Teach English in Tongxing Zhen - Chifeng Shi

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Cultural sensitivity in the ESL classroom entails a complex of factors and considerations including intercultural competence, awareness of global cultural, economic and socio-political diversity on both individual and collective grounds, and national as well as transnational educational differences for learners of English. Cultural sensitivity is, thus, crucial in different types of classrooms that include students from diverse global contexts. But teaching English to students who come from refugee backgrounds and who have experienced different vulnerability factors (for example, women-at-risk or survivors of violence or torture) requires that more attention be devoted to selecting appropriate classroom material, choosing relevant teaching tools and activities, and being aware of classroom dynamics before engaging in activities that may pair or group students. First of all, the instructor must take into account the different backgrounds from which students derive, as well as the immediate circumstances for which they are acquiring English. The instructor should adapt the material to the students' needs, expectations, and levels of language. Often, in refugee resettlement ESL classrooms, language levels vary drastically and this may lead to different challenges for the instructor. Thus, the instructor should prepare materials that can engage both the beginner students and the more advanced students, so that equal participation in the classroom is ensured. One technique that is often successful entails pairing a beginner student with a more advanced student for activities in the Study part of the section, when students are required to work on worksheets, gap-fill activities, or other types of grammar or vocabulary exercises. Ultimately, it is important to assess the language needs students may have in their immediate settings and circumstances and teach vocabulary that is relevant to their daily experiences. In these settings, ESL teachers tend to combine cultural workshops with English language classrooms, teaching for instance vocabulary that is relevant for understanding the common customs, traditions, and cultural preferences of the country of resettlement. An example would be to use the occasion of a national holiday in order to teach vocabulary and grammar relevant to the expressions of this particular holiday, the ways in which people interact, the common activities planned for the day, the social expectations and customs, and so on. Furthermore, awareness of students' national backgrounds is essential, including the socio-political and economic conditions that have led to their flight and their subsequent refugee status. This is important in order to avoid intercultural blunders, but also in order to avoid trigger factors in the educational materials provided (imagery, language, or text that may re-trigger the trauma experienced by refugees). An example in this case would be avoiding any word games or exercises based on violent imagery (such as playing the Hangman), which could evoke unnecessarily morbid imagery. But I would argue that the instructor should not only be aware of the different national and cultural backgrounds in the classroom, but also of the many other differences that shape our identities, including those based on ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, disability, educational background, and socio-economic status. It often happens, for instance, that ESL classrooms may be composed of refugees from certain national contexts who find themselves in political and/or social disagreement because they may have been on different sides of the conflict in their home countries. This creates a difficult class dynamic that can lead to tensions during group or pair work. In this case, an informed teacher should take into account potential animosities and difficult histories and reshape the classroom organization, as well as the syllabus, in order to avoid such issues. Another example would be taking into account gender differences and gender preferences when assigning students to work in groups. Sometimes some students will be more comfortable working with students of their own gender. This can be the case for women who have experienced gender and sexual based violence. Last but not least, ESL classes can be a break and a relief for many refugee students and a resumption of a sense of normality. After the stress and anxiety provoked by the difficulties of bureaucratic processing in the resettlement system, as well as the challenges faced in the country of reception, many students will welcome the act of learning as a source for self-fulfilment and growth and as an occasion for creativity. Instructors should take into account these human needs and organize their classrooms in ways that recognize the individuality and complexity of their students, as well as their resilience and capacity for growth.