Rutgers hosted a group of 10 English language scholars from Jilin University, a top-ranked university in Jilin, China, for a two-week English teaching training program.
The Rutgers Graduate School of Education, the Graduate English Language Learners and International Teaching Assistants (ELL-ITA) Program, and the Rutgers China Office collaboratively offered this program to provide scholars from China with teaching methods and best practices from American universities.
The training program focused on classroom psychology—such as developing a learning culture and factors in motivation—and language-specific topics, like applying the English writing program in seminars and instructional technologies for language assessment.
Tours to landmarks in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington provided context for the theories outlined in the classroom and gave attending faculty an opportunity immerse themselves in American culture.
Jeff Wang, director of the Rutgers China Office, said the program helps “Jilin English teachers to improve their pedagogy and experience American culture, society and history.”
“When [the teachers] return to Jilin, they’ll become better English teachers. It also means more opportunities for Rutgers students to study in Jilin because more Jilin faculty will speak English,” Wang said. “Likewise, Rutgers faculty who will lead lectures will get the chance to learn about the Chinese teaching philosophy and their methods.”
Nela Navarro, director of the Graduate English Language Learning-International Teaching Assistants (ELL-ITA) Program at Rutgers, said that this collaborative program was designed with a translingual approach that she said is “a model that is being embraced in some academic contexts across the United States.”
“The participants were very intrigued with the translingual approach , an approach that recognizes that language use is increasingly multlingual and not monolingual,” said Navarro, describing workshops that focused on phonology, listening and speaking — and borrowed pronunciation and enunciation techniques from theatre and acting courses. The participants also shared their own across the disciplines approach to ELL in their own academic context.
This cross-disciplinary approach was something Navarro found to be a key element of the Jilin scholars’ teaching philosophy.
“The extent to which they do ‘team teaching’ — and teaching across disciplines — at Jilin was impressive to me. We do it here, and we know it’s something that needs to be done, but they have a deep commitment to it at the undergraduate level, in particular,” she said.
Eva-Maria Morin, associate director of the ELL-ITA program and director of academic support at Rutgers, led a workshop in academic writing and research for the training program.
“I was not aware that Jilin University teachers have up to 60 students in a class for undergraduate writing — a significantly larger number than in the Rutgers writing program,” Morin said.
Xiaolei Qin, an associate professor of English at Jilin who participated in the Rutgers training program on the recommendation of a colleague, said that she was interested in using methods taught in Morin’s workshop.
“I found it interesting that they used classroom observation and knowing the culture of the students as a teaching theory,” Qin said. “We do lectures in China — here, students contributed their opinions a lot to the discussion, and I expected to hear more from the teachers.”
Cui Zhidong, an English language instructor, also said that the American teaching model sought more student opinion and discussion throughout a lecture than is typical at Jilin.
Zhidong said he’d be interested in implementing more interactive discussions in his classroom at Jilin.
“I noticed that the way the arrangement of the class — dividing students into groups to sit in a circle — enhances communication,” Zhidong said. “I learned a lot of teaching theory and techniques, in particular, peer reviews and letting students assess each other.”
Zhidong also offered suggestions for improving the classroom experience at Rutgers.
“I think Rutgers could take advantage of high technology more often,” said Zhidong. “I encourage my students to use their smartphones [during class] to enhance learning. I didn’t see it being used so much at Rutgers.”
The training program is now in its third year and is just one example of the outcomes of the longstanding partnership between Rutgers and Jilin University.
The two institutions have collaborated on multiple endeavors spanning the decades, including a chemistry student and faculty exchange, a Chinese Study Abroad program, and the Confucius Institute at Rutgers University (CIRU) — an ongoing program affiliated with the Ministry of Education in China that provides training sessions and workshop to broaden Chinese language instruction, promote Chinese culture and studies and enhance U.S.-Chinese exchanges.