Paula Johnson, Ph.D. • Learning Goes On • October 8, 2020 Edition

Equitable and rigorous education today remains a challenge for teaching unique populations, including English learner students. Challenges range from technology access and connectivity, to designing instructional plans that meet the individual needs of English learner students via distance learning. However, the disruption of traditional education due to COVID-19 can also offer some unexpected benefits.

Strategies to support students’ language and literacy development during remote and hybrid learning

  • Staying in contact with students should be a major priority: Teachers should connect via phone, text or live video with students on a routine basis to provide support or necessary instruction. Many students rely on school as a place of stability. Distance can be challenging for many of them. Teachers should ensure that they are always communicating with their students and families in a language they can understand. Educators can set up consistent meetings, office hours, or check-in one-on-one as necessary. Focus on maintaining supportive relationships with students and their families, beyond instructional content.
  • Consider multiple ways to make content interactive and engaging: Teachers can provide individualized learning experiences utilizing accessible materials and multiple modalities. This could include PowerPoint, YouTube, photos and illustrations, sentence strips, a small whiteboard, and common household items. Develop projects that provide differentiated options for students and families, to foster engagement, creativity, and build on student strengths. Design tasks that focus on the connecting next steps for growth related to students’ English language development.
  • Identify relevant materials to send home: This can include student textbooks, worksheets and any aids they may need to do their work. Educators should determine if the current curriculum has a digital integrated or designated EL component and prioritize using this curriculum (TNTP, 2020). Provide families with multilingual prompts for conversations they can have with their students about what they are learning (Skibbins, 2020). Ongoing conversations with families should involve educators setting time aside to communicate with them and gathering constructive feedback so that they can continue to refine their students’ learning experiences (Robertson, 2020).
  • Educators should be proficient in online tools: An important step for helping students learn remotely is to understand how different virtual tools and resources can assist learning, especially when not all students necessarily understand how to use these programs on their own. The focus should be on how tools can best support teaching and learning, not on the tools themselves (Robertson, 2020).

Sample activities for English learner students and teachers in virtual learning environments

  • Have students upload a video of themselves reading a book to the classroom space or film themselves explaining how they solved a math problem. The teacher then responds with a short feedback video with comments or questions from the class.
  • Have students interview a family member and create a presentation to share. Students can present the content in both English and in their home language, including photos or videos from the family member. Classmates can comment in both English and the student’s home language.

Strategies for teachers of English learners during hybrid or remote learning

  • Create presentations in multiple languages using captions or an online translation tool. Allow students to respond orally or in writing.
  • Produce a Google Slides presentation with visuals on a content topic and include resource links for students to use to learn more about the topic and add to the subject within a shared document. Alternatively, assign students a topic related to the unit and then get together with their peers to create a group presentation to share with the class.

Additionally, some parents may not have the technological proficiency that would enable them to easily communicate with their student’s teachers. Staying in touch will require patience, persistence, and understanding. Use this time as an opportunity to find multiple ways of communicating with parents of your English learner students to maximize learning during this time of remote instruction. Teachers, students and families are in this together!


Distance Learning for ELLs: Planning Instruction, by Kristina Robertson, Colorín Colorado

6 Key Considerations for Supporting English Learners with Distance Learning, by Heather Skibbins, SEAL

Supporting Multilingual Learners (MLLs)/English Language Learners (ELLs) During the COVID-19 Shutdown, TNTP

IDRA Supplemental Bilingual Early Childhood Curriculum – Semillitas de Aprendizaje offers a unique bilingual set of early childhood materials.The classroom set includes:

  • Teacher Guide (Manual de Maestro)
  • 10 Big Books (abridged)
  • 10 Storybooks (unabridged)
  • 15 Math Books
  • 20 Cartitas – Letters Home, with activities related the Semillitas de Aprendizaje stories
  • Storytelling & Storyreading Videos DVD

See video clips from the DVD with examples of storytelling in Spanish and story reading in English for one of the 10 Semillitas de Aprendizaje stories.

Learn more about IDRA’s Semillitas de Aprendizaje curriculum including sample classroom lessons and scope and sequence