Restarting school: Unfinished teaching and learning for emergent bilinguals, multilingual students
Monday, July 13, 2020
At this point in the year, teachers have finished with their teaching duties for the academic year. Some are embarking on teaching summer school, and most of those doing so are likely engaging in distance or virtual learning due to the global pandemic.
In either case, questions about returning to school loom: will classes be in-person with face-to-face instruction? Will students only be allowed to be physically in school part time, with distance or virtual learning playing a significant role? Will students be allowed to physically return to school at all?
What about the learning time that students missed during school closures? What impact will that have on student learning and achievement when students do return? All of these questions are important and valid. There are many unknowns at the moment. As we anxiously await to learn the format, we can begin to consider how we will address learning loss and achievement when students return in the Fall, no matter what the format may be.
The Covid Slowdown and The Covid Slide
There has been some discussion lately regarding what some are dubbing the Covid Slowdown and the Covid Slide. These terms are distinct and reflect two potential scenarios. The Covid Slowdown refers to students retaining the same level of learning when schools closed. In other words, learning may have stopped or slowed very significantly, but students will retain the level of learning that they left school with when schools closed due to the pandemic.
The Covid Slide refers to the slowing of learning that likely occurred during the pandemic due to the switch to online learning. Because of the inconsistencies in instruction, lack of access to technology and internet, and environments that do not always allow for study, students may experience learning loss, or a slide, similar to what has been dubbed “the summer slide,” but even worse as the time spent away from school is adjacent to the summer break.
Emergent bilinguals and multilingual learners have the added challenge of learning a new language as they are learning content. The Covid Slide or the Covid Slowdown will apply to this group of students, of course, as it does to all students. Some educators have stated that students will be missing opportunities to learn English as they speak their native language at home.
While some see this as an added challenge, the fact that students are speaking their native language(s) at home during school closures as well as during the summer should be seen as an asset. Students are gaining valuable knowledge about their native language and culture and maintaining language skills that are a key part of their lives.
Unfinished Teaching and Learning
One perspective on the work that will need to be done when students return to school is to consider unfinished teaching and learning. This perspective focuses on accelerating instruction when students return after the summer break to bring students up to speed in terms of what they need to reach the grade level standards, concepts, and skills that will be taught in the upcoming grade level.
Teachers will need to begin by assessing students’ levels of knowledge and skills from the previous grade or course in order to more clearly understand the teaching and learning that will need to occur in order to ensure success. For emergent bilinguals and multilingual students, language skills will also need to be assessed, so that language instruction and learning can be included as you plan to help students engage in unfinished teaching and learning.
After assessing students, instruction should concentrate on accelerating student learning by focusing on the most critical skills and concepts that students will need in order to be successful in the coming year. This will require careful analysis of both the assessment data as well as the standards, concepts and skills that need to be taught. Utilizing this data, a careful plan will need to be developed to accelerate learning. Utilizing best instructional practices will be critical as you work to get students up to speed.
Just Right Instruction
Planning “best instructional practices” involves considering instruction that will not only address unfinished teaching and learning, and will accelerate learning, but that will also be “just right” for the students you are working with. Each student will require scaffolding and engaging instruction to help them learn, and emergent bilinguals will especially benefit from these practices as well as interaction opportunities to practice and learn the concepts and skills being taught. In addition, consider how you will link to students’ background experiences and cultural backgrounds and perspectives.
The task ahead is daunting; many schools do not yet have a firm idea of what school will look like next year, even though the start of the school year is rapidly approaching. Planning for instruction in this scenario is exceptionally difficult. In addition, considering what students will have missed in terms of instruction and learning, and planning for instruction that will meet their needs is intimidating.
When school resumes, we will need to get to know our students, build positive relationships with them, address their social-emotional needs, and address their instructional needs. By starting with assessments and determining the most critical skills that students will need to be successful in the coming year, we can begin to address the needs of our students, especially the emergent bilingual and multilingual students.
Kuhfiled, M, Tarasaw, B. 2020, April. The Covid-19 Slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact on school closures on student academic achievement. NWEA. Retrieved from: https://www.nwea.org/research/publication/the-covid-19-slide-what-summer-learning-loss-can-tell-us-about-the-potential-impact-of-school-closures-on-student-academic-achievement/
Clash, C. 2020, Jan. 14. Unfinished learning, or unfinished teaching? A mindset shift. Achievement Network. Retrieved from: https://www.achievementnetwork.org/anetblog/unfinished-learning-or-unfinished-teaching
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