The FM-iFLT Cohort Experience

Blog Post by: Andrea Schweitzer

The cohort experience at FM-iFLT is fantastic. Being able to select from a wide variety of experience levels helps all participants find just the right place to be met where they are along the journey of becoming a better acquisition-driven instructor. In the same way we move along the path to proficiency with a new language, so too do we move along a path to “proficiency” in terms of how easily we put into action the tools we glean from comprehensible-input based workshops and conferences like FM-iFLT 2021.  

It is interesting how each time I go to a workshop or return to a conference, even if it’s one that takes me back to the basics, I learn so many new tips, tricks and insights that I was not able to fully process in prior years… or, that I had forgotten about and now see new ways for it to impact my teaching. Just like with language learning and the order of acquisition, we are really only able to process the input our brain is ready to receive.  

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I had the good fortune to spend time this week in the Experienced Cohort led by Michelle Kindt. Michelle led us through various discussions regarding realistic proficiency expectations, curriculum, assessment, peer coaching and strategies for working with administrators and colleagues who may not have the same mindset. Among all of the nuggets of wisdom that I gained from her and my fellow cohort members, these are the two that stick out the most:  

  1. Look For Opportunities to Present: As we gain confidence and experience and grow in knowledge about acquisition-driven instruction and SLA (second language acquisition) research, we should find ways to present, share, and coach others. And we need to present, share, and coach in a comprehensible manner that approaches others as peers sharing successes, not as experts who tell others what to do.
  2. Plant Seeds: When we find strategies that bring about success and joy in our classrooms, we ought to consider how we can convey that to others in an effort to “plant seeds” as Carol Gaab discussed in her “Ya Don’t Say…” presentation on Monday. Carol visited our cohort and talked in greater depth about developing presentations that consider the following three things: 
    • A) What do we want participants to leave with?
          • Have a clear objective
          • Stay focused on the objective
          • We are planting a seed, not growing a whole garden… leave them wanting to learn more.

      B) How does the topic align with SLA research?

          • Be informed and be informative
          • Know your audience and be prepared to share with them the research that supports your practices

      C) How will learners benefit from what participants take away from the presentation? 

          • What will be the clear benefits to students by sharing this strategy with other teachers?
          • How can you demonstrate the benefits within the session so attendees will be able to experience it too? 

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PROCESS & PRIORITIZE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED: One of our last tasks from Michelle was to spend 5 to10 minutes on our own, just to reflect on all we encountered during the week. In many ways, going to a conference like iFLT is like drinking from a firehose. There is so much to absorb, and it is all so exciting. And we want to do ALL of it! It is important to take some time at the end of a conference to review and synthesize all that we learned. But more than that, it is helpful to sort out and prioritize “next steps” to make the best use of this new knowledge. In our processing time, Michelle gave us a handout that had four quadrants in which to sort and prioritize these findings. They were as follows:  

  • VERY IMPORTANT – Do NOW (keep it short… 3-5 key things)
  • IMPORTANT – Do during 1st or 2nd month of the new school year
  • Somewhat Important – Aim to do during 1st semester
  • Cool Ideas to try and learn more about later – Maybe in the Spring. 

I found this to be such a useful, summative graphic organizer and am so glad to Michelle purposefully set aside time for us to go over this, as I am often really bad about making the time to do this when conferences end. Now I have a compass to get my new school year started. A compass from which to create my goals for the new year ahead. A compass to look back to when I lose my way. I highly recommend that if you did not already take time to process your takeaways from iFLT and any other summer PD, you consider using Michelle’s quadrant formula. It’s super helpful!

May our journey to becoming more informed, mindful, acquisition-driven instructors continue onward, even when we encounter bumps on the road along the way. And as we reap the fruits of the “seeds” that were gathered this past week, may we find ways to plant some seeds of our own. Most importantly, may we enjoy these final days of summer so that we are rested and ready to go when “back-to-school” time arrives!  

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