Helping International Students Learn

Helping International Students Learn

IUB students come with diverse cultural backgrounds, academic preparation, and expectations about college. For example, 9% of IUB undergraduates are international students, and an additional 11% are US minority students. As instructors develop instructional strategies to help all their students learn, it can help to ask, “Where do students (international or otherwise) get off track in my class?” In focus groups and interviews IUB international and minority students have suggested ways we might better support their learning.

Students cannot understand what is said.

Students for whom English is a second language learn best when information is presented in writing. It can be challenging for these students to understand lectures; for best results, you will want to be sure they can catch as many of the words spoken in class as possible. To improve communication and translation, make your class lectures and content available after the class session in written or video format.

Students will not speak up in class.

In non-U.S. cultures, college students often listen passively to lectures, rather than participate actively.  These students find speaking up in class akin to driving into heavy traffic—they cannot find an opening to break into the discussion. There are many ways to ameliorate this problem. To address this problem:

  • Encourage students to answer in their native language first and then translate it for classmates so they don’t miss their chance to join in.
  • Distribute discussion questions in advance of class to allow everyone to be prepared.
  • Students will appreciate an opportunity and can more readily participate in on-line discussions (using the Discussions or Chat tools in Canvas, for example), which can take place even during class (using Twitter or other social media).
  • Place students in small groups. Structure discussion activities in class, with Wait Time (at least 20 seconds), Write-Pair-Share, or other Equal Participation Strategies to ensure equitable participation by all.

Students have not developed effective study skills.

Differences exist between high school study expectations and the requisite skills for success in U.S. universities. To help students develop desired skills:

  • Give guidelines for assigned readings so students know where to focus their efforts (see this example for strategies to accomplish this).
  • Hold students accountable so they come to class prepared.

Students may be used to only having to recall information, working at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.  To help them deal with more complex cognitive tasks, model for them the mental operations you want them to practice.

Students think office hours are only for students in trouble.

Invite students to attend office hours. Oftentimes, students may not realize that it is an open invitation.

To address students' challenges, it helps to get clear about exactly what students are struggling with. To figure this out, use brief, frequent, non-graded assessments. If you would like help diagnosing the problem, consider contacting a CITL Consultant.

References

Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Carroll, J., & Ryan, J. (Eds.) (2005) Teaching international students: Improving learning for all. Routledge: New York. Pages: 168.

Larsson, M. (2013). Tips for teaching non-native English speaking students. Unpublished manuscript. Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA. http://cii.gsu.edu/files/2013/02/Tips-for-Teaching-Nonnative-English-Students.pdf

Who Is Doing This at IUB?

OASIS International helps international students practice essential communication skills while building friendships and learning about cultural differences.

For Help or Information

Contact Joan Middendorf (middendo@indiana.edu) or contact CITL to meet with a consultant.