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.
Brenda Mendoza’s shared Guest Post: E-Learning for English Language Learners during Covid-19.
Gwendolyn Quadri’s wrote Guest Post: Teaching Newcomers Via Remote Learning.
Today, it’s Ieva Grauslys’ turn…..
Ieva Grauslys has a website where she helps busy ESL teachers beat the overwhelm of teaching beginner English learners with ready-made resources, actionable tips and meaningful coaching.
The havoc-wreaking and panic-causing COVID-19 brought an interesting change in the way we teach. Teachers are reeling from both an overload of information and lack of it at the same time. And while distance teaching of all students is challenging, figuring out a way to work with ELLs – at all their language proficiency, socioeconomic, motivational and emotional levels – adds a few more layers to this challenge.
BUT, we are not ELL teachers for nothing.
Now with the first week of distance teaching behind me, here are some things that have worked well, some that are in progress and the plans for the coming week.
Note: I am an itinerant teacher, i.e. I work with multiple grade levels during the day and the week. During this time, I work with students in grades 6-12 while my teaching partner on grades K-5.
Before I dive in, I wanted to say that it is exhausting and overwhelming. There is no other way around it. But allowing yourself to make mistakes, taking one step at a time and finding a way to connect with your kids will help you through this. Check out this blog post about 5 steps to begin distance learning with your English learners.
What worked. Grades 9-12
Planning for the week
I created a table with what we will do during the five days of the week and posted it inside the google classroom for my high schoolers.
I color-coded it and made it look like so:
I also recorded a short video for them where I welcomed them to our virtual classroom and drew their attention to the expectations and the said schedule.
Sometimes students don’t think to go back to the weekly plan. And you will likely tweak the plan throughout the week.
Therefore, I have created a slide or two with the “virtual agenda” and recorded myself (1-2 minutes max) telling them what is expected for the day or several.
These can take a simple form of just asking a question in Google Classroom (you can do it right on your stream), having them respond to a writing prompt (higher proficiency), asking them to answer concrete questions in simple full sentences using a word bank (lower proficiency level), or sending a survey (I created one in Google Forms).
These allow you to see who has logged in and checked the work as well as take the general “temperature” of what is going on in your virtual classroom.
I have multiple levels of language proficiency in my classroom. Some need much more help than others and not being able to communicate with them “live” for a few days was challenging.
Once our district approved Google Meet for use with the students, it made the situation much more manageable.
- I created an event in the calendar and invited students to join by the class
- This was not required as I was not entirely sure how it would work but most students joined
What worked in grades 6-8
- A short video of me welcoming students into the google classroom and asking them to comment as a way of checking in was great.
- A Google Doc with some questions that I wanted them to respond to. For example: what was challenging today? What do you think would help you?
- For beginner level students, I asked the same questions but provided a sentence frame.
- Emailing students directly has also worked. I did have to tell them that I am not looking for any punctuation or correct sentence structure in their emails and that all I want is to connect with them and know that they are okay. This seemed to take the pressure off:)
What is in progress
I am still trying to figure out how to communicate clearly in a way that they all would check the information. I have emailed them in the morning to remind them what is coming up, I have also posted the same info in google classroom, and use the Remind app to text them reminders.
I am learning to slow down and give an assignment a longer period of time to be completed. And I am also learning to be okay with that.
For this upcoming week here are some things that I am planning to implement:
- Set up office hours for Google Meets with my high school students so they know when we can connect
- Continue to collaborate with classroom teachers via chats, emails, etc. and come up with a reasonable expectation for a beginner ELL student in their class.
How we all feel
Most of my students have expressed that they enjoy self-paced learning. However, we are all exhausted and out of our depths. When we first connected via Google Meets, I could almost feel a collective sigh of relief from all of us. Connection – whatever form it takes – is key.