Understanding diversity and being able to incorporate it into classroom activities is a critical skill for modern educators; whether diversity is in the form of varied learning preferences or cultural backgrounds, it is important to know how to learn from differences, rather than allowing them to prohibit understanding. While studying abroad at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy, students are given the opportunity to participate in a number of immersive community activities that fall in line with understanding diversity, across various professions. One course in particular is CESP 353 Education in Italy: Seminar and Practicum.
During the Spring 2016 semester, 10 students, whose fields of study ranged from Education and Human Development to Statistics and Biological Sciences, participated in CESP 353. During the course practicum, students worked alongside Italian teachers to assist with lesson planning, classroom instruction, and the design and implementation of English language workshops, according to the teachers’ needs. Students found themselves sharing cultures as they taught students about various themes from American history and music to travel and family life. At the end of the semester, one student, Benji Okojie Osajie, Connecticut College, shared “The most valuable lesson I took away was definitely in adaptability. I realized that every student learns, observes, behaves, and understands differently and that the teacher has to try to work with so many differences all at once.”
Many of these themes led to seminar discussions about cultural differences and expectations in the classroom, which inspired Spring 2016 students’ “I wish I would have known” final presentation, during the end-of-semester Community Engagement Presentations Event, where CESP 353 students won the Best Presentation Award.
The “I wish I would have known” presentation allowed students to share things like:
- “I wish I would have known how to grade on the spot,” noted Benji Okojie Osajie, Connecticut College, as he shared his new understanding of privacy, as something that is not always equal across cultures; something he learned through his experience with Italian oral exams and quizzes that are given and graded in front of other classmates on a regular basis.
- “I wish I would have known it was taboo to talk about divorced parents,” shared Laura Kastner, Pennsylvania State, who noticed that what seemed casual and common place for her, as she introduced herself to her students, had actually been culturally abnormal and had surprised them.
- “I wish I would have prepared an answer for a question about Donald Trump,” added Helen Armstrong, Arcadia University, as she had learned that Italian high schoolers are often very informed when it comes to American politics and culture, and they expect Americans to be able to provide answers to questions about topics from elections to the death penalty, abortion, and gun control.
Students greatly valued the exploration of classroom diversity through in-class examinations of psychology, pedagogical models, and ESL teaching methods during the seminar as well as through onsite practicum experience in a local scientific high school, Montessori high school, and an elementary school. However, in the end, not only was the course a lesson in classroom diversity, but, as Marco Saglimbeni, Chapman University, put it, “It was a great way to form relationships with both Italian teachers and Italian students, and helped give us Americans a way to make a positive and non-touristic impact on the Perugian community.”
Click here to learn more about Education courses at the Umbra Insititute.
Many students who took CESP 353 also chose to take PYHD 430 Human Development in Culture, as a complementary course.