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Bank Street Hosts Panel Discussion to Support New TESOL Program

Posted by Bank Street on February 07, 2017

On Friday, January 27th, Bank Street welcomed a distinguished panel of experts to engage in a discussion around how educators can strengthen standards-based literacy practices across settings where multilingual students learn. The event was held to celebrate Bank Street Graduate School’s new Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program, which was designed to deeply prepare teachers and prospective teachers to work with students learning English as a New Language (ENL).

The evening’s panelists included Dr. Nelson Flores, Assistant Professor of Educational Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania; Pamela M. Jones, Advisor/Instructor in the Teaching and Learning Department at Bank Street Graduate School of Education; Dr. Nicole Moriarty, Director of K-12 ENL at Mineola Union Free School District; Megan Purvis, ENL Instructional Specialist and Professional Development Coordinator for the Multilingual Learner Project, New Visions for Public Schools; and Kate Seltzer, PhD Candidate in Urban Education at CUNY Graduate Center. The panel was moderated by Cristian Solorza, GSE ’02, Director of TESOL and Dual Language Bilingual Programs at Bank Street Graduate School of Education.

The powerful discussion centered on the growing urgency for ENL educators to create meaningful environments for multilingual students to learn and grow. This notion is becoming increasingly important in today’s educational and political climate—currently, first generation immigrants make up twenty two percent of the population in New York City, and the children in New York City schools speak over 150 languages.

These statistics alone show an inherent need for strong multilingual education, but the panelists expressed that it can be challenging for ENL teachers to implement standards-based literacy practices—which can be narrow and often limiting—in ways that are productive for multilingual learners. The panelists, who have extensive experience working in diverse, multicultural settings, spoke to how educators can use certain skills and dispositions to work around these challenges and reach their students effectively.

“I found myself needing to find ways to be creative and take the lackluster curriculum that I was faced with and make it come to life for the kids,” said Dr. Nicole Moriarty. “This involves the capacity to dream beyond the standard curriculum and see what it has the potential to be.”

The panelists came from all corners of the field—including teaching, advising, and administration—but each of them shared an unrelenting determination to leave behind traditional, inefficient models of ENL education and re-envision the best ways to work with multilingual students. The speakers agreed that while this is no easy feat, educators can embrace a trial and error process and think outside the box to create rich, expansive experiences that preserve students’ linguistic diversity and validate their authentic use of language.

“ENL educators must position themselves as learners,” said Moriarty. “They need to ask questions about their students and embark on an inquiry. They need open-mindedness, flexibility, and a growing self-knowledge of their own implicit biases about language and literacy. And finally, they need to grow their ability to be present and bring an alert mind and compassionate heart to their work.”

What was clear from the evening’s discussion was that ENL educators have a very special role in the classroom—and a challenging one. This concept is what led the Bank Street Graduate School to create its new TESOL master’s degree program, which was formally announced by Solorza to the audience of educators, administrators, students, and prospective students at the event. The program, which includes both a single certification and an advanced certification track, equips ENL teachers with the proper tools to respond efficiently to the needs of multilingual students.

Grounded in the developmental interaction approach, the program prepares educators to be advocates, critical thinkers, and innovators of language teaching and learning. They develop the ability to collaborate with a range of colleagues and families around curriculum development, assessment, and program planning for multilingual learners.

According to the panelists, these kinds of educators are needed now more than ever.

“The challenges we’re facing can seem overwhelming, but we have a choice to either replicate the status quo or to imagine new worlds and teach to those new worlds,” said Valentine Burr, Chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning in the Bank Street Graduate School. “We need to give voice to students who have been made voiceless. Our new TESOL program re-envisions education in this way and honors the humanity of each student in a classroom.”

For more information on Bank Street’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program, click here.

From left to right: Cristian Solorza, Pamela M. Jones, Dr. Nelson Flores, Dr. Nicole Moriarty, Megan Purvis, and Kate Seltzer