LCNV’s Voice at the Virginia Adult Education and Literacy Conference

LCNV staff were honored to present at the Virginia Adult Education and Literacy 2019 Conference — Access, Equity, and Opportunity — held in Roanoke from July 10 – 12. During the conference, our Director of Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Carole Bausell, and Faculty Support Manager, Xavier Muñoz, led two very inspirational talks on how we, as organizations and educators, can provide better support to learners along their path to advancing their English and achieving their goals.

The topic of Dr. Bausell’s Wednesday talk, Improving Access and Opportunity for ELLs, align with the theme of the conference, and with core values in LCNV’s mission.  Knowing the population that attends its courses and having access to high quality data enable a program to make continuous improvements to its performance in these areas.

Yet as Carole pointed out, access is a more nuanced term than first meets the eye. To many at LCNV, it connotes (1) one’s ability to get to a class location, (2) the welcome that one receives once there, (3) one’s ability to understand the content of a course, and (4) one’s ability to afford a course. Adult learners face numerous barriers to access. By focusing on these tenets, programs can often empower students to break through the barriers. LCNV creates innovative strategies to enhance student access that range from furnishing readily accessible courses at students’ place of work, to creating a sense of community or cohort mentality to increase attendance, to offering supplemental tutoring to enhance learning, and to carefully pricing courses so that students find them affordable. Academic staff at LCNV will soon be developing yet another vehicle for enhancing access to adult learners, namely the organization’s first state-approved distance learning course. The content of this course, offered with Cell-Ed, will be accessible on inexpensive cell phones, and thus will not require learners to use expensive technology. Through multiple examples, Dr. Bausell demonstrated how LCNV currently uses data to identify areas for program improvement around access and opportunity, and then designs and pilot-tests plausible solutions.

During Xavier’s Thursday talk, Building on ELL’s Funds of Knowledge, he emphasized the notion that students’ social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds are resources and assets for learning, rather than deficits or hindrances. This notion, which is foundational to the field, informs the English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards for Adult Education. Xavier’s session explored ways to recognize and value students’ identities through more diverse representation in classroom materials and ways to build on students’ full linguistic repertoire to promote their development as multilinguals. Motivated by his experience from MA TESOL studies at the School for International Training, he invited the attendees to pay attention to which groups of people are represented in their class materials and curriculum, and which ones are not. After raising awareness of concerns around representation, Xavier and the attendees considered ways to include these unheard and marginalized voices and narratives, particularly LGBTQ narratives, into adult education.

To explore why it matters to value and build on students’ own languages in our classrooms, Xavier shared some of the current thinking in the field, informed by Lourdes Ortega of Georgetown University, who pointed out the empowering effects for students to see their future selves as proficient multilinguals rather than to strive to become like monolingual native English speakers. He compiled a one-page list of resources and strategies for building on students’ own languages to learn English and for diversifying representation in classroom materials. These can be found in this handout from his session.

LCNV is grateful to the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center that with support from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the Virginia Literacy Foundation (VLF) put on this conference, and we invite everyone that’s interested in these topics to join us to continue the conversation.