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Using Multilingual Resources to Support English Learners’ Remote Learning

Remote Learning

Emerging Challenges in Supporting Remote Learning for English Learners

Right now, many schools are deep into remote learning strategies. However, many educators and leaders are struggling to keep English dominant students academically active, not to mention the millions of students who speak a language other than English as their dominant language. The digital divide coupled with language barriers to accessing learning resources leave many at an extreme disadvantage during the Coronavirus pandemic. To better understand the diversity of ELs and the barriers to learning they may face, please read these vignettes provided by Colorín Colorado.

ELSF has been surveying educators and administrators who serve ELs to understand the impact of COVID-19, and the results reveal some important barriers:

  • Maintaining contact with students and families
  • Providing access to internet, learning materials, and technology platforms
  • Adapting materials for use in remote learning environments
  • Overcoming language barriers to help student comprehension of content
  • Designing opportunities for interaction and oral language development
  • Using formative assessment to guide student learning, including student language development

Districts and communities are being creative in their innovations to overcome these hurdles. Schools are delivering laptops to families, finding ways to distribute learning packets, collaborating with EL instructors and leaders to deliver content instruction, providing step-by-step instructions to families for accessing technology, and doing everything they can to keep students and families supported and connected. However, the disparity in access to resources threatens to exacerbate the opportunity gap. Long-term solutions should be strategically planned for now so that school districts and content providers are prepared to effectively support EL learning during extended school closures. The good news is that innovative solutions that center on the experiences of English Learners will provide better learning opportunities for ALL students.

As schools and districts work to put coherent instructional plans in place, there is and will continue to be a need to support families with learning at home. Ideally, to support home learning, coherent, quality curricula and assignments would be in multiple languages. In the meantime, districts and schools should encourage families and students to use freely available, quality home language content to support interim learning. In the short term, multilingual resources can address some of the current access to learning issues so that our students are able to stay academically active and the opportunity gap does not continue to grow.

This guidance and the resources that follow are provided to help families reinforce content learning in the home language. We do not endorse replacing a coherent core curriculum with these or any other resources. Ideally, core curriculum will include multilingual content and home resources, but when this is not available, educators should consider supplementing so that students stay academically active.

Emerging Best Practices for Leveraging Home Languages for Remote Learning

Communication and Support for Families

Understand each families’ needs and preferences for support in their home language. Educators and educational leaders may already have information about students’ and families language and literacy preferences, or they may ask strategic questions when checking in with families to provide the necessary learning resources. Not all students have strong academic literacy skills in their first language, so this should be a supplement rather than a replacement for information in English. Home language support should also be in addition to designing scaffolding for remote English instruction. In some cases, this scaffolding may be as simple as having a bilingual staff member or a bilingual volunteer record a short message outlining the learning goals and activities for each week, and providing families with optional discussion prompts to use in the home language. In addition, having bilingual staff members or volunteers regularly connecting with families to understand what additional supports are needed is recommended.

Action steps:

  • Educators can mine data from district home language surveys, English Language Proficiency assessments, and any other information they’ve gathered about families’ languages, educational backgrounds, literacy levels and cultures so that appropriate support is provided for at-home learning..
  • Share family and learner data with other staff and teachers that are supporting home learning.
  • Locate bilingual/multilingual community members that can serve as family liaisons to gather information about language and culture, and to help support home learning.
  • Have multilingual staff/volunteers record or provide written instructions for families in their home languages.
  • Multilingual staff / volunteers can work closely with content teachers to provide thought partnership about linguistic demands of remote learning when planning at-home learning activities.

Take steps to ensure access to devices and the internet. Ideally, districts support families with finding access to technology, including devices and the internet. Some families will also have limited experience with technology or online platforms, so multilingual instructions will go a long way in supporting access.

Action steps:

Oral representation through audio and video recordings are important for students whose home language does not have a written form, as well as families who may use the home language for listening and speaking versus reading and writing.

