Conference brain dump!

I'm at the MaFLA Proficiency Academy, and boy, do I have a lot of thinking going on in my head. I can't hope to consolidate it all into anything coherent at this point, but I do feel like I need to write some of my thoughts down to help clarify my thinking. So here are my (incoherent, half-formed) thoughts about what I have learned about proficiency-oriented instruction so far. (I'm basing all of my realizations and goals on Greta Lundgaard's presentation at this conference, and any mistakes or misconceptions are, of course, my own.)

Realization: I don't have to be afraid of teaching grammar. 

Goal: Develop activities that help students acquire grammar in context.

In fact, I should be teaching grammar! Just in a way that supports a classroom that is friendly to "discovery learning." @gretafromtexas deconstructed the ACTFL core practice of "teach grammar as a concept and use it in context". She unpacked strategies like structured input, concept attainment and the PACE model, all of which I had kind of been using but not sure I was applying them in the right way. These strategies differ in some ways, but share some similarities like presenting/providing whole language input and asking students to notice patterns and attributes of focus structures long before requiring any real output. I want to process this (and develop my own activities) before I go more in depth on this topic here, but this is a blog post about teaching grammar in context that I found helpful pre-conference.

Realization: I try to teach too much vocabulary. 

Goal: Prioritize vocabulary that is NEEDED FOR PRODUCTION.

"Too much, too fast--it won't last." Did you know that our working memory can hold only about 7 pieces of information? I actually did know this but never thought about the implications for my instructional practice. I was--am--loath to give up my Quizlet vocab sets because: 1, they are easy; 2, they are fun (hellooooo Quizlet Live); 3, students want them. I even cut them down from 20-25 terms to "just" 15ish words and phrases! But for a long time I have had this gnawing feeling that those lists provide a false sense of security for me and my students. How much learning is really happening with those lists? How much language are my students really acquiring through them? And it's completely false to think that I can provide them with all the random vocabulary that they will ever need. They can supply the random-ness by personalizing the content to their needs. So, it's time to rethink how I teach vocabulary in the same way that I've been rethinking how I teach grammar. I have a feeling that the approaches share a lot in common. Amy Lenord's "Liberation from the List" presentation can explain this a lot better than I can at this point. 

Realization: My Can-Dos are too checklist-y. 

Goal: Think of Can-Dos as points on a learning progression or trajectory. 

I can write can-do statements until the cows come home, but the piece that was missing for me was how to sequence them so that they build up to a bigger, longer-lasting, proficiency-oriented goal. Greta talked about "thin" vs. "thick" can-dos: a thick can-do can be broken down into thin can-dos; a thick can-do is a unit (or term or course) goal, while a thin can-do can be a lesson goal, a stop along the way. Please take the following examples with a HUGE grain of salt. They represent works in progress. 

Some thin can-dos, from a Spanish 1 unit I taught last year: 

  • I can say hello and goodbye in formal and informal situations.
  • I can introduce myself and provide basic information. 
  • I can introduce someone else.
  • I can respond to an introduction. 
  • I can ask and answer questions about my likes and dislikes. 
  • I can ask a few simple questions for information, such as name, age, and origin.   
  • I can tell my age. 

A learning progression or trajectory of thin can-dos leading to a thick can-do, from my unfinished reworking of the same unit. Note that the BIG Can-Do is a course goal, which I am trying to break down into unit and lesson goals:

BIG Can-Do (content, function, culture):  I can communicate in a conversation with my partner by asking questions and responding meaningfully.

Learning progression:
  • I can say my name and ask others to tell their names.
    • Learning check(s):
      • Q + A in the circle
  • I can tell my age and ask and tell others’ ages.
    • Learning check(s):
      • Inductive/discovery activity for numbers
      • Structured Input activity: match picture/name with age phrase (____ tiene quince años)
      • Q + A in the circle 
  • I can tell where I am from and ask/tell where others are from.
    • Learning check(s): 
  • I can introduce myself and ask others to introduce themselves.
    • Learning check(s):

Realization: The tools I have been using for lesson and unit development might not be helping me anymore. Gasp!

Objective: Get creative about my workflow. 

I've been using Evernote forever for lesson and unit planning (see a previous blog post about how I use it). I don't think I'm committed to abandoning Evernote, but I am ready to acknowledge that the plan templates I've developed and adapted aren't fully serving my needs anymore. I'm just not sure yet how my planning workflow needs to change. Mapping and diagramming and drawing and creating schemata are really helpful for me; I do need to find something that will help me integrate my new learning into my instructional practice. Maybe it'll come to me in my sleep tonight! 

Are you at the Proficiency Academy? What are your takeaways?