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JoLLE Conference 2014 Conference Reflections

I have attended many academic conferences in the past twenty-five years and the most memorable are the smaller ones where I get to meet and talk with people on multiple occasions either because we end up in the same breakout sessions or meet up during breaks and mealtimes. The JOLLE@UGA 2014 was that kind of experience. These smaller conferences have also been sites where the gap between academia and activism is bridged. Check out a blog entry titled “why activism and academia don’t mix” on the Internet to read an argument for academics being agents of social change. JOLLE was a meeting place for people concerned with social justice and education. I talked with artists, professors, graduate students and public school teachers. I listened and learned from Johnson and Landry’s exploration of blogging for praxis, Montero and Dénommé-Welch’s use of literature to decolonize classrooms in Canada, and HewittBradshaw’s use community texts to involve students in critically evaluating their linguistic landscape in Trinidad and Tobago. I enjoyed Paul Ayo’s energy as a teacher activist who spreads poetry like butter both as a classroom teacher and through his non-profit “Art as an Agent for Change.” Throughout the conference I was proud to be a professor affiliated with the graduate students who conceptualized and realized this conference. And I learned to use Twitter at the conference which gave me a new way of participating. Michelle Commeyras Professor of Reading Education The University of Georgia

I knew that I wanted to attend the JoLLE 2014 conference as soon as I learned that it would revolve around the theme of social justice. I am teaching a course on multicultural education and culturally responsive pedagogy for pre-service teachers, where my students and I engage in conversations on issues of social justice. Hence, for me, attending the conference was an excellent opportunity to learn about the current issues and classroom practices in relation to social justice and share them with the soon-to-be teachers. It was a really enjoyable and informative experience. Albina Khabibulina PhD student The University of Georgia

I was in a Montreal hotel in the spring of 1999 preparing to present a paper at the American Educational Research Association convention when news of the Columbine shooting broke. Coincidentally, I had recently spent time in classrooms of teachers who had been successful at raising achievement scores, but from what I observed, at the expense of student engagement, dignity, and sense of agency. It was difficult not to connect the classroom scenes I had witnessed to the headlines coming out of Colorado that day. Sobering. The 2014 JoLLE took me back to that intersection of thoughts, but this time with such optimism! I have never been to a conference more singularly focused on what literacy, language, and the arts can mean for expanding our understandings about each other, and in turn, ourselves in relation to each other. I left more certain that I want to be part of extended conversations like the whole of this conference, with even more voices at the table, to help reshape popular notions of what “literacy� is and what it can mean for opening up minds and hearts. The costs of not paying attention to this, as we know from even more recent tragedies in, out, and beyond school, are too great.

Gay Ivey Professor and Tashia F. Morgridge Chair in Reading University of Wisconsin-Madison

“When I think about the JOLLE conference, I remember being nervous about speaking in the initial session. Our work involved rebuilding a park for the local community and studying the history of, and learning from, local leaders. Our hope, at the end of the presentation was to teach people that children have voice and that they/we need to be heard. At the conference, our group made sure our voices were prominent in the discussion and we were glad that the adults present listened to and learned with and from us. We even had a number of conversations with attendees asking us for advice in their own classrooms.” ---Raini Fleming John Adams High School, ’17, South Bend, IN

The 2014 JoLLE conference provided empowering opportunities to learn new ways to incorporate culturally relevant pedagogy and social activism within my classroom. As a future teacher still trying to translate how certain educational theories are relevant to actual classroom experiences, I was glad to participate in a variety of sessions that provided practical and proven lesson ideas that utilized students’ diverse backgrounds to create engaging learning experiences. From activities and lessons such as “The Invisible Theater,” “Creating Black Superheroes,” promoting critical literacy through analyzing signs and advertisements, and teaching ELL students to be agents of change through persuasive writing, I was able to see the ways culturally relevant pedagogy stimulates learner interest and pushes students to acknowledge and accept different perspectives. What I enjoyed most about the conference was how much it reiterated why I decided to become a teacher. I feel throughout my teaching experiences I have been bogged down by grading stacks of papers, creating new invigorating lesson plans, and pushing my students to do well on their summative assessments and to turn in missing work. However, this conference proved to me that although teaching may be stressful, we (teachers) have the innate ability to create positive change in our students’ lives through strong, encouraging relationships. Our true power as educators and social activists is to build, support, and listen to our students’ voices and to breakdown the walls of the classroom so that those voices flow into the world and break even greater social, cultural, and economic barriers. Zach Beebe UGA undergraduate English Education student teacher

“My most vivid memory at the JOLLE conference took place in the opening session. We were asked, because another group of students had to cancel, to speak to the large group on that first day without much preparation. I have spoken in conferences, but I have never spoken in front of a large group of such important people. Standing and speaking to all of those people made me feel nervous, but it was also important for me to speak about the reason we’d come to the conference. I spoke about taking pictures of our neighborhoods, and why we took them. That night I talked about a picture of the Hope Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter here in South Bend, Indiana where my grandmother used to volunteer. I used to live with my grandmother, and we spent a lot of time at the shelter helping and being around the homeless. I was in the first grade, and initially I was made fun of for being around the homeless. But the homeless are people too and the story of the picture, hopefully helped the people at JOLLE helped them realize that children have voices too and we have important things to say about things around the city.” --Anyjah Perkins John Adams High School ‘15, South Bend, IN

“My experience at the JOLLE conference was far from amazing, it was extraordinary. The first day of the conference my fellow presenters and I were confronted with the opportunity to present during the opening session. I noticed everyone, including our co-researchers from Notre Dame, were anxious, and although I was too, I hid my nerves and said yes to the idea. Although our presentation was not 100 percent ready, we stood up in a room full of scholars and educators and went for it. I remember the looks in the audience; I would compare them to a group of spectators watching children performing. Their eyes seemed to be filled with hope. But once we began to speak their faces transformed into ones of confusion and inspiration. It seemed as though we shocked the audience and I loved it. In the end I learned that although we were years younger and less educated, we still had a voice and we could show that literacy just doesn’t exist in libraries and text books, but in parks, abandoned houses, and rescue missions.” --Anastasia Smith- Davis Clay High School ’14, South Bend, IN; University of Indianapolis ‘18

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