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Giving Back to Florence: A CEA Student Teaches English at a Local Elementary School

The CEA Florence volunteer program CEA C’È (which means "CEA is there") provides students with opportunities to participate in local life and culture while giving back to their host city. Charlotte Davis participated in the CEA C'È initiative, assistant teaching English to Italian children at a local elementary school.  Here, Charlotte shares her experience.

As an English and Linguistics double-major at UC Davis, the opportunity to spend some hands-on teaching time with ESL students was irresistible. My goal was to observe the process of language acquisition in this age group (10 year olds), and to gain experience as an English as a second language teacher. While I feel very much like I met that goal, there were also several other unexpected benefits of my work at the school, including improving my own Italian, learning more about Italian culture, and spending time with 24 wonderful children, of whom I have grown very fond.
 
I went to teach at the elementary school every Monday. The students' maestra, Monica, was an extremely helpful resource for me throughout the quarter. She speaks English very well, and so she was able to help me answer any questions that the kids asked, about things from hamsters to archery. Each week when I was finished with my lesson, she assigned me a topic to focus on during my next class. The students study English on Mondays and Fridays, so Monica would typically ask me to prepare a lesson to compliment the topic they would cover on Friday. For most of the students, this is their third year learning English as Montagnola, as they generally start in Second grade. This meant that the kids have moved on from the beginner level of greetings and simple parts of speech into full sentence construction. My lessons covered telling time, daily routines, “I Can” activities, and talking about their lives. I tried to utilize a variety of teaching methods to keep the kids engaged and entertained, while still making sure that they absorbed a bulk of the material. I also wanted to involve kids with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles. Because of this, I tried to do a mix of speaking, writing, and drawing activities for practice. We did worksheets, puzzles, coloring sheets, and even a few games. I hope that the kids had as much fun as I had teaching them!
 
Though I had a lot of teaching experience prior, this experience was completely different from any previous one due to the language barrier, which presented its own specific challenges and rewards. At the beginning of the semester, I had only just begun my own study of Italian, and so I was generally helpless to help them if they had questions beyond the limits of my lesson preparation. But the kids are great teachers, and being at the school was one of the few times during the week in which I was fully immersed in Italian.  This was a great boon to my own learning process. By the end of the semester, I noticed significant progress in my ability to understand the kids’ questions and comments during class, which was extremely gratifying. They were so patient with my fumbling and bad grammar, I wish I could take them to UCD with me as I continue to study Italian.
 
Overall, I would highly recommend this experience to anyone studying abroad in Florence in the future. There is no better or rewarding way to gain helpful practice with Italian speakers who will be patient and kind when you make mistakes. I got really choked up during the lesson when I told the kids that next week would be my last, and they all were really disappointed. I plan to continue to write to them, and I hope I can still be a part of their learning process over the course of the year. I learned so much from them, I hope that they could say the same thing about me!
 
Charlotte Davis is a English/Linguistics double-major at UC Davis.
She studied with CEA in Fall, 2011.
 

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