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Blog | | Early Edge California

Shared Learning to Better Support Young DLLs and ELs: Key Takeaways from the 2020-2021 Learning Community Series

Early Edge California gathered a small group of district- and community-based early care and education program providers during the 2020-2021 school year to create a space for shared learning. The Dual Language Learner (DLL) / English Learner (EL) PreK-3rd COVID-19 Learning Community came together for three meetings over the last year (November 2020, February 2021, and May 2021), sharing resources, best practices, and common pitfalls to avoid in order to benefit the group’s collective abilities to serve DLL children and their families.

Learning Community members identified and discussed the following topics as critical issues they faced in their work with DLLs/ELs: 1) Virtual Instruction; 2) Assessing Student Knowledge; 3) Family Engagement; and 4) Effective Professional Development. Below are the key takeaways from each topic, comprising a set of “lessons learned” to help districts and programs support PreK-3rd educators as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

1) VIRTUAL INSTRUCTION

Defining the Opportunity for Shared Learning

  • Sustaining student engagement with a myriad of distractions.
  • Addressing 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 Identified by Learning Community Members

  • 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 (e.g., through surveys, regular phone calls, email, text, Learning Genie, etc.). 
  • 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 (e.g., stickers/certificates) for monthly participation.

2) ASSESSING STUDENT KNOWLEDGE

Defining the Opportunity for Shared Learning

  • Understanding and addressing the challenge of determining what a child knows on their own without family support.
  • Understanding how assessment data will be used and whether the results of assessments adequately account for the mitigating circumstances of this past year. 
  • Determining how best to support educators to develop strong family partnerships when educators do not speak the same language as the family.
  • Understanding and addressing challenges implementing assessments, including the Desired Results for Children and Families (DRDP) and the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC) in a remote setting.

Strategies and Solutions Identified by Learning Community Members

  • Being intentional to connect language and experience in the classroom:
    • Provide professional development to educators around crafting those intentional experiences.
    • The California Department of Education (CDE) offers videos showing high levels of academic language usage by very young children.
  • Using meet and greet days before the start of the school year to build relationships with families and to provide engaging and intentional experiences for children. This approach values and elevates the importance of family partnerships overall. 
  • Setting expectations for the results of student formative assessments with children’s different developmental levels of language proficiency in mind. Educators must have a clear vision of what they want children to say or do as part of the assessment so they can provide appropriate formative assessment experiences that allow them to demonstrate their language ability. 
  • Building strong family partnerships, which allow for successful implementation of assessments.
  • Using virtual platforms to connect with families (Seesaw came up as an example) can support assessment implementation and data gathering.
  • Two specific curricula were noted as helpful in supporting the development of strong family partnerships:

3) FAMILY ENGAGEMENT

Defining the Opportunity for Shared Learning

  • Identifying and implementing ways to sufficiently and effectively engage families in the development and education of their young children. 
    • Families are often overwhelmed trying to balance work and 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. 
  • Addressing the challenge of communicating through language barriers.

Strategies and Solutions Identified by Learning Community Members

  • Communicating flexibly with families—shifting the educator mindset from family compliance to educator flexibility.
  • Using consistent technology and, where possible, using the same technology used by older students in the same area. 
  • Identifying families’ preferred ways of communicating and communicating in that way (by survey or individual phone calls if necessary). 
  • Sharing and posting information using multiple modalities (e.g., email, social media, apps, Blackboard, Connect, Google Classroom, etc.). 
  • Using programs like Remind or Google Phone to communicate with families while allowing the educator to set personal boundaries.
  • Using translation services via apps like Learning Genie, ClassDojo, or SeeSaw to help address language barriers.
  • Communicating with families in an ongoing manner to learn about and resolve outstanding issues/concerns that the family may have (through regular focus groups, parent trainings, or surveys).

4) EFFECTIVE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Defining the Opportunity for Shared Learning

  • Teachers are overwhelmed with the new expectations of educating during COVID-19.
  • Funding for Professional Development (PD) and trainings may have decreased during the initial financial downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Finding educator time and substitutes to enable PD participation is critical and can be incredibly challenging, even more so during the pandemic.
  • Ensuring that educators understand that their PD opportunities and coaching sessions are not connected or tied to their annual evaluations so that they can feel comfortable being vulnerable to learn and grow in these spaces.

Strategies and Solutions Identified by Learning Community Members

  • Planning for what happens before, during, and after a PD results in more effective delivery. 
    • Intentionality in all phases of planning. 
    • Identifying what PD/training would be most useful to teachers (surveys, conversations, etc.). 
    • Identifying the languages of participating educators before the PD opportunity to know how best to offer the opportunity. 
  • Using a PD feedback form/survey to incorporate learnings into the next PD offering. 
  • Incorporating a take-away element to PD opportunities by asking participants, “What’s one next step you’re committing to implementing before next time?”
    • Formalizing and documenting the next steps element of PD opportunities to support follow-through for participants. 
    • Using a “working flyer” approach to keep all important information a participant may need or want together including: the agenda, links to the slide deck, and the registration to sign up for the opportunity (see San Francisco USD’s example). 
  • Offering PD in a flexible and responsive way. 
    • Providing PD/training in both synchronous and asynchronous options.
    • Providing PD/training in the educator’s home language. 
  • Providing teachers with the opportunity for self care throughout the regular school week (embed it in regular activities—see Oakland USD’s example for additional resources). 
  • Using specific resources when developing PD opportunities:

Special thanks to the Learning Community participants for their time and willingness to share resources and strategies with one another during the particularly challenging circumstances of the 2020-2021 school year.

For more information on the Learning Community or the project, please contact us at info@earlyedgecalifornia.org

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