Supporting an Inclusive Classroom
The diverse backgrounds of our students and faculty members is one of the most exciting parts of Yale-NUS College.
Diversity involves all aspects of an individual’s identity as it relates to race, gender, socio-economic class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual identity, language capacity, age, and ability. In the context of higher education, diversity also relates to the unique learning styles of each student, and teaching approaches of each faculty member. Not only are Yale-NUS College students from many different cultural backgrounds, they are also from many different high school contexts within Singapore and beyond, which further diversifies their learning needs.
Effective teaching involves developing meaningful connections between course content and the students’ personal lives. In the unique Yale-NUS context of liberal arts in Asia , experiencing interactions in the classroom that yield a mature appreciation of cultural diversity requires thoughtful pedagogy.
To ensure a constructive classroom environment, it is important for faculty to maintain intercultural competence and sensitivity. Faculty members are challenged to expand, modify or even abandon some of the ways they are accustomed to transmitting knowledge so as to effectively tap the many different learning styles in Yale-NUS classrooms. Faculty members can work to enhance their own ability to effectively and appropriately interact in an intercultural situation or context, as well as to help students develop their own capacities in this area.
Tips for how to address diversity and inclusion in your teaching
There are many different ways to develop an inclusive classroom. Below are detailed some general practical steps that can be taken, as well as some steps that relate to specific areas of diversity and inclusion in the classroom.
- Use the name cards that are made available so as to memorise students’ names more easily. Ask students how to pronounce their names and work to pronounce them correctly.
- Ask students what their preferred gender pronouns are when you address them in class: e.g. she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs
- As much as possible, use gender neutral language in lectures, presentations, assignments, and exams.
- Be conscious of how you use examples of underrepresented groups. Be more inclusive in examples – for instance, you could use more examples of women, people of colour and other underrepresented groups in desirable leadership roles.
- Do not generalize about different groups of people, especially in highlighting examples. Avoid providing examples that may stereotype groups of people and simplify the complexity of their experiences.
- Ensure that your syllabus also reflects diversity; for example, you could attempt to represent both male and female thinkers as equally as possible, or ensure other underrepresented groups are included in your syllabus. At the same time, avoid doing so in a tokenistic way, and ensure that these inclusions are reflected on and have a clear purpose within the class content.
- Use diverse examples, case studies, and regional references. If you are using an example that not everyone in the room may understand, explain the context of the example, so as not to assume any particular background or experience.
- Watch the type of humor that occurs in your classes to be sure it denigrates no one.
- Manage the comments in your class. As class instructor, respectfully challenge students who may make remarks that are culturally insensitive, or dismiss someone else’s lived experiences.
Adopt teaching practices that accommodate differences in background knowledge and exposure to teaching styles
Students have varied exposures to different teaching styles, and may also enter classes with different levels of knowledge of the discipline. Research has shown that differences in knowledge and exposure can result in varying efficacies of teaching methods – for example, there is evidence that novices in a field learn better with examples, but students with more expertise and background learn better when they solve problems themselves.
Another study has shown that students also tend to retain new information in a familiar field better than they do new information from an unfamiliar field, as the brain draws links between old and new knowledge to better remember new knowledge. Acknowledging differing levels of prior knowledge and finding methods to reach both novices and experts in your classroom, especially in Common Curriculum classes where students may be expected to engage with disciplines they may not otherwise study, will help your classroom inclusive.
You can create a classroom that is inclusive towards these differences by adopting a pedagogical approach that incorporates optimal degrees of freedom in learning activities and assessment, enabling levels of engagement for all students to maximise their learning (Biggs, 2003). The below suggestions will help with both learning differences and cultural differences in approaches to learning:
- Students writing on the board
- Paired up student work
- Presentations (both individual and teamwork-based)
- Canvas Discussion Forum
- Field Trips
- Written assignments
- Video use
- Reading allowed exercises
The goal is to incorporate different types of classroom activities over a given semester, creating variety in your teaching methods. This will make your classroom more inclusive towards the different learning preferences of your students, as influenced by their past experiences.
