Showing her work
Wheaton students heading to Bhutan this fall through the Wheaton/Royal Thimphu College Partnership Program can receive some extra help if they choose to teach at a local grammar school as part of their “Practicum in Bhutan” course.
A new website created by Amelia Jackson ’16 aims to help college students get accustomed to leading classes at Jigme Losel Primary School, one of the most popular placement options for participants in the Wheaton in Bhutan program. Each semester, the college sends a Wheaton faculty member and eight to 12 students from Wheaton and other colleges to study at Royal Thimphu College in Bhutan.
Jackson’s website offers tips that teachers can use right from the beginning, with a section on what to do the first week in the classroom.
“Setting the tone that early, the first day, is so important. That way the Bhutanese students will know what to expect the rest of the semester,” Jackson said. “My hope is that the website will help Wheaton students really enjoy their time there and feel in the end like they’re actually making a difference.”
As a double major in education and mathematics, Jackson had some experience teaching in a fifth grade class before going to Bhutan, but she had to adjust to the Bhutanese style of learning. The three other students who were teaching with her had no prior classroom experience.
Upon arriving at Jigme Losel, Jackson was put in charge of a fifth grade math class, but she received little direction from her site supervisors on how to approach the lessons. By the time she got a handle on teaching, the semester was nearly over.
“It was fun getting to know the kids, but by the end of the semester I felt we could have done so much better if we had more resources and the time to lesson plan,” Jackson said.
When she returned to Wheaton for her junior year, Jackson talked to Professor of Education Vicki Bartolini about her experience, suggesting she might be able to do something to help future students placed at the school. At Bartolini’s recommendation, Jackson turned the project into an independent study during the spring 2015 semester, working with Professor Bartolini.
“This scholarly project entailed interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty and teachers in the field as well as Amelia’s development of interviewing skills, research strategies, creativity and skill development in Web design,” Bartolini said. “This project employs technology in a thoughtful way—in service to the Wheaton community as well as to the international community.”
As part of the independent study, Jackson reached out to Wheaton professors and educators in the Norton school system for advice and ideas about teaching English learners, building community in the classroom, classroom management strategies, curriculum and Web design. It was after these conversations that she decided to create a website with support from Associate Professor of Computer Science Tom Armstrong. Her original plan had been to create a binder full of teaching resources that would live at the Wheaton students’ apartment in Bhutan.
“A website seemed much more user friendly and easier to adapt over time with future students, and if it was a binder it might just end up in the apartment and no one would ever see it again,” Jackson said.
She also applied for and received a Wheaton Foundation grant, giving her $250 to buy school supplies for Jigme Losel Primary School.
Wheaton students have expressed the desire to have a lasting impact on their work sites in Bhutan since the first year of the program, said Professor of Psychology Bianca Cody Murphy, who coordinates the program along with Associate Professor of Anthropology Bruce Owens. In 2010, two students who were placed at a shelter for battered women and their children created a booklet of activities that parents and volunteers could do with children in the future.
“Amelia’s project and her donation to the school is an excellent example of the ways that the Wheaton program in Bhutan has a significant impact on both our students and their placement sites, and furthers the Royal Thimphu College mission of ‘inspiring education in Bhutan,’” Murphy said.