowhere did the student write they want to learn perfect grammar, or they want to be able to translate sentences. As a teacher, I know what they want. The question then is, what am I doing to ensure that they are getting what they want and need? How am I facilitating their learning. Am I encouraging true language learning that will follow them as they leave my classroom? Am I giving them the tools they need? Or, am I encouraging their most basic desire to just memorize and get through the assessment? Am I teaching students to parrot vocabulary I have chosen with concepts I have chosen? Am I spending their class time teaching them they way they will learn best, or what worked for me as a student in the "old days"?

As I write this, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We do lots of great things that get the. Students excited and using the language and encouraging them to learn things that interest them. However, I also believe there is way too much "I" in some of the decisions I make about my class. With this honesty fresh in mind, how am I going to change?

Luckily, there is so much inspiration available at ACTFL. There were great sessions that can help me find new ways to increase the target language use in class, engage my students, and make the class more meaningful for my students. Here is a list of some of those ideas.

1. Use more pictures - in Mira Canion's session, she described how pictures can be used to get students to use the language that they know and push for more acquisition. Show a pic upturn and have students describe what they see. Have a series of pictures to help students tell a story. Use a vanishing cloze (where words disappear from a story) to encourage students to think about what is missing. Have students create and retell stories.

2. Lose the Vocab List - in Amy Lenord's session there were tons of ways to move away from vocabulary lists. One great example was to use logos of known companies and products to help students acquire words faster. Give students verbs already conjugated with English translations to help jump start conversations and get kids speaking right away. Have students create their own vocabulary notebook with their own lists of new words. Focus on production with vocabulary rather than a specific word list. Who cares what specific words our students use if they can express themselves on a topic. Don't say "Describe you house" ask "How is your house comfortable/welcoming".

3. Authentic resources - Sara-Elizabeth Cotrell's session was full of great ideas to make authentic resources "just right" for different levels. Use Edupuzzle to cut down videos and add questions to help students comprehend listening selections. Choose selections carefully to meet students' interest. Don't expect students to hunt for a great resource if you know it might be challenging. Give them three resources to search and choose the one that they think is best. Use target language Brain Breaks. Best of all, Sara-Elizabeth has begun a document for teachers to share their great authentic resource activities. Please check it out and add to it!

4.  Start with culture - This is going to sound like a shameless plug, but this is from my session Flipping for Global Competence with Sara-Elizabeth Cotrell and Meriwynn Mansori. Find a cultural tidbit that will interest students and lead them to inquire more. Use real world examples to make your point about a desired topic. Get the students interested and they will WANT to learn more language. Use authentic resources that are in English for the flipped portion and then students have the base information about culture to apply what they know for the in class activities.

5. Use movies - sometimes I still forget to factor in fun. Movie Talk was a great session from Noemi Rodriguez with tons of video resources. Use movie clips, commercials, silent films or clips with no sound to get students to tell a story in the language. I know that all of my students in levels 2-4 would love to do movie talks and the resources that she has provided will help me (and you) get started.

And of course, my favorite part of any conference is being able to have those meaningful conversations with the fantastic members of my PLN (personal learning network). They help me to take my thinking to the next level, remind me that feeling like a failure is important for real growth, and just fuel my desire to continue to improve.

If you like these ideas, want to hash out some of the things I wrote, or have comments, lets chat. Email me, comment on the blog, comment on Twitter (@srawitten) or Edmodo. I am always looking for more people to join me in my quest to be the best language teacher possible and it doesn't happen in a vacuum.