Presenting a Session at a Conference

This post is about presenting a session and as an example I am sharing one I presented at MaFLA 2018 called Cartoons, Sitcoms, and Competition Shows: French television as authentic resources. The set of slides for the presentation and all the handouts are linked below. You may enjoy those resources for your own classroom and not just as an example of how to present a session at a conference.

I am an advocate for teacher leaders. I think that experienced educators can help other teachers with their planning, instruction and assessment. We are generous with our students and we can be just as giving with other professionals, and it benefits us all. There are many ways to do this. What I have found that works for me is to help others with instruction by showing them my discoveries along the way. I know that other teachers have their own style, so I share my ideas as a start, hoping that they might be inspired to try my activity and make it their own.

I attempt to share with other teachers through conversations at work, through shared curriculum files with teachers in my district and by gathering with teachers from other towns in a Professional Learning Community. And then I like to share my activities with a wider audience through presenting at professional conferences. I am new to this, having only presented twice at the state level and once at the national level. There may be multiple conferences that are accessible for you. For me there are opportunities at the national, regional and state level:

  • The ACTFL Annual Convention and World Languages Expo — national, moves between locations, but comes to Boston and DC regularly. Usually held the week before Thanksgiving. Proposal are due in January.
  • Northeast Conference in New York City. Usually held the second weekend of February. Proposals are due in May.
  • MaFLA Conference in Springfield, MA. Usually held the fourth weekend in October. Proposals are due in April.

Each organization has a different approach to conferences. Check the website to better understand on what basis they will accept a proposal so you can tailor your session according.

To present at a conference, you will need a great idea for a session. While much of your own personal magic is your teaching style and how you build relationships with your students, in order to showcase those skills you start with a something new and cutting-edge to catch the interest of your attendees. The new technique will offer you a chance to showcase your style of teaching. At my state conference last year, the new idea that I highlighted was Picture Talk, my own version of Movie Talk, which proved to be a new instructional tool at the conference that got a lot of buzz. Some of the attendees had experience with Movie Talk and for them I was able to share how I use it. Some had heard of it but hadn’t tried it and for them I could show them the way. And, for still others it was a new idea and I could lead them to take a risk to try something new. I was able to give all these teachers a new tool for their tool box.

Once you have that new idea to share, then you will need to find your objective and content for your presentation. My overall objective was to show other teachers ideas for how to provide input in the proficiency-based classroom. And the content I decided to present was French television. I chose the content because I knew that I had a lot of examples and experiences about television to share with teachers. It has been my experience that attendees love to walk away with a folder full of resources to try out. They want to try activities that are already done for them before trying to create their own.

French television shows

You will find my presentation and my shared materials in this folder. I urge you to share what you know with other teachers by presenting a session at a conference.  You will undoubtedly be happy with the results as your fellow teachers will be ecstatic to benefit from what you have discovered along the way.

Making a Project a Task

Inspired by the book While we’re on the Topic by Bill Van Patten, I have been thinking about how tasks, as opposed to activities, fit into my teaching. And mostly recently, I have been exploring how a project in the World Language proficiency classroom can become a task. My most clear understanding of a task in this context is when students research, write up and present information, the class then does something with that information, like infer, rank, rate, group or compare.

In this example, students present information in a guessing game format and the rest of the students have to infer who the person is that is being described. Then, when students present a famous French-speaking person, the rest of the class listens to rate, rank, group and compare the people.

Please access documents from the folder or linked below.

  1. I begin with a pretest to see what famous French-speaking people the students know by asking the area of expertise of the person. I do this as a google form and after we share the answers in charts. (You can copy mine from the folder linked above and edit it.) Then we do a guessing game. The teacher reveals one by one twenty clues in French on slides about an American or internationally known celebrity. After each clue, the students write down a guess. They can change their mind as to who it is along the way, but at the end they have twenty guesses written down. The last slide is the picture and name of the person. To score, they tally how many times they wrote the correct answer.
  2. Students in pairs create their own guessing games about an American or internationally known celebrity. They use my presentation for some language and ideas on how to build clues from general to more specific. They are very quiet and secret about their person. I gave my students a template to fill out with clues and a template for the slides, which I shared with them online.
  3. The student-generated guessing games begin. In my class I had all the games submitted to me and was able to present them without the class knowing the authors. I read the clues. There are many surprises and laughs. Nobody shares how many points they got because that isn’t the point, but it makes it fun.
  4. Now for their individual projects students chose a famous French-speaking person from a list. I go over the project overview and some useful vocabulary. They fill out a note taking form about the person by researching them online. Then, their project is to make five slides about that person to present to the class or a poster with a crossword that asks for information on the person.
  5. Students finish their projects. As they finish, they get paired up and the students who are presenting practice with a partner. Students finish their work for homework.
  6. Student presentations. The other students fill out this organizer while listening to presentations. Then, students read the posters, take more notes and do the crossword puzzles.
  7. In a post-test in a Google form (found in the folder linked above) students rate the people they heard about for how interesting they were. The teacher then displays the ratings as graphs and the class discusses. The teacher shows the findings from another class or the year before and the class compares. Next, students group the people they heard about in terms of area of expertise with a handout. And then, students rank the people based on different criteria. The class, in an effort to use student opinion to inform instruction, then go back to the teacher’s original list of people to study and edit the document for the following year’s students, commenting on whether there are enough people listed for an area of expertise and whether the people listed are interesting enough to warrant researching. The class conversation is in French and the teacher jumps in to ask guiding questions, like “why do you feel that way?”, “what did that person achieve?” and “what was that person’s contribution to society?” The students refer to their notes as they discuss.

