by David Fay
Vicky and Fabricio, from Ibarra and Esmeraldas, Ecuador, respectively, shared a skewer of suri, a juicy jungle worm considered a delicacy in the Peruvian Amazon. Jey, from Valencia, Venezuela, struggled to overcome his fear of snakes by holding a two meter boa. And Daniel, from Pereira, Colombia, danced with a native Bora family while Patricia from La Paz took photos. They had all just finished conducting workshops that introduced hands-on applications of Critical and Creative Thinking to a group of 100 current and future English teachers at the Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana in Iquitos, Peru and were keen on absorbing as much as possible of the local culture.
They were part of a group of 21 English instructors, most of who are full-time instructors at programs preparing the future generation of English teachers in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Before their own presentations, from September 11 to 13, they took part in three intensive days of workshops conducted by Deanna Hochstein and Sherie Henderson, professors at the University of Oregon. And before the busy four days in Iquitos, all 21 were part of a group of 42 who had received scholarships for a special Andean offering of the popular “Critical Thinking” E-Teacher course offered by UO, through the U.S. Department of State. In short, all participants knew of one another from having studied together online for about 10 weeks, from late June through the end of August 2013.
Candidates were chosen through US Embassy connections with pre-service institutions – universities preparing the future generation of English teachers – and in Venezuela, through one of the world’s most active professional associations for English teachers, VenTESOL. During the online course they were introduced to an overview of Critical Thinking concepts, from Bloom’s Taxonomy to intellectual traits such as intellectual humility, courage, empathy, autonomy, and integrity. With the guidance of the course’s two instructors, Agnieszka Alboszta and Sherie Henderson, they designed lesson plans based on these concepts.
The face-to-face component aimed to provide a chance for professional friendships to blossom, to further the 10 weeks of hard work by adding specific activities to the lesson plans, and to help turn the participants into professional development facilitators. Fellows Debra Burgess and Ryan Brux, both based in Peru, gave the participants a “how to facilitate” overview and guided groups preparing their presentations. As of this posting, participants have returned to their institutions, three of which are hosting follow-up visits by Deanna and Sherie, where the participants are co-facilitating workshops with staff and students. All will continue finding ways of applying the new ideas to their classes, sharing practices with colleagues, and facilitating workshops at events in their communities.