Half of all employers in northern Illinois plan to hire more bilingual or multilingual college…
While a mid-July blast of heat and humidity makes DeKalb swelter, a group of English teachers from Ecuador absorb a lecture on “learning strategy instruction” inside McMurry Hall.
Metacognitive strategies. Cognitive strategies. Social/affective strategies.
Teachers really need to know and apply all of them, instructor Alex Fausett tells the class, because every student is different – and each requires pedagogy he or she can understand.
“If you have students who do their homework in front of the TV or on the bus, they might not be doing well school,” Fausett says. “That might not be working for them.”
Learning strategies might seem a dry topic for a sunny summer afternoon, but today’s lesson – part of the “Go Teacher” program – is part of something that will vault these visitors to rock star status when they return home.
On campus since January, the teachers are nearing the end of a seven-month immersion in speaking and teaching English. Several comprehensive exams await them before they depart Aug. 15.
And, this fall, the Go Teacher scholars begin to fulfill a goal their government considers critical: preparing children to function in a world where English is the language spoken in international power circles of business and politics.
“They’re going to be seen as leaders in their small communities. It’s now in their hands to make differences for their students and their families,” Cohen adds. “Because of their participation in this program, when they return to Ecuador, they’ll be put on a pedestal.”
Ecuador’s president is putting profits from his nation’s vast oil resources to fund tuition-free professional development in the United States for thousands of teachers. Cohen secured a $777,000 grant from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education and Kansas State University to bring 37 of them to NIU.
Beyond improving their English and pedagogical skills, Cohen says, the students who range in age from 20 to 45 are gaining a greater conception of the role of teachers as not just instructors but as advocates.
Meanwhile, they’re surviving and thriving in a culture different than their own.
“It deepens their understanding of English,” Cohen says, “because you can’t separate the language from the culture.”
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Inside the classroom, Fausett wants to know what the students are taking away from her lesson.
Multiple learning strategies are necessary. They should relate to the content. They should align to objectives. Teachers should choose curriculum that makes it easy to practice the strategies. “I do that using picture books,” responds Fausett, who teaches eighth-grade English at DeKalb’s Huntley Middle School from August to June.
Young learners also need opportunities to practice their comprehension, another student says. This prompts Fausett to offer advice on how to scaffold that: “I do – and then I model. Then, we do. And, finally, you do.”
When she asks how this method boosts learning, the answers are equally impressive.
Multiple learning strategies help teachers to clarify their purpose, identify important aspects of the lessons, monitor ongoing progress, allocate attention where needed, take corrective action and engage in self-review.
“This has been so much fun. I love it. Working with adults in education is something I really enjoy,” Fausett says during a break. “It’s a unique experience to work with people from a different country, talking about their education system compared to ours. And, for them, just being here is an experience for them, just being immersed in American culture.”
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Eugenia Pico Coloma, who is 25, hasn’t taught in her home country yet, but is ready and eager to begin her career. Her government’s plan “to change the ideas people have about English teachers in Ecuador” lured her to the United States first.
“I wanted to be part of this change, this transition happening in my country,” she says. “The courses we are taking here are quite the opposite of lessons I had at my university in Ecuador.”
Her professors back home insisted that English teachers should never speak to their students in their native tongue during class. “Here,” she says, “they say that’s OK.”
Coloma also wants to improve assessment. “We’re always asked to take standardized tests,” she says, “but those don’t evaluate everything that students know.”
Ruben Jacome, making his first visit to an English-speaking country, says “Go Teacher” provides “something not in the books, real practice of the language and lessons about real life in the U.S.”
Jacome supports the government’s initiative. In the rural school where he teaches teenagers, “a few don’t want to learn English because they don’t need English in real life. They have no motivation to learn,” he says. “But if a student learns English, he can get better opportunities to improve and to get a degree.”
Those degrees could come from U.S. colleges, he adds.
“Our condition will increase,” he says. “Outside, there are many opportunities. They can go out to be better, come back and then help each other. This is the most important thing we can teach.”
Juan Gualli is appreciative for his first trip to the United States and for his time at NIU, which surprised him. “There’s nothing like this in my country,” he says. “It’s great.”
Spanish is not the primary language where he lives and works. Quichua, the native tongue of many indigenous people in Ecuador, is spoken mainly in the mountains – and because Gualli’s school is in a small, poor village in the mountains, the teens he teaches learn English as a third language.
He hopes the sharpened vocabulary and the ideas he’s acquiring in DeKalb will help him to impart lessons of “the real life” to his students and the need to interact with others.
“To teach is beautiful. It’s amazing,” he says. “It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.”