I didn’t mean to leave, but I’m back!

I’m back from my unplanned hiatus! I fell victim to the busy school season, then couldn’t motivate myself to write, because it had been so long since I had written. But, after attending ACTFL I realized how important it is to keep record of everything I’m doing. More than that, it’s important to spread the message that all language teachers can follow me down this road. It might not be easy, but it’s worth it. Today I am going to recount as many personal interactions as I can remember from the conference. In future posts (which will be forthcoming!) I will continue describing what we do in class, and why we do it.

First: I met Carrie Toth (from www.somewheretoshare.com) and she is amazing! Not only is she a published author and curriculum specialist at Señor Wooly (www.senorwooly.com), she is also an incredible Spanish teacher. I bought two of her books, and got them autographed(!), to add to my personal reading library. My largest take-aways from interacting with her include:

  • Bring joy to your teaching, whatever you are doing (a constant and repetitive theme among the ACTFL elites that I got to meet).
  • Always look to drive understanding just a little bit deeper. Look for ways to make the content richer.
  • Don’t do the same thing every time, sneak in small differences, change up activities, create something different for different units. (For me this is a struggle. My kids crave routine and predictability, but they could probably tolerate me having just a few more tricks in my toolbelt.)
  • Base your class on student success, specifically build in pathways to acquisition for every student and make them clear.

Second is Allison Litten (from www.cicanteach.com) who is such a pleasure to be around. Her enthusiasm and energy are so contagious! She teaches a lot of the same types of classes that I do, but I feel like she does it with so much more finesse! She bases a lot of her teaching around stories (another common theme for teaching our littlest learners), which inspires me to focus on teaching with more stories. She is also a master of making short films teaching gold! We also talked about proper assessment, and how to communicate growth to parents. Now I really fully believe, beyond the inconvenience of averaging weeks of numbers to come up with a letter, that the standard report card is simply not the right way to show parents that their student is learning. Language acquisition just doesn’t work like that.

Third is Annabelle Williamson (from www.lamaestralocablog.com) who embodies positivity and happiness. She had a long, rough day before I met her, and she was still the most positive person at the table. I can only imagine how nice it must be to be the student of a teacher who is so determined to be the happiest, kindest person she can be. I definitely felt better about my hectic schedule after hearing about hers. She has such a great outlook and is so nice to be around. No doubt my biggest take-away from her was that students want to learn from someone who they want to be around. I need to work harder to be the kind of teacher my students would want to be around. Even when I’m tired, even when I’ve had a rough day, even when things just aren’t going my way. I don’t know how she learned to be so resilient, but I will be actively looking for ways to be more like her in my daily life.

This segment ends with Jason Fritze (who seems to not have a website), in all rights a true guru of elementary language acquisition. He so generously spoke with me and my counterpart in my division (the only person who teaches all the same classes/levels/schedule as I do) for nearly an hour. We discussed a plethora of topics during that time. The most outstanding of which was proper assessment of students, as guided by the ACTFL Can-Do Statements. We agreed that these statements are not always ideal for younger learners, as they need to be broad enough to include more cognitively demanding tasks. (An example of that is describing events in the past, recent past, near future and future. This simply isn’t developmentally appropriate for many students under ten years of age.) He suggested that we need to investigate the European model to guide our creation of a Spanish specific report card for parents. This was highly reflective of the recommendations that Allison Litten had during my time with her as well. We also discussed the times and frequencies of class meetings that best enable our students to acquire new language. He reiterated that we are incredibly lucky to work for a division which works hard to allow us to meet those basic requirements of time and frequency in all our programs. It is the core difference that can be seen when comparing a division which wants an elementary program in name only, and a division (like mine!) which really truly attempts to give all students the most valuable opportunities it can.

All in all, ACTFL was even more amazing than I had thought it would be. And, once I figure out how to manage it, I will update this with my selfies with so many super cool people. Additionally, I made and strengthened so many connections with others in Virginia, including fellow elementary teachers in Arlington, who extended an open invitation to go see them do what they do whenever I can. It is so amazing to feel so supported, even by complete strangers. I never imagined that I would be brave enough to ask someone if I could go into their classroom (which is a couple hundred miles from mine), that they would say yes, or that I would consider it. I amazed myself with how much stronger I have become since transitioning to teaching with Comprehensible Input as my main teaching goal, it’s working out in ways I could have never predicted. Now, stay tuned, pictures will be forthcoming and so will more posts!