Action Steps:

  • Have bilingual staff / volunteers record instructions for families in their home languages.
  • Locate videos that build knowledge / skills about content in the home language. Use multilingual staff / volunteers to vet home language resources for quality.

Coordinate the programs offered and processes used for accessing information and participating in learning. Streamline protocols for remote participation to create consistency across schools and classes wherever possible. Minimize the amount of apps and processes that students and families need to learn to access information.

Action Steps:

  • Find a simple and easy way for families and students to communicate to schools where they are coming up against roadblocks.
  • Identify any gaps in home access to platforms, apps, and other online resources and find solutions to access.
  • Develop just-in-time support, including clear directions and tutorials, based on feedback from families. (Find instructions for teaching from home in many home languages at Teach From Home)
  • Students who have not participated in remote learning on learning platforms may be unaware of the need to establish their own social presence and engage in discussions digitally. Synchronous discussions can be held via district/school-supported technology, such as web conferencing tools, or asynchronous discussions and collaborations can be done through school-supported discussion tools, wikis, Google docs, or software such as Voice Thread. Provide guidance on how to engage in class.

Access to Grade Level Content

Multilingual resources by grade level, standard or theme. Where possible, provide multilingual resources that support quality, grade-level learning, and provide guidance to educators and families in helping students learn content. Scaffold any instruction so that students can understand concepts in those materials and provide explicit directions for tasks or assignments.

Action Steps:

  • Find out if your core curriculum offers supplementary resources or guidance in the home languages of your students.
  • Find other resources that offer standards-based activities, problem sets, or grade-level content in the home languages of your students.
  • Provide home language guidance for families to foster their understanding of the curriculum, goals, and activities. Provide guidance on how to support their students’ learning (e.g. questions to ask as students are reading texts; brainstorming strategies to use with their children; explaining the purpose of scaffolds such as graphic organizers, etc).
  • Create opportunities for students to participate in grade-level classes and demonstrate their thinking through writing text, recording audio, taking video and photographs, and screen-casting.

Create Conditions for Academic Home Language Development Remotely

Respect, Affirm, and Provide Guidance on Using Home Languages as Rich Resources for Home Learning. Our goal is for English learners to be successful in learning English and content in English. However, multilingualism should be considered a rich asset for learning in school or at home, and especially celebrated during this moment when ELs may have less access to the content being provided by schools. Teachers can be given skills during training for remote learning to work with culturally and linguistically diverse families to support learning at home in the home language.

Action Steps:

  • Educators can be trained in and offer students and families active and collaborative ways to learn that differ from traditional classroom modalities.
  • Schools can foster collaboration and sharing of resources within each building as well as across the district.
  • Learning buddies who speak the same home language can be support each other in learning content.

Thematic learning to encourage depth of knowledge. Encourage thematic learning at home so that both language development and content learning can be reinforced and built upon. Thematic learning might include an exploration of a topic from multiple perspectives such as science, literature and history. Stories and legends from other cultures and in other languages can be integrated into thematic learning. This type of learning will help to foster simultaneous academic and language development.

Action Steps:

  • Provide families with multilingual instructions for using search engines to explore themes effectively.
  • Provide a list of themes and accompanying activities that students and their families could learn about together.
  • Encourage learners and families to discover the knowledge that is available to them outside of school, not just from school books or teachers. This also means encouraging them to take on a project based on a specific theme and to engage in various literacy activities to learn about and convey knowledge about that theme. (See Smithsonian’s Learning Lab for STEM activities)
  • Find content that will support learning and curate a resource list for each of the languages in your school or district, and when it doesn’t exist, leverage bilingual staff to create content.

Student Interest and Family Funds of Knowledge

Authentic voice / authors in home language. Where possible, provide texts written in the home language of the students as opposed to translated materials, so that students can access authentic examples of their language and so that various cultural perspectives on issues or ideas can be validated. These texts should be age-appropriate and match the students’ linguistic levels.

