Increasing Participation In Asian Classroom Settings (Part II)

This post was written by Ted Cohen, a student pursuing his MAT-TESOL from USC Rossier Online. Ted is a member of the September 2012 cohort and currently lives in Manhattan Beach, CA. This blog post is the second part to his first article, which you can view here.

From my experience teaching Thai students in Bangkok, I’ve learned a lot about helping my students become more vocal in class, share their opinions, and ask more questions. By introducing some of the individualistic elements of Western culture into a classroom of Thai students raised in a collectivist culture, I was able to increase the participation among my students and create learning experiences that will benefit them in the global community.

How can you increase participation in Asian classroom settings?

Think of it as a balancing act that involves giving equal weight to both collective and individual participation opportunities for your students. You need to offer your students ample opportunities to work in ways that they are most comfortable and familiar with, while trying to slowly push them out of their comfort zone and encouraging them to try different ways of working and communicating.

Here’s a list of examples to increase collective and individual participation:

  • Collective— Allow students to work in small groups for discussion. I don’t care how easy or simple you are telling yourself this task is; it might be something they are not used to doing. Discussing a topic in a small group enhances a feeling of “we-ness.”The class size will affect the group size, but in general small groups of three or more quickly work to get everyone excited and talking. It seems to be the tipping point in which they shed their anxiety about sharing their ideas with each other. You can inject individual participation by requiring groups to share what the small group discussed with the entire class and having each member of the group speak at least once, however briefly.
  • Individual — Offer weekly extra credit geared toward participation styles that put them outside of their comfort zone (like a brief review of a current newspaper article). Since it’s extra credit, they don’t have to feel the sense of dread that they need to do this or they’re sunk, and it will offer students who are ready to try individual expression a chance to give it a go.
  • Collective — Create games and activities that involve splitting a class into two teams. This is a fantastic way to do a hybrid approach to collective/individual participation. You can play trivia games that give students short bursts of time to answer questions as a group (before the question is asked to the other team if the first group fails to answer), and you can even have “lightning rounds” of questions where the first person to raise their hand gets a chance to answer.
  • Individual — Make the topic of discussion something personal and reflective. A lot of student anxiety in Asian society may stem from feeling like they can’t “keep up with the pack,” especially in regard to answering/asking academic questions. However, if the focus is turned to a personal story, they tend to have an easier time opening up. Spending Monday mornings going around the class asking each student what they did over the weekend can help increase their confidence and openness toward individual participation, while also showing them that “everyone is doing it” so they don’t have to feel isolated or different.