Pedagogical Considerations for Multilingual Students in Online and Hybrid Contexts

Pedagogical Considerations for Multilingual Students in Online and Hybrid Contexts

Robin Rhodes,

June 2021

1. What resources are there for multilingual academic language support?

SLU has two levels of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses noted as ESOL 201 and 202. The courses are high level academic English focusing on both receptive and productive language skills and are open to all students who identify as someone who speaks English as an additional language speak (domestic or international). In addition, The ESOL Program, housed in Modern Languages, works with the WORD Studio to train tutors to work with multilingual students, hosts the Language and Cultural Exchange Program, holds 1 to 1 tutoring, works with faculty, and has an ESOL Instagram page. You can read more about ESOL academic support here: Make sure to scroll down on the left to see all categories.

2. Consider what a move to online study means for a multilingual student
Being sensitive to issues related to access, culturally sensitive topics, time zone differences, access to resources, and accented English will create a more inclusive online classroom for international/multilingual students. For students who are used to a face to face classroom, the lack of context cues, such as intonation and nonverbal expression, can reduce the ability to use cues to participate fully. As well, more time may be needed to process written language in two or more languages (and then formulate thoughts/answers in two or more languages) and giving extra time for students to read essay test questions and on reading assignments and discussion board posts is recommended. In addition, students may be more uncertain about writing abilities since many of their classmates will now see their writing on discussion boards (see #5). Collaborative and multimodal assignments can be very beneficial to student understanding of course content and effective completion of assignments. Being patient with students and giving time to transition and understand new ways of being (English speaking environment, American culture) is especially helpful.

3. Lack of ability to access resources
If the student is in China, please consider the student may have trouble accessing some resources including Google (anything!), YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and DropBox. Many students choose to have a VPN to get around the firewall, but VPN use is discouraged by Chinese authorities and it is not a good idea to recommend this to a student. Sakai can bypass some of this issue and you may be able to upload materials to Sakai for access, keeping in mind students may have slower Internet and large files may be difficult to access. Inability to access some materials is not only limited to students in China and faculty should check in with all students regarding this issue. Low connectivity or expensive Internet may limit student ability to watch videos and/or download large documents/videos. A reminder most computers purchased outside the USA are set to the metric system. This has caused some problems in the past with formatting of written documents and instructors should be aware of this issue.

4. Lack of privacy and/or background information for content discussions
Students from some countries may be reluctant to comment on topics that may be sensitive to their government or families, no matter what their feelings are. If there is government surveillance, some platforms and ability to comment may be off limits. Try to provide ways for students to demonstrate their engagement with the topic without putting themselves at potential risk. Many students may share a smaller space with family members and may not be able to comment fully on a sensitive topic for fear of disapproval. Faculty may be able to offer options, allowing students to write about topics that would not jeopardize their safety. As well, students may need additional background information to follow conversations around racial prejudice, institutionalized racism, local and national protests, American elections and politics, and other national conversations. Content surrounding abortion, criticism of authority, LGBTQ+, comparative analysis of countries and policies, or asking students to review documents that discuss “critical thinking” may cause challenges for some students. Students may go silent. An asset based view of students means it is wise to assume there is a reason for lack of engagement, late submissions, or quiet nature and that these are not due to lack of interest, laziness, or not being prepared for class (deficit view).


5. Asynchronous classes and increased visibility of student writing
Asynchronous classes introduce complications due to the increased visibility of student writing. Ilona Leki (2007) has conducted case study research on international students during their U.S. university experiences. Leki notes that writing is the place where multilingual students feel the most vulnerable, due to the presence of differences in syntax, cultural rhetorical practices for making and arranging arguments, and “written accent” (i.e. markers that indicate use of English as an additional language).

Multilingual students may find the task of posting on discussion boards to be especially daunting since any sentence-level errors will be seen by the entire class. If you assign discussion boards, you might make a general statement that you do not expect students to edit their discussion board posts for Standard Written English, and that assessment will be more focused on content. However, asynchronous collaborative projects – such as peer review, collaborative annotations, or some other way for students to “see” and “discuss” are very helpful for creating community, reading comprehension, and understanding of assignment guidelines.

6. Xenophobia and Public Writing Venues
Not only can peers see discussion board posts made by other students, but they are often expected to comment on them. Unmoderated discussion boards open students not only to comments and criticisms of their English ability but also to the xenophobia that has been on the rise in the US. Students may have trouble expressing themselves in ways that the whole class can immediately relate to and students feel alienated if others do not respond to posts, brush aside their viewpoint, or show disinterest in other cultural examples or ways of expression. Multilingual students may be de-authorized by dominant cultures and may not be included by peers, only increasing alienation. We do not want to silence voices of students who do not speak English as a first language or who are drawing on different cultural interpretations or rhetorical styles. Students should be encouraged to draw on all linguistic and cultural repertoires, backgrounds, and lived experiences.