Action Steps:

Mining student curiosity to support home learning. Student interest can be a major driver for learning. If kids’ curiosity is activated and teachers provide multilingual avenues to help them explore what they are curious about, powerful learning experiences can be remotely facilitated. Teachers can ask families and students about what they would like to learn about during this time. Family members may have innovative ideas about learning that students can do at home in a bi/multilingual context. Multilingual project-based learning, if organized well, can get kids excited about remote learning at home and keep those academic neurons firing.

Action Steps:

  • Provide families with training and guidance on distance learning practices in their home language.
  • Ask families and learners about their interests and knowledge and encourage the multilingual exploration of themes that build on their current knowledge. (e.g. Anne Frank Museum learning resources in multiple languages)

Publicly available cultural resources in the home language. Virtual field trips, songs and rhymes, movies and documentaries can be used to explore culture, history, and language.

Action Steps:

Supplementary Resources for Supporting EL Interim Learning

We have assembled a number of multilingual supplemental resources teachers and students may find useful in the immediate transition to remote learning. This list includes free, web-based supplemental materials that are easily accessible to families. In the chart below, subjects are listed as either reading, math, or student-directed; these resources allow students and their families to explore and direct their learning according to the grade-level content they need to learn or by their own interests. Families should be provided with explicit instructions for accessing and using these resources at home and overall encouragement to spark their children's learning.

These resources should not replace core instructional content. We strongly encourage leaders to provide coherent approaches to remote learning and teaching for all students whenever possible, and to create the conditions for all students to access the core curriculum remotely. These resources are supplemental and are intended to support student access to core instruction and learning opportunities that will advance EL student learning while at home.

The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not reflect the opinions or policies of ELSF. Listings of specific curricula, programs, or products should not imply endorsement. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages and the National Association for Bilingual Education have also provided a number of multilingual resources for students, parents, and educators.

Standards-Based Content Learning

  • Reading Rockets - Literacy activities for families - documents in Spanish & English; ELA K-6, Spanish. Written especially for parents, provides monthly tips for raising strong readers and writers.
  • Common Lit Spanish Library. ELA 3-12. Spanish. Free web-based resource that includes numerous texts and passages in Spanish intended to help teachers scaffold literacy instruction.
  • Biblioteca Nacional de Manipuladores Virtuales. Math K-12. English, Spanish. A library of interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials, mostly in the form of Java applets, for mathematics instruction in English and Spanish from Utah State University.
  • MLC Bridges Interactive Vocabulary Cards. Math K-5. Spanish. Bilingual resource for math vocabulary, structured as interactive cards.
  • MLC Bridges Practice Books. Math K-5. Spanish. Practice books for K-5 Math in English and Spanish
  • MLC Bridges Supplemental Materials. Math K-5. Spanish. Learning to Think Mathematically with the Rekenrek.
  • MLC Bridges Supplemental Materials. Math K-5. Spanish. Learning to Think Mathematically with the NumberLine.
  • Adaptive Curriculum Math. Math 6-12. Spanish. Adaptive Curriculum has a variety of dynamic Activity Objects that are available in both Spanish and English. Fully standards aligned, Spanish versions of math and science Activity Objects give teachers the option to provide supplemental instruction to students who need it.
  • CK-12 Flexbooks. Math and Science K-12. Spanish. CK-12 FlexBooks are fully customizable, digital textbooks which offer content for students and teachers. Viewable on Chromebooks, laptops, tablets, smartphones or desktops, FlexBooks are standards-aligned and ready to be localized to engage students.
  • Smithsonian Learning Lab ¡Descubra!. Science 2-12. Spanish. This collection features bilingual Create-It! STEM activities from ¡Descubra!, the Smithsonian Latino Center's national public education program for kids, teens, and families. These activities can be recreated with materials found at a local grocery or hardware store at home or in the classroom. These bilingual resources can serve teachers in grades 2-5, 6-8, and high school science.
  • Adaptive Curriculum Science. Science 6-12. Spanish. Adaptive Curriculum has a variety of dynamic Activity Objects that are available in both Spanish and English. Fully standards aligned, Spanish versions of math and science Activity Objects give teachers the option to provide supplemental instruction to students who need it.
  • Imagine Learning Educational Videos. ELA and Math K-5. Spanish. On this channel, we share fun and educational content for kids, videos on topics in education, and much more!
  • El Mundo Divertido de Peep. ELA, Math, and Science PK-1. Spanish. Videos and games starring the characters of the TV show Peep and the Big Wide World. Learn about science and math in Spanish or English; some content aligned to ELA, math, or science standards.
  • PBS Learning. ELA, Math, and Science PK-12. Spanish, French, Chinese, German, and Italian. This website is a highly interactive multilingual site that engages preK-12 in real-world grade-level ELA, science, math, STEM and STEAM. Students, teachers can choose grade level, subject matter, and language (English, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, French, etc.) to find cognitively-demanding, interesting, relevant, and enjoyable learning resources and interactive lessons that include support materials. https://florida.pbslearningmedia.org/search/?q=real-world
  • Khan Academy. ELA, Math, and Science PK-12. Over 30 languages. Lessons in a wide range of subjects. Scroll down to "Change Language" in the bottom-left corner of a lesson page, and have your child try a subject in their native language before tackling it in English.

