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Creating an Equitable Classroom

Learn how to increase learning and productivity and explore considerations for assessing international students’ writing.

Students inside SAS Hall stopping for a quick group chat.

Overview

Structuring your class, assignments, and assessments in such a way as to encourage increased learning and productivity from international students does not mean lowering standards or holding a different set of standards exclusively for international students. The tips that follow are intended to help fill gaps so that international students can equitably be held to the same performance criteria as their domestic peers.

Comprehension

Although it is likely that many international student misunderstandings will be due to the challenges of navigating university life in a second language, don’t assume that comprehension challenges are due exclusively to language barriers.  The following suggestions should make your lessons accessible to all students and should give them their best chance of communicating their understanding back to you.

Addressing Language Issues

Need strategies for working with students for whom English is not their first language? Visit our resource page and discover concrete strategies for helping your students succeed at NC State.

Writing

Writing styles differ widely across languages and cultures. While the Western writing style tends to be direct and linear, this is not true for many languages. Some students may perceive such a writing style to be insulting to the reader as it frequently repeats its main points and assumes that the reader has little to no background knowledge on the subject. It can also be viewed as dry and formulaic, which may be a turnoff for students who have been taught to use more expressive language.

In many countries outside of the U.S., the writing assignments that students are asked to complete tend to focus on summarizing information rather than forming and defending an argument or interpreting a body of work.

Some international students will come to university without ever having written a research paper. They may or may not be familiar with the concepts of citing sources and avoiding plagiarism. Even if they are familiar with the concept of plagiarism, subtleties relating to what does and does not constitute plagiarism will take time to develop and master.

Discussion

Classroom styles and formats also vary widely across cultures and languages.  Lectures may be the instructional format many international students are most familiar with. However, even for those students with experience in class discussions, the rules of engagement in such discussions may differ significantly from the U.S. context. Consider the following challenges and accompanying suggestions to make class participation and engagement more accessible to a culturally diverse classroom.

Asking and Answering Questions

International students may feel uncomfortable asking and answering questions.

Sharing Opinions

You may find that international students may be very reluctant to share their opinions when asked.

Disagreeing

In many cultures, it is considered rude to openly question or challenge the ideas of a professor or even respected peers.

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