What we learned at IFLTA ’14: Everyone struggles, Culture leads
Since I had my precious Cottrell-itos on my trip to the annual conference of the Indiana Foreign Language Teacher’s Association, I didn’t get to spend as much time involved in the conference as I would have liked to, but I did greatly enjoy the time I did have. I reconnected with “old” friends, made new ones, and met face-to-face with some of you in my online PLN.
I don’t like giving handouts (because I don’t usually like getting them) but I always promise to put up my resource on a blog post, so here’s that, with some good takeaways from other sessions as well.
We all struggle
Let me just say it was refreshing to hear Linda Egnatz hear that the ACTFL Teacher of the Year can still have a seventh-period class out of control! I’m not a failure if I still can’t solve every problem presented by putting a bunch of football players together in a last-period Spanish class!
Also, I heard over and over that teachers recognize there are areas where they need to change, and where the research is driving us to change, and they’re trying. I apologize if the artifact of microblogging on Twitter or blogging in short bursts gives you the impression that I or any teacher anywhere has all the answers and has changed everything that needs to change. We’re using the TL all the time in 100% comprehensible ways while teaching every aspect of culture and inspiring every single student to learn language for a lifetime and dedicate themselves to improving the world – NOT! We’re all growing. We’re all changing. And if the fact that it’s hard isn’t keeping us from doing something to improve today, something else or something the same next month and the year after next, then kudos to us and here’s a digital hug from me (here’s an extra one for you, Wendy).
Linda Egnatz: Three types of control
When someone goes so far as to be named the Teacher of the Year by ACTFL, you know you’re going to benefit from sitting in a session (and at lunch!) with her, and I wasn’t disappointed. Linda talked to us about how ACTFL’s work supports our proficiency-based teaching, what motivates students, integrating the 5 C’s, and more, but what I’m really mulling over is how she explained how she analyzes student performance.
First, her idea of counting parts of an utterance – and having students focus on doing the same – fascinates me. Push student proficiency by asking them to move beyond one-word responses. Students can count parts: 1) who did what? 2) with whom? 3) when? 4) why? 5) in what way? 6) in what mood? 7) with what result? and you can see how they’ll get used to producing more complex utterances and pushing themselves to take risks.
Also, Linda looks at the proficiency shown by a performance by looking at what type of control the students are showing, that is, how grammatical accuracy is evident in their performance. Here are the three:
- Conceptual control: I know it happens but I don’t do it when I produce language except in memorized chunks.
- Partial control: I can do it on words that neatly fit a pattern that I have practiced a lot. (In Spanish an example is matching adjectives to the gender of nouns but only when they end in the obvious -o, -a.)
- Full control: I can apply the concept in general. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect but the student is aware of the general concept and applies it fairly consistently.
Side note, I knew that students can’t manipulate past tense until Advanced proficiency (which makes me wonder why we do it in Level 2 anyway), but Linda said that speakers can’t handle the aspect of past (such as imperfect vs. preterite in Spanish) until Superior. I have always assumed that my speaking proficiency was somewhere around Advanced High, but this made me wonder if I may be reaching Superior. I know the topics I can handle are a factor there, but I wonder.
In another conversation, she talked about using tasks and activities that match student’s cognitive level. In elementary, we can’t teach numbers by counting money in kindergarten because they actually can’t perform that skill cognitively. Same with telling time. But they love to talk about animals in the context of farms and zoos. Try that with tenth graders and, well, you can imagine. Linda suggests we use cultural resources that are interesting them on their cognitive level, like using Hungry Planet pictures to talk about food comparisons.
Super Teacher PD: best handout idea ever
A university professor (the IFLTA conference seemed very post-secondary heavy to me) did a session on PD and on his handout, he put a doodle box. Literally, it was a box for us to doodle in if we wanted to. Whether or not you doodle in a session, you have to admit it shows how down-to-earth the guy is!
This session was set in the context of superheroes (Batman – what “kryptonite” keeps you from doing quality PD; Iron Man – what’s your “arc reactor”?; Avengers – I forget) but I really, really hate superhero movies so the analogy fell flat with me, but I appreciated how he pushed us to…
- ask what makes me an effective teacher
- set big goals
- remember what keeps me teaching
- eliminate things holding me back from PD that are within my control (i.e. watching too much Downton Abbey instead of pushing my language/cultural proficiency with a Spanish-language film)
- making a few achievable goals with deadlines and someone to report to
What PD goals do you have for this next year?
My session: Reality in IPAs
I really had a great group of teachers attend this session and they gave it energy and great ideas. To find the links to the resources I offered in this session, see the post from the KWLA conference, and especially check out the Camp Musicuentos wiki (and let me know if you want to be notified when registration for Camp Musicuentos opens).
Here are some of the contributions participants made that resonated with me:
- Set students in a scenario helping someone, especially a child, as this incorporates real service-learning and lowers anxiety.
- Could your students potentially get a holiday job being an elf or some other character at a local mall, for example? What a great opportunity to use language, and a fun scenario (if it’s realistic)!
- One teacher was in an area where a tornado struck and an apartment building near her was evacuated. She ended up helping translate for the Red Cross.
- Remember, novices will not be able to do translation scenarios well. Get them to picture themselves describing themselves, introducing themselves, and otherwise making friends with someone who lives nearby or whom they meet on the internet.
- Speaking of the internet, this is a go-to realistic scenario for students in rural areas.
- Another realistic scenario in a rural area: someone on Craigslist wants to buy [item you love but you got a new one] and is willing to travel from [some city not terribly far away] to get it but doesn’t speak English well.
- One more: Many students in rural areas not too far from a large city will go there for big shopping trips or to see something in the theatre, for example, and may come across speakers of another language. What about a sporting event? Students where I live may travel all the way to Cincinnati for a Reds game.
Another resource we mentioned was Megan’s post over on the Creative Language Class on incorporating heritage speakers into your class.
Commercials in Spanish class
Some professors and teacher candidates over at IUPUI did a presentation on using commercials to teach culture (and language) in Spanish class. You’ll be able to find their materials on the IFLTA website and in the spirit of don’t reinvent the wheel! I wanted to make sure you also knew about Kara Jacobs’s amazing resources for using commercials (presentation, worksheets, videos) as well as the document dozens of Spanish teachers have worked on for the past four years with a ton of scripts and ideas for using Spanish commercials.
What are you learning lately? I hope these ideas and resources also inspire you to keep on keeping on!