Distance learning can certainly be challenging for students. Consistent access to technology and broadband services might be difficult to maintain, while other issues, such as time management and adequate engagement with classmates and teachers, may also arise and cause frustration.
For English Learners (ELs), these challenges may be even more present. Some students who are on the path to becoming proficient in English, and academic English in particular, undoubtedly benefit from the kind of in-person instruction typically associated with school.
Thankfully, however, there are many resources available today that can help bridge traditional instructional methods with remote or online learning methods.
Let’s take a look at some of these resources, which can be delivered through virtual classrooms, online tutoring, and other forms of educational technology (edtech).
ELs come from a variety of backgrounds, often with their own unique circumstances. Many emerging bilingual (or multilingual) students were born in the United States and may live in communities with reliable access to technology.
Others are new to both the United States and to this country’s public education system, meaning their need for comprehensive support and assistance may be quite high.
Either way, before building coursework around edtech, school districts will likely need to ensure that ELs have the devices and Internet service necessary to fully participate in online learning.
The needs can be considerable, encompassing devices, headsets, and WiFi service. Some school districts across the country have come up with creative ways to address these needs, according to a recent article in EdTech magazine.
Written by Micah Castelo, the article outlines various efforts that have been implemented on behalf of ELs whose schoolwork has largely moved online. Here is a quick look at some things that have been tried:
- Equip school buses with WiFi hotspots, to ensure greater internet access
- Partner with technology organizations, such as Google or Sprint, to help get devices and services in the hands of students
- Be creative and flexible when it comes to connecting students with resources, even if that means turning school parking lots into makeshift internet access points
- Communicate frequently—and in a variety of ways—with ELs and their families
Once equity and access-based concerns such as these have been addressed or at least attended to, students will then be more able to make use of the edtech resources that can expand their academic opportunities.
Here’s a hopeful point: edtech resources abound for EL students, and many of them are low-cost or perhaps entirely free.
When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, schools in most districts were immediately shut down to help prevent the spread of the virus. The school year was not over yet, of course, and so virtual classrooms became the norm.
A virtual classroom involves a teacher delivering content and providing support to students through an online delivery model, such as Google Hangouts or Zoom. Instruction can be provided through whole-class sessions or in smaller or even individual groups, depending on teacher and student preference and capability.
Rather than exist as a poor option for in-school experiences, virtual classroom settings can open up new, creative instructional methods.
A blog post on the education resource site, Edutopia, notes that teachers can record themselves conducting lessons, which can then be archived for continuous access. Instructors can also readily include videos, links, pictures, and other interactive additions.
Such additional resources “support ELLs with fun, engaging tools that help them review and build vocabulary and literacy skills,” the Edutopia post points out. Furthermore, teachers can differentiate instruction for ELs by tailoring video lessons to various groups of students, depending on the level of support needed.
For an even more comprehensive list of strategies, read through this EdTech magazine piece about the various ways teachers are working with EL students in online formats.
Supporting individual or small groups of students through tutoring can be an extension of the virtual classroom experience.
Teachers can arrange separate work sessions for students using the same whole-class platform, such as Google, Microsoft, or Zoom, or they can conduct phone or email meetings, in order to assist students from a distance.
There are also separate companies that provide one-to-one tutoring services for students, but they are typically fee-based and not yet widely available for K-12 ELs in the United States. (Varsity Tutors is currently offering free content for students, but it is not specifically geared towards ELs.)
Another emerging facet of this, however, occurs when districts purchase access to tutoring services as part of their suite of edtech resources. Here at Rosetta Stone, we offer live tutoring with our Foundations solution.
As distance learning becomes more of a reality, amid the coronavirus pandemic, virtual tutoring services will undoubtedly continue to grow. Right now, this approach to helping students is attracting interest from edtech investors, meaning more options could be available soon.
The benefit for EL students, when it comes to online tutoring, will likely come from the increased opportunity to get individualized support. Similarly, being able to practice speaking and listening skills in English through an accessible, convenient virtual tutoring option seems like another good way to help ELs gain proficiency.
Virtual learning, online support, personalized instruction, archived learning materials—all of these edtech resources have the potential to assist ELs by keeping them creatively engaged and appropriately challenged, especially as schools increasingly rely on such options. Once equity and access concerns are appropriately addressed, these tools can likely go a long way towards helping students reach their educational goals.