Back from ACTFL (2016)

02 Dec 2016

I’ve been back from ACTFL for a while, but immediately upon returning I discovered that a bunch of my websites (all hosted on the same shared server) had been infested with malware. So I had that to deal with, in addition to a mountain of other pre-Christmas things.

The server was likely infected because an old WordPress install (that should have been deleted) was exploited. The best fix was a clean wipe: change passwords, export WordPress content via mySQL database dump, re-install WordPress, and re-import each website’s content. Fortunately, my web hosting service, WebFaction, was really helpful. They detected and alerted me of the malware in the first place, and provided useful guidance helping me clean it up. WebFaction is not the best service for anyone relatively clueless about tech, but if you can handle SSH and, like me, don’t mind Googling Linux commands occasionally to get stuff done, it’s really excellent.

But back to ACTFL… It was great to talk to the teachers I met there, and although I was there representing Mandarin Companion this time, I also met teachers familiar with Sinosplice, AllSet Learning, and ChinesePod. It was invaluable to get this rare face-to-face teacher feedback.

Here are my observations from the conference:

  • I was last at ACTFL in 2008, when almost all Chinese teachers in attendance were university instructors, with a sprinkling of teachers from cutting-edge high schools. Now there are plenty of high schools, middle schools, and even primary schools represented. So one unexpected piece of positive feedback was that even middle schools can use Mandarin Companion’s graded readers, and the kids like them.
  • In 2008, pretty much all Chinese teachers in attendance were ethnically Chinese. The only exception I can remember was my own Chinese teacher from undergrad at UF, Elinore Fresh (who was a bit of an anomaly, having grown up in mainland China). But now many of those non-Chinese kids that studied Chinese in college and got pretty good at it have become Chinese teachers themselves, and are also attending ACTFL. I’ve always been a proponent of the learner perspective in language pedagogy, so this is a fantastic trend to see. Chinese and non-Chinese teachers can accomplish so much more by collaborating.
  • There’s a strong TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) faction at ACTFL, the lead proponent for its application to Chinese pedagogy being Dr. Terry Waltz. I got a chance to talk to her about her methods, as well as other practitioners such as Diane Neubauer, who contributes to a great blog dedicated to TPRS for Chinese called Ignite Chinese. It’s very encouraging to see classroom innovation in this space, and I am researching TPRS more.
  • Boston is a pretty cool city. I regret that I didn’t have the time to check it out properly.

When I attended ACTFL in 2008, I met the guys behind Skritter, which went on to become a world-class service. I didn’t make any similar discoveries this time, but there’s no substitute for direct communication with all the teachers back in the USA working hard to prepare the next generation of kids for a world that needs Chinese language skills more than ever. I expect to be attending ACTFL pretty regularly in the coming years.

Now for some photos!

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Diane Neubauer 杜雁子 Says: December 2, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Hi John, It’s nice to read your report from ACTFL. I was very glad to meet you and Jared there, after years of following and appreciating your work online. I use Mandarin Companion books in my upper level high school classes because of the engaging stories and natural cultural content.

    One note about the information above: the blog where I write (www.tprsforchinese.blogspot.com) was started by another Chinese teacher, Haiyun Lu, and I joined later. I want her to have the credit for starting and sustaining the blog. There are now about 5 of us who blog there occasionally.

    And the silly photo, ah, that was the one published. Ah well! It was a fun time.

    • Ah, thanks for the clarification. I was unsure. Blog post updated!

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and sharing. (Now you’re paying the price, but I hope it was still worth it. Ha!)

  2. Marilynn Pasden Says: December 6, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Merely hearing about reading/storytelling in your post didn’t include details of how it’s done, but it made me think of how, when you were teaching Chinese college students conversational English in Hang Zhou, you would have the students role play various scenarios. do students read a story and then retell it in their own words?

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