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Case Study Two: Tackling Class Discussion

Lee comes from China and is beginning his first semester in a degree at Conestoga College. Serge is from Russia. Both spent a lot of time and money studying English back home so they could pass the entry requirements for English skills but neither has much experience listening to or speaking English. Neither studied how education occurs in Canada.

During the first 3 weeks of class discussions Lee has not contributed anything. He is uncomfortable whenever the teacher stops lecturing and opens conversations.

Serge has been giving answers in class. He speaks quite forcefully sometimes giving 5-7 sentences. The teacher just responds briefly. This past class, the teacher actually said, "Let's hear from someone else now."

In week three, the teacher assigns a group report and asks the class to get into groups of 3-4. Within minutes students have sorted themselves out and Lee and Serge are without a group.

  1. What do you think has caused Lee's quietness?
  2. What do you think has prompted Serge's involvement?
  3. What pre-verbal, non-verbal, verbal, and post-verbal mismatches will likely occur throughout this encounter?
  4. Did either party reach the desired outcome for themselves or for the class?

Analysis for Case Study Two

  1. Lee is bewildered by the casual nature of the back and forth with the teacher and is not experienced at throwing ideas out. In his educational background you only presented an idea to the teacher if it was worthy of consideration. He has noticed some of the students even offer wrong information and the teacher still looks happy. In Lee's culture, the newbie should watch and learn before participating. He is especially shocked that some students contradict the teacher, tell the teacher they can't answer as they weren't listening, and seem unprepared for class.
  2. Serge guesses it's the same rules as in Russia where you need to impress the teacher with your knowledge and study habits. He expects the professor to build on and challenge his responses but no matter how hard he tries the teacher doesn't take him on. Serge is surprised at how little his classmates say as in Russia one conversation turn is usually 5-7 sentences. He does not know that in Canada, one turn is usually no more than 3. In Russia, the valence or tone of conversations doesn't have to stay cheerful so he is really confused by the teacher's attempts to keep everyone happy. Serge is looking for a good debate but just when any conversation gets interesting, the teacher re-channels it. One class, someone gave a wrong answer which would have drawn a snort of contempt and harsh words about studying in Russia but the teacher went to the board and re-explained the concept. Serge felt this was a waste of everyone else's time.
  3. As we can see above the pre-verbal expectations of a post-secondary classroom have caused confusion. In addition, Lee's quiet body language, voice, and gesturing as he interacts briefly with classmates is seen as not energizing by his classmates who were raised in Canada. By contrast Serge's full body movement, broad and rapid gestures, louder voice volume (Slavic languages are amongst the loudest for classroom conversation while Mandarin is amongst the quietest.), makes some of his classmates feel he is pushy. Both of them are having assumptions made about their personalities on the basis of culturally different non-verbal cues. Serge and Lee are both continually surprised by the teacher's post-verbal responses to what students say and do.
  4. No one was totally successful here. It is likely that the teacher was happy to have diverse classroom and that all the students could have benefitted from the new knowledge bases Serge and Lee brought. Unfortunately, the first three weeks did not create opportunities for them to share in ways that made this obvious to the rest of the class so by the time groups were self-selected they were not seen as easy colleagues. They ended up working in a group with another newcomer from India. They passed the course but were disappointed. They felt like they were unwanted leftovers.
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