At the ACTFL conference in Boston on November 18–21, I saw many presentations that showed how teachers are enriching their understanding of language teaching. Nicole Mills, of Harvard, discussed her study of language instructors who engage in action research based on their teaching. Her findings from studying this group of seasoned instructors, who were pursuing an MATSL at Bennington and doing the research as part of their master’s degree, were that the practice of doing the research made instructors more conscious of their own teaching, made them feel more valued by their colleagues, and made them more likely to innovate in their teaching in the future. Olga Kagan, of UCLA, chaired a panel on Flagship Programs, which integrate the teaching of a language with teaching content in a discipline. Sandra Freels, from Portland State, discussed how the Russian Flagship Program worked with faculty outside the language departments to create a series of disciplinary courses in the target language—such as Russian and Environmental Studies—that allowed students to make significant gains in fluency while still pursuing time-intensive majors, such as those in the fields of math and science.
I also attended a talk on EPorfolios that showcased the impressive portfolio project Lafayette College has built over the last several years. Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, a professor of Spanish, explained how a group of Lafayette instructors had constructed the portfolio template by deciding on the balance of test-reporting, reflection, and process documentation each student should include. She showed examples of student portfolios that demonstrate the breadth and creativity of the items students included in their portfolios (analysis of literature in the form of a comic book, Skype phone calls with language partners, writing samples, etc.) and made the case for why this is a richer form of assessment than standard measures. Mary Toulouse, the director of Lafayette’s language lab, argued that the portfolio has revolutionized teaching by moving instructors away from a grammar-translation model to a proficiency-based model of language achievement. She emphasized the important role that process can play in the artifacts included in the portfolios (for example, students including multiple drafts of written pieces) and the centrality of reflection to the portfolio.