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UW Associate Professor Shim Helps English Language Learners Flourish

March 27, 2018
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UW College of Education Associate Professor Jenna Shim

University of Wyoming College of Education Associate Professor Jenna Shim has devoted her time, passion and focus to help ensure that the growing population of English language learners in Wyoming will receive proper education and care from their future educators.

Shim and her family moved from South Korea to the United States when she was 11. As an English language learner (ELL) herself, Shim recounts the struggles of not having the support she needed within the education systems. This sparked her passion and ensured that ELLs in Wyoming have the support that she did not receive.

“When I was learning English as a middle school student, they did not have any special accommodation for English language learners, and there weren’t any English as a second language (ESL)-trained teachers,” Shim says. “Not understanding the language or being able to speak it well made me feel inadequate and incompetent. So much of my energy was spent in trying to learn the language that my learning in other subject areas in school was severely hindered.”

Shim adds, “My personal experience of being an ELL myself encourages me to be an advocate and hope that ELLs in the current education system in Wyoming have better support systems and teachers who are well-trained to work more productively with ELLs.”

After gaining her degree from State University of New York, she moved to Wyoming and has been at UW for nine years. Shim is the ESL program coordinator in the UW College of Education, but she also works with educators statewide. She is committed to supporting pre-service teachers and in-service teachers to promote academic and social success of ELLs.

Shim has worked with Dixie Brackman, Sandra Hogan and Dea Kobbe, ELL teachers from Albany County School District 1, on a research project that focuses on improving the learning experience of ELLs by enhancing the collaboration of ESL/ELL specialists and “main classroom” teachers.

In a letter to College of Education Dean Ray Reutzel, the three Albany County ELL teachers praised Shim for her collaboration.

“Not only is Dr. Shim influencing the English as a second language landscape through her classes at UW, she has affected the entire state of Wyoming through her outreach projects, most notably the state ESL conferences, which have moved the ESL dialogue from the academy out into the state's classrooms,” they wrote.

Traveling around the state, Shim has offered trainings, given workshops and participated in research projects that allow current educators to change the way they teach their ELLs. The three ELL teachers continued to express their admiration for Shim’s support in their letter: “Throughout this research process, Dr. Shim has pushed us into new areas of teaching practice and supporting our ELLs. Without a doubt, we are better teachers because of Dr. Shim’s commitment to practitioner growth, inquiry and informed practice.”

Shim also is one of the organizers of the annual Wyoming English as a Second Language Conference. The event allows educators from Wyoming and beyond to attend, free of charge, and learn more about teaching ELLs. The conference aims to provide ESL teachers, administrators, current teachers, and pre-service and graduate students who are involved in teaching English as a second language with the skills needed to teach their ELL students.

The conference is presented by the College of Education, John P. Ellbogen Foundation, UW’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic, UW Excellence in Higher Education Endowment for Mathematics Teaching and Teton County School District 1.

This year’s conference, April 20-21 in Jackson, will include keynote speakers Claude Goldenberg, the Nomellini and Olivier Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University; and Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at New York University.

UW President Laurie Nichols will kick off the conference. Several UW College of Education faculty members will give featured presentations.

As a pre-conference feature, attendees have the option to tour an ESL and dual language immersion classroom in the Teton County School District Friday, April 20.

The conference will consist of breakout sessions Saturday, April 21, that will be led by several College of Education Ph.D. students, as well as educators from schools and community colleges across the state. These breakout sessions allow attendees to gain information and strategies to support ELLs in their classroom.

While Shim works statewide to improve ESL teaching strategies, she also educates current UW students through her ESL graduate certificate program. This endorsement program is 15 credits and allows students to become qualified in teaching ELLs.

ELLs have become one of the fastest-growing populations, and there is a drastic gap between their learning outcomes and those of non-ELLs. Through Shim’s program, future educators are exposed to current research, teaching strategies, methodology and suggested activities to increase comprehensibility, engage interaction and increase higher-order thinking skills among ELLs. With the tools Shim provides her students, they help close the achievement gap between ELLs and non-ELLs.

“The ESL program takes the theory we learn in other education courses to the next level and integrates it with useful methods and approaches to teaching,” says College of Education student William Heili. “This harmonious blend provides an excellent basis for future teachers to approach the workforce with a sense of mission to serve ELLs.”

“This program has really developed my knowledge about how to teach ELLs, which helps my teaching of mainstream students, as well,” adds student Alli Barker. “I know that when I complete this program and work in a classroom one day, I will be equipped with the necessary tools to allow all of my students to succeed.”

Shim’s service to future and current educators has influenced many within the education system in Wyoming.

“I hope that, when my students work with their students, they also will recognize that their students come to their class with different life circumstances, experiences and knowledge, which need to be respected and drawn upon when teaching and learning,” Shim says.

If you are an ESL/ELL educator who would like to attend the third annual Wyoming ESL Conference, you can register at www.uwyo.edu/education/lrcc/conferences%20and%20events/esl-dsi-conference/.

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