As a part of their country’s effort to reshape English language instruction, three Korean educators recently visited the Community College of Aurora to observe components of the college’s Community ESL program in action. The educators were hosted by the Institute for International Education, under the auspices of the International Visit Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The program brings professionals to the United States to meet their American counterparts and to improve foreign relations.
The educators were accompanied by Leo R. Wollemborg, representing the Department of State. Dr. Jin Wan Kim, president, Korea Association of Teachers of English, joined Jin-Hyung Kim, professor, Korea University of Technology and Education, and Dr. WonKey Lee, professor of English Education, Seoul National University of Education, on the visit. An overview of CCA’s program was provided and the visitors sat in on classes alongside ESL students.
Christopher Tombari, chair of the college’s Aurora Language Center, and Stephanie Lawton, program coordinator for the Community ESL program, served as hosts and were joined by Diana Brady-Herndon, assistant coordinator for the ESL program, and Ted Snow, dean of liberal arts. The educators visited classes taught by Jayni Breaux, John Eichenour, and Lora Wright.
The visitors were intrigued by the diversity of CCA students and noted the broad range of ages and ethnicities, as well as the refugee status of many of the students. They also took interest in the immediacy and prevalence of technology in the classroom, as well as the students’ openness and familiarity with teachers.
They also shared their surprise that “real life” subject matter is employed in the classroom. They observed CCA instructors engaging students in conversations about how to recognize emergency situations and when to call 911, as well as how to cope with everyday matters. Noting the interactive nature of the teaching, Dr. Jin-Hyung Kim joked that she feels “sorry now for my students” because she teaches “at them” rather than using an interactive instructional style.
Cultural differences were also discussed among the visitors and CCA educators. The Korean educators explained that Korean teachers are more formally dressed in the classroom, and they noticed that students in America feel free to address teachers on a first-name basis. The visitors admitted it would “feel strange” to be called by their first names and that they would not necessarily be comfortable with it.
The conversation evolved into an evaluation of overall teaching strategies. Eichenour’s method of following up on the spot with students garnered attention and explanation. When asked why he walked around the classroom to talk with students one on one, he responded: “I want to see that they are able to comprehend the exercise we are working on; that’s my constant assessment.” Dr. Jin Wan Kim summarized: “This means you move from mechanical use to more meaningful use,” to which Tombari added: “We teach not only how to say and use the language, but when to use it,” he explained. “We teach the situationally correct way to use English. It’s the teacher’s job to make the language real.”
Lawton emphasized that students in non-homogeneous groups learn well from each other. “Coming from different backgrounds, our students face similar challenges,” she said. “English is the only language they have in common, and everyone understands at least a little bit. There can be a dozen or so different languages and accents in one class, and this is a real benefit to learning.”
Dr. WonKey Lee asked one pupil what he thought of his instructors, and shared the results with his hosts. “Your student told me you are very kind people,” he said. “We are very pleased to have this chance to observe and talk with your students.”