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.

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