With the start of the new school year, English Language Learners (ELLs), Bilingual Learners, students with special needs, and struggling learners may already be at a disadvantage as the achievement gap has widened due to the Pandemic. While schools are still struggling with the logistics of reopening school buildings and managing blended instruction and hybrid instruction, teachers will eventually have to plan effective instruction for all their students. They will have to provide scaffolding and targeted support, especially for the very young children and those who may not have the needed support at home.
With the onset of the COVID 19 Pandemic at the start of 2020, teachers worldwide have been struggling with planning rigorous remote instruction that is aligned to the curriculum and grade level expectations. While it has been very challenging and continues to be for everyone, there are many teachers that have risen to the occasion and have successfully planned and delivered synchronous and asynchronous instruction to maintain learning for their students virtually. They have learned how to use technology tools to make learning accessible for their students, and they have courageously stepped out of their comfort zone to accomplish tasks that were not possible or feasible before the Pandemic.
Here are some wonderful video lessons created by Kindergarten teacher Morgan Siefke. Teachers and instructional coaches have recorded themselves teaching and using digital instructional tools to make learning engaging and fun; some have used Bitmoji in Google Slides to customize their virtual classrooms for their students. Many have engaged in professional development to enhance their content and pedagogical knowledge to provide optimal learning opportunities for their students. Many teachers have challenged themselves and learned so much in such a short time to ensure that learning persists for their students.
However, there continues to be groups of children, especially ELLs and struggling learners, that have been left floundering for the most part as they did not receive the necessary instruction and/or interventions necessary to support their learning and, thus, have continued to fall behind.
How can schools best support families of ELLs, bilingual learners, students with special needs, and struggling learners? What resources, tools, and tips can we provide to help all diverse learners with reading and writing at a distance?
Establish intentional collaboration among teachers:
Classroom teachers, ESL teachers, special education teachers, and reading specialists can promote equitable access to remote, standards-based literacy instruction through deliberate, ongoing collaboration and co-planning. A recent report published by Council of the Great City Schools Supporting English Language Learners in the COVID-19 Crisis recommends that “designing and delivering coherent, grade-level, engaging learning experiences—especially for hybrid or remote instruction—require even greater collaboration among teachers who bring differing strengths to their instruction.”
Now more than ever, ESL teachers and bilingual teachers can be instrumental in providing these vulnerable students with targeted instruction to strengthen their language and reading skills. “For example, after briefly planning together, ESL teachers can provide direct instruction to preteach specific academic vocabulary to support ELLs’ comprehension during literacy lessons provided by their classroom teachers. Or ESL and classroom teachers can align instruction by using the same instructional strategies to teach phonics or reading- comprehension strategies across settings.”
The ESL teacher can also provide direct instruction in a literacy concept and the classroom teacher can reinforce what was taught in small group instruction with those children. Similarly, the bilingual teacher can explicitly teach a phonics or phonemic awareness lesson in English and repeat the same lesson in the second language.
Provide daily synchronous instruction:
While there are a variety of perspectives about the necessity of daily synchronous instruction during distance learning, it is highly recommended that teachers touch base with their ELLs and other students that need extra support daily through some kind of synchronous instruction and/or feedback. These vulnerable students must have access to robust instruction from their classroom teacher, ESL teacher, and/or bilingual teacher daily, if possible. Children who are learning English and those who are learning multiple languages at the same time should have opportunities to connect with teachers regularly as this alleviates anxiety and confusion and heightens support for the families.
Young children (K-2) should not be expected to be working independently in front of a device for more than 2.5 hours each day. “It’s unrealistic to expect most kids—especially younger ones—to sit in front of a screen for seven hours a day and educate themselves. Even when technology is used in classrooms, kids can get distracted and confused; computers can’t provide the motivation and support that humans can” (Wexler, March 19, 2020). Teachers should host at least one synchronous session daily to address questions, concerns, provide feedback, and strengthen relationships while distance learning. Even if teachers create daily video lessons, young children need to see and hear the teacher in the video. That human connection is very important, especially in this distance learning mode.
