Tag: languages

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.”



LEPF doctoral student leads multilingual efforts in Uruguay

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

Languages are deeply valued in Uruguay, where multiple tongues beyond the native Spanish are the norm.

“Uruguay is a country of immigrants,” Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says of his homeland.

“We have more than 120,000 Italian citizens living in Uruguay. We have British people. We have Spanish people,” Rodriguez adds. “We have German, Swiss and Portuguese cities settled by immigrants from those countries.”

People living near the country’s border with Brazil are generally also fluent in Portuguese, which is considered a regional language.

And everyone is expected to know English, which the country regards an international language. Students begin learning English in fourth-grade.

The man in charge of advancing the government’s language ambitions is none other than Aldo Rodriguez, the recently appointed national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“By 2030, we want a multilingual country,” he says. “For more than 40 years, our secondary school students have learned French, Italian and English. Authorities believe in the neurological benefits of learning multiple languages.”

Schools in this country should share that ambition, he adds.

uruguay-flag“I think U.S. schools will benefit by adopting these types of policies, first and foremost for the multicultural heritage the country has,” Rodriguez says. “It’s outstanding how diverse and culturally rich the United States is. Learning multiple languages will make people understand more about other cultures and people. When you learn a language, you learn its culture.”

Rodriguez, who is living and working in Uruguay while he completes his NIU dissertation, is responsible for crafting policy for all levels of education from first-grade through college.

His professional background fuels his passion for the job. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language, a career he began in 1998. He’s also mentored dozens of teachers, designed educational materials, delivered workshops and seminars and served as the director of an institute for second languages.

Teaching also drives his Educational Psychology dissertation, which focuses on persistence in adult secondary school contexts.

“I started working at the adult schools. The population of this school is very unique since 100 percent of the students went through a negative experience with education, and they had to drop out of traditional education,” he says.

“Dropping out is something really common in this context. Sometimes you start with a class of 50 students, and only six or seven finish the school year,” he adds. “My questions were, ‘Who is successful? Who finished school? Why?’ ”

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Coming to NIU in 2010 on a Fulbright grant to pursue his master’s in Adult and Higher Education opened many doors.

“When I read the profiles of the professors I was going to have, and the expertise they had on adult education, I just loved it,” Rodriguez says.  “I had Dr. Jorge Jeria as my first mentor, and I think I couldn’t have made it to the end of the master’s course without his support.”

Staying at NIU for his Ph.D. brought the mentorship of Stephen Tonks, for whom Rodriguez became a three-year research assistant. Before returning home in 2015, he also worked as a TA and participated in a search committee.

“My experience at the LEPF department was one of the best in my life,” he says. “All the people who work there are just great, and they made me feel at home.”