Friday, July 13, 2007

ASHA, day 1

After only half a day at the ASHA conference I am mentally overly stimulated and exhausted. Part of it I'm sure is just the confusion of the tipping policies and hotel etiquette I'm not familiar with. The rest is from being 100% out of my league and I'm loving every second of it.

ASHA, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, is not something I had even heard of before my research partner, a speech pathologist, submitted our work to this conference. I'm so excited to be here, but I may be the only non-speech pathologist here. As I frantically took notes during my very interesting afternoon session, the presenter made comments about "obviously, this is something we all know." Not me. However, being 100% newbie is freeing because I can ask dumb questions and really learn from the people around me.

This afternoon I sat in on a fascinating presentation on intervention with bilingual children, something that is very relevant to my school community. I was particularly drawn to the data showing that
1) children in our country will learn English no matter what
2) learning in a bilingual environment supports their home language, but also improves their English acquisition. (this matches studies I have done on teaching kids in poverty)
3) bilingual children introduced to English-Only instruction regress in their home language, leaving them unable to communicate with their parents beyond a three-five year old vocabulary.
4) Children no longer able to communicate with their parents are more likely to join gangs (looking for an acceptable American family), drop out of high school, and participate in communicate activity.

The presenter actually presented this by pointing out that in reality, our main goal is to create valuable citizens that will contribute to social security so that we can all retire. Economically, we should be teaching bilingual education so that we prevent crime and encourage our country's economy.

To be honest (please, no tomatoes) after teaching ESOL children for years I had come to believe that English-Only education was best. I watched kids come in from Asia or Africa and learn English so fast because they had no one to translate for them. I watched kids come in from Spanish-speaking countries and learn English very slowly as we all, myself included, translated and even taught lessons in Spanish. It seemed they weren't picking up on English as fast as their peers from Indonesia who I couldn't possibly begin to translate for. I'd never thought about what happened when they left my classroom and went home, unable to even explain their homework to their parents in their home language.

I'm cringing at my belief now, looking at the data, and picturing my little first graders as 15 year olds, unable to communicate with their family. I'm sure at 15 I'd have been thrilled if I could have pretended I 'misunderstood' my parents and could disregard their rules, but 16 years later I can admit that their demanding rules were probably best.

Off for a day of more learning :)

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