iFLT 2017: Day 1

Today was day one of the international foreign language teaching conference, or iFLT for short. IFLT is one of the biggest language conferences of the year and this is my first big one EVER and I am so excited. So many of the big names are here: Dr. Krashen, BVP, Sr. Wooly, Grant Boulanger, Kristy Placido, Carol Gaab, Carrie Toth, Linda Li, Bryce Hedstrom, flat Martina Bex, me… okay, just kidding about me, but you get the point. I’m a little star struck (I still haven’t gotten the guts to ask Sr. Wooly for a selfie yet) but one of the best thing so far is that all these master teachers? They don’t think they’re hot stuff. They’re not standoffish in any way. They are just regular teachers like you and me and anyone else out there. They could be any of my coworkers, any of my friends. I haven’t even bothered properly introducing myself to half the people I’ve met, I just barge in like ‘HI I’M @SRTAJOHNSONEBHS FROM TWITTER WE TWEET AT EACH OTHER AND IT’S FUN’ and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. So, thanks fellow iFLT participants for letting me be my awkward self. It seems to be working so far – I’ve had so many amazing conversations with novice teachers, experienced teachers, newbies to CI, veterans to CI, teachers from just down the highway in Omaha, and teachers from Alaska AND Hawaii today as well as all long the eastern coast. (Hoping to go international tomorrow! Aaaand also force myself to speak some proper español since I have the opportunity.)

Keynote speaker – Sr. Wooly

I didn’t really take notes during Sr. Wooly’s speech because… it’s Sr. Wooly, and it’s a keynote speech. And also if I talk about it too much, I’m going to ruin a lot of his major points/punchlines and he’ll have to write another one. However, the main topic of his speech was addressing the inauthenticity that we feel. In his case, his inauthenticity as a musician, considering he is not the one who sits down and actually plays all the instruments and such on all his wonderful songs. When he started, he was just using prerecorded loops from Garage Band. He then skillfully tied this feeling of inauthenticity to the way that many language teachers – especially, I think, Spanish teachers – feel about their language in that they are not native speakers and therefore, are they “inauthentic” sources of language and therefore corrupting their students’ language abilities EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION?


Sr. Wooly’s point was this: did communication occur? Then it was authentic. The words coming from our mouths, our students’ mouths may not be perfect, but they are our words, that we used for communication, and that is authenticity.

Aaaaand then he realized he was way over time and blah blah blah and that was kind of funny but it’s SEÑOR WOOLY so it was fine.

Forum room sessions

At this point in the day, we were all split into our various tracks. The beginner TPRS and TCI people went to their basic “how to” workshops. The intermediates were split up into groups and it sounded like they did more refining of skills they probably already have like PQA, how to teach with a novel, adding detail to a story, backwards design, etc. I was in the experienced track, so our first round was a forum session. This was where a big room was designated with small groups that were more like discussion groups on different topics that were about 15 minutes apiece. Due to the keynote running over, I only attended 2 sessions.

Session 1.1 – Advocating for acquisition instruction – Faith Laux

In this group, the name sums up the purpose quite well. We discussed where we taught and how our districts felt about acquisition, and how there could be challenges from administration, parents, and other teachers. One point that could help teachers who would like to advocate but need a position to start from is to use data, especially nationally normed data like the test from ACTFL. It also helps to come from a position of authority, not defense – after all, you are the language acquisition expert in the room. Finally, we discussed how it helps (when possible) to have a veteran CI language teacher to mentor newer teachers, especially if they did not learn the language through CI, or were trained how to teach in a CI fashion in college. This is one topic that I feel like we could’ve absolutely used an entire 1.5 hour session to discuss advocacy because it is still a huge hurdle in our field where I think many of our colleagues need some support.

Session 1.2 – Basing your curriculum on novels – Kristy Placido

This group, facilitated by Kristy Placido (who knows a thing or two about teaching with novels) was run more like a Q&A session.

How can I keep novels engaging? The teacher’s guides have many ideas for adding content, especially if you are new to a novel or teaching novels in general. When in doubt, err on the side of too easy rather than too hard.

My students all have different interests. How do I keep them interested in the same class novel? Use different tricks to access all your students. Class discussions, act out parts, different hooks as you go, etc. Offer your major resisters/fast finishers a different book. Or maybe consider switching to an FVR program entirely.

How long should I spend on a novel? That’s a tough question. It’s hard to balance the momentum of keeping the book going versus getting enough repetitions of target structures for language acquisition. If you pre-teach vocabulary, you can get through the book a lot easier.

Bottom line: You know your students! Make decisions based on YOUR kids. And a lot of marketing!

Leader launch sessions

The next round of sessions in the expert track were “leader launch” sessions which were short, 20-minute sessions on a topic, but in a lecture style (as opposed to the discussion style of the forum sessions).

