Supporting NESB students
By Ian Handsley
An obvious complication to the teaching and learning environment at RMITV is that we deliver Australian qualifications to students from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). Students at IELTS 6.5–the majority of RMITV undergrads–experience additional learning burdens. Not only are subject concepts complex and culturally specific, but students often experience the language in which concepts are presented, explained and exemplified as extremely hard to comprehend.
This situation also places additional burdens on educators at RMITV – achieving ILOs is made that much harder when there are issues of language and culture to consider. To the end of offering support to lecturers who are experiencing those issues, here are few tips for supporting students at lower levels of English proficiency (from Bretag, Horrick & Smith 2002).
- Use an interactive, student-centred approach in tutorials (Tang 1996, p. 199)
- Provide explicit expectations about assessment (Tang 1996, p. 199)
- Provide the opportunity for collaborative learning, in particular for peer group discussion and peer tutoring (Tang 1996, p. 199 & Winter 1996, p. 221-122)
- Provide opportunities for international students to work with Australian students (Biggs & Watkins 1996, p. 281)
- Develop strategies to compensate for students’ lack of English language fluency (Kirby, Woodhouse & Ma 1996, p. 155)
- Facilitate students’ access to the information in the text.
- Elaborate discourse patterns, structures and rhetorical devices
- Inculcate students into Australian academic culture (eg. Referencing, plagiarism, academic voice and register) (Kirby, Woodhouse & Ma 1996, p. 143)
- Provide opportunities for students to use their English writing skills for tasks which are not for assessment (Tang & Biggs 1996, p. 170)
- Establish names (including pronunciation) early in the semester (Ballard & Clanchy 1997, p. 38-39; see also Hellmundt, Rifkin & Fox 1998, p. 337)
- Elicit responses, rather than just wait for a volunteer (Ballard & Clanchy 1997 p. 39) 3. Provide opportunities for success (Eg. Allow students time to discuss issues in pairs or small groups before speaking before the whole group).
- Provide clear instructions for oral presentations ( Ballard & Clanchy 1997, detailed information is provided on p. 40)
- Use a “staged|” assessment schedule to enable students to build skills (Ballard & Clanchy 1997,p. 58).
- Encourage students to take advantage of support services offered on campus.
- Provide “model” answers that are easily accessible to all students (Ballard & Clanchy 1997 p. 62).
While RMITV lecturers can have some influence on how students develop their English skills, it vital that each and every student takes an active, deliberate approach to improving. Unfortunately many students don’t – they see the diploma and AEP as the end of thier language learning when in reality it is only the beginning. The proficiency benchmarks RMITV sets in these programs are bare minimums – undergad subjects become increasingly more complex linguisticially each semester, so students’ English proficiencies must keep pace.
It is for these reasons that RMITV educators should encourage undergraduate students to be independent language learners through…
- Understanding that English language proficiency will predict academic outcomes
- Accepting that their English must continue to improve, within university and beyond
- Applying the knowledge and skills they acquired in CEP and AEP
- Focussing on improvement rather than perfection
- Using the resources available to them – especially the LSU and CEP Writing Help Desk
- Seeing each English communication experience at RMITV as an opportunity to learn, especially when reading academic texts