One of the most common questions we hear is “Why don’t students (referring to multilingual learners) ask for help?” or “Why don’t they ask questions when they don’t understand?”
There are many possible reasons for this, and cultural differences play an important role.
Why don't they ask for help?
This video gives some general background information on cultural differences in instructor-student relationships and classroom expectations that may explain why multilingual learners don't ask questions in class. It also provides some suggestions from UFV instructors to encourage students to seek help when they need it.
Watch Why don't students ask for help?
Writing across borders
One of the strategies mentioned by UFV instructors in the first video is an informal meeting with students at the beginning of the term. In this short video clip from "Writing Across Borders" (Oregon State University), a writing instructor talks about the type of information she learns from students in these meetings and how she applies it.
Watch Instructor perspective on student meetings.
Question for discussion or reflection after watching the video:
- What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of making time for interviews like this at the beginning of the term?
Office hours video
This video from Thompson Rivers University shows a common "office hours" scenario.
The video is divided into three parts. The first part shows a student coming to office hours and leaving feeling unhappy. The second part presents theoretical background information about cultural differences that explain the student's expectations and dissatisfaction. The third part shows a different office hours scenario.
Watch Office hours.
After watching the first part of the video, discuss or reflect on these questions:
- Why did the student come to office hours? What was he hoping for?
- The instructor gives the student direct feedback ("I couldn't find the thesis statement.", "I don't see that as a thesis statement."). How does the student respond to this? How do you think the student perceived this feedback?
- How could the instructor guide the student to a better understanding of what she means by thesis statement and what she expects to see in the paper?
After watching the video until the end, use these questions for discussion or reflection:
- How did the instructor start the conversation this time? Why did she choose to start it this way?
- What was the focus of this conversation? How did she word her comments to the student?
- Is there anything else the instructor could do to help this student achieve a higher grade in the course?
Most instructors try to build in time to make sure that questions are answered; however, many of them comment that it is the students who most need to ask questions who either don’t recognize offers of help or don’t ask for the help they need.
This video from Thompson Rivers University demonstrates a helpful classroom practice that can be used to ensure that all learners have an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and formulate questions. In the first part, the instructor uses questions throughout the lecture. The second part provides some background information on cultural differences that is useful to keep in mind. The third part shows three different strategies the instructor uses to encourage student questions.
Watch Dealing with questions in class.
After watching the first part of the video, reflect on or discuss these questions:
- Who answered the questions?
- When the instructor asked an international student a direct question, was it a successful strategy?
- Have you experienced similar situations in your classroom? How do you deal with them?
After viewing the third part of the video, reflect on or discuss these questions:
- Which strategy do you think was most effective? Why?
- Which one would you like to try in your classroom?
Classroom assessment techniques (CATs)
Classroom assessment techniques are a set of specific activities that instructors can use to gauge students' comprehension of concepts and content. They can also be used to gauge what students already know about course content during the first few days of a course or at the beginning of a new unit.
These techniques are not meant to be used for assessment purposes, but rather to help instructors identify content that needs to be revisited and to adjust instructional approaches.
- One-minute paper
- Ask the students to spend one minute writing a response to the question: What was the most important information in today's class?
- Muddiest point
- Ask the students to spend one minute writing a response to the question: What was the muddiest point (unclear concept) in today's class?
Online tools can help make these techniques more interactive:
- Socrative is a free, easy-to-use resource for creating online quizzes and exit slips.
- Kahoot can be used to reformulate activities as team activities.
CATs additional resources
What's working at UFV
This section includes suggestions and strategies contributed by UFV instructors. If you would like to contribute to this section, you may email Kerry Johnson to share approaches and strategies that you have used in your classroom.
Ask for help
Instructors in the Chemistry department are encouraged to demonstrate that they are approachable by adopting an informal, friendly manner, learning the students’ names and using them in class, and asking students to introduce themselves and their background either in an email to the instructor or an informal office visit to introduce them to the concept of office hours.