Teaching in Internationally-Diverse Classrooms: Lessons from a Learning Community
During the 2016-17 academic year, a Faculty/Staff Learning Community (FLC) was formed to grapple with the topic: Teaching in Internationally-Diverse Classrooms. Spurred by a well-attended session at last year’s OTL Unconference, Ethel Swartley from the English Language Center was joined by Juli Parrish from the Writing Program and Bridget Arend from the Office of Teaching and Learning to facilitate this FLC.
Our learning community met monthly to explore ideas and best practices for teaching in internationally-diverse classrooms, working with international student writers, and maximizing international student contributions to the curriculum. Common concerns arose such as how to grade student writing and how to best engage students in group work and class discussions. However, over time the conversations deepened, towards a more empathetic understanding and appreciation of different ways of writing and learning across cultures.
For example, many members remarked on their increased empathy for students writing in a new language. Where once typos and grammar mistakes could prove devastating for an assignment, we discussed various ways to prioritize conceptual understanding and thinking processes when possible. We also explored various cultural writing styles and how they might differ from unspoken standards in the United States. Consultants from the Writing Center visited during one session to show student work samples and discuss grading strategies.
One instructor shared how she changed the process of a writing assignment to simply allow students more options. Although the final assignment had to be in writing, she allowed the planning and build up work to be turned in using other methods. The creative responses she received showed the international students were thinking more deeply about the issues than she had initially realized.
We used a short text to ground our monthly conversations, and discussed videos and articles to help us go deeper in our understanding and practice. Some of the learning was shared back to the DU community though presentations at both the Diversity Summit and the Internationalization Summit. In addition, new resources for both students and faculty are being developed in the Writing Center, University College, and the Office of Teaching and Learning, including this handout created for the INTZ summit.
The group often discussed the very one-sided burden of international student success in the U.S., even though the benefits of internationally-diverse classrooms apply to domestic partners as well. Beyond the beneficial exposure to diverse cultures and ways of thinking, even being a good listener or reader for non-native speakers is a global skill that many Americans need to improve.
In the end, there was a perceptible shift in our conversations over the year. Whereas many of the issues that drew us to this group were first seen as problems, we were able to see the same issues as areas to capitalize upon to help all of our students–both international and domestic–benefit and develop new learning.
To see some of the resources and details of this FLC, visit our portfolio site.