6 low-tech and no-tech ways to engage ELL students

How Massachusetts educators are reaching English language learners in remote learning without electronic resources

Remote learning for English language learners doesn’t have to depend only on smartphones, tablets, computers and other electronic devices to be effective during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to strategies that schools may apply using technology, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s guidance to provide remote learning for English learners also offers six approaches that school districts can use to teach ELs remotely without relying on electronic resources.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, under Section 3115(c)(1), requires school districts to provide effective language instruction educational programs that meet the needs of English learners and to demonstrate success in increasing in English language proficiency and student academic achievement.

Local educational agencies should note that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, cannot waive the LEA’s obligation to provide a Language Instructional Educational Program to all ELs described in Non-Regulatory Guidance: English Learners and Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, 116 LRP 42105 (EDU 09/23/16), meaning that school districts are still required to provide instruction that is educationally sound and has been proven successful during the remote learning period.

Jeffrey C. Riley, Massachusetts commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, says that remote learning can encompass a wide variety of learning opportunities. “While technology can be a supportive tool, districts and schools should also consider ways that students’ learning can continue offline.”

According to MDESE’s guidance to provide remote learning for English learners, school districts may customize the recommendations for their own individual circumstances, for schools, and for individual students within them. In addition, the guidance recommends school districts work collaboratively with their schools or district-level teams to determine the specific needs of the EL population.

See below for some of the ways MDESE is guiding school districts on how to engage English learners in learning at home during the distance learning imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Journal: Teachers give students specific instructions on how to keep a journal of things they observe daily. Students can write or draw pictures depending on their English language proficiency level. Teachers encourage students who can write in their native language to write in their language.
  2. Double-entry journals: Teachers ask students to read a book on a given topic. In one column, students write what they know about the topic before they start reading the book. In the other column, they write what they learned after reading the book.
  3. Reading logs: Teachers ask students to read books that interest them and then write a report. Then teachers make specific assignments as reading activities that align with the expectations outlined in the standards for the grade level. Students have flexibility writing in English, writing in their own language, or creating posters or diagrams.
  4. Role-play: Teachers ask students to set up specific role-play scenarios in their home. They can invite siblings and parents to be part of the role-play (while ensuring that this is optional and families have a choice as to whether they participate, especially if using videoconferencing). Students “explain the experience” and what they learned, what worked, and what did not work.
  5. Turn on the subtitles: Teachers recommend a television program that is appropriate for the students’ age and learning level. Teachers ask students to watch the program with closed captioning. Students will hear the words, see the people speaking and see the text all at the same time. Ask students to write down what they heard and discuss with their teachers.
  6. Learning packets: Some districts may have designed learning packets that can be mailed home, completed by the students and reviewed or discussed with the teachers. Based upon the review of the completed packets or discussion with students, teachers tailor future learning opportunities to their students’ needs.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication.

Documents referenced here are accessible to subscribers of Special Ed Connection, also a DA sister publication. 

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