Strategies for Teaching Abroad

Strategies for Teaching Abroad

Compiled by Hilary Daniels

You have secured the job, you have landed in a new world, and now you are entering your classroom for the very first time. Outlined are some strategies to consider while facing the abroad classroom for the first time, including: classroom culture, classroom climate, effective teaching, effective instructional strategies, questioning students, critical thinking, and language barriers.
Classroom Culture: Ideas to consider inside the classroom
“American teachers are often so concerned with the teaching of this material and these skills that they overlook the values, attitudes, and norms of behavior of the classroom” (Furey, 1986)
  • ·      Teachers must consider pedagogical linguistic, and psychological factors of a new classroom and a new culture
  • ·      Just because an American teacher is now instructing in a new country, it does not mean that teacher must adopt the teaching norms and expectations of the host country
  • ·      Teachers should acknowledge their teaching differences from the norms of the host country and adapt to how this will effect students or ultimate learning outcomes
  • ·      Reflection will be key in teaching in a foreign setting. Teachers must be open to reflecting upon their own teaching, the teaching going on around them, their students’ learning, and their overall effectiveness in the classroom
  • ·      Adaption, furthermore, is of upmost importance and pairs effectively with reflection. After reflection, teachers should then adapt what they are taking note of in the classroom
  • ·      It is worth noting that the role of the teacher is different in nearly every country.
  • ·      Teachers all around the world hold different levels in the following three categories. It is important to identify where you will be placed in these categories while teaching and adapt your presence based upon findings:
o   Deference: Role of prestige
o   Propriety: The level of tidy appearances, the manner of the room, the mannerisms of the teachers
o  Privacy: How much of your private life remains private will be determined by the host country. Some countries are very open with teachers’ personal lives (i.e. America), however, other countries believe teachers’ private lives should never inch close to the classroom (i.e China)
Classroom Climate:
Classroom climate abroad can be seen as three categories: participation, topics covered, and humor. These three categories will be explored in further detail below.
  • ·      Participation: a lack of student participation in abroad classrooms is normal and will vary in degree upon where the teaching is taking place. American students are accustomed to participating in class and buying into discussions. However, in many classrooms in Europe, Asia, and even those found in the Southern hemisphere, participation isn’t required of students. Teachers can’t be afraid to pursue classroom participation abroad and shouldn’t be discouraged by an initial lack of enthusiasm. Being theatrical can sometimes be the best role for the teacher to better engage timid students and model the behavior desired
  • ·      Topics Covered: Teachers abroad must consider the content and questions they ask of their students. In American schools we are taught to provoke students and make them question their opinions or author opinions. However, while abroad this might be difficult. The degree to which teachers can maintain American ideals of provoking students will depend greatly on the host school. It is important to read student reactions and ask those teaching around you when you run into areas students don’t seem to be comfortable with
  • ·      Humor: Joking and light banter is commonly used in Western classrooms and can be a great tool for getting students to acclimate to your teaching styles. It is an important area to consider when teaching abroad. What might seem like harmless banter in an American classroom could be extremely uncomfortable and even insulting in a Chinese classroom. It is always important to read the students in the room and do your best to make them feel safe and comfortable
Effective Teaching:
Effective teaching has common strategies in every classroom worldwide. The following strategies are those that would differ while solely teaching abroad.
  • ·      Use a routine with students. Make sure the start and end of each session is identical every day of teaching. This will facilitate concepts of attainment and create a more effective learning environment
  • ·      Use advanced organizers with students prior to learning the material. While graphic organizers can work as well, it is important to use these organizers to outline information for students before the learning ever begins. These are four main categories these organizers are used in:
o   Announce the topic
o   Summarize main ideas of the lesson
o   Outline the lecture that will be delivered
o   Create models of analysis and problem solving
Effective Instructional Strategies:
These strategies again differ solely for those teaching abroad.
  • ·      Break tradition every now and then: if questions seems to scare students don’t back down. Reformat the way the questions are purposed, or how often they are used, but don’t give up on ideas completely simply because they are not in the tradition of the host country
  • ·      Be theatrical: be willing to break the mold of what a teacher should be and exaggerate the ideal student behavior. Model what you want your students to be doing and don’t be afraid they will have fun doing it at your expense
  • ·      Be patient: change will not be easy for the students or for you as the teacher. It is important to be patient with the new structure, the students, the school, the administration, but most importantly with yourself. Allow change to happen slowly and don’t rush the process
  • ·      Reflect and assess: just as students are being assessed on their learning, teachers should be assessed on theirs. Self-assessment can be the different between adequate instruction and excellent instruction.
  • See attached self assessment guide: "Self Assessment Guide"
  • See attached guide: "Engaging Students in Class Discussion" 
Questioning Students:
Questioning can be a new idea for students in your classroom, so its important to incorporate the following strategies if implementing the idea in your classroom for the first time.
  • ·      Ask clear and brief questions: Students who are not accustomed to being asked questions at all should start off with simple, singular questions
  • ·      Distribute the risk: Don’t always call on the students with their hands up, or the students who burry their heads in the book. Instead, distribute the risk by randomly calling on students. An easy and effective tool for this is putting students’ names on popsicle sticks and drawing names that way
  • ·      Use native language cues: Most languages will have key phrases associated with questioning. In the US, teachers might say, “you know” or “any ideas”. Figure out what are common phrases and use them if you can
  • ·      Scaffold: don’t throw students into deep, thought provoking questions if they have never been asked them before. Scaffold their learning of this technique by asking those smaller and simpler questions to arrive at conclusions
  • See guide: "Taxonomy of Questioning Strategies" 

