I had an amazing time at ACTFL this year! I met some long-time heroes and gave a presentation and saw some career-changing sessions. My conference focus this year was (mostly) to learn about getting kids up through the proficiency levels and in that regard I learned a whole lot.
Biggest ACTFL Takeaways
- Function First
“Language function” is in first place as the term that I should have been familiar with the entire time I’ve been teaching World Languages. Not sure what they are? That’s ok, I learned a week and a half ago. Functions are the specific things that students can do with the language. These are not related to the content of the units we’re teaching, but rather the things that we need language for. If we use backward planning from the goal of being able to do each language function well, we will have students who will be able to do more than just remember vocab and grammar points related to our units; they’ll be able to do what they need to do.
Here is an ACTFL document about what functions look like along the proficiency path.
- AAPPL, Data, and Leveling Up
Using Data to drive my instruction has always looked a little scattershot. I see what my students can do with the language when I teach them, but mostly it’s based on my gut. Using the AAPPL could be a way to have some real data for me to see where the students truly are in their Performance in the TL. It will also give them a starting point and a path to move on to the next level, whether that’s Novice Mid to Novice High or Novice High to Intermediate Low or any other levels.
- Balance Between Modes
Seems simple enough, have students use all modes equally. Unfortunately, that can be harder than it sounds. Luckily, there are lots of different ways to incorporate all the modes without much extra planning…
- Highlight the POSITIVE in feedback
When students see the descriptors for each proficiency level, they tend to focus on all the things they can’t do yet. They see the Novice level descriptors and then they see the long long path ahead of them and it is overwhelming. It is human nature to look at a daunting task and be intimidated. It’s our job as their teachers to get them to focus on what they have already accomplished rather than what’s to come. Rather than saying, “You need to do x,y, and z to reach the next level” and leaving it at that, we can say, “Wow! Look at what you already do: You can list [x vocabulary content]” or “You are doing so well at getting the gist of our reading assignments” or “You are really successful at answering the questions we have practiced in class.” Then, after showing the students what they are able to do, we can give one or two things for them to work on for next time.
- Who cares what students “know.” The real question is: What can you DO with what you know?
No further explanation needed.
(CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT ALERT) All I will say to expand on this idea is that grammar is cool and it can be interesting, but assessing only how well students can follow grammar rules and formulas at the novice and intermediate levels doesn’t really do much to help proficiency or performance in the language.
- In Interpersonal, Accuracy is not the focus; MESSAGE is the focus
When I heard this said out loud, I realized that I have basically followed this idea as a gut instinct, but I had never really voiced it in this way. I had this understanding that accuracy isn’t all that important when we’re trying to build proficiency because we need to build the students’ abilities to negotiate meaning, even if that meaning isn’t grammatically perfect.
I mean, how many times a day do we do errors inour own langauges and noone seems to be bothered? As long as we are comprehensibility in our interpersonal communication, and our message gets across, who cares about a run-on sentence or a minor spelling or usage error or a minor pronounciation error or a comma splice? Does that stuff really matter in an interpersonal context? I’d say no, especially if the speaker is comprehensible.
That being said, accuracy is important because we want the kids to be comprehensible. But accuracy should not be the focus of our assessment or our feedback for assessments of truly interpersonal contexts.
The important thing that I learned at this conference was a way to articulate this to the kids so they know that communication is the key. I am not as concerned with errors as long as they are trying to keep themselves and each other in the target language and they are communicating.
- IFLT in St. Petersburg
Gotta get to all the conferences! Luckily, this one is less than 100 miles away!
Name Drop Time
I met so many bloggers and writers and teachers that I respect and have followed (and copied) for years. This is the part of the post where I unapologetically show off who I know and who I met at the conference.
I was completely starstruck when I met BVP…
and Carrie Toth…
and Mike Peto…
and La Maestra Loca…
and Laurie Clarcq…
and Paolo Jenneman …
and I was flabbergasted when Paul Sandrock, the ACTFL Director of Education, sought me out to ask for feedback from me on his conference session.
And I was overjoyed when my former professor (and former ACTFL president) Paul Garcia came and sat front-row-center during my session.
Overall, this ACTFL conference experience was one of the top conference experiences I have ever had. Thank you to ACTFL and everyone who worked so hard to put it together. Thank you also to all of you that read this blog or follow me on Twitter that I was able to meet and see in real life. I learned so much just from seeing and talking to all of you in person.