Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Adventures in Untextbooking: ACTFL 2014

Myself, Miriam, and Bob during our presentation. Thanks to
Jon Valentine for taking this picture!

This year I was very excited at the chance to present Untextbooking at the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Convention.

The topic is one close to my heart; giving up textbooks is everything I'd hoped (awesome!) and feared (work!) it'd be. There are days, I won't lie, that I walk into my classroom, exhausted by the energy I pour in there and other facets of my life (family and grad school, in particular), and I just wish I could say "Class, turn to page 53, and do what the book says." I will write a post with suggestions for those days within the next couple of months, because I am working on activities that aren't as exhausting for the teacher. We all need breaks and downtime.

But in general, I am really, really happy with untextbooking. My students are more engaged, and learning more, than in any year previous. It's not magic; not every student buys in (though some of the hold outs are beginning to yield!) and even my most enthusiastic students have off days--they're teenagers. However, I have learned after over a decade of teaching that perfection doesn't exist. Instead, I look for improvement. And the improvement is all the sunshine and rainbows I could ask for.

My students can use "advanced" grammatical structures, and have been doing so since week six of Latin I (probably before that point, but that is the week I officially started using subjunctives in their readings). This is not because I'm a genius teacher or they are genius students. It's simply that I don't treat the structures like they're difficult, so my students don't know they aren't supposed to know them. We have focused on a much more limited vocabulary list than in previous years when I've been guided by a textbook, but I am able to make sure that the words are used over and over so that instead of throwing a bunch of spit wads at my students and hoping a few will stick, I can create a permanent vocabulary of useful words that students easily recall. I am excited about the things we read and I have the ability to change focus when my students' interest wanes. I love the flexibility and personalization available to me when I don't let a textbook rule my curriculum.

So, it's exciting to share this with other teachers and hopefully help them create a similar experience in their own classrooms.

This year's ACTFL was really, really good. I loved the sessions I attended, and was even going to put together a Storify report for you, but Laura Sexton (@SraSpanglish--she is most definitely worth following for her tweets over language learning and methodology) already beat me to the punch. You can find her Storifies here. The travel was an adventure (lost luggage and half a day spent blind just amplify the value of the experience, right?), however even so, I have no regrets and really can't emphasize enough how important it is to join professional organizations and attend conferences, whether local or national. You meet other like-minded people, form friendships, and get the chance to learn about some of the newest ideas about pedagogy. Between conferences and my Personal Learning Network, I constantly have ideas running through my head about ways to improve my classes.

When I decided to present about Untextbooking at ACTFL, I invited Miriam (who started this experiment with me last year) and Bob Patrick (@BobPatrick), who joined me in untextbooking this year, to present with me. Both are great presenters and I very much enjoyed teaming up with them to hopefully help other teachers try out authentic material in the classroom.

For the purposes of our presentation, I made a Google Presentation:



Miriam created an amazing resource for teachers looking for examples in Spanish, French, or German (we'd love to add to it in those or other languages--just let us know if you'd like to contribute), with a list of short videos for movietalks and resources/blogs we find useful for this particular topic. We presented the basic ideas, then each of us presented a type of CI activity that we like to use in class.

To be honest, there was not much discussed that is not already in this blog, either thanks to Miriam or myself. If you are new to the blog, I'm including a list of previous untextbooking posts below along with their most basic descriptions. As always, please post any questions or comments or recommendations!

Untextbooking: What Does the Fox Say? My introductory post explaining why I started this journey and my first steps.
Untextbooking: Of Monsters and Men An update post discussing a unit I was creating in what is often considered "advanced" Latin and ways I had approached that for Latin II.
Untextbooking - students' first review Miriam polled and recorded feedback about Untextbooking in her classes.
The Untextbooked Classroom: A Glimpse A recent writeup that describes what I do to create a unit without a textbook for my classes.
Untextbooking: Creating a Vocabulary List without a Textbook The basic process I followed to create my vocabulary list this year for Latin I.

Also, the following posts are about ideas and activities that I feel sort of go hand-in-hand with our new untextbooked classrooms:

Movie Talk/Movie Shorts Miriam describes in detail how to do your own movie talk.
Standards Based Grading (SBG) - Making it Work in a Traditional Gradebook Miriam has done what I'm afraid to do--jumped into SBG. I think however SBG is key to focusing on student mastery, which is part of the point of leaving the textbook, so I will be doing this next year.
Reconsidering Retakes A quick overview of how I offer retakes in my classes this year.
Retakes - The Redux Miriam's approach to retakes. Either one offers students the chance to show mastery of a subject later if he or she did not on the first assessment.
Read Dating - and other ideas from the Reading Toolbox Miriam has collected some awesome activities to help you reteach and reread texts you introduce in class.
Vocabulary Toolbox Miriam collected activities for teaching and introducing vocabulary as well!