Title Card: Supporting ELL Students in a Remote Environment

On March 25, the Network for Educator Effectiveness facilitated an online discussion with more than 120 participants to discuss supporting ELL students in a remote learning.

Panelists for the session were:

  • Shawn Cockrum, Director of Migrant, English Learner, Immigrant & Refugee Education, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Gena Villegas, Supervisor of ESOL Services, St. Joseph School District

The following is a summary of the discussion, and a link to watch the full session is included at the bottom of this post.

Q: What are the most important steps for districts to continue for ELL, refugee, and migrant children during this time?

Shawn: From DESE’s perspective, the priority right now is to work with schools to keep up continuity and support. DESE has a dedicated resource page available to support districts in the remote environment.

The most important thing right now is keeping contact with children, to continue the connection and continuity even though it is a different learning environment.

Our leadership has told us we’re going to do whatever it is we can to help districts.

Gena: Our first objective is to address the basic needs of students, including communications about free breakfast and lunch. We looked at translation and then connected with the outlets where minority families seek information, including multilingual news, laundromats, apartment complexes. Before we completely shut down, we did a lot of taping notes on doors.

Step 2 for us now is preventing the spread of disease. We want to make sure we get information to parents about handwashing.

Last step we’re looking at is the educational piece. We want to make sure we can communicate. Our goal with teachers was to first reach out to all ELLs and then to come back as a team to let us know who they couldn’t get a hold of so we can try to reach them in another way.

With that being said, our program here in St. Joseph has about 800 ELLs and about 15 to 20 percent of them do not have internet access at home. On the educational resource piece, we’re looking at what type of formats we can use, including sending packets home and, for students with iPhones, looking at resources like Duolingo.

Q: Knowing that the Internet access available to most families is through a mobile device, do you have recommendations about the best video conferencing software and other tools for connecting with students and families?

  • Zoom
  • WebEx
  • Google Meets
  • Google Hangouts
  • WhatsApp
  • Translator.microsoft.com is good for large group conversation with families. You can have an audience of up to 100, and it translates into the selected language both ways.
  • ClassTag will send messages in home languages.
  • If all else fails, you can screencast a mini-lesson, publish to YouTube and set it to “unlisted” so it’s only viewable with a link. Then they can have translated captions.
  • Adobe Spark is a tool for creating videos that can be narrated in Spanish and then add different languages in on the video slides.
  • Remind app for texting reminders
  • Facebook posts and Facebook Messenger have been successful for reaching parents

With video, keep in mind privacy and FERPA issues, making sure anything recorded or any data kept meets FERPA guidelines

Q: I know that it’s early, but I am wondering what the plan will be for new enrollees. We have four students pending testing right now. If this is a long-term closure, we will need to plan how to address testing.

Shawn: Conversations have started. There is going to be a lot of leeway. Our first priority is getting services for the children that need it.

The online screener is still available, but local discretion will prevail. Each district will need to think through access and think through how the administration of the screener will be handled. More information on online screening can be found in the DESE EL Screening Guide 2019-2020.

DESE is going to be very open-minded and give a lot of flexibility.

Q: Can we accept scores from non-WIDA states for the time being?

Shawn: Sure, you can accept that information. If you want to identify based on that information, go ahead and identify them. At some point, we will have to screen them and get them into the system, but we’re not worried about that right now. The priority is making sure students are served.

Q: Is there a particular aspect of language acquisition that would make the most sense to emphasize remotely – listening, reading, speaking, writing?

Gina: Reading is probably the easiest because of online resources that may be available.  We always want students to be good readers, and reading is important. One of the resources we are using is Scholastic Learn at Home; some are in English and some are in Spanish.

Writing can also be done in so many ways, including journal writing.

Shawn: It has kind of been uplifting to see the creativity that is not limiting people in how they are providing services and resources.

Q: What are you doing to support students without tech or internet?

Tracy Retherford shared the following:

I have about 50 ELLs who are nearly all Spanish-speaking, and more than 90 percent do not have Internet nor do they have devices.  Before we closed, I sent home the packets I usually send home for summer break (3 months of work).  I have used ClassTag a little. I have a Facebook group, and I have used it to share about meals for students, free food and other resources, as well as educational tools.  Parents have been VERY responsive through FB messenger.  I was able to get delivery of food to my families who do not have transportation.  Our district plans to broadcast on TV lessons from teachers but not all students have broadcast TV.  As a former Spanish teacher, I have been interpreting and translating for our district and sharing as much as I can with our families, not just at my building but district-wide.  Some other teachers following my page share my posts. 

My students have used their parents’ FB and cell phone to send me audio and written messages.

Q: Are there districts that are able to conduct home visits to access best ways to continue instruction?

Gena: Not right now.

Shawn: I would recommend home visits not be in the plans right now, although it is up to everyone on their own.

Q: I have heard from some parents that they are not sending students back once the closures are over.  Would they be dropped? Homebound?

Shawn: That will be based on the situation. If they will be home-schooled, then they would be labeled as home-schooled. If schools shut down, it’s not the student’s fault, so none of those students would be dropouts. It’s going to depend a lot on what happens the next few weeks, and that will impact a lot of decisions and student status.

Q: I have several students that went to Argentina and Mexico for spring break and now are unable to get back.  We are still emailing school assignments, obviously, but is there anything else I need to know about how to handle these students?

Shawn: From a regulatory/compliance standpoint, no. Work with them virtually the best you can.

Q: We need to be sure not to overwhelm students and families with communications.

Gena: Collaborate with others to determine how to communicate, which platforms to use, and how to measure it. Make timely communication and make them aware of essential pieces of what is happening.

Cammy Gaucher (DESE): Please read the new DESE document I shared and look at the various tabs: https://dese.mo.gov/college-career-readiness/curriculum/supports-remote-teaching-and-learning

Shawn: Keep watching the website for information about funding help.  There’s a lot of advocacy out there trying to help.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.