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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Helping ELLs Succeed in Distance Learning

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 15, 2020 6 min read
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(This is Part Five in an ongoing series responding to specific teacher questions related to remote learning. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, and Part Four here.)

Note: In addition to a recent 11-part series and video offering advice to educators making the transition to remote learning, and a video offering advice to parents (along many more upcoming related posts—look for a multipart series at the end of this month in which both teachers and students will be reflecting on their first five weeks of distance learning), I’ve begun a series of short posts responding to specific questions from readers.

Part One dealt with Overcoming Apathy in Remote Teaching.

Part Two was on Five Ways to Boost Student Participation in Remote Learning.

Part Three shared Strategies to Support Some of Our Most Vulnerable Students Through Distance Learning.

Part Four focused on Four Ways to Help Students Feel Intrinsically Motivated to Do Distance Learning.

Today’s question comes from Lynn Fuller:

I’m concerned about English-language learners misunderstanding directions and not having a good way to help them. They may not turn in work because they don’t know what to do. This happens often in school but can be fixed by walking by and checking in. What can I do?

Innovating and Connecting is Communicating ...

Sarah Said currently leads a multilingual learning program in an EL education school in a suburb 30 miles west of Chicago:

Yes, we worry about our language-learners struggling with directions via distance learnings. It’s difficult when we can’t walk over to a desk and redirect a student’s interpretation of our assignment. What do we do? It’s like taking a puzzle piece and flipping it around multiple times until you figure out the right fit. Yes, that’s what we need to do, we need to think and innovate until we can connect with our students. That’s how we can communicate.

In these times, understanding the teacher’s instructions is not going to be easy for many students, not just your language-learners. This post will give you some tips and tricks that will help you better innovate and connect for communicating with students about the directions of your assignments from a distance.

Catch Their Attention

Whether you are using technology to deliver instruction or you are having to send paper materials, you still need to find a way to connect with students by catching their attention—just like you would need to in the classroom. A handout with a bitmoji of you doing a silly dance can go a long way. ... But really, when the presentation of the material is attractive, not too busy with a thousand fonts and graphics, and interesting, a student is more likely to attempt to read it. It’s kind of like being in the classroom and having to find a way to relate to them in person. Now, you have to do it from a distance. So, whether it’s a Google slide or handout, make it look like something that they would want to read at their age level. It’s a way of connecting with them. If they want to look at it, they will want to read it.

Make Sure You Are Communicating the End Goal to Your Assignments

As you would in a classroom, you still need to have targets and objectives of what you want students to achieve within your assignments. Find a way, either in pictures or video, to break down these targets for them. If students understand the purpose of the work you are giving them, it will give them a clearer vision of the expectations of them. This still needs to be conveyed from a distance.

Watch Your Language Usage

Whether you are writing a document or creating videos of your instruction, use language that you know your students will understand. If you have to use an academic word that your students may not know within directions, you need to still utilize comprehensible input by explaining what these terms mean within their social language. If in a video, you can use Total Physical Response (TPR) in order to convey meaning. On paper, use visuals or simple examples to explain the contents of the directions. If students are literate in their native language, do what you can to support native- language directions in their home language. Technology may not be perfect, but it’s better than not having anything.

Model... Model... Model

Whether it is done by paper example, on Seesaw through a series of photos, through a Zoom screen share, or a video recording, you still need to model how to complete the assignment. Modeling is critical when you are teaching from a distance, more than it is in person. A Zoom chat is ideal for practicing and applying content with students. Using screen-share features and allowing them to complete content with you is ideal. However, if you don’t have this resource at hand, you can text photos of examples through the Talking Points app or make a phone call.

Be There Emotionally ...

Through Zoom casts of support I have given multilingual students over these days and family story night Zoom casts I do every Thursday, I have seen inside more people’s houses ever than within my 17-year career. I’ve gotten to know my students and their families more this way. Through those connections, I have been able to academically and emotionally support students and families. When students know that you will be “there” to answer questions and guide them through the work they are completing at home, they are more likely to try to reach you to ask questions. Knowing that you are “there” to help gives them the confidence to ask for help. Empathy will go a long way with supporting students academically.

Thanks to Lynn for her question and to Sarah for her answer!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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