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.

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