Campus / News / January 14, 2009

Trip for teaching results in learning

After an intense application process, 15 Knox students traveled to Anhui, China to teach English to college students over winter break.

Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Stephen Schroth, one of three faculty advisors who accompanied the students summed up the experience by saying, “The one thing you can expect when traveling internationally is the unexpected.”

Senior Jennifer Hoben said she went into the program with as few expectations as possible — an approach she sensed as being shared by the other Knox students, who likewise took Chinese stereotypes with a grain of salt.

Hoben was, however, surprised to discover some of the perceptions the students of Anhui Normal University held about Americans.

“They view Friends as the norm of American culture,” she said.

Hoben additionally found that the class of Anhui University students she taught were primarily interested in learning about general aspects of American culture, such as food and activities, but also expressed an interest in things she was not particularly interested in herself — for example, the NBA.

Fifteen Knox students participated in the program and broke into triad teams in order to teach a total of 150 students of Anhui University, with each of the five triads being responsible for a class of approximately 30.

Hoben explained that most of the 17-21 year-old students at Anhui had been studying English since approximately the seventh grade and therefore demonstrated proficient communication skills.

“We noticed that a lot of their education was based on memorization,” Hoben said. “We really wanted to open up classroom discussion and force them to form and state opinions.”

“Some classes got into more political discussions than the one I taught with Jennifer,” junior Karin Rudd said.

Hoben, who is an International Studies major, hopes to apply some of what she learned in China to her future career.

“Just talking to the students I learned a lot about the economic development and school system of China,” Hoben said.

While examining the Anhui school system and its students, Hoben noted an intense focus on homework and stress. The students, Hoben said, had little free time and their only social relationships existed within the classroom. With this in mind, and with the added observation that Chinese culture is much less individualistic than American culture, Hoben said it was interesting to watch the first year students of Anhui University form “family units” of sorts and adapt to living away from home for the first time.

Although Knox students participating in the program were required to take a course titled “Teaching English to speakers of other languages,” in addition to completing a competitive application process, being an education studies major was not a prerequisite.

Rudd, however, plans to go into elementary education and found the program particularly applicable to her future career goals. One of the most striking observations Rudd made while teaching English had to do with language.

“It was interesting to see how many words you use that you can’t even define the meaning of,” Rudd said.

The Knox faculty advisors were present in a primarily supervisory capacity. The triad teams were responsible for developing lesson plans and facilitating class discussions almost exclusively on their own.

In both teaching and traveling, Schroth said he has learned it is important to be flexible.

“You have to prepare broadly, not narrowly, and be adaptable, especially when navigating another culture,” Schroth said.

Hoben expressed a similar sentiment and explained the experience of teaching as being blind and deaf for a week. She and other Knox students quickly recognized the need to facilitate, but not expect total control.

“It taught me patience,” said Rudd. “Patience with self and with each other.”

“They did a marvelous job,” said Schroth of the 15 Knox students who participated. “The next step would be to bring some people from Anhui here. That is under explanation and discussion with the senior staff of Knox.”

Erin Coleman

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