I hope I’m going to remember at least a tenth of what I learned last weekend at ACTFL 15, and hope also that I will be able to share some of that coherently.

Yesterday I opened my folder to review notes on Mira Canion’s presentation, “Reading is Thinking: Making True Learning Visible,” and spent the next couple of hours prepping a slide show to practice part of what she had demonstrated.

Mira started by showing us a picture of tourists sitting on top of a train with who-what-when-where-why (just one word) questions that we were to answer. The next slide asked us to explain how we knew the answers to those questions. Talk about bumping up the levels of responses (and finding out how students are drawing conclusions, as well as teaching others how they do)! Mira used the same questions for a new slide of locals riding on a train, and she followed that with a reading that will require another post.*

Today I had invited UAA Faculty to do a reprise of a Shostakovich concert for our Russian and music classes. The violinist shared background of the codes and stories about Shostakovich from his experiences learning from musicians who had played with and for the composer as well as with Shostakovich’s son. (Listen to the Trio in E Minor sometime…) My late afternoon students came to class ready to learn about Shostakovich.

I put up a picture of my own music group and led the group in answering the “W” questions. (We did a “stand up until the answers run out” and we went twice around the classroom on “who,” because the kids had so many creative answers: the man, the woman in glasses, the old man in a shirt.) As Mira had suggested, I included a word bank for the lower-level kids in the class, but they thought of a whole bunch of words and phrases I hadn’t considered.

The next slide was of three student musicians at a recent school concert that I had attended. I followed that with the “how do you know” question, and then popped up a picture of Shostakovich. The students hadn’t seen Shostakovich’s picture since last year, but whereas last year it was a static ID-style photo, this one showed him in the process of examining, if not composing, some music. The students guessed immediately who it was, and were quickly engaged in answering the questions in pairs. When the “how do you know” question came on the screen, they were generating long sentences about how they knew the answers.

I had thought that this would be a quick activity that would lead to a longer reading session, but the discussions took an hour, and we got to the slide with the first reading selection I had picked only in the last five minutes. We read through it, clarified a phrase (“among which are”), and moved to the next screen that had blanks in the text that the students had to fill, another Mira technique, similar to what we can do with Textivate. I am very happy to add another technique to my book for student engagement, and even happier to have another way to find out what students know by what they say out loud in pairs.


*Mira’s contrasting slides brought two levels of Culture into the classroom: what a tourist might be able to experience in Ecuador, and what real people might have to do in hard economic times. Just that piece of her presentation was a masterful demonstration of many techniques. I am now even more encouraged to keep a picture bank on line to use whenever I am creating lessons. I need all those photos!



4 responses to “ACTFL: Mira

  1. What does stand up until the answers run out mean?


    • Wow. Long weekend took me away! “Stand up until the answers run out” means that I pick something to which there may be a bunch of answers. In this case, there were many possible ways to say who was in the picture. Everyone stood up in a circle, and they kept saying who those people could be until there were no more new ideas. Then kids sit down. Finally there is only one person left standing. It’s a nice way to really stretch. I usually have to sit down earlier than some kids if I’ve suggested a good prompt. It could be “reasons to watch a movie tomorrow,” or “what we learned from this activity,” or “what you would do if there were a snow day,” or just “foods we like to eat.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool, thanks for the explanation. Sounds a great way to ensure that everyone who has a good idea gets the chance to offer it up!


  3. Pingback: ACTFL Report from Michele Whaley – Alaskans for Language Acquisition

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