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 with their professors in Oak Brook.
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.
“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.”
“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
“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.
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.”
After 14 hours in the air, there was obviously no need to tell Marcus Lewis that he wasn’t in DeKalb anymore.
Yet his first steps off the plane into a nearly empty airport in China, with none of the crowded hustle and bustle of O’Hare, did the job anyway.
His important realizations would come later, however, as the third-year Elementary Education major spent six weeks from early July through mid-August teaching English to teenagers at the Beijing Royal School.
Language barriers toppled – and learning took place – in Beijing and also in Taiwan at NIU’s other partner: the Miaoli County Government Education Bureau schools.
English lessons came through an exploration of fairy tales, movies, TV shows, comic books and superheroes. Through morning exercise. Through telling stories of life in America. Through touching U.S. currency. Through synonyms and antonyms. Through celebrating the Fourth of July. Through song and dance. Through imaginations sparked with “a bunch of glue and a bunch of sticks.” Through hugs and tears.
Marcus Lewis (center) and Alexis Moaton teach in China.
“Students and kids are kids wherever you go,” says Lewis, one of 37 NIU College of Education students who participated in the summer’s maiden voyage of Educate Global, which provided round-trip airfare, room and board and cultural tours at no cost to the students or the college.
“Things can be culturally different, but people – regardless of wherever you go – are people. If they want to acquire some knowledge, they’re going to do so, and they’re going to do so in a way that’s rewarding to you as their teacher.”
Part of the college’s experiential Educate and Engage Program, Educate Global was designed exactly for outcomes like that one in China and Taiwan.
Doing so, she adds, enhanced their preparation and resiliency for rapidly changing classrooms in the United States. “We are seeing an increasing diversity in the K-12 population,” Elish-Piper says.
“Our graduates are going to encounter students who speak different languages, who come from different cultures, who have different experiences,” she adds. “They are now more aware. They will approach teaching from a more global understanding. They appreciate the diversity and differences our students bring to the classroom.”
Madison Geraghty (left)
NIU’s globetrotters, who were urged to replace judgement with curiosity, also returned with greater confidence and flexibility.
“Each student who participated has been transformed in different ways. They’ve experienced the life of being a teacher in a very unfamiliar setting,” she says. “Educate Global was an eye-opening opportunity to be in a part of the world where the culture, the language and the educational setting are so different.”
David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, witnessed that with his own eyes.
“I saw our students really grow. I saw them be really self-reflective about how they need to change and develop,” Walker says, adding that “the life-altering set of experiences” enabled students to learn about themselves, what they do well and where they need to improve.
“Even now, I’ve had a number of them come up to me – in Gabel Hall, in Graham Hall, on the sidewalk – and tell me how Educate Global has changed their lives. It’s changed the trajectory of what they want to do with teaching,” he adds. “These are comments initiated by the students, which reveals to me what a powerful experience this was.”
Borg knows why the Huskie travelers feel that way.
“When we place them internationally, they become the minority. They, in many cases, find out for the first time what it’s like to actually be in a situation where they’re not in control or can’t navigate,” he says.
“For somebody to survive in that situation, and to excel and to thrive in that situation, means that that teacher-candidate is adaptable, is flexible, can make something out of nothing,” he adds. “It allows our students to become better citizens of the world. It requires our students to look at the world differently. It allows them to really reflect, and also to really reach out to students that perhaps don’t come from the same place that they come from.”
Case in point: Students in China and Taiwan “do not behave like American students,” Borg says.
“These students do not ask questions. That’s not how their educational system is set up,” he says. “Our students had to begin to ask more questions. Our students had to become far more observant in terms of the interactions that the Taiwanese or the Chinese students had.”
Quickly, however, “our students began to realize that the way they would behave around American students must be different in terms of how they would behave around Chinese and Taiwanese students, in particular in terms of how to build rapport.”
“Many times, an Educate Global student would have to break down that wall in order for that student to begin to share and to become more open,” Borg says.
“The effective educator really needs to be prepared to meet students where they’re at and move them to the next level,” he adds. “This is what NIU’s College of Education is all about. We want to be sure that our students have a whole toolkit to pull out at any moment.”
Amor Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major, used fun activities to flatten language barriers.
Taylor and her co-teacher played games with students at the Beijing Royal School, who ranged in age from 11 to 15, asking them to demonstrate comprehension by completing unfinished sentences or drawing pictures of words spoken in English.
Nonetheless, “some of the students got frustrated. They were really hard on themselves. They are more disciplined, and when they do things wrong, they are really angry at themselves, and some of them would cry,” Taylor says.
“We would tell them, ‘It’s OK.’ We tried to show them that we’ve been here for five weeks, and we still don’t know as much Chinese as you know English,” she adds.
“I felt like that I was actually helping them, so it was very rewarding. I felt like we were making a difference. They were happy they were learning, and we were happy we were teaching them in a way they could learn.”
Nicole Morales (right) enjoys a meal with her Chinese students.
