Explore potential strategies.
International students have different (stronger or weaker) cultural and language knowledge and skills.
Our students come from many different parts of the world. Each brings a unique set of culture-based experiences, expectations, knowledge and skills – all of which influence their work in the American classroom. In some instances, the cultural and educational experiences of international students are radically different from our native-born students. This can contribute to classrooms that have widely unequal levels of important background knowledge and skills.
Use the syllabus, the first day of class, and your course management system to state very explicit expectations for the students. Clarify your learning objectives, the necessary prerequisites, both in terms of previous courses as well as relevant bodies of knowledge and skills. In addition, state clearly the options students have for catching up if they do not meet the appropriate expectations (e.g., will you do extra review sessions or will students be expected to catch up on their own?).
Empower students to make the appropriate decision about what to do next (e.g., work extra hard, delay taking the course, etc).
Explain to the students how their lack of background knowledge or skills may influence their ability to successfully master the material in the course and achieve a passing grade. Empower students to make the appropriate decision about what to do next. Options include working extra hard, seeking help from a tutor, and postponing the course until they have acquired the necessary background.
Some of the services that ICC offers include aiding students to develop robust academic fluency in speaking, reading and writing and helping students to better understand what is expected of them in the classroom, and how to take their place in the university community.
Some of the services that Academic Development offers include Supplemental Instruction, individual and group tutoring, and study skills workshops. In addition they facilitate the formation of study groups within courses.
Advise students to form study groups within the course if they are having trouble staying up-to-date. Some instructors leave space in the syllabus for the contact information of two students, then ask everybody on the first day to turn to their left and to their right and ask the students next to them for their contact information. This way, the students start connecting on the first day of class, and will be more likely to follow up if they need help. It may be helpful to encourage students to form study groups based on common language backgrounds, but only if this supports your learning objectives.
If your pre-assessments identify a well-defined, self-contained area where students are generally lacking (e.g, basic combinatorics) you can ask your TA to conduct an optional review session on that topic.
If you don’t want to spend extra class time on specific topics, consider providing students with handouts, textbook chapters they can review, online tutorials or other complementary materials. These materials can be viewed outside of class, when students have more time to work through the language and cultural issues. If possible, include self-scoring exercises so that students can monitor their own learning.
Presenting information in multiple modes (e.g., visual, graphical, oral, written, etc.) is always a good teaching strategy. This may be particularly true for students with language difficulties. By providing multiple pathways to understanding, you allow students to compensate for certain language deficiencies.
Identifying and recording areas of student difficulty provide data on which to base future course and curricular decisions. The types of difficulties may involve written or oral communication, difficulties in understanding the material because of language or culture or difficulties in performance. The course and curricular decisions might involve including prerequisites, modifying the course objectives and content, or offering specialized sections of the course to name a few.
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