Saturday, November 25, 2017

ACTFL 2017 - Reflections and Strategies

ACTFL 2017 has come and gone, followed by a busy week of in-service, a pie-baking fundraising event at my house (70+ pumpkin pies made by students, another teacher and me), Thanksgiving preparations and the crazy Black Friday frenzy. Finally, things have calmed down and I have time to reflect on ACTFL and to ENCOURAGE you to go to next year's conference. If next year doesn't work for you, I listed the upcoming ACTFL conferences. Maybe you'll find one closer to you. 

2018 - New Orleans, LA
2019 - Washington, DC
2020 - San Antonio, TX
2021 - San Diego, CA

This was the 5th time I attended ACTFL and my strategies to make the most of the conference have evolved throughout the years. Below are my ACTFL17 reflections and strategies on how I tackled ACTFL17. 


Conversations: it's not all daisies & rainbows.
Professional development comes in many different forms. ACTFL, and other conferences, provide teachers with an organized format with sessions that cover a multitude of topics. There are hundreds of opportunities to learn at sessions from experienced teachers that have prepared hour presentations with what they deem worthy to be shared. 

ACTFL roomies and friends, Krista & Marta
However, for me, the most powerful PD is interactions and personal conversations with other teachers. For the last two years, I have attended ACTFL with two of my colleagues, Krista, who teaches at my school, and Marta, who teaches in Wisconsin. Our conversations during travel to and from the conference cities, walks or transportation to the conference centers, lunch breaks, and evenings are often centered around the sessions we have attended and discussing the value of the information from the presenters and how we currently use those strategies or how we want to incorporate them into our classroom instruction.

On Thursday night of the conference in Nashville, Krista, Marta, and I, ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant and shared our classroom experiences with story listening and story telling. The growth during those conversations was spurred on by the ability to stop the one speaking and ask for clarification, ask "what if" questions, and ask for advice when not all of us were experiencing the same results.

I may be going out on a limb on this thought, but one HUGE benefit of small group conversations, one that seems taboo to mention, is the safety and freedom to share our failures and frustrations in the classroom. How many times have you heard someone present on "X" topic and how it has been the answer to all their teaching challenges. You look around the room and see many attendees nodding their heads in agreement, but you have not had the same experience? Right then, surrounded by other devoted language teachers, you make the false assumption that you are in the minority. Believe me, you are NOT! ALL teachers have challenges, even if they don't admit them.

Truly powerful personal conversations, include and embrace learning from others' mistakes and failures and challenges. Are you serious about growing as a professional? Then be honest with yourself about the areas in which you struggle and the strategies that have not worked for you, and include them in your conversations. 

When you do this, one of two things will happen: 

1. The other person will open up and tell you what obstacles he (or she) overcame to make the strategy or method work for him. He will tell you about the difficulties and the times he was ready to throw in the towel. He'll share how he felt when a lesson flopped or when administration questioned him on his techniques. Then, eventually, he'll share how he worked through those challenges and what he found to be helpful, AND how he continues to face challenges with students, or colleagues, or parents, or administrators. He is careful not to make a general comparison your classes with his classes because he knows he is not comparing apples to apples; your school situation, students, community, curriculum requirements, etc. are different and need to be taken into account.  
This type of conversation with honesty and openness, is a precursor to tremendous growth for both you and the others in the conversation. Group growth - now that is powerful and impactful!


2. The other person will suggest what you can do to be more successful. No mention of, or severely limited discourse on, struggles. End of conversation, move on to another subject. Perfectly good intentions on the person's behalf, but not the in-depth, tell it like it is answer from which you would most benefit.
You can learn from this conversation, but the growth is limited and may even have an "expiration date". (I'll leave that, as is, for you ponder upon.)  

Hmmm, this makes me wonder if there needs to be a session at ACTFL named, "Plan C, What to do after Plan A and Plan B bomb." 

The second night of the conference, Marta, Krista, and I accepted a
Photo credit: Annabelle Allen
dinner invitation for those that were helping at the Fluency Matters booth (thank you Carol). Once again, surrounded by other language teachers from the US, there were many mini-conversations related to teaching and our favorite sessions thus far at ACTFL. Saturday evening was yet another gathering of language teachers in a less formal setting at an airbnb (thank you Jim), and you guessed it, more conversations related to teaching, and music by some very talented language teachers.

