Keep Teaching: Working Remotely with International Students Part II

Blog posts in the Keep Teaching series are written by CTL faculty and faculty from around the Institute to offer advice and inspiration during the COVID-19 disruption. For official Institute academic continuity resources, visit this page. You will also find more teaching and learning tips on the CTL Keep Teaching site.

Post by Sarah Kegley, International TA Program Manager, Center for Teaching and Learning

As we transition into remote learning environments, we can help promote the positive instances of linguistic interference while offsetting the negative ones by incorporating some very modest pedagogical practices, as outlined below. These pedagogical practices fall into two broad categories: Instructional Design & Technological Considerations and Teacher Talk & Communicative Considerations, covered in this post. The tips below will help you take your international students into consideration as you teach remotely this semester – and are also good policies for working with students at any time in the semester.

<Please note that for the purposes of these two entries, the widely-used terminology of non-native English speakers (NNES), speakers of another variety of English, and/or non-US variety of English will be categorized under the blanket term of second-language, or L2, speakers.>

Teacher Talk & Communicative Considerations

Monitor your rate of speech. We can all agree from the multitude of virtual meetings over the past two weeks that it is noticeable (and ineffective) when the speaker is rushing through content! When using new technology, we tend to worry more about the technology and end up reverting to faster speech. Try to remember that effective presenters speak at a presentation rate designed to support cognitive engagement. This rate is measurably slower than typical person-to-person speech.

Use direct language. Avoid use of modals when possible, as modals require deep pragmatic competency. For example,

  1. Direct: After class, please review pages 350 to 420. Read these pages again, then write your discussion post.
    Less Direct: You may want to review pages 350-420.
  2. Direct: Please attend tutoring hours. You should attend between 1 and 3 hours by April 10th.
    Less Direct: If you would like to attend tutoring hours, they are online from 12 to 2

Manage the Chat tool talk. If using Chat, acknowledge the length of time that you will wait in silence for text to appear.  For example, “I will wait for 45 seconds to see what terms you would like for me to review. Please write them in the chat tool now.” Then, announce that you will continue waiting for 20 more seconds, etc.

Employ silence! Just as you would in real life classrooms, pause when you want the students to think!  Silence (even online or in pre-recorded video) often equals thinking.

Consider structure. Use typical academic English presentation structure, often referred to as “announce, tell, summarize”:

  1. Announce/preview what you will say: “The next paragraph will be about language.”
  2. Say it: “Language can present difficulties when moving classrooms to remote learning. Some students are not used to listening online and may be distracted by accent, while others could have improved focus. “
  3. Summarize what you said: To summarize, the previous sentences in this exercise refer to issues with language use when learning remotely.

Use organized speech. Use logical connectors/organizers consistently. You could even try to overuse them (this is rarely possible). For example:

  • First, second, third, etc.
  • Afterwards, later, then, next
  • Because of, resulting in, due to, therefore, as a result
  • While, whereas, nonetheless

Repeat! Repeat! Repeat numbers (always repeat) and key ideas. For example: Machine learning is automatic in this case. → Let me repeat: In this case, machine learning is automatic.

Paraphrase. Or, say it another way. For example:
Original:  In this context, the machine learning techniques ceased to operate.
Paraphrase: In other words, the techniques of machine learning no longer worked under the new circumstances.

Combine strategies. Both paraphrasing and use of slower speech can help avoid confusion in many instances, such as

  • Form – forum – for them –etc.
  • Ceases — sees us — sea does — seas as —seizes
  • It ceases an opportunity– It seizes an opportunity – it sees as an opportunity

Linguistic diversity creates a rich and vibrant culture of learning at Georgia Tech. Awareness of this diversity necessitates our acknowledgement that linguistically diverse students may face unseen challenges in classroom instruction. By adding these strategies to our teaching, we can ward off the possibility of imbalanced instruction as remote learning tools quickly come into play.

For more information or to discuss this entry, please contact Sarah Kegley in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

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