US students have been learning to empathise with English language learners by being flung ‘in at the deep end’ in South Korean secondary schools, Irena Barker reports.
Teachers often look for ways to empathise with their pupils and understand how their background and experiences can affect learning. And in English language teaching, when pupils can come from far-flung countries and cultures, this is all the more important.
So one university has come up with a novel way of helping undergraduates understand how it feels to be catapulted into an unfamiliar culture and language – by sending them abroad to teach.
Hyesun Cho and Lizette Peter, assistant and associate professors of curriculum and teaching at the University of Kansas, developed the unique study-abroad opportunity for students to teach English in secondary schools in the city of Gwangju, Korea.
Two groups of students have already completed the programme, and a third group departed for Korea in May. This was the first classroom teaching experience for many education majors who will eventually teach in schools in the US. For some, it was also their first trip outside of the US.
‘We wanted to replicate the experience of English language learners here in the United States,’ Professor Cho said, ‘so student teachers can have the experience a newcomer has when entering the American education system. Initially, they had culture shock as well, and we have observed their transformation was more impactful than the traditional experience.’
Participants stayed in dormitories with students at the schools and interacted with them outside of the classroom. They enjoyed food with students in school cafeterias, and mingled in the hallways and in the wider community. This, Professor Cho points out, was frequently the best learning experience for the Americans as it helped them realise how much they could learn from their students. They also picked up some Korean phrases.
She said, ‘I think the mindset in education often is: ‘I’m here to help them.’ We’ve problematised that deficit model about immigrants and English language learners. We talked a lot during this programme about how student teachers can translate theory into practice and learn from their students as well.’
The future teachers were also required to develop and implement their own lesson plans for their English classes in Korean schools. Programme leaders provided them with daily feedback on lesson plans and helped them to improve their teaching.
Students were encouraged to think about their own identities as teachers and consider what it means to be a teacher and a native English speaker. They were also urged to reflect on issues surrounding race, ethnicity and gender and to write about their experiences.
Professor Cho and Professor Peter detail the students’ experiences in a chapter they have written in the Handbook of Research on Efficacy and Implementation of Study Abroad Programs for P-12 Teachers. The programme is different to most study-abroad experiences, they write, because participants are experiencing it as teachers, rather than students.
Professor Cho said that when they return, the students – who are majoring in education or Korean or East Asian studies – see a world of career opportunities opening up.
‘Many of them were thinking, “I’ll be working with English language learners here in the US.” But now some of them are thinking, “I can teach abroad,” and the non-education majors are considering teaching as a career.
‘But it wasn’t just about teaching English in another country. We also challenged their perceptions about what it means to be a teacher of English language to learners in the global context.’
Effective English language teaching is not something one can master simply through a basis in theoretical and practical knowledge, but through ‘transformative teaching’, Cho and Peter write in the Handbook. They say students taking part in the programme are able to experience this by reflecting on and understanding the social and political effects of their craft.
The academics are now hoping to establish an exchange programme with a Korean university and want to research the value of these kinds of projects further.
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Pic courtesy: F Delventhal
‘These conversations are without a doubt the most precious memories’
Annette Jardon was one of the first students to complete the programme to teach abroad in its first year of operation. She says the experience was ‘a defining moment’ in her life and helped her decide she wanted to teach English abroad.
She is currently in the second year of an MA in Tesol.
‘When I went on the trip, I was studying East Asian languages and cultures with a focus on Japanese and Korean language,’ she said. ‘I had always been interested in teaching, but hadn’t planned on continuing on to my MA so soon.
‘I am so glad I decided to go, as it’s really been a defining moment for my life. Up until then, I had been active with helping international students improve their spoken English through conversation groups at the Applied English Centre at my university, but I had minimal in-class experience.
‘The practicum gave me the opportunity to go into the classroom and see what skills I could transfer from my informal teaching experience and what skills I still needed to develop. It turned out that there were a lot of skills that I needed to develop, so I decided to pursue my MA in Tesol before actually going into the field to teach.
‘I was placed with six students for the entirety of the practicum, and we were able to bond a lot. At the beginning, it was a bit awkward and they were very shy in talking to me. By the end of the practicum, however, they had completely opened up to me and would ask me challenging questions like what Americans think of North Korea and what I think the meaning of life is.
‘They would ask me for advice with deeply personal problems, like feeling overshadowed by siblings or feeling pressure to change themselves in certain ways to fit a mold others were trying to push them into.
‘These conversations are without a doubt the most precious memories I have from my time there. My students gave me the opportunity to peek into their world and see things from the perspective of students. I have no doubt this will impact how I teach and how I interact with my students in the future.’