Developing Culturally Attuned Class Participation Assessment
Faculty members should be sensitive to different patterns of transmitting knowledge. Be aware that communication activities can be informal, facilitating interrogation of course content, or formal, seeking to explicitly develop communication competence. (Daniels, 2017) The complexities of student performance are addressed by faculty members through managing apprehension, facilitating discussion, navigating group/team work, dealing with difficult interactions, and addressing diversity (Daniels, 2017).
Yael Sharan (Shara, Intercultural Education Vol. 21, Iss. 3, 2010) provides a useful synopsis of how culture can impact behaviour in the classroom:
“How else does culture effect students’ behavior in class? Another relevant dimension of culture, studied by sociolinguists, is the kind of verbal participation structures it develops in its children. A teacher may plan an activity designed to have students speak up spontaneously and voice their opinions openly. Students from a Euro-American background adapt easily to this behavior, while those from a Latin or Southeast Asian background may expect the teacher to initiate communication and will speak up only when called upon for fear they say the ‘wrong’ thing. In some cultures, students are used to non‐verbal participation and may not volunteer comments to the group.”
The above description is generalising; Yale-NUS students each have unique complex identities, but the issues raised by Yael are important to consider.
Research has shown that culture influences approaches to learning. For example, there has been research that shows Mexican-American students tend to be comfortable with cognitive generalities and patterns (Cox and Ramirez, 1981; Vasquez, 1991), while African-American students value oral experiences and physical activity (Shade, 1989; Hilliard, 1989), while White-American students valued thinking, objectivity, and accuracy (Shade, 1989, More, 1990, Bert and Bert 1992). Culturally-influenced conceptions of the self has also been shown to influence cognition and motivation in college settings (Markus, 1991). (Note that these examples are not intended to overgeneralize about any group of people.
In a 2006 piece, Nguyen refers to a Confucian heritage culture context, explaining that students with this background are most comfortable when they are told what they need to know and given detail instruction on how to demonstrate they have learned the material. While Yale-NUS College students come from many different cultural context, class participation assessment criteria should allow for different kinds of participation to demonstrate learning.
It is important to recognize that each individual, while influenced by his or her experiences, is unique. As an instructor, you can acknowledge what each individual student brings to your classroom).
When assessing “participation” it is important to use multiple data points and teach what you are assessing. If effective oral communication in your disciplinary context is important to your course’s learning goals then you can provide your students with a definition of what that is and how you will be assessing it. You should model that type of oral communication in your own teaching. It is best practice to provide feedback to the students on how they are performing in this area and/or how they can continue to improve. The AACU’s Values Rubric includes a useful description and rubric for Oral Communication, and copies are available in the CTL.
Students can demonstrate their participation in a given course in many ways. Here are just a few examples of how to allow students from different cultural backgrounds to demonstrate their participation:
- Online canvas discussion boards with prompts prepared by students and by the faculty member
- Writing on the board
- Speaking up in classroom discussions
- Peer editing of work
A note on participation: Students do not come to the College as official representatives of their countries of origin. They should not be called upon to explain or provide the perspective of a given country, race, ethnicity or religion because of their perceived origins.
Being gender-inclusive in the classroom
Part of responding to the diversity of our students is providing gender responsive learning environments. Faculty members can work to apply effective methods for countering negative stereotypes of all genders that impede learning.
IREX reports that gender-inclusive teaching “is teaching with content and pedagogy that acknowledges and overcomes gender- based constraints so that both girls and boys can be successful learners.” At Yale-NUS, we extend these considerations also to students who identify as gender non-binary or non-conforming. You can read more about the importance of gender-inclusive pedagogy here.
Syllabi development and inclusive teaching
- Review the academic calendar to be aware of religious holidays when planning tests, assessments or assignment due dates. Recall that assignments cannot be due on public holidays or during recess and reading week.