When Taylor returns eventually to her native Chicago to teach in “a school that’s impoverished,” she will bring the experiences of China with her.
“You have to slow down and take your time, because it’s not always that the students don’t understand. It’s that sometimes you’re going a little too fast for them to be able to let you know that they understand,” Taylor says.
“Sometimes we look only at the majority, and there a few stragglers behind. They’re still not grasping the material as quickly. We have to make sure that everybody knows it before we continue on because, when we go on to another subject, then they don’t know the first one – so they’re not going to be able to grasp that one either.”
Her confidence has risen to meet such challenges.
“There are people that we feel like might not ever ‘get it,’ and we have to strive to help those students, because it’s our job to make sure they get it. We have to figure out a way to help them so they can move on, so they can continue in life and continue in their education,” she says.
“I was able to just get a glimpse of what happens when you slow down you help them,” she adds, “helping their confidence to grow so they can feel comfortable learning the material even if they make mistakes. That made me feel good as a teacher.”
Lewis realized similar progression in his abilities.
Building affinity with Chinese students, despite “my zero knowledge of Mandarin, (their) limited knowledge of English,” he says, is good preparation for working to relate to students of different backgrounds.
“Just because something makes sense to me one way doesn’t mean it’s going to make sense to that student if I try and present that information to them that way,” Lewis says.
Meanwhile, he appreciated the challenge to plan, execute, reflect on and modify lessons. He enjoyed the teamwork with his co-teacher. He remains committed to flexibility while staying focused on his goals.
“If I can get different experiences, I’m open to those experiences. I’m open to doing things different ways if that is what’s going to foster this knowledge or inspire that student,” he adds. “I may not have as much experience now as more-seasoned teachers, but I want to collaborate. I want to work with them. I want their ideas – because I want to be a better teacher.”
Jodi Lampi, David Walker and Terry Borg
NIU is assisting him in that mission, he adds.
“People want you to succeed here,” Lewis says, “and they’re trying to provide you with as many experiences as possible so that you are successful, so that you are prepared.”
Educate Global travelers can differentiate themselves in the job market as well, partially through an incredible and affordable international opportunity that many could not manage on their own.
Students also can apply for the university’s EngagePLUS Academic Transcript Notation, which documents such skills as critical thinking, organization and teamwork to employers and graduate program.
“Our students who participated in Educate Global are highly motivated,” Elish-Piper says. “They are mature and serious. They are excited about taking a chance – of going out of their comfort zone, learning about others and, more importantly, learning about themselves.”
“The experiences they explain to principals and school districts are phenomenal,” Walker adds.
“I don’t know of many schools in our area that offer this kind of program. It’s the chance of a lifetime, and will be a hallmark of their lives.”
James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, just provided a professional reference for one of those students.
James Cohen (center)
Cohen was one of four NIU faculty who traveled to China and Taiwan to supervise and mentor the students; colleagues Jodi Lampi, John Evar Strid and Samina Hadi-Tabassum did the same.
“What I saw in our students was that they stepped up to the plate,” Cohen says.
“I saw games. I heard songs. I saw projects. I saw physical activities that got the students out of their chairs. I saw one teacher taking students outside, in the heat, to run while working on their English,” he adds. “I saw very little direct instruction. Most of it was student-centered, engaging activities.”
For someone like Cohen, who’s passionate about educational equity, those weeks in Taiwan proved that his philosophy – the College of Education’s philosophy – is getting through.
“I was very impressed with how hard they worked, and how serious they took their charge to be teachers to Taiwanese children,” he says. “They really, really, really wanted to make a difference. They wanted to be the best teachers they could be. They were open to constructive criticism. They were open to learning about the culture and the differences in lifestyles. They were open to experiencing a different world, and it was beautiful. It was very heartening.”
Educate Global, for its part, “opened their minds to the idea that not everybody is the same. It built empathy for the English Language Learners in their future classrooms,” he adds. “It will shape them for the rest of their lives, without question.”
He also was invited to join the top-tier journal’s editorial review board.
“Wow … you have done the almost impossible,” Joy Egbert, editor of the journal, wrote in an Aug. 25 email to Strid. “Nicely done.”
Strid’s article examines the “critical period hypothesis,” which holds that the learning of language becomes considerably harder following the “ideal time” to acquire that knowledge.
It was good news to one reviewer, who reported that “the article turned around my thinking. All this time, I believed that there was little use in trying to correct pronunciation with older learners.”
“The manuscript presents a seminal case that will motivate the full spectrum of (journal) readers, from TESOL researchers, teacher-educators (and) TESOL teachers,” the reviewer wrote. “Readers will concur that older learners can, and do, develop a new language efficiently or more efficiently than those acquiring a new language starting at a very young age.”
Strid, who joined the NIU College of Education in 2012, teaches applied linguistics, language development, multicultural education and bilingualism and reading.
His research interests include psycholinguistics, bilingualism, language processing, literacy, language acquisition and teaching English as second language. He earned his Ph.D. in linguistics from Northwestern University.