In my quest to find materials online that shed light on teacher and student experiences in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, I have combed through blogs, forums, theses, and dissertations in search of answers. Some notables from today’s search are an article that provides tips for teachers in Saudi Arabia, a master’s thesis on the challenges female Saudi students faced in a Canadian ESL program, and a presentation given on how teachers, administrators, and classmates perceive Saudi Arabian students.
In the article, the teaching experiences of one woman are recounted. She describes the positives and negatives of teaching Saudis and classroom management strategies that she has employed. Solutions that I have inserted appear in italics. Positives: Students love to laugh and tell jokes. Their humor involves teasing and silliness. Students are not shy about being called upon. They enjoy the attention and take it in good fun. Negatives and solutions that work:
(1) Tardiness. Students ten minutes late are not allowed in. Students let in must apologize using correct grammar (e.g., “Sorry I’m late. I was smoking.”). I would tell late students that they needed to enter the classroom quietly. 10 points would be taken off their initial 100 points.
(2) The use of mobile phones. She asks each student to turn off their phones, sometimes several times. A strategy that has worked for me is to have students silence their phones and place them in a bag that I bring to class and pass around. The bag has a dove on it under which it says, “Let the Dove Watch Over Our Phones.” The first time I pass it around, I demonstrate to students what they need to do using my phone. I place my phone in the bag before passing it off to the first student. Some students will choose to keep their phones, which means a second and third passing of the bag will be required until everyone’s phones are being safely guarded by the dove;
(3) The use of Arabic. Students are sent out of class for five minutes with an assignment. Another possibility would be to set up a point system where everybody starts out with 100 points and loses 5 points every time they are heard speaking in Arabic. At the end of class, they can see how many points they have left and have a chance to make up for it in the next class;
(4) A lack of motivation and laziness. A way to overcome this is by handing out a questionnaire and self-assessment form written in both English and Arabic at the beginning of the term. If it contains questions about such topics as their families, pastimes, experiences with English, how they use or plan to use English, their daily interests and activities, famous Saudis that speak English, questions they have about you and your country of origin, famous English-speaking designers and technologists who make their handbags, accessories, phones, and so forth, you can then use their answers to plan out your lessons. If you are mandated to use a textbook, you can take the essential language points, vocabulary, and grammar from the chapter you are working on and work them into a more exciting and relevant lesson;
(5) Interrupting. Students interrupt their teacher and one another. I am told that Saudis are not used to being prompted to speak individually by their teacher, so when their non-Saudi English teacher expects verbal participation from them, they behave as if they were with a family member or friend. Raising their hand to answer and turn-taking are behavioral skills they might learn in your class;
(6) Cheating and plagiarism. Cheating is also rampant among Saudi students in the U.S. A few ways to discourage cheating on tests are to pass out several versions of the test, require students to record themselves during class and send you their recordings, and arrange the desks in curved rows so that every student is facing slightly away from each other. Other possibilities are to start them off with a 100 percent behavior grade deducting 10 points whenever you see them glancing at a neighbor or hear them talking or to give them recorded communal tests assigning leaders to read out the questions, scribes to write out the answers, and proofreaders to check the spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Everybody would be required to contribute answers.