International Students and Classroom Pedagogy

The following is a letter sent from Arts and Sciences Dean Dorothy Hodgson to the arts and sciences faculty:

In the past 10 years, the number of international students has increased dramatically. The majority of students in some graduate programs are international. Fifteen percent to 21% of entering first-year undergraduates in each of the past nine years have been international students.

Approximately 47 students in the summer of 2018 have been admitted to the Gateway Scholars Program, designed to support high-performing, well-qualified international undergraduates in need of focused attention to their English language skills. In addition, the number of students born abroad who complete high school in the U.S. has increased. International students come primarily from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, India, Israel, Nigeria and Kenya, and English as a Second Language tutorials and classes have been greatly expanded to meet their needs.

How can you help international students enrolled in your classes? Below, you will find a brief introduction to strategies that may help you provide the necessary support. For additional information or to recommend a student for ESL tutoring or classes, you can contact Vinodini Murugesan, director of the English Language Programs and Gateway Scholars Program, at or ext. 6- 8398.

Three Reasons International Students Have Problems With Classroom Participation

  1. Difficulties in note-taking and comprehension problems.
    International students are processing words in an attempt to understand the main ideas presented by the speaker, as well as drawing on what they already know. They are doing this in a foreign language. They may feel a need to save face by hiding their incomprehension or unfamiliarity with the cultural context by being quiet.
  2. Lack of confidence in a foreign language.
    International students often report that they would like to participate in class but lack the confidence to do so. Upon arrival, many students cannot yet "think" in English, so this presents an additional language barrier, especially during impromptu speech. They may not want to embarrass themselves in public by making linguistic errors in front of classmates and instructors.
  3. Lack of familiarity with U.S. academic classroom expectations.
    Misunderstandings often result from unclear expectations between instructors and international students. Students are undergoing a double set of adjustment experiences: adapting to life in the U.S. and understanding the expectations of the U.S. educational system. The professor is seen as the unquestioned expert in many cultures, which can cause students to hesitate to give their own opinions during a discussion.

Practical Strategies to Encourage International Students to Participate in Class

Make explicit the American academic norms within the classroom. Whether in a large lecture course or small seminar, these include:

Make lectures more accessible:

Create opportunities for student participation:

Give helpful feedback and create an atmosphere of support:

What Resources Are Available to English Language Learners to Develop the (Oral) Communication Skills They Will Need to Succeed at Brandeis?