Working with Multilingual Learners

Assessing and giving feedback considerations



Assessment and evaluation practices reflect our educational culture and our cultural beliefs about teaching and learning. Many multilingual learners come from a classroom in which assessment and evaluation is summative, often in the form of a final exam worth 100% of the course grade. 

These learners are unfamiliar with the concept of formative assessment, which focuses on assessment of learning in progress and incorporates assessment into the learning process.  Therefore, they do not understand the importance placed on attendance and participation in the North American academic environment or the function of classroom activities as a means of monitoring and assessing student progress. 

Distinguish between language and content

Language can be a particular issue in relation to assessment, as instructors may have trouble interpreting responses due to grammatical or linguistic errors and therefore may not recognize that a student has demonstrated understanding of course content. Similarly, the wording of a question may cause confusion or misinterpretation by students and lead to responses that do not demonstrate what the student actually has learned.

It is important to focus on content and to distinguish between language and content when assessing student learning.  It is equally important to think carefully about language used in assessments.  Using language that is simple and clear will help learners identify the appropriate response.

Clarify instructor expectations

Providing students with rubrics and clear assessment criteria also helps to clarify instructor expectations as does providing models of well executed assignments and giving students a chance to use the assignment rubric to compare models and identify the characteristics of assignments that meet the instructor's criteria. 

Instructors at Thompson Rivers University noted that employing assessment tools other than oral presentations and written assignments can also help international students demonstrate what they have learned.  They commented that incorporating “well planned multiple choice or true/false components can level the playing field and give a clearer indication of comprehension” (TRU instructor handbook “Assessment,” pg. 52). 

Multilingual learners need more time for assessment

The website for the Writing Center at the University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill points out that multilingual learners need more time for assessment. According to the website:

"Research summarized by Grabe (2009) has demonstrated that even fluent non-native speakers read 50-70% slower in their foreign language than in their native language. Writing in a foreign language is similarly slow because of the extra layer of cognitive processing required to produce well-developed, coherent texts in a foreign language."

They conclude that, "In the interest of gaining a more reliable measure of student learning, providing extended time for assessment to ESL students has been recognized as a reasonable practice by several universities and professional credentialing boards. Reasonable accommodation is determined locally, but ranges between 25% and 50% extended time."

Retrieved from

Watch videos on assessing and feeback

Video #1 - Assessment practices need to measure what our students have learned

‌Questions for reflection/ discussion before viewing the video:

This video clip from "Writing Across Borders," a resource from Oregon State University, discusses the importance of ensuring that assessment practices measure what our students have learned in a way that is fair to all learners and provides an accurate way to know whether our students have met the learning objectives for the course.

Questions for reflection/ discussion before viewing the video:

  1. What kind of assessment practices do you employ in your teaching?  Why do you prefer these types of assessment?

  2. Which of these assessment types is most difficult for multilingual learners (i.e. multiple choice, short answer, essay)?  Which is easiest?  Why?

Questions for reflection/ discussion after viewing the video clip:

  • What constitutes a “thoughtful” response?  Is this an important aspect of your assessment practices?
  • Did you agree with the instructor’s comment that providing “immediate and thoughtful” response is more challenging for multilingual learners?
  • Would you consider any of the accommodations suggested in the video?  Do you think they would work with the assessment tasks you give in your classroom? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel that it is fair to all learners to provide accommodations like these to everyone?  Would it be better to offer the exam separately to multilingual learners and provide them with specific accommodations? Why or why not?

‌Play video

Video #2 - What kind of feedback do students want?

Questions for reflection/ discussion before viewing the video:

  • What kind of instructor feedback do students want? 
  • What do they find most helpful? 
  • What should you think about when giving correction and feedback to students?

This video includes short interviews with students who answer these questions.

Play video

Questions for reflection/ discussion after viewing the video clip:

Did anything the students said surprise you?

How will you apply any of the student comments when giving correction and feedback on assignments in the future?

Video #3 - Student meetings and assessment practices

Instructors at UFV find it helpful to meet individually with students at the beginning of the semester, whether it is during office hours, by email, or using Blackboard. Instructors feel that meeting with learners helps to establish a relationship with learners that will encourage them to attend office hours and seek help when they need it. 

In the short clip from "Writing Across Borders" from Oregon State University below, a writing instructor talks about how what she learns from meeting individually with learners helps her to make decisions about the feedback she provides on their written assignments. 

Play video‌

Video #4 -Effective and action-oriented feedback

This video discusses characteristics of effective feedback and provides a framework for action-oriented feedback.

Play video

Also download the Action-oriented feedback handout, and Using the Action-Oriented Feedback Framework in Your Discipline as guides for faculty who want to apply this approach with content in their academic discipline.‌

Library Resources
Shapiro, S., Farrelly, R. & Tomas, Z. (2014 ). Fostering International Student Success in Higher Education. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association Press.
UFV Library Catalogue
Subjects: Students, Foreign -- English-speaking countries
Location Call No. Status

Chapter 4: Assignments and Assessment

  • Distinguishes between formative assessment, which assesses learning in progress and contributes to the learning process, and summative assessment, which evaluates learning at the end of a course or unit.
  • Some pros and cons of different forms of summative assessment are given in the box on p. 53.Backward design is discussed on pp 54-55 and front-loading is discussed on pp. 55-56.
  • One issue regarding assessment is lack of clarity in the assignment description or instructions. Some guidelines are included on pp. 56-57, and explicit rubrics are discussed on pp. 57-59. Some helpful guidelines are included in the box on p. 58.
  • The section on grading and evaluation on pp. 65-71 includes many helpful strategies to help instructors “navigate” the issue of assessment and make decisions about how they will decide on and deliver assignments in their courses.
  • The discussion of “accents” on p. 68-69 is related to the discussion of “accents” in the video “Writing across Borders.”
  • Some suggestions for possible “accommodations” are offered on pp. 67-71. The section “Toward Equity and Empowerment” reminds us that the purpose of assessment and evaluation is to allow students to “show what they have learned in class” (p. 71).
  • Rather than lowering the standards, any accommodations or assessment practices should enable us to “create conditions whereby all students can be successful in meeting the high standards we set for them—not to change our expectations for those who are struggling” (p. 71).

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