Here at Curriculum Trak, we love connections! Today, through a blog post from veteran teacher Greg Baker, we’re offering you a glimpse of a connection with Sevenstar, a Christian online educational platform, that offers rigorous, biblically integrated courses that can be fully customized to your students’ needs. For more information about this great educational option, check out sevenstar.org. Also, Greg Baker will be presenting a webinar to our Curriculum Trak community from his long-time experience with teaching international students. You can find out more details about this webinar on our events page at curriculumtrak.com.
If you’ve been a teacher for any length of time, you know that our student population is becoming increasingly diverse. In fact, according to the Institute of International Education, the number of international students at US campuses has increased by 72 percent since 2000. In 2020, there were more than 6.3 million international students throughout the world, up from 2 million in 2000 (“International Students,” 2023). Many private Christian schools now have international student programs, in which high school students come from all over the world to attend the school over several years, often leading to the student enrolling in an American university. I recently taught an honors American history class at one such school, in which most of the students in my class were Chinese.
If you teach online, it’s more than likely you will work with students from all over the world. I have taught online courses to students from Germany, Spain, El Salvador, Malaysia, Taiwan, and China. With this increasing diversity, it’s incumbent for educators to know how to connect and be as effective as possible with our international students. Below are some suggestions and tips on how to best do that both in the classroom and in an online context.
Enjoy Your Students’ Diversity
While having the privilege of teaching abroad for twenty-six years in four different countries—Bolivia, the Philippines, Paraguay, and Haiti—I found that one of the major benefits was the diversity of my students. For both the classroom teacher and the online instructor, the amalgamation of different cultures, languages, and worldviews brings with it a rich and fruitful dynamic that is difficult to top.
Be Culturally Responsive
CRT, or culturally responsive teaching (not Critical Race Theory), is teaching that “incorporate[s] students’ cultural identities and lived experiences into the classroom as tools for effective instruction” (Will and Najarro, 2023). For example, in my online economics course, because some of my students have not grown up using the American dollar, I allowed them to complete some of their assignments using their country’s adopted currency when appropriate. One year, knowing I had a diverse group of students in my classroom while teaching on WWII, I integrated a reading assignment that presented the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the perspective of a Japanese citizen.
Other possible ways to be culturally responsive in your teaching include:
- Differentiating instruction to allow students to talk about their family background, food, and culture.
- Integrating current events from the student’s home country.
- Project-based learning that builds on a student’s background and culture.
These are just a few ideas, but maybe the most important thing you can do—especially if you are going to practice culturally responsive teaching and differentiation in your instruction—is to get to know your students. Asking about their current situation—such as what grade they’re in, what sports and extracurricular activities they’re involved in, or what they plan on doing when they get out of high school—can go a long way in building relationships with your students. Along with formative assessments, this will help you get a feel for where your students might be and how you might be able to differentiate your instruction to accommodate cultural differences, even if only on a discussion and advisement level.
Finally, most instructional resources that have been published within the last five years offer great ideas for culturally responsive instructional activities that are easy to include in your lesson planning.
Language and Culture
Most teachers today have had some experience or training in dealing with ELL (English Language Learner) students. Whatever the level of experience, it’s important that we exercise patience when dealing with international students and the English language. English will be a second language for most international students. Because of that, it often takes them longer to complete reading and writing assignments. The key is to know your students and to differentiate your instruction when possible. In the online context, in most cases students will be allowed to redo assignments and retake formative assessments, which is very helpful. Where possible, integrating visual aids into the lesson will also help the student understand the material (Briggs, 2012).
It’s also helpful to be aware when cultural dynamics are in play. For example, many Asian students come from a culture of respect and politeness, so don’t be surprised or judgmental if they appear to be quiet and hesitant to speak up in class or in conversation. In many Asian cultures the teacher is considered the expert, so to question or challenge the teacher would be considered out of bounds. It’s also important as the instructor to be aware of your own background. For example, if you are an American, you have grown up in a competitive, individualistic, and patriotic society, whereas some of your students come from a more collective and traditional society where family and cultural traditions are highly valued. It helps to be sensitive to ethnocentrism, to avoid inadvertently being condescending toward another person’s culture and traditions.
Academic Integrity and Plagiarism
We should never compromise when it comes to academic integrity and international students. Nonetheless, it’s important to consider cultural differences and different understandings of plagiarism. For example, many Asian students who live in collective societies have grown up believing that “knowledge belongs to society as a whole, not to one individual person.” In other words, international students are taught that there is a right answer, and nobody owns it (Cambridge Network, 2019). It’s important to keep in mind they have grown up in a culture where sharing information without acknowledging the owner is acceptable. In addition, because they often struggle with learning academic English, ELL students tend to copy parts of a text that sound better than what they have written. None of this means we should overlook this or allow it, but it is important that we have some understanding of why this may be happening.
There are a few things that can be done to mitigate the problem:
- Make sure your students are clear about the expectations of a written assignment.
- Make sure students have a clear definition of plagiarism and the consequences if it is discovered. Fortunately, if the student is enrolled in a private Christian school, they will probably have some orientation regarding what plagiarism is and why it’s wrong. Also, if students are taking a course online, they will most likely be given an orientation in which plagiarism is clearly defined.
- If a student is caught plagiarizing, avoid being overly judgmental; rather, reorient them on why it is wrong, and review expectations and consequences.
Teaching International Students from a Christian Worldview
Even though you are teaching international students who are attending a private Christian school, many of your students may not be Christians. In fact, they may come from a mix of religious backgrounds. Some of the Asian students I have taught online over the years have parents who are Buddhist or Taoist. In Haiti, I had several students whose parents practiced voodoo. It’s also important to be sensitive to the fact that because some international students come from families with various belief systems, coming to faith in Christ may mean facing persecution and in some cases being ostracized from their families.
Despite that, we as Christian school teachers need to integrate biblical truth into our teaching. Fortunately, if you are teaching at a private Christian school, biblical integration is already a required part of the curriculum, and incoming students and parents will understand this.
Teaching from a Christian worldview does not have to be formalized. Teachers are a walking curriculum, filled with the Spirit and teaching God’s truth as the Lord gives opportunity. For example, in my online AP Psychology class, when the topic of anxiety and anxiety disorders is addressed, I have the opportunity to share its biblical solution: prayer (Philippians 4:6). When the issue of adolescents struggling with identity and self-concept arises, I point to the importance of finding our identity in Christ. Above all, being an example of Christ in our speech and actions before our students, whether in the classroom or in an online context, will be the most important curriculum we teach.
If you have the privilege of teaching international students, you know what an enriching experience it can be. However, it’s also important to consider the dynamics our international students face. Language and cultural barriers, individualistic vs. collective societal worldviews, the way one looks at ownership of written materials, and teaching international students from a Christian worldview are just a few of these dynamics. Enjoying the diversity of your students, while being culturally responsive in your teaching and differentiating where appropriate, can make teaching international students, in the classroom or online, a successful and rewarding endeavor.
Briggs, S. (2012). “10 Tips on How to Teach International Students Effectively,” InformED, November 22, https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/other/10-tips-teaching-international-students-effectively.
Cambridge Network. (2019). “Understanding International Student Plagiarism: Differences in Causes and Culture,” https://www.cambridgenetwork.com/blog/school-blog/understanding-causes-and-cultural-differences-in-plagiarism-for-international-students.
“International Students.” Migration Data Portal, https://www.migrationdataportal.org/themes/international-students (last updated June 2, 2023).
Will, M. and Najarro, I. (2022). “What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?” Education Week, April 18, https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/culturally-responsive-teaching-culturally-responsive-pedagogy/2022/04.