Culture in the Classroom Session 3 Recap

Our third session of Culture in the Classroom focused on pedagogy and some practical tips and suggestions related to teaching and learning. We started the session by reviewing our homework— the resources listed in the previous blogpost. A number of interesting points were raised during this discussion including the following:

  • It is important for higher education to move from conceptualizing international students as a deficit in the classroom and toward seeing them as a benefit. Related to this, Jeanette Ryan (2011) discusses the idea of transculturalism. Transculturalism as it applies to teaching and learning suggests that as different ways of knowing and being come together in the classroom, they position academic cultures as partners in the creation of new knowledge and practice (p. 633). In this way, internationalization of our campuses is leading us to think not about one way of teaching vs. another way but of how the ways come together to create new ways of teaching and learning.
  • Ryan’s (2011) article also attempts to challenge and disrupt some long held stereotypes of international learners from Confucian Heritage Cultures (CHC). In particular, she challenges the notion that some instructors appear to think that students from CHC cultures do not understand or value critical thinking skills. Instead, Ryan focuses on the confidence an international student must have in their language abilities to articulate critical thought effectively. This idea would be touched on later by our guest speaker, Sylvia Arnold, who emphasized the importance of inclusivity and relationship building as it relates to confidence in the classroom.
  • With the large number of international students on our campus, faculty members need the skills and the confidence to work with them. To gain these skills and confidence, professional development opportunities are necessary, and this learning group is one way to bring faculty together for dialogue and skill-building. Other resources, like the English Language Support tutors (Les Barclay and Sylvia Arnold) are also necessary and valuable resources—for students and instructors.
  • All students, international and domestic, could benefit from more instruction around creating and maintaining inclusive dialogue in the classroom. One participant noted the effectiveness of providing students with ways to agree and disagree respectfully during classroom discussions and group work.  This chart might help: Expressions for Agreeing and Disagreeing
  • Participants echoed what Arkoudis (2014) discusses around the importance of paying attention to group composition when using group work in a diverse classroom.

We were happy to have Sylvia Arnold, an English Language Support tutor from the English Language Centre, as a guest speaker during our session. Sylvia outlined for the group the role of English Language Support at VIU and then facilitated a rich discussion on the ways in which instructors create an inclusive environment for students. Sylvia shared stories about the differences instructors can make for students when they reach out and try to connect with them, and when they try to connect them with others in the classroom. She stressed the anxiety and discomfort that international students feel, especially those in the first and second years of their programs, and that they are going through an intense developmental process as they study at university.

Sylvia also stressed the importance of letting students know that they can contact instructors, and the usefulness of reminding them throughout the course that this option is always open. She also suggested reminding students of the resources available to them like the Writing Centre, Peer Coaches, and English Language Support. Some more suggestions included:

  • Give students pre-listening or pre-lecture exercises. Can students have an opportunity to pre-listen to a lecture, or view lecture slides in advance? If so, students can negotiate the in-class material more easily.
  • Record lectures and make them available to students via VIULearn (Desire2Learn)
  • Try to avoid cursive writing
  • Try to avoid jargon and idioms—be reflective of the language you use and/or clarify some of the idioms you use
  • Give students time to process and time to prepare what they would like to share orally
  • Remember that students most likely want to participate but are shy or have anxiety about speaking
  • Provide clear expectations to students around assignments and activities
  • Check in with students regarding whether or not they understand assignments or need more clarification for certain tasks.
  • Provide safe, low-risk opportunities for students to mix with one another—this might be through short ice-breakers at the beginning of the course or at the beginning of a class
  • Compose groups yourself paying attention to group dynamics and inclusivity

As noted by the group, the above suggestions have the potential to help not only international students but all students. They are tips for all instructors. They relate to best practices in teaching and learning.

At the end of the session, the schedule for World VIU Days (November 3-7) was unveiled and participants were encouraged to attend at least one event (but more would be great!). We will be meeting again on November 20th and will be discussing further the ways in which we can make classrooms more inclusive. We will be challenging the participants of our session to create a list of criteria that make for an inclusive classroom and the ways in which instructors can work to create such a classroom. We’re hoping that this resource will be useful to others at VIU as we all work together to make safe, inclusive spaces in which everyone can learn.

References

Arkoudis, S. (2014). Teaching international students: Strategies to enhance learning. Centre for the study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne

Ryan, J. (2011). Teaching and learning for international students: Towards a transcultural approach. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 17(6), 631-648.

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