Source: Teaching and Teacher Education 66 (2017) 147-157
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this study, the authors examined the design of a short-term study abroad program for inservice teachers and the impact of the program on both teachers’ intercultural competence development and their teaching beliefs and practices.
The program, Experiencing China, was designed for experienced teachers. These teachers were interested in interactions with Chinese students and teachers and developing curriculum activity materials integrating Chinese language and culture in their K-12 area studies.
The participants were twelve inservice teachers from among full-time teachers and specialists in K-12 schools in North Carolina.
The majority of the participants were female and half of them worked in elementary school settings.
Data were collected using both qualitative and quantitative data. Quantitative data were collected through a pre/post program survey and pre/post Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). Qualitative data were collected from participants’ pre and post personal practical theories (PPTs), ongoing reflections, and their curriculum design projects.
The findings reveal that integrating language learning experiences in the study abroad program provides practicing teachers a unique opportunity to develop empathy and instructional strategies for second language learners. In this program, participants were required to take Chinese language classes. It is through this learning experience that participants had the opportunity to reflect on their different learning preferences, pace, and reactions to various teaching strategies. In addition, the participants developed empathy for English learners.
Furthermore, the authors found that intentional teacher collaboration both within the participant group and between participants and host country teachers was critical. They realized that the reality of teaching makes it challenging especially for classroom teachers to collaborate with specialists and for high school content area teachers to collaborate with one another across content areas.
The findings reveal that although international experience is an important factor in leading to multicultural and global readiness for teachers, reflection is also a critical component in study abroad programs. In addition to more open-ended reflective journals, the participants may need to be guided in more intentional reflection on their teaching beliefs and intercultural experiences through pre-departure programs to set individual goals as they prepare for the intercultural experience and reflect on their experiences in different educational contexts.
Additionally, this study shows that multiple measures are critical in assessing teacher development through study abroad. To evaluate teachers' multicultural and global readiness, researchers should rely on more than one measure. Even though the IDI instrument used in this study is a well-established assessment tool, it focuses on intercultural competency development in general and does not measure teacher professional growth specifically.
The authors argue that using mixed methods design and intentional selection of both quantitative and qualitative measures can provide a more comprehensive view of the impact of study abroad programs.
Finally, teachers need to examine ways to further internationalize K-12 curriculum activities. As a result of study abroad, the authors found that most teachers integrated Chinese language and cultural elements into their instruction, it was noted that this integration is much more challenging in content areas, especially for high school teachers.
The authors conclude that study abroad programs offer a unique opportunity for teachers to develop intercultural competency and teaching beliefs through intercultural immersion experiences. They also emphasize that teacher educators interested in integrating study abroad programs in professional development programs need to design intentional and meaningful integration of cultural experiences, teaching opportunities, language learning, reflection, and collaboration.