Monday, 27 May 2013

Encouraging student engagement--Working with culturally and linguistically diverse cohorts

My interpreting class is usually quite large and consists of approximately 100 students, who are coming from different countries and regions. Having a diverse group of students means recognizing that they are all different or unique in their own ways. Such differences might be in their reading and understanding level, athletic ability, cultural background, personality, religious beliefs, and the list goes on.

1. Creating an inclusive learning environment to accommodate, recognize and meet the learning needs of all students
1). Creating safe collaborative spaces by setting ground rules for collaborative learning behavior, making time to get to know students as individuals.  Encouraging students to articulate their thinking openly in trusting, respectful environments allows all students to learn by getting stuck, being uncertain, making mistakes and being different;

2). Developing strategies for sharing and generating knowledge. This involves creating open, flexible activities that allow students to draw on their own knowledge, interests and experiences while encouraging the sharing and application of different knowledge, experiences and perspectives among peers;

3). Connecting with students’ lives. This may involve selecting or negotiating topics and activities relevant to students’ lives, backgrounds and future or ‘imagined’ identities; being culturally aware, for example by using resources, materials, humor, anecdotes that are relevant to the subject and sensitive to the social and cultural diversity of the group.

2. Creating opportunities for small group participation
1). It has been widely observed that international students may appear hesitant in contributing to group discussions.  This could be in part due to their lack of familiarity with how to contribute to an academic discussion or their perceived lack of English language skills. Contributing to discussions can be seen as a risky undertaking if the students are not comfortable with their English language ability or are unfamiliar with the cultural conventions for ‘breaking into’ the conversation. Academics may need to create ‘safe’ learning environments where students feel that they can make a contribution. Creating opportunities for participation in class where students feel supported can be achieved.

2). As second language learners, students need to be given adequate time to prepare responses. One strategy that can be used is to ask students to prepare some responses for the next tutorial or seminar. Set key questions with the reading material so that students can prepare their answer before the class. This will give them greater confidence in contributing to any discussion.

3. Encouraging contributions in class
1).This can be a successful strategy if the lecturer has already established a ‘safe environment’ and if the international students feel that the group values their contributions. Ask international students how the issue would be considered from their experiences, keeping in mind that they do not represent the views of their culture or country.

2).Structure group tasks so that international and domestic students are grouped together. Assigning roles for each member of the small group, including discussion leader, timekeeper, note-taker, and person to report back. This allows everyone to have a role in the group.

4. Developing group assignments
1). I found that organizing group activities is particular popular and effective in a culturally diverse class.  Therefore, diversity of experience and knowledge are necessary for successfully completing the task. Some assignment questions that we set advantage one group over the other, like getting students to critique something that is inherently Australian that has cultural values that are Australian. What would students who have come from China be able to contribute to this assignment? Unless if somewhere in the assignment it says to take a different world perspective and ask whether from other countries look at it the same way. You then start to give other cultures that sort of chance at being valued members of the team. Unless you create that situation, why would you want to have someone who is a liability in your group for assignment work when they don’t have that background knowledge that you have?

2). Cooperation is the key to successful discussions and group work, particularly in diverse classes. Students are likely to see the benefits that come from working as a team, and accomplish tasks that otherwise would have been significantly more difficult if attempted on their own. In cooperative classrooms, students find value in helping each another, because each group comprising of students with various abilities, interests, background and culture, each member likely to have something different to contribute with.

One of the things that I think is very important is that making expectations about student participation clear to international students. As we know, this is an effective strategy for all students, but it is particularly useful for international students because research indicates that they are often not aware of what participation in class actually means in an Australian tertiary context. Making academic expectations clear can help to clarify this to students.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Encouraging Student Engagement---Reflecting on Feedback

Language learners will benefit from corrective feedback that makes them retrieve the target language form (rather than immediately supplying the correct form). The retrieval and subsequent production stimulates the development of connections in the learner’s memory. 
Correcting student errors is necessary in order to help students improve their skills. However, how one goes about correcting the errors and in what situations can make a significant difference in how the correction is received by the student.

In one of my teaching units, Basic Interpreting Skills, “coping tactics” are a very fundamental practical skill in interpreting. Basically, they are taught within the framework of practical exercises. In most training programs, this is done by trial and correction, with trial on the student's part and corrections from the instructor (Gile, 1995).  In class, through various simulation and role playing activities, I tend to apply Explicit Recast – this recast is clear and very direct on what has to be corrected; it clearly indicates that what was said was incorrect, and helps the student notice one thing in particular which needs to be corrected. This is common corrective feedback in large groups of students where the teacher’s time is limited.

Isolated explicit error correction is usually ineffective in changing language behavior. Error feedback can be effective, but it must be sustained over a period of time, and it must be focused on something which learners are actually capable of learning.

Teachers must know their students in order to gauge what kind of error correction should be used. In my diverse class (culture and language), it is very important to recognize that the students are all different or unique in their own ways. Some students are very form-focused and really want explicit correction; some students are less form-focused and will feel criticized by too much correction. It can be a risk a teacher takes when correcting students in oral communication that the student will be reluctant to try again in the future. Therefore teachers must foster an environment in the classroom that is forgiving of mistakes and encouraging of risks.

Daniel Gile Basic 1995 
Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training, John Benjamins