Fulbright Think Tank Workshop: “Innovative Teaching Methods: Expanding Knowledge of American Culture in the English Class”

The Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission organized the fourth edition of the Fulbright Think Tank workshop, which took place on February 17, 2017, bringing together high school teachers of English from across the country. The Fulbright Think Tank initiative was launched in 2013, when American Studies experts and academics came together to discuss the strong and the weak points of the discipline in terms of its future in Romanian universities.

This year’s Fulbright Think Tank workshop was aimed at encouraging the exchange of ideas and innovative strategies between Romanian and U.S. teachers, as well as improving the ways in which American culture and values are integrated in the teaching of English as a foreign language to Romanian high school students.

35 Romanian teachers, 4 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, one Fulbright senior grantee, as well as distinguished representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest and the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research, participated in this event, which has become a fixture in our yearly calendar. The event was made possible by a generous grant from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.

The workshop, titled "Innovative Teaching Methods: Expanding Knowledge of American Culture in the English Class", opened with welcome addresses by Ronald E. Hawkins, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy in Romania, dr. Rodica Cherciu, Inspector General with the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research, and Prof. Rodica Mihăilă, Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission, who underlined the timeliness and relevance of the workshop, as well the need to create a wider network of specialists in American culture at a high school level.

A most engaging presentation was delivered by our guest speaker Melanie Shoffner, Fulbright scholar (University of Purdue), who highlighted the many ways in which the study of young adult literature lends itself as a tool for nurturing critical reflection skills among high school and undergraduate students.

The most fruitful ground for discussion was provided, as usual, by the case study panels. The first panel session brought together Fulbright ETAs Damaris Bangean, Anna Claire Claspy, Joseph Amiri and David Jimenez, who shared, in turn, their own take on best practices and effective teaching methodologies for expanding knowledge of American culture in the English class.

In the next panel session, Romanian teachers Laura-Rebeca Stiegelbauer (“Vasile Goldiş” University of Arad), Alina Stegărescu (“St. Sava” National College, Bucharest), Camelia Arhip (“Mihai Eminescu” National College, Iaşi) and Luisa Filip (Cluj County School Inspectorate) shared a variety of innovative teaching methods and strategies for promoting U.S. culture within the English class, whether it is reflected through the lens of canonical works, contemporary poetry or TEDx talks. Their engaging presentations led to pertinent observations and enthusiastic contributions to post-panel discussions in the Q&A section.

The two panels were followed by a highly informative presentation delivered by Ms. Eliza Chirilă, American Councils for International Education Country Representative, who introduced the FLEX program, enabling gifted Romanian high school students to study for a year in the U.S.

To further engage the interest of Romanian teachers, Ms. Cornelia Vlaicu, Cultural Affairs Assistant, U.S. Embassy, shared valuable information on training opportunities for teachers of English, including specialization courses and online classes. Ms. Monica Drăgan, Director of the Information Resource Center (IRC) and American Corner Program Coordinator, spoke about the many events that IRC and American Corners around the country regularly organize to promote American culture, further providing the participants with an impressive list of resources and suggestions for database access.

Last, but not least, the educational advisers of the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission and the EducationUSA Center at the Fulbright Commission delivered a presentation outlining the Commission's plans for future cooperation with high school teachers. The plans outlined by the EducationUSA/Fulbright advisers focused on reaching out to underserved students throughout the country and on our Opportunity Funds program, aimed at providing financial support in the application process to deserving students from underprivileged backgrounds.

The Fulbright Think Tank workshop concluded with a reception held at Casa Oamenilor de Ştiinţă, honoring the participants and celebrating yet another successful event, meant to nurture future cooperation between the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission, EducationUSA and Romanian teachers of English.

More pictures on the Commission's Facebook Page.