Working with Multilingual Learners

Classroom Practices: Asking for help


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 here. This section includes a short video that gives some background cultural information that may explain why multilingual learners don't ask questions in class or don't ask for help when they need it. 

Two videos from Thompson Rivers University look at this issue from different perspectives.  One video shows a typical "office hours" scenario in which a student comes to the instructor's office for feedback to explain why he did not get the grade he hoped for while the other demonstrates some strategies to encourage students to ask questions and clarify content they are not sure they have fully understood. Information on Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) is also included as an additional strategy instructors can use to identify what students have understood and what content may need to be reviewed or re-visited in the following classes.

Video #1 - 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 play a role here. It also provides some suggestions from UFV instructors to encourage students to seek help when they need it.

Play video

Video #2 - 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 what kind of information she learns from students in this kind of meeting and how she applies it. ‌

Some questions for discussion or reflection after watching the video:

  1. In the interview, an instructor talks about what she does during interviews with students. 

  2. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of making time for interviews like this at the beginning of the term?

Play video

Video #3 - Office hours video

This video, which is from Thompson Rivers University, shows a common “office hours” scenario.

The video is divided into three sections.  In the first section, it shows a student coming to office hours and leaving feeling unhappy.  This is followed by theoretical background information about cultural differences that explain the student's expectations and dissatisfaction.  The third part of the video shows a different office hours scenario. 

After watching the first section of the video, discuss or reflect on these questions:

  1. Why did the student come to office hours?  What was he hoping for?
  2. 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?
  3. 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:

  1. How did the instructor start the conversation this time? Why did she choose to start it this way?
  2. What was the focus of this conversation?  How did she word her comments to the student?
  3. Is there anything else the instructor could do to help this student achieve a higher grade in the course?

Play video

Video #4 - Encouraging questions video

All instructors ensure that they ask students if they have questions and try to build in time to ensure that questions are answered, but many instructors 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 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.

This video, which is also from Thompson Rivers University, also has three parts. In the first part, the instructor uses questions throughout the lecture.  After you watch this 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?

The first scenario is followed by some background information on cultural differences that is useful to keep in mind.  The third part of the video shows three different strategies the instructor uses to encourage student questions.  After viewing this part of the video, which strategy do you think was most effective? Why?  Which one would you like to try in your classroom?‌

Play video

Classroom assessment techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) 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 strategies are not meant to be used for assessment purposes, but rather to help instructors identify content that needs to be revisited and adjust instructional approaches.

Two techniques:

  • 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?

These techniques can easily be adapted for online sites students can access on their phones. B-socrative is a free, easy to use resource for creating online quizzes and exit slips. Kahoot can be used to reformulate the activities as team activities.

CATs online resources

The activities included in the online websites are adapted from:

Angelo, Thomas A., & Cross, K. Patricia. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.








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