Professor Kimberly Helmer in the Department of English is the recipient of the inaugural Scholar-in-Residence Award in the Center for Advancement in Teaching (CAT). The grant will allow Helmer to build upon ethnographic research she conducted in high school classes with students of Mexican-origin. In the current study, she will examine how reading methods facilitate a student’s ability to learn English as an academic language. She will also study the “negotiation of meaning” which is the way students acquire language and confidence through group interaction. Helmer intends to conduct this research in her English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes using a model that has been successful in Helmer’s English 101 class for which she won John Jay’s 2011 Distinguished Teaching Prize.
“I’m interested in helping students acquire autonomy and feel independent. With the grant I intend to import this successful assignment from my English 101 class to my EAP course,” said Helmer. “I’m asking the question, ‘What can we do to increase student engagement?’When students take ownership of their learning, they are better learners and they will stay in school and do better. That is what I am hoping to teach through this project.”
The newly appointed director of the Center for Advancement in Teaching, Dr. Charles Robert Davidson, reflected on Helmer’s research and how it coincides with the mission of the Center, "Projects like Professor Helmer's are essential for promoting innovative, student-centered, and research-based teaching practices here at John Jay. It is essential for a center for teaching and learning to support faculty efforts to innovate in the classroom and to enhance the learning experience of our students,” said Davidson. “As Director of CAT, I hope that we will see more and more faculty participating in initiatives like the CAT Scholar-in-Residence. These types of initiatives—and the high quality teaching and learning they foster—demonstrate the commitment of our faculty and administration to excellence in teaching and learning at the College."
In the student project that Helmer will study, learners form groups based on mutual-interest in selected books. The groups are most effective, says Helmer, when each small group has diverse native languages and must discuss the book in English. Each group poses a specific research question about which they will produce a radio show similar to “This American Life.”
“They create their own podcast, and I host it on a website. When they present, they entertain questions from the audience. That part is really great because you can see the students shine, just the way the hold themselves, their confidence. This project really helps to build their intellectual identity,” said Helmer.
Helmer specializes in linguistic anthropology and pedagogy. Her research awards from the University of Arizona include the Centennial Doctoral Student Achievement Award, the President’s Award, and the Tilly Warnock Fellowship for outstanding composition teaching and research. She is also the recipient of Washington State University’s Summer Doctoral Fellowship.