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International and multilingual students

The University of Washington values the contributions international and multilingual (I/M) students — sometimes referred to as English as a Second Language (ESL) students or English Language Learners (ELLs) — bring to our campus community. International and multilingual (I/M) students may include students who:

  • Are studying abroad for the first time in the US
  • Have studied abroad for high school and/or at another college and transferred to UW
  • Are the children of immigrants and have lived in the US for all or most of their lives
  • Speak, listen, read, and/or write in another language more comfortably than in English
  • Are equally comfortable working in English and in (an)other language(s)
  • Feel more comfortable speaking, listening, reading and/or writing in English than in other languages they use

In short, the term “international and multilingual” encompasses a wide range of students who face challenges both similar to and different from students who are born into extended generations of US families.

Strategies for teaching I/M students

There are a number of things instructors can do through their instruction to support I/M students and reduce barriers to their comprehension and learning.

What can instructors do to support I/M in the classroom?

  • Clarify expectations for communication and use a variety of modalities
    • Set up a question/answer box for students to ask questions or make comments anonymously.
    • Clarify expectations for email use.
    • Set up an online discussion board for students to raise questions.
  • Provide extra visual and oral support while presenting information.
    • Use redundancy and paraphrase to help students understand concepts.
    • Write out on the board key words that might be difficult for students to understand.
    • Organize explanations and use phrases that clearly mark important information and transitions between ideas (e.g., The most important point to remember is… So that’s the first point – now let’s move on to…)
  • Use written materials to supplement classroom communication.
  • Encourage students to record class sessions, or record them yourself using Panopto or other lecture capture tools.
  • Find out who your students are and how they communicate
    • Ask students to fill out an online survey or index cards with information about themselves and their classroom communication experiences.
    • Encourage students to come to office hours.
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning
    • Allow time for Q & A at the end of class.
    • Ask students to write a “minute paper” at the end of class that asks them to write the most important point they learned or identify something they are unclear about
  • Offer specific feedback
    • Offer students constructive feedback (in a one-on-one setting) on communication issues (e.g., I notice you keep pronouncing ‘[X word]’ as ‘[Y]’—here it is commonly pronounced as ‘[X]’…)

  • Be clear about what participation means and looks like in your class
  • Plan questions carefully
    • Ask one question at a time, and allow time for thinking and responding.
    • Plan a series of questions to guide students’ thinking.
    • Consider the level of complexity of your questions. Are you asking students to recall information? Are you asking them to apply knowledge? Or analyze, synthesize or evaluate?
  • Give students time to prepare before the discussion
    • Ask students to answer a question in writing.
    • Ask students to discuss key questions in small groups before a full class discussion.
    • Provide students with discussion questions in advance.
    • Ask students to post questions before they come to class.
  • Reflect on how you listen
    • Are you allowing the student time to express themselves?
    • Are you concentrating on what the student is saying?
    • Are you attentive to verbal and non-verbal cues?

  • Make goals for the assignment and criteria for success clear
    • Be explicit about the purpose, the audience, and the evaluation criteria.
    • Show students two or three examples of previous student work.
    • Make sure logistics (format, length, due date) are explicit.
    • Discuss expectations for citing others’ work and show examples.
    • Allow time for discussion of the assignment in class.
  • Provide opportunities for students to become familiar with the task and for students to practice
    • Assign an ungraded writing task for students to practice.
    • Design study questions that focus students on the framework or argument formulation that they will need to use.
  • Provide students with feedback and the opportunity to respond
    • Ask students to read and discuss what they’ve written with a small group.
    • Ask/encourage students to visit a writing center.
    • If you want to mark errors, help students see patterns of a repeated language error, rather than marking all that you see.
    • Give students a chance to apply your feedback directly through an immediate revision.

  • Discuss your purposes for assigning the reading
    • Preview the reading with students to help them identify key issues or questions you want them to be alert to as they read.
    • Show students how the texts they’re reading connect to other readings they’ve done for the class, key course concepts, and/or future exams or assignments.
    • Offer students insights into how you / your field typically use this type of text in research or practice.
  • Help students connect with the new and unfamiliar
    • Ask questions about a text that require students to reflect on their experience and prior knowledge.
    • Design reading or study questions that point students to key ideas, applications, and connections to important issues. Use online or in-class discussions to follow up on these questions.
    • Provide relevant background information about the text, authors, etc.
  • Ask students to interpret readings in their own words
    • Assign note-taking or summarizing tasks as homework during the first few weeks of class, and check their understanding
    • Show students how you take notes on a chapter: show them your questions, comments, quick summaries of difficult concepts, criticisms, links to other parts of the text, and effective underlining or highlighting. Encourage students to do the same for each other.
    • Use in-class surveys or brief quizzes that give students a chance to articulate and/or apply what they’ve read.
  • Give students guidance in working with the text
    • Encourage students to ask themselves questions as they move through a text. Model this process for them in class or provide model questions initially.
    • Show them how to find textual clues to meaning and the significance of the concepts presented in this kind of a text.
    • Ask students to identify important concepts from the readings, and to explain how they recognized these as they read.

Research reports

  • International and multilingual student academic survey. In December 2017, the UW College of Arts and Sciences and its campus partners surveyed international and multilingual students on the Seattle campus about their academic experiences at UW, garnering 1,024 respondents. The survey sought to document the range of academic backgrounds and resources that students bring to campus as well as their goals, confidence levels, challenges, and overall satisfaction. Student comments are quoted in the report at some length, adding nuance and clarity to quantitative results.
    Student Survey Report (PDF)
  • Faculty and TA surveys on teaching I/M students. In spring 2015, the College of Arts and Sciences and its campus partners surveyed Seattle faculty members and graduate teaching assistants (TAs) in nearly all colleges and schools about their experiences teaching I/M students. Faculty and TAs across the campus noted that I/M students enrich their classes by bringing a greater variety of perspectives to the coursework, widening the scope of learning and its applications for both classmates and instructors. They considered I/M students a strong resource in cross-cultural collaborations. Survey participants also noted challenges in teaching I/M students, and some have made changes to their teaching in order to help these students (and others) in their learning.
    Faculty Survey Report (PDF)
    TA Survey Report (PDF)