Thursday, March 6, 2014

Addressing Academic Success Strategies for Saudi Student Populations

What steps can we take as ESL/EAP professionals in preparing our students to be successful beyond our classroom? In focusing on the goals and objectives of our courses and curriculum, sometimes I feel it the individual needs of specific student populations can be overlooked. Students can be written off as being unmotivated, distracted or simply "bad students."

I recently read Donna Shaw's article in the ORTESOL journal titled "Secrets of Success: Saudi Student Voices." Shaw claims that little research has been undertaken to examine what types of successful strategies have been used by Saudi students in U.S. educational environments. Her interviews with Saudi students highlighted that Saudi students were perplexed with the lack of negotiation and the seemingly arbitrary rules of the American education system. I was reminded of the many Saudi students who I've taught who would often come to me to try and negotiate with deadlines and absences. Many students seemed frustrated when I would point to the syllabus and the intensive English program's policy on make up and absences. In Shaw's study, she found that 52% of the students in the program resented the rules and the lack of flexibility and negotiation, which were common of the schools in Saudi Arabia.

Other issues mentioned in Shaw's article were the difficulties of Saudi students feeling alone after being supported by large families at home, of adjusting to integrated sexes in the classroom after being raised in segregated classrooms in Saudi Arabia and of the amount of homework required when students had grown used to memorizing only for exams.

There were a number of strategies mentioned in the article. The biggest takeaway strategy mentioned by the students was time management. Given the increase in workload, students required new ways to manage their time. Many students felt that time management went together with goal setting and planning.

Students also found it important to form study groups with other students and to try and meet Americans and make friends. These groups helped improve their language abilities and helped them understand and perform classroom tasks.

What I find insightful about this article is what it adds to our knowledge as teachers of this student population. It is relatively recently that Saudi students have become a large percentage of the student body in many IEPs around the U.S. I think that understanding more about their study abroad experience and how we as teachers can better prepare them for academic success should play a part in EAP programs. Shaw says that "we can support success by helping our students learn study skills and encourage their use. We can help our students set goals, track their progress in meeting their goals, and recognizing when goals are attained."

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