Abington Faculty Spotlight: Roxanna Senyshyn meets needs of diverse learners

ABINGTON, Pa. — Penn State Abington presents the Spotlight Series: Profiling Penn State Abington faculty.

Roxanna Senyshyn, assistant professor of applied linguistics and communication arts and sciences, Elementary and Early Childhood Education

Education: Ph.D., Education, English as a Second Language Education, University of Tennessee; Diploma in English Philology, Applied Linguistics and English as a Foreign Language, Ivan Franko National University, Ukraine 

Etc.: Proficient in Ukrainian and Russian; conversational Polish, Greek and German.

Roxanna Senyshyn’s family moved for her father’s expatriate assignment from Ukraine to Greece when she was 10 years old. While continuing her education in Russian, she learned to speak Greek and English. It was a transformative experience.

“I had to change how I behaved and how I talked,” Senyshyn said. “Ever since, my life has been about adapting.”

The experience foreshadowed her career, too.

Senyshyn works with multilingual English learners at Abington, helping them adapt to American classrooms and social experiences. She supports them like a gardener would cultivate plantings.

“If you transplant a tree, it has to adapt to a new environment. The younger it is, the easier it might be to adapt,” she said. “But if that tree is more mature, you have to transplant it with a root system intact. It needs more care to sustain it.”

Senyshyn’s students come from a variety of backgrounds: international, recent immigrant, and Generation 1.5, a term for those who arrived in the United States as children and adolescents. Some have limited American school experience so they may not fully understand cultural references and anecdotes.

“One international student came to me because Comcast was mentioned in class, and he thought Comcast was a person,” Senyshyn, who has taught at Abington for 14 years, said. “This is not to say that teachers should avoid using certain terms, but they need to be aware of students’ background, provide explanations, and not make assumptions.”

ESL Abington

Roxanna Senyshyn, assistant professor of Applied Linguistics, with a Neshaminy High School student enrolled in the ESL program.       

Credit: Regina Broscius

Senyshyn teaches students in the elementary and early childhood education major and ESL Certificate program, and trains faculty and in-service teachers to adapt their instructional styles to meet the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse learners.

“Anyone who teaches has to ask themselves: Who are my students? Do I need to make modifications to my teaching? Are assessments biased toward any specific group in my class?” she said. “They must engage in self-reflection. They need to be sensitive and responsive. It makes them overall better teachers.

“What I bring to students, especially education majors, is to provide opportunities to work with someone from a different cultural and linguistic background,” Senyshyn continued. “Education majors need to know how to best serve the needs of diverse students or English language learners.

“Active and collaborative learning in my class, meaningful engagement outside of class, and reflection help them know what their own perspectives are, perspectives of those they work with, how they can change if needed, and modify what they do to be more effective as teachers. Ultimately, it is individuals who transform in light of changing linguistic and social landscapes.”

ESL students

Recent immigrant students who are enrolled at Neshaminy High School and participate in its ESL program visited Penn State Abington.

Credit: Regina Broscius

Three strands of Senyshyn’s research tie into her teaching. Her current focus is on transformative intercultural learning in preparation and development of teachers throughout their careers as they prepare to work with linguistically and culturally diverse learners. The other two strands of her research center on English learners in higher education with the emphasis on second language writing pedagogy and assessment and sociolinguistic integration of international students. 

She recently wrote a chapter in the book "Self-Study of Language and Literacy Teacher Education Practices: Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Contexts," edited by Judy Sharkey and Megan Madigan Peercy.

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With nearly 4,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 19 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.