Whew! I have been running around like a crazy lady this morning at iFLT trying to catch a glimpse of everything that’s going on. I couldn’t get everywhere, but I made a valiant effort. Here are some tidbits and takeaways for those of you joining us from afar!
First stop? “Advanced” Spanish with Grant Boulanger. This class was intended for students that have had some exposure to Spanish, but Grant quickly discovered yesterday that he had some students that were very raw beginners, and so the class was really a beginner class even though it had the “Advanced” title. One thing that stood out to me from Grant’s style of TCI is his use of rejoinders. As he asks a story and something happens to which it would be appropriate to react (ex: “My mom is mean!” / “I’m sorry!”), he introduces that rejoinder to the class and teaches them a gesture/cue to accompany it. The rejoinders are already all around his room in Spanish, and when it naturally comes into conversation for the first time, he writes the English translation beside it as he introduces it formally. Let’s take the example of ¡Qué lástima! (What a shame!). Grant signals it by lifting up his right arm, and then students mimic, also lifting up their right arms. Then, they all say together, “¡Quéeeeeeee LÁstima!” as they bring their hand down across their body and snap their fingers, as you would if you were saying, “Aw, shucks!”. After introducing a new rejoinder, Grant would often lead the students in a rhythmic chant of the new term so that they hear it a bunch of times and get used to forming the sounds. The rejoinders were so fun, and I was surprised to see just how quickly (within a matter of minutes) the students in the class were reacting to new information appropriately, of their own will, by interjecting rejoinders.
I dashed out of Grant’s class and slid down a spiral staircase to the band room, where I found Michelle Kindt. Michelle has many years of experience teaching with comprehensible input, and she has a gift for making information accessible to teachers. She is very personable and was eager to answer any questions that the audience had for her! The topic for this session was “Unpacking the ACTFL Standards from a CI Perspective”. As Michelle explained the different modes of communication (presentational, interpretive, interpersonal), and how each one might be observed in a CI class, she reiterated over and over and over again that all language teachers MUST know what the ACTFL Proficiency Levels are and what each one looks like. OPI Training is the best way to come to know them intimately, but we were able to get a feel for some of them by watching videotaped OPIs. She stressed that “Proficiency is not about what students know, it’s about what students can do with the language in their heads”. We all agree that we want proficient students, and so we must understand what proficiency means and what it looks like! Otherwise, how can we properly work toward it?
Zooming through the auditorium, I stopped to watch the symphony being conducted by the masterful Karen Rowan. Even after a full pre-conference Fluency Fast workshop filled with language classes for language teachers and learners alike, Karen was standing at the front of the grandiose auditorium, directing teachers as they used “Reader’s Theater” to re-enact a scene of Don Quijote, el último caballero. Karen read a statement from the book and the teachers acted it out in small groups. She used strategies like “Rewind!” and “Do it slowly!” to say the statement over and over again, many times. She provided many repetitions of the target text, and teachers were laughing as they re-enacted the hilarious scene of Don Quijote charging a windmill.
Sweating, I booked it up two flights of stairs to Carrie Toth’s “Interpersonal Mode: Tapping into the Target Language”. Carrie detailed what Interpersonal communication ISN’T (students reading skits aloud, students planning/creating skits, giving students time to prepare answers to questions before discussing them, or grammatically perfect), and what it IS (natural, unrehearsed, and messy). One of the beautiful things about interpersonal communication is that it builds communities. Carrie has seen and knows to be true the fact that when a class bonds in the target language, it becomes their language when they are together…even when they are together outside of the four walls of your classroom. THAT is what I want to do for my students!!
It wasn’t difficult to navigate my way to Kristy Placido’s “MovieTalk” session, because attendees were literally spilling out into the hallway. It was PACKED! How exciting to see so much interest in this teaching strategy!! MovieTalk is a strategy developed by Dr. Ashley Hastings. Kristy reminded attendees that when you MovieTalk, the video should be paused and you should be talking MORE than you are actually watching the video uninterrupted. The goal is to provide comprehensible input, not to just watch the video. The power of MovieTalk is that concrete images are used to support comprehension!
From Kristy’s session, I popped into Leslie Davison’s “Elementary Awesomeness”, and boy oh boy was it awesome!! When I arrived, some teachers were acting out a hilarious story about (former) King Juan Carlos, complete with props. I loved that the story was cultural in addition to being comprehensible and compelling! My head is still spinning with all of the neat ideas that observed in my short time with Leslie. Many of them were practical, and in particular she spent a lot of time talking about how to really, really work with songs so that students know and understand good chunks of catchy songs. However, my biggest takeaway was her exhortation to document your students’ journeys through your language program. As an elementary teacher, Leslie started out with two days per week with her students. She took pictures and shared them with her admins and with parents to show, “Look what these students can do with just two days per week of language!!” The results were incredible and she now has a dual language immersion program. You have your students for two days per week? Great. Make them the best two days of language class that anyone has ever seen, take pictures, share the progress, and your program will expand.
I got sidetracked on my way to the next session because how could I not? There are 450 teachers here and I want to pick all of their brains. I ran into coaches Michele Whaley and Amy Wopat discussing coaching strategies in the hallway as they walked to their next session. I love that the coaches here are really, truly concerned about how they can better help the teachers that come to them for coaching. Everyone here at iFLT is looking for ways not just to better themselves, but to help their colleagues find out how to be the best language teacher that they can be; how to find their own unique language teacher self. It is so encouraging!
I didn’t plan to stay long in Jason Fritze’s elementary Spanish language lab, but oh my word—the man is captivating. To top it off, he had some of the most dramatic student actors I have ever seen! Those kids could fake cry like no one’s business! Some strategies that Jason used that I had to Tweet about so that I could remember were 1) Writing down character quotes as they came up on pre-printed quotation bubbles (clipart quote bubbles printed on white sheets of paper). Students that were not acting in the story had the job of rushing to the side of the actors and holding the quote bubbles over the actors’ heads, thereby involving more students in the class story and supporting comprehension with the written text. 2) If you are worried about circling being boring, you need to watch Jason in action. He asked all of the circling questions (yes/no, either/or, WWWWH?), but so spontaneously and naturally smattered throughout the story in a way that a participant would not ever catch on to what he was doing. This is the goal, people! And we get there by practicing, practicing, practicing. Find a coach and work on your circling methodically so that you can circle spontaneously and naturally like Jason does! 3) He integrated past and present tense into the story, on the second day of class, and students handled it beautifully. There is no reason for us to shelter grammar!
With a few minutes left, I rushed back down to the Band Room to catch the end of Michelle Kindt’s second session, just in time to hear her tout the praises of the ACTFL Publication “Keys to Planning for Learning”. And with that, off I went to the cafeteria to be first in line for lunch. (It didn’t work.)
Written by the fabulous Martina Bex