Understanding your Students’ Prior Education

How are my Students Taught in Other Countries?

Having a general sense of cultural norms can help a classroom teacher anticipate potential misunderstandings when dealing with students and families.  Although it is important to understand overall characteristics of your students’ public education, it is more important not to form generalizations. When in doubt, my advice to you is to ask families about their prior education.  My personal inquires, research and  experiences have uncovered vast differences between American public schools and public schools in other countries.

In India

People IMG_6898 HOLI - FESTIVAL OF COLOURS IN INDIARajeev India (THANKS for views, comments n faves) via Compfight

In a recent parent- teacher conference,   a father from India, explained the differences he experienced between his early childhood student’s former education and the education he is experiencing here in the United States. This conversation left me with these key understandings:

  • Depending upon their grade level, students could be in school for as little as 2 to 4 hours per day.
  • Class size was double the size here.
  • The curriculum was highly dependent upon parental support. Parents were handed the curriculum to use at home but not provided with resources or materials; an extra fee was charged for materials.

A conversation with a mother, recently immigrated from India, offered validity to his comments.  When I handed her a form requiring a signature for English language services, she quickly replied, “How much do I owe you?”   Needless to say, she was pleasantly surprised to find out that we provide the services free of charge in America.

Many of my students from both public and private schools in India report punishment from their former teachers.  Unicef- India on Corporal Punishment explores this in more detail.

Facts about India from Children United

In an article produced by Knowledge@Wharton, 2013, it is mentioned that:india-map-languages

  • India’s private-schooled, English-speaking urban elite may attract global attention, but they are in the minority. The vast majority of Indian children attend government-run primary schools in rural areas. In 2008-2009, rural India accounted for more than 88% of India’s primary-school students, of whom over 87% were enrolled in government-run schools.  This is where we see some of the nation’s toughest challenges.

  • In rural schools “Teachers have to teach multiple grades, textbooks are pitched far above the comprehension level of students, and each classroom has children with different levels of learning achievements.” Anurag Behar, CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, an education non-profit, noted that “the average school teacher in India does not get adequate pre-service or in-service education, nor does she get the support to overcome these problems.” Compounding this is the relatively low educational qualifications of many teachers themselves. In 2008-2009, on average, 45% of these teachers had not studied beyond the 12th grade.

  • Flawed Teaching Methodology: In India, rote learning has been institutionalized as a teaching methodology. “Primary school teachers in rural India often try to educate students by making them repeat sections of text over and over again,” said Jhingran. Often they do not explain the meaning of the text, which results in stunted reading comprehension skills over the course of the children’s education. For example, many students in grades two and three in one particular school struggle to read individual words, but can neatly copy entire paragraphs from their textbooks into their notebooks as though they were drawing pictures.

  • According to Khatwar, “more and more parents in small towns are choosing to send their children to private schools if they can afford it” — perhaps with good reason, because, on average, the number of students in each classroom in private schools is often smaller and school heads exert greater control over teachers.

‘Needs Improvement’: Despite Progress, India’s Primary Education System Has a Ways to Go.Knowledge@Wharton (2013, January 02). Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/needs-improvement-despite-progress-indias-primary-education-system-has-a-ways-to-go/

In Saudi Arabia

Education in Nepal GlobalPartnership for Education via Compfight

Over the past decade immigration from Arabic speaking nations has been on the rise in the United States.  In fact, the most recent US Department of Education data at nces.ed.gov blog lists Arabic as the second highest native language in the United States. One challenge I have observed for children from Saudi Arabia is their assimilation into a mixed gender classroom. It can be especially challenging for boys when they are not familiar with female teachers.

One of the best resources for researching Arabic culture is produced by the military. Check out Arab Culture for extensive research into Arabic culture.

Saudi Arabian etiquette:  http:/commisceo-global guide

In Haiti

You'd think we were sisters Carsten ten Brink via CompfightIn Haiti

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages  in northern New Jersey from 2000-2007 allowed me to teach and observe students from Haiti.  With Haitian Creole as our highest language served, our high school principal chose to research Haitian education for her doctorate dissertation. Here is what I witnessed from videos of her visit to Haitian schools:

  • Teacher-fronted lectures in a straw hut.
  • Too many students to count.
  • Children sitting on a dirt floor peering into the crowded room through open windows and orally reciting after the teacher because they did not have pencils.