Many students are self-conscious about communicating in imperfect English because they fear it will reflect badly on their intelligence. Making the purpose and expectations clear for any public posting can help to alleviate some of the pressure multilingual students may feel. This can be reinforced by focusing on and responding to the content of posts while ignoring any sentence-level errors. Please email if you would like more information on Global Englishes and how to advocate for multilingual global life in your classroom.

7. Synchronous Study
Instead of directly asking for comments on a topic during a synchronous class, give students time to create a short video or write a response when they can find a good time - videoconferencing can be complicated for students for many reasons. Students may need time to formulate a response and for some, this may be their first time in a class with mostly native English speakers and this may be very intimidating. Flexibility and generosity are needed when assessing students’ work at this time. Students may be hesitant to turn on screens and having a discussion early on about screen use is important. Explaining pedagogy is always helpful as class activities that involve achieving consensus, spontaneous debates, and other engagement methods may be new to some students. Polling, chats, anonymous Q & A, letter writing, and individual student conferences all help students feel included. FlipGrid is an easy to use and free platform for students to create videos and view/comment on classmate videos.

8. Include multilingualism in your syllabus diversity statement
I recommend that you pay extra attention to creating inclusive online classroom climates and possibly include a syllabus statement such as:
I expect “written accent” (missing articles, incorrect prepositions, incorrect verb tenses) to be treated with respect. While all students in this course are expected to challenge themselves to become more effective and accomplished writers, we will not spend time worrying too much about the aspects of English that take many years to acquire (i.e. articles, verb tense, prepositions), but instead focus on expression of ideas, communicative competence, and rhetorical savvy. Valuing linguistic diversity is an important part of being a global citizen and we celebrate this diversity in our classroom. Accented communication is always accepted and welcomed. Any expression of racism, linguicism, and xenophobia will not be tolerated.

9. Participation and inclusion
Time zone differences may affect students’ ability to join classes synchronously. Some students may be frustrated that they can’t join the live lecture and discussion sections, or they may not feel that they’re really a part of your learning community. Consider how students will meet assigned group work meetings and office hours when there is a big time difference. Consider students who are up to18 hours ahead of SLU time as you post assignments and set deadlines. Surveying students accessibility in the beginning of the semester will be very important to know if the class time, materials, and support mechanisms will work for all students. Even having two synchronous classes per week is not feasible for students outside US time zones or for those with limited connectivity. A lab or study group that is 7pmEST or later or 7-10amEST is a good way to stay connected with students outside of class time. Students outside of the USA may have limited access to textbooks and instructors should check in with students about this.

Think about different ways to assess and encourage student participation such as giving time to formulate thoughts before discussion, eye contact and clear body language indicating engagement, free writes, collaborative writing or annotation projects, chat discussions, and even inviting students to summarize or ask a question can be possibilities. Commenting on interesting or thought provoking ideas from student written work can help students feel included and valued.

SLU multilingual students have achieved a very high level of English proficiency, but their proficiency may be stretched in a remote instructional setting. Recording classes with the transcript and chat is helpful for all students, but when instructors speak quickly, have accents, and use idiomatic speech, recordings are especially helpful for multilingual students. Students can review the recording as often as needed and use the transcript to support their listening comprehension. Zoom or class buddies are useful for students to get clarity and seek support. Instructors need to accept student issues as legitimate. These may include linguistic challenges, limited access, family crisis, other reasons for late work, and/or interruption in formal academic English instruction. All of these are likely valid reasons for a student to struggle with deadlines and/or assignments. Interruption in studying in English can cause a student to experience setbacks with language abilities.

10. Asset Based Culturally and Linguistically Sustaining Pedagogy
Here is a useful outline of some best practices when working with multilingual writers: and Conference on College Composition and Communication:

In addition, students working remotely may or may not have a higher risk of integrating or citing sources incorrectly, but remoteness may increase their anxiety over inadvertently plagiarizing. Encourage your students to share their concerns, to get feedback on their source use practices, and to use resources wisely. It is best to be educative and not punitive in plagiarism instances.

Faculty need to be aware of hegemonic perspectives and how assignments and assessment may reflect cultural values that favor one group over another. It is best to examine content, pedagogy, and technology for monocultural or monolingual ideology and consider your design plan from multiple student perspectives. Examining the assumptions pedagogy rests can help instructors move towards design that is culturally sustaining as expectations and assumptions based on a single habitus may limit student participation. Differentiated instruction is very valuable for diverse classrooms and should be utilized so that students can share their assets and receive equitable assessment.  Pedagogical choices will show students if language and culture is viewed as an asset to be encouraged and sustained, resulting in increased empowerment and engagement in the course.