Resources and Takeaways from ACTFL 2023
We recently attended the annual ACTFL convention in Chicago where we had a booth and shared a presentation on elementary and middle school Spanish. The ACTFL convention is the biggest meeting of world language professionals in the United States. It provides excellent opportunities for teachers, administrators, and industry leaders to network and participate in professional development. Here are some of our takeaways from this year’s convention.
One of the most valuable benefits of the ACTFL convention is to learn more about and connect with the various professional organizations and associations which support world language education. New teachers can especially benefit from the wealth of resources that these organizations provide.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is the touchstone organization for all other state and regional world language associations. ACTFL’s mission is to provide vision, leadership and support for quality teaching and learning of languages. ACTFL provides resources to address challenges to meet the changing needs of language educators and their learners. There is a fee to join ACTFL, but it is worth it.
The National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) provides valuable resources for educators, parents, and policy makers to support its vision which is for every child to have the opportunity to learn another language at the earliest age possible. NNELL fosters a network that empowers educators to advocate for and support early teaching and learning. The fee to join NNELL is very affordable.
The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) is the largest association of teachers of Spanish and Portuguese in the world. It is devoted to the promotion of all Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian languages, literatures, and cultures. AATSP publishes the journal Hispania which includes scholarly articles and reviews for Spanish teachers.
AI, Virtual Exchanges, and Other Trends
It surprised us a bit to find that AI is not a big part of the conversation (yet) at ACTFL. Only a couple of companies touted AI technology as a part of their products, and only one presentation focused on ChatGPT and AI. It will be interesting to see how AI integrates into language education in the future.
One very noticeable trend is the proliferation of companies that offer virtual exchanges. These mostly involve connecting learners with native speakers through virtual meetings or mobile apps. This seems like a solid idea, but these products focus on secondary and higher ed learners, not elementary Spanish. We were not able to demo any of these, but here is a short list of some of the companies offering this type of service.
When we first published the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum, in 2002, part of the reason we put our curriculum out there was that practically no Spanish curriculum for the PreK and elementary levels existed. Many more companies, big and small, now offer curriculum for young language learners. But virtually all of them have followed the trend of using online interactive platforms for language learning.
We understand that online interactive instruction has become ubiquitous in today’s classroom, but we still feel that it is not the best way for young learners (or older ones for that matter) to learn language. Aside from the issue of increased screen time, young language learners need to connect the language to their physical bodies and developing brains through age appropriate activities. They also need human connection, negotiation of meaning, and emotional input in their language instruction. This simply cannot be done in an online environment.
Organic World Language (OWL) offers transformative, engaging, hands-on professional development workshops and support to teachers. The trainings range from an introduction to proficiency strategies to in-depth work on developing curriculum and proficiency systems. The trainings are designed around techniques that incorporate target language use, kinesthetic instruction and producing consistent language gains through effective questioning sequences and authentic literacy.
TPRS Books offers print and digital resources that help students achieve high levels of fluency in a short period of time. Brought to you by Von and Blaine Ray (the creator of the TPRS method) TPRS books has a wide range of books and curriculum guides for all levels.
Wayside Publishing creates Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Latin textbooks and digital programs which are proficiency-based. They also focus on building interculturality and literacy. While they do not offer anything for elementary Spanish, they do have middle school Spanish materials.
Most states and regions have their own language association conferences. We encourage you to attend these. It is an excellent opportunity to do some professional development and stay abreast of current happenings in world language education.