Last month, David Lougee, Umatilla School District English as a second language coordinator, returned from a week-long trip to Cerano, Guanajuato, Mexico, to educate teachers about how to improve their teaching methods.
During the last several years, Lougee has made several trips to Mexico through exchange programs to teach seminars and share basic tips on educating students in the English language.
This particular trip was a little different from the others as normally he works strictly with the English teachers at the school. This time, he was expected to give a workshop to all of the teachers at the school.
Lougee said he spent hours researching teaching techniques and preparing all of his materials in Spanish. Upon arrival, he said he was greeted with an elaborate welcome, complete with a flag salute, addresses from dignitaries, performances from the students and more.
That was all just for me, he said. They really roll out the red carpet.
Lougee said he spent the week in Mexico giving a workshop to teachers, observing classrooms and talking with teachers and administrators on their current teaching practices. The basis of the workshop was educating teachers on basic instructional strategies.
I talk to them about basic techniques, he said. Many of them are things that we take for granted. They just have never heard of them.
Lougee said an example of a teaching strategy that he introduced to the teachers at the school was the give one, get one method. He said with the method, students fold a piece of paper in half and are asked to write down all of the words they can think of on a given subject, such as earthquakes, on one half of the paper. On the other side of the paper, they visit with other students in the class and get any terms they might have missed. After that, Lougee said, they are ready to read and learn about the subject.
Another example is what is called sheltered learning for students learning English, Lougee said. Students attend ESL classes, but that is for only part of the day, he said. The rest of the day, they are in a regular classroom. To help them learn, teachers use pictures, drawings and a variety of activities where the students work with a partner to learn about the topics in a regular classroom setting.
Lougee said the teachers in Mexico simply havent heard about the newer teaching techniques. He said they are probably about 30 years behind in instruction than in the United States in that their main instructional practice is lecturing to students as they take notes. He said students dont have as much interaction with the teacher or what they are learning as they do in the United States.
They are all such simple strategies that we take for granted, Lougee said. They are just eager for that kind of instruction. They are open and eager to learn.
Lougee said about one or two days after he arrive and gave lessons from the workshop, teachers were already utilizing the strategies he provided.
It was really neat to see, he said.
Lougee said one thing that they seemed to struggle with is how to discipline students.
He said, while teachers in the United States hold their own classrooms, teachers in Mexico are considered invited guests in that students stay in the classroom and teachers move from room to room each period. Teachers also ask permission to enter the room prior to the start of the class.
It is so different from our system, he said.
Lougee said while corporal punishment was outlawed years ago, Mexican educators havent really figured out what to do for students instead. The majority of punishment, he said, is handled by the teachers and administrators who talk with the students parents.
He said the school he recently visited had about 400 students, that all of the teachers and administrators knew the family members of all students. He said school officials will talk with family members, as well as lecture the students on their responsibilities to the community.
They have a lot more sense of respect for custom and tradition, Lougee said. They have a great sense of pride in the community. But I think (discipline) is a struggle that they still have.
Lougee said despite their limited resources, the school he visited had some real strengths. He said the school system is largely parent-driven. He said once a year, parents get together to decide what needs to be fixed and done with the school. They decide whether something needs to be repainted or whether a chair needs to be fixed.
Parents just dig in and do the best they can for kids, he said.
Lougee said the school also had some great teachers who communicated well with students. He said he met with a particular English teacher who taught him about a kind of organizational notebook she was using to help keep the students on track in their studies. Lougee said he will now try to implement a similar notebook complete with a calendar, pages for note-taking and a dictionary.
I just expanded with what she had set in place, he said.
Lougee said his trip was especially beneficial now that the Umatilla School District has applied for a three-year $120,000 grant to expand its bilingual and dual language programs.
Right now, we use the bilingual program to make (the students) stronger readers in English, he said. We would be able to take advantage of the grant to strengthen and expand our program.
He said he can use what he has learned in his visits to Mexican schools to help identify with students who come to the United States and speak little to no English.
It is important that we have this exchange because we have students who go back and forth all of the time, he said. If we get kids here to know a bit of English before going back, they are going to benefit. If we get kids that have had a great education over there, they will thrive when they get here.
He said the additional funds from the grant would allow for a year of planning to implement an expanded dual language program where organizers would take native-English and native-Spanish speakers and put them together.
A portion of the day they would be given English instruction, and a portion of the day they would be given Spanish instruction, he said. It would benefit both the native-English speakers and the native-Spanish speakers.
Lougee said since the school district already has a good bilingual program in place, he thinks it has a pretty good chance of getting the grant. In the bilingual program, non-native English speakers learn to read in both Spanish and English.
He said success from the bilingual program has been outstanding. He said third-grade students in the bilingual program tested one point higher than all other third-grade students at McNary Heights Elementary School and four points higher than all other English as a second language students.
He said he thinks the reason for the success is because it is easier to learn to read in the Spanish language, which has only five vowel sounds, as compared to the 29 or 30 in the English language.
The grant, he said, will help the district to expand and improve by providing substitutes for teachers so they can train in the required instruction for the program.
It will benefit everyone, he said.