Linguistically Responsive Classrooms Workshop Series

July 05, 2023

How can instructors support students who face barriers to learning because of their language background? And how can they turn that barrier into an asset? 

According to the Preliminary Report of the Undergraduate Student Survey 2022, 40% of SFU undergraduates speak English as an additional language and 11% of respondents speak no English at home.  

The Linguistically Responsive Classrooms: Instructor Series (LRCIS) was designed by English as an Additional Language Consultants (EAL), Eilidh Singh, Amanda Wallace and Fiona Shaw to help instructors revise and reimagine assignments, assessments, and syllabi to be more linguistically accessible. 

As one instructor participant expressed, "While I have always been aware that language is sometimes a barrier for my (ESL) students, it had not occurred to me to think about my role as an instructor in mitigating this barrier." (Faculty Member 1, Engineering, Discussion Post Week 2). 

Instructors working with instructors

During six 90-minute sessions, faculty collaborate to identify ways to make lectures, assignments, and activities more linguistically accessible, and to create opportunities for students to bring their full linguistic knowledge and backgrounds into the classroom. The program focuses on creating opportunities for faculty to provide peer feedback on each other’s course artifacts which can later be used as part of their teaching portfolios.  

As noted by another instructor participant, the impact of the peer model can be profound, "My eyes were opened to a lot of different ways in which language can trip up EAL students, and I was inspired by the many ways that people can approach removing these stumbling-blocks" (Anonymous, Evaluation Form).

Examples of course artifacts/projects created through LRCIS

1. Scaffolding assignments

MBB Senior lecturer Irina Kovalyova was finding that students in her MBB 309W course were not performing to the standard she was expecting on an assignment that required them to critically evaluate a journal article. She made several changes to address this challenge. 

First, she scaffolded their learning process by breaking the assignment down into discrete, more digestible components. This made tasks involved in completing the assignment more explicit, lowered the stakes and created more opportunities for her students to receive feedback from her. For example, students earned 5% of their grade for brainstorming, and 10% for their annotated bibliography. A second change Kovalyova made was to build in more opportunities for students to provide and receive feedback from each other.

2. Making disciplinary language more visible 

For criminology lecturer Helene Love, her area of teaching—law—has a highly specialized and complex vocabulary. To help students develop mastery over the legal terms crucial to her course content, she adapted a popular word guessing game, ‘Catchphrase.’ Love crafted individual game pieces that prompted students to guess certain terms, such as “Hansard”, by providing verbal clues and descriptions of those terms without using the actual term. Love provided a short amount of time at the beginning of each class for students to play the adapted game so that they could build their mastery over these legal terms over time.

3. Providing opportunities for students to leverage non-English linguistic knowledge

Just as every discipline offers a unique perspective on the world, different cultures approach disciplines differently. One of the assignments in English lecturer Alys D. Avalos-Rivera’s course asked students to analyze how knowledge is organized in research articles. To provide students with mastery of non-English language backgrounds with an opportunity to approach this topic in a way that leveraged their unique linguistic strengths, she provided an additional option to this assignment. Students were invited to compare how information is organized in English versus non-English articles, such as Japanese. 

To ensure students were set up for success, Avalos-Rivera held mandatory meetings with each student at the beginning of the semester. As well, students who choose the bilingual version of the assignments were asked to provide sample sentences from the non-English article with translations. 

A dedicated team of support grounded in research and excellence

During LRCIS, CEE’s EAL Consultants help provide contextualized examples, relevant literature and practical teaching tips for immediate application to make lectures, assignments, and activities more linguistically accessible, while still upholding conceptual rigor.

"Our goal in designing this program was to provide SFU faculty with innovative approaches and evidence-informed strategies to foster an inclusive learning environment, celebrate linguistic diversity, and support academic success," says Wallace.

The team has presented the LRCIS model via the following conferences and publications:

  • Wallace, A., Shaw, F., & Singh, E. (2022, March). Faculty development to support multilingual students at a Canadian university: centering language in disciplinary courses. Paper presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics Conference. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. 

  • Wallace, A., Singh, E., & Shaw, F. (2022, November). Re:imagining inclusive classrooms using linguistically responsive pedagogies: A case study. Research session presented at the POD online conference. Seattle, Washington, USA.

  • Singh, E., Wallace, A., & Shaw, F. (2023, June). Reimagining pedagogy through a linguistically responsive lens to foster inclusivity in higher education classrooms: A case study. Paper presentation accepted for the International Higher Education Teaching & Learning Association Conference, Aberdeen, Scotland. 

  • Singh, E., Wallace, A., & Shaw, F. (2023, May). Supporting multilingual students through linguistically responsive pedagogy: A case study. Paper presented at the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics Annual Conference, Toronto, Ontario.

  • Wallace, A., Singh, E., & Shaw, F. (Forthcoming). Linguistically responsive pedagogy in the internationalized university: A case study. In K. Beck & R. Ilieva (Eds.), The Word in Here: Language, Culture, Learning and Teaching in an Internationalizing University. Bloomsbury Press.