One common question Cambridge Network receives is how educators can encourage their international students to be more vocal in class. While there are a few general suggestions we recommend that all our partner schools implement to empower their international students to participate in class more actively, it’s also important to understand the reasons these students may be reluctant to volunteer their thoughts.
In this post, we’ll detail the primary causes of international students’ classroom introversion with a particular focus on a cultural explanation that dates back to Confucian ideology. Finally, we will provide a few strategies you can use to encourage your students to speak up.
Why students might be reserved:
- Lack of confidence in language skills.
Some students who are still honing their English skills may not be confident enough in their spoken English to speak in front of an entire classroom of peers.
- Fear of slowing down the rest of the class.
Some students fear that asking a question is a burden on their peers and teachers who are eager to move on to the next topic.
- Not used to student-centric classes.
High school classes in China and some other Asian countries typically have a much higher student-to-teacher ratio and are more akin to a college-style lecture than the American private high school model of engagement and student interaction.
- A different concept of the teacher-student relationship.
The teacher-student relationship in East Asian cultures discourages asking questions and does not tolerate disagreement with the teacher, although this trend is changing. Unlike the American teacher-student paradigm, in which a teacher acts more like an experienced guide whose role is to provide students information and subsequently challenge students to develop an educated opinion, the part of the teacher in these countries is more analogous to an incontrovertible lecturer.
To understand this last point and why it contributes so heavily to international students’ hesitancy to volunteer opinions, one must trace the history of student-teacher relationships back to the times of Confucius. According to Confucius, all peoples have a distinct place in society that determines their status and subsequently their social rights. Although “Teacher-Student” does not fit directly into five principal relationships of Confucian thought, the fundamentals of Confucian philosophy dictate that students are subservient to teachers and are therefore not culturally permitted to act in a way that would imply their relationship with their teacher is one of parity. Consequently, students from China in particular that asking questions or volunteering opinions in class is both presumptuous and disrespectful.
Now that we’ve outlined the explanations for why your international students may be less extroverted inside the classroom, here are some tips you can use to increase your these students’ class participation.
Increasing class participation:
- Recognize that this process will take time.
Behaviors are hard to change, especially when they are contrary to a person’s native cultural and societal norms. It is crucial that you realize that this process is more a marathon than a sprint and should proceed slowly and subtly.
- Explain the importance and benefits of participating in class.
Increasing classroom participation is not an end goal, but a means to an end. Explain to your students that participating in class provides an excellent opportunity to practice English skills, make friends and to maximize the American educational experience. Be sure also to tell your students if participation is a vital component of a student’s grade in the class.
- Make your students the “expert.”
One great way to encourage your students to feel comfortable speaking publicly is to have them speak about a topic on which they are experts. By asking students to speak about life at home, their culture and history, you empower students to be an authority and to speak confidently without fear of being “wrong” or slowing down the class.
- Rephrase your international students’ sentences.
Not only will this reassure students that you have completely and accurately understood what they have said, but it will also allow you to demonstrate that there are various ways of expressing a single thought.
By implementing these strategies, you will be able to slowly but surely increase the classroom participation of your international students. Understand, however, that all students are different. The same way some American students are less likely to participate in class than others; some international students will be more enthusiastic about volunteering in class than others.
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