As colleges and universities become increasingly more diverse, faculty must understand the needs and behaviors of a broad range of students and develop techniques for working effectively with them. This page provides information and strategies for teaching international students, but happen to also translate well to the success of all our students.
This page contains the following resource sections:
- Research on the International Student Population at Berkeley
- Culture in the Classroom Resources
- Pedagogical Toolbox
- Faculty Workshop Archive - custom workshops available upon request
Reports from the Berkeley International Office
- Hofstede’s National Cultural Dimensions
- NAFSA US Culture Series- US Classroom Culture
- Intercultural Learning Teaching Tips (Purdue University)
Below, pedagogical suggestions are offered for teaching international students in four areas:
International students often report issues with note-taking and listening comprehension. The consequence partly contributes to discomfort speaking up in class.
- If using PowerPoint, consider making them available to students as a handout or online; when lecturing from PowerPoint, information can go much more quickly than in chalk-n-talk mode, and students may have a difficult time processing information and getting it down in notes.
- Monitor student understanding with brief check-ins, such as formative assessments. Many students will nod their heads while listening to a lecture for various reasons, but they might not clearly understand what you are saying and will hesitate to ask.
- When possible, make information visual.
- If you make reference to something from US pop culture (e.g. products, ads and slogans, TV shows, slang) to explain a concept, or provide an example/reference to the class, explain the concept additionally with a universally relevant reference.
- When possible, give students study guides and/or vocabulary lists to guide them when they do class reading.
International students can lack confidence in their English oral communication skills. The result is a reluctance to speak because they question their ability to:
- express themselves clearly,
- formulate ideas in English, and
- to respond quickly in a discussion.
Additionally, many international students come to Berkeley never having been encouraged to volunteer information or ask questions in class. Recognize and address the significant shift in the learning role they are being asked to undertake in a very short timeframe.
- Allow for longer wait time to formulate ideas and lower the stakes of speaking up by utilizing peer to peer brainstorming and then report out as a group versus an individual.
- Give examples of and praise the kinds of student participation you seek. Explain to the class why participation, and this kind of participation, is so important.
- Help to ensure productive group work with some guiding practices groups should follow. For example: include everyone in discussions, check for understanding within the group, elicit the opinions of those who have not spoken up, etc.
- Try to avoid comprehension questions, such as “do you understand?” You will likely receive head nods regardless of actual comprehension--anything else could be viewed as challenging your competence or authority as the professor. Instead, ask “What were the main ideas covered so far?,” or “What more can I tell you about X?”
- Provide opportunities for students to engage in class participation gradually. Many international students have always been taught that it would be disrespectful to ask a question of the professor, let alone question or critique an idea. Begin by peppering in some questions that elicit short answers or facts, shortly after add follow-up questions, and finally include opinion or evaluative questions. Be sure to give students feedback that validates their contribution.
Unclear and conflicting expectations between instructors and international students may cause confusion and misunderstanding. Many international students have prior educational experiences and expectations that do not always align with our expectations of them and experiences designed for them.
- Discuss your expectations of students engagement and participation in the classroom.
- Be explicit about student performance expectations in your syllabus and orally during the first week of class (attendance, class participation, assignment requirements, grading policies, reading textbooks in advance, cheating and plagiarism, etc.). Remind students throughout the term.
- Explain your teaching methods and give reasons for your plans for the class (e.g., we value discussion and exploration of ideas, critical thinking, and not necessarily the final idea or the right answer).
- Provide specific and clear instructions about classroom activities both in writing and orally.
- Encourage students to teach each other, and you, about the educational culture they experienced previously. (e.g., in some cultures, it is not okay to answer twice in a row because it might be seen as showing off, but that may not be the case in many of our classrooms.)
International students face several cultural divides when it comes to the evaluation of student learning. On an in-class exam, international students will probably read more slowly and write more slowly than native English speakers because they are processing the information in a second language. When assigning a written exercise, it is misleading to equate students' writing skills with their intellectual ability. Students have varying degrees of experience with "academic" writing, and face cultural differences in writing styles as well. Recognize that many standards apply to the evaluation of good writing. Regarding academic integrity, in many cultures, helping a friend may be of higher value than avoiding cheating; also, different cultures have very different ideas about appropriate citation and documentation of source material. Thus, what we would call cheating and plagiarism may occur when the international student has no real intention of being dishonest.
- Be explicit about what is expected in student writing and share examples of good writing done by other students. Alert students early on of their need to improve their writing and suggest resources to them.
- If a specific type of writing is expected for a given class, it may be useful to assign a short, ungraded assignment early in the term to identify students who may need additional assistance in meeting that particular writing standard.
- Depending on the subject matter of an exam and your own beliefs about fair examinations, you may wish to allow international students to ask you the meanings of words that are not explicitly being tested.
- Consider allowing international students to use dictionaries or electronic translators during exams, but whether this is appropriate for your exam will depend on the nature of the exam and course.
- Recommend students take advantage of campus resources in preparing for any type of assessment.
Regarding Academic Integrity
- Clearly explain the university's academic integrity policy (in the Berkeley Student Code of Conduct) and any specific expectations for your course. In some countries, knowledge is in the public domain to be shared by all (even during an exam) or, if the students have been taught that only the expert’s opinion is authoritative, students may present that instead of developing their own ideas.
On Campus Resources to Support Pedagogy & Student Learning
- Student Learning Center
- UC Berkeley Admissions - International Students
- UC Berkeley Summer Sessions - Visiting International Students
- International Student Organizations
- Career Center - International Students
- University Health Services - Interational Students
- Graduate Division - International Students
- The Library
- UC Libraries Research Tutorial
- UC Berkeley Note-taking & Recording Policy
- Summer English Language Studies Program (for-credit UCB courses)
Facilitating Class Participation and Group Projects
Facilitators: Sunshine Oey (UC Berkeley Public Service Center), Rebecca Sablo (Berkeley International Office)
Description: In this workshop to kick-off the series, faculty will discuss and learn ways to encourage class participation and facilitate group projects, with a focus on International student participation. Beginning with a student panel discussion, we will focus on why and how our students participate and engage the way they do. Then, guiding practices in engaging international students will be used to develop teaching methods relevant to our own classrooms.
Resources: Academic Culture in the Classroom (ppt slides)
Crafting, Teaching, and Grading Final Writing Assignments
Facilitators: Maggie Sokolik & Margi Wald (College Writing Programs)
Description: In this hands-on workshop, faculty will explore ways to design assignments, facilitate the writing process, and evaluate student writing. Part I will translate academic culture and raise awareness of affective issues around reading and writing. Part II will provide an opportunity to re/design and plan the teaching and grading of final writing assignments.
If you have a question, or are seeking insight, about teaching International students, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your query. It will be directed to a subject matter expert on campus who can provide an answer, or meet individually to discuss the question at hand. Please allow up to 48 hours for a response.