Culture and Group Work

Sharing Opinions

Many of the same factors that can limit international students in classroom participation can also affect group work. For example, if a student is used to turn-taking, s/he may not feel comfortable discussing openly with peers, particularly if the native speakers are talking quickly and giving little wait time, which is typical in small group work.

Roles and Division of Work

International students may not be used to working in a group or in one that is given the latitude to decide roles and division of tasks. Because they are less likely to speak up, international students may end up being given a minor role or no role at all, depending on the other group members’ perception of their abilities. Without some groundwork setting up expectations and allowing students to share their potential strengths with the group, non-native speakers can easily end up feeling marginalized or that they are viewed as less competent by their peers.

Peer Interactions

If a student is waiting to be asked his opinion by other group members or waiting for a turn, peer interactions may not be successful. Domestic students may feel that international students are unwilling or unable to contribute if they aren’t able to speak up in a small group. International students may feel both intimidated and ignored by their domestic peers, especially if when they try to share an opinion it is dismissed or talked over. This can create a cycle that remains over the course the semester, with international students feeling unable to participate and domestic students feeling the international students are unwilling.

Final Product Expectations

For group projects, non-native speakers may think because the group is working together, what they write can be the same, too. In many cultures, the idea of collusion is not a negative one, and it is expected that students will share their assignments if working in a group.

 SEE: Communicating Clearly and Encouraging Participation for strategies to make group interactions better