Critical Thinking:

Critical Thinking is a known contribution from American teachers. It is a set of techniques for advancing students’ higher level thinking processes and critical problem solving. 

  • Start with the basics: just like when questioning students for the first time, asking them to critically think about a situation should be approached simply
  • ·      Allow students to think for themselves: don’t rush to guide students in the right direction or share your thoughts. Allow them to bring their culture and heritage into the discussion and be prepared to learn right next to your students
  • ·      Relate back to students’ lives: the easiest ways to have students analyze is to have them care about what they are looking at. Allow students to bring in their own stories or problems to think about
  • ·      Engage in controversy: don’t be afraid to challenge students and force them to think outside of the box
Language Use in the Classroom:
The degree to which English or native langauges will be used in the host classroom will differ upon program types and locations or purposes. It is important to know what is expected of students in regards to their language use in the classroom. The following strategies should be employed in those classrooms where English is primarily used.
  • ·      Determine English fluency: it is important to understand where you students are at in their English fluency, as well as, where they are expected to be. One way to examine this is through student interviews.
  • ·      Modify Classroom: there are easy ways to adjust the classroom to allow for better learning if language seems to be the barrier. These strategies include: slowing down, repeating key phrases or ideas, and the use of key trigger phrases to direct students
  • ·      Native Language Use: try to limit the native language use to key phrases (mentioned above). However, also be comfortable enough with the language and understand the basics in the event that your student doesn’t know how to say or ask something of you in English
  • See guide: "Student Interviews" 
What’s Next?
These are just a few of the various ideas and strategies teachers should be looking towards when teaching abroad. These in no way encompass the entirety of information on the topic of teaching abroad, but rather serve as topics for thought. For more information on teaching abroad, getting abroad, or what to do once abroad please see the references listed below:
College Teaching Abroad:
George, P. (1994). College teaching abroad: A handbook of strategies for successful cross-cultural exchanges. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
International Jobs:
Kocher, E. (1993). International jobs: Where they are and how to get them. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.
Intercultural Student Teaching:
Cushner, K., Brennan, S., & Association of Teacher Educators. (2007).Intercultural student teaching: A bridge to global competence. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
The Study Abroad Handbook:
Lidstone, A., & Rueckert, C. (2007). The study abroad handbook. Palgrave study guides. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
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