Behrend course uses myths and fables to ease transition to English learning

Intercultural folklore appeals to students in PaSSS summer cohort, instructor says
Penn State Behrend faculty member Jasper Sachsenmeier poses in a classroom with several students.

Jasper Sachsenmeier, a lecturer in communication at Penn State Behrend, adapted a first-year English seminar to better engage international students in the Pathway to Success: Summer Start program.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — For nearly a decade, Penn State Behrend has offered a group of incoming first-year students a head-start on college through Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS). The six-week program, designed for individuals from underrepresented groups, including first-generation college students and new Americans, gives attendees access to tools and resources that increase the likelihood they will succeed at Behrend.

One such tool is the English Academy, which aims to help those in need of grammar or language skills development. Beginning this summer, participants were able to earn college credit for it.

“We decided to trade the English Academy model for a first-year seminar in English, which is a credited course,” said Jasper Sachsenmeier, a lecturer in communication at the college.

Sachsenmeier tweaked the course to reach those English language learners (ELL) who were enrolled in the PaSSS program.

“We examined works of folklore, covering all four major types: myth, legend, fairy tale and fable,” he said. “In doing so, we addressed a wide range of important skills and topics, from close reading and critical analysis to basic rhetoric and composition to plot and the foundations of human literacy and storytelling.”

Sachsenmeier also incorporated tales from around the world. Students read excerpts from Mallory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur," or King Arthur, selections from Kalila and Dimna, which are Arabic fables of Sanskrit origin, and even a Wendat creation myth from the Hudson Bay area.

“This intercultural exposure helped engage students from differing backgrounds and demonstrate the legitimacy of non-English literary canons and traditions,” he said. “This is particularly important when working with ELL students, who can frequently feel excluded from English-majority classrooms and institutions of higher learning.”


Heather Cass

Publications and design coordinator

Penn State Erie, The Behrend College

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