After having attended small conferences for several years (Alaska’s: about 100 participants, iFLT: 150, NTPRS: 400), it was easy to be overwhelmed by the more than 600 sessions offered and probably 5,000 or 6,000 attendees at ACTFL 2012. I completely missed one session that I know I should have attended, and obviously had no chance to even be aware of what else I was missing, but the conversations and other sessions will sustain me for some time.
I spent a lot of time in the exhibition hall watching Jason Fritze and Annick Chen teach Spanish and Mandarin in 20- or 40-minute sessions to enthusiastic crowds. People flowed between that “booth” and the TPRS Publishing Booth to learn, connect, and buy the excellent materials.
If I hadn’t been lurking at the booth, I wouldn’t have heard about Bill van Patten’s presentation about the need for comprehensible input. Luckily, Michelle Kindt urged several of us to attend the ACTFL Research session at the end of the day Saturday, when Judith Liskin-Gasparro and Richard Donato discussed what kinds of research ACTFL is seeking in terms of pre-service training. Those TPRS who attended the session met an enthusiastic group of “organic language” teachers who have very similar techniques and philosophy to that of TPRS. About 100 strong, at least the group who attended ACTFL is mostly university teachers. They told us that they take their entire curriculum from student input during classes. I would love to see this method in action!
Richard Donato and Judith Liskin-Gasparro asked the teacher group to discuss high-leverage practices that could be measured and taught to pre-service teachers. After we had some time in our small groups, he said that in his methods classes, he concentrates on only three areas: questioning techniques, providing comprehensible input, and teaching grammar in context. He also mentioned that what the profession needs is the chance to demonstrate methods, teach them, and coach them until they are acquired. Reflective journals should pass with the 1990’s. Donato was quite surprised to hear that a coaching model already exists and that it has been developing for more than four years now. We shared the coaching template that has developed out of Susan Gross’s original plan because he was so enthusiastic on seeing it. He is anxious that someone make a research proposal around the practices that we mentioned as critical to TPRS.
I attended a Board Meeting for ACTR and then intended to make several TPRS sessions. Carol Gaab’s was the first, but because it was clear that my seat on the floor in the aisle was high-rent property, I decided to give it up to someone who had never had the opportunity to hear her. Carol’s second session was similarly mobbed. Luckily I was able to talk with a number of the coaches and gurus helping out at the TPRS booth and occasionally put in my own suggestions. Richard (last name?) came by to propose interviews on his dissertation topic which will examine what leads to success and long-term engagement in TPRS. It is possible that we’ll ask for participants through this site or the Yahoo one.
On a visit to the MEP booth to see Contee Seely (who sold me a copy of Bertie Segal’s Three-Ring Circus book in Russian), I met Dina, who teaches Russian at the UN. She looked at some of my little class stories and said that she has a collection of about fifty similar ones. I am very much hoping that she will eventually be able to share them. What a great coincidence for me! Other teachers of Russian were rare at ACTFL 2012, though it turned out that Russian-speaking teachers of other languages were fairly common. I hope that the tide turns a bit in our favor.
Kristy Placido, whose workshop in 2008 gave me the boost I needed to start using the “new” TPRS at school that September, gave a wonderful session on Saturday morning. My biggest takeaway was to create cloze exercises with Russian advertisements. She pointed out that creating such exercises is a great stretch for the non-native language teacher, because we have to listen to the ad so many times ourselves to create the exercises. Kristy is a great Spanish teacher and a similarly wonderful presenter. She is very calm and smooth as she offers ideas and practices that make me want to jump off my seat. If she were more hyper, I would be on overload.
Later, Kristy was part of a group presenting #LangChat, a session on using Twitter for professional development. I’m quite proud that I was able to send out my first link as part of a tweet: the powerpoint from a later Michelle Kindt session that ran out of handouts! Unfortunately, I didn’t make the url short enough in my first try, but maybe people will have excused me because they could then get the slides. Watching the presenters, who had never met except over the professional development circle they created, was heart-warming and reminded me of how Laurie Clarcq and I finally met after having worked on line for at least the previous year.
Michelle Kindt did a session that renewed my certainty that this is the most important subject to be teaching, because we can work in life lessons at every turn. I was so impressed by her energy, enthusiasm, and deeply held beliefs that I would go to any session she ever offered, just to get that exuberance back on line. I am certain her students absolutely adore her.
The #LangChat meeting taught me more about using Twitter, as well as making me anxious to attend the Thursday evening meetings. I’ll later post a direct link to the instructions for joining up, but those of you who know Twitter can find #LangChat at 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Thursdays.
Those are my ACTFL 2012 knowledge highlights; reconnecting with Laurie and Terri and Mira and Cynthia and …. (everyone!) was even better (follow Mira to food any time). I feel honored to be able to even drop these names! My first flight segment home is due to land in the next 30 minutes, so I will end this long note and try to remember to post it if I ever get free wifi in the next 14 hours.