Racial Equality Strategies in Learning and Teaching
#2Meeting the needs of UK and international bilingual students
If someone is to navigate a culture, you can only do that if you have understanding of the language. Language used in particular contexts might mean different things. Language support is critical.
academic staff comment
Universities have rightly established challenging minimum English language entry requirements for international students based on the IELTS or TOEFL tests. Those students who have completed their secondary school studies in the UK and have had access to services concerning English as a second or additional language (EAL) will have satisfied examiners at Higher or A level of their English language competence. However, many of these students find the English language demands of higher education a significant barrier to
- participation, on an equal basis with native speakers of English, in learning opportunities
- demonstration, in assignments, presentations and examinations, of what they have learnt.
The following reasons can be found for this:
- the verbal English language demands created by the teaching approaches used in higher education may be very different from those encountered in previous education;
- behavioural and study expectations during lectures, tutorials, seminars, assessment and independent study are frequently unstated and may be unfamiliar to students who come from different educational backgrounds and cultural traditions;
- the demands of academic literacy in the higher education context will be greater than those imposed by the mediated texts and supported writing experienced in secondary schools;
- assessment practices which require the student to demonstrate achievement of learning outcomes through their emergent academic English can lead to (a) poor standards of English being construed as poor mastery of content; (b) the student’s attempt to use academic text as a scaffolding for assignment writing being mistaken for plagiarism.
Such issues are likely to apply even more to international students unfamiliar with UK academic perspectives and conventions. These demands and challenges can be mitigated, and inclusion and equality of opportunity can be enhanced, if teaching staff consider the questions and action areas suggested below.
2.1Does entry to a programme of study consider the needs of bilingual students?
Minimum English language entry requirements should be strictly observed. Directors of studies or supervisors should ensure (a) that guidance given to students during pre-entry university English language courses is circulated to appropriate teaching staff to inform their support of the student, and (b) that the student actually attends recommended English language or study skills programmes.
Prior to commencement of study, students should be given written advice on the cultural and academic conventions and expectations of lectures, seminars, tutorials, practicals, academic reading and writing, and assessment practices (see the University of Leicester’s guidance for members of staff and academic departments for excellent examples of written advice for international students).
The programme guide should contain a glossary of technical terms and abbreviations, clear presentations of assignment requirements (broken down into constituent parts, wherever possible), and reading lists differentiated into essential, recommended and extended reading.
2.2Is there appropriate planning of learning and teaching opportunities in relation to bilingual students?
Research into the use of EAL as a medium of instruction has shown that the following approaches support the comprehension and communication of meaning:
- activation of prior knowledge, through prior reading, discussion where possible in the student’s first language1, making available on the VLE relevant handouts/PowerPoint slides and tasks to encourage reflection related to the student’s own background or experience;
- scaffolding of the presentation of content and the contextualisation of meaning, through the use of visual clues, e.g. clarification of key points on handouts or PowerPoint slides, interactive whiteboards, video clips, diagrams and other forms of graphic organiser;
- active learning approaches, like group or pair work (with opportunity for students to carry this out in their first language, if desired), jigsawing2, pyramiding3, or other forms of collaborative approach, for example problem-based learning;
- staged development of written text, with opportunities for formative feedback, to include discussion of rhetorical structure and textual organisation, appropriate style and register, analysis, synthesis and critical approaches to information-handling, referencing conventions, and the meaning, and avoidance, of plagiarism.
2.3Are there specific strategies for enhancing learning in lectures, tutorials and other face-to-face settings for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds?
Lecturers should prepare properly before lectures. They should provide students with clear and readable handouts, not just verbal lectures. International students have a harder time picking up information because of accents, other students who understand have an advantage … international students are lagging behind.
