Teaching Multicultural Classrooms

123 countries are represented in SU’s student body, with international students composing about 10% of the total student population.1 The iSchool’s international population is typically higher. 

Diversity in the classroom is shown not just by these international students, but from America’s own multicultural population.  Students in your classroom may not speak English as a first language.2  Others may be unfamiliar with expectations of behavior in the classroom; they may not be used to intense discussions or may have been taught that disagreeing with teachers or asking lots of questions is disrespectful.3  These situations may present challenges in teaching, but many also present opportunities to enrich learning with global perspectives.5 

Never make assumptions about a student based on appearance.  Getting to know your students individually will allow you to treat them with respect, and give each student the appropriate support that they will need.2,7

Here are some challenges facing international students, along with some strategies to face those challenges: 

Language barriers 

  • Lecture speed and language (idioms, slang, sarcasm, etc.) can prevent students from understanding content or instructions.2,3,4,6
    • Be conscious of how fast you are speaking.4,5
    • Repeat and rephrase complex ideas.4 
    • Check for understanding.  Ask open-ended questions, such as “What are your questions?”  Or, ask for a student volunteer to rephrase instructions. 
    • Provide outlines, study guides, or postings of lecture slides.5 
    • Assign readings that use clear English, and avoid assigning an overwhelming amount of readings.5
    • Be available immediately after class for individual questions.4
  • Participation may be difficult or intimidating.  Students may need more time to translate their questions and answers, or may not be accustomed to participation requirements.2,5
    • Set out clear expectations for participation.  Communicate these verbally and in writing at the beginning of the course.3,5
    • Pause and count to 15 after asking a question.  This gives even native English speakers a chance to reflect before answering.5
    • Ask a question, then have all students write their answer down before calling on some to share.5
    • Paraphrase unclear answers before building on them.2
  • Written work quality may be poor, with limited vocabulary or mixed syntax.2 
    • Give specific directions for what to include in the essay.
    • Check for content and ideas first, before grammar and style.2
    • Comment on general types of errors, rather than marking every individual error (ex, incorrect prepositions).2
    • Provide samples of the type of work you are looking for.4 
    • If necessary, direct students to the Writing Center or the Tutoring and Study Center

Culture differences 

  • Background knowledge of subjects and skills learned before coming to college may differ for students coming from different countries’ high school systems.4,5
    • Communicate clear, explicit expectations of the skills and materials that students need to master.4 (See learning outcomes
    • Use active learning activities and group activities to assess student comprehension and encourage collaboration.4,5
  • Pop culture/history references that are assumed to be common knowledge may be lost on international students and could prevent them from understanding a point.4 
    • Be aware of such references in your lectures.4 
    • Check for comprehension regularly. 

Academic culture differences 

  • Plagiarism policies may be different from students’ previous academic settings.3 
    • Set out clear expectations for academic integrity, and provide students with library resources if they need to learn more about research and citing.4 
    • Be aware of your students’ backgrounds; their schools may not have had librarians, they may not have interacted with library staff before, or they may not have had access to similar resources and services. 
  1. http://www.syr.edu/about/facts.html
  2. http://cte.virginia.edu/resources/teaching-a-diverse-student-body-practical-strategies-for-enhancing-our-students-learning/international-students/strategies-for-teaching-international-students/
  3. https://www.nafsa.org/_/File/_/ie_novdec14_fsa.pdf
  4. http://www.waikato.ac.nz/tdu/pdf/booklets/13_Diversity.pdf
  5. http://www.crlt.umich.edu/internationalstudents
  6. http://www.crlt.umich.edu/internationalstudents
  7. https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/yourstudents.html