Individualists vs Collectivists: A constant challenge in a multi-cultural classroom

I absolutely love my Korean and Japanese students. They are studious, respectful and harmonious. They are collectivists. I also love my Brazilian students. They are passionate, loving and determined. They are individualists. The Asians are often slow to speak and quick to listen. In society, this is a virtue. In the classroom, it can make it difficult to assess their progress, particularly their verbal progress. This is possibly the biggest challenge working in a school dominated by Brazilian students who never stop speaking. The Asian students get buried, and if you single them out they are horrified. So it's difficult to find a balance.

One solution is structuring the class using a lot of pair work and role play, so that the Asian collectivists have opportunity to speak without being singled out by the teacher and without being drowned out by the individualists.

Another solution is presentations, where the collectivists have the floor without competition for speaking time. So, I do frequent, short presentations to allow them ample time to speak, allowing me to assess and assist them. For example, on Mondays I ask them to go to their smartphones, find a story which is interesting, and give a two minute presentation on that story. In order for the collectivists to have a voice, the teacher must be intentional.

Another challenge is the collectivist's value of harmony above creativity. If one of my Asian students has the correct answer, they will never speak up because the individualists always beat them to it. So, I have to ask the question this way: "Tomoko! Please rewrite this sentence so that it is correct." If I don't say her name first, I cannot cancel out the five immediate answers the individualists will give. One of the great joys of my current teaching situation is to see the look of horror on my Asian student's faces when I call out their name before asking a question. Inevitably, their answers are correct, but what I'm actually listening for is not the correct grammar answer, but rather I am assessing their speaking, intonation, pronunciation, stress and rhythm.

It's difficult for the minority, but that is always the case. In my school, collectivists are the minority. However, it's good for their cultural development to be in this situation because they will face the identical challenges professionally, academically and socially as they employ their new language in a new world.

14 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

I've been thinking a lot about trust lately. Americans are in a trust crisis. We've lost trust in our institutions: government, law enforcement, the media, the scientific community, the medical comm