Across the United States, like in many other countries, schools have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, with the technology resources we have today, many school districts have moved all their classes online and will finish their semesters through eLearning. This can be a huge benefit to schools, teachers, and students alike, but it can present a challenge for some multilingual learners.
Learning a new language is tough. When you have limited availability or simply cannot practice speaking in your target language, it can become a lot tougher. Moving everything online can also exacerbate existing inequalities within a community. Online resources, like apps and websites, may be in a language that is not accessible to the students or their families, and some students may not have ready access to the internet at all. A report from the U.S. Department of Education published in December of 2019 discovered few teachers reported assigning English-learners to use digital learning resources outside of class, in part because of concerns about students’ lack of access to technology at home.
To effectively support multilingual learners during a time of school closures, it is important to recognize all the learning that can be at home and in the community, to provide information in students’ home languages, and to ensure equitable access to learning materials. Practicing language learning at home can include anything from interviewing a family member, learning to cook a meal with a parent, or learning a new skill. No matter what language they are speaking, the skills students build at home through conversation, writing, and documenting their learning will later transfer to their target language.
For more information on supporting multilingual learners, check out these helpful resources! Colorín Colorado is an organization for English-learner educators and they have compiled a list of resources and suggestions for school staff and English-learner families. The list includes tips for ensuring that families have access to information about online learning and that their district or school online-learning plans account for English-learners. TESOL International Association (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) has also collected resources that teachers and administrators can use to help guide their discussions with students about this pandemic.