2017 ACTFL Convention Recap

The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Annual Convention is one of my favorite weekends of the year.  The energy and electricity generated by gathering more than 8,000 language educators from PreK-PhD is unlike anything else you might experience.  We all get very little sleep because our brains are buzzing and you see hundreds of teachers taking fiendish notes order to bring back fresh approaches and new activities to our own teaching and potential collaborations between colleagues from around the world.  This year, Marina Jones and I travelled together and, although we woke up at 3am and worked straight through until 11pm, we stayed up chatting until well after midnight each night because we just couldn’t contain our excitement about the day.

As an Italian instructor, it’s very rare that I get to meet with middle school, high school and college/university teacher colleagues, and it’s only a few times a year that I get to visit with the leaders of our field.  For Italianists in the USA, ACTFL is our annual revitalization conference.  It is the only place when the American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI), the American Association of University Supervisors, and Coordinators (AAUSC), and AAUSC-Italian groups all have business meetings.  ACTFL is also the time of year when we celebrate award winners, welcome new executive council members, and discuss our goals for the upcoming year.

Furthermore, as the newly elected Secretary of the Teaching and Learning of Culture Special Interest Group (the largest SIG at 3,000+ members!) and a member of the Research SIG, we review the previous year and organize our approaches for the year to come.

This year, ACTFL invited Bill Weir from CNN’s The Wonder List to give the Opening Address.  In his talk, Mr. Weir discussed the impact that travel and cultural exploration has had on his life.  Although he did not focus heavily on language proficiency, cultural exploration, investigation, and interaction are essential elements to the success of his show and have become guidelines for his life.  He encouraged the thousands of attendees to integrate culture daily and even made an argument for theme-based instruction by focusing on culture to help students consider cultures beyond their own.

I was honored to have been accepted to present in the Teaching and Learning of Culture-sponsored session on “Building Cultural Competence in Short Term Study Abroad Programs.”  My presentation reviewed a two-year, IRB-approved study carried out in 2016 and 2017 at Vanderbilt University.  This study was part of a larger study into Networked Learning and Authentic Resource Collection, and focused on self-reported intercultural competence gains after a one-month immersion abroad experience.  I was able to sue the data to revise activities in order to more carefully scaffold investigation of and interaction with practices, products, and perspectives in the target culture for my students, with data to support those changes.  The other two presentations focused on using caricatures to explore French culture, and strategies for broadening cultural consideration in language classes.

Our 2017 discussion centered on the incorporation of technology in language instruction and eventually turned to the introduction of online language instruction as a method to increase enrollment in struggling language programs.  Colleagues from around the country and Canada discussed strategies for successfully incorporating technology, the most easily adaptable textbooks, and the best methods for talking to administrators about introducing online elementary language courses to help boost enrollments and offer students more options so they can continue their progression of language study.

In this session, the panel discussed successful approaches for integrating and building proficiency in intercultural communicative competence in the language classroom.  In particular, they proposed strategies for using imagery to open discussions on cultural comparisons.  Furthermore, as contributors to the reviews NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, the presenters reiterated the importance of investigating and interacting with products, practices, and perspectives for building proficiency in intercultural communication.

The Teaching and Learning of Culture Business Meeting included a review of the SIG-sponsored sessions at this year’s convention and the introduction of the new officers: Kaishan Kong as Chair, Isabelle Drewelow as continuing Vice-Chair, and Jessica Greenfield as Secretary.  We also reviewed the budget, webinar and other professional development offerings, and our Research and Pedagogy Grants.  If you are a member of ACTFL, please remember that you are offered one free SIG membership with your annual membership.  Please consider the TLC SIG and stay tuned for updates from me!  We solicit articles for our quarterly newsletter, updates from SIG members, and invite you to submit a proposal for our grants throughout the year.  Click here for more information on the TLC SIG.

As you can imagine, the AATI Business Meeting included the usual discussion of membership, budget, initiatives, and subcommittees.  Our newest initiative is the creation of two committees to explore the Collapse of the Humanities and Immersive Instruction for Italian Language in immigrant-heavy locations.

Following the business meeting, we celebrated our two Distinguished Service award winners, Mariastella Dominijanni Cocchiara (K-12) and Dino Cervigni (College & University).  I have been so lucky to have interacted with both of these people and could not have been happier to celebrate with them.  Mariastella, although retired, remains an active member of the teaching community by teaching Italian at Bethany College in Massachusetts and as a Question Leader the AP Language and Culture Exam.  Dino Cervigni, professor Emeritus from UNC-Chapl Hill, continues to Edit the Annali d’Italianistica now out of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

This session discussed preparing instructors for teaching heritage learners, training instructors to successfully implement a flipped classroom, and assessment literacy.

This session was dedicated to the research, findings, and practical curricular implementation based on the research leading up tot he publication of Teaching Intercultural Competence Across the Age Range: From Theory to Practice.  The presenters talked about easy and effective curricular changes in order to help students of all ages engage with and build proficiency in intercultural competence.

The first presenter explored the use of dubbed cartoons as a learning tool in L2 classes as a means to engage with native speaker-produced discourse in the target language.  He focused particularly on the 5-minute snippets of Peppa Pig, both with and without subtitles to help students build their listening comprehension and vocabulary acquisition.  The second group of presenters presented on concept-based instruction.

The Critical and Social Justice Special Interest Group is brand new this year, so our business meeting included reviewing our vision statement, electing officers (congratulations Stacey Margarita Johnson – Chair, LJ Randolf – Vice Chair, and Allie Miano & Joan Clifford – Co-Secretaries), and starting to think about professional development webinars for the year to come.  Remember that all ACTFL members receive membership to 1 free SIG and any additional SIGs are only $5/year!


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