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Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning

Supporting International Students in the Classroom

The following insights come from a CETL Teaching Circle on supporting international students in the classroom.

 
These are meant as suggestions to improve practice. Thanks to teaching circle members who contributed including Drs. Susan Marine, Kathleen Shine Cain, Laura Hsu, Norma Rueda; Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant, Victoria Soumastre, and graduate fellow Kristi Kaeppel.

 

Educating ourselves:

  • Understand that it takes up to nine years to achieve full fluency in a new language.

  • Interrogate our own assumptions and recognize the cultural underpinnings of our academic practices.

  • Appreciate that establishing equitable learning conditions is not equivalent to lowering standards for some students; it is leveling the playing field.

Setting students up to succeed:

  • Consider providing international students with slide notes so that they have more time to study the language and concepts presented.

  • If there is a lot of discipline-specific vocabulary, it might be helpful to give international students a list of vocabulary that they will want to study at the beginning of the semester.

  • Provide students with a list of questions they should be prepared to discuss in class. This gives students time to formulate their thoughts in appropriate language before being called on.

Building community in the classroom:

  • Consider a mandatory 1:1 student meeting so that students who are not used to developing close faculty relationships have that facilitated for them.

  • Ask for other viewpoints and raise other perspectives to create dialogue across differences.

  • Be mindful when making cultural references or assigning work that relies on cultural knowledge that is foreign to some. If this is necessary, then consider providing background materials to help international students better understand the context.

  • Show interest in the students’ cultures. Getting to know some basics of their culture will help you avoid making assumptions; for example, that a lack of eye contact signifies a lack of interest.

Designing class activities:

  • Have students first meet to discuss a topic in partners or small groups before reporting back to the larger group

  • Use the one-minute paper in which you pause class and have students write down their thoughts on material covered in class. This is a less intimidating way for students to share their thoughts, and it also allows the teacher to get a pulse on the class.

  • To solicit questions and comments from quiet students, pause class and have them write down a comment or question on a piece of paper. They can then either read them aloud or you can have them choose one from a hat to read and respond to.

Crafting assignments:

  • Assign a non-graded draft so you can address writing issues early on and refer the student to appropriate resources.

  • Provide rubrics for how assignments will be evaluated.

  • Models are powerful tools for international students. However, it is also important to let students know that a model, while showing quality work, is only one manifestation of what good work looks like.

Giving feedback on writing:

  • Resist the urge to be an editor and attend to global concerns first.

  • Be aware of linguistic and rhetorical differences between cultures (e.g., use of articles, linear vs. circular organizational patterns).

  • Assign lower-stakes writing assignments throughout the semester.

Dealing with academic dishonesty:

  • Try to understand the intention. Is plagiarism masking a deeper issue? What resources might students need?

  • Keep in mind the cultural variation of attitudes toward plagiarism and the extraordinary pressure many international students are under to perform well.

  • Early on, discuss U.S. standards and show examples of appropriate and inappropriate use of materials.