Tag: bilingual/ESL

James Cohen wins Fulbright

James Cohen

James Cohen

James Cohen will spend the summer of 2019 in Uruguay as a Fulbright Scholar.

The associate professor of ESL/Bilingual Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction will work alongside Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. Rodriguez is also the national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“Essentially,” Cohen said, “I will be going around the country, from region to region, working with high school English teachers, focusing on a combination of English as a Foreign Language pedagogy and cultural sensitivity issues.”

Cohen hopes to make these educators “more culturally responsive in their teaching strategies and teaching approaches.”

“I want to provide a venue in which they can understand the hierarchical nature of these systems of injustice that exist in every country, including theirs,” he said. “I also want to provide a venue in which they are aware of their perspectives of the students – in other words, are they viewing their students from a deficit model or from a strength model? We are learning that the research is very, very clear on this.”

His reason is equally clear.

“No child should be treated as ‘the other,’ and I’ve seen it many times where teachers and school systems treat kids as ‘the other.’ It’s unethical, it’s immoral and it’s wrong, and a lot of times, teachers aren’t always aware that they’re doing this. It’s all about raising awareness,” said Cohen, who joined NIU in 2010.

“My experience here in the United States is that when teachers gain the awareness of how they’re interacting with their students, and how they’re viewing their students, it’s a win-win for everybody,” he added.

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

“The teachers are no longer frustrated with their students; the students are no longer upset about going to class; and the students end up working harder for the teacher because the teacher is respecting them. I’m passionate about this because I know it makes a difference in kids’ lives.”

Before Cohen and his family embark for South America, he plans frequent and extensive conversations with Rodriguez to discuss the specifics of the implementation of the proposed project.

In preparation for this time in Uruguay, Cohen is taking an advanced-level Spanish course this semester during his sabbatical because he does not know what level of English proficiency the teachers will have. He also hopes that, by spending three months in Uruguay, he and his daughter will continue to improve their Spanish.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program is administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

Fulbright awards approximately 8,000 grants each year to roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars and 900 visiting scholars, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.

Cohen’s first application for a Fulbright grant, one he submitted four years ago in hopes of visiting Paraguay, the country located directly north of Uruguay, received “alternate status” and never came to fruition.

However, this year’s attempt seemed predestined to succeed.

fulbrightDuring a recent academic conference, while he awaited word on his proposal, Cohen bumped into a close friend who teaches at Western Illinois University. She unexpectedly mentioned that she had applied for – and had received – a Fulbright grant.

The good news was enough to excite Cohen, but the “rest of the story” sent him over the top: His friend was going to Uruguay. “I’m like, ‘This is awesome!’ ” he said. “She’s there now. She just went down there in January, and she’ll be there for the whole semester. I didn’t even know that she was applying.”

Cohen got his good news while in Washington, D.C. for the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Institute, sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and held from Jan. 19 through Jan. 23.

“I was listening to a presentation and then, all of a sudden, I get this email, and it says, ‘Congratulations! You have won!’ ” he said. “Needless to say, I have no idea what that presenter said. From that moment on, I was no longer listening.”

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Research road show: Cohen, Strid collaborate with students

irc-1Six NIU students affiliated with the College of Education were among the presenters at the 41st Annual Statewide Conference for Teachers Serving Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students.

Recently graduated master’s student Stephanie Eller and undergraduates Lorena Flores, Autumn Gathings, Christina Poe, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor joined Department of Curriculum and Instruction professors James Cohen and John Evar Strid in sharing research.

Eller and Flores joined Cohen for “Undocumented Immigrants: Myths and Realities,” which also served as the basis for a featured article in the Illinois Association for Multilingual Multicultural Education winter bulletin with the two students as the lead authors.

Flores then presented for a second time with Cohen and Strid, addressing the question of “Can Paradigm Shifting Occur in a One-Semester Diversity Course?”

Poe and Cohen presented “English Learners’ Writing Needs in the Elementary Classroom” to a full house.

“The room was good for 60 people but well over 80 showed up, with people sitting on the floor and standing in the doorway,” Cohen says. “Christina dominated the room with her wealth of knowledge regarding the research and practical applications of writing strategies for English learners.”

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor came well-prepared for their Dec. 7 talk on “Roadblocks to Bilingualism: How Teachers Become Bilingual.”

Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor present Dec. 7 in Oak Brook.

Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor
present Dec. 7 with their professors in Oak Brook.

The three already had gained solid footing during earlier appearances at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) Conference in Salt Lake City and at the Illinois Education Research Council Symposium at NIU-Naperville, where they described their findings on the language-related backgrounds of teachers.

Reponses to questions Strid posed to his students in an Applied Linguistics course provided the raw data; Cohen and the three students pored through the 126 essays to identify themes and commonalities and to discern conclusions and recommendations.

“I’m a nerd when it comes to organizing, reading and writing, so this project was made for me,” says Gathings, a junior Elementary Education major from Oswego. “I feel important. I’m using my free time to do something that I know is going to pay off later. This will help me stand out.”

Cohen began working with the trio a few semesters ago.

“I was never able to work with a professor as an undergrad,” says Cohen, who always wanted to offer that chance to those he taught.

So he made his pitch, telling students he was willing to add them to his projects or to lend his expertise to their research. Either way, he told the students, the goal was to get published.

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor chose the former option, learning that research is a long and difficult but worthwhile process.

