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A Treat All The Way Through:

A Presenter's Reflections

By Monica Schnee

This year’s Spring Conference brought with it a new venue and a new buzz. The airy, clean-looking and welcoming space set up the stage for a vibrant conference. From the light-filled atrium, to the dark yet not cavernous conference rooms, this year’s experience was a great one! The breakfast that awaited us when we arrived gave us a hint of what lunch would be like. The food was excellent and a fabulous change from prior years. This time, I felt that I was looking forward to lining up to eat lunch. For those of us who enjoyed it, the summer compote with crème fraiche was memorable and sitting down for lunch made me feel like an adult who spent a day learning, next to intelligent and knowledgeable colleagues.

The Awards Dinner was a true celebration of the diversity in our classrooms. The array of different foods from Japan, India, Italy, and Spain was framed in the amazing performances of the two dancers representing Spain and the Middle East. Just like their dances showed the fusion of cultures, so did the ingredients of the different dishes. The Scholarship Awards reminded us of how worthy our jobs are and of the impact that our decisions and guidance have on the students we serve.

The workshops that I presented on Tuesday and Wednesday were received with great interest, a wish to learn, and to exchange ideas and concerns. Tuesday’s, Extending Language Learning with Web 2.0 Tools, was an opportunity to share with practitioners how to integrate digital tools into our instruction in order to support the four language domains. The audience ranged from true neophytes to experienced technology users. This allowed for a true “differentiated” exchange. The participants brainstormed and shared various instructional uses that could be applied to all grade levels, including higher education. The web 2.0 tool, Wordle, was probably the favorite.

Wednesday’s workshop was not as fun or creative but a very necessary discussion. Why We Should Use the WIDA MODEL* for Kindergarten? raised many questions and answered numerous concerns. The participants discussed how their districts handle the screening and placement of ELLs. From home language surveys to placement tools, there is quite a large range that begs for consistency. Some districts incorporate the questions on use of a second language at home in their registration forms. They also require parents to meet three criteria in order to begin the screening. Other districts have a separate language survey that they require all parents to fill out. If another language is spoken at home most of the time, this information determines a need for screening. The same inconsistency applies to use of screening tools for placement, which run the gamut from MAC*, to IPT*, to W-APT* to the MODEL*.  The workshop proved very productive as participants left with the knowledge and rationale to ask their districts to change their screening tool to the MODEL and for those who have already done so, they felt that their decision was validated. We all agreed that this is a conversation that should continue amongst practitioners and supervisors as well as on our listserve in order to offer our population the most effective and consistent tools to guide their placement and subsequent instruction.

The SIG meeting for Pre-K and K led by Karen Nemeth and Sandee McHughe-McBride was a forum of discussion and exchange that was filled with information shared by the two outstanding, and now, past Early Childhood Representatives. As the incoming representative, I hope to be able to provide the level of knowledge and dedication that both Karen and Sandee have given during their tenure.

As an attendee, I’d like to mention that the Colorín Colorado presentation was a wonderful resource where we saw the single handed work of Lydia Breiseth. She is truly dedicated to providing all of us in the world of ESL with great tools and exciting materials to use in our schools and with our parents.

Nancy Cloud was an inspiration. Her presentations demonstrated not only what we could achieve as educators but the enormous world of possibilities that exists for our learners. I learned about best practices that I wanted to go back and implement immediately and, most of all, I came out with the knowledge that there is always so much more to learn to give our students what they need.

I'd like to thank the NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board for organizing an event that enabled all of us to learn, share, validate, and update what we need in our field. I am looking forward to next year’s.

The Spring Conference was a success!

(Please note that both handouts are available on the website).

* MAC: Maculaitis Assessment of Competencies II Test of English Language    Proficiency® Grades: PreK-12
* IPT: IDEA (Individualized Developmental English Activities) Proficiency Test
* W-APT: WIDA-ACCESS (Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners) Placement Test™
* MODEL: Measure of Developing English Language ™-- Editor

Monica Schnee is the Early Childhood SIG Representative. She teaches in River Edge and may be reached at mschnee@njtesol-njbe.org .