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Inclusive Teaching

Empowering International Students Through Pedagogy

September 25, 2023
ND Learning

By Mona Kamal Saadeldin

In our rapidly globalizing world, the halls of academia have witnessed a beautiful transformation.  Classrooms once occupied solely by local students are now vibrant melting pots, where a rich tapestry of cultures, languages, and perspectives converge. This exciting change presents educators with both unique challenges and boundless opportunities. Teaching international students requires a pedagogical finesse that transcends borders. In this exploration, we will delve deep into the world of teaching international students, unveiling the secrets to fostering an inclusive, enriching, and truly global learning environment. 

Cultural Awareness: The Heart of Inclusivity 

Imagine stepping into a classroom filled with students from every corner of the globe. Each one brings with them a unique set of cultural norms, values, and communication styles. To effectively teach international students, educators must first become cultural voyagers, navigating through these rich landscapes with respect and understanding. 

Cultural awareness is not just an optional add-on; it’s the foundation upon which the entire educational structure rests. Educators should embark on a journey of self-education, immersing themselves in the intricacies of the cultures represented in their classrooms. This cultural empathy enables teachers to avoid potential misunderstandings, such as when using analogies or references that assume a particular cultural awareness or reflect biases. It also fosters an environment where diversity is not just tolerated but celebrated. 

Furthermore, it’s vital for teachers to encourage international students to share their cultural experiences and perspectives with the class. This is not merely an invitation; it’s a gateway to profound discussions that transcend borders and open minds. When students from different backgrounds come together to explore and understand their differences, the classroom transforms into a crucible of cross-cultural learning. 


Language Support: Bridging the Communication Gap 

Language, a magnificent tool for expression, can also be a significant barrier for international students.  To bridge this communication gap, instructors must become linguistic architects, constructing bridges of support for their diverse learners.

Additional Resources for Language Development: Imagine offering international students a treasure chest of resources for language development, ranging from language workshops that teach them the shades of the language to a trove of online materials. These resources serve as the scaffolding upon which international students can build their linguistic prowess. 

Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures hosts the English for Academic Purposes program, which provides workshops and language tables for native and non-native speakers to practice their English language skills. Including this as a resource on your syllabus, alongside the University Writing Center, supports international and non-native English speakers in their academic journey and signals your commitment to their success.

Peer Support: Encouraging peer support is akin to fostering a spirit of solidarity among students. Proficient English speakers can become linguistic lifelines for their peers, guiding them through the maze of a new language. Such alliances not only aid in language acquisition but also nurture a sense of belonging. 
Patience and Extra Time: In a world where time is a precious commodity, educators must be willing to invest extra time. Patience, in this context, is not just a virtue; it’s a cornerstone of effective teaching. Allowing international students the time they need to express themselves in class discussions and written assignments is a manifestation of empathy in action.

Varied Instructional Methods: Catering to Diverse International Student Needs

Diversity extends far beyond cultural and linguistic realms; it also encompasses various ways of presenting information.  Hence, educators must don the hat of instructional artists, using a varied palette of methods to ensure a rich and inclusive learning experience. 

1. Visual Aids and Multimedia: Picture this – a classroom filled with students from diverse linguistic backgrounds. To ensure that the message transcends language barriers, educators can employ visual aids and multimedia materials that complement their lectures. These visual cues serve as bridges that connect different linguistic worlds. For instance, when asking questions, presenting the questions on slides or written in handouts can help all students.

2. Collaborative learning: Learning thrives in the soil of collaboration. Group work and collaborative projects encourage interaction and teamwork among students. In such settings, language becomes a bridge rather than a barrier, as students from various linguistic backgrounds unite to achieve common goals. A good way to achieve this is when assigning group work; consider giving group roles so that international students are not excluded, intentionally or unintentionally, because of perceived language barriers.

3. Experiential Learning: Education isn’t confined to textbooks and lectures; it’s a lived experience. By incorporating experiential learning opportunities, educators actively engage international students in the learning process. These experiences become bridges that connect theory with practice, transcending language boundaries.

Inclusive Assessment Strategies: A Fair Playing Field 

Assessment is the compass that guides learning journeys. However, it must be wielded with care and sensitivity when teaching international students. Assessments should be designed to be fair and free from cultural or linguistic bias, ensuring that every student can navigate this crucial part of their educational voyage. 

  1. Diverse Assessment Formats: International students possess diverse strengths and preferences.  To cater to these differences, educators can implement diverse assessment formats such as essays, presentations, and exams. This approach enables each student to shine in their unique way. 

    2. Transparent Rubrics: Clarity is the lantern that dispels the darkness of ambiguity. Rubrics with clear evaluation criteria provide transparency in grading, ensuring that students understand the benchmarks against which they are measured. This clarity becomes a bridge that connects expectations and achievements. 

    3. Formative Assessment and Feedback: Learning is a journey of growth, and it’s the role of educators to nurture this growth. By providing opportunities for formative assessment and feedback, teachers empower international students to improve their performance over time.  Feedback becomes the wheel that guides them toward excellence.

Encouraging Cross-Cultural Learning: Building Bridges of Understanding 

Education is not just about individual growth; it’s also about fostering a global community of learners.  To achieve this, educators can create opportunities for international and domestic students to interact and learn from one another. 

Group Projects That Mix Cultures: Imagine the magic that happens when students from various backgrounds come together for group projects. These projects create bridges that transcend cultural boundaries, fostering friendships and understanding. 
Cultural Exchange Events: Organizing cultural exchange events or discussion panels invites students to explore the beauty of different cultures. These events become bridges that connect people through shared experiences and stories. 
Campus Clubs and Activities: Encouraging international students to participate in campus clubs and activities is akin to planting the seeds of friendship. These activities become bridges that connect hearts and minds, transcending linguistic and cultural differences. 

Including a page in your Canvas course that links to multicultural activities on campus is one way to broaden both your and your students’ horizons. The Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Multicultural Student Programs and Services, Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, Institute for Latino Studies, and many more departments, centers, and institutes across campus offer a diverse range of programs and events to connect students to the global community. 

Flexibility and Empathy: The Keys to Unlocking Potential 

The journey of an international student is not just an academic one; it’s a personal journey filled with unique challenges. Teachers must be more than educators; they must be guides and mentors, exhibiting flexibility and empathy every step of the way. 

Recognize that international students may face unique challenges, including homesickness and cultural adjustment issues. In these moments, educators can be a lifeline, offering academic and emotional support. 


Teaching international students is akin to embarking on a thrilling voyage through uncharted waters.  By adopting pedagogical strategies that prioritize cultural awareness, offer language support, and create an inclusive learning environment, educators become the architects of bridges that connect minds and hearts from across the globe. 

In this tapestry of diversity, every thread represents a story, and every story enriches the fabric of education. Embracing diversity and promoting cross-cultural understanding in the classroom benefits everyone. It prepares students not just to navigate our interconnected world but to do so with empathy, resilience, and global competence. 

As educators, our mission is clear; to nurture global minds that will shape a better and more inclusive world. Through the bridges we build in our classrooms, we empower the next generation to transcend borders and unite as citizens of the world, ready to face the challenges and opportunities of our interconnected planet.