Developing an effective learning environment in a highly diverse classroom

Context

Last week I shared the first of my three case studies from my FHEA application, “From micro-management to effective supervision”. This week I want to share my second case study from that application, which discusses some of the challenges present in today’s highly diverse university classrooms and how I tried to address them. While the case study I’m sharing here focuses mainly on my experience as a module convenor with overall responsibility for the content, delivery, and assessment of a sequence of modules that were delivered to a mixed undergraduate and postgraduate cohort, similar challenges actually permeate most if not all areas of academic practice.

Personally, I first became interested in this topic during my first year as a teaching assistant, and I actually wrote one of my case studies for my Associate Fellowship application back in 2016 on facilitating active tutorial participation from conversion MA students with different academic and cultural backgrounds. Back then, I felt frustrated, because despite my best efforts at being engaging, encouraging, and supportive, there was a subset of students in all my tutorials whom I seemingly couldn’t get to fully participate, which I felt negatively affected both their own achievement on the module and the experience of the other tutorial participants.

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From micro-management to effective supervision

Context

A little over a year ago I signed up for UCL’s Arena Two course, which consists of a series of lectures, events, and activities intended to facilitate the development of our didactic and pedagogical knowledge and abilities, with the final aim to apply for recognition as a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) — a scheme meant to provide transferable professional recognition for teaching in higher education. After a bit of interruption to the end of that programme due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last year, I finally managed to complete my FHEA application in November 2020 and was recognised as a Fellow in February this year.

I found the entire process really useful to me personally, though as so often it definitely is one of these things where you only get out as much as you’re willing to put in. What I found especially beneficial personally was the reflective element involved in peer discussion throughout the programme and in writing the three case studies for the fellowship application, which really helped me with both my confidence and professional development as a teacher, and a big part of that was not just sharing and reflecting upon my own practice, but seeing what other people were doing, where they felt they needed to improve, and what they were trying to do about it. This I found would often give me an impetus to think about parallels in my own practice and consequently influence how I approached or contextualised similar issues when I encountered them. In line with this, I thought it might be a nice idea to share my own three case studies here.

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Sufficient knowledge of the English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic language, not.

It is no secret that I have aspirations to naturalise as a British Citizen in the near future. I’ve lived in the UK for the past 8 years, and apart from my family back in Germany my life is pretty much based here. Also, I like it here, and I’d like to stay.

One of the things you have to do to get naturalised in the UK, apart from paying a rediculously extortionate fee, is to satisfy what is known as Sufficient Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK (KoLL). This requirement is based on the British Nationality Act 1981, which says that two of the requirements for naturalisation of an applicant are (i) “that he has a sufficient knowledge of the English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic language; and” (ii) “that he has sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom”. It seems pretty clear from this that the law intends to give an equal status to English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, the last two being officially recognised as equal to English in one way or another in Wales and Scotland respectively.

For some time now I have planned to be the first person to satisfy the KoLL requirement through Welsh, something that I see as a personal challenge as well as a very important exercise in making practical use of the rights given to a language community and paying due respect to the other languages of the UK.

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The Hunt for English Isograms

A little over two years ago, while I was still an undergraduate student at Bangor University, David Crystal came around to give a talk based on his book By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English. One of the many adventures in language land he talked about was the hunt for isograms: words in which each grapheme occurs the same number of times. For instance isogram is a first-order isogram (or a 1-isogram), because each letter (i, s, o, g, r, a, m) occurs exactly once; deed is an example of a 2-isogram, since both d and e occur exactly two times. There are also a few examples of 3-isograms, such as deeded or geggee, but David was quite adamant that he did not know of any fourth-order isograms.

Naturally, this garnered my interest. It is certainly not a biggie to assume that order of isogram should be inversely related to frequency, i.e. 1-isograms will be quite common, 2-isograms somewhat uncommon, 3-isograms rare, and so forth; but a 4-isogram, while probably exceedingly rare, did not immediately strike me as something I would assume to not exist. So I went and googled isograms. A 4-isogram I did not find, but more questions I did.

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