We are all shaped by our pasts—our backgrounds inevitably influence what we bring to the moment, how we experience it, and what we can learn from it as individuals. As an educator, you have no doubt seen examples of how each student’s unique collection of prior knowledge can help or hinder them in their efforts to master your course content (Ambrose et al., 2010).
Importantly, prior knowledge encompasses more than just academic content. It also includes the many social aspects of the “teacher” and “student” roles, as well as expectations for what kinds of activities and behaviors are appropriate in an academic context.
Because we teach in an increasingly multicultural context, orienting your students to the specific expectations of your class is an essential part of supporting their learning. Some relatively simple culturally inclusive teaching strategies can bridge the potential gap between how students have learned in the past and what they must do to succeed in your course now.
- If it is a part of your students’ grade, be explicit about what “participation” actually looks like in your course. Class participation activities can be powerful learning experiences (Freeman et al., 2014), but educational cultures differ dramatically in terms of what class participation actually entails. For example, students from non-Western backgrounds may not know how to—or even that they should—respond to the instructor’s questions in class (de Vita, 2000). Students from different backgrounds—both domestic and international—can benefit from a clear explanation of what successful participation looks like, what forms it can take, and how it will impact their grade (Frisby, Weber, & Beckner, 2014; Weimar, 2016).
- Make explicit what content students are responsible for on tests and quizzes. Some schooling traditions include assessments and exams on only what is said by the instructor during class time, while others consider readings, homework, and other content to be appropriate for examination. Clarifying exactly what content and sources students are responsible for on tests and quizzes can more accurately set expectations and ensure that everyone in the class is preparing based on the same material (Blasco, 2014).
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Blasco, M. (2015). Making the tacit explicit: Rethinking culturally inclusive pedagogy in international student academic adaptation. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 23(1), 85-106.
Devita, G. (2000). Inclusive approaches to effective communication and active participation in the multicultural classroom: An international business management context. Active Learning in Higher Education, 1(2), 168–180.
Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.
Frisby, B. N., Weber, K., & Beckner, B. N. (2014). Requiring participation: An instructor strategy to influence student interest and learning. Communication Quarterly, 62(3), 308-322.
Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.