The posting below gives a somewhat different take on preparing non-traditional students for academic success. It is by Julian Hermida, LL.B., LL.M., DCL, Ph.D., assistant professor and chair, Teaching and Learning Committee and Department of Law and Politics, Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada
http://www.julianhermida.com She can be reached at: <Julian.Hermida@algomau.ca>
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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Inclusive Teaching Strategies to Promote Non-Traditional Student Success
It is a recurring complaint among university teachers that most of today's students come underprepared to university (Gabriel, 2008; Côté & Allahar, 2007). The majority of these students are non-traditional, particularly mature, aboriginal, international, recent immigrant, first-generation, and visible minorities. North American universities and individual faculty members have been taking measures to help non-traditional students improve their skills and performance. Most of these initiatives are remedial in nature, i.e., they aim at equipping non-traditional students with the academic skills and knowledge of mainstream students and teachers (Tinto, 2008). Not surprisingly, these actions have proved inadequate to empower most minority students to succeed, as these measures neglect to acknowledge and incorporate the diverse values, beliefs, and skills that non-traditional students bring to the classroom.
Non-traditional students are not underprepared. Their preparation responds to a different way of seeing themselves and understanding the world that derives from their own cultures and traditions. This different way of seeing the world has repercussions in most academic areas. They influence the way students think, express themselves, interact in the classroom, and think in the disciplines. For example, many non-traditional students tend to see things in a subjective, inward-looking fashion (Haigh, 2009). Other students from non-Western societies are holistic in their thoughts. They tend to emphasize and value how things are interconnected. They tend to give contextual and emotional information. Some even show a tendency to digress when writing (Fox, 1994).
So, instead of pushing non-traditional students to adopt North American mainstream academic skills, disciplinary perspectives, and thought processes, we should open our classroom doors to teaching disciplinary content and academic skills from a wide array of diverse traditions so that every single -mainstream and minority- student will feel included. This will prepare both mainstream and minority students to succeed as interculturally knowledgeable citizens in a globalized world (Schuerholz-Lehr, 2007).
Strategies for inclusive teaching
* Place student learning of diverse knowledge modes, and ways of generating, organizing, and expressing thought at the forefront of the curriculum. Include this within the course intended learning outcomes. And make explicit to your students that they will learn to approach the discipline and to generate, organize, and express thought from multiple traditions.
* Align your course so that the assessment and teaching and learning activities match your intended learning outcomes (Biggs, 2007).
* Change the preconception that non-Western ideas are exotic. Introduce non-Western knowledge modes, academic skills, and disciplinary content as something normal.
* Help your students see the intrinsic value of acquiring diverse, non-traditional ways of seeing the world. Include a wide array of non-Western and non-traditional worldviews and values, even if you do not have students from a certain culture. For example, even if you do not have aboriginal students, teach your students how to transmit knowledge through stories as is done in aboriginal communities (Charter, 1996).
* Show your students how useful it is to be prepared to live and work in different cultures.
* Teach multiple ways of writing instead of restricting writing to North American academic styles. For example, teach your students how to organize thoughts and express ideas as is done in Chinese culture. Ask a Chinese graduate student who acquired his or her undergraduate education in China to show you how Chinese scholars write academic papers, or invite that student to your class to talk to your students. Then, ask your students to write a short paper in English following an academic Chinese structure and organization.
* Vary pedagogical methods, i.e., teach as is taught in other cultures and traditions. For example, resort to story-telling, organize circles, potlucks in -or ideally outside- the classroom to acknowledge aboriginal traditions. Or base part of your pedagogy on notions of Dharma, which emphasize personal introspection, self-awareness, self-realization, and self-improvement (Haigh, 2009).
* Include texts in foreign languages that some of your students speak as alternative or supplementary to texts in English. Even if you do not read in a foreign language, as disciplinary expert, you are probably familiar with the text and the author, or you probably read an English translation. Most foreign language journals bring an abstract in English. So, it is not very difficult to know the content of an article in your discipline even if you do not speak that language. Invite the students that read those articles to comment them in class. Unilingual speakers will see the value of reading the discipline in other languages.
* Invite guests from non mainstream traditions, such as an aboriginal elder, a visible minority professional, or a foreign religious leader. They can discuss topics related to your course, and your students can gain insight into their worldviews.
* Organize student presentations where students discuss a problem from their own tradition. A variation of this activity is to ask students to present a topic from a tradition that is different from their own.
* Discuss disciplinary content that interests diverse groups of students. For example, recent immigrant students want to see issues related to immigration, assimilation, and heritage discussed in class. If you teach US literature you can include Chicano authors' short stories dealing with problems faced by Latino immigrant families, such as stories by Francisco Jimenez. If you teach Contracts, you can include the notion and formation of contracts found in legal traditions outside North America.
* Mature students have very rich life experiences. Make room for them to share their experiences with the rest of the class.
* Assess whether students can generate, organize, and express thought in a multitude of diverse ways. Assessment is the component in the aligned teaching system that most greatly influences the approach students take to learning (Gibbs, 1999). So, if your assessment actually evaluates whether and how well students have mastered a wide array of knowledge modes, diverse academic skills, and non-traditional disciplinary perspectives, students will be likely to achieve your intended learning outcomes (Biggs, 2003).
* Design assessment tasks that are representative of different cultures and traditions. Do not restrict your assessment tasks to exams, multiple choice tests, research papers, and group presentations. Adopt assessment tools used in other cultures, such as informal dialogues, holistic evaluation of student performance throughout the course, or self-evaluation. Another alternative is to ask your students to gather evidence that is customary in their traditions to show how well they have achieved the intended learning outcomes.
When students and teachers came to university from the same privileged social backgrounds, they shared similar values and principles. So, there was no difference of perspective between teachers and students. The lack of success of individual students was interpreted as individual failures, generally explained in terms of lack of application and effort on the part of those students. Since today, non-traditional students make up a large percentage of North American classrooms, what was once an explanation in terms of individual students, today is a generalization about underpreparedness.
Inclusive teaching acknowledges and incorporates diverse knowledge modes, thought processes, and expressive styles into the classroom. It prepares both mainstream and minority students to succeed as interculturally knowledgeable citizens in today's globalized world.
* Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: Open University Press, Second edition.
* Charter, A. (1996). Integrating Traditional Aboriginal Teaching and Learning Approaches in Post-Secondary Settings, ERIC document ED403091.
* Gabriel, K. (2008). Teaching Unprepared Students: Strategies for Promoting Success and Retention in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing.
* Côté & Allahar, (2007). Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
* Gibbs, G. (1999), "Using Assessment Strategically to Change the Way Students Learn", chapter 4 in S. Brown and A. Glasner (eds) (1999), Assessment Matters in Higher Education, Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, Buckingham, UK.
* Fox, H. (1994). Listening to the world: Cultural issues in academic writing, Urbana, IL: NCTE.
* Haigh, M. (2009). Fostering Cross-Cultural Empathy with Non-Western Curricular Structures, Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 13 No.2. p. 271.
* Schuerholz-Lehr, S. (2007). Teaching for Global Literacy in Higher Education: How Prepared Are the Educators? Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 11 No. 2, 2007, p.180.
* Tinto, V. (2008). Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First Generation Students. The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, Washington DC.