DJ Kaiser, associate professor and coordinator of Teaching English as a Second Language in the School of Education, recently completed a three month project in Uruguay and a Faculty Research Grant in Brazil.
Created by the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs, the Faculty Research Grant program encourages and promotes faculty research and professional development with grants for scholarly research, academic projects, artistic performances, exhibitions and studies in any discipline.
Dr. Kaiser received a U.S Fulbright Scholars Grant to perform research in Uruguay for three months working with a project called Ceibal en Inglés. He also received a three week research grant in Rio de Janeiro doing research on a project called EnglishWorks, managed by Sequoia Foundation, which partners with various public entities in the city of Rio to provide free English language classes in areas of critical need.
Dr. Kaiser conducted case study research on Uruguay classroom teachers participating in the Ceibal en Inglés project. Ceibal en Inglés started with fourth, fifth and sixth grade students in primary and secondary public schools and has continued growing since. The majority of the students in the classrooms Dr. Kaiser observed received English instruction once a week via video conference by teachers at remote teaching centers.
A classroom teacher was present in the class with students during the video conferences. It is the classroom teacher’s responsibility to help the students with homework, review and extensions of the remote classes. There are lesson plans to help them with reviewing and an online space called CREA2. Working with primary schools, Dr. Kaiser was in 5 different cities, and in each one he followed one or two different classes, doing observations of the remote teaching, as well as observing the in class teachers. He was interested in observing the instructors teaching courses other than English to see their natural strategies and attitudes.
The classroom teachers are general education instructors and teaching English is often a new part of their job. Dr. Kaiser’s goal was to see what the experience of the teachers were and how the remote support is going. He also conducted interviews each of the teachers to get their feedback and input.
In the secondary schools English is an obligatory subject and there are instructors with backgrounds in teaching English. Classes are three or four hours a week and is an optional program, where teachers can say they want to participate in Ceibal en Inglés. The program provides an opportunity for the classroom teachers to interact with a native speaker, with the focus being on oral production skills. Dr. Kaiser tried to follow one or two secondary teachers in each of the cities and focus on one of their conversation groups. He observed more than one hundred classes in three months, the majority for his research project.
Dr. Kaiser found that each city was diverse, and the socioeconomic structure was different in each school. The goal of his research is to present a more complete picture. He also sent follow-up surveys to each teacher who participated in the project.
Ceibal en Inglés works with the British Council as a partner and the British Council in Uruguay works on quality control, lesson plans, and overseeing many of the remote teachers.
He finished his three-month project with a presentation to team members from Ceibal en Inglés, the British Council, and from Uruguay’s Ministry of Education (ANEP-CODICEN) at the Laboratorio Tecnológico del Uruguay (LATU) in Montevideo. During this presentation, he summarized many strengths in the project and provided some recommendations based on classroom observations and interviews conducted in 12 different schools with 15 different public school teachers.
Dr. Kaiser then had a 3-week Faculty Research Grant in Rio de Janeiro where he worked in disenfranchised neighborhoods of the North Zone with the EnglishWorks program. Several years ago, the city of Rio de Janeiro began investing the more disenfranchised areas and started creating centers called “knowledge vessels,” which are set in central locations, serving approximately 3000 students per 10-week course. The main floor of these centers contains a public computer lab. They also have tablets for children, a classroom space containing a smart board and desks with laptop stations, and include free Wifi. Free English classes are given at these centers. Each classroom has a local Brazilian teacher, and a remote teacher who videoconferences into the classroom and provides a model of the English language. English is an important skill because knowing the language and how to use computers in English can determine the quality of jobs that one can get.
The final part of class includes practicing English via Skype. Students sit down for between two and five minutes and get to engage in a practice conversation at the end of class. This year EnglishWorks also started a new project called Casa Futuro Agora, “the house of the future today,” which are set up in various community centers. Each new center has a classroom with 10 computer stations plus one for the teacher. It includes free classes for youths. Even though students attend English classes at their public schools, these classes are more focused on conversation and the students find it fun.
In addition to observing classes, Dr. Kaiser gave two workshops on Strategies for Teaching English. These workshops were attended by EnglishWorks teachers and area public school teachers.
Using videoconferences to teach English is a newer approach, and Dr. Kaiser’s experience was that it made the world seem like a smaller place. He observed teachers having international discussions about food, sports and showing support for each other’s countries and cultures.
Dr. Kaiser also observed that students tend to pay more attention during the remote class, because it is like having an outside guest. Another advantage he saw was that in his own work today he often has meetings via videoconference, and more and more of our communication are being mediated through videoconference as well. Therefore, the use of videoconference as a learning tool gives children an early advantage. Having a discussion in English via videoconference also makes it easier for students to have a face-to-face conversation in a foreign language.
Dr. Kaiser said, “It is humbling and exciting to see teachers who are sometimes working with fewer resources and have less of a background in teaching English being so effective in the classroom.” He was inspired by some of the strategies he observed teachers using, such as incorporating music to motivate students and get them excited for class. Dr. Kaiser looked forward to incorporating some of the teaching methods he observed into his classrooms upon returning, “It’s not just the research, but coming back you want to try things differently.”
With the use of videoconferencing as a teaching tool becoming more common on the horizon, Dr. Kaiser is considering ways to start bringing this technology into the classroom, and getting teachers and students more comfortable with using multimodality and implementing technology.
Dr. Kaiser recently returned to Uruguay as the keynote speaker at the Ceibal en Inglés conference held in September 2016.