In order to clearly explain this technique, I have another example for you on another theme, for a unit I call “Le style des jeunes”. Students are asked do a presentation of what clothing middle school students wear, each student presenting 2 outfits. While the other students are listening to the presentations they take notes in a graphic organizer and after the presentations I have the students complete this task where they are asked to evaluate what students wear and why.

Building Relationships between language teachers

Some language teachers are the only one or one of a few in their building. Other language teachers have a department to rely on, but may be in a different place in their professional development than their colleagues. I have a great colleague who I talk to every day and in years past I planned with a colleague on a regular basis. Whatever your situation, we can all benefit from building relationships with other language teachers. I am going to address building relationships outside of your own district by joining your state’s professional development organization, forming a professional learning group and creating an online presence.

I hope you have already joined your state’s professional development organization. In Massachusetts ours is Massachusetts Foreign Language Association and like most of them nationally, we have a newsletter, online site, workshops and annual conference. Over the years of attending the annual conference, I have come to know other language teachers who I have interacted with outside of the conference from time to time.

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Vegetable in the médina in Rabat, Alexndra LeComte

But for me the best thing to happen was that I joined the board of directors last year. Serving on the board, volunteering at the conference and presenting at the conference have put me in touch with dynamic teachers across the state. You can volunteer and present at the annual conference without joining the board yet consider applying to get to know other language teachers and administrators.

It is important to realize that sometimes you need to take the first step to bring people together instead of waiting for others to contact you. Be confident. Even those teachers who in your eyes may be stronger or further on the journey most likely would appreciate joining a professional learning group. My experience was that all I had to do was ask and a group of talented educators was happy to come together once every two months to discuss new strategies, articles, adopting a standards-based grading system and discuss chapters of a useful book. In my group there is a French teacher who presents nationally, a department head and other teachers like me who are still finding their way.

If you are reading this blog, you are seeing me model a strategy that I would advise to other teachers, create an online presence. There is an online community who is out there gathering ideas from blogs. I have only 23 followers. Some of my posts have been read by over three hundred people, but not all. The most popular are the ones that are ready-to-use ideas. I am not bothered that my circle isn’t large as I am continuing to build it. The easiest way to start an online presence is on Twitter. I retweet authentic documents that can be useful in instruction and on occasion take a picture of something my students produced and post it. I also use Twitter to encourage others to read my latest blog posts. I have only two hundred followers, so I use hashtags to widen my audience, like #langchat, #fle and #authres. Online relationships have served me well. I have asked for help on Twitter and received it. I even had a teacher I never met revise my presentation for a conference. There is a Facebook page called Musique Mercredi where I have received new ideas and activities as well as posted some of my own. I may never meet in person any of the members of my online community, but relationships with them have been valuable.

We are social beings and learn great things from others. I encourage you to build relationships with other language teachers.

A refreshing new idea: Organic World Language

Jacqueline from Organic World Languages came to our K-12 World Language department today to teach how to do a language circle. I was very excited for the session as my interest in OWL has been building since I attended a short workshop by them at ACTFL. I find their approach to be a good new tool for my teaching seeing that it focuses on community building, staying in the target language and making language learning engaging.

What is a language circle? I am nowhere near an expert on the topic after an hour long training, but I am intrigued to learn more. OWL offers full sessions on the topic. You can learn more via at owlanguage.com, which was my first step and how I decided that I wanted to incorporate the language circle into my teaching. The language circle is getting students into a circle to communicate with each other. Students are given a few chunks of language and then are asked in pairs to express their own meaning with the new language. This was a very freeing step for me. I quickly found once students are out from behind their desks and looking each other in the eye, there is increased communication. We were getting in more pair work more quickly and the number of times each student speaks has skyrocketed.