Make it work for you.  As I was waiting for an ended session to clear and charging my phone, I saw Leslie Davison on her way to a session. Because her phone needed juice, we had the time to chat a little before heading off in different directions. She gave me advice that I followed later in the day. 

I had several great CI sessions that were on my list to attend, but for various reasons I was looking for additional options (for example, I had heard one of the presentations at least one time before). Leslie said that often she finds sessions that are not specifically targeted to CI teachers. Then she takes the information from the presenters and changes them to fit into her style of teaching. After I had the mindset of doing what Leslie does, it made my choice for a session later in the day much easier. 

Strategies for a successful ACTFL experience

Make a list of sessions to attend. At ACTFL there are hundreds of sessions with 60+ sessions at each time slot. When ACTFL published the online program months before the conference I started planning which sessions to attend. To find beneficial sessions to me in my teaching journey, I searched for presenters in my PLN that have similar philosophies about teaching, and searched for keywords such as: comprehensible input, CI, 90% target language, acquisition, etc.   

Those hundreds of sessions means EVERYONE will benefit by going to ACTFL. Not only do the teachers benefit, but their students also benefit when their teacher receives solid professional development and returns to the classroom and with newfound knowledge and eager to practice skills in their classrooms. 

The ACTFL app. I used the ACTFL app to add a few back-up sessions to attend in case my first and second choices were packed with no seating, standing, or floor space remaining, or if after a few minutes in the session I discovered the session was not what I had expected. (When I need to leave a session to search for another one that will be more beneficial to me, I do so quietly and respectfully.)

Check the Twitter feed, #ACTFL17.  Every year there are sessions in the same time slot and I have to make a decision between several great topics. What to do? Choose one and check the twitter feed to find information on the one 
I missed. If you have a friend attending that is also torn between the same two sessions, split up and take notes for each other. Also, check the ACTFL site for uploaded handouts that the presenter(s) may have shared.

Take time to show/voice your appreciation. Presenting at a National Conference, such as ACTFL, can be intimidating, especially if it is your first time (or second, or third, etc). If you enjoyed a session and plan to implement some of the ideas presented during the session, let the presenter(s) know! 

I attended a session of 4 presenters that (I think) was their first ACTFL presentation. They had a packed room with an overflow of attendees standing along the wall, at the back of the room, and many on the floor. With the number attending, it made some of their planned activities less successful, but the overall presentation was not negatively impacted. They shared what they were doing in their classrooms and demonstrated several of the activities. 

At the end of the presentation they listed their emails which made it super easy to shoot them an email to tell them I enjoyed the session. If you have presented, then you know how much that type of feedback is appreciated and may be the difference for someone to submit a proposal in the future.

Find the Treasures in the Exhibit Hall. I have an obsession with novels and readers that provide comprehensible input to my students, so every chance I have at conferences, I seek out new books to buy for my students. 

Those books are my treasures at ACTFL, but there are many other treasures. You can talk to the authors and creators of products that you use in your classrooms. Publishers often use ACTFL as an opportunity to debut new products. For example, before the conference, Sr. Wooly announced there was a special something waiting for ACTFL attendees that others would have to wait until next year to obtain. I investigated that and discovered it was Gorro, (Billy la Bufanda's friend) and I promptly bought a Gorro hat.  

I have to mention the snacks throughout the exhibit hall. Exhibitors are well stocked with small gifts and sweets to those passing by. We hit the jackpot when Concordia Languages had real snacks and coffee for attendees on Friday, just the ticket to keep your energy level up throughout the day.

And so, ACTFL came to a close on Sunday. I arrived home late on Sunday evening after two flights, a long wait in baggage claim, and a 90 minute drive home. I was exhausted, but glad I had some high quality professional development in November and ready to hit the ground running when classes resume after Thanksgiving break.

I presented at ACTFL again this year, but it was a new experience because it was the first time I presented with Marta Yedinak. My plans are to write a short blog post about our presentation, Engaging Students in the Story Listening Experience.


  1. I was there! I wish I would have hunted you down to chat! I'll find you in New Orleans!

    1. I would have liked that - chatting with WL teachers at conferences is THE BEST!!