It did not take long for me to realize that that I needed to provide my Haitian immigrant students with the culturally relevant instructional strategy of echoing, a Kagan structure whereby the students’ repeat the modeled language.  This strategy added engagement at the right moments.

Some argue that Haiti is teaching the wrong language. Haitian Creole is the primary language spoken in the home yet French has been the language taught in schools. BBC News  and theweek.com

village-school-haiti-started-national-movement-teach-kids-language-they-speak speaks to the reforms underway to address the issue of language in Haitian schools.

USAID has been making gains in educational reform. Read more from USAID Haiti 2016

In Korea

2016-01-15 11.45.44 albyantoniazzi via Compfight

Generally, I have four tips from first-hand conversations with a high school student and a middle school teacher in an international public school located in South Korea.

  • The teacher is the giver of knowledge and lectures in front of class- discussion is rare. 
  • Homework is plentiful with students tending to tutor sessions or homework assignments until late into the night. 
  • Student learning is enhanced with technology or one to one. 
  • Exams can be long with essays in one subject area.

Many articles have been published showing the pros and cons of South Korean education. Some feel America could learn from South Korea. ABCnews  Others feel it is too intense. NPR- All Work and No Play


How to Provide a Welcoming Environment to your Newcomer



Congratulations,  You have a multi- cultural student in your classroom!

Beginning school can be stressful to all students, especially a non-native speaker.  Here’s what you should know about creating a welcoming environment for your incoming English Language Learner (ELL) students.

Key points to creating a welcoming environment:

  • Assign a well- intentioned peer buddy that can provide assistance when needed. Provide plenty of picture books, or better yet, books in your student’s native language in your classroom library.
  • Learn to properly pronounce your newcomer’s name.
  • Prepare the class for your newcomer’s arrival, if possible (see me for ideas or invite me to address the class).
  • Physically show the new student how to manage the daily routines, including the lunch room and procedures.
  • Ascertain your newcomer’s language proficiency level.  This is obtained by your ELL specialist.  The levels range from No English Spoken to 6, similar to native-like proficiency.  Your ELL teacher will inform you of assessment results early in the year.  Then see the WIDA Can Do Descriptors Link to see what your new student is able to do.
  • Keep in mind that learning a language is a process.  It happens over a period of time (a beginner could take five to seven years to reach grade proficiency).
  • If your newcomer is in the “silent stage”, a beginner with no spoken English, alert any school personnel, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and specialists of the fact.  A comfortable environment will enhance your newcomer’s transition.
  • When speaking to your new student it is not necessary to speak loudly- they can hear you, but they may not understand you.  It is important to speak at an appropriate pace, not too fast or too slow, and to enunciate clearly.
  • Use of gestures and body language when appropriate will help your new student better understand what you are saying.
  • Use pictures whenever possible, clip photos or use clip art then post pictures with key words and phrases on the wall.
  • Write key words for all lessons,  especially directions, on the white board.  You could  draw a picture!
  • Encourage parent participation and sharing of cultural holidays and celebrations.  Maybe your newcomer can teach the class some new words in their native language.
  • And remember to smile.  Your newcomer may not know what you are saying, but they can read your expressions.

My Students are here. Now what do I do?

chalk board for blogSo you read about creating a welcoming environment for your beginning level English Language Learners (ELLs) and now you need to go to the next step.  Did you remember to:

  • Write key words on the white board?
  • Plan lessons with  pictures, gestures and realia?  If not, it is not too late- find a photo from Google Image, clip art, or Flickr to display while you are teaching.
  • You could give your ELL a graphic organizer to sort or classify vocabulary.
  • When modeling and teaching safety vocabulary, don’t be too concerned if you need to offer translation in their native language.  It will not hurt the acquisition progress.  Go to http://translate.google.com/ or purchase the google translate app for free on your I phone.  It will even say the word in the student’s native language.
  • Did you speak when facing the students, not the board?  Sounds odd, but it happens.
  • Avoid colloquialisms and idioms?
  • Provide explicit directions for homework?  Including writing the homework assignment on the board.  The beginning ESOL student can copy if allowed time.
  • So far, so good.
  • We are still smiling, right?  Trying to?  Don’t give up… it will get better!