Classroom management is a strong component of OWL. Much like the clap echoing back and forth that we all learned from Responsive Classroom, OWL employs physical movement to refocus students when they first come to the circle and at other transition points. For example, after students communicate in pairs, the teacher says “un, deux, trois” and then claps and the students clap with her. Or, students are asked to touch their nose, touch their toes and touch their shoulders. The class comes back together to listen to the teacher without the teacher raising her voice.

In OWL Gestures are used to convey meaning. The teacher enthusiastically over-acts the gesture and repeats many times to express the new words. Words are made understandable through acting and then students use the new chunks of language right away. I need to spend more time learning about this approach in order to understand if the input is quite as rich as language learners need. Right now it seems that the teacher gives the input and attaches meaning to it through gesture or picture and I didn’t hear anything about the interpretive mode through reading or listening today, but again, I haven’t received the full training. Currently, with my limited exposure, this seems like another strategy for my toolbox and then I can use authentic documents and TPRS for further input.

In conclusion, an interesting approach to explore. The best new idea I have discovered in a while. I would recommend that you check out OWL.

Who to see @ACTFL 2016

ACTFL 2016, the national conference on language teaching, is taking place in Boston this weekend. It is an opportunity to hear about current trends in language education. Last year when I attended the conference in San Diego, it took a lot of time on Twitter to prioritize which presenters’ sessions to attend. I took interest in the teachers who were active on #langchat, the ones who were making comments that showed the merit of their practice. In addition, I relied on the list of ACTFL Teachers of the Year as they are all excellent professionals.

In case you don’t have the time to do your own research, I want to share with you a handful of excellent presenters that you can catch this year.

  • Catherine Ousselin is a Digital Literacy Coach and French teacher. She has attended MaFLA in the past, so maybe you have already heard her speak. She is a leader in the area of technology. When the site Photo de Classe came online recently, its merits were obvious to French teachers and so I am intrigued to find out how Catherine uses it. Photo de Classe: Connecting Origins, Family and Identity Using Global Units. Friday 11am-12pm
  • Amy Lenord is a Spanish teacher and is the #langchat moderator. Here she will be addressing whether or not vocabulary lists hold us back. Liberation from the Lists: Vocabulary Instruction without Limits. Friday 3:45-4:45pm
  • Nicole Naditz is a French teacher and was ACTFL teacher of the year in 2015. I blogged about her tips after ACTFL 2015 and can’t wait to hear what she has to say about Interpersonal communication for novice students. Breaking Through: Building Up to Spontaneous Communication from Year 1. Friday 3:45-4:45pm
  • Noah Geisel is a Spanish teacher and was ACTFL teacher of the year in 2013. The description of the sessions states that, “Mobile Storytelling… facilitates reciprocal communication with authentic audiences” I will get out of bed early Saturday morning and leave my husband with the kids to find out what “authentic audiences” means. When Digital isn’t Enough: The Magic of Mobile Storytelling. Saturday 8-9am
  • Sara-E. Cottrell is the Spanish teacher who is responsible for Musicuentos.com. Here she is addressing a very timely subject for me and my colleagues, how to use a text book. Textbook as Aid: Adapt, Incorporate and Ditch. Saturday 5:15-6:15pm

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Takeaways from Teacher of the Year Nicole Naditz

When you go to a conference, in a particular session the new idea you bring back to your classroom isn’t always the main point of the presentation. Nicole Naditz, at ACTFL 2015 in her session Learning As I Go, was hoping for just that. It was her wish, and this is how she introduced it, that each person in the session would find some unique point to inspire them. Indeed the two ideas I took away from her session were not the main concepts she was presenting.

In passing Nicole mentioned that she has a student greet the class every day. She credited the idea to a colleague. The reason why she brought this up was because she was showing us an online tool to gather student work. She showed us a video of a student who greeted the class with something like, “Bonjour, Classe. Je m’appelle Susan. Aujourd’hui, c’est le 22 novembre. Il fait un peu frais.” It was immediately apparent to me that of course students should do this type of introduction at the beginning of class instead of the teacher, cycling through students one by one each day. I also liked that the teacher with a phone had taken a quick video and dropped it into the electronic portfolio of that student.

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The second idea that was appealing to me was the idea to have students have time for free reading once a week. Free reading is a concept that is borrowed from the elementary classroom. Nicole encouraged us to pick a day, say Thursday, and every Thursday students would know to start class by choosing a book from the class library and spend 7 to 10 minutes reading. The students would then respond to their reading with a prompt from a menu of 7 to 10 options. Each week they would use a different prompt and at the end of a couple months the teacher collects the work.

I attended three different session where Nicole spoke and it was obvious why she was named teacher of the year.