New School Year, New Multilinguals, New Instruction: After More Than a Year in a Pandemic

by Valentina Gonzalez

If we’ve learned anything this past year and a half, it’s to be prepared for anything. Being flexible and adaptable in our approach to instruction has taken on new meaning. The circumstances we’ve lived through will leave us all changed.  

Our recent experiences have taught us about fragility and strength in education. Many schools rapidly closed their doors and moved into remote instruction when the pandemic hit. Educators were stunned. No one could have predicted that the situation would last as long as it did (or has). At the same time, as a nation of educators, we learned how strong we are together. Teachers readily shared resources and knowledge. They helped one another make the pivot from traditional classrooms to virtual learning and then to hybrid and back again. 

Could this happen again? It could, and if it does, we’ll be better prepared next time. Here are some things to keep at the forefront as the new school year begins. 

Build and sustain relationships with multilinguals and families.

Investing in relationships will pay off no matter what type of instruction is offered. If instruction  moves into virtual or remote status again, having strong relationships will benefit all stakeholders. Multilinguals that feel a sense of connection with their peers generally do better both socially and academically. The better students know their teachers and classmates, the more comfortable they’ll feel if the learning platform changes. Take time to cultivate community in the classroom as well as with families. Learn about the students and their passions, their goals, strengths, and family life, as much as possible. Connect with their families and establish routines for two-way communication. As a world, we’ve gone through a tremendous ordeal — some more than others. 

Integrate technology with instruction immediately.

Decide before the school year begins which technology will be most helpful to multilinguals and their families. Begin by introducing the platform the district embraces, such as Canvas or Google Classroom. Model it for students, so they become accustomed to its uses. Involve caretakers by providing information to them as well. Consider overarching goals for technology integration that support multilingual students, such as collaboration, language development, and access to primary language resources. Other tech platforms educators used during distance learning were Padlet, Flipgrid, and Jamboard. Each of these platforms allows for online peer-to-peer collaboration. These also work in traditional classrooms, especially if students need to be socially distanced.. 

One thing to be keenly aware of with technology is accessibility. Many districts worked through accessibility concerns over the last year. However, it’s important not to assume that families have high quality internet access and technology at home. Even in high socio-economic areas, ask rather than assume. Some teachers send home surveys or talk with families about technology needs during parent-teacher conferences.  

Look for strengths and address gaps.

Students will return to classrooms with new knowledge  about life, themselves, and real-world problems, some that they’re too young to understand fully.  Let them lead. Give them time and space to share their feelings and experiences. While it’s very important that we approach learners from an asset lens, we also need to recognize gaps and quickly fill them. One way to keep a regular pulse on students is to offer frequent opportunities for total responses. These can be as simple as a ticket out or polling the class. Gather student responses, analyze the data, and t use the information to inform instructional moves before gaps get too large. 

Question the curriculum.

Don’t settle for curriculum and lessons that don’t align with multilinguals’ needs. Take a hard look at textbooks used for instruction, resources offered to students and families, and lesson plans. Equity is not meant just for some learners; it’s meant for all. Does the curriculum represent all families and learners? Creating equitable instruction includes resources and lesson plans that incorporate and take into consideration ALL learners. Often lessons resemble teaching practices that have been in place for years or are influenced by our own educational experiences. For example, there are many books I read as a student. Those books are nostalgic, but might not meet the needs of learners in today’s classrooms. Rather than reading books because we’ve always read them, it’s important to reflect on the purpose of the curriculum and resources. 

  • Do they reflect our community and students? 
  • Are they relevant to learners? 
  • Can learners see themselves and their life experiences in the curriculum and resources? 
  • Whose voices are heard? Whose voices are not heard? 
  • What is being amplified? 

The answers will point to what is valued, honored, and respected. It may help to think of the most vulnerable populations. What are their needs? Relying on lesson plans of the past does not promise a productive future.

Leading Forward

As we lead learners into the next school year, let’s adjust and adapt to the students and circumstances we currently face.  What we did before the pandemic won’t be the future of teaching and learning. Like an overstretched rubber band,  education should never return to its former state. Rather than going back to the way things were, it’s important to consider what students need now

Want to learn more from Valentina? Check out her book — and corresponding trainings — Reading & Writing with English Learners.

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