In Class

June 3, 2019 at 3:23 pm

Managing A Multicultural Classroom: Tips and Advice

By Teaching Assistants Sara Swaim and Matthew Zendejas

In an ever-growing globalized world, there is a boost in multicultural and cross-cultural interactions. The classroom is no exception. Due to a rise in migration, study abroad programs, and online courses, classrooms are becoming increasingly multicultural. There are countless benefits that come from a learning environment that is rich in perspective, yet managing that classroom can be tricky for new teachers. Take a look at the following scenarios and imagine how you would react to such a situation if you were the teacher.

  • When asking questions to your class, you notice that the international students rarely participate. You understand the value of their thoughts and ideas to the classroom dynamic, yet they don’t seem to want to volunteer their ideas as eagerly as some of the other students. How might you address this issue?

In this scenario, several solutions can be employed to help increase the participation of the international students in your classroom. First, consider giving students a smaller venue to participate. By giving time for students to share ideas in pairs or in smaller groups, students may feel less anxious about contributing. This may help not only your international students, but also some of your more shy or soft-spoken students as well. In addition to group work, you may wish to create supplemental assignments to increase participation. Consider “revamping” the traditional discussion board posts by using video blogs that create a more personal connection. These assignments can offer an additional platform for idea sharing from the safety and comfort of each student’s home. Lastly, you may wish to call directly upon your students, even if they do not have their hands raised. Classroom etiquette and participation vary between cultures. Some cultures, such as those from many Asian countries, do not volunteer answers, rather they are called upon by the teacher. You may try this technique with your students, yet it is important to be very aware of how they respond. You do not want to make your students feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, so take note as to how they react to being called upon. If they become noticeably uncomfortable, you may wish to forego this option in the future.

  • You notice that some of your international students are struggling to keep up with some of the material. You can tell that they are putting in extra effort and that their language is not a barrier for communication. In your office hours, you have been trying to think of creative ways to make the material more approachable for your students. What ideas might you try out?

Often when we are teaching, we think of examples and “real-life scenarios” to help approximate students to the target material. Nevertheless, this often means pulling from our own experience or knowledge. In order to offer your students ample opportunities to understand complex notions, be sure to integrate examples from different countries. This not only provides students with diverse opportunities to understand the material, but it also serves to help validate other cultures within the classroom. This may require additional exploration on your behalf, but it will ultimately lead to a stronger collective understanding of the target material. Additionally, by integrating examples from other cultures and countries, you may also encourage the participation of the international students who can serve as “informants” on the topic.

  • Several of your students have complained that they do not like the format of the classes and that thy struggle to understand what material will be on the test. They’ve mentioned that they don’t understand how to take notes on the group discussions and/or projects and are feeling frustrated while preparing for final exams. How might you respond to these complaints?

When working with many students (international or otherwise) you will be attempting to manage a variety of learning styles and classroom expectations. Some students are used to a passive learning environment where they take notes, study, and then take an exam. Other students are used to more hands-on activities with labs, experiments and projects. In fact, as a teacher you probably have your own expectations regarding both the classroom style and also the types of evaluation. In order to cater to the diverse needs and expectations of your students, be sure to vary your classroom activities and evaluations. You can explain to your students that variation offers a dynamic opportunity to learn via different mediums and methodologies. Additionally, you can explain that different assessment types enable students to flourish in the skills they have. For example, a student who struggles to write well would not be expected to perform well on an essay exam. If all of the evaluations follow this format, a student my quickly feel discouraged, despite having a strong command of the material. Instead, offer the student additional possibilities to demonstrate their knowledge such as presentations, projects, and exams that aren’t heavily based on writing. By combining different classroom activities and assessments, you are able to better cater to the wide variety of leaning styles and expectations present in your classroom.

Multicultural classrooms are challenging yet rewarding environments. As a TA, your job is to make your international students feel welcomed, appreciated, and valued. Their perspectives and knowledge will greatly add to the classroom dynamic. In order to best manage these diverse environments, you should:

  1. Offer opportunities for interaction among peers in a comfortable setting such as pairs, small groups, on online discussion boards.
  2. Utilize examples and scenarios from across the globe to help students relate to target material better.
  3. Incorporate a variety of activities and assessments to account for differences in learning styles and competencies within the classroom.

By following these tips, you should be able to create an integrated classroom dynamic and mitigate feelings of frustration and/or isolation during thee learning process.

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