Helping students know different cultural contexts of their classmates
Dr Elanore Hargreaves explains the benefits of students undertaking intercultural group work within the MA Effective Learning and Teaching programme at the UCL Institute of Education.
19 August 2015
The MA Effective Learning and Teaching programme is designed mainly for experienced teachers with an interest in learning about critical perspectives on teaching and learning in classrooms.
Because of the international nature of student intake (more than half the students are from EU or non-EU countries), the programme aims to draw on international literature and link teaching activities to students’ own contexts. Intercultural group work has high priority across the modules.
Helping students know the different cultural contexts of their classmates
In the beginning of the module ‘Guiding Effective Learning and Teaching’ in October the module teacher helps students get to know each other and their cultural backgrounds through asking them to post their names and first languages on the place where they are from on a map of the world or the UK.
After that they discuss about ways of learning and teaching in their own contexts within a group of three including home and international students.
The idea behind this practice is to encourage them, particularly home students who tend to be tired of studying together with international students, to value everybody and take their contexts seriously.
We expect them to be aware that “nobody is strange or everybody is strange and we are all different”.
Apart from this, the module teacher offers opportunities for students to learn other cultures through asking them to show any video of a classroom lesson in their home countries or bring their cultural foods to share with others in a class.
Formative feedback among students in a small group
Students in the module ‘Guiding Effective Learning and Teaching’ and ‘Assessment for Learning’ are required to write a formative essay of 1,000 words.
In a small group of three they read each other’s essays and the author tells the other two people how well and in what way the essay has met the assessment criteria.
Those two people give the author their feedback that must be provocative and non-judgemental and is supposed to expand the author’s understanding and thinking of that topic.
After that they reflect on what feedback was helpful or unhelpful.
This is an inclusive exercise and genuine collaboration through which home and international students engage discussion and learn about their contexts and how different people write and assess. They seem to feel comfortable with working together in such a friendly atmosphere where nobody is criticised and judged.
Language barrier for international students
The language barrier for international students is the biggest issue.
International students tend to be polite and respectful, so they often pretend to understand even if they do not know what is happing in a class.
Home students as well as course teachers need to be more aware: I had a Nigerian lady who was brave enough to say to a home student that I cannot hear you, could you speak more slowly and loudly? ..that was great because once she did that I was much more aware and everyone was more aware… it was better for everyone.
Moreover, international students also have different forms of academic writing often much more formal than the style the programme requires which is more personal.