ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Reflections from ACTFL

Dina Marsala, OFLA Editor of Electronic Media
French Teacher, Avon Lake City Schools

This past November I had the opportunity to attend my first ACTFL Convention in Nashville. Visiting Nashville was a dream come true with the live bands, country music history and I even got to meet Elvis! The Convention itself had so many learning opportunities even for a seasoned teacher. Many of the sessions that I attended focused on proficiency. I’d love to share with you my experience and a few take-a-ways.

I was lucky to be able to attend a workshop given by Linda Egnatz, 2014 ACTFL Teacher of the Year. Her session was titled Proficiency as a Tool to Focus Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. Linda talked about how setting proficiency targets for our students at the end of each level helps us design our curriculum and assessments to see if those targets are being met. Linda used a visual of a tree to help us understand. The roots of the tree is where you find your content or topics. The trunk of the tree is the basic functions of asking questions and describing. Most of what we would do in day to day life. The branches are where you can get to sentences and paragraphs. The leaves, the last thing to bloom on a tree, is where you find your grammar, pronunciation and fluency. The leaves are also the part of the tree that can be lost and the tree can still function. This was a great visual to show where we can be focusing our student’s learning. Linda talked about how “perfection is not proficiency” and that it takes a lot of practice before you can be an expert at something. Our students need repetition and practice but also opportunities to keep using structures and vocabulary. I learned a great deal from Linda’s session and would suggest that you look at her website http://www.lindaegnatz.com/for more information.

Most of the sessions that I attended focused on Comprehensible Input as I am trying to learn more about how to incorporate different techniques in to my classroom. I had the pleasure of attending some of Carol Gaab’s sessions as well. Carol showed us many different activities that she uses to help students with their comprehension. She also showed us how to scaffold the activities to make them more advanced. Her sessions were hands-on and gave me many A-ha moments. One quote that stuck out for me was, “If they haven’t acquired it, they can’t produce it”. Carol uses comprehension based readers to focus her units and has many different titles in both French and Spanish on her website http://www.fluencymatters.com. Ultimately, I left Carol’s sessions feeling refreshed and ready to jump in to something new. I highly recommend her sessions at the upcoming OFLA Conference in Cleveland this April.

The session Brownies with Spinach showed how to sneak the grammar in to our lessons with a communicative purpose. Kara Parker and Megan Smith reminded us that grammar is not mastered in a single unit, it needs to be woven throughout. They showed us how they put together their units to maximize communication. The session Keep it in the Target Language provided ideas on how to make sure that your lessons are comprehensible, compelling and personalized. Michelle Kindt’s session called Encouraging Meaningful Discourse – CI in the World Language Classroom was interesting as well. Michelle introduced free and voluntary reading and how to use it in the classroom. She stressed not to expect too much too soon from our students. Michelle gave many different ideas on how to make our questions meaningful. Michelle will be presenting this session at our OFLA Conference! Be sure to check it out.

My advice for those of you contemplating going to any conference would be to just do it! You won’t regret attending. Branch out, learn something new and put yourself in new situations. The purpose of attending is to refresh and renew yourself. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and ask questions. If it is your first conference, learn from those who have attended before. I put the “First time attendee” ribbon on my nametag and received a lot of advice from fellow teachers who saw it and offered help. Most importantly, go in with an open mind and have fun. Make connections, meet new people, be that fan girl / boy and take photos with people you admire. My students loved seeing my photo with Blaine Ray since we had just finished reading one of his readers. I hope that this has inspired you to attend an upcoming conference, and I look forward to meeting you in Cleveland this April.

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