9 reasons synchronous classes engage English language learners

Teachers can use TikTok, music and other tools to connect with students
By: | July 22, 2020
(GettyImages/Blend Images-Stretch Photography
Tomás Galguera

Tomás Galguera

Synchronous class sessions will be key for keeping English-language learners engaged when they participate in online learning during the coming school year.

One reason: Real-time sessions better allow teachers to build community with their students, says Tomás Galguera, a professor of education in the Online MA in Educational Leadership program at Mills College in Oakland, Calif.

“Synchronous meetings are really important, especially with students for whom it would be easy to simply drift away,” Galguera says. “If you have community, if kids realize they are a part of the group, it makes it more likely students will come back to the class.”

Reason No. 2: Real-time meetings also let teachers take the important step of blurring the line between the academic and the social. This can be achieved, for example, by playing music or TikTok videos, he says.


More from DA: How K-12 educators give ELLs a boost during online learning


Reason No. 3: Teachers can also incorporate memes and other forms of multi-media that appeal to students.

Suggestions for synchronous lessons

Reason No. 4: In a lesson on wearing masks to prevent COVID, teachers, for example, could let one group of students make a presentation on TikTok and have another group use PowerPoint or GoogleSlides.

The class could then compare the two, and figure out how one type of presentation could be converted into the other platform.

“The idea of grabbing content and changing genres is a really useful exercise in terms of language development and making distinctions between the content and the form,” Galguera says.

Reason No. 5: Teachers should consider recording tutorials ahead of time that students can watch whatever they want. Teachers can also assign students to produce their own language tutorials, and the have classes edit the videos as a group.


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“Make sure you create opportunities for language development that are thoughtful and purposeful,” he says. “It shouldn’t be just talking about a chapter in the book. There are different ways of doing things with language online.”

Embracing “bilingual”

Reason No. 6: K-12 teachers should also move past the entrenched habit of siloing by only focusing one language at a time. The concept of “trans-languaging” posits that languages can be taught in tandem.

“We’ve created this notion that we can’t teach you math until a student learns English, but you can learn English while you’re learning math,” Galguera says. “But we can do away with that notion of two separate languages.”

Administrators can help by providing teachers with professional development in using social media such as TikTok and other ed tech tools that create connections with students


More from DA: Serving English learners with disabilities online this fall


Reason No. 7: During a live session, teachers can use some of the time to break students into smaller groups. They should check into these groups not to instruct, but to observe whether students understand the topics they are working on, Galguera says.

Reason No. 8: Teachers can also use some of the time to hold office hours for meetings with individual students.

Reason No. 9: Galguera also says he would like to see schools stop using labels such as English-language learner that emphasize a students deficiency.

“We have in our country this monolingual norm that says if you don’t speak our language you’re deficient,” he says.”Let’s just call these students them bilingual.”

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