Parallels in International Teaching: ESL Academy & ICB
Successfully Transitioning International Students to CU Denver
The creation of an environment that fosters academic success for international students poses unique challenges; but then, international students at the University of Colorado Denver bring notable qualities to meet these challenges. Patricia Mathews, an ESL Specialist at the CU Denver ESL Academy who also taught at the university’s International College Beijing, observed parallels in the dedication and focus of students at the ESL Academy and ICB. She has worked with fellow educators in both locations to prepare curriculum and conditions that support students’ transition into successful academic careers at CU Denver.
Reinforcing a Commitment to Success
“The ESL Academy students and the ICB students share a high level of motivation and ability,” said Mathews. The students have taken one very large “extra step” in coming to Denver and in committing to a rigorous academic program and new culture. Study skills are of prime importance to the majority of the ESL Academy and ICB students, as well as to their families. Parents and sponsors of international students are strong influencers in the choices and outcomes of students’ academic careers. They are also the first to celebrate achievement.
At the CU Denver ESL Academy, a number of the ESL Specialists have taught in other countries, including China, Korea, India, Africa, and Mexico. These teaching experiences help to develop the specialists’ expertise and deepen their appreciation of the cultural viewpoints and understandings of international students on the Denver campus.
The mix of international students from a variety of countries at the Academy – China, Thailand, Columbia, Costa Rica, France, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Venezuela – extends the context of learning and contributes to the university’s role in serving as a global crossroads in education.
Ease of Transition
Following their undergraduate year, ICB students have the option of studying on the Beijing and Denver campus (or of transferring to another university). The majority opt for coming to CU Denver. As one student explained to Mathews, “I was thinking about going to a school on the U.S. east coast. But I decided to come to Denver with my friends; I even already knew some of the teachers.”
A similar sense of continuity, combined with the opportunity to enter degree programs at one of America’s top accredited academic and health sciences institutions, contribute to the final choice of many ESL Academy students to enroll in undergraduate or graduate programs at the University of Colorado Denver. Staff at the ESL Academy work closely with the International Admissions team to provide pathways advising and student services that ensure a smooth progression into degree programs on the Denver campus.
High Level of Collaboration
When an international student enters the ESL Academy, he or she begins to immediately learn from not just a single instructor, but from a community of credentialed educators. The Academy’s ESL Specialists take a collaborative approach in developing a rigorous curriculum to enhance student learning.
“We are a well-rounded group of English language specialists,” said Mathews. “We meet regularly and often to constructively share ideas about how to bring out each student’s individual potential for success in the university.”
This community environment extends to a welcoming environment that includes the specialists, other international students, visiting faculty from the university, guest lecturers, and conversation partners who help students practice their English language skills.
Various teaching methods are used at the Academy, including “scaffolded learning”. Instructional scaffolding is a process that promotes a deeper level of learning as new concepts and skills are first being introduced to students. Support and guidance are designed to fit the needs of the students and are given at key learning stages through the use of a number of resources. On-premises computer labs, a resource library, English immersion, research projects, and educational field trips enrich the shared learning environment.
“Our students are doing well in degree programs in architecture, engineering, education, communication, economics, and other disciplines,” said Mathews. Students at both the ESL Academy and ICB bring grade point averages of well over 3.0+ to the university. “We’re really excited about their ongoing success at CU Denver.”