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Beginning English speakers in the time of distance learning.....

On Saturday morning, a group of us from the Membership Portal met via Zoom.  I was so excited to see people!  The group of us, from various parts of the country, first just took some time to check in and see how everyone is doing after the first week of distance teaching for most of us.  Three themes arose from that conversation. 

1.  We are all still trying to track down all of our students and figure out what distance learning means for students without internet and with a very different kind of ESL support.

2.  We are all valuing relationships and communication with students, families, and each other over everything else.

3.  We are proud of our schools and how quickly everyone came together to make the most of a very difficult situation.  Forced innovation is HARD and our schools are rising to the occasion.

With that being said, we then shared ideas for how we are trying to engage our beginning English learners in this process.  While some of the online teaching best practices are really in line with what our students need (more visuals, smaller groups, less is more mentality, ...), many teachers are still struggling with how to engage students both online and in the dreaded "packet" approach.  (I know, with no notice and no time to plan, the packet is a necessity.  I just won't ever love mass produced work, but I am embracing it for the moment as an OPTION.)

Here is our summarized list of ideas with and without tech:

  • Just talk with All students.  Include ALL.  Address ALL by name.  Repeat yourself.  A lot.  
  • Utilize the At Home BINGO board (English and Spanish) created by ELP colleagues to give parents (and you) ideas of simple household things they can do to encourage language and conversation around content.
  • Show and Tell - Ask students to share (online or with a picture) a favorite toy, book, person in their house, anything!  Simple questions such as "What color is it?" or "What's her name?" will help include your beginning English speaker.
  • Take a virtual field trip together.  What do you see?  Differentiate the questions you ask and the support you give for a response based on the student's English proficiency.
  • Utilize apps such as FlipGrid, SeeSaw, and Padlet to allow for participation by students who may not be able to join online during the "live" sessions.
  • Utilize apps such as Talking Points and What's App to communicate with parents without causing them charges for texting.
  • Record yourself with an "interactive" read aloud where students who were unable to join live may hear the story and interact after the fact.  Save files on a flash drive for those without internet.
  • Create sight word and letter/sound flashcard videos for the down times.
  • Sequence images and record yourself telling the story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Write the story if you can.  Label what you see in the pictures.
  • Use an image to spark a conversation and begin developing language and literacy.  Check out my Summit presentation with some ideas.

Today, I am sitting at my computer with Google Meet open all day.  My high schoolers are a mix of internet access and not.  I put the message out in email, text, word of mouth, that I will be here.  Meet me, call me, text me, whatever.  I keep reminding them.  I'm hopeful they will get the message and get to work.  :)

The same is true for you!  Please reach out if you need to brainstorm!  We are here for you.  [email protected]

Special thanks to Jamie Lewinski who joined in on our call Saturday and gave me permission to share the website she is creating to support educators during this crazy time.  THANK YOU JAMIE!!!

For other strategies that may lend themselves to online learning, please visit our FREE Training page.


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