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Transitioning to At-Home Education for English Learner Students Six Tips for Teachers

Transitioning to At-Home Education for English Learner Students: Six Tips for Teachers

At-home education has become the new norm for teachers who have had to adapt to social distancing protocols. Transitioning teaching from the classroom to the virtual at-home environment has its challenges. One challenge that teachers may experience is how to effectively teach English Learners (EL) remotely. Another hurdle likely to be faced is communicating with parents or guardians of these students who may also have limited English proficiency (LEP). In this article we will go over some tips for teachers to make transitioning to an at-home learning environment easier for English learner students.

Who is an English Learner student?

English learner students, sometimes referred to as English-language learners (ELLs), are students who are unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English. Often these students come from non-English speaking homes and backgrounds. They typically require specialized or modified instruction in both the English language and in their academic courses.

Who is a person with limited English proficiency?

A person who does not speak English as their primary language and who has a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English well is considered Limited English Proficient (LEP).

Teachers’ and Educators’ obligations to EL students and LEP parents

The obligation not to discriminate based on race, color or national origin requires public schools to take affirmative steps to ensure that limited English proficient (LEP) students, now more commonly known as English Learner (EL) students or English Language Learners (ELLs), can meaningfully participate in educational programs and services, and to communicate information to LEP parents in a language they can understand.1

Tips for Improving Communication with English Learner Students in an At-Home Learning Environment

The virtual online learning environment is different from the traditional classroom. Here are tips for communicating with EL students and LEP parents in an at-home learning environment.

1. Identify the Language Needs of Your Students

Identifying the needs of English-language learners is generally a two-step process, although the exact process varies by state. First a home language survey is given, that identifies students who may need English development services based on degree of English language exposure. Secondly, an English language assessment is given, which assesses the student’s language proficiency and confirms the student’s language status.2 The Department of Education provides an English Learner Toolkit that is full of resources for identifying the needs of all English learners.

2. Learn About the Cultural Needs of Your Students

Take time to learn about the basics of where your students come from. The more you learn, the easier it may become to connect with your students. This includes learning more about their cultures, values, families, and home environments. This knowledge will help you to better support your students in the classroom and to receive more support from home, where they will be learning. Making this kind of effort shows that you respect and value each student’s culture, and can help you become successful at creating a learning environment that is engaging and accessible to a broader range of students.

3.  Translate Updated School Rules and Policies

When transitioning to a remote learning environment it is likely your school policies, student handbooks, rules, safety guidelines and disciplinary items will need to be updated. In order to make sure LEP students and family members understand newly updated rules and expectations, you will want to have these translated by a professional company. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education stipulates that, “Schools must communicate information to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand about any program, service, or activity that is called to the attention of parents who are proficient in English”.3  Therefore, you’ll want to be proactive in your translation efforts to make sure these are available in the languages that your students speak.

4. Encourage Active Learning and Collaboration

Students learn better when they engage with the material, participate in the class, and collaborate with each other. One major study found that active learning can lead to improved cognitive outcomes when compared to passive learning.4 Active learning is especially important for EL students because it gives them the ability to develop their English language skills. Since much of a student’s language learning can come from interacting with his or her peers, you will want to encourage this in the virtual classroom as much as possible. Hosting online group study sessions, encouraging the sharing of content, and actively seeking feedback are all ways to encourage collaboration with all students. Using scenarios, games and rich eLearning presentations are also ways to encourage active learning.

5. Communicate with Families Using a Professional Interpreter

Successfully transitioning students to an at-home learning environment requires effective communication with parents and guardians. Trained bilingual staff who can provide interpretation are ideal, but not all schools have them readily available. Therefore, a growing number of schools have partnered with language service providers like Language Link to get access to linguists on an as-needed basis. Such partnerships grant access to hundreds of languages that even the largest school districts could never staff for. Having accessibility to interpreters, particularly for parent-teacher conferences, is ideal for bridging the communication gap when vital discussions are needed.

6. Make Quality Integral to Your Translation Process

Having formal quality control measures in place ensures that your communications resonate with your students across all languages. If you don’t have internal resources to dedicate to quality assurance, you can turn to a language services company to meet your needs. When going this route, you’ll want to set up a workflow wherein files can be handed off for translation, and after an efficient and rigorous quality control process, you can receive back fully translated, formatted and localized documents. And because time is of the essence when transitioning to a virtual at-home learning environment, you’ll want to work with your translation vendor to be sure that they are sensitive to deadlines and can expedite work orders, so that you are able to publish communications in a timely manner. Whether you handle your quality control in-house or by way of a language services company, make sure that quality is central to your translation process.

References

1 U.S. Department of Education. “Schools’ Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents”. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/ellresources.html (accessed April 15, 2020

2 Education Commission of the States. “What methods are used to identify English language learners?” http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbquestNB2?rep=ELL1403 (accessed April 16, 2020)

3 S. Department of Education. “Information for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Parents and Guardians and for Schools and School Districts that Communicate with Them”. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/ellresources.html (accessed April 15, 2020)

4 Michel, N., Cater, J.J., III and Varela, O. (2009), Active versus passive teaching styles: An empirical study of student learning outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 20: 397-418. doi:10.1002/hrdq.20025

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