Equity & Remote Learning

Creating Access, Connectivity and Support for English Learners

In the best of times, English learners can find themselves to be one to two years behind their peers. Add in learning loss due to the pandemic, and instructional time for ELs becomes even more critical.

Even under the best of circumstances, remote learning can be challenging. For English learners (ELs), this challenge is compounded by linguistic barriers, lack of access and socioeconomic stressors.

To ensure learning gaps aren’t being exacerbated during the pandemic, it’s crucial that educators consider how to create access, connectivity and family supports for English learners.

Here are steps that can be taken to address these priorities at the district and classroom levels.

Support at the District Level

First, district leaders need to evaluate the systems and processes in place to ensure EL families are adequately supported. I recommend forming a support team that’s available to address linguistic barriers that may exist for students and families.

Reference each school site’s language demographics and create an action plan for distributing multilingual materials to students and families. Ensure that multilingual versions of district- and school-wide communications are available and accessible.

Next, create a strategy for supporting multilingual families remotely. It’s crucial that we bridge the technology gap and help our families navigate the various technology platforms, tools and skills needed for remote learning.

Colorín Colorado created a distance learning guide specific to EL students and families. Here are some helpful tips for ensuring connectivity and tech support:

  • Providing devices with data so that students can connect anywhere and anytime.

  • Offering hot spots, including on buses that travel to neighborhoods where internet access is an issue.

  • Providing free WiFi at school sites or partnering with community institutions, such as libraries, so that internet can be accessed from the parking lot.

  • Partnering with municipal governments, internet providers and cell phone companies to expand access.

  • Offering multilingual tutorials for platforms and other solutions that families will be using.

  • Providing how-to instructions through short videos or written guides.

  • Setting up a process for collaboration between educators, interpreters, family liaisons and tech support staff.

  • Ensuring families have a way to ask questions related to tech support.

Support at the Classroom Level

Educators realize the importance of strong relationships. Building and maintaining school-home relationships is even more important when students are learning remotely.

Social-emotional and behavioral (SEB) support is especially important for ELs, who may be experiencing time away from school differently than their peers. SEB captures the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) and behavioral supports, and contributes to students’ academic success.

There are assessments available from organizations like Illuminate Education to help educators ensure students have the SEB skills they need to thrive.

Here are a few ways that educators can support students’ SEB functioning:

  • Include rituals and routines in the classroom that connect with students in a personal and meaningful way. Remember: Relationships matter!

  • Supporting ELs’ participation in discussions by providing question prompts and/or conversation starters that include the use of sentence frames to assist students in forming responses.

  • Include SEB-focused lessons that address and support the various experiences students have endured since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether learning is taking place in a classroom, virtual environment or hybrid version of both, it’s important to remain mindful in designing lessons that actively engage ELs in the four domains of language acquisition: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

In the best of times ELs can find themselves to be one to two years behind their peers. Add in learning loss due to the pandemic, and instructional time for ELs becomes even more critical.

Move More Students Toward English Academic Proficiency

Having appropriate data around student performance is an important part of assisting ELs in gaining English proficiency.

Students who are acquiring English need to be evaluated regularly so their progress toward proficiency can be tracked. In my experience, teachers of ELs benefit from assessments that are focused on measuring students’ acquisition of foundational reading skills in English.

Create Quality Distance Learning Lessons for ELs

Remember, all instructional time for ELs is critical. Here are some tips to keep in mind for lesson planning:

  • Determine which learning standards are essential for EL students. Identify the language demands required for distance learning and scaffold supports accordingly.

  • Provide time for students to preview, view and review materials, such as recorded videos, lesson materials and discussion questions, before a lesson begins. This preview time gives EL students an opportunity to think about the content and form their responses. I recommend using recording functions whenever possible so that lessons can be archived for students to access later. Keep flexibility in mind, and provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate learning and proficiency.

  • Conduct intermittent screening to assess each student’s learning needs, and use your findings to plan for instruction. Progress monitoring is essential for making instructional adjustments and developing intervention supports. We use Illuminate Education to help with this.

Don’t Work Reactively

As you plot a path forward, create a balance between SEB support and essential learning for EL students. Whether it’s in school or remote, instructional time is essential to close gaps for EL students.

Let’s work to ensure ELs have access, connection and support — no matter their location.

About the Author

Dr. Alejandra Estrada-Burt is native Spanish speaker and co-principal at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School. She previously worked as assistant principal at Neill Elementary, and prior to that was assistant principal at Northport Elementary. Dr. Estrada-Burt also worked at Zanewood Elementary School as a behavior interventionist and English Language Learner teacher.