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“The classroom should be an entrance into the world, not an escape from it”
– John Ciardi (1916-1986), American poet and translator
By Samantha Jungheim and Eric H. Roth
Do you teach English students abroad? Are you educating young adults looking to study in the United States? Or teaching English to adults already located in the States? How do you prepare students to succeed in American high schools and colleges?
A Potential Problem for Your Students
Students want to know about the cultures tied to the language they are learning in class. Each culture carries spoken and unspoken rules on how to behave within a classroom. Many English students outside of the U.S. spend years preparing to use the English skills they required to enter American classrooms. Many take standardized TOEFL and IELTS tests; many score high enough to gain admissions to their preferred colleges.
Yet upon arrival, many international students may also feel utterly unprepared. Maybe students don’t understand the Uber driver when they leave the airport. Maybe a different name is called for their order at Starbucks. Maybe their American roommate talks too fast. Living in an English speaking country can be confusing. Even inside their U.S. classrooms, some international students sometimes feel under-prepared and out of place.
Possible Student Questions about American Classrooms:
- What do you do when you first walk into class?
- What do you call the professor?
- What do you do if you have a question in class?
- What do you do if you know the answer to a question in class?
Suddenly these students are expected to share their opinions in English in front of the whole classroom. College professors and high school teachers also have different expectations for citing sources. Plagiarism can become a new headache. Professors often assume MLA citations are familiar, but these requirements remain new academic experiences for many international students. Rote learning is often de-emphasized in an American classroom. Individualism often takes a front seat. Given these these potential differences, how can we better prepare future international students for the realities of learning in American classrooms?
Some Suggestions for English Teachers
Why not start by watching a popular TV show, a short movie clip, or a YouTube video featuring an American classroom? For instance, “Freedom Writers” is an inspirational film based on a true story which features many scenes in an American high school writing class. For a more comedic option, you could even select a clip from “Mean Girls” with Tina Fey as the Calculus teacher. (If someone is going to Ireland, they might also enjoy “Derry Girls”.)
Note that comedies tend to be exaggerations and some clips may seem dated. Still understanding classroom cultures at different times has value. English students can also watch clips or films at home. After English learners view a clip or film, they can jot own some notes and share their answers with classmates. English students can get started discussing their opinions in pairs or small groups in person or on Zoom.
Other Films of Note:
You might also have your English students interview an American teacher or student about their experiences. One teaching context is Yonsei University in South Korea where many native English speaking students are studying abroad and could be available for English learners to interview. Many schools have alumni who could be a useful resource for your curious students. The Compelling Conversations Search and Share (samples here) provides the questions for students to ask and learn more about American classroom culture.
Search and Share!
Students can build on a variety of skills just within the “Creating Compelling Conversations Reproducible Search and Share Activities for English Teachers” unit on preparing for college life. Download our Search and Share samples “Understanding Plagiarism” (page 3 of the downloadable PDF) and “Collecting Advice on Writing Professional Emails” (page 6) to start implementing Search and Shares into your classroom.
Our textbook “Creating Compelling Conversations Reproducible Search and Share Activities for English Teachers” includes many other Search and Shares. Approach the subject of American classrooms while guiding students to practice their English skills. In the beginning of your class, use this Search and Share to review your own English classroom norms. Set your students up for success by supporting them in their oral skills and cross-cultural skills.
English students can casually interact with their American peers or native English speakers. Then students report their findings in your English classroom. Next, the students’ can compare and contrast their Search and Share results. These conversations can even lead to other classroom discussions on American culture or holidays.
Do you have personal experiences in American classrooms? What aspects of American classroom culture do you discuss? How many of your English students want to study abroad? How else can students prepare to make their American dreams come true?