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Blog | | Emerging Bilingual Collaborative

Early Edge California Hosts Inaugural Meeting of its COVID-19 Learning Community Focused on Dual Language Learners (DLLs) and English Learners (ELs) in PreK-3rd Grade

COVID-19 has greatly impacted school districts and Early Learning programs across the nation, resulting in countless challenges around distance and hybrid learning, social distancing, and learning loss, among many others. The resulting negative impacts on Dual Language Learners (DLLs) and English Learners (EL) are even greater. Early Edge California recently invited a group of California-based school districts and Early Learning programs offering strong supports for DLL/EL children in PreK-3rd grade to participate in a series of virtual Learning Convenings, thanks to support from the Emerging Bilingual Collaborative

The Dual Language Learner (DLL) / English Learner (EL) PreK-3rd COVID-19 Learning Community will serve to provide participants with solutions to the challenges they are facing and resources they can use to better support DLLs and ELs during COVID-19. Early Edge’s vision for this Learning Community is for participants to share their approaches to DLL/EL remote or hybrid instruction and learn from others’ experiences, with a goal of developing a set of “lessons learned” to share with the field in mid-2021. 

On Friday, November 6, 2020, Early Edge hosted the first convening of the Learning Community. A variety of participants attended the virtual meeting, including school districts and Early Learning programs from across the state serving DLLs and ELs PreK through Grade 3 (see below for a full list of participants). The group’s initial meeting laid the groundwork for the Learning Community, establishing shared expectations, helping to foster relationships among the participants, and identifying three top challenge areas for shared learning and identification of best and promising practices.

To help provide a context for what districts and programs are currently experiencing in the field, the Learning Community identified the following as the top 3 most pressing challenges in supporting DLL/EL children and their families, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Virtual Instruction (keeping students engaged, getting students talking, delivering high-quality instruction for DLLs/ELs)
  2. Family Engagement
  3. Teacher Training/Competencies to support DLLs/ELs

The Learning Community then identified specific strategies and solutions in response to these challenges, offering up the following tips and resources for consideration:

Focus Area: Virtual Instruction

Key Issues around Virtual Instruction Included:

  • Keeping sustained student engagement with many distractions
  • Growing gaps in understanding between students learning virtually and their peers
  • Assessing student knowledge and ability since it can be challenging to determine what a child knows on their own without family support

Strategies and Solutions:

  • Being flexible and offering a menu of engagement options
  • Providing a synchronous live option, an asynchronous virtual option, and an asynchronous paper option for those who have less comfort with technology
  • Connecting with families to learn their needs and preferences
  • Using Learning Genie’s translation services so families and teachers can send messages in their home languages and have it translated to the others’ language
  • Using Abriendo Puertas as a 10-week engagement course for teachers and families
  • Incentivizing participation by sending home rewards (sticker/certificate) for monthly participation

Focus Area: Family Engagement

Key Issues around Family Engagement Included:

  • Sufficiently and effectively engaging families in supporting the development and education of their young children because families are often overwhelmed trying to balance work/other life responsibilities
  • Families with multiple children face difficult decisions about how to support each child’s learning and often prioritize older children’s learning
  • Family members and caregivers have different technological skill levels and families with multiple children often are required to learn and use multiple different technology platforms to engage with their child’s learning
  • Communicating through language barriers

Strategies and Solutions:

  • Communicating flexibly with families — shift teacher mindset from family compliance with teachers to teacher flexibility
  • Using consistent technology and where possible, align to technology used by older students in the same area
  • Identifying families’ preferred ways of communicating and communicate in that way (by survey or individual phone calls, if necessary)
  • Sharing and posting information in multiple modalities (email, social media, apps, Blackboard, Connect, Google Classroom, etc.)
  • Using programs like Remind or Google Phone numbers to communicate with families while allowing the teacher to set personal boundaries
  • Using translation services via apps like Learning Genie, Class Dojo, or SeeSaw
  • Communicating with families in an ongoing manner to learn about and resolve outstanding problems (through regular focus groups, parent trainings, or surveys)

Focus Area: Teacher Competencies to Support DLLs/ELs

Key Issues around Teacher Competencies included:

  • Teachers are overwhelmed with the new expectations resulting from educating during COVID-19
  • Funding for professional development (PD) and trainings may have been decreased during this time of tight budgets
  • Finding time and substitutes can be incredibly challenging, even more so in the current context

Strategies and Solutions:

  • Offering PD in a flexible and responsive way
  • Identifying what PD/training would be most useful to teachers (surveys, conversations, etc.)
  • Providing PD/training in both synchronous and asynchronous options
  • Sharing PD/training announcements  with teachers in a way that is sensitive and stresses the non-mandatory nature of these resources
  • Providing PD/training in the teacher’s home language
  • Providing teachers with the opportunity for built-in self-care throughout the regular school week (embed it in regular activities —see additional resources compiled by Oakland USD)

Special thanks to all the participants for their time and willingness to share resources and strategies with each other during the particularly challenging circumstances of the 2020-2021 school year.

Early Edge plans to host the next round of meetings in early to mid-2021. We encourage you to reach out if your district/organization is interested in its work. We understand that DLL/EL programs for children in PreK-3rd grade continue to expand across all settings, and we would love the opportunity to learn more! For more information on the Learning Community or the project, please contact us info@earlyedgecalifornia.org.   

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