Editor’s Note: I’ve been publishing a series of posts – both here and at Education Week – sharing teacher’s experiences dealing with the school closure crisis.
The first post appearing here was headlined Guest Post: My School Was Closed Because Of COVID-19 & Here Is A Report About Our Online Teaching.
Eva Buyuksimkesyan shares her experience in the second, Guest Post: Teaching An Istanbul English Class Online During The Time Of Corona.
Today, it’s Brenda Mendoza’s turn...
Brenda Mendoza is a K-12 ELL specialist and an instructional coach in Illinois.
On Saturday, the state of Illinois issued a shelter in place to protect us from Covid-19. However if we are going to have a conversation about E-Learning and the possible inequities that may arise, we must focus our conversation and start with our English Language Learners. In the classroom, I provide differentiated instruction based on my students’ scores. I can reiterate how important it is to focus on what students can do in the English language. However, what happens when we have to move our individualized instruction online? That is exactly what happened this week, I was required to plan for E-learning. We also have to understand that our student’s parents are going to be affected and might not have the ability to support their children in the home.
In my work, I usually have students with many needs; refugee, newcomers, migrant, undocumented, long-term ELs, and newcomers with limited literacy in native language, and students with special needs. My task was to try to create the support all our students needed online. Our district has gone through great lengths to provide equitable opportunities for our students. Our district is 1:1; we have programs available to support all learners. However, even though we have had a repeated campaign to help families with low affordable Wi-Fi, not every family can afford the monthly cost of internet access.
It is fundamental for educators to engage English Language Learners in a learning environment that supports their culturally and linguistic needs. How was I going to do this all online? I first had to scrutinize our schedule and see how I could create a sense of normalcy online. In the morning, we have a daily check-in to see how students are feeling emotionally. It was essential to create that same support online. Creating social emotional activities online would continue to help their social emotional needs during this stressful time. English Learners may experience higher levels of anxiety and depression due to their new cultural surroundings and stressors of learning a new language. Every morning at 9 a.m. I post a check in both in English and Spanish. Students then post how they are feeling or what concerns they have for the day. The wonderful thing about Seesaw is that students can record their feelings or type their feelings in their L1 or L2. Then I post on Seesaw a stress map; a stress map is a systematic process that helps students reflect on what is causing their stress. Many times, the stress is created by situations they cannot control but giving them the opportunity to talk about it alters their day.
Another strategy was reminding students of our ASK model (The ask model is a framework that allows the teaching of attitudes, skills, and knowledge as part of the curriculum. ). What are the specific attitudes needed to be a successful member of our learning community? I use the attitudes we established together to hold them accountable for their own learning. This helped them transition into E-learning very easily. Our students felt that in order to be successful we had to focus our attitudes on being brave, curious, persevere, respect, and confidence. The skills we had to teach students were independence, resilient, empathetic, critical thinkers, and mindfulness. All are skills that they need to be successful when working independently online. I was able to differentiate ELA activities that connected to a daily five skills. The daily five included writing, independent reading, read to someone, word work, and listen to reading.
Having EPIC reading accounts for students allows me the opportunity to assign books at their reading ability. Along with having access to books at their level, I assigned through Seesaw differentiated working with word lists, differentiated graphic organizers, as well as math activities. Through these various differentiated activities, students can continue to work at their level and may try new activities that may challenge them. Another effective strategy that I implemented online was to engage ELs in culturally relevant literature. I made videos reading different types of literature and I posted them online with various questions. I posted one read-aloud a day along with some dialogue strategies to ensure students still had the ability to practice their critical thinking skills, listening skills, and their speaking skills.
In the school, I am able to provide students with individualized support. I can reiterate how important it is to focus on what students can do in their L2. However, with the sudden shift to E-learning I was required to take our content online. The positives were that I already had the provisions in place for our students to use technology to help them with their learning. I had to find ways to support their social emotional needs. I was able to support their individualize needs by scanning graphic organizers, word lists, to support their individual ELA needs; I made sure that I continued to expose them to culturally relevant literature. It is important that during this stressful time they read about characters that look and sound like them. To support instruction in math it was important to use programs that allow each student to work on what they need to be successful. Through these various activities, students can continue to work at their level and may try new challenging activities.