I recently attended the Wisconsin TESOL (WITESOL) Fall 2014 Conference in Eau Claire, Wisconsin—what a group! I met numerous ESOL educators who struck me as being practical, positive, and receptive to new ideas. The conference was well organized, and I especially appreciated the hospitality shown by WITESOL President Melanie Schneider, Past President Johnna Knoke, and other Board members. All in all, my first visit ever to Wisconsin will remain a very pleasant memory.
The theme of the conference was “Finding a Balance in the Digital Age.” I gave a plenary to complement this theme: “Adding Digital Literacies to the Mix.” The room was set up with round tables that made it easy to talk in small groups. During my talk, the audience members had opportunities for brief informal conversations, and they needed no encouragement to engage in lively discussions. Their dedication to their ESL students was unmistakable.
I had never attended a TESOL affiliate conference at which there were so many technology-related presentations. It occurred to me that at least in some areas, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is becoming the norm rather than the rarity that it used to be. Although I have been involved with CALL for a long time, I learned quite a lot from these sessions. New tools that I had never heard of were recommended. Some presenters brought up important practical considerations. For example, one ESL teacher moves around to several different classrooms and conference rooms in her busy daily schedule. She can never be sure what hardware or device (desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone) will be available in a given room. Some students bring in their own devices. Universal compatibility across all devices is one of her basic requirements. Ease of use is another absolute condition. She made recommendations for specific websites, software, and apps that work well in her situation.
A significant number of Brazilian students are now attending intensive and academic English programs in Wisconsin. Since I speak Portuguese, the WITESOL board asked me to do a session about the specific problems faced by Portuguese-speaking learners of English. Their instructors showed great concern and respect for their students and seemed eager to address any challenges that came up.
During lunch, President-Elect and Advocacy Chair Lori Menning reported on having attended the TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit last June. She spoke very highly of the summit. As a direct result of her participation, the congressman in her district actually visited her school and attended her bilingual class. Kudos to the Public Policy and Communications staff at TESOL for organizing the summit each year!