I came back from CiMidwest 2016 very early Sunday morning (early as in, my flight left at 5:30 am early). Due to timing, attending this conference was a major feat for me. It included sleeping an average of 3 to 4 hours a night several nights in a row, after one of the most tiring days of the year at school (Spanish Snow Ball tag, 20 games of tag, 12 minutes each, 500 kids. Last year I barely got off the couch all weekend after playing). Given the chance to do it all over again, I would in a heart beat. This conference was incredible, and I was very excited to be a part of it both as an attendee and as a presenter. I love learning from other teachers, and talking to them about what I am doing in the classroom. I learn so much both in sessions and as a presenter. I am even more excited to be in my classroom each time I attend something like this, I only wish I had more time so I could try all the things!!!
My first conference was this summer at IFLT 2016. I had considered attending either IFLT or NTPRS many times in the past, but the cost of a trip to a major conference had always seemed like more than I could spend. Then in an odd turn of events, I was able to use two years of teacher improvement money from my contract at once. I decided it was now or never, and registered and bought my tickets. I had heard equally amazing things about both conferences, but since NTPRS fell on the date of my 10th anniversary I chose to go to IFLT 2016. Although I expected to learn a lot from amazing people, there were a few things I didn't expect. First there were amazing presenters everywhere I turned. It was as if everyone I had been following and learning from online was in one place at the same time. It was hard to know where to go first. Not only did they all have incredibly thoughtful sessions, but they were all friendly and approachable too. They listened when people asked questions and had great advice. Coaching (mentoring by expert teachers), which seemed like it would be an intimidating experience, was also more like a warm hug. Instead of feeling like I was being reviewed, it was more about honoring the best of what each teacher did, and helping the work through difficult spots in their practice. It made me realize how nice it is to be complimented on your teaching, by others who get exactly what you are trying to achieve. The last big surprise for me was the sense of deep camaraderie I felt with the other teachers at the conference. Going to the conference without knowing anyone, I had expected to go back to my hotel room, swim, read and go to bed (as a mom to 3, eight hours of sleep and some alone time is not a bad thing). However, other than the first night of the conference, I spent each night out with people who felt more like lifelong friends then recent acquaintances. I barely slept at all, and returned home feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to get back into the classroom. I loved the conference, and didn't think anything could possibly compare.
Although it was only a 1 day experience, I found my amazing comparison in CiMidwest 2016. The presenters were all dedicated and passionate educators with strong messages. Each session was filled with laughter, activities I could take back to my classroom, and helped me come away with a deeper understanding of my practice. The presenters were engaging, knowledgeable, and approachable. Much like IFLT, my only complaint was that I was not able to be in ALL the sessions, or talk to everyone. Maybe in the future it could be 2 days (fingers crossed)? I would love to catch all the sessions. It was also great to attend a conference closer to home; I truly hope it becomes a yearly experience, it is wonderful to collaborate with educators from across the MidWest. I am very grateful to the organizers of the conference (pictured above). I can only begin to imagine what it took to pull this off so quickly (Grant Boulanger, Haiyun Lu, Elizabeth Dentlinger, Kimberly Huegerich, Kelly Ferguson, Carla Tarini, Yinghan Xue, Marta Yedina you are incredible. Thank you for the time you dedicated to "growing our story". Below is a brief write up from each session I attended, as well as a summary of a few sessions a colleague was able to attend that I missed.
The day started out with Dr. Krashen as the key note speaker. As always when speaking, he was funny, thought provoking and informative. He spoke that morning about a few 'hot topic' discussions from the IFLT/NTPRS Facebook group. Both the need to define what CI/TPRS teachers mean with their terminology, and about the beauty of non-targeted language instruction. He raised some very interesting points. Speaking to the fact that since high frequency words naturally are the most frequently used words we use, there is not a real need to target specific structures. He also pointed out that if we create stories or activities just to practice specific aspects of the language, our story can sometimes seemed forced, or lose it's ability to create interest in our learners. After reading about this online, and listening to Dr. Krashen speak I was ready to hear more. I only wish I had been able to attend his session as well. I did not get a chance to speak with Dr. Krashen, which is probably a good thing as I stand slightly in awe of his work and probably would have been a bit tongue-tied.
