“If remote teaching perplexes teachers, imagine what remote learning is like for ELs or newcomers”, write Margarita Calderón and Lisa Tartaglia for ASCD InService. If you’ve been busy supporting your emergent bilinguals and multilinguals this year, you’re likely living this challenge yourself.
Meeting the learning needs of diverse populations can be challenging- and that’s before the added complexities of distance learning. The unfortunate result is that many students are not receiving the high-impact instruction that they need and deserve.
Why are Emergent linguals more likely to be left behind when it comes to remote learning? The reasons are many. “It’s hard for ELs to improve their language skills without the face-to-face interactions they usually have at school,” explains James Cohen of Northern Illinois University. He also points to home-based challenges, like unfamiliarity with U.S. systems of education or parents who may not speak English themselves- a hurdle when it comes to assisting with school work.
Calderón and Tartaglia add to the list of potential complications: “Some ELs have computers or tablets at home; others only cell phones. Some might not have access to any technology. Some have a place to study without interruptions and others share rooms; some are homeless. Many ELs work essential jobs, take care of siblings, worry about immigration issues—all reasons they might not sign on to remote lessons.”
So, Where Do We Go From Here?
We’re familiar with the challenges of teaching Emergent Linguals remotely. Now, let’s explore strategies to counter them.
- Start with a culturally and linguistically affirmative foundation.
Just like our brick-and-mortar classrooms, inclusive and equitable remote learning should be rooted in culturally responsive practice. This requires that we know our students, ask questions about how they best learn, consider culturally-influenced learning preferences, and nurture bilingualism. When students feel seen and valued, they are also more likely to become invested in the learning experience.
- Embed language-specific supports.
Online instruction for ELs should mirror in-person best practices. Content-language objectives, word walls, multi-modal learning, and scaffolded supports should be evidenced in any EL-inclusive lesson. Tech-tools like Google Meet, Screencastify, and NearPod allow us to adapt these strategies for the virtual learning space. “I upload all my teaching material on YouTube, that way students could turn on captions for the video and even use the caption translation function,” shares EL teacher Caterina Lazor. “I also created an online Vocabulary Word Wall on my Google Classroom through Google Docs—having this visual helped.”
- Make it interactive.
When students are engaged, socio-academic growth is accelerated. Engagement is even more central to distance learning- without it, students may not log on at all. For example, video tools can increase buy-in, illustrate academic language and concepts, and relay important cultural cues, like facial expressions and gestures. Applications like FlipGrid can help teachers integrate and assess speaking and listening skills; and aspects of PearDeck (such as the anonymous response feature or embedded recall devices) are aligned to culturally responsive practice. Calderón and Tartaglia also remind us that the realities of ELs and distance learning “necessitate lessons that are short, engaging, and offer topics ELs can explore that relate to their daily lives”.
- Offer flexible options for engagement.
Emergent Linguals, in particular, may benefit from flexible scheduling. Non-traditional learning hours and innovative study options can increase access to education. EL experts Robertson and Lafond write that “a flexible schedule allows [ELs] the opportunity to balance home and school responsibilities, a chance to spend extra time in school to accelerate learning, and the opportunity to keep working while attending school.”
- Invest in critical stakeholders, including parents and caregivers.
Parents and caretakers play a critical role in a student’s academic success. However, parents of Emergent Linguals may not be aware of their value as co-educators- worth that includes existing funds of knowledge. We can build on this cultural wealth to create meaningful learning experiences. As an example, we can encourage parents to speak with their children in their home language and explicitly point out the ways in which it can enhance English learning and content mastery.
In what other ways can we empower caretakers as stakeholders in their child’s learning? Teachers like Caterina Lazor rely on resources like the Talking PoInts App, which can enable cross-language parent-teacher communication. We may also try hosting virtual information sessions for caretakers on topics like technical troubleshooting, SEL, or at-home learning extensions. James Snyder of Camelot Education suggests hosting regular video conferences with parents or creating an EL-friendy resource hub of news and information. “One of the benefits of teaching students while they are in their homes is that you can reach everybody in the student’s household within earshot of the computer,” Snyder concludes. “Consequently, it allows us to empower the entire family. When teachers view this time to extend involvement and engagement across the family, the impact can be much more powerful”.
- Don’t go it alone
As teachers and schools, our plates are full. Rather than creating entire online support systems for our ELs from scratch, we can benefit from partnering with existing e-learning platforms. United We Lead, for example, expands learning opportunities to all students through targeted virtual instruction. UWLF is a bilingual platform that combines e-learning, one-on-one tutoring, and hands-on activities that support traditionally underserved students- including Emergent bilinguals and multilinguals.
United We Lead Foundation’s approach is unique in that it addresses each of the tips on our list. The platform offers live virtual meeting rooms and prerecorded lessons that meet students where they are and when they are available. It’s built-in English-Spanish supports include academic guidance for students and informational resources for parents. Most importantly, UWLF is a Social-Mission Driven Organization (SMDO) rooted in the belief that multilingualism is an asset and that all students- given equitable access to learning opportunities- are capable to success. Through viable e-learning partnerships, schools spend less time reinventing the wheel and more time where it matters- with students.
Through face-to-face, distance, and hybrid instruction, we have the responsibility and honor of ensuring high quality learning experiences for all students- including our Emergent bilinguals and multilinguals. Which of these tools will you put into practice?