Week 3: Starting Conversations

This week, I began sending emails to start conversations that will hopefully lead to interviews. I started with three contacts: Shawna Shapiro, a professor of language at Middlebury College who teaches about how language influences social justice, and has experience with English Language Learners and the Burlington refugee community; Kathy Foley, the head of international student programs at the college; and Fatuma Bulle, a Somali refugee who has worked as an interpreter and in other jobs related to cultural communication in the Burlington area. I think these three could be valuable contacts for our project, as they all have real expertise in the area. I’ve already heard back from Shawna and Kathy, who gave possible dates for interviews in December. I will have to confer with my team during our meeting: should we already be setting up interviews for as soon as December? I’m not sure whether I should be responding to these emails to set up interviews already, or just to continue a conversation and get more information prior to the interview. I also don’t know whether we’ll be filming the interviews. Hopefully these are questions that will be answered either in today’s meeting or during this weekend’s retreat!

I also sent an email with my uncle, just to talk to him about the issue because he has had some experience working in ELL classrooms, not to set up an interview as he lives in Minnesota. Still, I think conversations can be almost as valuable as interviews. And I think conversations and/or interviews with people who aren’t experts about the subject can also be extremely valuable, and will be necessary. Yet so far, I have only contacted adult experts. I’m wondering when we are going to start reaching out to students and teachers at schools that may have little or no experience on this issue, because we need their voices in order to put together our project. Also, how are we going to choose which students and teachers to interview? If we only reach out to our friends, it won’t be an accurate sample of the students at middle and high schools. But if we choose random students, will they really be motivated to talk to us? I think these are questions we should start addressing at the retreat, because we need to start reaching out to students and teachers just as much as experts. And we definitely need to reach out to ELL and new American students and parents. This seems like a challenge to me, because I don’t really know any at my school, and most of us don’t go to schools with high ELL/new American populations. Hopefully we have some connections, but if not, we should figure out ways to get them!

Greta Hardy-Mittell

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