Dr. Krashen's keynote speech was the perfect lead into my first session with Justin Slocum Bailey. His session: Beyond Target Structures; The Fun and the Fruits of Non-Targeted CI was the perfect way to start the day. As a presenter Justin had energy, and made a personal connection with his audience. He gave concrete ways to use students own talents to cover non-targeted CI in a stress free and fun way. In addition, he gave ways to do this even if you are tied to certain grammar or vocabulary topics. Two big takeaways from his session were, "The odds of everyone in the room being ready to acquire the same target are 0." This speaks to the need to use the language our students are both ready for, and express a desire to learn. I also loved when he shared the following, "Foreign language teachers are not constrained by set syllabi. We can use any subject matter we want to, as long as it's compelling". This is why I find this method of teaching so exciting. As long as we can use sheltered vocabulary and grammar to teach our students, the sky is the limits! Justin was a dynamic presenter, and I hope I get the chance to hear him speak again in the future.
o. Next I attended Inspiring Higher-order Thinking Using Level-appropriate Language with Carol Gaab. This session was another home-run. Carol talked about ways to inspire higher level thinking in students, even with very basic language. Incorporating her ideas will help make it much easier to show higher level thinking in class in the target language. I also think getting students thinking on this level will help them 'forget' that they are learning a new language. Allowing them to learn subconsciously. One of the things Carol said that really struck me, is "Less is More! Being right is not all it's cracked up to be." Carol talked about using "possible or probably" in her classes, instead of "right or wrong". The affective filter goes up when you are wrong, and you stop learning when this happens. I had a chance to experience this first hand during the session, when Carol asked if someone could define 'pragmatics' my over tired brain heard 'pragmatic' (no s) and I raised my hand to define the wrong word. Carol was VERY kind at correcting me, but it did make me feel uncomfortable to be wrong in that setting. I didn't stop paying attention, but I can see how this would change the lesson with a student. I can't wait to use Carol's suggestions in the classroom! Carol and Kristy Placido also very generously donated copies of Kristy's novel, "Robo en la Noche" to me to give away as prizes during my session. Thank you Kristy and Carol!
After lunch it was time for my session, it was a small (roughly 8 attendees) but quality group. A takeaway I have from being a presenter is to put serious thought into the description of my session. I was too focused on the actual presentation. In the future I will describe what attendees will take away from the session, as well as open it to more people. I think the 'clever' title (I am not good at making clever titles) probably scared a few people away, as well as the fact that I said it was designated experienced for elementary. Many of the strategies covered will work for all age levels and all experience levels of teachers. I will also probably try to cover less in future presentations, so I can demo more, as that is where the fun comes in (I wanted to give everyone lots of takeaways for their classroom). Two of my main topics were classroom games, and Reader's Theater. Please click on the links to read more about each of these items. I asked my friend Jonathan (in the corner in blue in the above picture), to write up my session, plus one more that I missed. He did a wonderful job, so the words below are his, not mine.
Jonathan writes about my session:
Erica Peplinski - Elementary My Dear Watson - TPRS CI Elementary Style
When choosing the sessions to attend, I like most attendees, wanted to chose the most relevant sessions for me. Being an Elementary CI Spanish teacher, I was immediately drawn to Elementary My Dear Watson - TPRS CI Elementary Style. After finding out that my colleague was giving the presentation, I was even more excited. You see, I have worked with Erica for four years and she always is improving her art and adding more techniques to her repertoire. Even though she shares out her ideas and new findings with the department, I knew that I was going to learn something new.