- You should also choose textbook(s) that uphold a commitment to diversity. Try to ensure that textbooks use gender neutral terms. Check to see if examples and photographs include people of all genders and of various races and ethnicities. If you do use materials or resources that are not written in neutral language, such as older books and articles, point this out to your students. This can be an opportunity to discuss how diversity and inclusion issues have evolved over time in your discipline.
- Ensure that the content of your syllabus also reflects diversity; for example, you could attempt to represent both male and female thinkers as equally as possible, or ensure other underrepresented groups are included in your syllabus. At the same time, avoid doing so in a tokenistic way, and ensure that these inclusions are deeply reflected on and have a clear purpose within the class content.
Yale-NUS College offers Learning Accommodation as determined by the University Health Centre at NUS, and logistically supported by CTL. Here is the link to the student support page describing what accommodations are available. Student confidentiality is a priority in this area and Registry will notify you, the faculty member, if you have a student with an accommodation in your classroom.
Faculty members are required to honour accommodations as notified by Registry. Faculty members should not provide their own accommodations in the absence of a formal notification from registry or UHC. This is to ensure consistency of practice and that students are getting the appropriate support.
Additional Literature to Consult
Bennett, Janet M. “On becoming a global soul: A Path to Engagement during Study Abroad.” In Developing intercultural competence and transformation: Theory, research and application in international education, edited by Victor Savicki, 13–31. Sterling: Stylus, 2008.
Bennett, Janet M. “Defining, measuring, and facilitating intercultural learning: A conceptual introduction to the intercultural education double supplement.” Intercultural Education 20, no. S1–2 (2009): 1–13.
Biswas, Bidisha and Shirin Deylami. “Finding Agency in the Margins: Lessons from Teaching as Immigrant Women of Color.” PS: Political Science & Politics 50, no. 4 (2017): 1011–1014.
Choy, Siew Chee, and Phaik Kin Cheah. “Teacher Perceptions of Critical Thinking Among Students and its Influence on Higher Education.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 20, no. 2 (2008): 198–206.
Choy, Siew Chee, Daljeet Singh, Yow Lin Liew, Mun Yee Lee, Audrey Malenee and Norkhadirah Anuar. “Influence of Culture on Students’ Awareness of How and Why They Learn.” Malaysian Journal of Learning and Instruction 12, (2015): 49–67.
Deardorff, Darla K. “Assessing intercultural competence in study abroad students.” In Living and studying abroad: Research and practice, edited by Michael Bryam and Feng Anwei, 232–256. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2006.
Elliott, Carole J., and Michael Reynolds. “Participative pedagogies, group work and the international classroom: an account of students’ and tutors’ experiences.” Studies in Higher Education 39: no. 2 (2014): 307–320.
Heyward, Mark. “From international to intercultural: Redefining the International School for a Globalized World.” Journal of Research in International Education 1, no. 1 (2002): 9–32.
Hiller, Gundula G., and Maja Wozniak. “Developing an intercultural competence programme at an international cross-border university.” Intercultural Education 20, no .4 (2009): 113–124.
Lustig, Myron, and Jolene Koester. Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures, 8th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2017.
Medina-Lopez-Portillo, Adriana. 2004. “Intercultural learning assessment: The link between program duration and the development of intercultural sensitivity.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 10, (2004): 179–200.
Nguyen, Phuong-Mai. “Culturally appropriate pedagogy: The case of group learning in a Confucian Heritage Culture context.” Intercultural Education Journal 17, no. 1 (2006): 1–19.
Perry, Laura B., and Leonie Southwell. “Developing intercultural understanding and skills: models and approaches.” Intercultural Education 22, no. 6 (2011): 453–466.
Sharan, Yael. “Cooperative learning: a diversified pedagogy for diverse classrooms.” Intercultural Education 21, no. 3 (2010): 195–203.
Tupas, Ruanni. “Intercultural education in everyday practice.” Intercultural Education 25, no. 4 (2014): 243–254.