Lecturers can assist accessibility to the curriculum for bilingual students by
- defining and clarifying technical terminology and jargon when it is introduced;
- providing on-line an “advance organiser” for the material they will cover in the lecture, short preliminary readings, glossaries of technical terms and key questions for reflection before the class;
- engaging with the audience by facing them and by looking for signs of lack of comprehension or puzzlement;
- presenting information during the lecture in highly structured ways, using outlines and simple overheads/PowerPoint slides to navigate students through the lecture, and providing mental maps to help students to organise concepts and information;
- signalling key points, important concepts and technical terms, and pausing for note-taking;
- ensuring that handouts match lecture content;
- using short summary handouts rather than many photocopies of lengthy articles etc.;
- monitoring their speed of delivery; avoiding convoluted sentences (it helps if the lecturer does not read from a script), colloquialisms, abbreviations, foreign expressions (e.g. Zeitgeist, coup de théâtre) without explanation, and culturally specific examples (e.g. M&S, EastEnders); giving explanations of expressions (e.g. “modus operandi — a way of operating or doing something”) to help students’ understanding;
- making it clear to students that they may record lectures if they wish;
- breaking up the style of delivery by building in opportunities for paired discussions, feedback and questions with roving microphone;
- summing up at the end of lectures and making explicit how each lecture relates to previous and subsequent learning;
- after a lecture, making explicit the follow-up work required/recommended, and gaining regular feedback from students on the effectiveness of delivery.
Seminars and tutorials
At the start, tutors need to be clear about their expectations for student participation and clarify understandings of the purpose and conduct of seminars and tutorials. They should also
- assist students to develop the skills of operating within groups e.g. listening, being respectful, taking turns (other ground rules might be agreed at the outset of the semester for the tutorial or seminar group);
- help students to get to know each other by name early in the course by the use of ice-breakers and by the establishment of learning partnerships or groups;
- help students to prepare for seminars, by suggesting that they produce summaries of short prior readings or lists of questions based on the lecture, providing prompt questions which you will use to start discussion in the seminar/tutorial, or setting preparatory tasks based on students’ prior experience (e.g. in their country of origin);
- structure any pair or group work, so that students are clear about what is expected and what they will be required to feed back to the plenary group; agree with the group on any key points or conclusions and write them down or post them on-line;
- affirm contributions and provide formative feedback on the process as well as on the ideas generated.
Development of academic literacy
Effective independent study will involve the development of academic literacy skills such as
- analysis and critical evaluation of information in a text;
- synthesis of information from a range of texts;
- planning and structuring a written presentation which reflects, adds to and reconstructs the thinking of others, transforming it into the student’s own ideas and applications;
- developing an understanding of Western perspectives on plagiarism.
These approaches to study may be familiar to some students in their first language, but may be challenging when carried out in English. To other students, this treatment of text may be culturally unfamiliar.
Students can be supported in the development of academic literacy skills in the following ways:
- modelling of the process of critical and analytical reading being built into seminars/tutorials in a planned and sustained way;
- tutors/supervisors/peers producing questions on agreed texts which encourage inferential and critical reading — responses can then form the basis of seminar or tutorial discussion;
- frameworks being used for approaching texts: What does X say? What does Y say? How are they the same/different? Any reasons for similarities/differences? Your view on the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments? Your own considered point of view;
- students being invited to read and comment on articles written in their first language;
- academic journalling, using the following protocol: Students write several lines and share these with a peer. The partners then discuss and extend each other’s views. Each student adds to their original response. The tutor confronts student viewpoints by asking probing and challenging questions. Finally, students reconstruct their writing by incorporating responses and building in oppositional views. Peer assessment techniques could also be introduced.
- Ensure that the exact nature of the assignment is clearly presented and broken down into its constituent parts.
- Provide examples of previous good and poor assignments and examples of criteria-related comments on both, so that students know what is expected.
- At the start of the course, consider time management issues with the students by discussing how the assignment might be tackled in stages in step with the course timetable.
- Early on in the programme, spend time in tutorials providing formative feedback on assignment outlines, sample paragraphs and drafts, being careful to distinguish between discussion of content and consideration of linguistic accuracy or appropriateness.
The following resource was produced for academic and support staff working with international students. However, the advice and reflective activities are useful for staff working with all students, including bilingual students and those still needing to acculturate into the UK framework of university education. For example, see Unit 2 in the Facilitator’s Handbook, “Designing and planning learning activities and programmes of study”, and Unit 3, “Supporting international students in new cultures of learning”.
Burnapp, D (2009) “Supporting international students in UK Higher Education: a course for staff”, Southampton: Language, Linguistics Area Studies, HE Academy
- Research has shown that learning in the first language provides the best foundation for learning new concepts.
- Groups of students are given different input on the same general topic. They discuss their stimulus in their group. Individual students then share with other students who have discussed different stimuli and together they synthesise their data to form a conclusion or to reach consensus relating to a problem, etc.
- Students reflect individually on input, and then share reflections in pairs. Pairs then form small groups to extend the activity and to feed back eventually to the whole group.