Education Faculty Member Awarded Fulbright for Uruguay ESL Project in 2016

| January 21, 2015


Webster University faculty member DJ Kaiser has been awarded a Fulbright grant for a project in Uruguay in 2016.

Kaiser, assistant professor and coordinator of Teaching English as a Second Language in the School of Education, will assist the Ceibal en Inglés (Ceibal English project), a program delivered by the British Council that forms part of the Uruguayan government’s long-term strategy to improve English teaching in primary schools, focusing on grades 4-6.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The term “Fulbright Program” encompasses a variety of exchange programs, including both individual (students and faculty scholars) and institutional grants. In November 2014 Webster University was awarded a $107,495 Fulbright grant under the Fulbright-Hays International and Foreign Language Group Projects Abroad (GPA) program for a project Deborah Pierce will lead in Brazil.

Webster Today caught up with Kaiser to ask about the project, the Fulbright application process, and what he hopes the outcomes will be. An edited version of that exchange appears below:

What will your role be in assisting Ceibal en Inglés?

My role will be to provide a different perspective. Current assessments focus on the students’ English acquisition and the one peer-reviewed article I could find on this project focused on the experience of the remote teachers. My focus will be on the experience of the classroom teachers and their acquisition of English language skills and language pedagogy skills. I chose to focus my research on the classroom teachers because they are responsible for two thirds of the English language instruction and they are vital for the success of this project. My particular interest is providing suggestions to help make Ceibal en Inglés a more sustainable language project, using more resources from Uruguay (their own teachers) and depending less on foreign instructors to teach the A lessons.

I will go to Uruguay in March 2016 and observe the training that the classroom teachers undergo before working in this program. I will then travel to a new city in Uruguay every three weeks where I will conduct case studies on two different classroom teachers in each location: one who aspires to learn enough English to become a remote teacher in the program and one who simply wants to learn enough English to teach the B and C lessons with more confidence. I will also organize workshops for all classroom teachers in the area that focus on peer observations and creating “communities of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

What about this particular project attracted you?

I’m excited about this particular project because it is one of the more innovative approaches to language planning and policy at the national level (I currently teach a course called Language History, Planning, and Policy). Uruguay passed a law in 2008 that all school children must learn English. One major issue the country faces is that Uruguay does not have enough proficient and experienced English teachers to carry out the language instruction mandated by the government. Uruguay also implemented the “One Child, One Laptop” program and has created a strong technological infrastructure. Ceibal en Inglés leverages technology to deliver English language instruction by bringing English teachers into local classrooms through telepresence.

Uruguayan students receive three 45-minute English lessons each week (the A, B, and C lessons). A proficient English instructor (often in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, or the Philippines) video conferences into the classroom and teaches the A lesson to the students and the classroom teacher each week. The classroom teacher is then responsible for teaching the B and C lessons using lesson plans co-developed by the remote teacher and the classroom teacher (those collaborations often occur in Spanish). Classroom teachers also use a self-paced English program to help them acquire the skills needed to teach their English lessons.

What stirred your interest in applying for a Fulbright grant?

Kaiser spent a week at  Harbin University in China, where he met with English teachers, observed classes, conducted language assessments and spoke on English language teaching.

In March 2014, Kaiser spent a week with Webster partners at Harbin University in China, an experience that pushed him to draw on new skills and consider applying for a Fulbright.

Last March, I went to Harbin, China for a week. I was expecting to observe classes, interview students, and attend meetings, but I was asked to give a guest faculty lecture, provide feedback on English language instruction, and lead a seminar on how to teach English — all last-minute requests.

Even though I had been a visiting faculty member overseas, this particular overseas experience really pushed me outside of my comfort zone and taught me to draw on new skills. By the end of that week, I felt like I had a lot to share and that I was learning even more from the experience. I knew I wanted to go overseas again and work on a bigger project.

Describe how this opportunity and application process materialized.

A few weeks after the Harbin trip I went to Portland, Oregon, to the annual Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) convention. I talked with a Fulbright recruiter and said I was looking for an overseas opportunity for my sabbatical. I said that I was willing to go anywhere in the world. He offered to look at my CV and make recommendations. A few days later he contacted me and suggested that I look into Uruguay because they had this new project called “Ceibal en Inglés.” They particularly needed someone who was fluent in Spanish and someone with a background in teacher education.

While in Portland, I attended my first meeting for the TESOL Standards Committee as a new member. The chair of that committee was from Montevideo, Uruguay. So I contacted her to ask about Ceibal en Inglés. She personally knew the Fulbright director in Uruguay and immediately made an e-mail introduction. The Fulbright director in Montevideo works on Ceibal en Inglés and put me in direct contact with the director of the program.

In June, after doing more research on the program, I had a video conference meeting with the Fulbright director and program director in Uruguay. I wanted to make certain that my Fulbright proposal would meet their goals and needs for this project. My application was due Aug. 1 and went through numerous revisions and required a lot of preliminary research. Several professional contacts I had made over the past decade or so provided instrumental feedback and assistance.

How do you plan to use this experience in your future teaching and other outcomes?

Last semester I shared my Fulbright proposal with my Language History, Planning, and Policy students. I look forward to sharing my research and experience working with the Ceibal en Inglés team with my future students when I return from Uruguay the Fall of 2016.

I am excited to move from teaching the theories behind Language Planning and Policy to working directly with policy makers and implementers across an entire nation. If one week in Harbin, China, could make such a strong impact on my concept of English Language Teaching in the world, I can only imagine how several months in Uruguay working on this project will affect me.

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