Due to the gentle encouragement from an amazing colleague, I was able to attend my first ever iFLT conference in St. Petersburg, Florida from July 15-18, 2019.

Although I have attended mini workshops and professional development sessions in my school district related to Comprehensible Input, iFLT 2019 was the first time that I was completely immersed in a setting that valued CI with like-minded teachers. My colleague had been telling me just how amazing iFLT was, but her words could not do it justice. I was blown away at the amount of support, access to mentor teachers, congeniality, and the continual reaffirmations of CI as “best practices” for world language instruction.

Below are just a few of my most important takeaways that I will be reflecting on throughout the remainder of the summer and the upcoming school year:

#1: The power of gestures

As I am still relatively new to teaching with Comprehensible Input, I did not fully understand the power of gestures and how they can be used to increase student engagement and facilitate meaning.

Before iFLT, I watched several videos of teachers demonstrating gestures and how they incorporated them into their classroom. I thought that it was a cute idea, but I didn’t think it was really necessary. After attending Jason Fritze’s elementary Spanish language lab, I left with a changed mindset on how powerful gestures could be and how they help students make a physical connection with the target structure(s). It was mind blowing to see beginning students at the elementary level understand many different Spanish verbs based on simple gestures.

In addition to Jason’s language lab, I was also able to participate in Linda Li’s Mandarin Chinese language lab. As a participant, this gave me a new perspective on just how crucial a simple gesture can be to quickly recall meaning without breaking the pace of the lesson. I was amazed at how Linda was able to provide support when needed just by showing a gesture rather than stopping the flow of conversation to point at a word. It felt very natural and I was able to “stay in the target language” without interruption or the need for an English clarification. As a result, I will be sure to incorporate gestures into my classroom routines with my students throughout the first few weeks to further promote language acquisition. 

#2: Assessments and Backward Planning

This is a concept that I was familiar with on a superficial level, but Carrie Toth’s session really brought this into focus for me in practical terms. I learned that I should begin my unit design/plans with the assessment in order to have a clear picture of what the students need to know and be able to accomplish. After creating the assessment, then plan the instruction (activities, input, etc) to meet those goals. Carrie put this concept into simple terms that really helped me define my unit goals and better understand what I was asking of my students. As a result, I will be more intentional about my activities and really understand why/how the particular activity relates to the overall assessment goals.

#3: Using charts to organize strategies

In our cohort breakout sessions, Diane Neubauer shared a chart that helped several of us organize our thoughts and CI strategies as well as providing an instructional planning template. After breaking down lesson planning into 5 concrete steps, Diane gave us a graphic organizer that matched strategies with the steps. For example, one of the lesson planning steps was Introducing new words and she gave us some strategies that could fit into that category, such as TPR and/or gestures. This was a life-changer for me because it gave me a way to “house” many strategies that I already knew and fit them into a framework. It also helped me to categorize different strategies and, in Diane’s words, “organize my toolkit.” I will work on creating my own chart and sharing with colleagues throughout the year.

#4: Sharing your story

My final takeaway from the conference was sharing your story. In many of our cohort discussions, I learned so much from the other teachers in our group. I learned different ways to assess, variations on activities that I had done with my students, and so much more than I have space to explain.

Although I have been teaching for ten years, this coming school year will be my second year fully implementing CI in my classroom. Because of my “newness” and “non-expertise” in the CI world, I had previously felt reluctant to share ideas, however after iFLT, I recognize the power of my voice and how even my short experience can have an impact on others. I was recently given the opportunity to share best practices & my experiences in the classroom with new world language teachers in our district. Opening up to others about the transforming nature of teaching with CI made me feel proud and excited, not just for myself, but for them as well. It felt wonderful to be an inspiration to others even with my limited amount of CI experience. I can honestly say that my cohort group (leaders included) helped me find my voice and willingness to share my own story, as is evident in this blog post.

Thank you so much for reading my iFLT reflections and I hope that you are encouraged. Happy teaching 🙂

Angela Williams attended Georgia Southern University and received a BA and MA in Spanish. She has been teaching Spanish in the Savannah-Chatham County School District in Savannah, Georgia for 10 years, having taught all levels, K-12, with elementary and middle school making up the majority of her teaching career. After a chance encounter with a colleague that utilizes CI, she was hooked, threw the textbooks away, and never looked back. In the future, she would like to teach in a dual immersion program and possibly abroad! When she’s not teaching, she loves spending time with her 12 year old daughter and 6 year old Yorkshire Terrier. 

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