Provide clear oral and written expectations, housed in the syllabus and on Canvas for accessibility

What may be clear to a student whose education has been from U.S. high schools may not be clear to a student whose educational system is completely different.  Do you expect the student to be in their seat at the start of the class?  Do you expect the student to ask questions and speak up in class discussions?  What does “engaged participation” mean? Name specific behaviors and expectations that will satisfy your definition.  Do you expect class assignments to be turned in on the due date or receive a letter grade deduction for every day late?  Identify these expectations explicitly.  These details may seem obvious to you, but they may not be as obvious to someone who has never been required to speak in class or for whom assignment deadlines are suggestions only.

Provide written descriptions of assignments and clear instructions

As we all know, learning styles differ and some people, even in their native language, prefer to see something in writing in order to fully comprehend the material.  Writing out assignment descriptions and all instructions is especially critical when the language of instruction is different than a student’s primary language.  While an outline-type syllabus may be easier to create, consider supplementing additional written instructions where necessary, rather than solely by in-class oral instructions.  For in-class activities, showing step-by-step instructions via PowerPoint is helpful for students to reference during the exercise.

Provide lecture notes or PowerPoint (before class, if possible)
  • Many English language learners find the pace of instruction at the college level difficult.  This means that anything they can get in writing is helpful.  The PowerPoint slides or lecture notes help students from different cultural backgrounds to understand how you prioritize information and allows them to absorb the material at their own pace, and look up unfamiliar words. (If you are uncomfortable providing your slides or notes, you may want to consider allowing students to take pictures of the slides on their phones, for their personal use.)

  • While less is sometimes more when it comes to PowerPoint, be sure to provide enough information on PowerPoint slides to give context for any term or image used. When students review your slides or notes, the context is typically more abstract. While this is a good opportunity to triangulate with lecture notes and readings, providing enough context to indicate the reason why this text or image is privileged aids comprehensibility.

  • During lectures, students find it helpful when instructors summarize topics frequently; in addition to written prompts, it is helpful to summarize topics that you deem important.  This is true for all students, and especially helpful for international students.

Be mindful to explain slang, U.S. pop culture, and other cultural references
  • As English speakers in the U.S., we do not recognize how much our speech is peppered with slang, pop culture, and cultural or U.S. references.  It is impossible to avoid all mention of U.S. contextual matters, but making an effort  to explain terms and references that may not be globally understood will be greatly appreciated by your international students.  Encourage students through multiple avenues to let you know when they do not understand and cannot find a suitable definition or explanation of a term, phrase, or example.  By offering your support in a variety of ways, you can reinforce that it’s ok to ask cultural clarification questions.

  • Idioms are so prevalent in our language that we often are not even aware of them. “Out of the blue,” “throw in the towel,” or “to touch base,” are just three examples of things many of us say without giving them a second thought, but to an English language learner still relying on direct translation for new words or phrases, idioms can be extremely confusing.  Check out this starter list to become more conscious of your idiom use.

  • Example:U.S. History courses are uniquely problematic for international students, who have not grown up learning the basic background expected for U.S. university study. Students may wonder, “What is Philadelphia?” or, incredulously, “Is Washington a state? I thought he was a President!” or, “How can I ‘remember’ the Alamo – I don’t even know what it is!” Some professors have dealt with this by offering supplemental instruction times (created for international students but open to all) to cover basic background and information, definitions, etc. While you may not be able to do that, please do keep in mind that terms that you may think are commonplace are anything but commonplace for some students.

Provide examples from around the world to support lecture (particularly from the country/ies your student/s represent)
  • We all have a need to feel like we belong in our worlds.  In the school setting, studies show that students are more successful when they feel a sense of belonging (Rattan, Savani, Chugh, & Dweck, 2015).  A sense of belonging comes from many different sources, but one of the things that professors can do is make an effort to incorporate non-U.S. examples to illustrate academic facts.  If you do not have non-U.S. examples, you might ask the class to share personal examples of the topic; this may also serve to create rich classroom discussion. 
  • A word of caution: be very careful, however, not to ask students to speak for an entire culture, since each person can speak only from personal experiences.  Instead of publically singling out the international students in your classroom, it would be best to open questions to the entire classroom. (e.g., Does anyone have an example of when/how this might be done differently?)  If you have a student who doesn’t seem to be comfortable sharing anything in class, and you think that s/he would have a valuable perspective to share, consider having a conversation with the student privately.  Researching the topic on your own or asking them individually or in a group of their cultural peers first will take the pressure off speaking in front of the class.  After sharing privately, they may be more open to sharing in class.

Turn on English sub-titles when showing a film
  • Even if a person’s English is near fluent, it is often hard to follow conversations and actions on screen; written words on the screen help keep things in focus.
  • Films on Demand from the library often have a subtitle or transcript option.

Pause after asking a question in class; be comfortable with some silence
  • When a question is posed in the classroom, an English language learner may need extra time to process the question and formulate an answer.  Allowing for a short pause between asking the question and calling on a student gives students a chance to internally translate and fully understand the question then draw on their multilingual bank of knowledge to develop an answer in English. 
  • As you are comfortable, try  calling on students by name after a period of silence. Many students will be prepared to speak but may need to be called on to take the opportunity.  If you plan to do this, provide fair warning so that students are prepared and not surprised. .  If you are not sure of how to pronounce certain names, you may want to take advantage of the CGE Name Guide.

  • You may also want to consider out of class options such as Canvas or discussion boards for students to post questions or join in a discussion.

Rephrase or recast a question or difficult concept

It may be helpful to all students to hear the same question in two different ways, but it is even more helpful to English language learners.  For instance, you might ask both of these questions at the same time: “What do you think were your main influences growing up?” and, “What do you think affected you the most, to make you the person that you are today?”

Make use of "Think, Pair, Share" as a way of encouraging classroom participation
  • By allowing students to think about a concept, share answers with one or two other students, and then discuss it as an entire class, you give all students the chance to engage with the concepts.  This model can work well for people coming from cultures where class participation is not the norm and/or where the student may feel uncomfortable with his/her accent or language abilities.  If that student can “try out” a statement in a small group, it will be easier to restate it to the larger group. 

  • This strategy does not have to take a lot of time.  Give students opportunities to think about a question for a short amount of time (15+ seconds), communicate for 30+ seconds to a partner, then solicit answers from the class after everyone has had a chance to talk.
Schedule and disseminate office hours

While it may take some students more time to reach out to you during office hours, having stated hours and reminding students of them will let them know that you are available to hear their concerns and discuss any questions they may have. Especially at first, students may feel most comfortable reaching out via email where they can craft their question to you and time to consider your response.

Be aware of immigration matters for student advising
  • Visa-holding students have another layer of requirements that they must meet in order to maintain their legal status in the U.S. and continue their studies. For example: F-1 students, which is the majority of undergraduate international students at JMU, must be enrolled in 12 credits in the fall and spring semesters. This means that it may not be possible for them to drop a course mid-semester if they are not doing well in that course.
  • Additionally, changes in world politics, especially U.S. immigration policy, may create uncertainty and stress for visa-holding students, which you may see effect their work, participation, etc.

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