Graduate student Loc Nguyen created an original book based on the experiences of his student from LaSalle Preparatory School in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

As schools across the country become more diverse, the cultural competence of teachers is critical in making their students feel a part of their classroom community. Teacher candidates in Niagara University’s College of Education participated in a special literacy project this fall that enabled them to glean intercultural awareness through an in-depth global exploration of their students’ culture and values.

The authorship project, supported through the university’s Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement’s 21st Century funding, was part of the curriculum for students in the Foundations of Bilingual Education and TESOL and Developing Literacy in English Language Learners through Multicultural Literature courses. Throughout the semester, each teacher candidate worked with two English language learners from LaSalle Preparatory School in the Niagara Falls City School District. Each week, they wrote to one another in a dialogue journal, prompted by strategic questions that encouraged the ELLs to share their unique cultural and linguistic background.

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NU teacher candidate Jessica Cristiano with her students.

Based in the information in the journals, the teacher candidates then wrote an “original” story based on the culture and/or personal experiences of the students and families. During a field trip to Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum, the ELLs participated in an art-making workshop, where they created the front/back cover illustrations for the book.

The books were printed and presented to the ELLs and their families at the final class session, which was held at LaSalle Preparatory School and featured an author’s share and dinner with the ELLs, their families, teachers, and administrators.

“This project provided opportunities for teacher candidates to learn the unique cultural and linguistic characteristics of English language learners in our schools,” said Dr. Elizabeth Falzone, course professor. “As classrooms become increasingly more diverse each year, it is vital that we are preparing culturally competent educators. The NU teacher candidates and students from NFCSD built strong relationships with one another over the course of the semester, creating invaluable learning experiences for all involved.” 

“Being able to write a book based on the student’s culture and passions was a truly special experience,” said Cal Theal, a graduate education student from Niagara Falls, Ontario. “Getting to see their reaction and pure enjoyment made it that much better. I believe this would be a great tool to utilize in my future classroom with students who could work with younger students and create a great learning opportunity for everyone.”

“The Authorship Project gave me a unique opportunity to build a relationship with a student who is otherwise challenging to get to know,” said Holleigh Haenle, an undergraduate from Lockport, N.Y. “His excitement and enthusiasm in sharing personal experiences and family traditions with me was eye opening and showed me the value of taking the time to get to know a little more about my students, especially the ones who are least likely to engage in casual conversation with someone they don’t know well. The positive effects of working on this project with him was evident in the classroom as well; I saw an increase in effort and a more positive attitude overall. He felt valued and understood in a classroom where he was the only non-native English speaker.”

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