Teaching International Students


Elon’s international students come from many places and are very different from one another, so each one should be known and treated as an individual. Depending on their country of origin or school system, they may be used to classroom experiences and expectations that differ from many U.S.-raised students (e.g. they might be from places where students didn’t quickly jump into class discussions, might be unfamiliar with pop quizzes, might have different assumptions about collaboration, might see the professor’s role differently). Additionally, some international students may be dealing with challenges related to personal and cultural adaptation.

As you work with students from other countries, keep in mind that intelligence is very different from English-language ability. Some of our international students are native English speakers, and others have studied at English-medium schools, and others are speaking English as a second or third (or other) language.

Using US-specific idioms and cultural references means some students won’t follow you. A more inclusive approach would be to use international examples that help all our students develop the global perspective we’re hoping for – without requiring any international students to be the expert on their home country.

Adopt universal design practices – which help all students

• Early in the semester, find out from all your students about their relevant background knowledge and experiences for your course. Get to know your students and learn what they are nervous about.

• Be as clear as possible about the skills and requirements necessary for success in the course and offer examples or models of good work.

• Be clear about what you mean by “good class participation,” including behavior in small groups.

• Facilitate class participation so that there is wide sharing and multiple perspectives and regular invitation for students to explain what they haven’t understood.

• Use multiple modes (e.g. lecture and images, discussion and a handout, reading and a small group activity) to introduce and practice new concepts.

• Offer low-stakes opportunities for students to practice the skills (such as do drafts or sample problems) before high-pressure exams and get feedback.

• Allow enough time for all students to finish quizzes, exams, etc.

• Know what resources are available to help support student learning and thriving at Elon, such as the Writing Center for various stages of the writing process, Learning Assistance for tutoring or study skills, Belk library for research and citations, the Global Education Center, CREDE, etc.

Consider going even further

• Consider whether there are adaptations you’d be willing to make for students for whom English is a second or other language (e.g. different style testing or extra time, allowing dictionaries, looking at drafts, etc.).

• Learn more about your students’ cultures in order to better understand and interact with them.

• Think carefully about how you assign membership of project teams.

Works Cited & Resources

Carnegie Mellon University has put together a helpful report (.pdf) for faculty about how to recognize and address the cultural variations that impact students in their  U.S. college classrooms.

The University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning provides web resources for bridging differences in classroom knowledge and practice, teaching non-native speakers of English, improving climate, and promoting academic integrity.