IMG_3659 IMG_3658The excitement in the room is palpable as the teachers prepare for the conference opening. It is always so awesome to me to think about the number of teachers who give up a week of their precious summer to learn and grow. But in reality, as someone who has a history of being a “conference junkie” myself, I know that these conferences are the juice in my batteries. These brief days filled with learning and collegiality are what I depend on to get me through those long days of winter when the students are sleep-deprived and I’m sunlight-deprived and the shiny luster of the wax on the hallway floors has worn off. So three cheers to all of the teachers who are here to learn and grow! And if you are not here, follow along here and on twitter and learn along with us!

Bill VanPatten gave a great opening keynote! Although it was a stretch for my tiny brain on only one cup of coffee, Bill does a great job of being one of the most down-to-earth divas you’ll ever meet.

Bill tells us: Without principles, you are just taking stabs in the dark.

Bill has boiled language teaching down to 7 principles. Today he focused on 2.

The 7 principles are:

  • Language is too complex and abstract to teach and learn explicitly. Language is not SUBJECT MATTER.
  • Need a definition of communication
  • Acquisition is severely constrained by internal and external factors
  • Instructor’s job=level appropriate input
  • Tasks form backbone of curriculum
  • Focus on form just be input based/ meaning based
  • Assessment should match learning and teaching

Language is a mental representation.

Components of language:

  • it is implicit / unconscious
  • It is abstract
  • It is complex

BVP’s examples of “correct use of language” are pure entertainment for all these language nerds. He really drives home the complexity of language. He tells us:  Rules provided by books and teachers aren’t actual rules. Rules aren’t real. Rules do little to nothing. Rules cannot become mental representation. Acquisition cannot happen by explanation and practice.

We then moved on to a definition of communication.

  • Meaning is central to communication
  • Meaning is context dependent
  • Communication is always wrapped up in communication

Why do people interact?

Audience: Inform, negotiate, request, connect, kill time

Communication is:

  • Psycho-social – to establish/maintain relationships
  • Cognitive-informational – to accomplish something

On classroom context Bill says: Classrooms are limited contexts. We cannot make the classroom like the outside world. The classroom is a real context, but it is just limited. The participants are teachers and students. We need to not try to make the classroom something that it is not. Communication is the expression AND interpretation of meaning. Students’ job early on is just to interpret (input). Expression (output) comes later. Learners acquire as active interpreters of meaning.

Our definition of communication informs EVERYTHING we do as teachers.

STOP TEACHING LANGUAGE. You are a “meaning maker” in class.

Based on the audience response, Bill is preaching to the choir. It was awesome!

Written by Kristy Placido

Kristy Placido is a high school Spanish teacher, iFLT presenter, and the author of several novels for Spanish students. You may connect with her on twitter @placido or follow her personal blog at

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