Sharing ideas for English language learning


Imagine a conference where learners and teachers come together. Identities are only revealed if participants choose. All sessions are geared towards everyone. Though idyllic, this conference is not imaginary; it is the Minnesota Literacy Council’s annual Sharing the Power Conference.

“No one is at a higher status. Everyone can feel like they can say what they want to,” explained Eric Nesheim, MLC’s Executive Director. The concept for a conference combining teachers (including English-as-a-Second Language, Adult Basic Education, or other community-based educators) as well as learners (adult and immigrant students) and volunteer tutors came from a conference Nesheim attended in Washington.

Though the nature of the conference has changed over its 13 years, the basic concept remains the same. Learners and teachers come together—both facilitating sessions. This year’s April 12 meeting drew more than 150 people.

Teachers, learners, and tutors gathered at the Best Buy Corporate Conference Center. Best Buy donated the use of the center and conference scholarships for 50 learners. Among the sessions and topics:

• “Do You Speak Fruits?” modeled instructive teaching methods as well as healthy eating,

• “Introduction to the Karen Culture” focused on an ethnic group from Burma that comprises 75 percent of the learners at one of MLC’s St. Paul centers, and

• “Become the Author of Your Own Real E-book!” allowed learners and teachers to create adult-level books about topics such as taking a driving test or cooking ethnic foods.

Carol Van Ess, an ELL teacher at Somali Adult Literacy Training, found new ideas to share with co-workers in a session on vowel sounds. She was enthusiastic about a session on making worksheets useful because she is “always looking for new ways to help the students understand, especially for Somalis because they didn’t go to school before,” she pointed out, explaining that her learners are not accustomed to the traditional methods of teaching they must adapt to here.

The conference was organized by Cathy Grady, MLC’s Adult Program Director. In addition to finding out what is new in the field and coordinating sessions, she organized the awards ceremony that followed the morning conference. Honors were given to outstanding learners and volunteers, community partnership awards, and recognition of volunteers providing up to 3000 hours of volunteer service. A few short hours on a Saturday morning expressed the mission of MLC: to share the power of learning through education, community building, and advocacy.

Jennifer Haut lives in the Twin Cities and contributes freelance writing in her spare time.