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1000 sessions. Three days. One. Thousand. Sessions.
Just the idea of the size of ACTFL’s Annual Convention is overwhelming to think about. Even for someone who attends state (Wisconsin) and regional (Central States) conferences regularly, ACTFL is a bit overstimulating. There are thousands of attendees. It’s insane. How do you even approach something like this? This will be my fifth? ACTFL conference, so I’ve got some experience with this, and still remember how thoroughly overwhelmed I was by some aspects of my previous conferences.
I still remember Rick Steves’s speech in San Diego. He was outstanding. During his speech, #ACTFL15 was trending on Twitter. It was remarkable. The opening general session from 8:30-10am on Friday morning will feature journalist Bill Weir presenting “Stories from Cultures Around the World”. The five regional finalists for the national Foreign Language Teacher of the Year will be there and the winner will be selected. For first timers especially, there is also a convention welcome & orientation from 7-8am. This is typically a high-energy session, and can set the tone for the weekend. I don’t know what DC has up their sleeves, but I’m sure it will be spectacular. And the keynote is usually something people rave about, even if you don’t know the speaker beforehand.
Between sessions, presentations, and exhibitor workshops there are over 1000 possible learning opportunities. And that doesn’t count the pre-conference workshops and paper presentations. Looking at a time on the schedule with 100+ things to see can be really challenging. Is there something in particular that you would like to learn about? Maybe you’re trying to incorporate new technology. Maybe you’ve got a textbook you dislike. Need to inject more reading? Want to find more review games? Pick a mission or two. Whatever your goal is, define it clearly. Use that to hack away at the sessions that don’t meet your goal. You can’t become an expert in everything in 3 days. Some folks have published session listings, including the newsletter of the CCLT Special Interest Group which has a list of CI-focused sessions at the convention.
Myself, I’m going to focus on differentiation, equity/diversity, and since this is my second year with AP Language, any session that seems like it will help me help them.
There are 19 different session times on the schedule. That means you could soak up 14.25 hours of professional learning over the span of 2.5 days. Here is a secret: you don’t have to attend a session every single time one is offered. If none of the sessions at a time meet your goal (see above), or if you feel your brain getting full, it’s okay to take some time off. You may want to just process what you’ve learned. Maybe you need to get some physical movement by walking a lap around the convention center. If you’re staying close enough, there is nothing wrong with a little siesta. Maybe sitting down and blogging, or writing lesson plans inspired by a session will benefit you. I know, you’re thinking, “But Kelly, I paid SO much for this convention & the travel! I need to get my money’s worth!” I say this: Think of how you pace learning in your class. Quality teachers don’t just “cover” material, because students don’t acquire it well. Your brain is the same. “Covering” more topics during the convention won’t necessarily allow you to acquire any of the topics and incorporate those into your teaching. You might actually get a better VALUE for your money by processing what you’ve learned.
I have actually gotten some of the best value of my session attendance by processing right afterward with a friend (or even the presenter) to make things make sense for how my classes work. Or sit down and search online for resources to use with an activity I just learned. Make it REAL, and not just some bunch of ideas that flew past your head.
There are frequently other groups that get together and hold events during the conference. Sometimes states or regions hold receptions. Online PLCs may have a get-together. Maybe you’ve got a long-lost friend from another state who will attend with his school. Take advantage of meeting people you don’t get other opportunities to bond with. On Saturday night at 8, there will be an event called “Hot for Teacher: World Languages Edition” where some funny and talented teachers will share stories from their classroom…and no hot topic is off topic. Or, visit a site in DC! After all, you may not get here again soon to see some installations of the Smithsonian Institution or our seat of government! (Note: if you want to visit the capitol, you need to get your congressperson to do some paperwork, so it might be too late to make that happen.)
There are so many exhibitors to visit! Way beyond what you’ve ever seen at state or regional conferences. Companies you have never heard of. And several you have. Check out the things they offer. Or just cruise by and get some swag. (Okay, I know…but we all do it!) And if you want to say hi to me, I’ll be spending some time at the Señor Wooly booth! It’s worth it to take a lap through the hall. Besides, after sitting and learning, you’ll welcome the exercise!
Share! We're all in this together!