From ESL Instructional Resources by Young-Kyung Min, PhD
As the number of international students and 1.5 generation students rapidly increases on our campus, it is important for faculty to create a learning environment in which both native speakers and non-native speakers become an important part of their own learning processes. An effective way to cultivate such an environment is to design course assignments and class activities by utilizing the strengths and challenges of native speakers and non-native speakers.
When designing class assignments and activities, there are some important points for faculty to consider. Let’s take a look at the following assignment prompts.
Watch the Superbowl and discuss its influence on American culture.
Compare David Letterman’s talk show with Conan O’Brien talk show.
Listen to the State of the Union Address by the President and critique his economic vision.
Certain cultural assumptions are deeply embedded in these assignment prompts. They invite us to think about what identities international and 1.5 generation students are expected to enact in these assignments. Such students can be engaged in the assignments in a more meaningful way if they are asked to examine the influence of the most popular sports game in their home countries; compare a well-known talk show in their home countries with one of the talk shows in the US or compare two most well-known talk shows in their home countries; and critique the economic vision of the Presidents of their home countries. This way, they can also help create a global moment in a local classroom by introducing their own cultures and customs. It is important to remember that international students are valuable assets for classroom activities and assignments, and they can help prevent class assignments or projects from being ethnocentric.
When faculty design a group project that requires an international perspective, international students and 1.5 generation students can take a more active role in the research process while native-English-speaking students can be more active in writing the paper. Native speakers become language informants and non-native speakers become cultural informants for their group project.
If it is a speaking assignment, faculty may pair an ESL student with a native speaker; the ESL student becomes the discussant for a native-English-speaking presenter. The ESL student should read the native speaker’s presentation material before the presentation and conduct the Q&A session for the native speaker. They get to know each other’s presentation topics beforehand and can help each other develop their ideas further for their projects (it is similar to the Discussant and Presenter format that is often used in professional conferences). This way, faculty can foster interactions between both groups of students that can benefit the learning of both students.
Another effective way to guide ESL students to become more active in their learning processes is to encourage them to bring back some artifacts that capture key aspects of their cultures or any artifacts that have some symbolic meanings in their cultures. Ask them to bring significant objects and introduce their cultures to your class. They can create a global moment both in their local classroom and on our campus by introducing their own cultures and customs. Cultural mementos can be also invaluable primary data sources for research projects in many courses that require an active inquiry into cultures, literacies, and languages. Also, each quarter, a variety of cultural events are arranged by the Office of Student Life and other student organizations on campus. They can use those artifacts to participate in the cultural events that take place on our campus (e.g. Intercultural Nights).
Faculty should not aim to assimilate international students into the US academic discourse community or simply acculturate them into the US academic culture. The goal of our education is not to Americanize international students; most of our international students go back to their home countries after their education at UWB. Our goal is to guide them to become more competent global citizens. We should help such students develop intercultural literacy, which Juan Guerra defines as “the ability to consciously and effectively move back and forth among as well as in and out of the discourse communities they belong to or will belong to” (1997, p. 259).
In order to guide the students to move back and forth between the communities, it is crucial for faculty to provide them with a point of reference and a point of comparison for class activities and assignments. They should be given opportunities to talk and write about their cultural identities, heritages, and conflicts. They should be guided to “shuttle between their cultures and communities” (Canagarajah, 2002, p. 146). Their education in the US should not weaken their existing relationships with their home cultures: they should be constantly encouraged to negotiate and articulate their differences in order to become more competent global citizens (Connor, 2011; Min, 2012). This is the key idea in fostering an intercultural educational environment that can benefit both native and non-native speakers in our classrooms and on campus.
Canagarajah, S. (2002). Globalization, methods, and practice in periphery classrooms. In D. Block & D. Cameron (Eds.), Globalization and language teaching (pp. 134-150). New York, NY: Routledge.
Connor, U. (2011). Intercultural rhetoric in the writing classroom. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Guerra, J. (1997). The place of intercultural literacy in the writing classroom. In C. Severino, J. Guerra, and J. Butler (Eds.), Writing in multicultural settings (pp. 234-244). New York, NY: Modern Language Association of America.
Min, Y. K. (2012). Contact zone in TESOL: East and west immersion. Journal of International Students, 2(1). 83-85.
Min, Y. K. (work in progress). Teaching ESL students: Guidelines for inclusive pedagogical practices.