Dec 08

The 17th Annual Language Series Conference— My First Time, Certainly Not My Last

Posted by Carolina Soto in Graduate Admissions on Dec 08, 2016

Vibrant, effervescent— people milled about the Bank Street lobby. Anticipation and enthusiasm intertwined with warmth and comfort—  painting the diverse crowd with both splashes of bright color and hushed golden honey hues like translucent watercolor. Trickling into the Tabas Auditorium, we awaited the keynote address.

The pleasure of contemplating and reflecting upon the captivating content presented at Bank Street’s 17th annual Language Series Conference was only surpassed by experiencing the interactions with the kind and multifaceted attendees. Encountering participants who traveled from all over the country specifically to attend the conference was telling. Nanci Bunte de Carvalho, Education Manager of the Children First Program at Venice Family Clinic in California says this is her third or fourth time traveling to New York for the event. She says, “Bank Street is the model for teachers and early childhood professionals who are passionate about what they do. [...] I always feel very energized and moved by the people I meet, the content, and the instructors [at the conference]." 

The Language Series — which this year highlighted: Building on Students’ Linguistic and Cultural Assets for Academic Success— is a brilliant treasure to the Bank Street repertoire and speaks not only to social truths, but to people’s lives.

How incredibly apropos that a conference illuminating language fluidity, cultural inclusion, and empowering children to be their whole selves— to utilize all personal language tools in learning — should uplift us at a time when many New York City people feel demoralized by recent politics. Rachel Brick from Chicago, IL says, “this Series is especially timely — we’re talking about every voice of every student.

On Friday night, the keynote address, facilitated by Dr. Ofelia García, was rich and impassioned— I learned more about language in an hour than ever. Modelling translanguaging herself (speaking fluidly utilizing multilingual vocabulary), Dr. García spoke about acknowledging, promoting, and using children’s linguistic resources to cultivate learning, self-worth, identity, and real freedom. She asked us, “why are minoritized children’s languages unauthorized [in U.S. schools]?” She said, “[if children] cannot speak from inside, they can only speak from a text.” This blunt realization shattered any kind of acceptance of “English-only” anything I may have acquired through our educational system. Via turn-and-talk activities, graphics, videos and discourse, Dr. García clearly illustrated the immeasurable value in normalizing translanguaging to enable inclusion and to scaffold a student’s journey in identifying their own voices and helping others do the same. Being an English language learner (ELL) myself, and personally understanding the experience of many others, her presentation was a compelling and powerful call to action.

Carolina Soto, Dr. Luisa Costa, & Keynote Speaker Dr. Ofelia García

Saturday, conference members were treated to three workshops of their choice, specifically targeting a domain in education as a vehicle for continuing to explore language and linguistic elements in teaching and learning. Joining some of my cohort group to enjoy the offered pastries and bagels with fixings for breakfast in the lobby, the lingering scent of coffee chased away any sleepiness we could have had. It also helped that invigorated by the keynote the prior evening, everyone seemed primed for the day to come. Cherished Bank Street instructor, advisor, and Language Series Coordinator, Dr. Luisa Costa, artfully rang a bell throughout the lobby—  the lovely reverberating peal marking the beginning of the rest of the day.

I’d added a music workshop to my choices and glancing at the individualized itinerary given to me at the entrance tables, I was lucky enough to have it come first. I looked forward to a fun, informative way to start the conference. The workshop, Songs and Singing as a Gateway for Language Development in Early Childhood, was a lively, guitar-and-rhythm filled experience. Henry Chapin, husband of Bank Street School for Children music instructor, Betsy Blachly, facilitated the workshop. His big smile and enthusiasm broke us out of any shyness we may have felt at singing along with a large group of unfamiliar people. I’ve found in my own classroom, my students may not necessarily listen to everything I say, but they listen to everything I sing. In this workshop, we explored the ideas of music as a means to motivate, engage, and unify our students — essentially promoting a community of learners who tap into their innate musical inclinations and use it to facilitate literacy learning and language acquisition. Anna Adler, Senior Manager of Literacy Programs for READ Boston, who also traveled for the Series, says some of the reasons she came to the event include, “learning how I can be more sensitive to cultural assets and families. [...] I am a big proponent for teaching effectively and multilinguistic practice. We don’t have this in Boston— New York City is ahead of us, and Bank Street is leading us.

My following workshop was Fostering Communication Using Culturally Responsive Practices (CRP) and Authentic Collaborations with our Youngest Communicators. While I have had previous experience with this core Bank Street idea through the master’s program (it is such a meaningful part of progressive pedagogy) a focus on the linguistic aspect seemed a significant way to learn more. This workshop allowed us to deeply analyze the ways we think of culture and language and to highlight the strengths of multilinguistic learning environments. We also explored strategies for representing comprehensible input and supporting young ELLs while upholding personal funds of knowledge and home language. Gabriel Guyton and Kristina Satchell facilitated the workshop and punctuated it by taking us on guided tours of some infant/toddler classrooms at the School for Children. We had the opportunity to see the implementation of many of the culturally responsive and communication practices we’d just explored upstairs. As a teacher, this was remarkably valuable— concrete examples I could use in my classroom were everywhere. Sascha Vazquez (who came to the event from Chicago, IL) says, “I never leave the Language Series without at least two or three things I immediately want to try in my classroom.

After the lunch break in which attendees gathered at the college’s cafeteria to enjoy provisions laid out for us, my last workshop, Oh, The Places We’ll Go! Integrating Movement and Dance into the Curriculum for Meaning Making, was so welcome. I’d get to stretch and move my body a little, which, after a hefty sandwich and learning-filled day— was necessary. Clara Bello, the workshop facilitator, lithely led us through meditation, stretches, light exercises, all with the specific purpose of translating kinesthetic practice to our students. We explored the connection between academic material and our minds and bodies through activities such as the BrainDance Hokey Pokey and Alphabet Shapes. Incorporating physical movement as a tool for learning, particularly for young children, is a vital strategy for growth and progress. We also touched upon acceptance, community and respect through activities such as Space Bubbles which promoted the concept of personal space and emotional literacy. Some of us also performed dramatic representations— utilizing our bodies as instruments of expression— of feelings, ideas and concrete works such as art and literature.

My first experience at the Language Series was a meaningful way to deeply explore linguistic concepts and become closer to the Bank Street community. Sign me up for next year! tagged bank street events, conferences, language series, luisa costa, ofelia garcia
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