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Session on the challenges and strategies to address cultural differences in the classroom

University of Mississippi and Delta State University faculty took part in School of Humanities event

10/04/2019 - 08h29
Photo: Mariana Haupenthal

Photo: Mariana Haupenthal

Mrs Tracy Case Koslowski, from University of Mississippi, and Mrs Michelle Johansen, from Delta State University, both from the US, came to PUCRS on Apr 1st. They delivered the session Addressing cultural differences in the classroom for Modern Languages students. The event was promoted by the Office for International Cooperation, in collaboration with the School of Humanities.

Tracy is the Associate Director for Recruiting and Development of the Intensive English Program and Global Engagement Office of the University of Mississippi. She holds a BA in Linguistics and an MA in German Studies. She has served as a teacher of English for Alegría, a Cirque du Soleil production. Michelle is the coordinator of the Student Success Center’s academic mobility program at Delta State University. She holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in History. In 2018, she received the award Diversity Educator of the Year 2018 from the Mississippi Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning.

Learning from the differences

Photo: Mariana Haupenthal

Photo: Mariana Haupenthal

Relying on a vast experience in the classroom, especially with international students, Koslowski and Johansen discussed techniques and strategies to address cultural differences. In their view, three factors are essential for teachers in the classroom: cultural knowledge, communication and consistency.

They began by addressing the importance of knowing the significance of culture and how it is present in our daily lives. “The surface culture accounts for about 10% of what we see. Deep culture, on the other hand, accounts for the remaining 90% and concerns anything that we cannot see. These are things we need to observe and learn more about”, Tracy comments. The visitors claimed that once we know what culture means, it would be possible to avoid misunderstandings and stereotypes.

As for communication, Michelle sees that dialog is an important tool to clarify any questions about a given culture. She also suggested different teaching techniques to be used in the classroom. “We cannot conceive that all students will learn the same way, especially when we are talking about students from different parts of the world”, she comments. On that line, they recommend that teachers implement integration activities, share experiences and foster a safe environment for students to learn from their mistakes.

Lastly, they talked about consistency. In their view, classroom management is important for students to deal with expectations and learn how to coexist. They also addressed the benefits of giving students a chance to share insights from their culture and made a call for constructive feedback.

In addition to the session at the School of Humanities, Tracy’s and Michelle’s agenda included a welcome session at the Office for International Cooperation to discuss possible joint actions between the US institutions and PUCRS. They also did a tour of the Campus, including the Br José Otão Main Library and Tecnopuc.