Create interactive, engaging video lessons:
While many teachers are still skeptical or uncomfortable about being in front of a camera and recording themselves teaching, it is quite necessary for teachers to push themselves to get over it and just press the record button. Keep it simple as Kristin Ziemke shares in this short video. Teach as if you are teaching in your classroom. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and don’t feel like you have to edit the video a 100 times before you finally share it with your students. It’s okay if you make mistakes or correct yourself. Just keep going; it’s actually more natural and realistic that way. The point is that teachers should not be aiming for perfection, but rather do their best to reach the children and facilitate support for the families. As you create your video lessons using Screencastify, Loom, OBS Studio, or even your phone, it is recommended to note the following:
- Be crystal clear about your expectations about when and how the work should be completed. As remote instruction in the spring revealed, many families of young ELLs struggled with online learning; they felt unconnected and confused about expectations and how to effectively support their emergent learners. As we prepare for the new school year, schools have to reflect on learning from these experiences to plan better support for families and their children. Make instructions simple and easy to follow by children and parents. If instruction is clear, explicit, and well-planned, minimal guidance from family members will be necessary, other than occasional check-ins or participation in read alouds and discussions when children read independently.
- Review work to be completed by the children independently and how it should be shared with the teacher for feedback. Repetition, clarity, and simplicity are key to reaching the desired outcomes.
- Provide recommendations for parents about how they can best support their children at home. Always emphasize reading a lot at home from a variety of sources. Share a few resources where families and children can access books online. Many free resources can be found here.
- To make learning engaging and accessible, teachers should include narration on Google Slides or PowerPoint presentations. They can narrate instructions, provide inspirational feedback when children choose the correct answer, and make the lessons and activities colorful and child friendly.
- Include pictures and visuals whenever possible to facilitate learning. This is especially important for very young learners (Pre-K to 2).
Provide ongoing family outreach:
- Reach out to families and address questions and concerns.
- Provide access to tools and resources online.
- Provide translated resources including on the spot translations from bilingual staff members.
- Inform parents about the importance of productive struggle – that it’s okay to make mistakes and try again, that we’re not aiming for perfection by fun through learning.
- Inform parents that they should do what works for their children. Parents know their children best. If necessary, they should have young children take multiple short breaks to maintain their stamina and joy in learning.
Inform families what to do when they need help:
Teachers need to inform children and families what they should do when they need help. Provide them with multiple options for getting help when they are working asynchronously. Perhaps, children can record voice notes and the teacher can receive them through Google Classroom. Or, maybe the teacher can set up a backchannel on Padlet where students can post questions and the teacher can respond.
Promote instructional equity:
In ensuring there is true equity in the delivery of instruction, teachers and service providers have to collaborate and join forces to make learning accessible and achievement possible for all students. Teachers should access all available technology tools and resources to create robust, interactive, content-rich, grade level lessons for their diverse learners. There are tons of tools and resources that have been made available for teachers to use in their planning and creation of engaging lessons. Collaboration and resource-sharing will definitely empower teachers and support schools in narrowing and eventually eliminating the achievement gap.
No matter what mode of instruction schools adopt this year, the bottom line is that we have to do whatever it takes to reach all learners and provide the necessary supports for their families. In addition, we have to meet the children’s social emotional needs first if we want them to succeed academically. Moreover, we have to make a conscientious, deliberate effort to reach out to families and facilitate learning for the children as much as possible. It is the responsibility of all the adults to ensure that ALL students learn!
Babinski, L. et al. (June 19, 2020). English-Language Learners Need More Support During Remote Learning. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/06/19/english-language-learners-need-more-support-during-remote.html?print=1
Council of the Great City Schools. (August 2020). Supporting English Language Learners in the COVID-19 Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.cgcs.org/cms/lib/DC00001581/Centricity/Domain/35/CGCSELL%20and%20COVIDweb.pdf
Education Development Center. Supporting Emergent Bilingual Children in
Early Learning. Retrieved from https://www.edc.org/sites/default/files/uploads/Supporting-Emergent-Bilingual-Children_English.pdf
Wexler, N. (March 19, 2020). How To Engage Kids And Build Their Knowledge When Schools Are Closed. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nataliewexler/2020/03/19/how-to-engage-kids-and-build-their-knowledge-when-schools-are-closed/#6047b45a2e36