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Honors students travel to Taiwan to teach English with Fulbright Scholar

honors students travel to Taiwan
Honors students travel to Taiwan

Students in the Penn State Berks Honors Program traveled to Taiwan this spring to act as teaching aides to Christine James, a Berks alumna who was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship last year to teaching English to elementary school students.

From March 5–9, 2012, nine Berks honors students and their instructors, Dr. Sandy Feinstein, Honors Coordinator and Associate Professor in English; Dr. Holly Ryan, Assistant Professor of English and Writing Center Coordinator; and Dr. Neal Woodman, adjunct faculty member, became James’ teaching aides, living and working in Yilan County, Taiwan, as part of an international service component to the English class, “Constructing Taiwan's Nature.”

To prepare for class, the Berks students read short stories, poetry, and essays by Taiwanese authors, as well as news articles about Taiwan. In addition, each student was required to complete 30-minute workouts a minimum of three days a week, ostensibly to prepare them for the hiking they were to do in Taiwan, but, as they were to soon learn, they needed that exercise to increase their stamina to keep up with the elementary school students they would work (and play) with in Dongshan Township, Yilan County.

For the service component of the course, the Berks students spent two days at Kuang Hsing Elementary School and two days at Ching Gou Elementary School helping the Taiwanese students practice their English. The Berks students interacted closely with the Taiwanese elementary students, splitting up into small groups to read books, which were donated by Penn State Berks students to the Taiwanese schools to help teach the children new words, common idioms, and the insider perspective of American culture.

Jessica Ashworth, a senior Schreyer Scholar majoring in Elementary Education, and James McCarty, a junior majoring in Applied Psychology, paired up during most classes to read Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham to the children. Meanwhile, Jenna Licwinko, another senior majoring in Elementary Education, and Trevor Luyben, a first-year Applied Psychology major, taught some of the third graders the word "muffin" with the book, If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff.

Clare Dillard, a senior Schreyer Scholar in Elementary Education, taught Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop, which provided opportunities for the students to interact with the story in innovative ways as they hopped en masse and became completely engaged in understanding the nonsense English. Courtney Paige, a first-year student majoring in Nutrition, challenged students by using a book with no words, the Caldecott-winning A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka. The second graders were prompted to provide English words to complement the pictures.

All these different teaching techniques pushed the Taiwanese children to listen and respond, which proved how much English they were actually learning.

Outside class, the Penn State group’s interaction with the Taiwanese students may have been even more important. The majority of the Berks students did not speak any Chinese, so the Taiwanese children had to express what they wanted to say in English.

Sophomore Communication Arts and Sciences major Austin McCue and sophomore Information Sciences and Technology major Dan Breidegam used the ten-minute breaks between classes to play soccer with the students. Chris Brendel, a sophomore Schreyer Scholar majoring in Global Studies, engaged students during breaks by practicing his Chinese while offering students less formal opportunities to practice their English.

In these varied ways, the Penn State students and teachers all made an impression on the elementary school students and their teachers, and the effect was mutual: the college students and teachers were also powerfully affected by the experience as well.

James comments, “Since that week in March, I have seen students who were not interested in English start to try a little harder. I have seen students who have liked English since the beginning ask unexpected questions a little more boldly. I have seen my students and my coworkers grow, and not just in English, but also in their perspective of the world. My students and coworkers are now friends with some of the Penn State students on Facebook, and they have another international friend. That week changed my schools, not in a huge way, but in a small and hopefully lasting way in that the world may seem a bit smaller and a bit more friendly than it did before.”

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