REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
This past March 26th and 27th, I attended my first TESOL convention, and felt invigorated as I roamed the halls and classrooms of the impressive Metro Toronto Convention Center over two days of busy learning and connecting. I was astounded at the amount of coincidental meetings with new and familiar faces, inspired by the work being done by passionate educators and researchers in the field of English language teaching (ELT), and honored to be counted among the presenters.
On the morning of my presentation, I grabbed a coffee and muffin and sat down with a stranger, Kirti, from Delhi, India. As I chatted with her, I learned that she was a colleague and friend of a welcoming woman I had met two years ago at the Asia TEFL conference in Delhi, Jayshri Kannon. Jayshri had invited me for an authentic Indian experience when I was attending the conference, a generous and unforgettable gesture of kindness for someone she’d just met. We’ve since remained friends on Facebook. I enjoyed chatting with Kirti and marveled at the way global organizations such as TESOL are able to bring people from around the world, from all walks of life, together in the name of improving teaching and learning. As I continued on to prepare for my presentation in my allotted session space, in walked Mark from Japan, an acquaintance from the Task-Based Learning Special Interest Group (TBL-SIG) of the Japanese Association of Language Teachers (JALT), an organization which I was a member of while in Japan. In fact, it was at the TBL conference in Osaka, Japan in 2012 where I gave my first poster presentation on project-based learning (PBL), encouraged forward in my work by the supportive community of the TBL-SIG. Oana strolled in after, another familiar face from the TBL-SIG, and suddenly, the task ahead wasn’t so daunting anymore. Two other colleagues and friends from Japan also came to support me. As I shook hands, gave hugs, and welcomed those who were there to learn from me, I was reminded that I am part of an extraordinary local and global community of people who are dedicated to helping their students be successful learners, and I couldn’t wait for my own learning to start.
I wasn’t disappointed by the fantastic line-up of sessions I attended over the two days I spent at the convention. Here are some of the high-lights:
Building Bridges between Rigorous Standards and ELLs
collaborating, as well as ideas about the best model for ELL support. Most people felt as I do, that there is not one best model for all students/schools, but that a combination of pull-out, push-in and co-teaching that best meets a variety of needs for different children is most beneficial. However, in push-in situations, ELL teachers can often feel more like support staff than equal partners in instruction. There was a consensus that shared planning time was one of the most important structural indicators of collaborative success. Teachers who were given this time seemed to have much more effective and equal teams, which allowed for more co-teaching to happen.
Building Bridges between Schools & Families
I was lucky to have some social and explore time in Toronto too. I met up with the JALT representation for dinner at the 360 restaurant in the CN tower, and over the glittering lights of the city we chatted about the future of English teaching in Japan. I took a day with my good friend Karina, a fellow graduate of Saint Michael’s College MATESOL program and colleague from Japan, to visit the historic distillery district and bustling Saint Lawrence Market. I had a mini-Japan reunion with some of my closest girlfriends from my time in Japan, and we all went dancing to the classic rhythm and blues beats of Dee Dee at the Dirty Martini’s at the Reservoir Lounge (highly recommended!). And, I had engaging conversation over local Canadian brews at Bar Hop with one of my Saint Michael’s professors, learning about her adventures of hitchhiking around the world!
It is the total of these rich experiences over a few short days that make me feel I have indeed crossed borders and walked over bridges. Life is full of fascination and joy, if you are open to it. As I flew hundreds of miles above the earth, looking down at the frozen land below, reflecting on my trip, I composed this poem that illustrates my emotions post-TESOL convention:
Softly tread the earth my friend,
Listen as you breath.
The wind will blow you round the bend,
And lend you all you need.
You have to learn to listen though,
Lest you miss the rustling leaves,
That calmly coo connections
Traveling subtly on the breeze.
Massive frozen earth below
It barely feels your weight,
But a multitude of prints
Are engraved upon the shifting scapes.
We wander or we stay,
We breath the days away,
We pack them up inside,
With the wind behind our eyes.
I'm Sarah Forbes. I'm the