Different is NOT Deficient

Written by: Emily Treptow

Primary Source: Information Literacy Resources

The Importance of Culture

Elizabeth Redden’s Chinese Students in the Classroom provides an excellent summary of the articles presented by Tang T. Heng at last week’s American Educational Research Association annual meeting.

Here are some of the key highlights:

• Heng wants us to move beyond the discourse of “deficit” surrounding international students to a discourse of “difference.”

• Her findings are based on interviews and journal entries of 18 freshman and sophomore Chinese students she worked with over a one year period, as opposed to a one-shot interview or a survey. Being able to check in with a student over an extended period of time provides a better context for each student and where they are coming from.

• Heng found that writing, thinking, speaking, grappling with a new sociocultural context, and finding a balance were the common challenges.

Some of the background Heng provided surrounding these challenges was new insight for me. The language barrier is not the only challenge when Chinese students write essays in English. I didn’t know that papers are also typically three times longer in the US than in China and are argumentative rather than the narrative style that Chinese students are used to. They also come from an educational background where memorization was emphasized as opposed to analysis. This has left them “ill-prepared for critical thinking.”

I have had countless discussions with faculty here at MSU who cite international students’ lack of participation in class as a point of concern. The participants in Heng’s study reported that they needed time to collect their thoughts and that they didn’t feel like they could keep up with the pace of discussions in class. I think this is a really important point for instructors of international students to consider. It might be more beneficial to break the classroom up into groups for a discussion. This could leave more space and time for an international student to speak up, and hopefully alleviate the pressure by having to speak only in front of a smaller group.

I found hope in the fact that all of Heng’s participants seemed to grow more comfortable with speaking English after the one year time-span of her interviews with them. They also “reported gains in critical thinking, saying they were more questioning of the material they read.” In my mind, that represents a successful step forward.

I think the most important lesson to take home from Heng’s research, which Redden summarized in “Chinese Students in the Classroom,” is that as instructors, we cannot be surprised if international students are not as successful in our classes if we approach teaching them the same way we approach domestic students. But this is not because they have “deficiencies” as students. It is because they are coming from a different cultural context.

The following two tabs change content below.
Emily Treptow
Emily Treptow is a Business Reference Librarian at the Gast Business Library. She is a subject specialist with liaison and collection development responsibilities in the areas of advertising, career information, international business and marketing. Prior to coming to Michigan State in November 2012, she was at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign working at the Business and Economics Library and the Undergraduate Library.
Emily Treptow

Latest posts by Emily Treptow (see all)