Student Interest Driven Learning

  • Sésamo. Student Directed PK-2. Spanish and Portuguese. Fun videos, games, art projects, and printable activities for preschoolers in Spanish and English.
  • Canticos Learning Hub. Student Directed PK-2. Spanish. Canticos combines the power of nursery rhymes with the benefits of bilingualism to provide your child with an innovative learning experience in English and Spanish. Whether you want your child to connect with their roots or give them an edge by adding another language to their learning, Canticos uses the power of nursery rhymes to introduce kids to a second language while also teaching early literacy and math concepts, to build social skills through singing and dancing, and to create cross-generational bonds through the preservation of these commonly known songs.
  • Unite for Literacy. Student Directed PK-2. Over 40 languages. This is a wonderful resource for beginner language learners who need listening practice. The books introduce English vocabulary and simple sentence structures about common everyday topics through simple stories as well as questions and answers. The website will translate the books into multiple languages.
  • New York Public Library At Home Story Guides. Student Directed K-2. Spanish. Our At Home Storytime guides allow you to conduct your own storytime from home! We know that families may have limited access to materials, which is why these guides are adaptable, and designed to meet you and your family right where you are. We used common household materials, and linked to virtual prerecorded storytimes and songs. Each of the following storytimes can be done at home by anyone. We encourage you to find a time to be together and participate in this storytime experience as a family. Each At Home Storytime guide follows a theme, and consists of songs with video links, video read alouds (or the option to use a book from your home library), plus two to three activities for you to try at home. We have three guides in Spanish.
  • Britannica Escolar. Student Directed PK-12. Spanish. Accurate and age-appropriate content in Spanish for native Spanish speakers, bilingual students, and students learning Spanish.
  • BBC Learning English. Student Directed PK-2. English. This is a series of animated short stories to help children learn English with their parents. Each story has a downloadable transcript and an activities pack to help children explore and use the language.
  • Red Bilingüe Mex-US. Student Directed 1-12. A collection of hundreds of online, authentic Spanish language educational materials for language teachers across the United States, including digital textbooks, movies, videos, audio clips, and more.
  • BBC 6-minute English. Student-Directed 6-12. English. Listen to this weekly podcast that’ll bolster your vocabulary while filling your head with fascinating cultural and historical info. Download the guide to follow along. Many of these videos provide interesting content knowledge and can be used as a jumping off point for a student-interest driven project.

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