Finding New Ways To Teach

West Roxbury Transcript
Lindsay Crudele, Staff Writer

It was a summer of Peruvian exploration, retracing Jack Kerouac’s roads and African political theory for Boston Teachers. Many of them are just returning from trips, funded by Fund for Boston Teachers grants, that allowed teachers to take on some extraordinary extracurriculars this summer.

In the Parkway, one teacher is still in South Africa studying classroom technology, while others have returned from trips that had them studying math in Japan and child language in Germany.

One speech pathologist attended the International Child Language Conference n Berlin for a week, on a grant of $3,525.

“I met with about a thousand attendees, and people presented from all over the place,” said Cynthia Paris Jeffries, a Roslindale resident who works throughout the Boston schools.

She said the insight she gained into how bilingualism is viewed around the world helped confirm what she already thought about it, that it’s a skill that helps rather than hinders the learning process.

Paris Jeffires said that her own experience involves being bilingual with English and Spanish, but that language combinations discussed at the conference ran the gamut.

She said she learned new strategies for working with bilingual or English-as-a-second-language children with language disabilities, and that she plans to prepare a packet to distribute in the schools, as well as a PowerPoint presentation to show her monthly speech pathologist group meeting.

In any spare time, Jeffries said that she was able to tour sites such as the remains of the Berlin Wall, concentrations camps and the outskirts of Potsdam, along with her family who was able to come for the week as well.

Summer math teacher Ana Vaisenstein spent two weeks in Kyoto and Takayama studying how to use the soroban, or Japanese abacus, and its role to modern Japanese on her grant of $4,937. She said she looked to emulate firsthand the experience of being a student diving headfirst into a foreign learning environment, whether that meant coming from a new school or a new country.

Vaisenstein said that her own frame of logic was different from the Japanese way of thinking about math on the beaded tool, and it took her lots of practice to adjust her thought and master the abacus in her private instruction sessions.

“People were every excited. There was a lot of joy when people saw that a Western woman was studying the traditional way,” she said, so much so that she was presented with gifts.

In documenting the use of the abacus, Vaisenstein said she theorized that it was used more in rural areas, but after comparing Takayama to neighborhoods in Kyoto, she found that not necessarily to be the case.

“Sushi bars, grocery stores had them. The link was more about age than where they were located,” she said, seeing older people being the most devoted abacus users.

“This is an amazing opportunity for teachers,” she said, “I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, to study something about that place, in that place, and get to know the city through that lens.”