Kimmie Fink

Many teachers lack the tools and support to adequately meet the needs of emergent bilinguals, and that’s become even more of a challenge with distance learning. Newcomer students already face a host of barriers. Now that we’ve moved instruction mostly online, we have to get more creative in continuing these students’ education. Check out our tips for better serving your English language learners on a remote basis:

Address basic needs

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from your college days? It’s a motivational theory that states that learning cannot occur until survival and safety needs are met first. In other words, kids can’t focus on school if they’re hungry, sick, or scared. Before we do anything academic, we have to make sure students and families have access to food and up-to-date health information. That means disseminating information—from school meal programs during closures to guidelines for staying healthy—in the home languages of our students.

Ensure or provide alternate access

The issue of equity has been compounded in the COVID-19 era. English language learners (and other marginalized groups) have been disproportionately affected by the move to online platforms because many don’t have access to computers and/or the Internet at home. Teachers may need to advocate for devices and hotspots for their students, and in their absence, provide hard copy packets of work. 

Keep parents informed

It’s always to a student’s benefit to involve parents as partners in their child’s education, and that’s more important now than ever before. If we want students to be successful in learning at home, we need families to be on board with and understand our plan. That means ensuring that the communication we send home is accessible to adults who may have limited English proficiency. You might need to utilize an interpreter for phone calls or texting apps that translate to keep families in the loop.

Promote authentic learning in the home

When teaching isn’t culturally responsive, it can result in disengagement. That’s why it’s so important to connect learning to kids’ lived experiences. We have an unprecedented opportunity to do that now that they’re at home. Remember that all kinds of everyday activities count as learning. Build on what they’re doing already with learning activities. For example, if they’re cooking for their families, you can introduce vocabulary around food preparation.

Avoid overwhelming students

Now is not the time for lengthy, involved projects when a simple, straightforward lesson will do. You’ll also need to make sure that students aren’t overwhelmed by the sheer number of platforms they now have to navigate. If they’re having trouble managing them, you might create a daily spreadsheet with links to their Zoom meetings, readings, etc. or, if possible, use online course-management software where everything is in one place.

Allow for self-directed learning

Kids are always more invested when they have a say in their learning, but our current situation virtually demands it. Many students are juggling the responsibilities of home and school. They may have to share devices with family members, so make sure everything is recorded so they can access lessons at a convenient time. Provide activities that they can work through at their own pace. Give them some choice in demonstrating their learning: verbally telling a story, teaching their peers a new word, etc.

Provide accommodations

Scaffolding doesn’t stop just because we’re not in the classroom anymore. It just looks a little different. Walk through assignments via phone or video chat to ensure students understand the instruction. Make sure there’s closed captioning on videos. Record yourself reading aloud required texts. Utilize breakout sessions on Zoom for partner work. Make writing collaborative using a Google Doc.

Build in social-emotional support

Just because we’re not together in person doesn’t mean we can’t prioritize relationships. In fact, it’s for that reason that we should make community our first concern. We need to frequently check in with our students on how they’re processing this huge disruption in their lives and provide places for them to talk about their experiences. We keep them engaged in school through their personal connections to us.

To further support your English language learners, check out Rosetta Stone English for Education.

Rosetta Stone English for Education is an asset-based and culturally responsive model that provides tons of speaking and listening practice according to individual learners’ needs.

Learn More About Rosetta Stone English for Education

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