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“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
-Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), British author and Nobel laureate
This Teacher Edition Tuesday post, a weekly series based on ten teaching tips from Compelling American Conversations – Teacher Edition, addresses classroom participation and bringing more international student voices into community college and university class discussions.
How do we encourage more voices to contribute to classroom discussions? How do we help diverse classes realize their potential to become real global classrooms? In our first Teacher Edition Tuesday post, we discussed designing your classroom as a conversation-friendly space. Set-up, however, is only one aspect of the issue. For a variety of reasons, many international and ESL students remain reluctant to share their experiences, speak up, and fully participate.
Encouraging Students to Speak Up
However, achieving this openness within the classroom often takes some prompting. Students need to feel safe, welcome, and supported. I find that the best prompts engage each student as an individuals and cultural informants. Ask your English students about their experiences, home towns, best languages, and cultural traditions. I also urge them to share the historical experiences of their nations. You will get many different answers, some similar and some markedly different. Yet each of these answers could propel a new conversation forward!
Let’s take a look at a worksheet I originally developed as a workshop for international graduate students in the USC Price School of Public Policy. Many international students felt uncomfortable discussing current events and public policy issues; they often preferred to listen to the professors and find out the “right” answer. Further, student debates can feel awkward, confusing, and chaotic. Consequently, some faculty felt that American students dominated discussions and international perspectives were sometimes ignored even when 50% of the students came from outside the United States
Sometimes we forget what we know, and what we can contribute to our class discussions. Yet we need to hear those silent voices in our global classrooms to better understand the modern world. Thus, this worksheet was designed to emphasize that all the international students had important information to share on topics with their college classmates. I later included it in the Teacher Edition for Compelling American Conversations. You might want to ask similar questions to ask your English language learners.
Adding Your Voice to Class Discussions
What are three barriers to integration into university classroom discussions?
What are three common misperceptions about your country and culture? What should your American classmates know about your country or culture? Why?
If a fellow college student from another country visited your city/region/country, what would you want to share with this international visitor/tourist? Why?
What are three important events in your native nation’s history? Why are these events important and significant?
Let’s travel back a bit in time. What were some important public policy issues, concerns, debates, or problems in the following years? (If you don’t know the exact year, consider the surrounding five year period.)
What are three important values for you? Can you give an example to support each value?
Integrating Our Classrooms
Many American college campuses have successfully attracted bright young students from across the planet. Now we need to find more ways to integrate these international students in our college classrooms so everyone can benefit from their experiences and insights. The “internationalization of American colleges” has become a huge topic in higher education in the last decade. Yet, from my perspective, this noble goal will only happen when international students add their voices to our class discussions – and we hear them.
What advice would you give to international students wanting to more fully participate in university class discussions? How can we help ESL and EFL students better prepare for American university class discussions? How do you prefer to engage the international students in your English classroom?
Teacher Edition Tuesdays feature material introduced in Compelling American Conversations – Teacher Edition, the companion text to the original Compelling American Conversations (Sample chapters available here). We also offer a free copy of the Teacher Edition with class sets for adult ESL schools, literacy centers, Intensive English language programs (IEP) , church and other non-profit groups offering ESL classes to immigrants and refugees. Contact Eric Roth here for more information.