Working with Multilingual Students

Here at FIU, you will find that many of our students use English as a second or additional language. Many multilingual students, even those who received their entire secondary education in Miami or other parts of the country, still need to develop greater proficiency in English to successfully complete literacy tasks in college. Considering the lengthy and complex process of language learning, we propose the following strategies be provided at multiple points throughout the curriculum:

Teaching transparently:

  • Clearly define each writing task: Clarify the audience, genre and purpose of any writing task, make your expectations clear in your syllabus, the assignment sheets and other handouts.
  • Be explicit about the logistics of the writing tasks: Explain clearly the process you would like students to go through, the due dates, lengths and format of the writing.
  • Using different modes of explanations: Provide visual or audio aid to enhance the clarity of teaching. Remember that many students will process information better if you provide some form of visual aid: handout, overhead, “map” or list of key words, PowerPoint slides, etc.
  • Model effective writing: Be clear and precise in your own language. Just by modeling good usage of English in your filed, you are teaching a lot to the students. Also show students effective writing samples of what you expect students to do and clarify the task requirements by discussing these samples in class.
  • Provide clear rubric on how the finished written product will be evaluated.

Scaffolding effectively:

  • Provide various opportunities in your teaching for students to practice and become familiar with the writing tasks.
  • Allow small group interactions to generate ideas for writing in which students develop their oral fluency as well as linguistic accuracy while they engage in critical discussions of the course content
  • Support and facilitate reading comprehension in your course: multilingual students’ difficulties in writing are not necessary or not predominantly, writing problems per se. They can often be traced to problems in reading. More explicit intervention in reading comprehension will help, such as providing reading guide, a set of glossaries for key terms, etc.
  • Allow multiple drafts in the writing process: students’ understanding of a writing task usually develops in the multi-drafting process. Also students’ early drafts will alert you to aspects of their writing that need support.

Responding (to students’ writing) strategically:

  • Prioritize on grading criteria that you value most: keep in mind the objectives for the writing task and focus on evidence in student writing that shows the achievement of those objectives.
  • Make a distinction between errors that obscure meaning and those that may simply seem distractive to you. Focus on clarity rather than correctness.
  • Even for errors that obscure meaning, you can simply circle or underline errors rather than correcting them or rewriting sections of the paper; this saves time and is often just as helpful in the long run.
  • Respond as an interested reader: when you respond to the ideas in the paper and acknowledge the student’s attempt to communicate, despite of language errors, multilingual students will be motivated and encouraged.
  • Use consistent marks for the same error types so that students can see the patterns you show them. Draw students’ attention to repeated errors and encourage students to find out their own error patterns.
  • Encourage students to get into the habit of proofreading of their own writing and to guard against their common errors as they proofread.
  • Remember not all the written work needs to be graded or graded the same way. Sometimes students benefit from the act of writing even if you don’t mark what they write. You can respond to student writing in whole class discussion.

A single-point approach to language support will not adequately address the needs of diverse learners. Consistent support and deliberate design of your course will benefit all students, especially multilingual students. Also, many of these tips may simultaneously help your multilingual students AND reduce your own workload, as they may prevent problems that would take a lot of time to solve later on.