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Supporting ESL Students in a Remote Enviornment

Students who speak English as a second language (ESL), also called English language learners (ELL), are the fastest-growing population of students in K-12 schools, according to the National Education Association. By 2025, a quarter of all students in U.S. classrooms will be ELLs.

When it comes to remote learning, these students require the same high-quality instruction as other students, but with special support related to their needs as English language learners. Researchers expect some form of remote learning to continue after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed: The RAND Corporation found 30% of schools are considering some form of virtual or hybrid instruction in the future. It’s therefore imperative that educators support ESL students’ remote learning needs — not just presently but also in the future.

Educators may want to consider the Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction with a Specialization in Bilingual Education program to equip them to meet multicultural students’ remote learning needs. Here are a few ways educators can support ESL students’ academic achievements in a remote environment:

1. Accommodate for face-to-face interaction

James Cohen told The Chicago Tribune that these students depend on face-to-face, daily interactions in their school environments to improve their language skills. Without those in-person conversations, their learning can suffer.

However, dialogue can still happen in remote settings with the use of video and translation apps. Apps like Flipgrid help teachers host video conversations, while video software like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom for Education offer the option to add captions and translation to videos. For students who can’t access the internet live, YouTube recordings of lessons could be uploaded and viewed at a later date.

2. Use home-based activities as opportunities

The best approaches to ESL learning in a remote environment are collaborative, not condescending. Connecting with families and the student’s home environment fosters this collaboration.

Just as a science teacher could encourage remote students to take an outdoor nature walk as a chance to reinforce concepts learned in the classroom, educators of ESL students can frame daily home activities as chances for learning. Resilient Educator suggests an approach that takes into account a family’s cultural traditions: ELL students “already serve as translators for family and friends, engage in adult level negotiations for non-English speaking family members and strive to live up to academic and cultural expectations. Exploring opportunities to use these daily activities and bilingual learning platforms serves to strengthen community engagement.”

3. Embrace self-directed learning

Self-directed learning is related to the strategy above in that it accounts for the realities that students encounter during their virtual learning. Allowing ELL students to chart their own course is important because they may be learning on a different schedule than they would in a classroom. Students might be sharing computers or other technology with family members. Flexible lessons that students can view at different times (or use offline) will help accommodate these schedules.

Additionally, flexibility in how ELL students complete assignments — allowing for a mix of written, verbal, and other types of work — will help keep students engaged at their own pace. EdWeek suggests teachers embrace TikTok, Instagram, Flipgrid, Quizlet and other digital tools to find one that fits student needs.

4. Nurture a culturally responsive relationship

Research suggests that educators who “change the mindset” from one oriented purely toward ESL students’ language acquisition to one that embraces cultural dialogue and community orientation benefit students’ success more. Resilient Educator notes linguistic specialist Mari Haneda has found “it is important to consider what these students are doing each day in their own communities outside of the classroom in order to set up effective learning communities.”

Partnerships between educators and communities should consider those communities’ cultural values and practices and understand how those will shape students’ learning.

5. Encourage familial involvement.

When children are learning remotely, their home and familial environments matter more than ever. Under remote learning models, families may have more contact and, therefore, can supervise students’ learning better than teachers.

Schools must communicate effectively with the families of ESL students. This could include conveying school information in languages other than English. It might also include asking family members to volunteer their time with the school, whether speaking to the class or assisting with activities. But above all, it involves putting the student’s family first: organizing meetings around their schedules, respecting their cultural traditions and celebrating their strengths rather than criticizing perceived deficiencies.

Learn more about Texas A&M International University’s online Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction with a Specialization in Bilingual Education program.


Chicago Tribune: Remote Learning Presents Unavoidable Challenges for Some Students

EdSurge: Remote Learning Is Here to Stay

EdTech: How to Support English Language Learners During E-Learning

Education Week: Ten Strategies for Teaching English-Language Learners Online

National Education Association: English Language Learners

RAND Corporation: Remote Learning Is Here to Stay

Resilient Educator:
Five Ways to Engage Parents of ELL Students
How Teachers Can Help ELL Students Create a Community

WeAreTeachers: Real Teacher Tips for Supporting Your English Language Learners in Remote Learning

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