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Looking back on a conversation series exploring perspectives about the education of English Learners

This past Thursday I concluded a series of twelve conversations with prominent scholars in the field of learning English as an additional language and learning academic subject matter in English; the contexts and policies within which these practices operate; and the resulting social and educational dynamics. Each conversation highlighted a different, at most times complementary, and at times with variying perspectives, marked by different approaches and emphases. Guests came from Australia, Canada, England, and the United States. I hosted from Lima, Peru, where I have been since early March when the pandemic triggered border closings. They were: Guadalupe Valdés from Stanford University; Ofelia García from the City University of New York; Kenji Hakuta from Stanford University; Joel Westheimer from the University of Ottawa; George Bunch from the University of California, Santa Cruz; Alice Stott from Voice 21 in London; Jenny Hammond from the University of Technology, Sydney; Beverly Derewianka from Wollongong University in Australia; Magaly Lavadenz from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles; Amanda Kibler from the Oregon State University; Meg Gebhard from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Diane Larsen-Freeman from the University of Michigan.

When Covid-19 struck, it promptly sent us into seclusion through the summer, forcing us to cautiously work from home. Rich, intellectual interactions with colleagues were postponed as we connected with them with the urgency of specific tasks at hand. It was in that context that it occurred to me how wonderful it would be to have for an hour a conversation with an admired scholar about the themes that we passionately care about, the education of English Learners and how to promote their deep and generative language and academic development. If colleagues could be privy to the conversation, that would be lovely. My teammates in the Quality Teaching for English Learners Initiative and I were amazed by the results. Attendance to each conversation fluctuated between 1,100 and 650. That interest was immensely gratifying, it reiterated our notion that educators are committed to enhancing their understanding and getting better at supporting their students. Their feedback clearly said so. We received many versions of this comment: “What a pleasure it was to be stimulated intellectually and grow professionally in fun ways. The hour went by so fast.”

Many themes echoed through each conversation. I will be blogging about the main content of each one while highlighting points of relevance to the field. Cross cutting themes included the evolving state of the knowledge about second language development and the importance of teachers being informed about advances to implement new practices; the centrality of theory in practice; the impact of labels on how we perceive English Learners and design their education; how to develop not just successful, but civically responsible and participatory citizens. Stay tuned, I will be discussing the conversations in rich detail in the future.

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