My Top 10 Take-Aways from the 2015 ACTFL Conference

Beth Hanlon, OFLA Executive Vice-President, Spanish Teacher, Oberlin High School

This past November, I had the opportunity to attend my first ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) conference!  It was quite an experience from traveling cross country to California, to being in San Diego’s gorgeous weather, to all the great things I learned at the conference.  I would like to share brief synopses of my top 10 take-aways with you!

    1. Literacy is everywhere.  In a session, Paul Sandrock defined literacy as “creating, understanding, interacting and negotiating messages”.  Another session, that was linking literacy in world languages to close reading from the Common Core, used the viewing of artwork as literacy.  It is amazing where literacy is and how important it is to incorporate for our students in world languages!
    2. The relationship of L2 learners and HL learners.  I struggle with differentiating for my heritage learners (HLs) so I made a point to attend sessions geared toward this group of learners.  In one session, they talked about the importance of HLs and L2s helping each other in order to succeed as well as preparing learners for lessons separately before interacting with each other in order to allow them to succeed when working together.
    3. Incorporating social justice.  Two great teachers from Illinois presented on how to incorporate social justice at any level with any topics with great examples.  This really had me thinking about how I could do this in my classes.  For example, last year we talked about “ocio” (leisure activity) in which students presented on their favorite “ocio” and we discussed other “ocios”.  I realized during this presentation that I could have discussed the human trafficking from Africa to Spain of teenagers to try out for soccer teams to incorporate social justice as a away to incorporate social justice.
    4. ACTFL memberships include SIGs.  As an ACTFL member, you can join at least on SIG, or special interest group, for free.  Additional SIGs are $5.  These groups have an online meeting space in the ACTFL website under “Communities”.  I joined the SIG for Spanish heritage learners and am looking forward to receiving information that would help me differentiate for the HL learners in my classes.
    5. SBG is being done.  SBG (standards based grading) is something that I would love to wrap my brain around to implement in my classroom as it really supports students’ proficiency levels more than traditional grading systems.  A colleague and I attempted to figure it out this past summer but were unable to unlock certain parts of it and were having difficulty finding people who were doing SBG in its purest form.  I attended a session of a world language department that is doing SBG and had figured out the bugs we could not.  I hope to use their information to get SBG going in the future for my students.
    6. Using television series to enhance curriculum.  Over the years, many teachers have mentioned using TV series in their classes.  As fantastic and authentic as that sounds, I have not had the time to research and investigative possible shows to use.  A session that I attended gave us a list of Hispanic TV series (for example, Los Serrano, Cuéntame Cómo Pasó, Allí Abajo) and ideas how to implement them.  The best advice they gave was that you don’t have to start at the beginning and go all the way through a series.  You can find episodes that relate to whatever theme is current in your class.  I am looking forward to implementing one of these shows in the future!
    7. Questioning matrix.  At a session entitled “Recipe for Rigor”, the presenters discussed a questioning matrix that can be used to have students extend their questioning ability.  The version on their website (scroll down about half way) is in English but teachers can easily put it in their target language, print them out, laminate them and pass out to students during activities!
    8. Vocabulary lists…the lack of.  I attended a great presentation by Amy Lenord about letting go of the vocabulary list (  She discussed what is not working with traditional vocabulary lists and how we need to allow students to make lists based on their need for vocabulary when giving comprehensible input.
    9. AAPPL Conversation Builder.  Available with your ACTFL membership, you can create tasks (or use public tasks) for your students to practice speaking.  Students receive prompts that they respond to in order to practice their speaking skills.  Log in with your ACTFL account here:
    10. Ohio is a great place to teach!  At regional and national conferences, I try to seek out presentations from other states to put a little variety in my conference diet.  By doing this, it makes me so proud of what we are doing here in Ohio.

In closing, going to such a huge conference like ACTFL reminds me how grateful I am to be a world language teacher.  We have so many opportunities available to us – from our state organization and conference through OFLA to our regional conference with CSCTFL to our national conference with ACTFL.  Make sure to take advantage of these opportunities to breath a breathe of fresh air into your teaching!

(And speaking of the Central States Conferences on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, please don’t forget that it is in Columbus in 2016 as a joint conference with OFLA!  Head to to make sure you don’t miss out on our great regional conference!)

This entry was posted in General, Professional Development, Vol. 54, No. 2 - Winter 2016. Bookmark the permalink.

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