The first conference I attended was titled, "Working with Special Populations" which dealt with the many issues associated with teaching children with special needs. The first presenter was Ellen Bensusan, a special educator at Barrington High School. Ellen discussed some basic knowledge of special education and many of the requirements a teacher must meet in order to ensure their students become strong self-advocates. The second presenter was Dr. Amanda K. Sox, a professor at RIC who is a member of the Rhode Island College TESOL Program (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Dr. Sox spoke about many of the important terms and issues concerning teachers who deal with children who have trouble understanding English. Additional conferences I attended were the "Plenary Session" and "Youth Panel" which provided information about "teen empowerment", a movement that inspires young adults to better themselves and become better individuals. In this blog I will discuss these events in detail, and share my thoughts as to how this information relates to many of the course readings and topics we have discussed in class to become a better teacher.
At the beginning of the "Working with Special Populations" conference, Ellen Bensusan shared with us a quote, which read, "If you learn nothing else, learn to ask for help." I believe that this is an important idea since the first step in helping students with special needs is determining what it is exactly they need help doing. Ellen explained that many students have difficulty asking for help and may not even realize that they require additional attention. For students with special needs, it may be difficult to identify and accept their limitations. Teachers must be able to recognize special or gifted students, and make it known that they shouldn't be ashamed of their special needs, but rather accept them and use various strategies to solve new problems. This relates to Allan Johnsons, Privilege, Power, and Difference; it’s incredibly important that we be able to talk about the issues that students are having in the classroom, students must feel comfortable in order to become good self advocates. Ellen stressed that such students should become "strong self-advocates" which has been proven to help them become more successful. Ellen then directed her lecture towards teacher responsibilities, introducing terms such as "IDEA" which stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Act", and explained how such programs ensure that students with special needs get the extra attention they need to succeed. If students, parents and teachers work together, they can discuss a plan that may help the students become self-advocates and become better learners. With the knowledge that it may be difficult for some students to develop this strong sense of self-efficacy, Ellen provided several steps which can be taken to begin the process; knowledge of the self, knowledge of rights, communication, and leadership. If teachers would like more information about these steps, there is a "manual" illustrating usage, which can be found: here. It's believed that if students are aware of their disabilities, understand their rights, and communicate with their teachers exactly what special needs they require, their education can become very beneficial. Although it may seem simple for many, the issue of communication can often create a barrier for students—which is what Dr. Amanda K. Sox talked about during the second part of the conference.
Dr. Sox provided many valuable resources that could help teachers assist students who have issues with communication. One of these resources presented is called "WIDA" which stands for "World-class Instructional Design and Assessment". This contains a series of tests, which formatively assess the academic language development of students who are new to the English language. As stated earlier, one of the most important steps a teacher must take to help a student with a disability is to correctly evaluate their issues, and this test helps teachers do that. More information about WIDA tools can be found at: WIDA
and several "sessions" have been organized for teachers to demonstrate how they can assist children who have issues with communication. Dr. Sox then discussed many of the specifics about language problems, such as how to use vocabulary, use proper grammar, and deal with the many cultural issues that affect how children communicate with others. Using communication is very important both inside and out of the classroom, and this diagram helps illustrate its importance:
The additional conferences I attended were the "Plenary Session" and "Student Youth Panel", which provided information about "teen empowerment". The speakers were Iliana Rivera, Malik Haughton, Jamal Mason, and Heang Ly, and several students from Mt. Pleasant High School. They each provided first hand knowledge and experiences as activists of teen empowerment. Based in Massachusetts and New York, "teen empowerment inspires young people and the adults who work with youth to think deeply about and develop strategies for successfully managing the most difficult social problems in their communities." Iliana explained how she has been able to encourage her peers to join the group by using poetry and song. By using such creative tools, new members gather together to discuss ways to ensure students have a fair and just educational system, and empower students to make changes to better their schools and communities. More information about TE can be found at: TEEN EMPOWERMENTand the organization encourages students all around the nation to join their cause.
In conclusion, I learned a lot from these conferences and took away with me many valuable resources which intend to use in my own classroom in the future. In addition to the information discussed above, there were several volunteer opportunities presented during the "Promising Partnerships Expo" which could give aspiring teachers more experience working in classrooms. Also, resources for building lessons and teaching with a curriculum were provided, which only add to the information we've learned in class. I found it very interesting to learn more about the issues we've touched upon in my education classes at RIC. In my classes we've discussed the many issues teachers face while working with students with disabilities, but I found it very helpful to hear teachers speak from first hand experience after working with them. Also in my classes at RIC, I have "heard" of the terms such as IDEA, EL, etc, but I always wondered "how" I, as a teacher, would incorporate their meanings into the classroom. But after listening to these presenters use the terminology and provide examples of how they affected them, I feel that I have a better understanding as to how they will affect me when I become a teacher. I also found it helpful to listen to the students belonging to "Teen Empowerment" and those in the "Student Youth Panel" as it's important to realize that students can make a difference, and do have the power to make changes not only in their classrooms, but also in their communities. I couldn't help but feel inspired myself as an aspiring teacher, wanting to ensure that my future students are given every opportunity to succeed. These conferences taught me one important goal as a teacher—to motivate students, and ensure they are confident and believe in themselves.