Skip to main content

Three big ideas from #ACTFL18

November 24, 2018

ACTFL was, as it always is, inspiring and overwhelming. I didn't make it to all the sessions that I had hoped to, and even still I left with a renewed passion for the important work that we do as language educators and more ideas than I could ever hope to implement. In this post, I am sharing three big ideas that I saw repeated across many sessions at the conference: three big ideas that will help us to accomplish our mission: the mission of connecting humanity. Trevor Noah quote shared by Ali Moeller at #ACTFL18 @garbanzoapp There is no other course that offer to its students an opportunity like ours--an opportunity to see the world from the perspective of another. the detriment of cutting world language programs Let's not just fight for our programs--let's fight to build programs that are so strong, so impactful, so full that they are uncuttable. Here are three big ideas from #ACTFL18 that will help you to do just that: Big idea from #ACTFL18: Students need representation. Your students need to see themselves in your curriculum. @garbanzoapp

Students need representation.

Our students must see themselves in our curriculum. We need to know our students and we need to give them representation in the stories and images that we share. One of the most insightful sessions that I attended was given by Dr. Ted Zarrow (@drzarrow), 2016 ACTFL Teacher of the Year. As Ted shared some of the ways that he scaffolds comprehension for complex myths, he showed some images that he uses to establish meaning for words that students will need to understand in order to read the myths with ease. Especially because he is a teacher in a school with little diversity, he looks for images that are representative of the diverse students in his room. He looks for images that represent student ethnicity, sexuality, interests, and religion--and that of their families. When a student sees themselves represented in a story or an image, it is a nod from the teacher to that student saying, "I see you". Let your students know that you see them by including stories and images with similar people in your curriculum @garbanzoapp La Maestra Loca herself (Annabelle Williamson) made the same observation while sitting in one of Carol Gaab's sessions. While Carol talked about how important it is to represent student interest and experience in your content as you are planning your lessons, Annabelle observed that the images that Carol chose to spark conversation also served to give her students representation. Our students must see images of people that look like them–people that look like them that are doing extraordinary things, and also people that look like them that are doing ordinary things. [gallery ids="|,|,|" type="slideshow" orderby="rand"]

How can I apply this to my instruction?

Look at your plans for the coming week. Now, think about the students in the class(es) that will be working through those plans. Consider how you can represent those students' interests and identities in the materials and instruction. What examples can you give? What questions can you ask (try out Special Person interviews!)? What images and videos and you show? What topics can you mix in? When students see themselves in your classes, they know that you see them. When they know that you see them, they [typically] feel safe enough to engage in the class. And speaking of engagement... Compliance is not engagement--compliance is settling. #ACTFL18 @garbanzoapp

Compliance is not engagement.

Another big idea that I saw repeated across sessions at #ACTFL18 was that COMPLIANCE IS NOT ENGAGEMENT–and that we (as teachers) should not settle for compliance from our students. When students are engaged, they are paying attention because they want to. As Ted Zarrow shared in his session, referencing Schlechty's Five Levels of Student Engagement, Engagement is when both student attention and commitment to the activity are high. Schlecty's Five Levels of student engagement - Aim for Engagement, where student attention and commitment is high! #ACTFL18 @comprehensibleclassroomOften, we mistake what Schlechty calls "Strategic Compliance" for Engagement. When students are strategically compliant, they are paying attention, but they are not committed to the activity. They are paying attention because they want to do the right thing. Strategic compliance is not a bad thing; in fact, there will be many times in our classes that we expect strategic compliance from our students. Class does not have to be 100 percent engaging, 100 percent of the time– but what would it look like it if were truly engaging...say...30 percent of the time? 50 percent of the time? 70 percent? When students are repeatedly engaged in your class, they become motivated to keep coming back– day after day, and year after year. They become motivated to become lifelong learners. [gallery ids="|,|,|,|,|" type="slideshow"]

How can I apply this to my instruction?

Look at your plan book for the coming week. Consider both your content and its delivery. For each activity that you have planned for the coming week, mark beside it how committed you think that students will be to paying attention during the activity (on a scale of 1-5, 5 being "Most students will really want to pay attention to what I have planned" and 1 being "Most students will really want to pay attention to anything other than what I have planned"). In communication, MEANING matters more than FORM

It's the meaning that matters.

One of the most simple ways to boost student engagement is the third Big Idea that I saw at #ACTFL18: the FORM of an utterance is only important as it impacts MEANING. Shifting student focus from the form of the language to the meaning of the message is one way that that you can bump students up from strategic compliance to true engagement. We know that accuracy in spontaneous speech comes from INPUT: We put IN the language that we want to come OUT. And for students with a weak monitor (guess what? Most of our students have a weak monitor), all accuracy comes from input. [gallery ids="|,|,|" type="slideshow"] [gallery ids="|,|,|" type="slideshow"]

How can I apply this to my instruction?

Look at your content for the coming week. Consider how you will help students to understand it (see this post for ideas). Then, look at the activities that you have planned for that content. Are they activities that ask students to engage with the message of the content, or are they activities that ask students to attend to the form in which it was delivered? This is a big question that we keep coming back to as we build the interactive lessons for Garbanzo: we want the embedded questions to clarify the meaning of the message, not to distract from it by breaking flow. There may be instances in which you choose to focus student attention on the form, but they should happen because you are making that choice consciously, fully aware of your reasons for taking the focus from meaning to form and understanding the implications of that choice. Also consider what opportunities students will have to express themselves. How will you support comprehension of their message? Consider how you will front load their production with input, and consider supports like teacher restatement or sentence frames might help their message to be better understood.

Three big ideas from ACTFL in the big easy:

To make it really easy to remember, we can simmer those three big ideas down to these three big words:


So tell me...what do those words mean in your classes? What do you want them to mean? Which area do you feel like you are doing really well in, and what would you say is in need of improvement? When our students feel represented and are truly engaged by the meaning of the messages that we share in our classes, our programs will be uncuttable.  

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to 150+ free resources for language teachers.

Subscribe Today