Session 2.1 – 10-line Story Starters – Carla Tarini

In this presentation, Carla gave a fabulous presentation on how to quickly and easily prep a story skeleton about a “Seinfeld topic” –  a whole lotta nothing. Her trick is to write a story of just 10 lines, 3 of which are your typical TPRS story start (there is a person, they have a problem, this is their problem) but the trick is, the person is someone around school and she likes to take pictures of them having that problem. Her examples were very silly, like the super muscular teacher who couldn’t open a pickle jar, or another teacher who lost a shoe, or the band teacher who couldn’t play the piano. Then she showed how a story skeleton of 10 sentences can be easily expanded and/or adjusted to a different level by: changing the tense it’s written in, adding questions, adding negative details, including rejoinders, adding dialogue. I’m very comfortable writing stories but I thought this would be an A+++ presentation for beginner or intermediate practitioners.

Session 2.2 – Games for the CI Classroom – Rebecca Jobe/Sandy Flores

Again, the name gives away the topic. But they gave us a physical handout, so too bad for you!

Session 2.3 – Pass It On! Supporting the Next Generation of Teachers by Mentoring! – Becky Moulton

In this session, Becky talked about the difficulties of starting as a new CI teacher, but thankfully there is help: mentoring! She shared some of her personal experiences mentoring but I feel like 20 minutes wasn’t really enough for her to share as much as she would’ve liked.

Session 3 – Beyond MovieTalk – Cynthia Hitz

In this session, Cynthia gave us some ideas on what to do around a MovieTalk. This session assumed you already what MovieTalk was and how to do (and so will this post, for the sake of getting this thing published before January). As Carol Gaab says, the brain craves novelty! So I wanted to go to this session because I know my MovieTalk game gets very stale very quickly.

If you have a chance to catch this one in person, I really recommend it because Cynthia’s presentation gives a lot of concrete examples that don’t make sense if you don’t see the video or haven’t used that resource yourself. But here are some generic ideas to do before and/or after your MovieTalk (and you don’t even have to tell the kids it’s part of a video!) to get those previous reps in:

Make a slideshow of stills from the video and have students put them in order, match captions to the picture, describe the picture, make predictions on what will happen, etc. (Remember Sr. Wooly pro subscribers – he already made the stills for you!)

Post-watching activity: if there are characters, have students create a chart describing the characters and then use inside-outside circle to describe the character and the other student has to guess who is being described

To add more reading or listening:

  • Read/say the statement with a given picture. Ss decide, did it happen before or after the picture?
  • Cloze reading
  • True/false statements
  • Who did it in the story?
  • Embedded reading
  • Use screenshots for retells
  • Which picture am I describing?
  • New ending

In other words… a lot of the same stuff you might do with a regular story, just with the video as your inspiration. Variations on a theme. However, this list is handy when you’re having a brain freeze!

Session 4 – La Persona Especial – Bryce Hedstrom

I was very excited to see this session because I had just started using La Persona Especial in my classroom a couple years ago and I love it. It speaks to me as a touchy-feely teacher who wants everyone to feel good about being in my room, and it speaks to me as a language teacher who knows that the affective filter must be low for proper language acquisition. Bryce believes that part of the reason La Persona Especial is so effective is that it combines learning WITH people’s need to be socially engaged. This agrees heavily with the research proposed by Kagan, but also anecdotally what I’ve seen in my classroom. When students get to work together on content, they don’t feel like it’s a chore.

I didn’t take many notes on this session because honestly, Bryce didn’t get very far into his powerpoint before it turned into more of a mini-demo + teacher-talk about what he was doing and why. One good question from the group was, “My students are all the same age, in the same grade, from the same town… they lose interest in those questions.” Bryce’s answer, in retrospect, was kind of obvious but a lot of teachers are afraid to break the tried-and-true system for fear of messing it up, but he said, “So don’t ask them.” He also answered a question about how to deal with the interviewee saying, for example, “I’m Polish.” and the inevitable chorus of “I’m Polish too” “Well I’m German” “I’m 1/108th Blackfoot Sioux on my dad’s side” in which you acknowledge that the other students said something by saying your teacher phrases of “Oh, that’s nice” or “How interesting” but your body language stays focused on your interviewee, showing that they still have your focus, and then you direct the conversation right back to them.

I also missed the last 20 minutes or so due to a thankfully-false-alarm pet emergency at home so I was on the phone in the hallway, but I’m sure they discussed super smart things. Bryce seems to be a super cool, down to earth guy so even if you’re an experienced user of La Persona Especial, it’s nice to hear how he would handle some of the issues that crop up in your room since guess what! It’s happened to him too!

I think that’s enough for today. The next post should be noticeably shorter since there are only four 1.5 hour sessions today rather than the mini-sessions. Sorry for any typos, this post was very poorly proofread!


2 thoughts on “iFLT 2017: Day 1

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences with those of us following iFLT 2017 through the tweets and blogs of the attendees. Greatly appreciated!!

    • You are so welcome! Blogging helps me process my experiences and I made my switch to CI through reading blog after blog after blog after blog, so I know the value. If you can ever make it to one in person, though… totally worth it.

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