Distance Learning: Eduardo’s Perspective

June 3, 2020

As schools transition into the Fall and reflect upon what worked and what needs to be revised given their experience with distance learning, it is vital to consider the experience of all stakeholders during remote instruction. It is often the case that the perspectives of English Learners themselves are overlooked, despite the clear need to center in their experiences when designing instructional materials and resources.

In the previous blog by ELSF, Dr. Linda Carstens provides schools with some guiding questions to consider when reflecting upon the year. In this blog, ELSF asks an EL student (Eduardo M.) about his experience with distance learning. Eduardo is a California high school student who grew up in a small town in Guatemala. This is Eduardo’s second year in the United States, so up until this point, Eduardo has been designated as a “Newcomer” in his district. As is the case with many EL students, Eduardo’s family came to the United States for more money and a better life. Eduardo’s responses are illuminating and provide all readers with an important window into the experience of English Learner students. 

A note from the Editor: I asked Eduardo to respond to my prompts and compose his answers in English using Google Docs. After Eduardo submitted his work, I decided to just focus on light copy-editing of his writing for punctuation and capitalization. Below you will find Eduardo’s reflections in his own words.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you want other people to know about you? What are your goals for your education, and what do you hope to learn when you are in school? What is it like speaking a different language at home than most of your teachers?

I am a calm person, with an average sense of humor. I love nature and I have very clear goals.

My goal for now is to improve my language and knowledge of the English language. At school, I hope to learn more about my favorite course “Graphic Design.” Every time I take that class it makes me happy and I never get bored. It is an indescribable experience. I know that this is the career I want to study for college and university.

It is really frustrating to speak another language that I am not used to, since at school it is difficult for me to speak with my classmates. That is why I do not have close friends at school. As for some teachers, I love the way in which they treat me. They always look for a way to help me to continue with my studies. An example of this is that sometimes my teachers do me the favor of translating assignments for me or give me extra time to read the book when everyone finishes. Sometimes they make me take an open book exam because they know that I am not very good in the English language. It is something completely beautiful from them and that is why I love being a student of theirs.

My goal for now is to improve my language and knowledge of the English language. At school, I hope to learn more about my favorite course “Graphic Design.” Every time I take that class it makes me happy and I never get bored. It is an indescribable experience. I know that this is the career I want to study for college and university.

Describe your family’s transition to distance learning. What were some surprises, benefits, or difficulties that you faced along the way? What is an average day like for you, during distance learning? How have your school and your teachers supported you during this time?

During these 2 months of quarantine, some difficulties that we had to go through was the lack of work, as we were locked up for so long. Sometimes we suffered from "depression" and those things. However, thanks to my dad who was still working in a company, we were able to live comfortably.

Something that surprises me during the quarantine is that I was able to relate more to my older brothers. We took advantage of the time to do small jobs, play and clean constantly. It was something that I had never done with them, and thanks to that, now we are more united than we used to be.

Distance learning: I feel that it is a bit empty. It feels like I'm not really taking classes. I don't know if I'm the only one who feels that or if it's because I haven't done distance learning before. For me to carry out the tasks of my respective classes, first I look for a quiet place where no one can disturb me, and if I have questions about these tasks, I always ask my teachers for help. Sometimes they take time to respond but I don't blame them. Most likely, they are receiving several messages day by day. I also make sure to read the directions in each assignment. That way I can make sure to deliver a complete work to my teachers.

All classes are complicated, especially the "Criminal Law" class that contains a wide variety of words that are unknown to me. That class was always difficult for me and even more so in this distance learning. When it was announced that the school was "temporarily closed" and other means of teaching were used, I disagreed a bit because I really loved going to school. I did not understand why my classmates were happy. Since then I have always wanted the quarantine to end and sadly it still continues.

The only thing I can say is that only 3 of my teachers have helped me during these two months. The help they offered me was to explain the procedure of how to make my assignments, but I only managed to understand 1 and they said the same thing that appeared in the computer.

Imagine that you are the “new boss” of distance learning at your school. You can completely reimagine what distance learning education will look like next year. What would you do? 

I would make teachers and students have classes through video calls at a time accessible to all students, and make classes last at least 1 hour. Basically it is like the same system at school (4 classes a day except Wednesday), lunch time and among others. Help will also be provided to students who do not have the necessary resources, and whoever wants to be smart when breaking the rules will be expelled from online learning. Ok no, ignore that last one, it is just humor...

Questions for Districts 

  • What do Eduardo’s responses reveal to you about the needs of EL students during distance learning?
  • What surprised you? 
  • What sounded familiar?
  • How might you use these insights to plan future distance learning supports for EL students?
  • If you have not yet interviewed EL students about their experiences with distance learning, what questions would you ask?

For a more in-depth planning toolkit that focuses on the needs of stakeholders, you can also consider the associated materials from the “Finishing the Unfinished: Tools to Create an Equitable Learning Recovery Plan” webinar by Pivot Learning and UnboundEd.

Colette Kang is an Instructional Coach for grades 6-12 with the Oakland Unified School District where she coaches teachers and collaborates with school leaders to ensure that all students are demonstrating College and Career Readiness. During her tenure as an educator, Colette has worked for public and private schools in the Bay Area and Seattle as a teacher of English Language Arts, Secondary Mathematics, and English Language Development. Colette specializes in developing English Learners' sense of belonging, disciplinary language, and critical thinking skills across content areas. Colette received her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Washington and completed her M.A. in Education with an Emphasis in Teaching at Mills College, where she received the “Social Justice Research Award” from the Mills faculty for her work on developing math confidence with girls, students of color, and English Learners. Colette originally hails from San Francisco and now lives in Hayward, CA.


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