Supporting Third Culture Kids Dr Sarah Whyte (Hong Kong 2017)







Third Culture Kids


For many teachers in international schools, the concept of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) is a familiar one. David Pollock defines a TCK as: “…an individual who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years (0-18) in a culture other than that of the parents, resulting in integration of elements from both the host culture and parental culture into a third culture” (1998: p.41).


Many students in international schools fall under the TCK description. For those international students who don’t strictly meet the TCK criteria, they may still experience some of the same advantages and challenges as their TCK peers thanks to their international school context.


There are many advantages to an international upbringing. Examples of the positive aspects include an expanded worldview, intercultural sensitivity and the ability to speak and understand a range of languages. Teachers in international schools can usually name many more positive aspects based on experience of their students.


The research literature usually identifies two main challenges which accompany a TCK upbringing. The first is a lack of cultural identity and feelings of disconnection to a single “home” country. The second is living in a highly mobile world, which results in TCKs experiencing regular grief and loss when either they or the people around them move regularly. If this grief is not processed, it can result in unresolved grief. In my previous role, I was head of curriculum for personal, social, health and citizenship (PSHCE) education and a class teachers at a large international school in Asia. In this role, I noticed that our primary students were experiencing specific challenges because of high mobility in the school. Finding practical solutions to support the students formed the basis of my doctoral thesis.


Emotional Literacy


As part of my doctoral research, I suggested emotional literacy as one source of support for my TCK students. Emotional literacy means knowing how you feel and accurately naming your feelings. The ability to name your emotions increases self-awareness and the ability to communicate your feelings to others. The primary students I’ve taught typically use a fairly limited range of emotional vocabulary on a regular basis, so it is necessary to directly teach or model emotional literacy as a skill. It’s particularly important for TCKs to express their feelings accurately so they can articulate how they feel about losses.


Developing emotional literacy in the classroom


There are several ways in which teachers can further increase their students’ emotional literacy without it becoming yet another onerous task to cram into a very full curriculum. Children are responsive to the language modelled by teachers. It follows that if the teacher can consciously increase the range of emotional vocabulary which they use regularly, this would help students to develop too. Most adults already have a good range of emotional words; they simply tend not to use them as much as they could. Other opportunities for the development of emotional language could be created in spelling lessons or when children learn the skills required to use a dictionary. There are so many possibilities, either by focusing on emotional literacy as a discrete part of your curriculum or by weaving it into the fabric of other subjects.



Thesis Results


The impact of the emotional literacy activities included in my doctoral research was evident in the teacher interviews and the results of the supported reading comprehension.

Each of the teachers interviewed commented on an improvement in my students’ emotional literacy. The teachers indicated that the class were increasingly able to explain their feelings eloquently. One teacher interviewee also discussed the noticeable improvement in students’ ability to express and interpret multiple and conflicting emotions by the end of the year


The supported reading comprehension provided additional evidence for the positive impact of the emotional literacy activities. The table below gives the percentage of emotion words provided by students when answering questions on how characters felt in a story:


Children’s responses Pre-intervention Post-intervention
Emotion words from activities 16% 54% (338% increase)
Words/phrases describing thoughts or actions 21% 4%
Emotion qualifiers such as really, a bit or very 3% 0.5%


It was interesting to note that the students used emotion words correctly in response to each question. My students completed eight emotional literacy activities in total, each of which lasted 10—30 minutes. This was not a huge amount of time, yet the results from the teachers’ interviews and the supported reading comprehension indicated a big improvement. This improvement was retained over a period of four months.


I’ve witnessed first-hand the benefits of improving children’s emotional literacy, particularly for international students, and strongly urge you to try it out in your classroom.






Be first to comment

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.