international students March 1

Students’ Use of Their Own Language: Breaking Down Barriers

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“Language influences thought and action. The words we use to describe things—to ourselves and others—affect how we and they think and act.” (Weimer, 2015).

Learners can be empowered or suppressed by the language(s) used in our classrooms and other learning spaces. Given the increasingly divisive rhetoric stemming from the caustic nature of the U.S. presidential election, ill-informed statements such as “this is a country where we speak English, not Spanish,” or “while we’re in this nation, we should be speaking English . . . whether people like it or not, that’s how we assimilate” (Waldman, 2016), cannot be taken lightly. Many of our students may feel that their “own language” and, by extension, their identity, is under threat. The term “own language” is defined as “a language which the students already know and through which (if allowed), they can approach [learning]” (cited in Hall, 2015, n.p.). It’s a term now preferred by scholars and researchers to minimize inaccurate or imprecise usages, such as “native language,” “first language,” or “mother tongue.”

Additionally, educational institutions must confront the reality of a changing demographic stemming from increased international student enrollment, growing numbers of immigrants, generation 1.5 students, and, in Canada, the participation of First Nations communities. For students who speak English as an additional language (EAL), the sense of exclusion is not just a feeling, but a reality with consequences for learning and outcomes.

In this article, I’d like to focus specifically on learners’ use of their own language. For those readers whose professional work involves teaching or supporting EAL students, regardless of field or discipline, have you considered the role your students’ own language plays in the learning process?

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non-traditional students in library February 2

Fair and Equal

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“There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.” This quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is often used in gifted education to justify the attention, resources, and opportunities provided to those who are more academically talented than others. It’s intended to connote a sense of fairness, a feeling that not every student should have the same classroom experience. Rather, there should be an emphasis on appropriate instruction, instruction that is responsive to individual needs, interests, and abilities.

Yet the heat of the college experience often produces an uncomfortable state of tension between what is “equal” and what is “fair.” Many of us wonder whether both can be achieved simultaneously. Certainly, professors can adapt instruction so that a variety of needs can be met. But can teaching be personalized so that all individual differences and learning styles are privileged in every classroom?

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diverse classroom July 6, 2016

Brave Classrooms and Courageous Conversations

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There are empty chairs in classrooms in Florida this week, at Valencia College, University of Central Florida, and Ana G. Mendez University, spaces left by the youngest victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. Most of them young gay men, most of them Latino. In the academic world, June is a time of celebration, of convocation, of inspired addresses to graduates ready to take their hard-earned degrees and all that they have learned into the real world. In the LGBTQ communities, June is Pride month, a time to celebrate hard-earned rights, to look back on how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. This year, it is a time to mourn, and as we gather to stand in solidarity, there is that old, familiar feeling of looking over our shoulders for the next threat.





November 12, 2012

Five Competencies for Culturally Competent Teaching and Learning

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Today’s classrooms require that instructors possess competencies for teaching all students. Robust instructional strategies and culturally sensitive curricula are critical, but more important is an instructor who is sensitive and responsive to the unique differences of each student. Recognizing the need to strengthen specific competencies to reach and teach all students requires an understanding of new ideas and a willingness to view instruction through varied cultural lenses.


October 2, 2012

Understanding the Elements of an Inclusive Course Design

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In an interview with The Teaching Professor, Christine Stanley, vice president and associate provost for diversity and professor of higher education administration at Texas A&M University, and Matt Ouellett, associate director of the Center for Teaching & Faculty Development at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, offered a brief overview of their approach to creating a learning environment that is welcoming to students of all backgrounds.


April 23, 2012

Strategies for Creating a More Inclusive Classroom

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“I don’t really have any diversity issues in my class because all of my students are white.”

“I have a lot of content to cover, so there’s really no time to address multiculturalism.”

Diversity, once largely centered on race and ethnicity, has evolved over the years to include a broad range of personal attributes, experiences, and backgrounds, each interlocking to create one’s social identity.