In preparing his daily lessons for his 6th-grade English Language Arts (ELA) classes, Mr. Thomas has established a routine. His steps include a review of the content standards and making a note of the language demands of the lesson. When needed, he also strategically marks places in the lesson where he will embed think-alouds or will teach vocabulary within the context of his whole or small group lessons. Now that his district has transitioned to remote teaching, he is relegated to uploading assignments to an online platform or providing a weekly printed packet for students to complete. At the forefront of his mind is how one of his most eager students, Fatima, an intermediate EL, will be able to access the novel they are reading as a class since she is reading significantly below grade level. He is eagerly searching for ideas for the English Learners in his classes who range from the newcomer to advanced stages of English language proficiency.
Whether teaching students face to face or in a virtual environment, all teachers of ELs aim to design their daily lessons in a way that students can access the material taught. The guidelines developed by ELSF, used by both educators and content developers, provide "the how" of EL supports within the context of curricular materials. The areas of focus within the ELA and mathematics guidelines specify that a critical component to meeting the needs of ELs includes sustained language and content support and scaffolding and supports for the simultaneous development. As school districts across the nation transition to remote learning, both educators and content developers are searching for ways to keep learning at the core while providing meaningful opportunities that meet the unique needs of ELs.
According to the English Learners Success Forum (ELSF) Strategies and Needs April 2020 teacher survey, 80% of respondents are adapting their existing curriculum for distance learning. Additionally, 86% are providing instruction and assignments to their ELs that are aligned to grade-level standards. Historically, ELs have not always had access to grade-level materials and instruction; it is of great significance that we highlight the large percentage of respondents who are working to provide access to grade-level material. When asked what obstacles ELs face in accessing grade-level rigorous curricular materials, a theme emerged among the responses—teachers are unsure of how to deliver language scaffolds in a virtual environment. This is Mr. Thomas’ dilemma.
Regardless of the delivery method of instruction, to ensure English Learners access to grade-level concepts and continued development of language skills, materials must scaffold instruction appropriately. By tapping into students' backgrounds and dominant language or by allowing multiple opportunities to engage in content at different levels of complexity, teachers can begin to meet the needs of their students.
In the context of remote learning for English Learners, scaffolding must be evident in the online language and content instruction through the use of increased visuals, media, allowing alternative work products, and the use of digital manipulatives. These practices include online learning features teachers of ELs can embed into instruction so students can continue to access content and develop language. Consider the following practices when scaffolding for your ELs in a remote environment:
Returning to Mr. Thomas’ virtual classroom, he decided to provide some of these supports to help Fatima and other ELs access the novel. He found an online audio recording of the book that he linked to his Google Classroom; he developed a glossary for each chapter; including student friendly definitions and a visual for each word, and he created interactive Pear Deck presentations with short comprehension questions related to the themes throughout the novel. He plans to use these slides during his office hours to check for comprehension and as discussion prompts.
Over the last few weeks, since districts have moved to various distance learning models, content developers have provided a wealth of resources and access to educators and students in new ways. To support educators in providing the appropriate scaffolds for English Learners, developers can put the above-mentioned recommendations in place by:
Not only will this serve teachers' immediate needs in supporting English learners, but it will also serve to accentuate the academic language resources available throughout their platforms for all students. Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has developed a resource at the lesson level that specifies the online tools that can be used to implement the core practices that were discussed in distance learning with ELs.