Nov 27, 2013

More Thoughts After ACTFL

It's amazing - I went to ACTFL this year feeling worn down and like TPRS and Comprehensible Input just can't fit into my mandated curriculum anymore.  After all, the absolutely wonderful novels are not on the approved reading list.  Free and Voluntary Reading is discouraged, and I am supposed to keep my students on grade level reading and writing Common Core standards, even if that means leaving the target language and reading and writing in English.  My storytelling has gotten lackluster, my questions are predictable, my students won't participate... and I wondered "why do I keep fighting the bureaucratic machine"

Now, here I am, a few days post-conference.  The difference is amazing.  I went to some great sessions.  (The trick is don't feel guilty, if a session doesn't seem to fit your needs, leave and find a different one that does!  Another trick is, if there is a time slot with no interesting sessions, hang out in the exhibit hall.  I think I set up camp at the TPRS publishing booth!) 

Randomish thoughts:
I went to a session on writing and the Common Core.  I figured I needed to see what other people are doing.  Well, they advocated staying in the Target Language and *supporting* the standards but by getting our students to be proficient in reading, writing, and thinking in our target language.  How refreshing!  Now if I can just communicate this effectively to the "higher ups"

I already mentioned the embedded reading and cultural reading sessions.  I keep thinking how much more accessible reading will be with the layers of reading.  Start small and build up.

The last session I went to, on Sunday afternoon (yes I got kicked out for last call) was about making homework meaningful.  

I have fallen into the trap of, I guess flipping my classroom in a way.  The high school teachers here all use traditional language learning models.  My students leave my classroom and have to take daily vocabulary and grammar quizzes.  No longer is it about acquisition or communication.  And I have struggled to find a way to balance my beliefs and research with the expectations of my district.  The final exam is also very much based on grammar rules and vocabulary memorization rather than acquisition in the language.  Some of the questions come directly from the student workbooks.  And so, since I do not use the textbook or workbook in class, I assign workbook pages as homework in order to familiarize my students with the layout and expectations of the book's author (and therefore the exam), as well as their future teachers.

Which brings me back to the session.  The presenter used backward planning starting with those "can do" statements in the program (My textbook says things like "students will be able to order food at a cafe") then planning backwards to figure out what instruction with actually be able to get the students to that point.  Her homework reflects that same philosophy.  Rather than assigning the grammar activities because they are there, and are expected, she has students prepare for the oral classwork the following day.  She asks students to "be ready to____" and such activities as "discuss three things you own" in this case, students will be using the verb tener (to have), but the homework focuses on the skill of using it in context rather than isolated lists of verb forms, and students are pressured into doing the homework because they have to stand up in class and speak.

I woke up at five o'clock this morning thinking about homework, my curriculum, and how I can get my pedagogical philosophies to match what I am teaching again..  (I am such a nerd!)  How can I get my students more involved in what they are learning, more vested in it, etc.  Also, if they are truly able to acquire this language, in theory they should be able to do as well on the test.

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