James Cohen

James Cohen

“Dr. Cohen is so passionate. He just influenced me in a way that I felt a natural connection to what he was saying,” adds Stepter, a senior Early Childhood Studies major. “Knowing there was someone who believed in me gave me a boost in my confidence. It taught me that I can do more, and how to contribute that into a school setting.”

Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major specializing in English, was excited for the chance to publish.

“I said, ‘Oh, I can get something published? I can write something?’ That drew me in. That was intriguing for me,” Taylor says. “I love to write and to read, and this incorporates both of these things. I read the people’s stories, and I get to write a paper.”

Cohen feels like a proud father.

“They were tremendously helpful. They got so good at coding that I said, ‘OK, go on and do your thing.’ We’ve been expanding their role in the presentation every time,” he says. “They’re learning how to analyze qualitative data. How often does an undergrad get to analyze qualitative data? They’re learning how to present at professional conferences. We’ll be writing up the data soon.”

He sees benefits beyond the obvious.

Gathings, Stepter and Taylor have explored second-language acquisition theory and simultaneous vs. sequential bilingualism in a way deeper than any textbook can provide.

“They’ve internalized this information,” Cohen says. “When they go and become teachers, they’ll be able to articulate things most teachers aren’t able to articulate.”

John Evar Strid

John Evar Strid

“They’ve gotten an insight into the research process,” Strid says. “They did a phenomenal job – going through the data, finding the salient points, putting it together for the presentation, doing the actual presentation. It opens doors for them.”

Sure enough, Cohen and Strid say, the three students were a hit in Salt Lake City, where “the audience just fell in love with them. They’re so smart, articulate and passionate.”

In Naperville, they add, representatives from Elgin’s U46 and other school districts were handing over business cards and encouraging the students to call them after graduation.

“No matter which way they decide to take their careers, it’s a big win all around for them,” Strid says. “They really showed the initiative to follow through, and that really says a lot about them – all positive.”

Meanwhile, at Cohen’s encouraging, all three student applied and were accepted for the maiden voyage of Educate Global and traveled to teach in China during the summer. Eller also participated at Cohen’s suggestion, teaching in Taiwan.

“We agreed to go do one thing with Dr. Cohen,” Gathings says, “and now we’ve gone to China and to three different conferences.”

“I thought we were just going to get published,” Taylor adds with a laugh.

The students say they’ve grown in their confidence in themselves as well as in their belief in the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism.

Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn to Wayne  Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.

Networking: Professor Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn
to Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs
and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.

 

“We definitely need to advocate for not only bilingualism but biliteracy as well,” Taylor says, “and to replace judgment with curiosity.”

“I learned to advocate for others,” Stepter says, “who can’t advocate for themselves.”

The words are music to Cohen’s ears. “I am sincerely impressed. They got it. They got it!” he says. “They’re hungry for knowledge.”



Elementary Education enhances curriculum with new emphases

Anne Gregory

Anne Gregory

Elementary Education majors at NIU will enter the teaching field a step ahead of their peers.

Three new emphases – Bilingual/ESL, Reading Teacher and Special Education – will provide automatic endorsements in areas that previously required additional coursework.

For example, the Reading Teacher endorsement, designed for teachers who teach reading in a setting other than a self-contained classroom, currently entails 24 semester hours of credit in stand-alone courses.

Now, says Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, faculty will “purposefully incorporate” those lessons into existing courses.

With the innovation, students can complete their degrees and endorsements within four years, saving time and money while becoming more marketable: They’ll graduate with a “broad view” of what teachers can provide to young learners.

“It will make them look very different than anyone else in the state,” Gregory says. “There aren’t any other programs in Illinois that look like this. There are five-year programs elsewhere, but none that include this many options for candidates. And, no one else has done a four-year program. We will be a leader.”

Students also can pursue multiple endorsements, although that would extend their time in school.

Approved Dec. 15 by the NIU Board of Trustees, and slated to begin in the fall of 2017, the new emphases meet the demands of preservice teacher-candidates as well as Illinois public school districts.

“Our school districts are telling us, ‘These are the kinds of teachers we need,’ and we’re trying to respond to that need,” Gregory says. “And, when I talk to potential students and their parents, they say, ‘You can do that?’ They’re very excited.”

shelvesState of Illinois codes also are evolving, Gregory says, which further prompted faculty to reconsider how they structure and deliver courses.

Elementary Education majors who currently are juniors can take advantage of the new emphases beginning this semester.

Freshmen and sophomores currently working on general education credits will enter the program as Elementary Education majors (a change from the previous “pre-Elementary Education” designation).

They also will experience greater and earlier engagement with opportunities to enroll in a Themed Learning Community, live in the T.E.A.C.H. House, attend workshops and interview for participation in the department’s professional series.

Gregory and her colleagues also will welcome freshmen each fall at a special reception. “We want to provide students with these additional supports they need to become successful,” she says.

Changing the emphasis configuration requires no new resources, she adds. The courses and the “responsive and reflexive” faculty needed to implement the program are in place.

“These courses were on the books already. The Reading Teacher courses hadn’t been offered forever, but we had the impetus, and the ground was laid. Curriculum is supposed to be a living, breathing thing,” she says.

“We started re-examining what was happening in our courses, and asking ourselves, ‘Do we really need to do it this way?’ And, with my being new, it was easy for me to say, ‘Why?’ – and to start asking questions.”

For more information, call (815) 753-8556 or email ltcy@niu.edu.