In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips (2011, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning), authors Svinicki and McKeachie write that “Responding to the individual student may be the most important way to improve your instruction.” But in addition to each student having his or her own preferences on how they learn, educators today also encounter students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Svinicki and McKeachie offer ways to adapt your own behavior to enhance the learning environment for culturally diverse students.

Keep in mind behaviors from different cultures have different meanings. For example, Svinicki and McKeachie warn that eye contact – or a lack of it – is not an automatic sign of inattention. In fact, in some cultures it’s considered rude to stare at a person of higher status.

Also understand that motivation and stress can come from different places than they generally do in Western culture. Not everyone values individual achievement over collectivism, and being in the minority in a classroom or being a first-generation student can bring with it unique stressors and anxiety.

Finally, you can make your classroom a warmer environment for ethnic minority students by modifying your teaching methods. Being concrete, choosing appropriate non-verbal behaviors, and being accessible are all helpful to making your environment more inviting to culturally diverse students.

A fuller understanding of the meanings behind certain student behaviors puts you in a better position to respond to them appropriately. Avoid making assumptions, and instead consider what cultural motivations or meanings could be at play. (Adapted from Svinicki and McKeachie 2011, 151-169)

Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


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