Remote ESL Learning
Written by a Mandy Wade, a ReadTheory user, and a high-school ESL teacher.
Teachers have always been a portion of the population to rise to meet any challenge. The current COVID-19 crisis may prove to be this generation’s great obstacle. What other group has found itself forced to convert to working and instructing others online within the time span of a few days? We adapt. We are flexible. And we will prove our value as we overcome this challenge. This is our time to shine.
Teachers must see the silver lining to provide a positive environment in a time of fear. Distance learning is the perfect opportunity for individualized learning for students, specifically some of the most at-risk — English Learners.
This is a chance to offer a completely personalized assignment just to meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups of students. And most importantly, teachers have a chance to make learning FUN!
Remote Learning Tools (Scoring without being Boring)
As teachers work to overcome distance and time to keep students engaged and connected to the learning process, it becomes a perfect time to try out new, fun ways to learn. The student that was sleepy or always on their smartphone during class previously will be even more likely to feel that temptation when the teacher is not standing right in front of them. Make learning fun — not frightening!
- Use ReadTheory’s knowledge points to create a reading challenge. The student with the most points at the end of a week can earn a small prize or treat mailed to their house, or maybe an e-gift card to a local business. The best part of this is that by using ReadTheory’s learning management tracking, all of the tallying of points is done automatically. More tips on how to use ReadTheory for remote learning.
- Kahoot! Is a good way to use interactive games via distance learning. Students can compete on thousands of different topics either in individual challenges or in real-time games through a streaming video chat. By entering a topic and the acronym ESL, teachers can find many content area challenges designed for English Learners, such as this one of mine on the Solar System.
- Video diaries can also be fun. Students can use a tablet or smartphone to create their own vlog about their experiences learning at home. These can be uploaded to a Canvas or Google Classroom page, or through a private YouTube link. The vlogs can be about a specific topic or just general experiences. The important idea is to keep the students practicing speaking skills in English that might go unused for weeks at a time.
- Assign students to a picture scavenger hunt. Give a list of items in English that the students must find and “capture” by taking a picture of the item with an index card label of the word. The students must also put themselves in the shot, so that the teacher knows that the pictures are not copied from someone else. This allows students to practice writing, reading and object identification in English. This can even be adapted for students who have limited access to technology.
- ReadTheory passage read alouds can be a chance for older students to interact with their siblings. Students can use their currently assigned digital passages or printed copies that can be sent home. Students can practice dramatically reading the passages to each other, then compete to see who can answer the most questions correctly.
- The ELL Lady has many printables and digital activities currently available for free on Teachers Pay Teachers. A fun activity for those stuck at home watching TV or surfing social media is a Comparing and Contrasting Celebrities assignment. This is a great way to give students some room to explore something they like, while practicing useful writing techniques.
Try to stay away from sending home a packet of worksheets. Worksheets are hardly ever considered fun. Giving students activities that require them to be creative or interact with family or others online are much more likely to be completed. For example, students can use clay, playdough or even cookie dough to build models to illustrate stories they have read. My students recently used homemade playdough to create scenes from a story we read. Students can upload these to Instagram or Snapchat and use hashtags to tag the class.
Obstacles To Remote ESL Learning & How To Overcome Them
First, teachers must overcome the challenges of a lack of internet connectivity. ELs, specifically those who have recently moved to the U.S., are more likely than their peers to be without regular internet access. With many public spaces, such as libraries, also closing due to the COVID-19 virus, these students are even less likely to have connectivity. Several companies have offered to help with this barrier by offering free internet access for students during the upcoming weeks.
- Comcast is offering free access to its Xfinity WiFi hotspots for everyone, including non-subscribers, for 60 days.
- AT&T is also providing free access to its public WiFi hotspots. The company also said its consumer home internet wireline customers and fixed wireless internet customers would receive unlimited data.
- T-Mobile is providing unlimited data to all current customers who have plans with data for the next 60 days. It will also provide additional data to mobile hotspot users.
- TDS Telecommunications also announced plans to provide broadband access to low-income individuals and/or families with children and college students for 60 days.
- Charter Communications is providing free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi internet for the next 60 days to households with K-12 students or college students who don’t already have a subscription. It’s also offering its Wi-Fi hotspots for free to the public.
The English Learners I have taught over the past 20 years are often some of the most motivated, creative and innovative students I have ever met. Not only are they able to understand complex academic concepts — they do it in a language that they are still mastering! Generally, examples, explanations and modeling can help bridge the learning gap. But what happens if they must learn without a teacher in the room to answer questions? Here are some ideas:
- Live communication apps like Facetime, WhatsApp can allow teachers to speak to students one-on-one or in small groups. Don’t be afraid to reach out to students first, instead of waiting for the students to call for themselves.
- Zoom and Google Hangout can facilitate larger group meetings. By also providing recordings to the students, it can provide the time flexibility that ELs need, if they are sharing devices with siblings or working.
- Remind, GroupMe, and ClassDojo are apps that allow students and parents to sign up to be included in messaging and reminders from the teacher or group. This can allow everyone to be included in the communication loop. The messages can be student, group, class or school specific.
- Choose a platform that allows you to connect with students outside of lessons. Teachers and students can post pictures, direct messages and help students know that they are not alone in their learning. A portion of ELs in the United States are not living with a parent, specifically those who have entered the country as unaccompanied minors. They need their teachers to continue to be advocates for their learning, development and mental health.
- Maintain consistent communication. ELs thrive on repetition and patterns. Try to set up “office hours” for your students to contact you, or times that they can expect assignments to be provided. Use some of the same tools they are familiar with to continue learning at home.
If the students are comfortable using ReadTheory during class, then by all means, USE this great tool for learning when they are at home. ReadTheory provides individualized reading activities that are level appropriate, and the lessons progress in difficulty as the student’s skills improve.
Most secondary English Learners are already in a battle with time to become proficient in both conversational and academic English. Teachers must work in tandem with their students in these challenging times to keep making progress toward the finish line — a high school diploma. COVID-19 might have created a learning challenge, but teachers have the tools to make it become a positive opportunity.
Another popular obstacle is motivation. When students are at home it is likely to assume they will have constant distractions and will probably be less committed. This article about remote teaching provides tips on how to motivate students.
We’re here if you need us
As always, but even more so now, our team is here for any questions or concerns that you might have.
We will keep posting new content on a weekly basis on how to simplify the transition to remote teaching and ease the lives of both teachers and students, so stay tuned. And stay healthy!
Mandy Wade has taught ESL for 20 years and is currently teaching ESOL at Habersham Central High School.
She is also an adjunct instructor of English/Language Arts and Spanish with Georgia Virtual School. She has 10 years of experience with online & distance-based learning.
Mrs. Wade holds a Masters of Science in Education specializing in TESOL from Shenandoah University.