Advocating for English Language Learners

“Funds of knowledge are everywhere. We just have to have the lens to see them,” said language professor Norma Gonzalez. Gonzales was one of several featured speakers for the Second Annual BYU ELL Symposium held on campus last week. This year’s two-day event drew in hundreds of teachers, principals, parents, business and religious leaders, as well as legislators.

The themed concept of “funds of knowledge” is based on a simple premise: People are competent and have knowledge, family heritage, and life experiences that can be used as a basis for education in support of communities. McKay School professor Ray Graham also addressed the symposium participants noting, “Of all the funds of knowledge, perhaps the greatest is language.” Graham then asked his audience to consider what their reaction might be if their language, as a very personal possession, was considered a problem. “As [English language learners] lose their native language, they lose a great resource to themselves and to our nation,” he added.

The first event of the two-day symposium celebrated the teaching and learning of English language learners (ELL), recognizing local teachers' strengths and McKay School strategies for improving classroom practice. The McKay School’s main emphasis is to increase the number of endorsed ESL teachers by providing training to teacher candidates, classroom teachers, and school administrator in the McKay School Teaching English Language Learners (TELL) program. A parent round table was held on the evening of the first day, bringing parents and educators together to collaborate and share techniques for better student participation and learning.

Participants attending the second day were taught by state and national presenters including Jodi Crandall from the University of Maryland, Norma Gonzalez from the University of Arizona, Catherine Amanti from Tuscson Unified School District, and Pam Perlich from the University of Utah. Break-out sessions and focus groups subsequently explored attitudes and practices that enhance full participation and potential contributions of these learners in the communities, state, and nation. Discussions were based on professional papers summarized in briefs.

The Symposium was sponsored by the McKay School of Education and its Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling and the BYU-Public School Partnership, as well as by the BYU College of Humanities and Wheatley Institution, for the purpose to recognizing capacities and potentials of English Language Learners and their families.  Organizer Winn Egan called the event “sensational.” Already anticipating next year’s symposium, Egan said he is asking himself, “What becomes the focus of next year?” He added, “We want the symposium to continue to grow. Carol Solomon implemented the decisions of the planning committee. She praised the committee’s efforts; “There were well over 250 people who helped make this year successful. Besides the 80+ folks who helped with presentations, panels and entertainment, there was an executive and steering committee.” In addition to Egan and Solomon, other lead organizers include Stefinee Pinegar, Betty Frances, and Ray Graham.