Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Track C: Raising awareness of cultural differences & appreciation of advantages & challenges of working with a diverse group

Link to abstract
Presenter: Malcolm Clay, Learner Development Unit, Middlesex University

Malcolm began with an introduction to the issues raised in teaching diverse groups of international students, the most obvious being the language barriers. He discussed some of the ways he attempts to get students with very little English to start talking in class, whether it was the uses of a single word or getting the students to describe things to each other.  Other than that there were cultural differences and the difficulties that arise in attempting to get different groups to mix and work together. He described the way students of the same nationality would naturally gravitate towards each other and group themselves together.

He pointed out that the most important issues to be aware of not only concern differences in language and culture, but also in terms of learning styles and academic standards. Whereas students (and teachers) in the UK are used to certain styles of education, the different modes of teaching and learning in China, for example, offer up a lot of issues and problems for Chinese students.  He described the difficulties in getting Chinese students to participate in class discussions and explained the need for telling his students the importance of learning to “speak up” while learning a new language.

“To sum up we need to be aware of the cultural reasons which might hold back the progress of the student and we need to put in place methods to circumvent common problems which impede the students."
One of his main resources in getting students to relax with one another, to be more comfortable and confident speaking up in class and to work together is by using humour. If a point can be put across to the students more easily and more effectively using word play, jokes, or games, then this was “very, very important in the class to create a good affect.”

The session ended with an exercise in which the audience were put into groups of three or four. They were given a printout with a picture of an onion which represented the various cultural layers which make up and impact on their personality. After discussing the commonalities and differences with their group, the important “differences” were offered up as discussion points for the whole class.

Angus Macdonald, CLTE

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