Pre-service teachers learn to teach diverse students through Mexico service learning project

Students majoring in teacher education at Fort Hays State University have the opportunity to participate in a service learning project for Volcanes Primary School in Mexico.

"The Volcanes Service Learning project provides an international service learning experience to teacher candidates in the on-campus and virtual sections of the diverse learners course," said Dr. Lorie Cook-Benjamin, assistant professor of teacher education. "The project is implemented through an Internet-based, clinical-based practice that focuses on multiple aspects of diversity."

Cook-Benjamin said aspects of diversity include culture, ethnicity, nationality, religion, language, social class, social status, sexuality, gender, geographic region and ability/disability.

After watching pre-recorded classroom sessions of Volcanes third- and fourth-grade students, FHSU students reflect on their course content and what is portrayed in the recordings. The project concludes with the teacher candidates creating a take-home activity focused on the diversity of language. The activity is then shared with the Volcanes staff, students and the students' families.

"We do not have a set curriculum or textbooks in Volcanes, so we are always open to suggestions and new ideas for teaching English," said Megan Shelton, English coordinator at Volcanes and liaison for the Department of Advanced Education Programs. "This project has been designed so that the students can share what they are learning with their families. The candidates really enjoy creating these projects, and because some of our teachers and volunteers have little to no teaching experience, the lesson plans are extremely helpful."

In addition to benefiting students at Volcanes Primary School, Cook-Benjamin said, this project also benefits the teacher candidates.

"The project expands the candidates' connections within their educational career as well as in other careers," she said. "This is due to a virtual experience in another country, school system and culture. It also promotes commitment to lifelong learning, social relevance and global engagement."

"It showed me that I have opportunities to really make a difference and that I can teach anywhere," said Karisa Kaiser, Hoisington senior. "I have the capabilities to spread knowledge across the world. The Internet has really broadened our spectrum and allows us to connect with others in distant places."

"Service learning projects allow you to experience how activities work in the real world," said Lindsay Day, Liberal senior. "Seeing how students react to your lessons and other lesson plans allows the teacher candidate experience teaching in an authentic situation. It provides opportunities to address eduction problems and know how to prepare for them. I also feel this helps with experiencing diversity for those who might not have as much experience with diversity."

"The Volcanes Service Learning Project helps provide a look at a completely different culture of students," said Margaret "Meg" Kepka, Lyons senior. "It helps to see how many children need good education and how much you can change one student's life."

Shelton and Cook-Benjamin said that the connection between FHSU and Volcanes helps their teacher candidates make real world connections to diverse learners. After completing this project, many candidates have also expressed interest in teaching abroad.

"The candidates realize that it does not take much to run an effective classroom where students are engaged and excited to be learning," said Shelton. "Many are shocked by how bare the classroom is in Volcanes but marvel at how excited the students are to learn, even without the use of individual iPads, Smartboards, elaborate classroom decorations or even AC."

"I feel more confident about teaching students whose native language is not English," said Tricia Stockwell, Grayson, Ga., senior. "This project allowed me to see that all students can learn from a teacher who is willing to dedicate time to teach."

"I feel lucky to have been able to go to such a good school growing up," said Carson Konrade, Spearville junior. "I think my favorite part of the project was knowing that we were all helping these children who were going to school without the greatest conditions."

"The FHSU students are able to see that children are alike all over the world, and there's no need to feel apprehensive when teaching a child who is culturally or economically diverse from you," said Shelton.

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