The October 2010 AZLA conference

Prior to going to AZLA, in the morning, I got an e-mail saying Cambridge classical was setting up a trial for tprs using Book I of the CLC. Amazing.
Then tonight I get word that SUNY is ending its French, Russian, and Italian departments. Unbelievable.
In between was sandwiched the AZLA conference, really outstanding. I’d like to summarize the sessions and other events.
We had a very good turnout. I got there very early and my friend, Brian, came as an exhibitor and got set up. Immediately, old acquaintences and new ones chatted with me. Eventually we went to sessions.
The attendance was good and people stayed ’till late in the p.m. Saturday. John DeMado was the keynote speaker and did his rap presentation twice for us. I was skeptical about the rap, as much as I like John and his views. I was blown away by how accessible he made the rapping and applicable it was to what we teach. He spent almost the whole time talking about language acquisition but the last half hour we were broken into language groups (a number of us by ourselves since no other German or Latin or Korean speakers were there). We had to write a rap over a sort of dub he kept going in the background, a rap of 2 stanzas of 4 lines, so 8 lines total.
It was fun, creative and hilarious. He forced us to admit we were scared, doing our first rap. But people were amazingly creative and it turned out to be easily adaptable to our classrooms.
But the heart of it for me was the way he reminded us forcefully that we need to be risk-takers, intuitive, vulnerable. Language is acquired in conversation, what we call negotiated discourse, and not even through reading. This is something I’ve put forth before, that language is acquired through face-to-face interaction. I am always told we don’t have time for that in the classroom so we have to teach grammar explicitly to speed up the process. The horribly mistaken assumption is that students will learn L2 by learning these rules.
This is where DeMado really irritates a lot of fl teachers. I noticed at the luncheon where warm applause greeted all sorts of people and events, when John was mentioned and thanked, the applause was appreciably lighter. Now many people did not attend his session or the keynote speech, but I believe some people were not pleased to hear their efforts disparaged.
One of the ways he disparages them, at least in their minds, is by referring to the way we teach to Maria Elena, the logico-mathematical whiz kid who’s been dreaming of AP since birth. And then we brag about our great student (one out of 100) who went to Spain and the student will tell you she understood nothing. Why? She was afraid of speaking and making a mistake.
To me, that does sum up the picture I’ve seen of fl teaching ever since I was a fl student in h.s. 50 years ago.
I’ve been to a lot of conferences and attended a lot of workshops and sessions. What I find is not necessarily a lot new but rather reminders of what I should be doing. DeMado provided that. One session that I attended dealt with quick assessments in the communicative classroom. I enjoyed it even though I already do most of those.
That brings up a major element in these sessions. Someone like me has explored a great many ways of teaching: approaches, methods, and techniques, so it is hard to come up with something I have not explored a little bit at least. The value in attending these is that it puts it up front in my mind and allows me to reintegrate it into my ever-changing configuration of ………. approaches, methods, and techniques. It invigorates me and I have never understood teachers who come out of a session with a bored, world-weary expression, saying, “I’ve seen it all before.”
An Italian teacher and I had several good conversations over several topics and she introduced me to another Italian teacher who had taught Latin both in Italy and at the local university (AzSU). She and I had a long talk and then I attended her presentation. Surprising to me, it turns out European teachers stress grammar even more than Americans do. She likes the communicative approach used here and did use a book of stories to teach at the university. She found it worked quite well and students still learned grammar.
This latter comment was of great interest to me as I shared with a number of attendants the news I had just got that morning that the Cambridge School Curriculum Program was getting up a trial run with 10 teachers for next year whom they would train in tprs. The teachers would teach with the Cambridge Latin Course book I and the results would be reported. This could be a turning point. I don’t think the Cambridge course has been researched like this nor has any other Latin course. I’m not sure if any language learning situation has been researched in this way. I remember a comment once in a book that something like that was tried but the trial was ruined b/c some of the teachers couldn’t bear to stay on course with a program they didn’t like and so introduced extraneous material.
Of course, there’s no dearth of problems with the design, but if tprs gets good results, those results will be trumpeted by the tprs people and could attract many more followers. I was talking to a teacher at the conference who has been teaching for years, at least as long as I have, who was going to try tprs this coming year.
Another session I attended had to do with differentiated instruction. The language was Japanese so for the two of us there who didn’t read Japanese, a little effectiveness was lost perhaps, but overall it was a chance to discuss grading and dealing with highly motivated and talented students who want to push ahead. How do you grade that?
My friend put on a lesson that showed us how to get students to recall a story using pictures. While the lesson was applicable to any language, the cultural content from Mexico he introduced at the end really got people’s attention. This sort of presentation is what we need to see over and over so we do not fall back into routine. It was a good cap for DeMado’s presentation, given that the course of the lesson is a bit unpredictable. Sure we can say that some personality types need to have everything laid out in advance, but at some point we have to admit that that squelches genuine communication.
Later we went out for a last drink and discussed…….. grading again. What a tough subject. One factor I keep pressing on is that most fl teachers were good students (I’m an exception) and do tend to expect all their students to want to strive for perfection the way they did. But just b/c a student “disappoints” in that way doesn’t mean they should not or can not be taught. I certainly went on to be a fl teacher – with a 20+ year detour first – and highly academic without being a particularly outstanding student. I hope all teachers keep that in mind.
I’ll add to this as I recall other conversations and incidents and people, but for now I’ll post it to the blog. The AZLA website is

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