ACTFL 2018: 10 Takeaways & Reflections

Noah Geisel
Nov 20, 2018 · 6 min read
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Friends of World Languages were excited to join us in New Orleans!

Don’t sleep on the Poster Sessions

If you can ignore the castoff placement of the sessions and the awkwardness of making eye contact with lonely presenters at tables that aren’t being visited, these sessions can be gold mines.

One of the coolest things I learned this year was at Fátima Cornwall’s poster session. This Boise State instructor had her advanced Spanish students collaborate with the local Make A Wish Foundation chapter to translate forms for parents and to help the patients write their letters. The result is that an amazing program that had historically only served white English speakers recently sent their first terminally ill Spanish speaking child to Disney World.

Amazing!!! I love this so much, both because it shows how we can do meaningful PBL in the target language and because it models one way to ensure that 20 years from now, learners experience in our language class will be something they remember.

Authentic Resources are in. Big time.

I’m old enough to remember a time when this term didn’t even exist in most language teaching conversations. In a short period of time, it’s gone from a non-issue, to a fringe issue to a front-and-center topic. There were many sessions addressing the topic and vendors in the exhibitor hall pitching solutions to this need. No matter what language you teach, you have obsessive colleagues who’ve done a lot of leg work for you and you’re just a Pinterest search away from discovering it.

Representation Matters and people are starting to notice

During the opening session at this year’s conference, there was a singing performance by a choir. And for some attendees, it was more than just a nice song, it was evidence that the organization values people seeing themselves represented in the people whom they see on the main stage.

And it didn’t stop with the opening session. There were breakouts that also addressed the importance of representation in our classroom lessons.

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Slide from April Broussard + Rhashida Hilliard’s amazing ACTFL 2018 presentation

April Broussard and Rhashida Hilliard led a powerful session called Intentional Representation in the Culturally Relevant World Language Classroom. They shared a slide with a “typical French man” image that drove home for me how intentional we have to be in order to offer language learners inclusive representation in our content.

Fact is, French is spoken in a lot of countries and this image is far from typical in almost all of them. And yet it’s pretty easy for French students to go through many of our programs without realizing that.

Intercultural Competencies are red hot

For those new this term, according to the NCSSFL Interculturality Can-Do Statements, Intercultural Competence “is the demonstration of interaction between the use of language skills and cultural knowledge.” I think it’s super important stuff. And based on this year’s conference, a lot of people agree.

There were over a dozen sessions with “Intercultural Competence” in the title and many more that addressed the topic. During the pre-conference NADSFL gathering of district supervisors, there was a dedicated workshop. The quality varied widely but I’d rather know that we are stumbling our way through lots of these conversations than worry they aren’t occurring at all!

Platitudes are inspirational but Content is king. Stuff for Monday.

I attended Heather Sherrow’s session based on Jim Ventosa’s stellar recommendation and she did not disappoint.

And the other teachers in the room were all over it as well. While she shared a unit so robust it would take 2 months to complete it all, the more important piece is that she shared the resources to actually allow attendees to make it their own on Monday morning.

A fave share was the activity using People’s 50 más bellos. Students are surveyed about the winners’ characteristics and analyze the data and compare it with typical Latin American characteristics. Powerful!

Our profession’s talent pool is deep

There were a lot of well-known presenters whose proposals didn’t get accepted into the ACTFL program this year. People who often have standing-room-only sessions were left out of the program. And yet the world didn’t end and the conference didn’t fail. In fact, it was one of my favorite conventions I’ve attended.

I’m sure it was a gut punch for the all of the amazing presenters who didn’t get in. As servant leaders who are doing this for others, not ourselves, I hope that most will take solace in knowing that the language teaching profession has an abundance of riches when it comes to talented educators wanting to share their work with others. The community is in good hands.

Gatekeepers don’t have a monopoly

The exhibitor hall at ACTFL demonstrated that those who have amazingness to share with language educators need not fear the legacy brands stifling their ability to get quality products in front of teachers.

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Señor Wooly has built a subscription model independent of a large publisher. The CI Posse has a co-op style approach that allows individual authors to band together and get audience together while owning their own materials. Upstart publisher Syncretic Press offers beautiful Spanish language children’s books that you can’t find anywhere else. They travel to book fairs and discover the authors and become their exclusive publisher. If you’re thinking of starting something, now is the time to go it!

Teachers Pay Teachers isn’t just about side hustles

One of the most special moments of the many I experienced at this year’s ACTFL Convention was during the Q&A at the end of Adrienne Bradenburg and Mary Beth Johnson’s session for Heritage Spanish Teachers, when an attendee raised her hand and told Adrienne, “Your resources have saved my life this year. They’re amazing!”

We have colleagues earning a little extra on (and we have a few who are earning a lot extra). The point is they are earning it. People buy their resources because they are offering supply for a clear demand. They are positively impacting teaching and learning and they deserved to be recognized and celebrated for it.

Big conferences remain relevant

While there’s plenty that organizers focused on continuous improvement can do better, the fact is that this is a valuable conference. People come and are inspired. In a connected world that allows us to learn beyond our four walls all day, every day, it’s worth noting and appreciating that a big clunky once-a-year event like this continues to be highly engaging and worthwhile.

Leadership legacies are awesome

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Marty Abbott founded ACTFL’s Teacher of the Year program. At this year’s conference, past participants had the opportunity to thank her with poems.

This was a bittersweet convention for many as it was the last for ACTFL’s Executive Director, Marty Abbott, who has announced that she is retiring from the position.

Marty was a legendary language teacher and past ACTFL President before she took on this role, one which requires distinct skills sets from teaching, such as managing an 8 figure budget, delivering multiple member publications each quarter, managing nationwide advocacy efforts and overseeing professional development, including the annual ACTFL Convention.

Part of what she leaves us with is the exemplar of her own journey and the sense that any of us who has the desire to lead and is audacious enough to believe that we can lead, should lead. She has elevated dozens of other educators into leadership roles and their work will continue to feed and shape her own legacy.

Marty’s legacy will be a grand one and I’m grateful for all she has done to Lead with Languages!

Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, please click to 👏👏👏 to recommend it to others! If you have thoughts to add, pushback or anything else to share about this, I hope to learn from your own response post!

In addition to following Noah Geisel here on Medium, you can find him at SenorG on Twitter. Some other posts you might like:

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