Lifting students’ learning
New Zealand gives international students an excellent learning experience, according to the results of the 2015 International Student Barometer (ISB) survey for the school sector.
Education New Zealand commissioned the survey to investigate the decision-making, expectations, perceptions and experiences of more than 2,000 school students aged 16 and above.
The survey found that 92% of students were happy with the learning experience at their school. This is consistent with the results of the last survey, which was carried out in 2012.
Three of the highest-scoring schools in the survey’s learning experience category - James Hargest College, Hamilton Boys’ High School and Mount Maunganui College - share the strategies and initiatives that helped them achieve their results.
Providing extra support where it’s needed
James Hargest College
Specialist teacher aides, peer reading and study help are among the initiatives that have contributed to international students’ learning at James Hargest College in Invercargill.
James Hargest aims to be flexible and responsive in using its specialist teacher aides, who are funded by international revenue.
If the school has a cluster of international students in a science class, for example, it might send a teacher aide with a background in science to assist the students when necessary.
“Having a specialist teacher aide in classes also helps domestic students,” says Jenny Elder, Deputy Principal and Director of International Students.
The school has an international friendship club made up of domestic students who volunteer to meet international students in the library for 15-20 minutes of peer reading three times a week.
Some international students bring their subject books to use for their reading books, so they can improve their subject knowledge as well as their reading.
“Our peer reading programme helped international students to build relationships with Kiwi students, and gives Kiwi students great leadership opportunities,” says Jenny.
When domestic students go home on study leave, international students come to school each morning for compulsory supervised study, exam prep or tutorials with their English, maths and science teachers. Jenny says the initiative gives the students the structure and routine that helps them to improve their studies.
Above all, she says, staff have a positive and respectful attitude towards international students. “Our staff are always happy to make themselves available at lunchtimes or after school - they go the extra mile to help.”
Tutor groups a phenomenal success
Hamilton Boys’ High School
Dedicated tutor groups introduced by Hamilton Boys’ High School for international students have been hugely successful in enhancing pastoral care, administration and students’ sense of belonging and security.
Tonia Heeps, Director of International Students, says the school created two tutor groups - or home rooms - of international students from Years 9 to 13. The tutor groups, in classrooms next door to each other, are led by ESOL teachers and are held for 15 minutes every morning on four days of the week, and for 25 minutes on the fifth.
The morning meetings are a time for students to receive the daily notices and check timings of sports practices, cultural practices and other school events. They are also an opportunity to address issues involving attendance, uniforms or any other parts of school life.
Tonia and an International Student Administrator attend the two tutor groups each morning.
“They’re a fabulous opportunity to follow up on administrative tasks, check how the boys are, chat with them, deal with problems, give reminders for upcoming events, celebrate achievements, deal with discipline issues, share information from home, and a myriad of other day-to day duties. They’re also a time when our Year 13 students can mentor the younger students,” says Tonia.
“Previously our international students were scattered throughout the school and we were spending all our days calling boys out of class. Having the boys together every morning has greatly enhanced our relationship with them and enabled us to deal with a huge amount of administrative tasks.
“The tutor groups have been a phenomenal success. The boys just love them and there is a lot of laughter and noise.”
A third tutor group led by an ESOL teacher will be set up in 2017, to cater for growth in the school’s international student numbers.
Tonia says it’s helpful for international departments to network and share resources with each other. She also believes word-of-mouth is all important to schools’ marketing.
“I always tell the staff that every time you smile at a student, or give him your time, show encouragement or praise him, you are marketing our school in the best possible way. It is relationships with teachers that is the special quality of New Zealand education.”
The right people in the right places
Mount Maunganui College
Good staffing and systems are the keys to Mount Maunganui College’s success in providing excellent learning experiences for its international students.
International Manager Allan Goodhall says the college has a small but well-trained, empathetic and empowered international team.
“If you don’t have the right people in the right places, you can’t succeed,” he says.
“The other factor in our success is good systems, particularly around response times. If you have an inquiry from an agent in Europe asking whether you offer Shakespeare in level three drama, for example, you need to give a quick reply. If you don’t the agent might give the wrong answer to the student - or go elsewhere.”
The college conducts a video interview with all departing students, asking them to say in their own language their name, where they stayed, and one thing they loved about their experience.
The school’s website features flags of all the countries its students come from. Visitors can click on the flags to see the 12 to 20-second video clips from the interviews with students.
Mount Maunganui College introduced an app specifically for international students to help them keep on track with their learning and with the daily life of the school.
The app is used mainly to host useful information, such as the school timetable, but Allan also messages students through the app two or three times a month. The app has been warmly welcomed by students, families and agents.
Allan says the college measures everything it does, and makes changes if something isn’t working well.
Feedback also comes from a two-page exit survey that students complete when they leave. Students are reminded that their responses are read by the principal, which gives the survey extra credibility.
Top tips for improving students’ learning
● Peer reading programmes can help international students improve their English language abilities and develop friendships with Kiwi students.
● International students will benefit from extra supervised study assistance before exams.
● Home rooms - or ‘tutor groups’ - help international students to stay on track with their learning, and are a good way for international teams to keep in touch with students.