Teaching Toward Internationalization

The topic for this Tuesday’s Provisions session was Teaching Toward Internationalization.  The four presenters included Fr. Christopher DeGiovine, Dean of Spiritual Life, Sr. Sean Peters, Director of Mission Experience, Aja LaDuke, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, and Terri Ward, Associate Professor of Special Education.

First to present, Fr. Chris and Sr. Sean discussed their experiences with taking students on mission trips, to places such as Honduras and Guademala, and the positive effects that trips like this have on students, as well as aspects that they struggle with, such as planning and considering what students can/will take from the experience.  The first step of the process, recruitment, seems to come easy enough, where staff are excited and inquire about participating in the trip, and where students who have gone on such trips in years past often return to go again or recruit their peers.  The difficult side of recruitment, however, is selling the fact that the trip’s duration is two weeks in a difficult living environment/climate/etc., and that it is directly following graduation in May, when both students and faculty are exhausted.  As far as pre-trip planning, Fr. Chris and Sr. Sean say that for the most part, students are willing to make the time commitment, and that pre-trip meetings are an opportunity to learn a little bit about the culture before the students arrive, as well as give the students a chance to get to know each other before they depart.  The difficulty in pre-trip planning, however, is in convincing the students that this pre-planning is an important part of the trip.  Fr. Chris explains that as much as you tell the students that it is going to be a life-changing experience, they still don’t think pre-planning is important.  If Fr. Chris could require it, he would make students learn a little bit of conversational Spanish beforehand, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to come on the trip, because as he has made more and more trips, he feels like much is lost when the students do not have a basic understanding of Spanish.  The reality, however, is that this would exclude the majority of the population that decides to go on the trip.

As far as the experience itself, Fr. Chris and Sr. Sean find that the most difficult task is the struggle to find a balance in what the students take away from it all.  In Fr. Chris’s experience, more and more kids are not shocked at the sight of poverty, and exclaim “I know this…I’ve seen it on TV.”  He finds it distressing that the students have come to maintain such a distance between themselves and this “picture” that they are seeing, and he remarks that more and more students are taking out their iPhones to take pictures of the destitution.  The idea that this “picture” doesn’t include themselves is exactly the opposite of what the trip is trying to promote.  Fr. Chris explains that when the students see happy children who are happy to live their lives with little to nothing, contrasting with the commercialized poverty that students see marketed at home, also presents an obstacle.  The trick is to not get out of the experience “they have so little, yet they are happy,” going home thinking all is well, because this is not the reality, and one must be cautious that students don’t take this to be the whole truth.  On another note, Sr. Sean also finds that it is sometimes hard for students coming home, from the trip, where “they don’t fit where they fat before.”  She feels that it is almost easier for them to process the experience once they have returned home, but stresses the importance, and often difficulty, of finding someone who will listen to them talk about their trip, as they return from the trip and go home for the summer, separated from the Saint Rose community and those who participated in the trip with them.  To see some images from their international trips, click here: International Service Trip Slideshow

Next, Aja LaDuke presented on lessons learned from the International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP) at Saint Rose.  ILEP is a semester-long program sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of State and the IREX organization, where 4 or 5 colleges and universities around the country host 14 to 16 secondary level teachers (of ESOL, Math, Science, or Social Studies) from around the world.  The program requires them to participate in a customized academic seminar in which they complete a professional development module to use for training teacher colleagues at their home school.  They will also participate in a weekly technology workshop course, take two graduate courses in their discipline or other areas of interest on an audit basis, complete 90 hours of field experience in a local secondary school, and participate in trips and various social and cultural events on campus in the community.  When planning the seminar for Saint Rose, LaDuke explained that they were more focused on curriculum, pedagogy, and instruction than the broader scope of schooling system in the U.S.  Additionally, they were unaware of the English proficiency level of the fellows before their arrival.  Ultimately, they found that rather than help with English proficiency, the fellows craved more information about cultural norms in the U.S. regarding conversations and small talk.  Additionally, the program found that the fellows were beyond the level of planning lessons and choosing objectives, and that they were more interested in larger systemic differences between U.S. schools and those in their countries (i.e. less interest in differences in instruction).  In regards to technology, they were more interested in its use for motivating and engaging students, rather than reviewing for themselves in how to use it.  For more on LaDuke’s presentation, click here: ILEP – LaDuke.

To finish up the presentations, Terri Ward, Chair of Literacy and Special Education, talked about the growing world interest in Special Education.  Ward explained that as more and more education systems in other countries are developing, the more they are realizing that there is a population that they are denying access to, which is the reason for many students from these countries come to America for graduate school wanting to learn about the way our special education system works.  Ward works with international students in the graduate program, and commented about their love for practical experience rather than strictly theoretical work.  They want to know what the American System of special education is, so that they will be able to take it back home.  They are thirsty for strategies, as Ward puts it, but she does not want them to buy the American special education system hook, line, and sinker.  She does not want them to do it as America has already done (i.e. the Common Core fiasco), rather, she wants to dig into the system.  She wants to discuss questions such as: do we accept our higher education and secondary education systems as they really are?  Ward brought up the term of cognitive dissonance, which would then be talked much about in the following discussion, and commented on how struggling as the expert helps professors reflect on whether or not their program is internationalized.

Highlights from the discussion:

  • The idea of bridging the gap – being aware of our own cultural issues (i.e. poverty in the U.S., how it is similar/dissimilar to the poverty in Honduras)
  • The idea that cognitive shifts are not sudden, they take time.
  • The idea that everything must be put in cultural context, which is different for each culture – i.e. ADHD – not neurological, a cultural understanding and prescription
  • The idea that WE are the out-liers – in America, it is us who lives differently than the rest of the world
  • The idea that in internationalization experiences, not everything is going to be perfect and happy all the time – i.e. the need to adapt needs/goals for the ILEP fellows
  • “If you are not uncomfortable, I haven’t done my job” – positive stress – if you aren’t uncomfortable, you aren’t really learning
  • Some instances and experiences promote cognitive dissonance, others require the management of it, and others may require the dissonance to be sustained.

To hear the podcast for the session, click here.

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