Reflection on MaFLA 2012
By Vilma Bibeau, graduate student in the MAT-Spanish program
Graduate student Vilma Bibeau recently attended the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association’s annual conference in Sturbridge, MA. Writing from the point of view of a professional educator and graduate student, the following is her reflection on the experience.
Despite having attended several Massachusetts’s Foreign Language Association conferences (MaFLA), I find it each and every year to be a new experience. Yearly, the MaFLA conference offers different activities, which are presented in unique ways by academic representatives from secondary schools and universities throughout the state of Massachusetts and beyond. I like to attend the conference because it exposes me to new and/or revisited topics, concepts, and material. The conference, in its isolated setting that is only dedicated to the teaching of foreign language, also provides me with the opportunity to share ideas, discuss thoughts, and collaboratively explore teaching methods and material with colleagues and friends, many of whom I would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet with.
This year I was able to attend two of the conference’s three days and observed a presentation for each section on Friday and Saturday. The daily schedule is broken down into sections, which offers several presentations in each in both specific target languages and in the common language of English where non language specific teaching concepts are covered. With these sections two or three hosts usually dedicate one hour and fifteen minutes to each presentation.
This year I found the topics to be very interesting and relevant to both my graduate studies and the languages that I teach. In totality I attended eight presentations, two of which were dedicated to Spanish, two were dedicated to Italian, one was dedicated to French, and three were relevant to teaching technology. Although I enjoyed all of them, I found that three really captivated me and sparked my interest.
The first presentation, on Friday, was on the teaching lesson unit under the name of: “The ideal lesson plan.” This presentation was for all languages and, while the presenter is a Spanish and French teacher, he conducted it with examples drawn from his Spanish courses. The presentation was well organized, with a variety of samples, including videos of his students during formal and informal class presentations. The presenter also provided examples of how to differentiate instruction in unit lessons.
The Italian presentation, “New materials and technology for adults and adolescents studying Italian” that I wanted to see was canceled. However, when I got there, another instructor was presenting something titled “film project”. She prepared a well-documented list of several American films that were filmed in Italy. The presentation turned out to be instructional in terms of presenting cultural aspects of the target language. For example, the setting of a recent Julia Roberts’ film was in Italy where there are scenes where she’s eating the typical Italian foods of pasta and pizza with the same passion and mannerisms that an Italian would. The movie presents many beautiful Italian locations, identifies the Italian life styles, and as well depicts the typical Italian stereotypes. The presenter also outlined that it is not necessary to show an entire movie in a classroom. Few clips of a specific scene that connect, for example, culture with the lesson plan will be sufficient to support the message and stimulate the students’ curiosity. A movie, or a segment of it, can also be used to reinforce the connections between the language course and other disciplines.
I found similarities in both the Italian and French presentations. In both presentations the description was very attractive to the degree that I enthusiastically concentrated on the lecture in French. The presentation provided a lot of new ideas and strategies to capture students’ interest in learning French with many activities and programs to use in class. But unfortunately, like the Italian presentation, it was not in the target language.
I attended three presentations on technology. Of the three, the one I liked best was: “Get connected with technology.” Three teachers from Hopkinton Middle School displayed four technological systems to increase foreign language learning: Todaysmeet, VoiceThread, Glogster and Edmodo.
Todaysmeet is a communication program that is very easy to use, promotes collaboration and is free. This program is similar to a private chat room that teachers can create for students to discuss, ask questions, respond and engage in the lesson during a presentation. It is a good resource to collaboratively discuss in class or to use it for homework.
VoiceThread is a phenomenal program that provides various uses for communication, writing and reading. For example, teachers can record their voice to give a specific assignment and/or questions, and students answer or comment on them. They are assigned tasks to promote communication with a system that enables the user to change the message as often as the person wants. The only problem with VoiceThread is that it is not free and there are schools that do not want to pay for the costs. I think it’s a shame, because this program can be used in any discipline.
Glogster is used to prepare digital presentations. Historically, students created projects and presentations on card boards. This program is a digital dashboard, with interactive text, graphics, music, videos and more. It was the first time that I heard about Glogster, and I founded to be very fascinating. Unfortunately, like VoiceThread, Glogster is not free.
The last program presented was Edmodo, which is a type of social network that is supervised by teachers. The teacher from Hopkinton informed us that her students use it to communicate with students in France. The teacher in France and the teacher here in Hopkinton supervise the communications between students and keep them private. I found this to be a powerful application of this product in the foreign language-educational environment.
All programs offer many strategies to connect with students and to create different ways of learning through the use of communication, reading, audio, and writing. The three teachers not only presented the material with professionalism and knowledge, but gave practical examples on how to use these programs. They also provided the attendees with several examples of their daily interactions with their students, which I found to be informative.
The last presentation I attended was “Digital dictation”. A Mount Holyoke College professor wanted to demonstrate a new digital dictation system that delivers immediate feedbacks to students. The problem with this, which was my biggest disappointment, is that the system does not exist because it is not completed. The application is still under construction and will probably require a lot of time with additional testing. The presentation was difficult to follow, inaccurate, and based upon a non-existent application. Had I realized early in the presentation that it was going to be a complete fiasco, I would have gone to another lecture. Unfortunately, by the time it became clear to all the attendees how useless the demonstration was it was too late to go anywhere else.
Attending the MaFLA conference is always a great experience in terms of learning various educational systems through different components, some of which, I had never before heard or thought of. Although sometimes the application of educational theories in the daily reality of foreign language classes can appear a bit utopistic, listening and watching teachers with many years of dedicated service, puts everything in a real and transcendent prospective. I believe that it is important for foreign language teachers and professors not only to attend foreign languages conferences, but to play an active part in them by either presenting an idea or a lesson plan or even helping within it where the participant can get to know other colleagues in the profession.
However, I would also like to see few changes. For example, I hope that in future, during a MaFLA conference, there will be more focus on speaking in foreign languages, starting with presentations that focus in a specific language. I would also like to see additional materials within each presentation, such as pamphlets, lectures, power points, etc. To teach a foreign language is a significant profession especially in a society where learning should have “global lenses.” The benefits of such a powerful foreign language conference in the global sense will be evident in the future.