Lunchtime Conversations

The Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) used our NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Grant this year to work with two young teachers who are excelling in our field. The reflection posted here is from Julianna Balmer – a teaching candidate at West Chester University. The reflection from our second grant recipient will be posted later this month.


“So long as you understand one another, English is English.” This statement came from the lips of an international Ugandan student who is fluent in 3+ languages. I, along with several others, leaned in close to hear the beautiful words Gloria would say next.

I had the honor and privilege of partnering with the Writing Center at my university to plan and create a workshop conference called, “Intercultural Communication & Tutoring”. This workshop conference focused on equipping Writing Center tutors and English and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers with practical ways to support English Language Learner (ELL) students who enter classrooms and writing centers. Three faculty members from my university presented interactive workshops on: Respecting World Englishes, Working with TOEFL-Trained Writers, and Promoting Self-Direction for ELLs. These sessions were filled with meaningful, relevant content and encouraged active engagement between participants.

After a lunch break (because we needed the fuel to keep learning!), participants took part in “hosted conversations” engaging in the roles of host, participant, bee, or butterfly. Hosts chose a topic and led the conversation. Participants stayed with one host to explore a topic. Bees moved between groups and cross-pollinated discussions. Butterflies moved from session to session, primarily as listeners. Each group used a graphic organizer to take notes (provided) and brought back a “harvest” of highlights from their sessions at the end of the workshop conference. This was a way for participants to network and continue conversations begun during the morning sessions.

This was time well-spent in listening to one another share personal experiences and thoughts regarding intercultural communication and writing. It was during this time that Gloria spoke the words, “So long as you understand one another, English is English.” I was a participant taking part in discussion focused on accents, and was so intrigued by experiences and comments shared. Our discussion ranged from talk about accents as identities, how exposure to accents influences our ability to hear them, and language as a tool. It was rich discussion filled with many “mhmm” and “ohhh!” moments as we exchanged thoughts and encouraged each other to see accents from different perspectives.

Many similar conversations were taking place around the building, and as I listened to tidbits here and there I heard and saw a community of educators who are dedicated to furthering their understanding and support of intercultural learning. I have no doubt that each attendee is making a difference in the lives of their students and colleagues, one word at a time.

Simple lunchtime conversations can become moments where passionate thinkers come together, engage in meaningful conversation, and take those conversations back to their communities for further discussion and implementation. These conversations are worthwhile. These conversations are compelling. These conversations are powerful. What are your lunchtime conversations like?

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Lunchtime Conversations