Of course, she did not disappoint. She shared valuable CI techniques that only only the kids get excited about, but beg for more. My big take away was "Unicornio Malo," an elementary version of Martina Bex's Mafia. As with most of the techniques presented on in her session, Erica had us engaged, out of our seats, and playing the game. For me, I internalize the material when I actually do it instead of watching it. It was not only fun for me, but will be fun for my students when I try this game out in class this week.
Jonathan also was able to attend Amy Roe's session, another that I was sad to miss. He was kind enough to blog about it for me though, below are his words:
Another Elementary CI session, appropriately named "Elementary CI" caught my attention. When Amy Roe, the presenter, told me about her background - a high school teacher that has taught every grade level from preschool through university, I immediately knew that this session would be precisely for me. You see, I am in the exact same situation. I have taught every grade level from preschool through university as well, and just like her, I was a high school teacher that went to the middle school and then to elementary school. I hung on to every word that she said, since her nuggets of knowledge spoke directly to my heart. Even though the session was geared to the more beginner CI teachers, I found this invaluable even as a seasoned veteran. Amy demonstrated how she uses stories in class and then talked about "persona especial." Not only does Amy use this fantastic CI technique, but she co-creates stories about the "persona especial" and incorporates them into her classroom library. Of all the stories in her classroom library, the stories co-written by her students about her students are the most read in her classroom.
This CI Midwest conference was an exciting experience for me to collaborate with other CI teachers and improve myself as a CI teacher. I'm looking forward to attending the next conference to improve my skills and help my students acquire Spanish. - Jonathan Bowles
The brain craves novelty, and so I was excited for my next session with Janelle Afrasiab (Magic Tricks in the CI Classroom). Using a magic trick to spice up a story or to increase student interest is a great idea. Janelle walked us through several tricks during her session and then allowed us to practice with decks of cards she had brought. She was very kind when Jonathan and I messed up her pre-set deck by immediately shuffling the cards she put in front of us. She helped us fix our deck, and taught us magic for our classroom. Thanks Janelle!
My final session of the day was Turn Up the Volume! Using Music for Comprehensible Input with Rebecca Moulton. Rebecca's session was another amazing experience. She shared a step by step process for using music in the classroom to teach TPRS and CI. Not only did she speak to how to use music with beginning language learners, she also shared hands on activities and a multi-step process for success. Rebecca was a warm and creative presenter with several wonderful videos to share for all languages. She also took the time to connect with the people in her session, and shared creative extension activities for her music. I also appreciated that she had a list by the door for people to add their favorite music in different languages. It was long by the end of the day, and another valuable resource. One of the things Rebecca said that struck me was " What we learn with pleasure, we never forget". This couldn't be more true in my opinion, and Rebecca's session was very memorable for me. Can't wait to try her ideas in the classroom.
I wanted to be at all the sessions, but one of the sessions I was very sad to miss was Sr. Wooly's Circling with a Beat. I tried to find a video I could embed of his session, but was unable to make it work. I didn't attend this session as it was marked for beginners (and I figured it would be packed/this gave me time to attend to OTHER sessions I wanted to see) but it sounded like it was both fun and informative from next door. In case you are not a Sr. Wooly fan yet, I included one of his videos below. My students LOVE this song and learn it on their own at home after a showing in class.
Other sessions I was sad to miss include (but are not limited to) those pictured below, Mira Canion, Jim Tripp,Alina Filipescu, Mike Coxon, Grant Boulanger and more (oh my)!
I don't see how CiMidwest 2016 could have been better (unless it was longer and I had more time to attend ALL the sessions). Thank you very much to all the organizers, presenters, and attendees for such an amazing experience. I was honored to be a part of the first CiMidwest, and hope to be there for all future experiences as well. If you have not yet been to a conference, I highly recommend it. Not only will you be laugh and be inspired, but you will be surrounded by support and encouragement, which is something all educators need!
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.