Reflecting and Relearning our Craft: Supporting Multilingual Learners Online

POSTED: August 26, 2020Category: ArticlesBY: AISA P9

Written by Alison Mollel with contributions by Esther Bettney, Kerry Bishop, Tikva Chofi and Rob Martin

It is fair to say that most of us were thrown into this new online teaching world almost overnight. Some schools saw the wave rolling towards them and were able to have a few days or, if they were lucky, weeks to prepare for this new teaching and learning experience. However, other schools and educators had very little time to prepare but regardless of the preparation time, we have all been learning as we go. As the school year has ended for many and we have a moment to breathe, we can take time to look at some of the things we have learned on our journey as we have strived to support our multilingual students the best we can. Opening the next school year online is a possibility for many schools internationally, so what must we make sure we have in place in order to most effectively support our multilingual students.

  • Connecting with students and parents – if the ‘regular’ route (be that email, Seesaw, Google classroom, etc) is not working, try others. Could you try WhatsApp, WeChat, older siblings or others in the community who speak the family’s home language?
  • Consistency – There are many platforms out there that are being used, whether it be Seesaw, Google classroom, etc. Try to ensure consistency across year levels and school sections (i.e. Primary and Secondary), where possible. This allows for families with more than one child to only have to learn and grapple with one system instead of multiple.
  • Face-to-face – You can’t beat face-to-face communication. Scheduling individual or small group meetings regularly with students helps support many areas including: continued language and academic development, social skills, well-being, confidence, engagement and motivation. Inviting parents for a quick chat at the end is an extension of support and most often very gratefully received.
  • Home language development – This is the perfect opportunity to encourage and support home language development. Set tasks that include other family members and the use of home language. Some examples are: interviewing family members, learn a rhyme/song in your home language, play games like Hangman or Would You Rather. Tim Boals, WIDA Founder and Director, recently published a letter to the education community on the importance of home language development.
  • Instructions – Simple, step-by-step and multi-modal is key. Provide clear, concise, step-by-step instructions. When setting up an activity provide video instructions with a model (as you would in the classroom), in addition to audio and written, to allow students to access multiple modes of input to enhance understanding.
  • Additional Opportunities or Time – At times a student may attempt a task but you find they have misunderstood the assignment. After feedback, clarification, and modeling give students another chance to revise their work and communicate their learning.
  • Scheduling – Sending all activities and expectations each Monday allows the parents and students to plan their week rather than have to wait every morning for a tasks that then need to be packed into a short timeframe.

We would love to hear what you think as you reflect on this past year and look toward the next school year. Please join a global community of educators on the WIDA Flipgrid to connect and share ideas about teaching multilingual learners online.

Alison Mollel is the Primary English Language Support Teacher/Whole School Home Language Coordinator at Luanda International School, Angola.

Esther Bettney is a Project Assistant with the WIDA International Programs and a PhD Candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kerry Bishop is an Elementary EAL Teacher at Lincoln Community School, Ghana.

Tikva Chofi works at The American School of Kinshasa as an Elementary EAL Specialist, DR Congo.

Rob Martin is an EAL Specialist at the American International School of Lusaka, Zambia.


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