Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First Annual MELED Conference

First Annual Minnesota English Learner Education Conference
In November of this year, the two annual conferences focused on English language education in Minnesota merged into one. The MinneTESOL conference, hosted by the local branch of the international organization Teachers of English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) was combined with the Minnesota ESL, Bilingual and Migrant Conference hosted by the MN Department of Education. The newly formed conference was christened as the first annual Minnesota English Learner Education (MELED) Conference.

As a member of MinneTESOL for the last five years, I was curious to see what a combined conference would look like. I was pleased to see resources being shared between MinneTESOL and the MN Department of Education. The field of English language instruction, although not as new as one might assume, seems to change frequently. In the last five years, we have seen a brand-new system for intake and assessment and a strong push for inclusive, collaborative instruction.

The MELED Conference, much like the two conferences it replaced, proved to be an excellent venue for learning about changes in the field and for networking with colleagues. Some of the biggest updates this year related to the LEAPS Act, a recently-passed piece of legislation that seeks to improve education for English Learners in Minnesota. In addition, there were also multiple sessions on systemic functional linguistics, an approach to understanding language that has recently gained popularity among language teachers.

One of the most interesting conference presentations was the keynote session by Dr. Elaine Tarone, director of the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Tarone presented some interesting statistics on the history of multilingualism and language instruction in Minnesota. Her presentation underscored the idea that Minnesota has never been a monolingual state. Dr. Tarone also discussed Harriet Bishop, one of the first teachers in Minnesota. According to Tarone, Bishop’s first classroom was home to students who spoke three languages.

Today in Minnesota, our schools are home to over 100 different languages and dialects. Although that number can seem overwhelming at times, it is uplifting to reflect on a historical perspective. Multilingualism is nothing new in Minnesota, and our state’s history will continue to reflect diversity in language and language instruction. I look forward to attending the MELED Conference in future years to continue learning about new research and best practice in the field.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ideas Worth Spreading: TEDxBurnsville

Ideas Worth Spreading: TEDxBurnsvilleIn September of this year, I participated in my very first TEDx conference. I have been a big fan of TED videos for quite some time, but so far, I have only participated from the comfort of my couch. The official TED conference is usually held each year on the West Coast, and the cost of attending can reach into the thousands of dollars. Because of this, I was extraordinarily excited to find out that there would be a local TEDx conference in Minnesota this fall.

Officially named TEDx Burnsville, this local conference featured a strong line-up of speakers, including nationally-known educators and ed-leaders Eric Sheninger and Jennie Magiera. The topic of the conference was “Real World Ready” and each speaker talked about what it truly means to be preparing students for the real world.

To affirm the importance of student voice, the TEDX Burnsville line-up also featured Hasib Muhammad, an inspiring young man who has spoken in front of the United Nations on youth empowerment. His talk, along with many others throughout the day, reminded me that preparing students for the ‘real world’ is not just about preparing students for life after high school. In many ways, being real world ready means giving students the tools they need to navigate and influence our world in the present.

Although there were many thought-provoking moments throughout the course of the day, my favorite TED talk of the conference came from Jennie Magiera. A former colleague of mine had introduced me to Ms. Magiera’s blog several years ago. Having been impressed by her work and writing online, I had high expectations for her talk, which event coordinators had scheduled as the final of the day. Ms. Magiera’s passion and conviction exceeded my expectations and refreshed my own enthusiasm for education. The 18-minute talk is definitely well-worth the watch.

There were also a good number of local educators and administrators featured in the line-up, including Chris Turnbull, Michelle Ament, Brad Scherer, Brad Gustafson and 2014 MN Teacher of the Year Tom Rademacher. I had been following many of these local educators on Twitter, so it was exciting to finally see and hear from them in person. The complete list of speakers (as well as videos of their speeches) can be found here.