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Effective teaching methods for international students

Lecture by Professor Sandra Silberstein, University of Washington

Waseda University’s Center for Higher Education Studies (CHES) regularly holds an event called Faculty Café, where faculty members can exchange opinions on teaching and learning, such as promoting students’ engagement and active learning strategies.

As a special event, the Faculty Café held on November 18 welcomed Sandra Silberstein, professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington (UW), who lectured on UW’s academic support for international students. This event was opened to faculty and administrative staff members outside of Waseda, hoping to share Professor Silberstein’s excellence on supporting international students in the classroom.

Sandra Silberstein, professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington

In the opening remarks, Koichi Suga, senior executive vice president and director of CHES, expressed his anticipation for the lecture, saying, “Waseda University was selected in the highest category of universities to receive funding from a multi-million government program called the Top Global University Project. We have been making efforts to create a more global academic/research environment, for instance, by establishing 7 undergraduate and 14 graduate programs taught entirely in English. I hope that we can all learn from Professor Silberstein today to receive hints about how to improve teaching at Waseda and the student’s learning experience.”

Silberstein had served as director of the MATESOL Program at UW for 35 years. Since 2008, she has led large-scale surveys on the faculty, teaching assistant (TA), and international student experience of what it is like to be at an increasingly globalized institution. In this lecture, she shared her findings based on these surveys and introduced the kind of academic support UW has implemented.

According to her findings, many UW faculty and TAs agreed that there are benefits to teaching international students. “International students bring new perspectives to issues discussed in class which invite students (and instructors) to rethink what they have often taken for granted,” she quoted a survey participant.

On the other hand, Silberstein pointed out that UW faculty and TAs have also expressed the challenges they face in the surveys. For example, they are not sure whether international students generally have lower in-class participation because they do not feel confident in their English proficiency, they are not used to a learning environment which encourages class participation, or they just lack willingness to participate. Others include the lack of awareness towards plagiarism and the question of to what extent should a faculty/TA be correcting grammatical errors by international students when assessing writing assignments.

To improve academic support for international students at UW, Silberstein said that they took actions such as developing additional self-placement support structures, including the Targeted Learning Communities (TLC) program. TLC at UW pairs three to five students whose native language is not English, and a tutor-facilitator will meet with them once a week to support the their learning, creating long-term learning communities.

In regards to the lack of awareness towards plagiarism, Silberstein said that scaffolding is one solution.

“Scaffolding, which is a word that comes from building construction, means to give some kind of support or to do things in stages. By breaking things down, doing things in smaller parts, have people write and rewrite, assignments cannot be plagiarized. This is nice because your writing is about what your research is about and what you think of it. At the same time, it helps participation,” she said.

Mayuko Sakamoto, an associate professor at Waseda’s Global Education Center who participated in the lecture, commented, “In this lecture, Professor Silberstein mentioned the importance of having a writing center multiple times. Waseda’s Writing Center also serves international students, so I was able to reaffirm my role as an instructor there through her lecture. In addition, some international students want to write reports with perfect grammar, but Professor Silberstein said that content conveying student ideas is what matters, and perfection in grammar should not be what students aim for when writing reports. I think these are great tips for considering how we can academically support international students, so I would like to take them back and share them with the TAs at the Writing Center.”

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