As I write this, I am sitting in a room in San Antonio filled to the max with other language teaching enthusiasts at the NTPRS conference. Von Ray is in the front of the room, demo-ing a Movie Talk. (For those of you who don't know, this is one of my absolutely favorite teaching techniques. I wrote about a MT experiment I did this spring here.) While I listen to Von engage the teacher-students and teacher-observers, I am processing what I have learned this week. (Von's presentation is very similar to one that he did at NECTFL this past February with Mike Coxon and Eric Herman.)
I will reflect on some of the specific sessions in other posts, because how can I attend workshops with Laurie Clarcq, Mira Canion, Bryce Hedstrom, and Von Ray and not write all about it?! For now, I am working hard to pull together all that I've heard. This was a unique conference for me, as it was the first TPRS conference where I did not leave with a fuzzy-brain feeling from so much input (pun intended!). I am far enough along in my TPRS journey that when I go to conferences, I am able to take away some specific ideas and concepts without feeling like absolutely everything is new and I must do all the things!
This year I followed the advanced track, which meant that I was able to spend two and a half days with the amazing Jason Fritze and the powerhouse Alina Filipescu. I have seen Jason several times before, but this was my first opportunity to work with Alina. She spent most of the time teaching us Romanian, while Jason popped in now and then with comments and observations. This was a huge piece of the conference for me. I am of the firm belief that all TPRS teachers need to return to the role of student every few years. The first three TPRS conferences I attended featured French as the demo language. I went into my classroom after those experiences not knowing just how slowly I had to go. Then, at NTPRS in Vegas in 2012, I enrolled in the beginning sessions, and had the incredible chance to learn Mandarin with Linda Li. Holy game changer! It was glaringly apparent that I needed to slow the heck down! I had no idea just how many repetitions and how much circling is necessary for the students to really internalize the structures. Being back in the hot seat this week with Alina and Romanian was a critical eye-reopener for me. I know that many of my struggles in the classroom (blurting in English, side conversations) stem from the fact that I go way too quickly for my students. Sometimes it's hard for me to finish a sixth grade class (my most advanced students, who are in their fourth year of French) and go immediately to teach my kindergarteners (my beginners).
Beside the important reminder to actively slow down the pace of my class, I had another significant take-away from this week: personalization. I believe that connecting with my students is a strength of mine, but there's always room for improvement. Earlier this year, I used a photo of the Dunder Mifflin office from the American version of the TV show "The Office" to teach the word office. I had no idea that two of my sixth grade boys were obsessed with the show. While it didn't become an inside joke exactly, it allowed me to connect with my students on a level beyond just speaking French. When you have a relationship with students that touches on the personal, indicating that each party knows that the other is a unique individual, it can do so much for classroom environment and, therefore, relationships between students, and between teachers and students.
There are a lot of ways in which one can personalize a class. My goal for the upcoming year is to really think about my students as individuals. They all have unique personalities and needs; I know, for example, there is one sixth grade boy who will need many opportunities to move around. I am excited to think more about classroom jobs à la Bryce Hedstrom.
One of the soundbites that resonated with me was the idea that teachers are “communication partners.” Students need to know that I do not see myself as above them and that I truly value them as individuals.
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public PreK-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twenty-third year teaching, and twentieth at Marion Cross.