A guest post by Misty Adoniou
In this blog, Misty Adoniou shares her experience attending and speaking at the 2016 WATESOL Conference, the Universities at Shady Grove, Gaithersburg, MD, 15–16 October.
On Saturday, 15 October, I had the very great honor of opening the WATESOL annual conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland, thanks to the TESOL International Associations Affiliate Speaker Program. This program gives TESOL affiliates the opportunity to have a member of the Board of Directors speak at their annual event.
The theme of the conference was “Making Creative Connections,” and creativity in language is a topic close to my heart, so I was very excited to be invited to speak.
Sharla Rivera, President of WATESOL, and her team – including the two Heathers and lovely Erin – were wonderful hosts.
I opened the conference with a keynote that asked, “What does it mean to be literate?”
We went on a journey through the history of written communication from hieroglyphs to emojis to discover that the only place where communication is narrowly defined as words on a page is probably in school. In the real world, communication is multimodal. We must navigate images, audio, gestures, and space – as well as words – in order to comprehend and communicate. So what does that mean for TESOL? If our focus is solely on the written word in our classrooms, are we providing our students only partial access to effective communication in English?
And once I was done, I was off to attend the sessions that followed. I confess I am a conference junkie. I love learning and listening to what others are doing. Let’s face it, we can’t be experts in everything in our field, so it is wonderful to hear about other people’s passions and learn from their expertise.
Of course the challenge at a conference is making decisions about which sessions to go to, particularly when there are so many good options. And at WATESOL, there really were many quality options. Every session I attended gave me new resources, new networks, or provoked new thinking.
Holly Gray and Sevtap Frantz shared free web tools that promote learning through gamification.
I am off to try Plickers in my work with newly arrived adult refugees in Australia. This fun tool allows you to use QR codes as a quick quiz tool to check for student understanding, and your students don’t need to have smart phones.
QR codes were also featured in Christina Kaku’s Poster session “Using QR Codes to Engage Students and Distribute Information,” one of many really interesting posters set up during the lunch break.
Insert photo 3 Caption Trying out QR codes with Christina Kaku
After lunch—and a lot of cake!—I decided to follow a thread that is closely related to my own work: honoring and utilizing the learners’ own languages on their English language learning journey. I chose well. Kaylin Wainwright gave a great session from the perspective of a classroom practitioner. She had terrific examples of how to use learners’ own languages in the ESL classroom, proving that you don’t have to be a multilingual teacher to nurture the multilingual skills of your learners.
Anjali Pandey followed with a terrific academic session that helped us understand what translanguaging is and where it fits in the ever-growing pantheon of nomenclature in TESOL. She has recently published a book Monolingualism and Linguistic Exhibitionism in Fiction, which is on my “to-buy” list.
And, before I knew it, the day was over, the thank yous given, the raffle tickets drawn, and it was time to head to the conference dinner. Talk at the dinner turned to holidays and travel, and I discovered that two of the people at my table were headed down to Australia over the Christmas holidays. I did my best to prepare them for the culture shock and to give them tips on the best places to see a koala in the wild!
What a great way to spend a day! Learning, talking and laughing with like-minded educators.
The WATESOL team has already started planning for next year. Keep an eye out for the dates. Come over next year and combine some professional learning with a visit to the many sights of Washington DC. I highly recommend it!
Misty Adoniou is an associate professor in language literacy and teaching English as a second language at the University of Canberra. She is a past president of the Australian Council of TESOL Associations and TESOL Greece, and a past chair of the Affiliate Leadership Council of TESOL International Association. Adoniou worked as a primary school ESL teacher for 10 years before moving to Greece and working in the field of EFL. In 2002, she moved into teacher education in Australia, where she teaches courses in TESOL, writing pedagogies, and children’s literature.